A while ago a girl I know split up with her boyfriend of six years. They did it amicably, deciding to remain best friends and give it another go after he had sorted himself out and become a little happier about things. That lasted a few days: until he got a drunk, that is, and came round in the early hours of a Sunday morning, breaking her door and a neighbour’s window while shouting some less than pretty things about her and her friends, who live in the flats above. I met a few of those people a couple of days after that, and they were, understandably, sad and shaken. They were also really and truly shocked, amazed that such a nice boy could do that sort of thing. Which made me realise something: I was not. Of course I was sad. It is always sad to hear how people can mess up their own lives because they can’t control themselves. I was also angry — the words ‘stupid’ and ‘bastard’ came to mind immediately, as they do in such cases. But I was not shocked.

And how could I be, really. I’m rather used to this thing. Not that anyone has ever broken my door but I’ve seen plenty of emotional outbursts of this sort, in fact I have grown up with them. Not only my childhood but pretty much all my life up to now has been punctuated by this sort of incident. Whose main recipient I often was. First my dad, then my brother, then the boy Constantin (also known as the Previous Significant Boyfriend) and now, of course, Martijn have made sure I wouldn’t forget what verbal violence is. Or how angry a man can be. Or how nasty he can get when angry, and how stupid. By this I mean how many things he doesn’t really mean he can say— and how they can become true after a while if he says them often enough. I have to say that I am all too used to this. By now (I am twenty five, nearly twenty six) it has become something I deal with rather than something that comes upon me like a thunderstorm. Something that, upsetting as it may be, exists outside me not inside me. Something that, in time, will stop, go away. The sun will come out again. But I digress — or, rather, I am jumping ahead of myself here.

That thought hit me hard this summer. I am used to this — and what this is, what it is called these days, is abuse. ‘I’ve been abused’ is a hard thought to accept, even when the reality of it is glaringly obvious, as it has always been. It becomes harder when it hits you at the same time as ‘this is happening to me again, it is still happening, it has always been happening, what is going on here?’ I am still not sure I have the answer to the question. What I am sure about is that I am going to shoot the first person to imply that this is a choice I am making, and that I am making it for a reason. Extra bullets thrown in for anyone who implies I don’t know better (one bullet), I don’t love myself enough (three bullets) or that I must have done something really nasty in a previous life and now I’m paying for it (too many bullets to count). I do believe in reincarnation, by the way. And in the fact that we make choices. And that there is a reason for the things that happen. I just think that sometimes these things are beyond our reach and understanding. And that they’re not as simple or straightforward as some people seem to think. And –finally– that we’re not as much as into punishing ourselves or teaching ourselves lessons the hard way. But I really do digress. I was saying that it is hard to accept that you have been abused. And it is, perhaps, harder still to understand how you can feel both that, and a princess.

It is hard. But it is also comforting, reassuring, and, well, inspiring. Because while anyone can abuse you no one can make you a princess if you aren’t one. And while my fears could have come from outside there are other things that could only have come from inside, from me: my faith in the world, in its inherent goodness, regardless of everything; the fact that I fought back, fought for what I believed in even when I was tiny, refusing to believe my dad when he said that everything and everyone was horrible; my ability to bounce back, and, occasionally, eventually, and truly, be happy. It made me proud of myself to realise all that, and it makes me prouder still to write it down. I was a magical child. I brought these things with me and kept them alive through some really dark times. And now that I’m all grown up I only believe in them more.

But I digress again. This post was supposed to be about happiness. I was going to talk about something that all this bouncing back has taught me, something that watching that girl trying to pull herself back together in the days following the breaking of her door, and that is: there are two kinds of happiness, the inside one and the outside one, and they are both important. (The inside one comes from knowing that all is well in your world; the outside one, from experiencing things that make you feel that all is well in your world.) Just as are there people who have told me “if you are happy with yourself, nothing can put you down” and people who have told me “living in a nice flat is not going to make me less sad” — and, much as I could see where both of them where coming from, I disagreed with them both. Knowing that all is well in your world (or some sort of more realistic approximation thereof) is indeed a very powerful thing, I have discovered that as I slowly approach it. But I have also discovered that it won’t help you if it is 3 am and your husband is shouting all sorts of things he doesn’t mean, and he can’t seem to stop himself for hours. And the only thing that will help you get through the next day when everything seems shattered to pieces is the sunshine, a new book and cooking your favourite dinner. The little things. I am an expert at bouncing back. Two days and one good night’s sleep later I could smile again. Three days and two nights’ sleep later I was bouncing around the flat, singing along to the Fairways. (The Fairways are great, by the way.)

Some days I wonder if it is good to be like that. Some others I know I wouldn’t have survived –emotionally– had I been any other way. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to be this way. Others, I think it is a priceless skill which might help me achieve great things one day. But I digress. All I am trying to say is that you should take care of the little things. Do not disregard them, they matter more than people give them credit for. If you can’t have the big things, if the world is –temporarily or otherwise– looking like a menacing, unfriendly place and nothing seems right, keep the faith and focus on the little things. And the big things will come along.

It works. I tell you.