Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The small gift that saved my life

The journey of one’s life is a rocky one. There are times when everything seems perfect and you are floating on cloud nine. Then things begin crashing around you, and you wonder if you will ever be happy again. 

UW-Whitewater Track
My childhood was a rocky one. I was abused by my classmates in middle school. A Catholic in a Lutheran school can be very lonely, and I came to expect punches and kicks instead of helping hands. I was the black sheep in the herd, and spent most of my middle school years very lonely and scared. 

When I got to high school, things were good for a while. But peer pressure began to cave in my senior year. In a desperate attempt to win the love of my boyfriend, I strove to improve every aspect of my life, from music and athletics to academics and my personal appearance. It took a toll and I became anorexic. I again felt alone. I was that insecure middle school girl again, desperately wanting to fit in. Life was dark, and I contemplated suicide, not for the first time, and not for the last. I never followed through on my dark acts, but I felt very isolated, lonely and unloved. 

I found a ray of hope in college, made new friends and finally felt accepted, just the way I was. By that time I was no longer anorexic, although I was a size 8 for the first time in my life. I still had the body of the anorexic I left behind just a few months prior. 

I made it on my university’s track and field team, and during the Christmas season, we participated in Secret Santa. My Secret Santa, who I have since forgotten, gave me a refrigerator magnet with a quote about happiness on it. I promptly put in on my fridge and forgot about it. Although I moved around a bit in college, I never lost that magnet.

Relationships took their toll on me. I dated a guy who used me and forced me to do things I did not want to. I did my best to forget. I dated another guy for 16 months. We had our ups and downs, but when the relationship failed, I fell to pieces. I did not want to live anymore. My depression came back in full force, along with the suicidal thoughts, the sense of hopelessness and despair. I was diagnosed with insomnia and had to drop out of college for the remainder of the semester. 

A few weeks later, the boyfriend and I got back together. I was happy, but had a hard time trusting him. Then a friend of mine was killed by a drunk driver. The waves of anger poured over me, pain, loss, grief, despair. I fell away from God, thought he was evil. Four months later, my relationship fell apart for good. 

When I graduated college, I was lost. I remember thinking “When will my life turn around? When will I be happy again?” 

Then during the summer of 2011, I was walking through my kitchen and something made me stop and look at a magnet on my fridge. It was that same magnet that I was given more than six years ago in college. 

“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin-real life, but there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” - Souza

The $3 magnet that saved my life
Although I had it for years, I never really read it until that day, really absorbed the truth of those words. When I did, my eyes and mind were opened. I needed to stop waiting for God to make me happy, stop waiting for things to be perfect. Things were never going to be perfect, and happiness would never arrive. Happiness had to be made, be found. If I wanted to be happy, I needed to stop waiting to be happy and instead do things that made me happy. It was my job to make myself happy, no one else’s. 

That magnet probably cost about $3, but it gave me my life back. My perspective shifted. During the past three years, life has been pretty rocky. I have been lied to, mistreated and manipulated by those of the opposite sex. There have been points where life was pure hell, and financial stress caused by my last job took its toll on me. I learned - again - that I should avoid roommates at all cost. 

And yet, even when things were bad, I still found ways to be happy. I tried my hands at equestrain vaulting, went skydiving, rappelled down a 13-story building and even participated in a military workshop, where I was able to drive a $250,000 piece of military robotics. Life was not perfect, but the burden I had carried with me in my youth was lifted. 

I learned a lesson that many people learn much later in life, or never learn at all. Life will throw you curve balls, hard balls, and maybe even a couple bowling balls. You will get knocked on your ass. There will be pain. It will not look the same to everyone, but you will get knocked down and collect a few bruises. If you dwell on the pain, you will be miserable. You will get lost in the abyss. 

I wish I could remember who my Secret Santa was all those years ago, wish I could thank her and tell her how much her gift meant to me. It was a few dollars for her, but it gave me my life back. She was my angel, and her gift saved my life.

The key to happiness is not having a perfect life. There is no such thing as a perfect life. It is finding the beauty in the world and appreciating your blessings. It is doing things that bring you joy, doing things that make you marvel at the wonders of the universe. It could be running a 5K where you get hit with bright color bombs, scaling a mountain or even just enjoying a beautiful aria. Whatever makes you happy, embrace it. 

And whatever you do, remember “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

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