Giving Oneself Permission to Be Happy

Over the past year or so, I have told myself something to keep myself from drinking.  There are seasons in my life in which I have to tell myself this more than once.

The deal is this.  There are things in my life that I am unhappy about.  Perhaps they can be fixed, perhaps they cannot, or perhaps I do not have the will or the discipline to fix them.  I don’t know.  The thing is, why do I feel like drinking when those problems are foremost on my mind?  Because I want to feel happy.  Drinking will not fix those problems.  And, even though it may give me a buzz and that will make me slightly happy, I will crave more and more alcohol.  Drinking, for me, was like a bottomless pit: the vast quantities of alcohol could not fill the hole in my heart.  (I know, that sounds rather cheesy, like dialogue from the Ten Commandments!  But it’s an apt metaphor.)

So what do I tell myself to discourage me from drinking, or at least to lessen that desire to drink?  I tell myself this: If I am willing to drink to be happy, even though my problems are there and unresolved, then why can’t I just choose to be happy without drinking, notwithstanding my unresolved problems?

You see, I have to give myself permission to be happy, because, deep down, there is a part of me that says I should not be.  If, say, I am unpopular, a voice tells me that I should not try to be content with that but should try to solve the problem.  If I am happy in the midst of my unpopularity, I am in denial, or I am fooling myself by telling myself that I am happy when I really am not, that little voice tells me.  The message that infiltrates my mind is that my problems have to be fully resolved before I can be happy, that I cannot be happy if something is wrong, with myself or the world around me.

There is a place, in my opinion, for trying to change one’s situation.  A person once used a simile to describe to me recovery from alcoholism.  Suppose I’m in a dark closet, which had lots of boxes on the floor on which I keep tripping.  Quitting drinking is like the light in the closet going on.  But the boxes are still there, and working the twelve steps (preferably with a sponsor)—-doing the hard work of self-analysis, making amends, and reaching out to others—-is like moving those boxes so that I do not trip anymore.

I guess what I am trying to sell to myself is that I can be happy, even though the boxes are still there!  People can probably stand in line and tell me that I am fooling myself.  They may have a point, but I still don’t think that I have to be negative because I am not perfect, or because things do not go as I would like.  I am tired of fighting battles with people in my own mind.  There are so many things out there in life to enjoy.  I give myself permission to be happy, against any voice that tells me I am wrong to do so.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Giving Oneself Permission to Be Happy

  1. I relate with your post so much. The way that I have resolved my issue with drinking is that I am infinitely better off being sober and stressed to the high heavens than at any “happy” time drinking. I hit bottom very hard; I literally almost drank myself to death so when I say that I am better off, I am being sincere in the most sincere way. I was in ICU for weeks and all of the doctors save one had written me off. I know that it is so very hard to let oneself be happy, but we can be happy. Writing for me keeps me on the straight and narrow and keeps the darkness at bay, also it brought me friends like you, I count myself very lucky.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I’m really glad you got through that, Laurie.


  3. Thanks James 😀


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