07.10.12 Truth & Wisdom
Let’s face it – some days it’s pretty damn hard to feel thankful for anything. I’ve gone through times where I’ve struggled to think of anything I’m grateful for, sometimes resorting to, “I woke up. I am breathing.” Not exactly the heady stuff of inspiration.
When I was going through a divorce in 1998, I bought myself a copy of Simple Abundance by Sarah Van Breathnach. I actually think if you didn’t buy it, it was issued to you by the gratitude police if you were having a life crisis that year. Van Breathnach struck a chord with people, mostly women and Oprah watchers, by encouraging readers to focus on the positive. I dutifully wrote my five items a day for what I was grateful for even when I didn’t want to, and it did actually help. Research shows that keeping a gratitude journal is sometimes as effective as taking an antidepressant in treating mild depression.
It’s a fine line to be grateful and not slip into the kind of preciousness that makes people want to avoid you like the plague. Being positive is one thing, being an annoying sap is another. And sometimes you just need to feel sorry for yourself and marinate in it until your fingers get pruny. The trick is to not stay stuck there. Thankfully, I have a very short attention span for self-pity. I get bored rather quickly with a ‘woe is me’ attitude, as do the people around me.
That said, there is nothing worse than the new age guilt that so many will try to impart on you, and oh, some will. You know those folks – the ones who will try to make you think it’s your fault for attracting this negativity into your life. While yes, our choices do impact our lives, sometimes, many times, bad things just happen to all of us – no matter what color your aura is or how many crystals you have in your pocket.
The very tricky thing about gratitude is it’s very easy to feel all warm and fuzzy and grateful when things are going well. It’s not so easy when they aren’t. But, what I’ve found on reflection is that it’s the hardest times that have taught me the most and for which I’m most grateful. Though often as I’m going through it, I can’t imagine I ever will.
I had a span where within about three years, I lost both my parents and one of my three children was addicted to heroin. I wasn’t feeling too grateful. I lived in a state of constant hyper-vigilance wondering when my phone would ring with yet more bad news. I lived through emergency room visits, drug overdoses, jail, rehab and ultimately having to say goodbye to my parents after illness.
I was single, none of my children were living at home anymore and I would crawl into bed every night alone wishing someone was there to hug me and tell me it was all going to be all right. But there wasn’t anyone. It was up to me to get myself through. I had in fact become the sad, cautionary tale amongst girlfriends, the, “Wow, things are tough in my life, but I’m so glad I’m not her” person. To put it inelegantly, it sucked.
But I got through. I said goodbye to parents and fought tooth and nail to help my son save himself, which he did. I look back now at that time and believe it or not, am grateful for it. It changed me forever.
See, the thing is, like I said, it’s easy to be grateful when your life is going along swimmingly. It’s another layer of gratitude and thankfulness to be there when it’s not. It’s not usually a feeling you can have when in the middle of the muck, but if you can realize it in hindsight it makes you better, not bitter.
I am not the same person in some very profound ways since going through what I did. I know now that we are all much stronger than we can possibly ever know until we are thoroughly tested. I developed a mantra when life was so challenging that I still recite many times a week. When faced with something like traffic, a career disappointment or just a sad mood. I remind myself, “If this is the worst thing that happens to me today I am doing okay.”
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