It was 1988, six years before I staggered into AA, and my first marriage was on the rocks. We sat in the therapist’s office complaining about each other. I really didn’t want to be there. My memory is sketchy, but I do remember one comment the therapist made that shocked me to the core. I said I felt betrayed by my soon-to-be ex-wife because she didn’t make me happy. The therapist said, “It’s not Christina’s job to make you happy, Jeff.” I pretended like I knew this all along, but it was a stunning revelation. If not to make me happy, why did I marry her in the first place? I thought making each other happy was the whole idea of marriage.
For most of my life, even well into sobriety, I believed happiness was caused by something outside of me — a raise at work, a new car, the love of a good woman. I didn’t know I had been confusing happiness with excitement and pleasure. I learned I can never be free as long as I depend on people, places and things for happiness. I don’t have to do anything to be happy. I’m already happy. I just don’t realize it some of the time.
You guys taught me happiness is an inside job. I may not feel happy all the time, but happiness is always there. Just like I may not feel the warmth of the sun on a rainy day. The sun is always shining even though I can’t see it. Just like the dark clouds, my old, dark ideas — self centered fears — block my experience of happiness. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous — meetings, steps and service — dissolve the cloud cover and happiness naturally shines through. AA for me is not about learning anything new. It’s about unlearning everything I think is true. The Twelve Steps have proven quite handy for this work.
I had real proof of the eternal nature of happiness when I walked with Lola through the last year of her life. It was excruciatingly painful. Yet through it all I sensed happiness was always present. As a result of demonstrating my willingness to do all that is suggested, my insides feel cleaner, lighter. Since I no longer depend on anyone or anything for my happiness, I am free.