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January 2018

Artificial Happiness

We spend a great deal of time wondering what happiness looks like. What career would be a good fit? What is the ideal weight? What does our forever home look like? The problem with these questions was constantly looking for outside sources for consistent happiness. I am now learning to have true contentment in life, we need to work on being gentle and loving to ourselves, forgiving for failing sometimes, and practice doing activities that fill the soul up.

Years were occupied by trying to find joy in the wrong places. Here’s how…

The magic number on the scale would make me happy

When I turned 26 and quit smoking, I gained over 30 pounds in six months. In the midst of trying to control my nicotine cravings, I shoved any food in my mouth I wanted to. Whatever it took to not put a cigarette in my mouth! I also knew nothing about healthy eating, so in order to try to lose weight, I ate Lean Cuisine meals every day and paired it with lots of cardio. I eventually went into my second half of my twenties with a desirable number on my scale.

Between the ages of 26 and now, I have been striving for the perfect number to come back into my life. I have tried the South Beach Diet twice, Beachbody 21 Day Fix, about four Whole 30 rounds and a good workout regimen. My first strict eating program was to get bikini ready for an island vacation, however; once I landed, all bets were off. I binged on whatever I wanted, gaining the weight back in no time.

Restricting and bingeing has always been my pattern and honestly, that part of me is still a work in progress. The kicker is, whenever I would hit the magic number on the scale, I would be elated! But the feeling didn’t last long, a few days then back to my emotional roller coaster self. I now understand that the number on the scale will never be the source of my happiness. Yo Yo dieting has been a way to control something in life when I felt emotionally out of control.

Control and happiness are not the same thing.

My happiness with my health comes when I am consistently exercising and pushing myself during my workouts. There is a sense of pride in the strength I have. I am happy when I am eating a delicious meal that I prepared and cooked. I am happy when I am with my mom squad at a boot camp class and giving out high fives. Additionally, I stopped stepping on the scale so much. When I look in the mirror, instead of looking at the parts I wished looked different, I look at the new arm definition I am gaining from doing body pump twice a week. We must focus on the good parts, being gentle with ourselves and our progress.

My identity was solely wrapped in my work

I spent my twenties training and building a career in the cosmetology industry as a hairstylist. Soon after I became established, I aggressively pursued a career in management in the salon I worked in. My clientele grew as well as my responsibilities in the salon with the team I was leading. Within a matter of three years, I found myself wearing at least five different work hats a day; working twelve hour days and being on call all the time with our staff. Having the authority in many departments at my job gave me the sense of importance and belonging. There was no work life balance and I liked it that way.

After years of hustling hard at work, I became pregnant. Although the pregnancy was a total surprise, I was elated. My husband and I decided I would return to work part time, only being in the salon about 28 hours a week. My leadership position allowed me to do a fair amount of work at home as well. I thought I had it all figured out. It would force me into having the “balance” that others would tell me I desperately needed. I had no plan at all! I just assumed life would fall into place. The problem with this new formula of my life was the skill I was really great at was being somewhat replaced by a new job I had no experience in. My selfconfidence and dignity came solely from my work accolades. My daughter came and to say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I suffered from postpartum depression, which I of course did not recognize when I was going through it. My sense of self and self-worth was gone while on maternity leave. I called my boss two weeks after I was on maternity leave to take back the duties I could do at home, something I could control in my life.

Do you see a theme here?

Of course, going back to work as a mom pulled me into a thousand more directions except now I was sleep deprived, emotional and feeling like a failure at motherhood. Because of these things, I wasn’t excelling at work like I was used to. I spent a few years after my daughter was born taking off some hats at work then putting them back on, trying desperately to figure out what the best formula was to be a mom and work in a leadership position and in the service industry. My mind, spirit and body were on empty, so the thought of giving to our work team and to my clients felt like such a chore, yet my ego wouldn’t allow me to let go of the control I was seeking.

My daughter is five now and it has taken me the entire duration of her life to find balance of being a working mom. I had to consciously give up roles at work that were going to take too much time away from my family. I had to put boundaries up and say no when needed. I now have the role of a stylist and educator, not multiple hats with too much responsibility that I never really did all that well. I had to dig deep and be honest with myself and realize that identity cannot be solely reliant on the job performed. The most valuable lesson learned was to never put all of my self-worth into one category because if it doesn’t work out, what’s left of my dignity?

I finished college even though I didn’t have to

While building a career in the cosmetology industry, I was going to college full-time for a Bachelor’s degree in business. No one in my family finished college, so I wanted to be the first. Finishing college would prove to myself and others that I was more advantageous than my roots. With each high GPA every semester, the more proud I became. I loved having the bragging rights of going to college fulltime, working full-time and being on the leadership team at my job. Completing my degree program has been a great accomplishment, but I should have never looked at having a degree as a form of happiness. I finished college to add to self-worth and pride. A $40,000 piece of paper didn’t bring me happiness, just debt.

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I put so much self-worth into the wrong categories to achieve happiness most of my adult life. I spent years of building my ego up, not my happiness or self worth. I do believe it is OK to make goals and strive to be better, but I now know school, work, or being skinny won’t fill the hole in my soul that has been missing till now. Seeking happiness within is an ongoing process. We must strip away the ego to allow love in. The cup can be filled and drained throughout our days, so we must be aware enough to find what serves our happiness

Who Needs a Rock Bottom Anyway?

When I tell people I don’t drink anymore, the first reaction they have is, “what happened to make you quit?” It’s a loaded question. I usually respond with, “nothing happened, I wasn’t comfortable with my drinking patterns.” When most people hear that I didn’t have a destructive, crash and burn rock bottom, then the response is, “oh, well you weren’t that bad!” My issue with this response is, why does something bad have to happen in order to quit drinking? My issues with binge drinking were mostly internal with a few external consequences. Drinking triggered anxiety and depression. The cycle was vicious. I would drink heavily, making my anxiety sky high then I would drink to numb the anxiety. I drank to self medicate and to stop feeling depressed. Isn’t participating in internal toxic behavior enough to decide to remove the problem from my life?

I was hesitant for a long time to decide to remove the booze because of what people would say and how they would react. We live in a world where drinking is saturated everywhere. Making a decision to quit drinking was going to go against the grain of the world around me. Pretty terrifying! I bet I am not the only person who binge drinks and feels uncomfortable with it, yet is afraid to let go of the booze because people will look at them differently. Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify NOT doing and the stigma around not being able to handle your liquor is real.

But alcohol abuse is not black and white. I was guilty of looking at alcoholism at its most severe; multiple DUI’s, alcohol related accidents, losing your earthly belongings, losing your family, or dying. I now understand a bottom doesn’t have to mean you hit the rocks to quit drinking. To be honest, my “bottom” was anti climatic. I think I had a million bottoms before I finally quit drinking. I woke up almost every Sunday vowing to myself this will be the last time I binge drink, only to drink again by Wednesday. I spent two years of my life debating on if I had a problem with my drinking. Almost every time I contemplated putting the bottle down, I thought about the picture society painted of an alcoholic and I didn’t fit that mold.

As I settled into my 30’s and began laying down the foundation for our family dynamic, it became evident that alcohol was not positively contributing. Growing up with many alcoholics and addicts within my family, I vowed to never have the same kind of environment for my daughter; however, I was headed down the same toxic path. Looking back on the last year of my drinking, I can see clearly what instances led me to quit like thumb tacks on a road map. The time where I was hungover in the parking lot talking to my husband on the phone crying because my anxiety was so high from bingeing the night before, the time when I partied too hard the night before I went wedding dress shopping and couldn’t fully enjoy the moment because I was fighting nausea and a headache, the many Sundays spent being unproductive and self-loathing.

Alcohol stopped being light and fun and I became afraid of what the future would look like if I kept drinking the way I did. The physical pitfalls were happening as well. My kidneys would ache after a hard night of drinking. My skin was blotchy and inflamed. I gained weight. The rings under my eyes were dark. Fine lines and wrinkles seemed to appear faster than they should. I knew it was all because of not taking care of myself and drinking too much.

The blows to my spirit were what ultimately led to my decision to quit. I felt completely detached from who I knew I was supposed to be. At the height of my drinking, I was so unhappy and miserable. I released toxic energy every day to anyone who would listen. Without realizing, I adopted the victim mentality. I was in a cycle of poisonous thoughts and poisonous drinking. When I decided to quit, the decision was more about taking my power back and creating a life I was proud of living. It just clicked in me that I needed to stop looking around for the answer that was in me all along. I stopped overthinking about the social situations I would participate in without a drink in my hand. The reactions from friends and family didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was finding the woman who I knew I could be.

These last 9 months have felt like coming back home. If someone was outside looking into my life, nothing looks different. I have the same job, the same home, same family and friends. The biggest shift in life is what has happened within. My anxiety is minimal now and if the feeling of unease creeps in, I am able to articulate how I am feeling, honor those feelings and release it. My skin looks healthy again. I am able to be more present with my family. We have more money to have experiences like taking our daughter to the children’s theater and going on family dates. The connections with the people around me are much stronger because I’ve become better at managing my own emotions which allows me to openly communicate my authentic self.

CnS Mama