When I was a young mother, my world became very grey. I was married with two children, aged six and three. I was unhealthy, tired and unhappy. I had been living overseas and away from my immediate family for seven years. I did not feel connected to my in-laws, and could count my friends on half of one hand. It was at this time that I had a crisis of identity. Who was I? What was my purpose? Would it matter if I lived or died?
From the outside looking in, it would be easy to assume that we had it all. A home, a car, a motorcycle, two incomes, private school for our son, and enough disposable funds to have flown to visit my parents less than two years earlier. Looks can be deceiving. We owned the car, but it was falling apart and needed replacing. The motorcycle was a lemon, bought on a whim with all of our savings and in need of repairs we could not afford. That trip was purchased on credit and we were still struggling to pay it off. We were under financial stress and unable to keep up with our mortgage and the never-ending conveyor of bills.
My husband and I argued all the time. Over nothing. Over everything. It didn’t matter. We could not see eye to eye on anything. Many times, I would find myself hiding away in the bathroom, hating my life. Over and over I would say to myself, “I’m 28 years old. I’m married and I have two kids. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. I should be happy.” I wasn’t.
Marrying someone of a different culture is difficult enough. Add to that the isolation of migrating to a new country without any family or friends who knew and understood you, and there may grow a destructive resentment towards your spouse. My sacrifice of family and home forever eclipsing his faults. How could anyone live up to that?
Following complications experienced at the birth of my second child, my health was still poor, further adding to my lethargy and depressed mood. Food was my drug of choice to console and ease the ongoing post-traumatic stress and depression that threatened to consume me. A guilty pleasure that only increased my self-loathing.
At this point in my life, though attending Mass weekly, I was still very far from God. There were hang ups and issues with my faith and the Church that I wasn’t dealing with. I didn’t trust God fully, or know what He wanted or expected of me. I was spiritually dry.
One day after another heated argument, my husband took the kids out for the day. We both wanted space, and the kids needed a diversion from the ugly tension. I can’t remember now what the issue was, or why I felt so angry at the time. I just know that I was sad, lonely and woefully unhappy.
I turned on the television and stared blankly at the screen. I was fuming and couldn’t sit still. Pacing up and down, all I could think about was eating something. This made me more upset, because I had been desperately trying to lose the extra weight that plagued me. I gave in and ordered a family sized pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni.
When the pizza arrived, I grabbed two beers from the fridge. Not that I was a drinker, I hated the taste. I just wanted something to numb my senses and block out all feeling. Slice after slice of greasy, spicy pizza was consumed without even noticing. When it was gone, I downed the first beer, and half of the second. Immediately, I felt both sick and ashamed. I started to cry. Soon, I was lying on the floor in our bedroom wailing uncontrollably, the empty pizza box and beer bottles scattered around me.
A hateful, awful voice began to creep into my thoughts. “You are nothing”, it said. “You are a terrible wife and a bad mother. You are unlovable. Look at yourself. You have no self-control!”
I sat up, nodding a shame-filled “yes” between sobs.
“Your husband doesn’t love you!” the voice went on. “How could he? Look at you! And your poor children! They deserve better. A patient, loving mother – not someone who’s tired and cranky all the time. Why don’t you just leave? Set them all free! They won’t even care that you’re gone.”
As if in a daze, I walked into the bathroom and rummaged through the medicine cabinet. Grabbing without thinking, I returned to the bedroom floor. I opened bottles and began pushing indistinct tablets into a pile on the carpet. I picked up the half empty bottle of beer in one hand, a pill in the other. My mind was empty, void of all thought. No thought of mine, nor the awful voice.
I don’t know how long I sat there. It could have been hours, or just minutes. At some point, my eyes began to see and register again. Slowly, I took in the now warm bottle of beer in my hand and the empty bottle on the floor. I then noticed the upended sauce-stained pizza box. Finally, I saw the pile of pills and what was left of the soggy capsule clenched in my sweaty palm.
What was I doing? A mix of shock and utter disbelief flooded within me.
Not wanting my husband and children to return and see me this way, I quickly got up and removed all the evidence, throwing the beer bottles and pizza box into the wheelie bin outside, flushing the pills down the toilet. Afterwards, I jumped into the shower, taking extra care to wash the streaks of dirty tears from my face.
As is his way, my husband returned home cheerful, acting as if he forgot we’d even had an argument. I pretended too, fooling myself that how I spent the afternoon had never happened. Except, that nagging awful voice returned, resurfacing often, relentlessly pursuing me should I ever find a moment of happiness, being sure to let me know how much I did not deserve it.
To blot out those invading thoughts, I clamored for change. Change allowed me to focus on something outside of my misery. Change gave the impression of happiness through the illusion of ‘if only’…if only we lived here…if only I had this degree or this type of job…if only we had a different house with more space and more rooms…if only…if only…if only. The problem was, the more I ran to catch the next if only train, the more restless I became. Change as a destination never leads to anywhere, except false hope and fleeting happiness.
I was fifty years old before I finally recognized and understood the pitfalls of pursuing happiness in the material trappings of this world. An epiphany that came many years, two and half degrees, countless careers, seven homes and four towns later. What I longed for, needed, and blindly pursued was actually a relationship with God. The Source of All Happiness had been there steadily all along, knocking at the door of my heart, waiting patiently for me to let Him in.
And finally, I did. In the middle of a once in a hundred years pandemic. We lost everything. And yet, I am happier now than I have ever been.
I think about that young girl all those years ago crying in despair on the bedroom floor, nothing at all wrong with her life, just with her soul. I want to reach back through time and shake her. Stop wasting time wallowing in self-pity! See what blessings you have before you. Be grateful. Tell that awful voice to stick it where the sun don’t shine! You are a beloved child of God. Start acting like it.
Happiness will never be found in the material things of this world.
Happiness can only be found in a relationship with our Creator Who loves us.
My husband and I have less now than we did when I was 28 years old. Less, but so much more. Our nest is empty. Our income is meager. Our possessions are few. Yet, we find joy all around us. In the wild birds that visit our garden, nibbling at the seed and fruit that we leave out for them. In the bulbs and annuals that surprise us anew each Spring. In the quiet time spent walking through the bush with our dog, or gliding softly along the river in kayaks. In the smiling faces of our grandchildren.
Mostly, we seek joy in God, through Confession, His Word, prayer, and the blessings of the Blessed Sacrament and the Traditional Latin Mass. Through our connection to God and His Love, we worry less, want less, and above all, need less. We still argue, of course. After all, we are still just two imperfect people. But we forgive quickly. We are working on leading with love.
The world we live in gets crazier and we become calmer. Each day we learn more about ourselves and each other. We know that all of this is passing. We are lighting our lamps and preparing for the Bridegroom.
Was it possible for me to know all this as a young mother burdened by financial stress, chronic ill health and the constant heartache of loneliness? Probably not.
Wisdom comes with time, experience and the Grace of God. In hindsight, I see God working in me, throughout my life. I see His Presence that day alone on the floor. It was God who protected me from the folly of my ways. I am blessed and in awe of His Patience and Love for me.
In my heart, I wrap my arms around my younger self and whisper, “Do not despair. This too shall pass.” I’m so glad I listened.