Day two of 2012 and I awoke realizing that I had not made any resolutions this year. That’s not really unusual for me; it’s not a tradition I honor often. I commonly laugh it off or resolve to not make any resolutions.
However, I thought about the character renovation I’ve attempted over the past five or six years, specifically after the divorce. I carried an immense amount of guilt around with me after the divorce, which translated to me not liking who I had become because of my marriage. The truth is we all change who we are in serious relationships, even if only a little – but we do change.
Not that I blame my ex-wife for the person I didn’t like that I had become. After all, I had made the changes and decisions that I did. Part of the post-divorce coping was to blame her, but the truth is I alone am responsible for those choices and decisions – which in turn means I alone carry the guilt of who I had become.
Now, the interesting thing that I’ve discovered over the past five years is “who I am” was not really that drastically changed, despite my dislike of myself. Yes, there were changed, but my core person had remained in tact. What had primarily changed is my attitude.
Growing up my mother would always tell me “People are as happy as the make their minds up to be.” Now while I struggled with this idea, I did put it in practice and was reasonably happy most of my childhood. However, what I didn’t know was that my brain chemistry did not regulate quite as it should and failed to produce enough serotonin, which resulted in serious depression in my late teens and early twenties. Through new pharmaceuticals at the time and some counseling, I trained my brain to cope for this deficiency. I literally made my mind to by happy.
And when I wed my now ex roughly a decade-and-a-half ago, I was fairly well-adjusted and happy person. However, as time went on, my attitude no longer remained in that determined-to-be-happy place, and I grew cynical. I alone am responsible for this change in attitude, but I alone was not the cause. As stated before, I won’t blame my ex, but the truth is being yoked to a bitter and angry person influenced me to avoid her pain, which ultimately resulted in me viewing most everything in a negative and fearful way. Even our fun times together were “escapes from chaos” or ways to “mask the pain.”
While it was not like being in a Nazi concentration camp, my environment for that decade wore on my attitude. When leaving that world after the divorce, I slowly learned to adopt my happier side again. Of course, I get drawn back to Misery-Land often because we share the responsibility of raising a child, even though living separate lives now.
Let me state carefully here. My ex-wife is not a bad person; however, in my opinion, she is a sad person. She seeks external conditions to determine her state of mind. She does not “make up her mind to be happy” but rather allows the conditions around her to define her mood. Again, this does not make her a bad person, but it is a method and philosophy, likely subconscious on her part, that differs diametrically with mine. She has many fine and wonderful qualities, but that difference alone became significant in my ability to live with her, work with her and eventually even like her – and even like myself.
So, in the past five years, I have worked to rebuild my character. As I stated above, the framework was still there; it was just that the paint had dulled and maintenance had been lacking. The maintenance of attitude – a positive attitude. Not a silly Pollyanna, rose-tinted fantasy-land attitude. But a positive one, nonetheless.
I was recently reminded by a question I heard in my therapy sessions in my twenties with learning to cope with my depression. The therapist asked me, “How many good things does it take to make up for one bad thing?” It was then I realized that I gave weight to very condition that happened in my life. But more importantly, I can to realize that I chose to label every condition as either positive or negative before I stored it in my memory.
This truth has not changed. The only thing that has changed is my choice in labels. So, if I have a resolution this year, it would be my choice of labels for the events in my life. I will make my mind up to be happy.