“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good life really is.” Marianne Williamson
Today I leaned into the joy!
It all started when I found five dollars during my morning run. I thought to myself, it’s a sign! Today is going to be great! Then my morning coconut milk, mate tea was free. My punch card was full and I thought, see! Today is going to be great! I leaned into the joy instead of thinking all my fun tickets were spent and any moment something would go wrong, maybe even a random bear attack.
As a trauma survivor, I remember living for years with the fear that someone or something else was going to jump out and hurt me. Then one day I decided to take my life back. I remember the exact moment.
Choosing to change my thoughts
It was a summer day, I was 28, a mother of five children, in the middle of a two and a half year divorce. I was on the phone for hours with the gas company, insurance company and well you name it, struggling with everyone and everything while my children played joyfully in the yard.
Suddenly it hit me. The sun was streaming through the windows, the kids were waiting and I was letting the person, the trauma, the things that had hurt me poison this moment. The banks had closed. The courts had closed. Anyone who had traumatized me was far away and yet I was allowing them to consume my thoughts like a hungry bear.
That’s it! I thought and I took back my life. I decided I was not going to give them one more minute of this beautiful day. I opened the door, stepped into the sun, put the kids on their bikes and went for a run.
Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple, but that day began my personal struggle and journey towards taking back my life.
A few things I have learned along the way
Trauma and adverse childhood events change our brains. If you have a pulse, there is a better than good chance you’ve experienced trauma, and it’s rewired your brain. You may even spend some of your time on high alert waiting for something else to go wrong.
The Adverse Childhood Experience study reports that one in six adults have experienced 4 or more childhood traumas and two-thirds of adults have experienced at least one.
What happens to your brain if the bear lives at your house?
Nadine Burke Harris, explained in her Ted Talk, “… imagine you’re walking in the forest and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, “Release stress hormones! Adrenaline! Cortisol!” And so your heart starts to pound, Your pupils dilate, your airways open up, and you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest and there’s a bear.
But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night, and this system is activated over and over and over again, and it goes from being adaptive, or life-saving, to maladaptive, or health-damaging. … High doses of adversity not only affect brain structure and function, they affect the developing immune system, developing hormonal systems, and even the way our DNA is read and transcribed.”
The good news
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené Brown
We now know we all have something called neuroplasticity. To put it simply, we can change our brains.
Dr. Amen in his book, “Change your brain Change your life,” said, “Most negative thinking is automatic and goes unnoticed. You’re not really choosing how to respond to your situation, it’s being chosen for you by bad brain habits.”
Today is a good day to make new thinking habits and to stop waiting for the bear in the woods to jump out and eat you!
Here are some ways to change your brain and your thinking habits:
- Practice spending time in the moment focusing on things that bring you joy
- Set aside time to do things to fill your emotional bank like gardening, writing, walking or listening to music
- Recognize what you can’t control, and focus on what you can control
- Look for beauty in your home, the world and the people you choose to spend time with
- Choose friends who think positively
- Invest in hobbies
- Learn to meditate, practice yoga or find a prayer that quiets your mind when you feel anxious
- Treat yourself with the same compassion and kindness you do others
It is my hope that you allow yourself to be happy because joy is one of the few things we are entitled to. We are entitled to find joy, feel joy and create joy whenever possible.