Don't Tell Me When To Be Thankful
I don’t know what it is about Thanksgiving that makes me feel so darn ungrateful about everything. I mean, the one day of the year that most pause and give thanks for what they are grateful for is the one day of the year that makes me want to think of every single thing that is missing in my life and the world around me.
I don’t remember being this ungrateful on Thanksgiving until I got sober. Maybe I just stayed drunk to avoid having to think about it or maybe it was because nothing really tragic had happened in my life at that point and I just took most things for granted. Being honest, it was probably a little of both.
I was born defiant. I refused to eat solid foods until I was able to hand feed myself around 9 months old. Growing up, as soon as someone would tell me to do something it would make me want to do the exact opposite. I remember thinking at a young age, “nobody’s going to tell me what to do” when it came to things like cleaning my room or brushing my teeth. I wanted to do things my way and on my time. I would be half way through cleaning my room when my mom would yell up for me to clean my room, not knowing I had already started and I would stop cleaning because I didn’t like being told what to do. That classic “I’ll show you…I’ll hurt me” mentality followed me straight into adulthood and active addiction.
So it kind of makes sense that I’m bit of an ungrateful brat when it comes to Thanksgiving. I have no problem giving thanks and practicing gratitude the other 364 days of the year, but on the one day that pretty much revolves around grateful thankful hearts, I want nothing more than to count my misgivings instead.
My first Thanksgiving sober was also the first Thanksgiving without my younger brother, Will, who had died 6 months earlier to a drug overdose. I had gotten sober about 7 weeks after Will died and between then and Thanksgiving I had been focusing on my spiritual growth and practicing things like gratitude in my daily life. I would make gratitude lists and try to find gratitude in situations throughout my day, both good and bad. It became somewhat of a game to find gratitude it the most annoying of situations that would usually have sent me over the edge and an excuse to drink. I became a master of finding the gratitude in most situations and it made life easier, more peaceful and content.
I was stoked for my first sober Thanksgiving. I knew how much I had to be grateful for. Like I said, I was a gratitude guru at this point, if you will. So, you can imagine what a surprise it was when I woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed and found myself crying uncontrollably on and off the entire day. I couldn’t find gratitude in anything. I missed my brother and I was angry and sad. I didn’t want to be thankful. I certainly didn’t feel thankful.
The year after that I just wanted the day to be over. I showed up to dinner and barely talked to anyone and left shortly after. Last year, I showed up and was present…present to be aware of everything that was wrong. My brother still wasn’t there. He was never going to be there. Instead there was a candle lite in his memory. My grandfather was at dialysis most of the day. A “do not resuscitate” sign hanging on his bedroom door was the first thing I saw as I entered my parent’s home. My parents were gone to visit my brother’s grave. I was there alone. I was sure 2014 was going to be the year that one of the dozen horrible dates I had gone on would pan out into something substantial but that wasn’t the case.
The day seemed to last forever and the pity party I was hosting in my head was dragging on. Eventually, my younger sister and older brother started showing up with my nephews in tow. I remember looking around the table and thinking to myself as I looked over at my sister holding her pregnant belly and thinking, some of the best days of our lives are ahead of us.
For whatever reason that put things in perspective for me. And then I remembered something a good friend who had passed away a couple months earlier would always say and it was that everything in life is temporary…the good and the bad. “We are in a constant state of temporary”, he would say. So, enjoy the good, get through the bad and be present in every situation because it will soon be gone.
I was able to look down to the end of the table of my grandfather who’s heath is failing him and be grateful he was there and smiling. I was able to look at my brother’s memory candle and be grateful for the 29 Thanksgivings I had with him and for how his death had changed our family and had made our hearts are all a little softer and our love a little stronger.
I’ve spent too many Thanksgivings focusing on what’s missing instead of all the many blessings sitting right beside of me--focusing too much on the pain of the past instead of the joys of the future and the gift of today.
I’m not naive to think I won’t miss my brother tomorrow, but I miss him every day. It reminds me of just how much I love him. And this year I get to love on my newest nephew who wasn’t with us last year who brings the nephew count to 6. I get another year with my grandfather sitting at the end of the table. And most shockingly, I’ve got a pretty amazing guy who I adore by my side.
So, I guess my point to all this rambling is that if you struggle like me with giving thanks on a day that is dedicated to being thankful then try and stay present in the moment that is right in front of you and don’t get caught up in the 3 ring circus in your head. You never know what next Thanksgiving will bring. Maybe it will bring new babies or boyfriends, but it might bring an empty seat that is filled this year. In the end, it’s just another day. It’s all temporary, so let’s be thankful for today because it’s really all we are guaranteed and today I have a lot to be thankful for.
Wishing you a grateful-thankful Thanksgiving whether you feel like it or not!