becoming the best version of myself involves healing my past wounds and finding pleasure in daily life
It took me a long time, and a lot of training and education to learn that the ways in which I evaluate, interpret and respond to the world around me are rooted in my past experiences.
Much like trees, we grow from our environmental conditions. In optimal growing conditions, we thrive even through adversity. In sub-optimal conditions, we adapt and change to survive.
However, we do not show up in the world with our roots showing. They exist deep below the surface, and sometimes this can lead to confusion and misunderstanding from those around us. In other words, we can observe another person on the outside and we can make assumptions about them, but can we ever really know what someone else has experienced without a little (gentle) digging?
If you were to look at me you might never know that as a pre-school aged child, I sustained a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. I was ejected from a car after it was struck by an intoxicated driver that ran a red light in broad daylight. We (my dad, my mom and my younger sister) were on our way to a family event and we were hit right in front of a restaurant my paternal grandparents owned. The aftermath of the accident was witnessed by my extended family. Although I was so little, and I don’t remember the accident, the story has lasted as family folklore—with those who witnessed my suffering telling me their own version of what is my story. But, in many ways, it is their story. The trauma of watching a child suffer. As a mother, an aunt, therapist and a childhood scholar I understand deeply how hard this is.
This is one of many examples of sub-optimal conditions I have experienced, and that my body carries with me. This experience has been profoundly imprinted. Now, decades later as a middle-aged woman who has experienced chronic illness, I have become more and more attuned to the ways in which my body responds to my environment. The conditions in which I continue to grow impact my health and well-being. The World Health Organization calls the social determinants of health, the “non-medical” factors which impact on human health.
But healing it is not just understanding the past, it is doing something different in the future. I once heard an elder woman say: “we talk a lot about problems, but we need to build bridges toward solutions”. So, with this, as I continue to explore ways to take care of myself and grow toward healing, I have learned that focusing on finding moments of joy and pleasure can re-orient me away from pain. This is not toxic-positivity, but rather recognizing that both pain and pleasure exist in our lives even in the most challenging of circumstances. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search For Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”In the face of adversity, I encourage others to try, wherever possible, to choose pleasure! Do you find pleasure being in nature? Do you find pleasure in participating in sports? Do you find pleasure in reading a book in bed on a Sunday?
Check in with yourself. What circumstances are most optimal for you to grow and expand your pleasure (and find joy)? This is resilience. We do not have to happy all the time (this is not realistic), but building in little moments of pleasure and joy can improve our well-being. For me, the absolute best (and most joyful) moments in my life are little ones. I love playing board games with my husband and two daughters, or sitting by a campfire together. I am not sure there are many greater pleasures than eating a delicious meal with people I love. If I want to calm my nervous system, I need to find a beach. There is nothing like going on a bike ride in the country and smelling the fresh air through the trees. Even writing this, and thinking about those things makes my jaw relax, and I can breathe deeply, and I notice a smile on my face.
When we orient to pleasure, we allow our nervous systems to take a break.
Particularly, if our early growing conditions have been sub-optimal. We are well-versed at finding the things that are not bringing us pleasure (thank you to our brains negativity bias) but the practice in healing our past comes in finding moments of rest, joy, calm, pleasure in the present. By understanding the impact of our experiences and prioritizing activities that bring us joy, we can cultivate personal growth and well-being. Remember that healing and growth take time, so be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate this journey. Celebrate the progress!
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