Singing with Joy

Finding joy again in life instead of simply surviving inspired the lyric line I used for this post title. It comes from my song “Music From My Heart.”


This line is profound for me. For a long time, I considered my survival of horrendous grief to be miraculous and I often called it “my greatest achievement in life.” When I was suffering with the loss of my son sometimes it was a challenge just to breathe. Every moment was a nightmare and I hoped that I could get through it.


Finding joy is even more miraculous!

When I was grieving, the prospect of ever feeling any kind of joy again in life seemed impossible, remote and unbelievable.


I preferred this post title over a similar one, which was “I won’t drown in misery.” That lyric line comes from my newest song, “Somewhere I Can’t See.” Originally, I wrote the line as: “I won’t live in misery.” But drowning felt more descriptive because I cried so much after my son died that I wrote a poem named “my tears filled an ocean.”


Saving myself from “drowning in misery” is why I went out of my comfort zone to attend an Ayahuasca ceremony this past weekend. Because I tasted joy in 2010, I did not want to go back to my familiar coping method of simply surviving.


The shift to feeling joy instead of simply surviving is spectacular. When that happened for me in 2010, I decided I was blessed and it was a beautiful spiritual awakening for me.

What I wrote two years after Jason died.

What I wrote two years after Jason died.

Survival requires shutting down all feeling in order to function. Joy is all about feeling every emotion, including pain.


I realize that for the last few months I actually was drowning in my misery. The “spider of sadness” became my companion once again. But although I felt miserable, it was most definitely not at all like the anguish I suffered from when my son died.


The issues that I suffered from were more related to the death of my marriage.


For the last two years, I tried to numb my pain by overeating; gaining weight only intensified my anguish. It was a downward spiral that I pray is over for me now.


While writing my posts about the Ayahuasca experience, I looked on the Internet for more information about it.

I found the above paragraph particularly compelling for me.


When I wrote about my experience, I had thought that avoiding vomiting (holding back) was a sign of strength and tremendous control; it was something to celebrate. It might have served me well during deep grief, but it became a habit that didn’t serve me later on.


It is hard for me to confront the fact that holding back really represents weakness. It makes perfect sense, because I have been depressed whenever I’ve suppressed my true feelings.


In the outside world, feelings are pushed down because expressing grief makes other people uncomfortable. After a short duration of time, grieving is not “acceptable.” For the person grieving, it only intensifies their pain and agony. That is why I always suggest that people search for someone who is at the same place in his or her grief journey. Holding hands together can make coping with grief much easier.


Even though I never gave up hope, I couldn’t relate to people who were farther along. When I was reassured that it would get better by someone who had also lost a child, I didn’t believe it. That is why I understand that my message of joy and healing might not resonate with people who are living in hell.

In order to function, I became an expert at denying my true feelings. The last sentence of the paragraph I copied from the Internet is so true, because when my suppression stopped through writing and music in 2010 – it was then when I healed.


I believe I began suppressing my feelings in childhood. I was always told that I was such a “good girl.”


From the moment I got married, I learned to hold everything in. I looked the other way and told myself stories that countered my own intuition and kept all anger in check. My husband and I never had a fight. Anger was scary.


Being a writer has been especially healing because my heart is so open and honest, I do not hold back. I’m the same way with music and songwriting. When I sing, I’ll find myself crying or chuckling because I picture imagery that is vivid. As a result, my emotions swell right into my vocal cords.


I release so much when I sing. But throwing up is another story. That is something I don’t plan to work on. I’ll probably fight it for the rest of my life.

This picture is taken from my childhood. I loved reading as a child.

This picture is taken from my childhood. I loved reading as a child.

I share now some email exchanges that cast light on my belief about releasing feelings. Below is my correspondence on an Internet grief forum:


The crying started last night and I’ve been fighting it all day. Just getting dressed and talking to people can take a lot of effort some days. My job has me dealing with a lot of people. I’ve gotten standoffish, and just don’t smile anymore, to the point of looking stoic and unapproachable.


So my question is: “how do you fake it when you need to fake it”? How do you put aside your grief when you go to work? I can’t keep my grief-filled thoughts in check and function like I would like to. I’m feeling really stuck this time. I recently lost my brother and fighting tears is a full-time job for me. Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.



Dear Alice,

The suppression of grief and tears is probably the worst thing going on for you. The energy that takes is unbelievable. It’s very important to release your tears and will help you to heal. You won’t always be suffering like this, it’s important for you to know that.


I highly suggest you find a chapter of Compassionate Friends. That organization really is wonderful and you will find other grieving siblings that will make this process easier. Not every chapter or meeting is the same, so give it a chance. Sometimes, it’s about just finding one person going through this that you can relate to.


You cannot put aside your grief anymore. Don’t fight it. Connect closely with someone else who understands your suffering and it will help you. I hope I’ve helped.



Thanks, Judy. I’m going to try and find this organization. Yes, it takes unbelievable energy. I’m actually moving this weekend about 400 miles away from where I am at now. It’s a bigger area and I hope to find something. Thanks!



You are more than welcome, Alice. You can write to me anytime.


Please let me know how your move goes. I have a feeling your life will be getting better soon. Once you get connected with other people who really understand, you won’t feel as alone with your grief.


I just want to add that another way of looking at tears is that they are “drops of love.”


They represent the aching and longing for the person that is gone. They are “drops of love” because it is a gift to your body to release them. Holding them in will have you “drowning in misery” and only increases your pain. It is actually a denial of love!


Not for the person who died – but for yourself. We must care about ourselves in grief. That is what our loved one wants us to do and there is no doubt about it. 


This awful picture represents a natural purge that did occur in my life; it was a purge of tears. I gave birth to my daughter 11 months after Jason died and sobbed uncontrollably for an hour afterwards.

This awful picture represents a natural purge that did occur in my life; it was a purge of tears. I gave birth to my daughter 11 months after Jason died and sobbed uncontrollably for an hour afterwards.

Below is an exchange that I had with my former high school boyfriend, Dr. Sam: 

On July 29, 2013, Dr. Sam wrote:


Great writing…very clear…I could feel what you must have been going through.


You know that I don’t think the Ayahuasca has spiritual properties…its a hallucinogen that made you and others who were present quite ill (anything you have to do in secret is generally not a good idea). I’m glad you didn’t do it again on Saturday night, and suspect you won’t be attending a ceremony any time soon.


Hallucinogens can have unusual effects, and can also break down defense mechanisms, which are there for a reason! Your defense mechanisms have allowed you to get through life, despite great tragedy, and raise three great kids. I can’t think of any good reason to break them down and “explore” them…you have already had a successful spiritual journey, without the need for herbal “teas.”


What you have done is recognize the great impact that depression has had on your life, and have sought a medicinal cure. And those are available…not through teas or incantations, but through available medications prescribed by a caring doctor who knows what they are doing. I think you would feel better overall on the right prescription…it might take a lot of trial and error, but I think you could get there with patience and a willingness to try. If we accept that depression can be chemical…as is high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, there is no reason not to try and correct that.


You have lived, and can certainly continue to live…and be successful…without them, but I bet you would feel a whole lot better! Sam


Hi Sam,


I love what you wrote because it allowed me to crystallize my thoughts. First off, thank you so much for your caring message. I feel your concern for me in every word. 


I know ayahuasca is a drug, but it was a one shot deal. On the Internet, I didn’t see anything listed about overdoses or lasting side-effects (other than spiritual awakening). The intensity of the medicine and purge is well-documented.


Being ill and uncomfortable was exactly the reason why this “medicine/drug” probably was effective. It forced me to face my problems and release all of my toxic feelings that had me depressed. It was the ultimate “up and out” for me.


My eyes are still the same, but I’m not crying about it now.


I far prefer this to taking a drug on a regular basis to hold things in check. As painful as it was for me to face my fears during that ceremony, now I understand what it was all about and why I’m feeling so much better.


There is a possibility I might try it again someday. But for now, I feel like I am still processing and enjoying what I discovered from it. The euphoria I’m feeling is not the drug, but the result of getting in touch with many feelings I had suppressed. It was such a wonderful release.


I wish I hadn’t gotten to the point where I felt desperate. I really was suffering with my irritating eyesight and knew there was probably more to it.


But believe it or not, I wasn’t so desperate that I even remotely considered an antidepressant. I’m not against them for other people; they’re just not for me. I have tried medication during many challenging periods in my life (at least six times). The bottom line was that I felt numb and hated it. Plus, the side effect of weight gain compounded my problems.


I just found a wonderful analogy while thinking this through.


The ayahuasca ceremony was about going through a tunnel of pain to get to “the light.” The only way out of that tunnel was to face and confront all the reasons that kept me in my tunnel of pain. In order to escape I had to get rid of all the stories I told myself that kept me stuck. I might not have purged through vomiting, but I did purge those stories.


I believe that for me personally, medication would simply allow me to stay in the tunnel in a more comfortable way.


The tunnel I’ve been going through is one of coping with the difficult changes in my life – my divorce and uncomfortable eyesight. That is in addition to losing my father and mother. Change (even good change) is hard for most humans.


I’ve never liked putting anything foreign in my body. That hasn’t changed. But I do have a drug to help myself.


My drug is my music. I embrace it and celebrate the gift that I was given.


I am in the light now.

Guitar on the beach in 1981
I end my post with some raucous humor. It is extremely embarrassing and as usual, I know I should hold myself back. But I can’t!

Today was a busy day and I had three clients contact me for illustration estimates. It seems that not only am I feeling better, the world is just shining upon me.

In the past, sometimes a year went by without any illustration work.

I was in a big hurry when I received a request from a third art director for an estimate. I let the art director know I was busy and would contact him later to review his request. Then I shot an email to a good friend to share about my unbelievable day. I shared a portion of the art director’s request for full effect.

When I wrote that message I said:

“This is overwhelming. I just heard from a third art director today! And I found another sex shop to explore – had a fun afternoon! ALONE! Off to go get a haircut now.”

So there I was having a haircut, when I saw there was a message from the art director. His message was quite simple.

It was: “Hope you have a nice haircut.”

Open Mic

© 2013 by Judy Unger http://www.myjourneysinsight.com.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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6 Responses to I DIDN’T JUST SURVIVE

  1. Janet O says:

    “Hope you have a nice haircut.”

    I just fell outta my chair, Judy!! OMG! Hysterical!

    Well, getting 2 out of the 3 jobs is better than average, huh, LOL!

    PS: How’s your haircut? (heh heh)


  2. Judy says:

    What are you talking about with “2 out of 3 jobs?” I’m still in the running for all 3. But now i have a reputation as a weird artist, for sure!


  3. Karyn @ kloppenmum says:

    I really did LOL! Good for you and yay for an art director with a sense of humour! 😀


  4. tersiaburger says:

    Hi my friend. Just a quick note to let you know that I nominated you for two awards – The Dragon Loyalty Award and The Blog of 2013 Award. Thank you for your love and support. I am so grateful that we met. I hope that your year ahead will also be a better one. You are always in my heart and thoughts. http://tersiaburger.com/2013/12/16/the-dragon-loyalty-award-and-blog-2013-award/


    • Judy says:

      Thank you, dear Tersia. I cannot post my awards right now, but look forward to it soon. Thank you so much for brightening my life. I will think of you during this difficult and poignant holiday season. Love, Judy


  5. Pingback: Jessie Jeanine

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