Today, I’m going to share my take on Gratitude with you.
So buckle up. 😉
I had a therapy session a few days ago with Kim. Somehow, the topic turned to Self-Compassion (probably because I have none). She said, “I’m totally serious about you developing a self-compassion routine.”
To which I replied, “I don’t even know what that would look like,” which, sadly perhaps, is the absolute truth.
You may not know this about me, and it may not always seem like it, but I tend to put myself last. You may be the same way.
It gets exhausting, doesn’t it?
And I don’t know about you, but for me, it leads to resentments. Resentments against myself, against the people I’m trying to help and be there for, against the system because we don’t qualify for help (like housekeeping help or a home health care aide). We are one of those families that falls right through the cracks – we make *just barely* too much to qualify, yet not quite enough to “make it”.
Yes, I’ve realized recently that I’m full of resentments.
SO WHERE DOES GRATITUDE FIT IN?
I’ve been so sick of “Gratitude” I could puke.
Every time I see the word pop up on The Twitter or Facebook, or see a chapter in a self-help book about it, I cringe and look away. Then I deftly click on something else or turn the page to get the hell out of there. 😉
Gratitude is a big thing in a lot of sobriety programs, and I’ve been there. I’ve looked on the bright side, gone with the flow, accepted the shitty things, and come to terms with life as it is. At least, I’ve been able to periodically in the past.
Lately, though, I just can’t take it. Just hearing the word makes me shiver and roll my eyes.
I’ve wondered why, and quickly came up with a theory:
Probably because I’m constantly overwhelmed, stressed out, worried about something, irritable, and have little confidence that things will work out (thanks, MDD and GAD).
In other words, my brain is often too busy trying to head off (possible) crises to even realize that I have things to be grateful for.
Does that sound familiar to you? I can’t be the only one, right?
What a shame that is. Instead of enjoying life, being present, and rolling with the punches, having faith that things will, indeed, work out, I spend a lot of my time bitching and moaning. Well, maybe not bitching and moaning, but I do spend a lot of it in fear of “What ifs”.
Wait – didn’t I just say a week ago (in my last post) that I try not to engage with What If? Hmmm…Well, as Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
So I must do. Geez, I was just going to say “I must try harder”, but I *just* said, “…there is no try.” The mind can be a destructive, faithless, manipulative beast sometimes, eh?
DAMN THAT THERAPIST!
Kim shared with me the results of a study that showed that people who regularly make a list of things they’re grateful for are generally happier (they even exercise more!) than those who make lists of what pisses them off.
That made me chuckle, because I have a litany of things I am unhappy with, things that aren’t “fair”, things I *should* be doing to make my life better, etc.
Naturally, I would fall into the category of pissed-off – or at least pessimistic – people. 🙂
But here’s the thing: I started learning a lot about gratitude almost thirty years ago when I began attending a support group that helped me stay sober. I even had some for a while.
And while I totally get that one needs balance in one’s life, I also know how impossible it seems at times.
At the end of our session, I said, “See, I have this thing: If I think something is stupid, I’m not going to do it.” She just smiled and rolled her eyes at me.
But then I told her I’d at least think about it.
What can I say? I never claimed to be well-adjusted.
IRONY AT ITS BEST (OR WORST)
On the way home, while I was waiting at a red light, I encountered a man, in ten-degree weather, holding a sign that said, “Homeless. Please help.” I have known a lot of people in that same situation over the last thirty years and I do not judge anyone for where they are in their lives. You don’t know my whole story; I don’t know your whole story. So, it’s best just to be non-judgmental and try to have some compassion.
I’ve seen this guy before at that corner, but I usually keep my eyes glued to the traffic light because I have nothing – or almost nothing – to give him, and I feel really bad about that. I feel guilty and embarrassed, so I look at anything but him.
Avoiding eye contact can be very effective. But it can also be very degrading.
So, this time, I pulled up right next to him as I waited for the light to turn. I rolled down the window and said, “I have no money, but I have some cigarettes if you’re a smoker?” He said, “Yes, ma’am”, hobbled over to me, and I gave him the rest of my pack. I asked if he had a lighter; he said he had some matches.
He thanked me several times, told me how kind I was, and sat back on his corner. I turned left at the intersection.
After beating myself up for not also giving him a lighter (which I could have spared), one word filled my mind: Gratitude.
It’s like I suddenly completely understood that I could be in his shoes. But for some unknowable circumstances (many of which are out of our control), decisions made, and probably a lot of luck, I could have been the one sitting on that corner, hoping for the occasional stranger to show some extra kindness.
It was six days before Christmas. It’s cold and windy out there. That could have been any one of us – me, a family member, an old friend, even you.
I wanted to do more, but I couldn’t. As it is, I have about $20 in my bank account right now. I couldn’t even drive this guy across the street and buy him lunch at Denny’s.
I wouldn’t say that I was filled with white light and the awe and wonder of gratitude afterward, but I did think about it, and I did feel it. And, yeah, I was grateful that is wasn’t me out there.
YIN AND YANG
There is a delicate balance to life, I think. I even got a tattoo on my leg years ago to remind me how important and necessary balance is.
Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a mental illness (or a chronic physical illness, or chronic familial dysfunction, other stressful situations, or life is just throwing a bunch of shit at you), balance can be hard to come by.
It can seem impossible and like a downright luxury.
I’m undergoing a course of TMS right now, which I’ve done in the past as well. Normally, I feel great about halfway through the sessions; optimistic, forward-thinking. This time is a little different, though. I feel somewhat pessimistic and resistant, and the progress has been slower. We think it’s because of the additional stressors I’m going through right now, plus the tremendous emotional fall I took after my tutoring position didn’t work out. So, biology AND circumstances.
**Of course, it didn’t help that my insurance company reneged on its authorization for my treatment. After a weeks’ worth of rigamarole between my clinic and the insurance company – during which time I was unable to receive treatment, though I had already started it – they finally re-approved me. But missing that week was critical. So keep your eyes peeled for a post about insurance companies in the near future!**
TODAY’S GRATITUDE LIST
Just for shits and giggles, I’m going to make a Gratitude list right here and now. You already know some of the crap that I’m going through. Let’s see what’s good in my life!
- I’m alive. (I’m not always grateful for that one.)
- I’m in relatively good health.
- I have healthy, loving – if sporadic – relationships with people who care about and support me.
- I’m grateful for our feline sons: Noah, Zero, and Zander.
- I’m grateful I have someone to share my life with.
- I have a brain that is, most often, useful (but sometimes tries to kill me).
- I have a rockin’ support system.
- I have food, shelter, and warm clothing.
- We have two functioning vehicles that are paid for (except for the repairs needed on our Tucson from the Thanksgiving night accident).
- Music – and my awesome LG Bluetooth ear buds. (I can’t live without them!)
- The Tennis Channel: 24/7/365, baby!
And, of course, I’m grateful for both my biological family and the one I married into, and to have loved ones to celebrate days like Christmas with.
Okay, okay, I guess I do have things to be grateful for. (And I thought I was just filled with resentment and bitterness!) Life is hard, often a chore to me. “I don’t enjoy life, I endure life,” is one of my mottoes. Maybe I should more actively look for the good things in life.
And the homeless guy? The next time I see him, huddled into himself for warmth, I’m going to ask him his name, shake his hand, and help him if I’m able. He’s a fellow human, after all, and he deserves to be treated with respect and dignity as much as the rest of us do.