Happiness Is An Inside Job

A victim and martyr's tale

I was born the first of five children into a family that was afflicted with alcoholism, and my home was a virtual battle field. My happiness and sense of well being, like any child's, was totally dependent upon that of my parents, and whatever was happening around me, at any given moment. As is pretty much the norm where alcohol reigns supreme, our family was in constant conflict and we were all "casualties of war". Some of my most poignant memories were out-and-out battles, which began with my parents at the altar, escalating as time wore on. One of my earliest recollections, for example, was a dramatic scene that happened when I was four years old. My father came home one Christmas eve, in a drunken rage, and purposefully threw the Christmas tree, the Christmas turkey (uncooked), and then my mother out of the front door into the yard, to our abject horror. His reason was because he didn't like the way my mom had decorated the tree. This is only one of many unpublicized battles fought within the walls of our unhappy, unhealthy home, Ours was a volatile place where contention thrived, innocent by-standers were often wounded, and old "John Barleycorn" was the constant tormentor and resident enemy.

I have very few happy memories of my childhood, which is often the case in families that are ravaged by alcoholism. As the oldest child, the happiness of my family members, including and most especially my father, who was the drunk, somehow fell squarely upon my shoulders and was an ever-plaguing concern, again, not uncommon in an alcoholic home. My level of happiness, security and sense of well being (or lack there of) was very much dependent upon the other members of my family and their level of happiness (or lack of), which gave birth to a pattern of thought and behavior that was to dominate my life and cause me a lot of trouble over the years.

It is difficult to be happy in an active war zone where the intensity of any given attack is unpredictable, the occurrence of attacks all to predictably regular, and the defending army is unarmed, as a child invariably is. As a soldier in such a war, i was a valiant, committed little warrior, and totally dedicated to the welfare of my subsequent troops, consisting of both my parents and my four siblings. It was my mission to make and keep the peace, and make everyone happy, or die trying, at the expense of my own personal needs and comfort. My Mom, God rest her soul, was a died-in-the-wool, nose-to-the-toes co-dependent and martyr for the cause. As her first born, I became her protege' (although not by choice). Sacrifice was the name of the game, and I learned to play it well, for I had the very best of teachers.

By the age of twelve, I was a young "people pleaser" in training. When I was unsuccessful and didn't please everyone, which was nearly always the case, the repercussions were severe. This just strengthened my resolve. My skills were carefully honed, following me into adulthood and through life. This "skill", if you want to call it such, gave rise to a chronic victim who possessed an endless supply of stuffed anger and resentment, whose ability to be happy was dependent upon any and all people in her life. If I made someone happy, I was happy. If someone was not happy, I was not, and more than likely it was my fault. It, then, became my job/obsession to fix the situation, whatever it may be. My pursuit of happiness, thus, involved pleasing any and all with whom I came in contact, and more than a few that I did not. This proved to be an exhaustively impossible endeavor which invariably led to disastrous relationships in all arenas of my life.

To add to this sunny picture, I was a natural born nurturer, who had no self esteem of my own, again, thanks to good old "John Barleycorn's" destruction. What little self esteem I did have came solely from being needed. Hence, I perpetually surrounded myself with needy people. For instance, I worked in a hospital as a nurse's assistant, where my ailing patients and their families needed me. A little later, my choice of mates were men who needed mommies and maids. Neither of my marriages thrived or survived, and both very nearly did me in. The discovery of my unconscious source of self esteem was an eye-opening awareness that was first revealed to me in Co-Dependency Treatment in 1986, which I attended before "treatment" was even fashionable. The phrase "Happiness is an inside job" was one of my counselor's favorite slogans, and I heard it frequently throughout treatment, although it was Greek to me. It just did not compute!

As a result of all this, I had become a professional victim who was depressed, resentful, angry with God, myself, and all those fine folks I spent so much time and energy trying to please but never could. I was fearfully on a downward spiral that all but rendered me immobile. It was at this juncture in life that I found myself in an inpatient Co-Dependency treatment facility where my life and healing began. It has been an arduous journey of endless miles and tears to finally get the message that my happiness is my responsibility only and creating happiness for others, at the expense of my own, is not my sole purpose in life.

Out of the Darkness , Into the Light

I have to be honest, though, and say that it has only been in the past five years or so that the real meaning of the concept that I am responsible for my own happiness began to dawn on me and actually crystallize. It began when I found myself planted, by circumstances over which I had no control, in a remote little village in rural Pennsylvania, far from those I loved, where I knew not a single soul, to live alone for the first time in my entire life. I am still a little unclear how I ended up in such a predicament, but none-the-less, that is where I ended up. There was no one to please or be pleased by, but me, and in my own mind, I was undeserving of happiness, anyway. I found myself totally in the dark without a flashlight. My happiness was non-existent, my cup of self-esteem virtually empty. Perhaps, God knew that this was the only way for me to actually learn about me and how to make myself happy. Perhaps, this was the only way to find out who I am, independent of anyone else. It was a difficult five years, during which, I spent most of my time alone, just me and God, whom I wasn't convinced cared about me. There I was, in my little apartment, with the television, a telephone that didn't always work, and my computer to keep me company.

During the first two years, I wept many bitter tears and spent many seemingly hopeless hours soul searching and seeking God in a dry, desert land that was totally uncharted. I felt lost and abandoned, lonely, hurt, and displaced. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, and there were no "burning bushes" to be had and no sign of rescue in sight.

I neglected to mention that it was during this time of exile that the reality of "empty nest syndrome" hit me with all the force of a speeding locomotive. I was a single mom who had raised three sons alone, and they had all grown up and flown the coop. They had been my life. For the first time ever, it was just me. No siblings, no parents, no spouses or partners, no children to focus on, nurture or please. I was baffled beyond words. I had always been a very good little care taker, but did not have a living clue how to take care of myself. I was very adept at compromising myself to please the world, sacrificing both needs and feelings, but had no idea how to please me. If there was any happiness to be found, at this point in my life, it was up to me to find it! I felt like a bowling ball in a fish bowl, so very out of my element.

After a time of grief and mourning, however, a very subtle, gentle change began to occur. Oddly enough, it began with a small venture out into the world on a Saturday morning to a near by yard sale. There I stumbled upon some scrapbooking and craft supplies for sale at a price I couldn't pass up. My first major discovery, during this period of isolation, was that I was happiest when I was creating something. It started out with a couple of hand made greeting cards, sent to people I had thought I could not live without. I progressed to creating art to decorate my little home, then making literally hundreds of Christmas ornaments by hand that I designed and made out of fabric and felt. One day, I ran across a book about doll making. I had always wanted to make dolls, but with three active, mischievous sons to raise and support, had never had the energy or money to do so. This golden opportunity presented itself, and I began making dolls to find a craft and pasttime I really loved and could do well.

I ,also, read voraciously and wrote. I penned poetry, prayers, and short stories, pouring myself onto page after page. One day, as I was taking a break from the keyboard, standing on my little balcony, admiring the beauty of God's handiwork and listening to the sweet serenade of the birds, it dawned on me that I felt somewhat content, at peace and immersed in the beauty of the moment. This was a startling awareness that amazed me! I still felt lonely and isolated, but realized that something had inherently changed somewhere along the line, without my knowledge. I was no longer desperate and yearning for death! I had stumbled upon a bit of comfortability. Moments of peace and comfort had snuck in, in spite of the fact that I was all by myself. In a moment of clarity, I knew what they had meant in treatment. It was a huge "Ah Ha". Happiness was possible without anyone else besides God and I. What a revelation!

Those five years in that little village, in a little valley, in the middle of nowhere, were life changing. Today, it is still a pleasure to please people, but not at the expense of my soul. I can let others be unhappy without automatically taking responsibility for it or feeling compelled to fix it, although the temptation always lurks around any corner. It has become a choice. My meaning is no longer solely defined by the approval of others. It is not anyone's lot in life to please me or give me meaning or worth. That is my job, mine and God's alone. And voila! I am no longer a victim. It is such an incredible freedom.

Shortly thereafter, amazingly enough, the opportunity and means to return home presented itself, and, thus, here I am, with a world full of possibilities, a new pair of glasses, and a new appreciation for life, my family and my friends. I am grateful for the journey, as painful as it has been at times, and the many gifts that have been given me. I take nothing for granted, and each new day embrace the freedom that comes from the golden nugget I carry around in my heart that "Happiness is an inside job".

"Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved."

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Comments 34 comments

fenzero profile image

fenzero 7 years ago from Arizona

Honestly, I've been sitting here for a couple minutes trying to figure out what to say because this story and your experience is so incredibly intense and the emotion behind your words is powerful. I can't even imagine how difficult things were for you growing up. It's understandable that you would easily lose self worth and get into that fix-everything mindset. I can relate.

Honestly, what I liked the most was watching the revelation. There's really nothing, in my opinion, more difficult than learning to be completely happy with yourself. We can preach what is supposed to happen all day long, but can we live our own words? Therein lies our biggest struggle. I know that I most definitely have those days.

Stories and experiences like this are proof that we can all overcome, proof that we can all stand tall, and proof that we can throw our arms to the wind and envelop life.

Thank you for sharing this. Those things that we keep locked away in our souls aren't easily released.


tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 7 years ago Author

Bryan, Thank you,sincerely. I can't tell you that I am completely restored, because damage done so early in life, and over such an extensive period of time has its long term wounds and scars. But I am luckier than most of my siblings, in that God has set me on a path that has enabled me to begin healing the deepest wounds, and begin to break the vicious cycle that was so active in our home. I truly believe that I have a responsibility to share my "experience, strength and hope", that others may find hope where perhaps there is none. It is also in the writing that things become clarified and sometimes even crystallized. I am soooo grateful for that gift. Again, thank you!

peacenhim 7 years ago

This is an incredible journey, and your innate ability to share this most personal and dramatic story of your childhood as tragic as times were is very touching. The beautiful expression of your adult journey of self awareness and self acceptance and love is very touching also and almost poetic. You definitely have a way with words, as your words paint heartfelt pictures and I am blessed to have read your story and been able to see the wondrous works of God in your life! Keep the Faith and continue to share your story!! God has given you a huge heart and much talent to reach people!! Thank you!

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 7 years ago Author

Many thanks, Peacenhim! I am truly humbled. God has, indeed, been good to me and it is my pleasure to share His Goodness.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

That really is wonderful to hear that you got a new lease in life. Sometimes we just need a fresh start (I know the feeling). Thank you for sharing this great story with all of us. I'm the youngest of five in my family by the way :)

Bbudoyono profile image

Bbudoyono 7 years ago

This hub is impressive and touching. I agree with you that happiness depends on what is inside of us. But there is also interaction with other factors.

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 7 years ago Author

Thank you dohn121 and Bbudoyono. I so appreciate your feedback!

Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

Thank you so much for sharing that heartfelt story. I can identify with some of it and know well how destructive alcoholism can be.

To live alone and come through the way you have is truly inspiring.

If God is for us , who can be against us? May you have many happy years ahead of you. Blessings.x

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 6 years ago Author

Many thanks, Dim Flaxenwick! I am grateful for the journey, as painful as it can be, for in the trudging on the path, I become a better me!

Jamie Brock profile image

Jamie Brock 6 years ago from Texas

Can totally relate to what you've written here! Happiness is an inside job for sure... do you happen to be a friend of Lois W.?

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 6 years ago Author

As a matter of fact, I am...Thanks for visiting my hub!

Al Blondin profile image

Al Blondin 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado USA

I'm a very busy guy and my first thought was "this is too long, I don't have time right now." But your tale is quite compelling and your writing is clear and logical, so the story kept me enthralled till the end. Since I'm a bit of an introvert and had great parents and a very good childhood experience, I have always taken for granted that happiness is an inside job. It came naturally to me. However, my spouse of almost 30 years suffered through a childhood like yours. She often says that, when it comes to an outlook on life, I brought her stability while she brought me reality. I always thought it sad that it had to be her "reality". I strongly believe in an objective reality that transcends our beliefs and experience. A reality that is true for everyone but is skewed by negative experiences that damage our perception. That is why I loved the title of your conclusion. Happiness is there for us if we but find the way to come out of the darkness of our own personal prisons and witness the light that has been there all along. Easier said then done though. Testimonies like yours are an important tool. Thank you for sharing this.

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 6 years ago Author

My sincere thanks for taking the time to read my piece, and for your insight and feedback. It has been my experience that healing comes from the sharing of the lesson, and if healing can come to someone else through the sharing, then the pain has brought good and has a point, which is my goal. Again, thank you!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

tnderhrt, My life was not too much different than yours, although my mother was a little tougher I think. I was still the oldest and had much responsibility starting at a young age, then wanted out so badly I ran away at 18 and managed to marry an alcoholic. I found my way also and isn't it wonderful that happiness is an inside job. Alanon helped me repair my self esteem, I also went to nursing school ( a little more care taking) but I had 3 boys to support and I survived it all with a smile on my face now. I am so glad you have found your way out of that awful despair and grief. This was a very touching hub as you were so honest about your feelings and expressed them so well.

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 6 years ago Author

Thank you Pamela99 for taking the time to read my hub. I cant tell you that I survived it all with a smile on my face, for that would be a lie. There were alot of tears along the way, but God has been good to me. Writing about the lessons and the journey has been very theraputic. Again, thanks for reading, and for your sharing and feedback. We are both strong women who not only survived but have thrived!

amybradley77 profile image

amybradley77 5 years ago

Voted way up!! Very useful here as a writer we do use our own personal experiences quite a bit I know I have and probably will continue to. Thanks for your bravery here again, it is so inspiring and encouraging for us all who have also grown up in these same sorts of environments, I was blessed not to have it touch me so much, but there were other just as harmful addictions and major fights. We have grown up together, and are now much stonger for it. Thanks again for this wonderful piece of work here, you are a talented and gifted writer. A.B.

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

amybradley, I believe that we are permitted to endure most difficulties in this life to teach us and to build character, and then to share our journey with others as hope, strength and encouragement...writing has been a very cathartic and therapeutic tool, one for which I am so grateful. Thank you for reading and leaving your most encouraging comments. It is a pleasure to share with you!

TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 5 years ago from New York City

So many do not survive what you did - or they perpetuate the horrors.

I'm glad you were able to get beyond it but it takes so much time. I feel children have a right to a happy childhood but too few agree.

Thanks for sharing - and it's good to meet you too. Isn't writing wonderful?

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

Hi TheListLady, it is good to meet you too! It is true that many do not survive or live to perpetuate the horrors...I am fortunate indeed. I have had the benefit of lots of therapy to help me in the healing process, which is ongoing, even today. Children have the right to love (unconditional), nurturing, and respect, but in today's world that is too often not the case. Parenting is a huge job, and few realize the power and responsibility that lays in their hands...Thanks so much for the read and your insightful comment!

Seana MacBrayne profile image

Seana MacBrayne 5 years ago

Alcoholism touches so many people in so many different ways. I've had my share of bad experiences and it is actually always depressing to read of somebody else's suffering. But what a great, uplifting ending to your article - an inspiration. My own childhood experiences make me feel a real weight of responsibility towards my own kids - 'don't screw it up'! And articles like this one help diffuse that oppression. Thank you.

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

Seana, You are so right. Alcoholism is a devastating disease, touching all who are near. I have tried hard to break the generational chain, both in myself and in my sons. There is hope beyond the disease...if it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone. Thank you for the read and excellent comment. Peace!

janbee 5 years ago

Tnderhrt,my friend....I can so relate to your situation.Mine was of the same nature! I believe that we are here 'by the Grace of God'....He has watched over us all this time and is continuing to do so,as He promised.I know that great things are in store for you!How great is that...how God is using YOUR pen to help so many people? Hugs to you,my friend!

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

awwww janbee, thanks so much...this was a therapy write...alot of times the lessons only crystallize through the act of putting them on paper...where you can see the truth in black and white. I am so very grateful for God's Grace in all its shapes and forms! Including you!

Moment in Time profile image

Moment in Time 5 years ago

I am lost for words. Thank you for sharing your journey...and what a journey. You are a very strong person!

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

Moment in Time, thank you. I so appreciate your read...this is more lengthy than I would like but shortening it is impossible without removing a critical piece of the puzzle...lol. Take care and ~ Blessings!

heart4theword profile image

heart4theword 5 years ago from hub

I found you because of FaithDream:) Your words are heartfelt, maybe more so, because I too...was a people pleaser for many years. What I was worth, was based on what kind of job I had, and that I did a good job for my employers. (Never really realized I could of been co-dependent on that job?) I can relate so much, to the feelings you had and the stuggles of resentment and bitterness that can creep into your soul. Thank God, we do have a True Father, who truly loves us...from the inside out:) Take care tnderhrt, your voice is heard hear. Peace be with you! Thank you for sharing from your heart:) I was blessed!

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

heart4theword, your comment means so much. It makes all of that heartache worthwhile, when another relates, somehow. I am so very grateful today for the journey and where God has brought me, and the healing that has come. And I thank Him for you...God bless you, heart!

heart4theword profile image

heart4theword 5 years ago from hub

I feel like I have a new friend here on hubpages:) God is so good, at soothing our wonds...if it were not for pain, we may not be able to relate to the love of Jesus, and the suffering He went through for us. Thank you, again tnderhrt!

ahostagesituation profile image

ahostagesituation 5 years ago

I read this one for the title, "Happiness is an inside job," that's awesome! So true. I find it amazing that you became a "people pleaser" from having a rough childhood. Shows there's a lot of good in you, some would have grown to be a the complete opposite with the same background. I got a lot out of your story and thanks!

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

ahostagesituation, thank you for your read and thoughtful comment. I know this is a long, somewhat treacherous read...being a people pleaser by nature is not an easy thing and not something that ever completely goes away. I still struggle with it from time to time but my identity and total happiness is not so entangled in others, as it once was. Again, thank you for your visit. I appreciate you!

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

Dear Tenderheart,

This touhed my heart so much..you have over come and have such a story to tell..this will help many. You are so right about it being an inside job, comes a time to put the past behind us..I can relate to this so well. Thank you for opening up and sharing your world with us. You are a remarkable woman and I am so glad to have met you on hub pages.

God Bless,


tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

Sunnie Day, You are a kind soul, and I so appreciate your read and comment! I truly believe that God allows us the journey that is best for each one of us, not only for ourselves, but to share with others, that may gain strength and hope from our pain and triumphs. I am honored to have met you here on Hubpages and look forward to sharing both of our work! Hugs!

Chatkath profile image

Chatkath 5 years ago from California


This is a very familiar and well written story that has helped me to understand some things about myself. Our lives are such a complicated combination of what we were exposed to, or born into and then a bit of chance...? I am learning that one must have a love of themselves first otherwise you give away all your power and control to others who may have the ability to care about you as needed, this has to come from within. When you come from such chaos it is impossible to understand how to care about yourself, sometimes it takes a bout of isolation or major life altering experience to awaken the soul.

I read this because of the title, happiness really is an inside job, how true it is. Thank you for sharing this, I think many will relate and find inspiration here! Thanks.

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago Author

Chatkath, first of all, I thank you for taking the time to read this piece, which is rather difficult and lengthy. It was a cathartic write, that helped to crystalize the lesson that had been churning around inside. I truly believe that the lessons we are permitted to learn are given to be shared, to help others who may identify, may be in the same place, or will be in the same place and need to know there is hope on the other side. That makes it an honor to share the journey, as painful as it was. And if I can bring an ounce of hope to someone else, then it was all worthwhile! Again, thank you, and blessings!

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