AWARENESS AND EXPERIENCES OF JOY AS A SURVIVOR OF ABUSE AND/OR TORTURE
There is a street musician, a drummer, in my city who brings joy to my heart and others. This performer wears an African mask and a costume as he drums. I have witness the changes in his performances over the years I have watched him. This season, he has welcomed children, teens, and adults to drum along with him. I sit, listen, watch, and enjoy. The rhythm of his drumming brings calmness within me.
JOY. What an occasion to witness people’s joy. Most little children lose their initial fear and gently hit the drum with pleasure. There are a few little ones who confidently pound it. Children of all ages experience the freedom. Teens and college students tend to lose their inhibitions and shyness. Glee shows on their faces. Several adults, experienced in drumming or not, lose their facades and just are in the moment. Pleasure and joy shows. Strangers are asked to take photos so individuals can have a record of the moment. A small segment of community is formed for a very short time. These small kindnesses and connections remind us of our humanness and unify us.
The drummer acts and responds with enthusiasm, genuineness, and inclusivity to all who participate or watch. When no one joins him, the musician appears to be “in the zone”. His passion shows. His musical talent is used and shared. Joy follows. There is a light-ness in the area when he plays. When I arrive near the area or leave, the music resounds. My heart is gladdened. A simple pleasure can bring much light-ness and joy in the moment.
Frequently, a rape, physical and/or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, extreme abuse (ritual abuse and/or torture) can stunt our capability to feel joy. As a survivor of trauma, joy can become dormant. There are times we are not even aware that happiness is experienced at all. Life seems gray and dreary; yet, even in those periods, there are moments of pleasure that keep us going (even if we are not aware of them or deny them).
What kept me going? How did I survive decades of abuse and torture? Looking back, I experienced enough moments of joy, of fun, of happiness to know life was not only hell on earth. My childhood friendships fulfilled a need for fun and happiness. All through my life, I connected with others in friendship. Also, I have the ability to enjoy my own company.
I still struggle with loneliness at times. Even with friendships, loneliness began within my heart and mind in my early childhood and has stayed with me. Now, at this point in my journey, I am willing and able to recognize the loneliness, to accept it, and to learn from it. Oh, I still attempt to deny and/or dissipate the loneliness. Sometimes I compensation and over-compensate in ways that are not the healthiest to deal with the intense loneliness. Today though, I am further along on the loneliness aspect of my journey.
Interestingly enough, 12-step programs use the acronym HALT to alert a person in recovery of possible reasons for relapse. H – hungry, A – angry, L – lonely, T – tired. Gratitude and joy can be antidotes for HALT. Gratitude was written about in my previous blog post: http://roadtofreedomandpeace.com/gratitude/
Awareness of joy within you is the first step. Is your heart open? Are you afraid to let joy and peace within you or to acknowledge joy or peace? There are many reasons we shut down after abuse especially if your “loved one” is your perpetrator. To open your heart to joy, love and/or peace after trauma can be too scary. As a child and even as an adult, I was punished for being happy. Laughing turns to crying is what my mother said. How sad. Most lives are filled with sadness and joys; and, most children learn it is okay to be joyful. As a child, I learned to hide my happiness. I learned to have that poker face – the face that showed no joy or sorrow. I carried that “skill” with me for decades. As I began to heal, to allow my façade to fall and to be myself was a challenge. Recognizing, acknowledging, and showing joy is much harder for me than sadness. I had to learn it is okay to show joy as well as feel it within myself.
Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote:
“Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. We are inclined to think that when we are sad we cannot be glad, but in the life of a God-centered person, sorrow and joy can exist together. That isn’t easy to understand, but when we think about some of our deepest life experiences, such as being present at the birth of a child or the death of a friend, great sorrow and great joy are often seen to be parts of the same experience. Often we discover the joy in the midst of the sorrow. I remember the most painful times of my life as times in which I became aware of a spiritual reality much larger than myself, a reality that allowed me to live the pain with hope. I dare even to say: ‘My grief was a place where I found joy.’ Still, nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”
As I choose to keep my heart open, I now choose joy also. It is a work in progress!
Joy is contagious. I find myself sharing peace and joy to others especially at the most unexpected moments. It is not necessarily intentional. Awareness of peace, joy, and gratitude in my life keeps me centered.
What do you choose?
Do you need support to reach your goals?
Don’t hesitate to connect with me as a life coach. I have been there. I know the difficulties and the rewards.
To experience joy, to allow joy to appear as a smile, to radiate joy at times … it is wonderful in a deep sense.
I wish that for all of you.
Look for the joy today!!