Walt Disney World, the happiest place on earth! Oh, I love Disney, probably a bit much for a woman of 40.
But there was a time, for me, when it was not the happiest place at all. My memories clouded the happiness of Disney and it became a reminder of all the good I clung to in my marriage. Walt Disney World was a staple of my marriage. Like Christmas (which I previously wrote about), it was one of the few times in my marriage that I was really happy. That is not to say that it was perfect, it wasn’t. There were still the tell-tale signs of abuse; the disapproving looks at what I chose to eat, the comments about what I should wear, etc. Overall, however, he was happy when we were at Disney, and I was left to be happy without the chores of life, and his anger, lurking at every turn.
Disney was our first vacation together in high school, with his family. We traveled to Disney a number of times with his family until we finally moved to Tampa, which is a stone’s throw away from the parks. By then we were owners in the Disney Vacation Club (that I was mostly paying for), held annual passes, and went to the parks every 5 or 6 weeks…at least it seemed that way. Walt Disney World was indeed the happiest place on earth.
The problem, as I see it now, is that it was my happy place because it represented an escape. It was freedom that I didn’t have at home. My husband was happy, I was happy, and life was, for a bit, peaceful.
But when we divorced, that all came to an end. I no longer had a need to cling to happiness, as I had escaped the abuse that had slowly gotten worse over the years. He and his family fought me on the vacation club, which he had agreed to share with me, all but selling it out from under me (it was three against one and I couldn’t afford to fight them). And Disney no longer represented an escape. A real escape had taken place. I escaped my abusive marriage. And as I looked back on that relationship, through counseling and introspection, anger and in trying to rebuild, I realized that Disney represented the happiness in my marriage that I clung too, and that really bothered me.
Disney was no longer happy for the right reasons. It was me clinging to something that didn’t really exist. But I loved Disney since before my marriage. I had gone twice with my family and cried as I left both times. It represented a bit of who I am as a person; a free spirit who loves imagination and to believe that anything is possible. A child at heart. So I was in conflict.
When I finally went back to the parks, after some time away from them and my marriage, I was a bit overwhelmed. I found myself bombarded with happy memories from my marriage that now made me sad and anxious. I found that everywhere I visited reminded me of him and our life together. Instead of being happy, I was stressed, fighting tears, and dealing with ongoing anxiety during my entire visit.
I decided right then and there that this reaction was not acceptable. He had destroyed a lot about me but he was not going to take away my enjoyment of Disney. It was a small, yet important, battle that needed to be confronted and won. So, I planned another trip. Mind you, I live in Florida, so this is not exactly complicated or very expensive.
Each time I went back, if a thought of him entered my mind, I pushed it away and focused on the here and now. If I saw his face, I forced myself to see who I was with instead. If I had a certain memory, even if a good one, I pushed it aside and recreated a new one involving the moment I was in.
Here is an example. There is a ride called “The Carousel of Progress” at the Magic Kingdom. It first debuted at the World Fair in 1964. It’s slightly antiquated but the song is catchy. My husband used to love this song and would sing it at the top of his lungs, as we went through the stages of the ride, embarrassing me to death while at the same time cracking me up. He never acted goofy in public except at Disney.
I also like this ride and enjoy singing along with it. It represents so much of what Disney was to me as a child. It was created at a time when they were doing things that no one else could even fathom. I remember seeing virtual reality and thinking that it would never happen in real life. And, yet, here we are! But when I looked at this ride the past several times I’ve been there, I thought of how much he liked it and that kind of ruined it for me. I never pushed to go on it, but just passed it by, worried about how I would feel if I entered through the gates.
This year was different. This year, my three year old niece went on it before I got there and she really liked it…catchy songs will do it every time. I found myself walking through the park singing “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day!” and I realized how much that song resonates with my life now. Life is beautiful. It is what we make of it. We can chose to live in the past or live in the here and now, remembering that there is a great big beautiful tomorrow that is just a dream away!
This year I climbed aboard the Carousel of Progress with my little niece holding my hand and my wonderful boyfriend next to me. Neither knew the memories that popped into my head or that I knew they would be different after that ride. As we started singing with the characters I looked at my niece, who sang along with her little hands crossed by her heart, the magic of Disney glistening in her eyes. I looked over at my boyfriend as he chuckled and rolled his eyes while I belted the song aloud. As we left and the song played in the background, by boyfriend danced his way out and my little cutie followed suit all the way to the door.
These are the memories I hold close to me. We can recreate our memories and bind them to us, allowing the past to fade away and loving the life we have right this very minute. It doesn’t matter if it is a city, a home, your children, or something as goofy as an amusement park ride, go ahead and recreate your memories. Don’t let the chains of your past weigh you down.