Today I stopped by and picked up some plants for my garden. It is early July and a couple of the flower pots on my deck need a lift. As I wondered through the garden center, a woman asked me a question about one of the plants. We shared a few comments. On the way out to my car, she was right behind me and as she passed with her cart of flowers, she said, “Now, I get to go to my happy place.” I smiled. Yes, that is exactly how I feel when I purchase plants or garden supplies. I’m about to go to my happy place. Despite the fact that it is brutally hot and my lower back is bothering me and I have more garden projects than I can possibly complete before the end of the summer, I seek it out with great anticipation and enthusiasm. I put on my raggedy clothes and an old floppy hat and slip on shoes that are falling apart. I drag out all my tools; you never know what you will need, and I usually get filthy dirty and wet (sometimes the hose has a mind of its own).
I have often thought that I could never be a fisherman. Standing in one place hour after hour and casting over and over would drive me bonkers. The fishermen generally seek out cold and drizzling weather because that is when the fish are biting. I hate cold and drizzling weather. They start really early in the morning or late in the evening. They are often alone and they like it that way. Many are of an age where I’m certain they suffer the usual aches and pains of arthritis; pains that intensify in the cold damp weather, standing in waders in ice cold water. But the point is, it doesn’t matter to them; they are in their happy place.
So it has dawned on me that our happy place isn’t about being physically comfortable. It isn’t about doing something that is easy or convenient. It isn’t passive either; we are not in our happy place watching TV. It isn’t something we do for a living; it’s not our job. We don’t get paid to do it. It’s not a part of our resume unless it is mentioned in that space for hobbies or interests and we decide to list it. My husband is in his happy place when he is cooking. He spends time thinking about the meal he wants to prepare, reading recipes, planning what he will need, going to the market, chopping and dicing and seasoning the ingredients. He makes a considerable mess. Often he is trying something new, an experiment in flavors one might say. I have no doubt he is in his happy place. He gets excited just thinking about what he is going to make and he works hard.
As family members of a person suffering from addiction, we learn that we need to take care of ourselves. We are not really clear about the concept because most of us have spent our lives focused on taking care of someone else. We tend not to raise our hands and ask, “What the heck does that mean?” We are polite and timid; afraid to admit that we have never thought of taking care of ourselves. Are we talking about personal hygiene? No. Are we talking about going our for dinner and a movie? Maybe. Are we talking about going on a vacation? Possibly. But I really think we are talking about finding our happy place. When I am in the garden, I think of nothing else. I work hard. I can’t wait to get started and I always linger when I should be finishing up. I don’t think about how I look or what I say because I don’t say anything. I am, for the most part, alone. I don’t listen to music or talk radio. I share my happy place with my friends who have also found their happy place in the garden. We discuss plans, plant sales, tips and problems. We discuss roses and pests and soil amendments. We take garden tours through each other’s yards. “I’m going to divide these iris at the end of the summer. Do you want some?” I imagine fishermen do the same.
Our happy place takes us somewhere; somewhere away from our problems, our bills, our errands, our family. We are not doing it to gain recognition. We won’t get a certificate or a degree. And somehow we know we are there when we are there. Here are my telltale signs: I get excited when I go to a garden center or when I see a beautiful garden. In the grocery line my eyes seek out the Home and Garden or Sunset magazine covers, not the People or US magazine covers. When I go on walks I observe and critique the landscapes and gardens I see along the way. I get ideas. While sometimes I receive compliments on my garden, I know I would garden even if no one else ever saw my yard.
It doesn’t mean that I am never happy doing anything else. I can enjoy lying on the couch and watching a good movie or going out for a nice dinner. But those things don’t sustain me. They don’t give me purpose or inner satisfaction. For me, taking care of myself means spending time in my happy place. It is not an escape nor is it a means of avoidance. It is a place where I spend time with myself. I experience a type of limbo where I am not identified as a mother, a nurse, a wife, a daughter, a sibling. Nor am I a gardener or a landscaper; I am simply gardening. I observe and touch and feed and water. I listen to the sounds of the birds, the squirrels, distant voices of neighbors and sometimes machinery. And when I leave that happy place and return to all else that is my life, I am refreshed. I have taken care of myself.