Reflecting back this morning of some very early lessons in my recovery journey and what I have grown to understand about the power of gratitude. Full disclosure here – I am not inherently a positive person. My inner voice can be quite negative with great frequency and intensity. Negative thinking, lists of things that have gone wrong and projected catastrophic future events play out without effort and multiply when I focus there even for a moment. I call this my Eeyore brain; it can hijack my day when my eyes first flutter open. Nothing is good, everything will sour, woe is me. This is the inner Eeyore whom I can ill afford to entertain.
Negativity was a dominant thinking pattern in my early life. Addiction started in my early teens and my use spun out of control before age 20. It was recovery or die for me and sought help in the middle of my 21st year on earth. It is quite ironic that the year it was legal for me to use one of my drugs of choices (alcohol) was the year I ended up getting into recovery. Eeyore ruled my brain and that negative inner voice told me with all certainty that my life was over, bridges burned could not be rebuilt, the trajectory was all downhill with no social life and the substances that helped quell the pain now off limits.
This was all of course, untrue. Wise people I had the great fortune to meet early in recovery suggested I look deeper for things that I could be grateful for. I made gratitude lists in my head, sometimes hourly to get through the long minutes. The minutes added up and my gratitude list lengthened. I learned that the inner Eeyore was not my friend nor an accurate inner soothsayer of what lay ahead. The deep truth is without learning how to be grateful early on, I am quite confident I would not have made it to 30 and yet, here I am a formerly young person still in recovery at 55. The power of gratitude.
Shifting a few decades forward, truth be told, 2020 has been by far the most challenging year of my recovery since that very first one in 1986. Challenges have come from all directions, personal, professional, from the pandemic and other societal disruptions playing out across our world. I have found that social media can be a tool to develop gratitude and connection and also unfortunetly an amplifier of my inner Eeyore if I allow it. I have had to dig deep, reflect longer and focus on gratitude and things that help restore me. I suspect I am not alone and many readers also have experienced these dynamics. Many of us in recovery are struggling, yet we also have some powerful tools we picked up along the way.
We know a bit about gratitude. Science and philosophy reflect on the value of gratitude. As noted in this article from Harvard Health Publications, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” According to this paper published in 2004 by the Oxford Press, positive-emotion-focused techniques help individuals create an internal environment that is conducive to both physical and emotional regeneration, including physiological aspects such as heart health and digestion. The practice of gratitude is present from the very earliest 12 step fellowship writings, and in most world religions. It is reflected in the writings of Western Philosophy such as that of Epictetus who said “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Eastern Philosophy also reflects gratitude including Confucius who said “It is better to light one small candle of gratitude than to curse the darkness.” Let’s light our candles now.
So this is my meandering Thanksgiving day blog post. I am grateful to be here, now. Life experience tells me that I am a poor forecaster of negative future events and I consistently underestimate my own resiliency and some of the positive elements operating in the world around me. No sugarcoating here, the world is indeed a mess, yet it is so very much more than that if we dig a little deeper. Thanks be to my mentors and for all those who have crossed so far in my path on this earth. I am grateful for you who have read this far. I add you the reader to my Thanksgiving Day 2020 gratitude list. May you find the kernels of positivity in the field you stand in and sow them to find inner abundance and bounty.
I sincerely hope that you have a long gratitude list this Thanksgiving Day, especially if you battle with the inner Eeyore as well.