Happy to be Sad, Sad to be Happy

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.

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