Monday, January 17, 2011

Starving for Happiness

I have been visiting with my eldest daughter and her family this past weekend. I traveled out of state, a considerable distance, in order to tell her in person that her parents are separating and will eventually divorce. I knew that she would have strongly suspected this. What she wouldn’t have anticipated, however, is her father telling her that I am gay.

Saturday was a good day. I woke up early and went for a run in shorts and shirtsleeves – a welcome change from wearing an entire laundry hamper of clothes in the near-zero temperatures that have been prevailing in Utah the last while. It felt so good to be out of Utah, away from the problems and issues that I had temporarily left behind, feeling the promise of change and a better future that my temporary surroundings, in a way, represented. I felt a sense of freedom, of budding happiness, and I savored this as I ran in the refreshing cool air.

Later that morning, I took my granddaughter for a walk, then we drove to the ocean and had a late lunch at a quaint place overlooking the water. Afterwards, we went for a walk along the beach where I played with my granddaughter.  It was fun, fulfilling, and life-affirming – one of those times that one is conscious of happiness and the fact that such moments are fleeting, leaving one wanting to savor them while at the same time attempting to push away the anxiety caused by the fact that one knows that the experience will soon end.

As we drove back to my daughter’s house, I thought about what I had just experienced and wondered about the feelings I have just described. Why the anxiety? The answer came quickly to my mind: because of past experience, I felt that I might perhaps never again feel such happiness. Why? Because such experiences of feeling happiness and recognizing it as such contemporaneous with the experience – these moments had, in my experience, been rare. 

As I contemplated this, I thought about our children that we have adopted from overseas, about issues they had experienced with food. They had been so food-deprived while in the orphanage that when offered food, they greedily partook. I will never forget the first time I fed one of these children a bottle while on a visit to the orphanage. His eyes literally rolled back in his head from the pleasure and relief of being nourished. 

It was not until we got the children home, in each case, that we came to see psychological phenomena that resulted from this food deprivation. One phenomenon was easy to see and understand, i.e., the tendency to want to gorge themselves because they didn’t know when, or if, they would again be offered food. Another phenomenon, however, was less easily discernible, but we came to clearly see and understand it over time:  the anxiety the children felt when eating. For even though eating brought them intense pleasure, they all the while worried, even while experiencing such pleasure, that it would be short-lived and perhaps never experienced again. We came to refer to these dual phenomena as the “starvation complex.”

We observed for some time the after-effects of what the children had experienced in the orphanage. It took a long time for their subconscious mind to accept that there would be another meal, even many meals; that in fact they would be able to eat just about any time they wanted to. It took a long time for them to be able to enjoy a meal without worrying about when the next meal might come. As their minds finally realized that there would be other meals, however, their subconscious allowed them to enjoy without anxiety the meal they were then eating.

Similarly, even while enjoying that time on Saturday afternoon that I spent with my family, I all the while felt anxious. I felt anxiety because I was being “fed”, but didn’t know when, or if, I would be “fed” again. I am working on enjoying the moment and on telling myself that there will be other moments of happiness in the future; but I know that, ultimately, it will only be through consistent experiencing of such moments that my subconscious mind will let go of its anxiety.      

Why do I have this “starvation complex”?  Because, frankly, so much of my life has been filled with a dull sense of unhappiness which I now understand was attributable to my efforts to deny who I am (a gay man) and to live the life I chose at the outset of my adult life, i.e., a Mormon “ΓΌber-heterosexual,” committed to destroying everything that I was – and ultimately am – in the name of “true happiness” in this life and eternal salvation in the world to come.

I have now embarked on a process that, in a way, is similar to that through which my children passed after we removed them from their orphanages and brought them home.  I have left the old way of life and am trying to learn, through experience, that there will be other opportunities to “eat” in the future.  I am trying to convince myself not only that I can experience happiness, but that I will experience such happiness in the future, thus allowing me to freely and totally live in and enjoy the moments of happiness when they come.


  1. What a beautiful description of your time running and with your grandson on the beach. Oxygen renewals are such precious gifts. I know I struggle with trusting that more pleasure and good things will come to me and to leave behind my anxieties about trauma, abandonment by others and losing my ability to nurture myself (which so long was linked to food, shopping, opinions of others).

    You're right, it is like the starvation complex you described of your adopted children. With time, and patience of others:), we learn to trust Life and our selves. We learn to let go of the anxieties and embrace the moment. The important thing is our realization of this need. It's not worth beating our selves up about the fact that we're not yet perfect in doing it:)

    I hope that your return to "reality" will be gentle and that the warm sun will stay with you for weeks to come:)

  2. Choosing to let go of my past and all of my fears, and having unconditional love for myself and all others, liberates me and allows me to choose to experience and savor happiness in the moment--here and now--each and every one.

  3. One thing that kind of baffles me about your story is this... it seems as if none of your family members talk to one another that you are aware of. As soon as I came out to the first person in my family, I knew I had probably about 24 hours to tell everyone else myself before they'd find out anyway. Regardless of all the promises to keep it to themselves and such, there's no practical way I could imagine someone doing that. Do you really think your daughter hasn't already heard it from someone else but will pretend not to have discussed it?

    Or do I just have a family of busybodies?

  4. This is a haunting and beautiful analogy. I think I am also starving for the happiness about which you wrote. I have experienced it a few times in my life, and I long to experience it again, and SOON. I do try to make my life as happy and fulfilled as I can, without someone in it. For the most part, I have succeeded. A little bit ago, I met someone with whom I felt instant attraction and instant love. I know, crazy, but it is true. And, then, as quickly as I received it, it was snatched away. I am feeling gloomy and in a lousy mood, which is not typical for me. I HATE this. Maybe (?) something, somewhere good will come of it. Right now, I cannot see it. Bah humbug...

    Still, Invictus, a stellar post. Thank you. You have articulated many of my emotions right now.

    love and respect, always.

  5. @Libellule & Greg - Thanks to you both for your comments. I'm so grateful for the things I am learning about myself, and I look forward to acting on what I am learning and "actualizing" it.

    @Primal - I have asked each of my children, when talking to them, to keep this confidential. I believe they have respected my wishes. They also knew I was making this trip to talk to their older sister. I would be very disappointed if I learned that one of them had betrayed my confidence; but I don't think that has happened. I also don't believe that my wife would have told her, for the same reasons. We may have our differences (which we do), but I think we are all on the same page about the importance of being discrete with this information.

    @Duck - Thanks for your comments, as always.