Based in New York, Spiritualundertones is a blog by Sarah Almengor. Her posts reflect spirituality, relationships, and everyday life through her personal musings, photography and acquired wisdom.

A Sandcastle Called Happiness

When we are stripped of everything but our core foundation, what is there? What is at the heart of our…heart? What is our core foundation, assuming we have one? Core values? What really matters to us?

As we transition from childhood to adulthood and begin to mature, often times most of us stray from what our parents instilled in us as children. “Good morals”, religion/spirituality, and everything in between; the majority of people either grew up in a religious household or did not. If you did grow up in a religious household, it is very likely that you abandoned the beliefs instilled in you at an early age, venturing out to find your own identity. If God (or a god, or gods) was introduced to you and you were expected to follow a certain set of rules, I’m sure eventually you found it to be too restrictive. Too narrow, too boring.

Fast forward to your teen years where you’re finally discovering who you are, your likes and dislikes, exploring the opposite sex, and so on. Mommy and daddy’s lame and outdated morals have been put on the back burner and you’re ready to go out and do your own thing. In highschool you start hanging out with the cool kids who introduce you to the party scene, and although amateur, you start to like it. You find yourself cutting class to hang out at the gas station and smoke cigarettes. Your academic performance is starting to wane because of the class cutting, which brings self-loathing into your heart, which brings self-medicating…and we all know how that goes. If you don’t find comfort in one thing, you go to another; if sex doesn’t satisfy, perhaps alcohol will. If alcohol doesn’t satisfy, perhaps drugs will. If drugs don’t satisfy, perhaps consuming yourself in work will. If being a workaholic doesn’t do it, maybe becoming obsessed with exercise will scratch the itch! So on and so forth. You now find yourself trying to fill a void that you never noticed was there before, and you go great lengths to avoid being or feeling lonely; God forbid you’re faced with yourself when you’re all alone. You immerse yourself in relationships that provide temporary happiness, but it’s only when that relationship has ended that you realize the happiness wasn’t permanent. “Screw committed relationships then! I’ll just go out and have a good time, meet whoever I want, sleep with whoever I want, and it will liberate me”, you say to yourself…only to find that that mindset didn’t exactly work either. Now what?

It’s completely understandable and one hundred percent valid to continue in something if it’s all you’ve ever known. We as human beings stick to what we know — the familiar. And there’s nothing wrong with that per se. While it’s not wrong, is it wise? As we’ve all heard, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perfect practical example: “I am NEVER drinking again! This hangover isn’t worth it!” Suuuuuure. How many times have you made that vow to yourself? How many times have you broken that vow? I don’t point that out to come down on anyone who may be reading this, I’m simply pointing it out to emphasize the fact that we are creatures of habit. We stick to what we know and for a lot of us, change can be a scary thing that we are reluctant to allow into our lives. But what if all we’ve ever known has brought us pain? A feeling of emptiness? What if our lifestyle choices have caused us to plummet even further into emotional anguish? Again I beg the question: what is at the core of our heart? Where do we draw strength from? Where do we find it? I’ll take it a step further: where does our happiness lie? Surely it shouldn’t depend on something we may lose…

“Never, never pin your whole faith on any human being: not if he is the best and wisest in the whole world. There are lots of nice things you can do with sand; but do not try building a house on it.” — C.S. Lewis

Why have so many celebrities who seemingly “had it all” end their lives? While I do believe that mental illness and depression are legitimate battles many people face, I can’t help but wonder what the real root of the problem is. Were they physically, sexually, verbally, or mentally abused as a child and kept it hidden as to not deal with the reality of the situation? Did they lose someone close to them and as a result felt they were dealt an unfair hand in life? Did a horrendous, traumatic experience cause them to convince themselves it never happened? Whatever the circumstance, the more we avoid dealing with pain, the longer we stay trapped.

There are seasons of my own life that I can point back to and reflect on, the “fun” times. When I moved back to New York City from Oregon, all I did was go out and party for at least two years straight. I spent the money I made at my job on alcohol, cigarettes, and late night food (oh yes, attending “after hours” was a nightly ritual). If memory serves me correctly, not once did I ever need to buy drugs (weed, mushrooms, and my newfound favorite back then: cocaine) because it was always freely offered to me. I think when you’re in that lifestyle, you don’t ever self-examine and reflect all that much; there were moments where I’m sure I felt empty despite being the life of the party and having all eyes on me, but I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to deal with sober Sarah…because she was lonely and hurting and empty. When I was in party mode, I didn’t ask myself why I felt the need to go out habitually and get plastered, I simply thought I was living a fun life and enjoying myself. Enjoying my freedom. The irony about this “freedom” I believed I had was that…it didn’t feel so free. If everything was so great in my life (as I would tell other people when they’d ask me how I was doing), why did I feel the need to drink every night? I drank to forget. Of course there’s a healthy balance between drinking on occasion (literally, on special occasions) and habitually drinking yourself into an alcoholic tailspin. I am not suggesting that every person on this planet ought not to drink alcohol, but we do need to at the very least recognize that we will go to what has brought us comfort (albeit false) when depression and discouragement comes. And those seasons will come.

Substance abuse allowed me to mask the hurt my parents’ divorce left in my heart. Drinking enough to blackout allowed me to disguise myself in a “fun party girl” false identity instead of allowing myself to cry (and eventually heal!) over heartbreak. Going out and using drugs allowed me to bury the indescribable pain of losing my dog to sudden death. Mask. Disguise. Bury. In other words, avoid. Just because you avoid something does not mean that it no longer exists or ceases the need to be dealt with. Why is it that we’re never presented with the outcome of our “YOLO” (“you only live once”) actions? Why does it only appeal to us and allure us in the moment, and FOR the moment? I guarantee that had I been shown some sort of future video montage of my impulsive decisions, I wouldn’t have gone out the night I was roofied. Or the morning I woke up in some dude’s bed having no idea if he had raped me or not. Had I foreseen the consequences of my actions I would have never cheated on my boyfriend who moved from New Mexico to New York City just to be with me — and I returned the favor by acting on my selfish impulses and crushing his heart. Had I been presented the aftermath of poor decisions, many things in my life would have played out much differently.

Eventually in life we get to the place where a line in the sand must be drawn, and that will either inspire us to change our ways or don’t inspire us to do anything at all. Are you so far gone in your pattern of thinking and living that nothing anyone says settles into your spirit? How many people have to tell you how many times that your behavior hurts them? How many pub crawls do you have to partake in until you can no longer hide how utterly miserable it makes you? Let’s say you do finally have “an epiphany” of sorts and wake up to the reality that your life is nothing more than a quest to fill an empty void; where do you turn to have that void filled? Knowing that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, what needs to change? Certainly there must be a shift somewhere. If no new thrill has filled the empty space, what have you yet to try?

Are you truly free in your freedom, or do you feel like a prisoner in bondage? John Piper says it this way: “You are fully free when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will leave you with no regrets forever”. Meditate on that.

“Free will is not the liberty to do whatever one likes, but the power of doing whatever one sees ought to be done, even in the very face of otherwise overwhelming impulse. There lies freedom, indeed.” — George MacDonald (emphasis mine)

How Sweet The Sound

Devil's Advocate