When it the last time you thought about things that brought you joy? When was the last time you were able to freely indulge in things that bring you joy? If someone asked you what “joy” meant to you, how would you respond?
Random House defines joy in the following ways:
1. the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation:
2. a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated:
But I’ve never been a fan of rote, mechanical, or trite technical definitions. Dictionaries are great tools if you want to have a general idea about the meaning of a word or mere fundamental structure, but I’m not in the least bit interested in language in those terms. They usually only scratch the surface in sacrifice of substance, and I am not a basic kind of girl. I am interested in nuance and the emotions that arise when I think of certain words or phrases and their connections with the figurative heart and how they strike in accord with my experiences and the growth of my psyche. As such, I’m very particular about the way in which I describe any number of things from the most mundane to the wildly spectacular.
It isn’t enough for me to just be able to give you a general sense of what I’m saying. No, I don’t want you to sit there and merely comprehend it. I want you to feel it so intensely that the emotions bubble within and you can picture it with your entire sight. I want the words to come to life on your screen and wrap themselves around you and steal you away to my world of one. I want it to take up residence in your heart. What I want is for it to become a part of you in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to convey it to another using any other words. Cadence is as of the same importance to me as nuance and semantics.
When you learn additional languages, you will soon find once you have crossed a certain fluency threshold that mechanical translation cannot give another the ability to understand everything the way you mean it, feel it, or experience it. Words and phrases carry with them nuances, invocations of certain emotions, and awareness of tradition and inheritance and origins that get lost in the expanse as you traverse the bridge from one language to another.
I learned at a young age that my ability to craft this bridge was one of my greatest strengths. While from a mere academic sense one could say I possessed the intelligence and capability early on, there is no denying that it is a part of the life flowing through my veins. No one could understand my obsession with words, how I could devour books so greedily, how I could pick up languages so easily, how I would fill endless, heaping stacks of notebooks with my feverish scrawling. I was catalogued as a bookworm, a geek, and by some, a nerd. It wasn’t so much an obsession as it was a force within compelling me to forever absorb more. And when I finally became keenly aware that I had crossed my threshold to fluency in multiple languages and started dreaming in three languages all at once, I became so enraptured that I leapt from the bridge and merged with the rushing water below in joy.
Joy; there’s that word again. How do we know what gives us this happiness? Not fleeting moments of academic test scores or landing that job, but things that are so substantial to our being that were we to be without them, we would emotionally die. That we would lament their absence. Some have argued with me that nothing can truly have that devastating effect on us that we would be emptied of all satisfaction or contentment in our lives in lack of it, but as someone who had everything necessary to sustaining her heart stripped away and locked in a vault for an eternity I promise you it can. As a survivor of severe trauma, I know how the inescapable pain of losing everything and being suffocated by so much suffering can lead one to a point where it is possible to forget that happiness exists and the ability to identify it for the gift it truly is. Once I left and had reached a point in my healing process where I emotionally re-stabilized and was able to break free from my internal dissociation with my emotions, I realized that before I went through the abuse, I had no idea how much joy we as human beings are capable of experiencing this emotion. I didn’t know that some of the seemingly smallest things had the most profound impact on not only my quality of life but my contentment as well.
With each step I have taken to reclaim my life, my definition of joy has continued to be altered to accommodate each eureka moment in grand fashion. There is no way for me to give anyone a basic, one-sentence catch-all to sufficiently convey how deep this emotion goes. So instead, I offer up the following.
Joy is being able to give the gift of what I see, how I see the world, and things I feel through my words. To be able to communicate with others in other languages and see their faces light up when they realize they won’t have to struggle to get me to understand. To have someone else who have been traumatized read my posts and identify with what I said so deeply that they tell me it was what they needed, that I hit the nail on the head. Joy for me is to see that barriers do not exist and that I have the power to break through the barriers that do exist for others and help guide them through from out behind the wall. Joy for me is connection, and I didn’t understand the full extent this ability impacted my heart until this was taken from me one connection at a time. It wasn’t something as simple as feeling basic loss. It was excruciating pain as nerve endings were severed, shredded, and mangled in slow motion as he observed my pain with a warped amusement twisted in his sneer. It was mourning so deep that I churned in despair that only worsened as each subsequent connection fell prey to his evil.
Joy is being able to flip through the photo gallery on my phone and be my own silent witness to just how much freedom my escape from him has brought to me. Photos of bubbles a friend blew up into the air on their descent from the expanse of blue down toward the green blades of lush vegetation waiting to burst them the moment they touched the soft, pointed tips. Photos of sunflowers I took in the middle of a sea of yellow. Shopping. Dinner. Weekends with friends. Joy for me is being able to think for myself and make my own choices without fear of impending desolation. It is knowing that I am not tethered to that phone as though my heart would suddenly stop and explode if I didn’t answer it on the first ring. It is being able to stay out as long as I want, with the company I choose without fear of interrogation and brutal punishment. Joy is knowing that I like strawberry, raspberry, and mixed berry preserves, that I can listen to Japanese music on full blast, and watch documentaries to my heart’s content without being corrected and punished for allowing myself to thrive and blossom in my world and occupy my space in this wonderfully vital world like I’m worth it. I didn’t realize that sever restrictions would be akin to having my limbs hacked off and thrown to the wolves so they would be un-salvageable if I somehow managed to make my way over to them. Sitting in a glass box unable to move and mix and flow steadily in the current with the rest of the world as they went on about their lives was devastating. Being a whole, vital person is freeing in a way those who have not been forcefully deprived of it can understand. Having an identity, having a voice, being acknowledged. This is joy to me.
Joy for me is also accomplishment, not for bragging rights, but for purpose. Being able to achieve something, especially under difficult circumstances, to do so in the face of others telling me how impossible it is serves as proof to myself that I am intelligent, worthy, and I deserve to be treated as such by everyone, especially myself. Controlling panic attacks, paying off debts, and breaking down all the walls and succeeding when everything is stacked against me. Joy for me in strength, and I didn’t lose this through my trauma. I was just made aware just how deep that strength goes.
Lastly, there is even joy in my fear. Fear is a reaction to danger, yes, and it helps keep us from being harmed physically or emotionally if we only listen to that gnawing, sinking feeling that arises in our stomachs as though we were in free-fall despite standing on solid ground. However, it is also a reaction to the unknown and things from our past that haunt our memories, fresh and raw, and tell us to shy away from reaching out for more. Memories that tell us instead of releasing our light, we should hoard it in urgent protection of ourselves lest we get burned or damaged again. That fear is evidence that we have value for ourselves and in cases of past trauma, it shows that we have reached a point that we not only logically acknowledge we have worth, we also believe we matter. That who we are is important enough to be occasionally stricken with that hesitation to act until we know that the risks are minimal enough to proceed. Fear tells us that we and what is important is personal to us as individuals, and the consequences or side-effects can have lasting impact on us and the world around us.
And I feel fear now, because I have been trying to figure out with path to take going forward, and I realized I don’t have to choose one. So I choose them all. I worry this will bring repercussions by awakening the beast, but that fear serves as evidence to me that what I am doing matters. And how can I shy back as I look back across the past seven years of my life and see how much I have overcome and the lives I have touched in the process? I’m going to eat that fear, because it only means what I am getting ready to do is important. And it is my joy.