“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~Brother David Steindl-Rast
A few years ago, my life was chaotic. I drank too much, slept too little, and always went with the flow. I didn’t look out for myself emotionally and physically. I burned the candle at both ends and eventually wore myself out.
I often felt depressed. After my parents’ divorce when I was 18, I lost the closeness I used to feel with my family. My entire focus was on what I didn’t have anymore.
I was in a never ending loop of feeling depressed, turning to alcohol, disappointing the people closest to me, then feeling more depressed. I had envisioned that I would grow up and my parents would still be a part of my life, but instead I felt like everyone was going their separate ways.
My dreams of my parents being there for my future wedding were dashed. Celebratory events in my life would never include both of my parents. I was frustrated. It was draining and costly to my soul.
I wasn’t aware of it then, but I also carried around so many regrets and resentment from childhood. When I was 7 years old, a stranger abused me during a field trip with my ballet troupe.
The shame and confusion I felt from this experience followed me like a dark cloud. I regretted being too scared to tell anyone. I think in some ways I resented the fact that no one was able to help me.
When my parents divorced I felt abandoned and it brought back a lot of those terrible feelings. It was like I was slowly imploding. I thought about the past and talked about the past while completely missing the present.
After years of letting this build up inside me, it finally hit a breaking point. The hurt I was causing myself and family had boiled over. Something had to change.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. The world as I knew it came crashing down. When you’re told you have a life-threatening illness it’s interesting how quickly everything else falls to the side. Time stands still and the past disappears. All you have is now.
Being thrust into the present I no longer had time for resentments or any negativity at all. I needed all of my energy to fight for my life. Everything I carried with me for so long seemed insignificant to the battle I was about to face.
Treatment for cancer can have a way of de-humanizing you, at least at first. It strips you down to your basic core self. I felt like a child most of the time. I was completely dependent on my doctors.
It was like I was scrambling around in the dark, reaching for a hand to pull me out. I was vulnerable and had zero control over the outcome.
I think sometimes in life we walk around with the illusion we’re in control. To some degree we are, but when faced with an illness you can very quickly be brought to your knees.
We have a tendency to take life for granted. We just assume we’ll wake up everyday and be healthy. I got so comfortable with the day to day of my life that I forgot what a gift it actually is. It took almost losing that gift for me to finally open my eyes.
Toward the end of treatment I felt reborn. All of the negative feelings I had about my parents’ divorce faded away. I was finally able to just let it go. My spirit felt calm. I felt optimistic about life again. My spirituality was soaring at heights I had never experienced before.
Through sickness I found myself. I discovered who I really am and what I’m really about. I was flooded with forgiveness toward my parents and I was ready to ask for forgiveness for all my crazy behavior.
During the course of cancer treatment I was able to mend and rebuild my relationship with my parents. I now have happiness that I only dreamed of before. I realize now how much time I wasted being unhappy and I’ll never do it again.
I wake up every morning grateful to have another day, to have another chance at this wonderful experience called life.
I make it a priority to eat well and exercise. I rarely drink. I have a disciplined sleep schedule. I go to great lengths to take care of myself on an emotional level, everyday. My body really held up for me during treatment and now I’m paying it forward!
Recovery from cancer has not always been an easy road. I won’t pretend there aren’t any bumps. My new outlook on life doesn’t allow me to wallow in it; instead, I count all my blessings and keep pushing forward.
I feel like I turned the most negative experience of my life into a positive experience by taking the lessons I learned while sick and really making the necessary changes in my life. I’m thankful to be given a second chance.
And, the life I had envisioned for myself? This is what I figured out. I don’t have to hang on so tight for something that isn’t working.
By letting go of the one that wasn’t working, I naturally created a new vision. This is one of the most freeing things I have ever done for myself. My new vision is attainable, my new vision is already happening. I’m living it now.
Instead of focusing on what isn’t working in your life, give some love and attention to the things that are. Take a mental inventory each morning of all the things to be grateful for.
You will soon notice the negative way of thinking will begin to shift and you’ll be able to experience the happiness that is waiting for you.
Photo by Zaiq Ali