Full disclosure: I’ve watched that SNL “Thanksgiving Miracle” video at least three times today and twice last night. I’m also writing this in class while my class writes their own essay, so this blog will be low on edits and insights. Birthday rights, yes? Yes.
I’m really happy today. This is big for me; most birthdays, especially for the last decade, have been fraught with unexplainable sadness and discontent while I tried to find the magical happiness formula. I usually didn’t. I wasn’t really set up to attain birthday bliss today either: I was up way too late cooking and eating a very sugary pie, but it was with my favorite person. That favorite person had to do triage on our kitchen sink, in the crawl space, in twenty-eight degree weather this morning, but neither of us were swearing as we tripped over each other, dirty dishes, and every cleaning supply we’d ever stuffed under the sink. I’m teaching four classes today and trying to figure out how to grade and wash dishes and finish some food before a birthday party tonight, but I’m not stressed out. I did do my favorite yoga practice today, got some good news, drank warm lemon water, and read kind wishes and funny memes from people who love me, but at thirty-six, I’m coming to the realization that those things are helpful bonuses, not the things that bring me happiness.
This might be a little bit of a stretch of Adele’s lyrics, but if I think back to past birthdays, I do feel like I’m on the other side of some kind of self-inflicted misery. And I want to be clear about the self-inflicted part. I had a rough marriage for seven and a half years and then two and a half hard years of personal recovery. I’ve experienced some abuse in my past that quite frankly wrecked me for a while. I haven’t achieved my publication or financial goals and I’ll probably never achieve my ideal body. My dogs still shed and bite each other and climb on the couch and eat trash whenever they can. These things happened, and in the case of the dogs, continue to happen whether I want them to or not. They led to feelings of stress and loneliness, but they didn’t create my misery. I did that myself.
This blog began out of a journey towards self-care and health, and I know that little things have been a big part of today’s happy birthday. Sleeping more and drinking lemon water definitely makes me feel better (and help prevent eating too much sugar and thus misery later). Some little practices, like learning to meditate and learning to take time to massage my feet when I’m stressed out instead of working out harder on them, have been transformative. Anti-anxiety meds don’t hurt either; I was definitely feeling less zen when I forgot to take them on Saturday. But as much as I would like to say there was one thing I did, one magic formula that has made my life good, one person who ushered happiness into my life, I know two simple, difficult things made the difference. One was listening when others–my husband, my counselor, my yoga teachers–remind me that other people are not responsible for how I feel. The second was me finally choosing to believe it.
Letting go of attachments and expectations has finally let all those people off the hook. This is the hardest part of yoga philosophy for me to accept. We’re all attached to things that we care about, and I care deeply about willing the future to turn out the way I want. I want the people I love to read my fickle mind. I want the clouds to part and a birthday cake accompanied with nirvana and a book contract to float down on me, but I don’t want to do the hard part of getting book proposals rejected, of letting go of being annoyed at the dirty sink, of responding with gentleness to my irritating neighbors (both literal and virtual).
Besides, the cake is already here. So is a little bit of bliss. This has been one of the best years of my life, largely because I finally let so many of my demons go. Now that they’re gone, cake and bliss taste so much better, and it would be a shame to waste either.