M(3), 7/11/16: The Gratitude Advantage
Is it wrong that I just kicked a variety of kids out of the house to write this blog post? I am choosing to think not.
In typing out the title I realize it is 7-11 day, which means that particular convenience store will be giving out free Slurpees, so perhaps if I get through this post without interruption I can reward them.
The jury’s out if that can actually happen. Actually, the jury is heavily leaning towards this not happening.
It’s funny that I am about to write a post on gratitude, and, if I’m keeping things real, I am feeling anything but in the current moment. I dropped a weight on my finger during this morning’s workout. At the time, I was grateful it wasn’t my writing hand; now I am realizing in this day and age I need all 10 fingers to write. An extremely frustrating customer service call five minutes ago plays in my head, with no obvious solution on the horizon.
And have I mentioned the variety of kids?
But this is why I love a topic like gratitude; is is a universal tool that any human being can employ at any time, for any reason. Even in the moment, when I don’t know what the next sentence will be, I am 100% sure that by the time I hit publish I will feel better, simply because my focus will be on gratitude.
And with that long intro, this morning’s literature selection came from the book Living Sober, a chapter entitled “Being Grateful.” The chapter describes the various mindsets that a grateful attitude can improve:
- Negative speculations (always assuming the worst)
- The tendency to say “Yes, but…” to anything complimentary or optimistic
- Focusing on (and talking about) the ways in which other people are wrong
- An urgency to be right, and to prove we are right
- An unwillingness to open our minds to the thoughts/beliefs of others
In each of these cases, a simple shift to the perspective of gratitude can make a world of difference.
I shared first, and I spoke of the primary reason I needed to read about gratitude today. A few months back, I submitted a resume for a job, something I have not done in more than 16 years. I found out this weekend that I did not get the job (cue the sad music).
This is the type of news where my mind and my heart are at war with one another. Maybe skirmish is a better fit, since war seems a bit big. On the one hand, I really and truly (and really and truly) know that the job was a bit of a longshot (I was competing with people with years of experience in a field where I had essentially none), it was my first foray into the professional world in a really long time, and that another opportunity will present itself. I am a strong believer that things happen for a reason, and therefore this job must not have been meant for me. I had the most ideal of scenarios in terms of the interview process, as the hiring manager is someone with whom I have a passing acquaintance and so I was able to be my authentic self. So my mind absolutely knows I put my best foot forward and have nothing in which to feel ashamed.
So that’s my head’s side of the story.
My heart has a different version of events. The fact that I can make that statement at all shows the kind of progress I’ve made in recovery. Who even knew that you could think one way but feel another? Certainly not pre-recovery Josie! All weekend long I’d be doing something and then wonder why my stomach felt jittery, or my chest area felt achy, then I’d stop and realize what the problem was… oh yeah! I didn’t get the job! And I’d feel disappointment, and a vague sense of something resembling panic, all over again.
And my mind would reprimand: What is there to feel bad about? And I’d distract myself some more. And so on, for the next two days.
I fessed up to all of this to my group this morning, and as usual they came through for me. According to people much wiser than me, it seems that the feeling of feelings is something that is actually important to do (who knew?). When I expressed uncertainty at what I would have done with this situation in active addiction, they said, “Duh! You would have picked up a drink.”
It also turns out that being hard on oneself is a typical trait of alcoholics. At least, that is the opinion of several in the room with decades of sobriety, so I trust they’ve been around our group long enough to know. This fact illustrates for me, once again, that the real work begins once we put down the drink. I’ve been sober for over four years now, and I’m still working on the self-kindness. Good thing I’m not looking to graduate from this program!
Pushing aside feelings for any reason, telling yourself they are silly or illogical, is denying your value as a human being. Human beings feel a variety of emotions for a variety of reasons; telling yourself you “shouldn’t” feel that way makes little to no sense.
Others spoke of the need to balance their feelings, so as not to wallow too long in something unpleasant or react to something too quickly. The easiest way to do this? Get out of your own head… go to a meeting, call a friend, just do something different. As the saying goes, “move a muscle, change a thought.”
A woman newer to sobriety talks about how focusing on that for which she is grateful is the number one tool she uses daily to help her stay sober. She has found it transformative: good things become great things, and when things are not so great she is able to remember all the other good things, and it lessens the sting of whatever disappointment or irritant is happening for her.
So I guess I need to focus on my nine healthy fingers!
I got one prediction right, and one wrong. I do feel better now that I’ve written about gratitude. Even better, I was wrong about the kids not coming in to hassle me. Looks like everyone’s getting a free Slurpee!
M(3), 11/16/15: Gratitude is Contagious
An interesting meeting this morning. We read from the book Living Sober; I selected the chapter about gratitude. We’re so close to Thanksgiving, it seems a natural fit!
I shared first, and talked about a specific section of the chapter as it pertains to my journey of recovery: the idea of opening up to the perspectives of others, and the joy that open-mindedness can bring. An honest share, if not particularly thrilling.
From there a gentleman shared about his struggles with gratitude. He recognizes it has been missing in his two and a half years of sobriety. He wants to cultivate gratitude for his life, but anger and resentments continue to dog him. In his very share this morning, he spoke of realizing how much he has for which to be grateful compared to the lives of others, and immediately launched into a tale involving the misfortunes of others. The focus of his share on gratitude turned out to be all the things for which he is not grateful in his life.
From there, a few others spoke of a similarly themed struggle: fondly remembering the “glory days” of early sobriety gratitude. For example, waking up without a hangover and feeling exuberant about it. Being asked a question about the night before, and triumphantly realizing you remember the entire night.
A personal favorite of mine: a family drama unfolds, and not being at the center of it!
Several of the meeting attendees today wistfully remembered that feeling of gratitude, and long to get it back again. Gratitude is more of a struggle these days, and sobriety can be taken for granted the longer you stay sober.
Then, about halfway through the meeting, S shared. S has been a semi-regular, quiet attendee of this meeting. I wrote about S a few weeks back that after 8 years of sobriety, he relapsed, and has been painfully trying to get his recovery back on track. As anyone who relapses knows, it does not get easier with prior sober time under your belt.
I actually haven’t seen S since he shared about his relapse. I held my breath as he started to speak, uncertain if he has remained sober in the weeks since I’ve seen him.
Fortunately he has remained sober, and he spoke of struggling to find gratitude with a relapse so close in his rear view mirror. He said with all the challenges he currently faces in early sobriety, the thing for which he is most grateful is the opportunity to sit in a room full of recovery-minded people and simply absorb the positive energy. He doesn’t really have to hear anything special, or something that speaks to him personally. Just sitting and hearing the positive talk, feeling the empathy, and knowing that he can share what is going on with him and people will listen without judgment… this is all enough to turn his day around. He came in to the meeting in a negative state of mind, but he is leaving with a positive one.
All this from a guy who almost never raises his hand to share.
From that point forward, every single person who shared had something for which to be profoundly grateful: the gorgeous weather, the support of family, the health of their loved ones, simply being alive, sober and present this morning. I will speak for myself and say I felt the atmosphere change. It’s not that it had been a negative vibe, necessarily, but it lightened considerably from what it was.
I am very sorry to report that the gentleman entrenched in his misery left at the halfway point and did not have the opportunity to feel this shift.
It just made me think: if S’s simple words transformed an already happy crowd, then what could I do on any given day? I think I feel a challenge coming on, my kids better watch out this afternoon 🙂
The reminder of the transformative power of gratitude
M(3), 11/24: Gratitude as a Verb
The topic of my Monday meeting was gratitude, and yet I am fighting the urge to sit down and start complaining. Why? Because, despite a solid two years of avoidance, my meeting was subjected to a dreaded business meeting, insisted upon by someone who seems energized by complicating simple matters. What a completely annoying way to finish out an otherwise delightful Monday meeting experience.
But I digress. Now, where was I? Oh yes, gratitude!
Today is the fourth Monday of the month, which, in the literature rotation, is “chairperson’s choice.” Because this is the week of the American holiday called Thanksgiving, I thought it apropos to use gratitude as the subject matter, and so this morning we did a series of readings on that subject.
I was a bit nervous at the start of this meeting, as there were very few attendees. Mental note: the more I prepare for a meeting, the less attendees there seems to be. I’m not sure why it works out that way, but it has been pretty consistent throughout these 2 years, today there wound up being less than ten of us at the meeting. The combination of a low turnout, along with an unfamiliar anthology, left me uncertain as to how this topic might resonate with the group.
The first couple of passages were met with some awkward silences, but soon enough the small group got into the swing of things, and the sharing really took off. Whew! I did not have to sit and ramble on for 60 minutes by myself!
Of all the different things that were read, two really stood out to me in a powerful way. First, the idea of gratitude as a forward-paying action, rather than a passive thought process of things received. For those of us involved in a 12-step fellowship, gratitude as an action means reaching out our hand to the still-suffering alcoholic in the same way a hand reached out to us when we needed help.
But that concept can extend to so much more than the disease of addiction. Instead of writing down “I am grateful for the love of my family,” I could instead pay that love forward and show them that I am grateful for their love. Gratitude should be active, not passive, and the reading reminded me to be conscious of that, particularly with the holidays so rapidly approaching.
The second reading that stood out talked about people in AA considering themselves privileged, for the misfortune of the alcoholism turned into the good fortune of living in recovery. Boy does that hit home for me. For a very long time I bemoaned the fact that I could not “drink like normal people.” The holiday season in particular was a great time for the pity party to rage on, as I watched what seemed like every person on the planet drinking merrily.
Now that recovery from addiction and a sober lifestyle has taken root, I have a completely different outlook on abstaining from alcohol. I see how being sober allows me to be present in a way I never was before sobriety; how working the 12 steps of recovery has allowed self-transcendence and a new way of living life on life’s terms, and how embracing sobriety has brought a whole new network of people into my life, people whom I never would have met if I was still drinking. I can say, sincerely, that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.
Other people spoke of their plans for the holidays, and the preparations they are making to ensure their sobriety (bringing their own car to a function, arriving late, leaving early, planning to attend a recovery meeting, planning to spend time with other sober people). They spoke of holidays where they did not make these plans, holidays where they chose instead to drink, and how those holidays inevitably wound up being about the alcohol, rather than about family or friends.
In the midst of this sharing, a regular attendee raised her hand and said she would be speaking off-topic, because she needed to share a situation with friends who would understand what she was going through. This week she is hosting her in-law’s who have traveled from Europe to spend the holiday with her, her husband and her daughter. Having been sober for over a year, she said her in-law’s know something of her alcoholism, but not all the details: they know that she had decided to stop drinking, and that she attends support groups in the effort to not drink, but that is about the extent of it. So within the past year, they have drunk in her presence but have not pressed her on the subject, and all in all it has worked out satisfactorily for all. This visit, however, the in-law’s did something a bit different: they presented my friend and her husband (not an alcoholic, but a rare drinker… due to acid reflux, he will rarely consume more than half a glass of anything) with NINE BOTTLES of wine and a bottle of single malt scotch.
My friends in recovery reading…. can you seriously imagine? And this was the good stuff, by the way!
My friend handled it the best way she could: she had her husband remove the alcohol from plain sight for while the in-law’s are still visiting, and she had made plans for a non-alcoholic friend to take whatever is remaining as soon as the in-law’s return home. She just needed to share this story with people who would understand her plight, and, in this understanding could she finally find some peace with the subject.
Everyone who shared after her spoke of understanding, told stories of a similar vein, and how they handled similar issues in their own lives. By the end of the meeting, my friend had a new point of gratitude: the empathy of others in this meeting.
For anyone out there struggling with added stress of less-than-supportive family and friends during this holiday season, please know that you have us in the sober blogosphere, people who have been there, who understand what you’re going through, and will lend our support any way we can. You just need to reach out, and you can survive the season with your sobriety intact. If all else fails, this is a song I have used to amuse and empower myself when the going got tough, imagine all of your sober friends disco dancing with you through this holiday season:
The weather in Pennsylvania today definitely falls into the miracle category… it feels like summer today! You’ve got to appreciate these days when you get them, especially in November!
I AM 2 YEARS SOBER TODAY: Here’s What I’ve Learned…
The Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. –Melody Beattie
The title of my post is one of the million “AA-isms” you hear in the meetings of the 12-step program. Here’s what it means to me:
1. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how bad you think your life is. If you have the ability to question this statement, you already have two things to be grateful for: that you are alive, and that you have the intelligence to question. You can build from that point.
2. If you consciously work on developing the attitude of gratitude, it is impossible to feel bad. Seriously, try it. The next time you are pissed off at something, step back, and start listing the things in your life for which you are grateful. I am betting that before you are halfway through your list you will feel better, if not silly for being pissed off in the first place.
Here is what I am grateful for today: the ability to hit the reset button on life. Through a series of small events, my day did not start off well, and I reacted to those events with frustration. Since I knew I would be attending an 8 am meeting, I was, first, grateful for the existence of that meeting, and my membership in a Fellowship that allows me to be inspired daily. The topic of the meeting was gratitude (surprise!), and I was then grateful for the reminder of how good my life is. Finally, and most important to me this morning, I am grateful for my new perspective that allows me to look at my own part in this morning’s events, and to make right my wrong-doing, instead of letting it fester for what could have been days on end (if grudge-holding was an Olympic sport, I would have been a gold medalist).
All of that wisdom before 9 am… it’s going to be a great day!