Happily Ever After

Two truths, one lie:

1)  My mother told twelve-year-old me that she “would rather have a dead son than a gay son.” This incident would set my eating disorder into motion. Years later it would also fuel my creative writing, helping me to win awards and a publication.

2) I once fantasized about my therapist assaulting me. This disturbed fantasy, and the difficulty I felt trusting my therapist, would stem from the trauma I experienced as a kid. A session or two after I talked with my therapist about this, we would both laugh about Ariana Grande, my romantic woes, and our own relationship. I would feel safer than I ever had.

3) As a preteen, I felt so isolated and hopeless, I dreamed of killing myself by swallowing two handfuls of my grandfather’s pills, the ones he stored in the drawer right underneath his desk. Ten years later, I would resolve all my mental health issues and live a perfect life, happily ever after.

In my creative nonfiction workshop, we dissect fact and fiction, searching for the truth and who determines it. We cultivate our own voices, our commitment to the craft, one grueling word at a time. We debate about the merits of reconstructing dialogue, of filling in the blanks of memory with what we see fit, what we determine as real, or real enough.

The lie: #3. I do not believe in happily ever afters.

summer writers institute 2016 pic yay

My current project, an advanced personal narrative course, complete with many free-writing exercises, one of which inspired the intro to this post.

Despite rejecting the notion of happily ever afters, right now I am the happiest I have ever felt. Not all of #3 is false: with the help of my therapist and my friends, I have worked through my childhood angst, my early adolescent eating disorder, and my trauma. I have won grants to write and research about issues I care about, my mindfulness game is #onfleek, and I feel more fulfilled than I ever thought possible.

So why disbelieve in happily ever afters, if happiness pervades my life now? Because the concept “happily ever after” imposes the idea of a static future, a false notion that we must always feel happy to live with meaning and authenticity. We so often hide behind filtered photos and statuses saturated with cheer to preserve this image of happiness; we push ourselves toward marriage, toward money, toward whatever our analgesic of choice, in many cases with the hope that they will provide us with infinite joy, an elation that will erase all our unpleasant emotions forever. Perhaps Pema Chodron puts it best, my argument that we should strive toward healing and hope, without the assumption that we must always feel happy to enjoy a full life:

pema chodron when things fall apart letting there be room quote

What a queen. Quote taken from Goodreads, the objectively best website in existence.

Maybe I will get rejected from every graduate school I apply to this year, and I will suffer a temporary, yet devastating bout of self-doubt. Maybe I will marry someone in ten years and our firstborn child will grow up into someone I cannot recognize, a human being socialized to believe in ideas I find distasteful, repulsive. Maybe 40 years from now I will look back and wish I had written more, researched more, or learned more – that I had lived my life in a different way.

But the inverse must work too, then: if happiness can dissipate with time, so can pain. When I starved myself all those years ago, little did I know that a decade later, I would attend a national conference and present a program about eating disorders that many people would love. When I doubted my therapist several months ago, I had no clue that I would write about him in a piece that everyone in my current class loves – in particular how he expressed his care, how I accepted it. When I wrote an angst-filled series of posts just last year about a breakup, I in no way foresaw how full my life would feel now, with so many compassionate friends and mentors.

The point of this post: never give up. Identify your values and stick with them. Seek out resources, like the ones I share at the top of this blog, like talks and books about self-compassion and vulnerability and courage. Appreciate every moment – the happy ones, the sad ones – because none of them will last forever.

In my creative nonfiction class, we analyze how authors end their stories, where they choose to cut off a narrative that in real life never ends. Because, that, really, is what I believe: the story never ends, even when it feels like the last page.

As I write this, I sit in my dorm room in St. Louis, Missouri, my right leg bouncing up and down, my fingers hovering over my laptop’s keyboard. My professor’s memoir lies to my left; her critique of my newest piece’s title rings in my ears. I look at the bright blue blanket sprawled across my bed, and I think about what I will want for breakfast after I wake up and go on a jog – what the first bite will taste like, how it will feel, afterward, to be full.

yas chocolate french toast with cream ugh slay me books

Another truth: for the rest of my life, I will continue to take amateur iPhone photos of food and books, two of life’s greatest pleasures.

Another day, another vulnerable-as-heck blog post from Thomas. Also, friends, I created a “Publications Elsewhere” section at the top of this blog, if you want to check out my other writing. I hope this section will expand as my ~ writing career ~ takes off at some point. Thank you for reading, and I would love to read your thoughts – on this post, on anything at all! Sending everyone lots of love and light.

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15 Comments

Filed under Personal

15 responses to “Happily Ever After

  1. Lovely, thought-provoking, and poignant post, as usual. Keep up the inspiration 🙂 I think it’s difficult to accept that joy, like all things, is temporary- but if we are always trying to find the perpetual crest of the happy wave, we’ll never be satisfied, like you say. Always a balance between living for the present happy moment and working towards more moments.
    I really love the “Night Circus” shoutout- it’s been a while since I read it, but now I’m thinking of giving it a reread…

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment! I agree, navigating that balance between appreciating the present moment and building even more moments is so important. Hope you are having a great New Year. (:

  2. Thanks for sharing this! Your thoughts on happily ever after remind me of the mindfulness story about the Chinese man and the horse:
    http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/Taoist_Farmer.html

    • Oh, I loved reading about this story (I searched it online because that link did not work for me.) Thank you for sharing – it shows how we have to put things in perspective, because we don’t know how future events will shape our perspectives. Hope you are having a great New Year!

  3. What a beautiful post. I love the sound of hope and reality in this. I too have learned that life isn’t about the happily ever after. Having lived through my own trauma, i have come to appreciate the dynamism of life, the fleeting quality of both our joys and sorrows. No longer am I fixated in being perfect, in meeting my goals at the time I set them and thinking i am a failure when i don’t attain them. I see that life’s downs are gifts, they offer us the opportunity to look again at the possibility, to see the bigger picture. Thank you for this post. It’s a wonderful reminder of what truly matters. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for this meaningful comment! I appreciate your vulnerability in revealing that you have also lived through your own trauma, and it sounds like it really has added wisdom and insight into your perspective on suffering. Good for us, both focusing on the bigger picture instead of life’s smaller imperfections. Hope you are having a fabulous 2017 so far. (:

  4. Lovely post and very thoughtful and valid, as always. I can’t believe you’re applying for graduate school already, though!

  5. After a long time,I have read a post which is like worth sharing.
    Happiness is A BIG BROAD abstract and unluckily we have failed to extract the real meaning of happiness for we have become too materialistic.
    THANKYOU for this post.
    IT WAS BUT IT IS AMAZING.

    • Aw, thank you so much for this kind comment! I am sure that there are many posts just as worthwhile, if not more so, than mine – but I am grateful for your generous compassion. Hope you are having a great 2017!

  6. Reblogged this on Fairy JerBear's Queer/Trans Musings From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    A powerful post on how mental health issues often linger as a result of early trauma whether we’ve experienced verbal, sexual or physical abuse.

  7. yes, it is hard to accept that everything in life is temporary….at different times in our lives, we function of different intellectual, emotional and social levels.

  8. As I write this, I sit in my college apartment, my legs propped up on the chair, my fingers hovering over my laptop’s keyboard. My bag of onion rings lies to my right; a sense of excitement and celebration rests on a beaming smile that rests on my face.

    Well, that was my attempt at being ~artsy~ by reframing some of your words. Thank you so, so much for this post. I am filled with joy to read this. I celebrate with you, because I know the feeling of accomplishment and overcoming your demons (or having a better handle of it). I am so happy for you; I also revel in your accomplishments because I seen even the slightest taste of all that passion and hard work you have invested into yourself, others, and your studies (and that’s a looooooot). Thank you for reminding me of hope. Thank you for encouraging me to never give up, and that our dreams and selves are worth fighting fore. Thank you for reminding me that the good news is that the story never ends. I am rooting for you, Thomas!

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