Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trauma, Laughter, and Happiness

     During hard times in life it can be difficult to find someone who will listen or stay in a close relationship with you because most people don't like to be around a "downer".  Since trauma is outside the box of every day experiences that most people can relate to, it often makes them uncomfortable.   Some people try to understand, some people get angry, and many people just ignore it the best they can.  In general, people prefer to be around happy people.  The ones who get angry at hearing about trauma or at the person dealing with the after-effects of trauma are usually angry with at them for not being happy enough.  The ones who ignore it all can't deal with them not being happy enough.  Obviously, we would all prefer to BE happy ourselves.

     For me carrying around my trauma has been like having a giant boulder strapped to my back.  It goes with me wherever I go.  Now, clearly, I want the boulder gone.  I get very cross when people insist that I have chosen to pick up and carry the boulder.  Or when they tell me that I can just "choose" to "let go" and put the boulder down.  I do not believe trauma is something you can just "let go" without coming to terms with it, and that takes as long as it takes, it is a different time frame for everyone.  There is no "wrong" time frame to heal.  Real happiness is not a front to make other people comfortable, and a forced fake happiness is one of the worst miseries of all.  That is not the kind of happiness I am talking about in the rest of this post.  Laughter and happiness as the real thing can be used both to help get through trauma and to serve as a sign of recovery from trauma.  

     Laughter, oddly enough, can at times pair nicely with deep, dark, trauma.  It is such a paradox to the darkest layers of our psych that it balances it out, and helps to balance us out.  Humans are surprisingly resilient and one of our remarkable comebacks is the ability to laugh during and after our darkest points in life.  Some of the comedians and actors who play humorous roles that I admire most have surprisingly sad or difficult pasts; Ellen DeGeneres first saw the power of humor in her childhood helping her mother after a divorce.  After living through sexual abuse in her teens and enduring the world's recoil after becoming the most prominent openly gay public figure, Ellen is now one of the most well known (and now, well loved) people in the world who is famous for making people laugh every day.  Kelsey Grammer is known most for his role in the comedy show "Cheers" and "Frasier", but he used acting to help him cope with the violent individual murders of his father and sister, and the tragic deaths of his two half brothers in a diving accident.  Alan Alda spent years struggling to come to terms with his mothers' mental illness, but starred as a doctor in MASH, a comedy dealing with some very serious issues surrounding war.  His condition to take the part was that every episode have a scene in the operating room, so the show would not be a comedy that belittled or ignored the consequences of war.  Danny Kaye's mother died just before he became a teenager, right as he started to establish himself as a comedian with his peers.  Just a few years later he dropped out of school to start his life in show business and comedy.  All the comedians that I love I discover have dealt with very grim subjects in the past, and use their comedic relief to ponder serious subjects.  Perhaps that is why I am drawn to them.  Perhaps trauma and comedy are not irreconcilable after all.

    Oftentimes in dealing with trauma -most often- laughter is not possible, or at all appropriate.  And when laughter is appropriate it can surprising, irreverent, hysterical, giddy, daring, or deliberately pushy.  I think genuine laughter after trauma is the first real heartbeat of a life that is starting to live again.  Even though laughter can be a tool to help through trauma, I don't think true complete happiness can be reached until the trauma has been resolved and the brain has come to terms with it and made peace with it.  As I progress in therapy, memory work, and integration, laughter comes easier  The reality of memories that I'm able to increasingly deal with are more dark and heavy, but I can go work through them and come out feeling lighter and more whole.  More than I have ever been in my life.  Free to be happy.  Joy as a state of being isn't something I have, but I can see it on the horizon.  I keep brushing past it, catching a glimpse now and then.  And in between my dark moments and sometimes even during them I can laugh, and be happy.

     Trauma has the ability to strip us to the bone of who we are as human beings.  This happens not only during the trauma itself, however drawn out that may be, but during the long aftermath.  It is easy to think that the aftermath is a permanent state, and that there will be no room for happiness again.  As it turns out, down at that state of being stripped to our core, we are not our trauma.  In our natural state we are light and happy, and laughter comes very easily.

"God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites,
so that you will have two wings to fly – not one."

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