I met a man named Scott* early in my 12-step program. He swore, a wicked-looking knife scar bisected his cheek, his arms were tattooed with some scary-looking ink, and he slouched, his dirty work boots stretched way too close to my personal space. Scott was a double winner, working programs on both sides of the hall. One program kept him alive, he claimed, while the second made him want to be alive. Scott went to more meetings than anybody I'd known before, and he joked about a special dislike for one particular topic: gratitude.
The topic seemed to follow him. “I've been to two meetings on gratitude already this week,” he'd grumble. I know why he grumbled. Being grateful takes hard work and a willingness to see things differently. From him, and from others in my program, I've learned just how powerful gratitude can be.
Making the effort to practice gratitude boosts my ability to identify and choose joy. I have to work at it, because my disease sometimes colors my perceptions and makes it difficult to see what's positive. It's almost magical: the circumstances causing me difficulty point the way to happiness. I may fuss and worry when my car breaks down, but the fact that I own a car is something for which I am very grateful. I love the freedom of riding down the road with the wind in my hair. As I learn to recognize joy, and welcome it into my life, everything improves.
Gratitude also teaches me acceptance, and acceptance is the foundation of my serenity. Before I worked a program, I spent a lot of energy on denial. I believed if people would just do things my way, I'd be happy and successful. Accepting my inability to control people, places and things means I don't spin my wheels trying to force solutions. When I am grateful for what's in front of me, I'm accepting what's real and finding beauty and meaning in every corner of my life.
When I am restless, irritated and discontent, gratitude is hard. I don't want the solution to my bad mood to be something easy and self-initiated. I get so wrapped up in my self-will, so attached to an external solution for what's bugging me. For some dark reason I don't fully understand, I sometimes reject the wisdom of this program and choose to be unhappy instead. But Scott knew: a scrawled list of gratitude, sometimes as simple as listing clean air to breathe and a roof over my head, turns that unhappiness upside-down. It never fails; I only have to make the choice. Gratitude is self-care, even when I do it without enthusiasm.
The practice of gratitude is also a tool to improve my conscious contact with my HP. When I count my blessings, I see God at work in my life. I'm in relationship with my HP, secure in my place, aware of the care and comfort so freely offered. I'm so grateful for my friend Scott, and for the rooms where I learn how to live a better life.
*not his real name