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Laughter Isn't Always the Best Medicine With Trauma

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Come on Beth … smile  already, would ya?! Don’t you know that laughter is the best medicine?!

• What is PTSD?

Blah. Freaking. Blah.

I mean, what was there to laugh about? The world was full of selfish human beings inflicting unthinkable pain on each other. And for what? All to further their own fucking agendas!

No, I was not going to put on a “happy face.” I couldn’t. Because happiness is created and felt from the inside. Trust me … you can’t fake that shit!

And I thought I was being authentic. I thought I was living my truth (as miserable as it was). No way was anyone going to convince me to put on those rose-colored glasses!

Oh, there was a time when I chose to see the best in people. A time when I believed looking at the “bright side” would erase the pain.

But where did that thinking get me? No place good, that’s for sure.

I stayed in abusive relationships.

I made excuses for the people in my life who had hurt me time after time.

I continued to walk into the same damn cage over and over again, thinking if I just tried hard enough, I could make those steel bars disappear.

No. This kind of thinking did not serve me well.

It did not erase the pain.

It did not heal what hurt inside.

It broke me the fuck down.

It’s not what I wanted. I wanted  to feel happy. I wanted  a reason to laugh.

But I was smarter than that … more “aware.” I wasn’t going to be played the fool again only to be crushed beneath those lovely-worded lies. I’d stay ahead of the game this time. I’d expect the worst to spare myself the disappointment.

And the truth is I didn’t even think I missed smiling.

I didn’t think I missed laughing.

I didn’t think I missed any of it.

Until I did.

I wish I could say learning to laugh again was the answer — the bright light that led me out of my dark, dark world. But I don’t think a person can learn  to laugh. I don’t think a person can learn  to feel joy. So, “faking it until I made it” was not going to work here.

No, unfortunately, laughter would come after  I did the work. Looking back now, I can see my mind, body and spirit were so jam-packed with repressed pain, there simply wasn’t any room  for joy.

But, I kept waiting for it. I kept waiting to feel something — anything — that would make the recovery journey seem “worth it.” If only I could find something or someone to make me happy, then  I’d have the strength to pull through, right?

Wrong. I had it all backward. I had to give up the idea happiness would come first. I had to let that stored energy we call anger get up and move. And I had to do this all while  attempting to give up the destructive behaviors that were the only “safe places” I had ever known.

Let me tell you … it made for quite the shit show. Why the fuck was I doing this?

Well, I was doing this so I could have moments like I had last night.

Nights where a simple little thing like watching a movie called “Elf ” with one of my besties filled me with more “happy feels” than I could have ever imagined. I laughed so long and so hard my belly ached and my cheeks hurt! But ya know, I’ve never felt anything quite as wonderful!

And as I sit here reliving those magical moments, I feel alive!

But feeling alive means being brave enough to experience all  of it — the happy and the sad. So yes, there was joy, but there were also tears.

Tears over time lost.

Tears over having never before felt such beautiful bliss.

Tears over letting the “bad” in the world convince me joy was just an illusion.

And so, I made a decision. A decision to never again allow anything or anyone to steal my joy!

But I stand by my belief “putting on a happy face” does not “fix” anything. Oddly enough, I think it’s just the opposite. It wasn’t until the pain I felt was seen, heard and validated that the weight of the world was lifted. It wasn’t until someone looked straight into my soul and said:

“What happened to you was not OK. You have every right to be angry. Anger does not make you a monster! It makes you whole. It makes you fucking real. You are safe.”

And this wasn’t about manipulating anyone into “feeling sorry” for me. It wasn’t seeking pity or sympathy. What I needed was empathy. As strange as it sounds, I needed to be given permission to feel. Permission to feel and express my truth.

Even if others wouldn’t understand.

Even if they claimed I was being “too sensitive”.

Even if they insisted it wasn’t “that bad.”

Even if they didn’t believe me.

Even if they never would.

Permission to feelthat  was the secret anecdote I had been searching for. It wasn’t until I was able to give my pain space to breathe and room to move I could even catch a glimpse of what forgiveness looked like.

Forgiveness. That is what set me free.

I was free to forgive myself.

Free to forgive those who had intentionally caused me harm.

Free to forgive those who were doing the best they could, but hurt me just the same.

In the end, it was about welcoming all emotions and allowing each the time and space it needed to run its course. Only then would there be enough space for joy to rest its head.

So no, laughter wasn’t the “best medicine.” But it sure as hell has been one of the best rewards!

And I’ll be honest, feeling what I am scared to feel isn’t fun.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s messy.

It’s chaotic.

But sooner or later, I find myself smiling again.

And, to quote my friend Buddy the Elf, “Smiling’s my favorite!”

Getty image by Anna Ismagilova

Originally published: January 30, 2021
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