For most of my life, I have lived in a strange world of in-between, wherein the happiest parts of my life, I interpret as sad, and some of the saddest parts have made me oddly happy. By the time I was ready to look honestly at my emotions, I really couldn’t tell the difference. I didn’t look objectively at my past, but assigned my current misery to my entire life.
I am sure I’m not the only person to mix this stuff up, and I don’t mean to make excuses — I know I cannot blame my past for my feelings. How do I know this?, I hear some of you ask. In the last six months, twice I have seen large collections of photos of me, at points in my life which, on to which I have projected the sadness and confusion of my current feelings. Both times, I reacted with complete surprise to see that I was abundantly happy. What is all of this?
I was not lying, at least not consciously. I picked and chose my memories of those times, through both the filter of victim-hood and the filter of the unloved. Until each incident, when I saw the photos, I fooled myself, and most of the people around me. And I must say, once again, that I did not deliberately deceive, but rather convinced myself that the sad, hurt, self-righteous position from which I told my own story was true. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I saw photographic evidence that I was not miserable, at least not all the time, and at least not for the reasons I projected on those memories.
Early in my childhood, somewhere, I adopted the feeling of being unwanted. I believe that emotional wound has a basis in truth — I’ve written about some of those times, and some of those feelings. Then, I saw that whole time in my life in the slides my parents took of all of us children, and hey, Presto! I grinned my way through those years, for the most part. The sadness and the feeling of exclusion I described in those stories are based on the truth of my feelings, but I chose, in my retelling of that time, to ignore everything else, and to see my entire childhood through incidents such as these.
I wondered, even while I was writing, how I could remember 1968-1970 as both the happiest time in my life, and the source of all my anger and grief.
The other time in my life, which I looked at through this awful filter of pretty-much my own construction, was my last marriage, from 1994 to 2000. I remember clearly some of the misery my husband and I endured and that we visited on each other. I have written about some of those times — only seeing the anger and sadness I thought I carried throughout that entire time. Once again, imagine my surprise when I began sorting a big box of photos of that time. In those photos, I am happy; in fact, I’m madly in love with my husband, and once again couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Looking at my expression in more of these photos now. I understand that thenI refused to see the goodness of that relationship, because otherwise I couldn’t justify my decision to leave when the real misery started. Unless I convinced myself of my own unhappiness, I just couldn’t believe that I had any right to end that relationship. I didn’t know then, or until quite recently, that a marriage can be so good, and yet still have to end.
So, I’ve been sad when I’m happy, because I didn’t know how to have joy in my life. And I’ve been happy to be sad, because being sad fulfilled my self-perception as a victim of forces out of my control, and absolved me of responsibility for the convoluted course of my life and my heart-sickness. When I think about how very wrong I was about my marriage, (my third, which might make things a little easier to understand — same process, different husband,) I then must summon up every ounce of forgiveness I am capable of feeling, and pull it back on to myself. That process alone has scared me into not changing in the past.
I admit, now, as much as it rubs me the wrong way, that I am human, no more or less capable of mistakes, and no more or less likely to build up defenses regarding those decisions. This, may I say, is a pretty big step for me, and certainly not one I ever intended to commit — I was happy to be sad to be happy to be sad, and I thought I was the sane one.
Still, at the same time, the other part of that recognition is that bad things do happen in good marriages, and I cannot allow myself to swing so far in the other direction that I lose sight of the real reasons I had to leave. I am striving to find that gray area in-between wonderful and horrible, and just to be content with my life as it is now. I can’t change what has happened, but I am learning from those experiences, and perhaps the next time I make a life choice, I will look honestly at my responsibility in that choice, and make damned sure I am not, once again, fooling myself.