Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Gratitude

I left work early yesterday afternoon, playing hooky from myself. It doesn't have quite the same gloss of joy it did when I worked for someone else. No computer at home and no chance to catch up with any of y'all, so wanted to thank you here for your thoughtful comments and support from yesterday. I means so much to me, thank you.

I was reading the other day something Michele wrote at Fat Girl Camp and it reminded me of how much making a gratitude list impacted my life in my younger years. When my husband got sick several years ago, I put aside that lifetime habit and . . . well, hell, I gained 100 pounds, so that should tell me something. Obviously that massive weight gain wasn't simply the letting go of one good habit. I know that in times of tremendous stress, we'll go back to what works as comfort, even if that thing is as destructive as excess food. I did, it's over, so why have I not picked up again that healing habit of making a list of all that is good in my life?

My first list started out of an effort to work Step 10 of the 12 steps of AA/OA/NA/GA/EA/every A in the world. "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." This was early on in my recovery life, some time around 1980-82. I couldn't get that Step 10. I could only see myself as wrong in totality, I was wrong, wrong, wrong and it kept me mired in a negativity that drove the urge to eat and drink and left me always in a position one step down from the rest of the world.

At a conference in Albuquerque, I heard a man tell a story he called "rape the nun." I can't tell it as he did; folks always get that odd deer in the headlights I can't believe you said that look when I try to relate it, but the gist of it was that focusing on what's positive in life can change us in ways that are impossible through sheer force of will. His example was that if a nun comes to the door collecting for charity and he gives her a dollar and rapes her, he should report to his sponsor the next day that he gave a dollar to charity. Ugh. Doesn't it sound hideous? But the concept ~ focusing on what's right instead of what's wrong ~ is a good one and can form the foundation of a happy life. Even AA's Big Book talks about getting a new pair of glasses, that whatever we focus on grows, and we can choose to focus on the positive or on the negative.

I have to say that through all of my time in 12 step programs, it has become clear that there are two types of addicts: those who pretend they think they're perfect and those who think they suck in every way. Rape the nun does not work for the first group. I was in the second. So I did this. I did it with a sponsor for 10-11 years. Every morning I'd call her with my list of 10 things that went right the day before. There was nothing negative on the list even if the day before had been abysmal. My early lists were pitiful: "got out of bed," "brushed my teeth," "went to a meeting." It is so bizarre to me that having had a wonderful family life (until I didn't) and a wholesome and positive upbringing, I so lost any clue as to how to live on a daily basis. I was working from the very basics, taking teensy baby steps to a new life.

Over the years, my list changed. "I prayed and felt a connection," "met with X and worked the steps," "felt absolutely filled up on the inside," "experienced real serenity for just a moment," "was mesmerized by the slant of the afternoon sunlight on the oak floors, felt at peace," "was free of the obsession to eat for an entire day." Over the years, after I quit actually calling my sponsor with the list, it was transformed into something that was actually a part of me. This intentional practice of focusing on the positive changed my focus in life. I went from being angst-ridden and miserable 90% of the time to being happy and free and filled with that most addictive and magical feeling of joy 80-90% of the time. It was heaven.

It. Was. Heaven. Why is it so hard to return to a habit that was so incredibly rewarding, that actually changed my world view? Why is that? I still don't understand it, I just know that I've started several times to return to this list and have failed. Accountability is a huge part of success in any venture, so my task and my commitment for the day is to make this list, one day at a time, and see what happens. I am, this morning, feeling thankful and grateful just to be alive. I think I'll seize the moment and write it down.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Da Nator said...

I feel ya, hon. I think that for those of us who grew up judging ourselves negatively it's really a matter not just of getting in the habit of positive self-talk, but re-wiring the brain. The old, craptastic connections still remain, but we've got to make the new ones stronger. It may be a life long struggle to completely fllip the switches, and bad days may overload the circuits, but it gets easier and more natural with time and practice, just like anything else.

Also, antidepressants help. ;o)

August 23, 2006 10:48 AM  
Blogger angelfish24 said...

Though I can't relate to AA, having never had that issue, so to speak, I wish I could have had the friends of AA or is it al-anon to deal with my father's and grandfather's alcoholism. As for the gratitute journal, that's something I was just thinking of on Monday to do. It was a topic at ww, about being kind to yourself, and how you would do that. Some things are small, get a pedicure, go for a walk alone w/ no kids and leader mentioned gratitude journal. Think it will help me keep things in perspective when I am down. Or else I need to look at if this really is depression or just getting down on myself, though my friend is on antidepressent and has no sex drive and the hubby ain't happy about that!

August 23, 2006 10:41 PM  

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