In my thirties I was alone and depressed. I was in a bad relationship; living far away from my children, living and working on the edge of Canada in the Province of Nova Scotia. I isolated myself from anyone who could or would be a friend. Dark nights, crushing days; I had no idea that life could get any better for me.
I was a therapist at the time, supporting individuals and families recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. I loved my work. I loved my clients. And, because I was fairly new to the fields of therapy and addictions I found my clients to be my best teachers. In fact, those that had been sober and working their Twelve Step program of AA, NA, or ALANON had something that I wanted: Serenity.
While studying to be a marriage and family therapist, I learned a lot of valuable skills, tools and theories related to being human, but serenity wasn’t part of the curriculum. Here, in the outermost edge of the Atlantic Coast I found a way out of those dark nights and crushing days.
On a cross-country trip back to visit my parents in Detroit, from Nova Scotia, I stopped for gas in New Brunswick. As I walked around a bit to stretch my legs, I came across an old fellow, sitting on the curb, next to the restroom. He was drinking from a brown paper bag and his eyes were about as glassy as they could get. As I walked past him to go into the restroom, I smiled and said hello.
"Are those your real teeth?" He asked in sheer amazement. The very sound of his voice let me know he was from Newfoundland, a province of Canada that is known for its fishing and its wonderful people. To the question regarding the realness of my teeth, I responded "Yes, they are my real teeth." Slurred and blurry-eyed the man said "Well, you should count yourself very lucky. I don’t know many women your age who still have their own teeth." I said thank you, with a big grin on my face and went inside the restroom. When I came out, he was gone.
I started reading literature on co-dependency. One of the most important foundations of any recovery program is the use of gratitude to find one’s way to serenity and sobriety. With gratitude it is possible to re-frame being powerless and helpless into being healthy, vital and accountable for your life. But you have to want something bad enough. Though I didn’t know what it was I wanted, I saw it within many individuals in recovery. Even though their lives were full of challenges, they were happier than me. What’s up with that? In my mind I rationalized that I should be happier than them. However that wasn’t the case.
I started trying to list things I was grateful for. At that time, like I said, I had so much anger in me and I felt so victimized by life, my parent and my boyfriend that as hard as I tried to come up with things to be grateful for, I found more reasons not to be grateful. I had to keep asking myself "How badly to you want serenity?"
As I lay in bed confronted with wanting both serenity and my righteousness, I remembered the old Newfoundland fellow saying I should feel lucky that I had my own teeth. That was the moment I got it. I got the value in the practice of gratitude. I got the degree to which I held onto a sense of entitlement; that life should be the way I think it should be. I got how much I take for granted: health, friends, a good job, a roof over my head. I began to think about how all my body parts work, all the time. That I have eyes that see and ears that hear. I can move my toes and feel my heart beating. In that moment, I became a very lucky person and a very grateful person too.
Every night, I’d come to my gratitude practice with anger, frustration and a victim mentality. Every night I struggled to find something to be grateful for. And, every night I came to remember my teeth, and how grateful I am that I have teeth. I also began to bring into my list of gratitudes the Newfoundland fellow. He gave me an amazing gift of realization. He gave me the first step toward serenity.
Developing a capacity for gratitude is like developing any muscle in our bodies. We have to first find it, perhaps discover it for the very first time. That realization is just the beginning. Bringing conscious awareness to that muscle takes discipline and dedication “ one moment at a time. And like any other capacity “ it never stops growing and it never stops being an essential quality of being human and connecting us to the universal source of all that is.
AND, Life never stops throwing curve balls, but through practices such as listing things you are grateful for, you come to find that you can be with those curve balls with more peace and less frustration.
Recently, when I was facing some financial problems without much hope in sight, I said the prayer "Oh, Creator. Thank you for the way that it is." Initially I felt the rising up of the righteousness of my suffering. But soon after, I began to see all the gifts that were available to me, because I was having to be with these challenging circumstances. The wisdom of Creation revealed itself to me and I opened to a new level of gratitude. My capacity to see life different shifted dramatically in that moment and my life has never been the same.