Maintaining Gratitude This Fall
Since writing about gratitude in August, I’ve experienced plenty of uncomfortable emotions that felt far from gratitude like grief, anger, envy, despair, and anxiety (to name a few). Yet there’s also been a much-welcomed resurgence of gratitude over the last few months. I am reminded that emotional discomfort and gratitude can co-exist and that challenges can present opportunities for growth if wielded properly. A recovery fellow I hadn’t heard from in a while added me to a small and lovely email gratitude thread that hits on so many emotional notes. I started texting little gratitudes throughout the day to another friend in quiet moments on public transportation or waiting online at the supermarket. Another recovery fellow (who initially suggested we start a gratitude list practice in August) and I continue to exchange lists a few times a week. At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-esque, I’m writing about gratitude again because its bounds are limitless and so are the things that can be written about it. It is a practice for me that needs to be renewed on a daily basis and throughout the day as needed, especially as we deal with the chaos and surprises this year brought in and will continue to as it--as well as another year of sobriety--draw to an end.
Gratitude in a Pandemic
COVID-19 is making me realize how flexible and adaptable humans are, just like the practice of gratitude itself. There are so many things I took for granted before this pandemic hit, like being able to read facial expressions and cues of someone speaking at an in-person recovery meeting or holding hands at the end for the Serenity Prayer and giving close friends hugs. It’s only in smaller gatherings and moments when I do have access to these deceptively simple pleasures that I am grateful for these tiny initial building blocks of recovery. I miss being able to purchase tea and cookies for meetings when that was my service position, as well as how meeting members and I would agree to disagree over or praise the best snacks. Our ability to shift in and outside the (virtual) rooms of recovery is testament to the power of being sober. Sobriety from alcohol and drugs was the first step in putting on training wheels for sitting with craving and discomfort. I am grateful for my recovery friends all over the world and for video chats and technology that allows us to instantaneously connect in a time of physical distancing.
The beginning of the pandemic ushered in a craze of disinfecting groceries which I absolutely dreaded but with that guideline being lifted, I felt a great sense of relief, lowered hypervigilance, and renewed gratitude. When I do choose to numb out with other substances or behaviors in sobriety, I can recognize what I am doing, investigate why I’m doing it, and share about it. For this awareness and the communities that I can tap into for support all over the web (especially since many moved online), I am incredibly grateful.
Private, Quiet Gratitude
Gratitude doesn’t have to be expressed outwardly or in a list. It can be felt in smaller and more private moments that need no announcement. On the train this morning, I reflected on how lucky I was to get a last-minute doctor’s appointment that I was on the way to, that I had the money to buy a train ticket via an app, and how I had a calm work week ahead--allowing me psychological space to process what’s been coming up for me around stepwork, the resurgence of pandemic lockdowns, and US election results.
When I mentioned to a recovery fellow that I was writing about gratitude, the first thing they mentioned was their gratitude for the ability to leave each other voice notes on WhatsApp. They reminded me of the miracle middle ground of voice notes--tone is communicated (unlike a text message), they can be sent in a pinch, and one can speak without feeling pressured to respond to someone else in real time, possibly allowing for a deeper way to process a situation or feeling. A critical voice of mine says that it’s cowardly to leave a voice note rather than call, but some days self-care is acknowledging brain fog and low energy and sending a voice note rather than asking myself to gather bandwidth that just might not be there for a conversation.
Grief and Gratitude
There’s a major difference between focusing on loss and lack. When experiencing grief around the loss of someone or something, it’s obviously important to sit with that feeling and process the emotional pain. It’s very possible to grieve with gratitude--in acknowledging the joy and value that lost person or thing brought to your life, you’re not simply putting a bandage on the pain. Acknowledging the gifts and beauty informs a balanced view that can keep the grief from swallowing you for what feels like forever.
On the other hand, it can be incredibly draining to lament lack--specifically of what one doesn’t have, never had, and may never be able to get. When you focus on the impossibility of something and feeling deprived, you’re prey to misery, despair, regret, and all kinds of heavy emotions that can be remedied with a balanced perspective. While a certain level of aspiration and motivation can be healthy towards reaching your goals, having your serenity contingent on reaching those goals can be downright devastating and destabilizing.
Alongside hope and faith, the life-affirming force of gratitude allows me to proceed in recovery with renewed strength and wisdom. I’m thankful for the awareness it brings and that it can be consciously awakened at my disposal. Sometimes it takes seeing someone asking for money or food, a body curled into a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, or a documentary about extremely inhumane conditions to shake me out of my usual overthinking stupor that distances me from the myriad blessings in front of me, many of which are now due to being in recovery. Take care this month as the holiday season approaches and remember to give yourself the grace of noticing what is going right.