The Joy of Living: Or, Why I Love Casinos.

The reality of life is that the world seldom gives us exactly what we want; in addition, it often takes what we already have and may really like, without leaving us much in return. We’ve all had difficult things happen to us, capabilities or possibilities taken away, hardships inflicted. We all have something we can’t do anymore (or, let’s be honest, never could do but wanted to do), or something we loved and lost, or had to give up. Sometimes, life really sucks.

It’s never easy to change one’s view of life and essentially settle for less. I’ve had to give up a lot in the course of my illness, and have felt repeated loss, grief, and bitterness. It’s taken me years to come to terms with both my current – and possible future – limitations, and I still fight and get angry (as my loved ones can attest), but I also want to live my life, and enjoy it, as long as I have it. Some of the best tools I have to accomplish this are my ability to be creative and my pleasure in little things.

In Codependency No More, Melody Beatty noted that people who had first grieved losses (an important step) and then found a way to lift their lives out of resignation and despair and into peace and a sense of gratitude for what is good in life, were happier and more successful. Figuring out creative ways to get around loss and limitation so that you can live the life you want – albeit in a different way than expected – can be vital.

Hearing the clichés about “enjoying the little things” can make you want to break out your Uzi, but I have actually found it to be true. When you have a chronic illness, you generally have to go small; small movements, small expectations, small periods of time. Why not enjoy other small pleasures, like a good brownie, a hot bath, a colorful garden, a conversation with a friend, an amazing book, petting a cat, helping someone out in a small way – whatever makes you happy and invested in life.

This really isn’t an essay just for people living with chronic illness – it’s about all of us. We may not have what we used to have or what we wanted, but we may find what we can use – what’s good enough – if we’re willing to look. We’ve all suffered from things we cannot change but we also have the capacity to change ourselves. There’s no reason to believe we can’t have some element of what we used to do, be, or love – something that makes us human and happy – if we’re willing to change ourselves and our expectations. Which brings us to casinos.

It took me a while to really figure out why I liked going to casinos so much (which some of my friends just couldn’t understand), and why being in a casino made me so happy but now I do, and it has given me a part of myself back. Because it isn’t really about the casino; it’s about me. Due to my RA, I’m usually in pain and feeling fatigue, and I just don’t have the energy to dress up to go out on the town, go clubbing and dancing, be around people, and stay up late. And yet, a lot of times, I really want to able to do just that and have felt frustrated for a long time about being so restricted and boring.

Casinos share several key elements: a warm, dry environment that doesn’t require a lot of heavy clothing; seductive, low lighting; colors, sparkles, and upbeat music; comfortable seats; lots of people to enjoy looking at and talking to; and access to food and drink – in short, they are like nightclubs. A casino is perfect for me because I can put my pretty clothes on, move around a noisy, dark, warm, fascinating-people-filled environment and feel like I’m out on the town like a normal person….at seven p.m! It’s like being out at night in the middle of the day, and then I can go home and go to bed.

I feel “normal” there and like I’m just part of the human race; having a good time, and living life, feeling the excitement of being around people, and noise, and activity. It lets me be different from who I usually am. Instead of spending (much) time being angry that I have RA and feeling disabled and deprived, I found at least one thing/place that helped me feel normal. I changed what I really wanted into something I could live with. I’ve allowed myself to get creative, and been reasonably willing to accept alternatives.

I know that there are some losses that are just too big, some injuries that are too extensive, some events that take far too much of who we were or what we loved. At that point, there’s no other choice but to let ourselves descend into grief and the pain of bereavement. It might take a long time before we have the capacity to take stock of what we have left, and what we can still do, but it is so important to our quality of life that we do so. I don’t believe in ignoring realities and being positive all the time, nor do I believe in feeling constant despair and bitterness. I do believe in the power of one’s ability to change, and to find something good in the bad.

Eleanor Roosevelt may have said it best: “The purpose of life, after all, is to love it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” What better place to do that than in a casino, is what I think. If that’s not your thing like it is mine, you can find the thing that is.  Is there a place, event, activity, or experience that can take you out of yourself – even if only briefly? If not, why not try and find it? There’s nothing that says you can’t be creative. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to help. Find the environment or activity or outlet that lets you feel like yourself; that thing that will help you feel like a person again; that thing we all need in order to live our lives with some semblance of joy.




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