Choose To Be Happy – A Personal Experience

Ten years ago I was in a car accident. I was a passenger and it was out of my control. I ended up with broken and shattered bones, a life-long scar, and some emotional struggles that come maybe once every few months.

A little less than a month ago I was in another car accident. I was sandwiched between two other cars. I was the driver of my vehicle, but was not at fault. I walked away with a concussion, a few bruises, and a burn. Although this accident was less serious physically, the emotional toll it has taken on my mind has far surpassed the first.

I have lost all faith in other drivers. When on the road, I live in a constant state of fear, tension, and paranoia. I have to constantly remind myself that no one wants to get into or cause an accident. I am constantly checking my rearview mirror to see if the person behind me has left enough distance between us. When I’m coming to a stop, I brake gently and long before I need to just to make sure the person behind me knows “hey, there’s going to be a stop ahead”. I leave more room between myself and the car in front of me but still find myself slowing down to give even more room.

When the car behind me is following too closely for comfort my heart starts to pound. My entire body unconsciously tenses. My fist clenches. My breath catches until they back off. Even at speeds of 25 MPH I find myself fearing for my life. I have to remind myself to relax. I have to remind myself that “I am safe. I am centered. I am grounded”. I try to focus on 5 things I can see, 4 things I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell, and 1 thing I can taste.

After a lot of thought and analysis, I’ve figured out why this most recent accident affected me more than the first. It all falls down to control. I didn’t have control in either accident, but the first was preventable. The first happened because a driver ran through a stop sign. That can easily be avoided. I can control how I handle stop signs. For ten years I have made a full stop at every single stop sign. For ten years I have watched any cars at or approaching the intersection for any sign that they won’t adhere to the rules of the road. In ten years I have had no problems at stop signs.

This most recent accident was caused by the driver behind me not paying attention. He didn’t brake. He didn’t slow. I saw him in my rearview mirror. It’s amazing how many things can go through your mind in a matter of 1-2 seconds. “This is really happening. I’m going to be in another accident. He isn’t stopping. Oh God! He isn’t stopping!” How do you stop something like that from happening? How do you prevent it? How do you tell the driver behind you “Hey! Pay attention! We’re all suddenly stopped up here!”

I keep quite a bit of distance between the car in front of me and my own, but I’m always reminded that that distance won’t stop the person behind me from hitting me. It only stops me from being pushed into the car in front of me. I can never control the person behind me. I can’t keep him or her from hitting me, I can only have faith that they will be paying attention.

How do you learn to trust strangers again? How do you learn to put your faith back in people when day after day you see people swerving over lines, speeding, passing in no passing zones, blowing through stop signs? How am I supposed to let go of this fear when people keep reinforcing it?

I find myself sitting at a local diner during lunch. I’m relaxed, enjoying my favorite food. Suddenly, without warning, I have a vision of a car crashing through the window and slamming into me. I’m sitting at a red light. Humming along to my favorite song when I see the car behind me coming up too fast for comfort. Suddenly I’m hit with a flashback. I see a silver bumper. I see white air bags. I see smoke and smell sulfur. I’m driving on the highway. My cruise is set to exactly the speed limit (who would have known this speed demon could be tamed) and I’m enjoying the sunshine. The car that’s passing me inches to side and nearly crosses the line. My mind is now filled with images of my car spinning out, of blood, of choas. 

My ears ring. My heart pounds. My chest tenses. My grasp on the wheel tightens. My eyes grow wide. No car crashes through the diner window. The car stops in time. The car passes me without incident. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I tell my body to loosen up. My ears slowly stop ringing. My heart finally slows to its normal rate. 

How do I stop this paranoia and fear? How do I make people understand I have no control over it? I feel like I’m not me. I feel like someone else is inside my head. I feel crazy. Why does the choice to be happy have to be so hard?

Choose To Be Happy

My mother always taught me that happiness is a choice. This was mostly brought up when I was mad about something and being a grump. She would tell me that I need to choose to be happy even if things aren’t going the way I want them to. She was absolutely right. Being happy is about attitude and how you react to things that are out of your control. 

What she never told me is how I would have to make that choice over and over in the same day. How I would have to struggle to push away invasive and unwanted memories. That once I had made the choice in the morning to “be happy” today, I would be presented over and over with an overwhelming push to tell “be happy” to go fuck itself.

When you have no control over traumatic experiences in your life, choosing to be happy is very hard. It’s not about the co-worker who is irritating or the stranger who bumps you in the supermarket. It’s not about the weather changing from gorgeous blue skies to blackened clouds and pouring rain. It’s not really a matter of fighting outside sources of fear, frustration, and anger. Instead it’s about fighting your own mind.

You lay in bed trying to think only of positive things (like your niece’s smile when you try to get her to say your name or the sweet thing your spouse said to you earlier) so that you can maybe go one night without nightmares. While you think of these sweet memories, the ugly ones creep in like water falling through a crack in the ceiling. First just a drop comes through so you brush it off, but slowly as the pressure builds and the ceiling weakens, the water comes slamming through and now you have to fight to dry the room again.

I choose to be happy. I start out every morning vocally saying the words “Today is a day of happiness and peace”. I literally say out loud that I’m going to have a good day. The morning may go well. Hell, I may make it all the way to the end of the work day without needing to make the choice to be happy a second time. Then there’s a trigger. One small moment, something almost undetectable, and I’m faced with a decision; do I try to push through the memories and fears and choose to be happy or allow myself to be swallowed up by them?

Making that decision multiple times a day is daunting. It’s exhausting. Sometimes I feel I have no choice but to be lost in the flashbacks. When that feeling sinks in, it takes every bit of strength I have to find the happiness again. It takes my entire focus, my entire mind and soul to remember that there are good things in my life and I have nothing to fear. 

I’m honestly not even sure I’m doing the struggle justice. I know there are people out there who understand the point I’m trying to make, but if you’ve never experienced it…I’m not sure how to help you understand it. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to my own brain.

Maybe it’ll help to explain my experience. To keep my posts a reasonable length, I’ll post that separately and insert a link here once it’s done.

She’s Never Called Me Mom

She is my daughter, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve changed her diapers and taught her how to use the potty, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve cooked her breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but she’s never called me Mom.
She’s fallen asleep in my arms, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve wiped her tears and calmed her fears, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve picked out her outfits and helped her put them on, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve listened to her stories and laughed at her corny jokes, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve kept her secrets, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve sacrificed time with friends to be with her instead, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve cleaned up after her and wiped food crumbs from her face, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve brushed her hair and teeth, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve buckled her in and tied her shoes, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve zipped up her jacket and spread sunscreen on her skin, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve caused good of giggles, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve given her hugs and kisses and snuggles on the couch, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve given her baths and helped her put on her PJs, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve watched her shows and learned the names of her friends, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve attended open houses and school concerts, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve thought about her every day, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve thrown birthday parties and sleepovers, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve picked out gifts and placed bows on special wrapping, but she’s never call me Mom.
I’ve baked blue cakes and lit candles, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve tucked her into bed and kissed her goodnight, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve taught her to love herself, but she’s never called me Mom.
I’ve loved her with every ounce of love I have to give, but she’s never called me Mom.
She is my daughter, but she’s never called me Mom.

This is the struggle I believe many stepmothers go through. We love a child that is not our own and give them our all and do it without expectation of a return. I don’t need my stepdaughter to call me Mom, but I used the wording as a demonstration of the thanklessness that the job of stepmom can be.

I hope she understands she has my entire heart. I don’t want to replace her mother in any way, she needs her mother. I just want to be a second set of arms to run to. I want her to always know she has my love no matter what happens in life. No matter where she goes or who she becomes, she will have my heart forever.

In The Night

Night holds no comfort for me.

She holds no solice from the torments of the day.

She taunts me.

She haunts me.

She sneaks into my dreams.

Her spiny black fingers creep into the corners of my mind.

The corners that are reserved for rest.

They clutch at my tranquility and rip it from my mind.

Her wicked thoughts replace the sweetness of my dreams.

Violence and terror.

Fear and horror.

Loathing, hatred, war, suffering.

These are those things which she leaves behind.

Where once peaceful light filled my nights,

Now thick blackness invades.

I can’t escape.

I can’t run.

I can’t hide.

I can’t stay awake.

My eyes and body betray me.

They give in to her sultry whispers.

Her promises of warmth and comfort.

My mind slips into that sardonic grasp.

I’m lost.

I’m broken.

She has me.

She won’t let go.

At my most vulnerable,

In the night.