Thanksgiving is far from my favorite holiday. Besides not great childhood memories tied to the day, the problematic origin and subsequent retellings just don’t sit well with me. Give me Christmas or Halloween, even Labor Day over this one. But a holiday that highlights gratitude… well, I can get behind that.
Like the millennial I am, I like a good social media trend and people bubbling with appreciation for the mundane is honestly one of my favorites. Even if it’s a #humblebrag, I’d rather see someone gushing than griping during my mindless scrolling. But at least for me, it’s not hard for me to express gratitude for the obvious big wins in my life: a loving and supportive family, great friends, a college degree, my health, a steady job, awesome co-workers. What about the qualities of our lives that are harder to love? What about the qualities of ourselves that have caused pain for us or our loved ones? How grateful are we then?
When I first got sober, I often heard people in support group meetings say that they were grateful to be an addict and/or alcoholic. I didn’t think they were honest or dishonest because frankly, I wasn’t doing much thinking past trying to get my hands to stop shaking or leg to stop jogging while in post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It’s said a lot in “the rooms” of 12-step programs, though, and eventually I said it- and meant it- as well.
After that last dark, hard year of using, being grateful for recovery was simple enough, especially with unconditional support and love from my sober peers. And there will never be a holiday when I’m not grateful to be clean simply because I no longer have to find a dealer on Thanksgiving. Or spend Christmas in a treatment center. Or be shut in a bathroom using when the friends attending my party wanted to sing me happy birthday. There’s something especially awful about being a junkie on a holiday and I don’t miss a bit of it.
I am, however, grateful to be a junkie, even while withholding the preface of “recovering.” No, I’m not grateful for the people I hurt or the hurtful things I did while using. But it is an inextricable part of who I am in so many ways. And one thing I’ve learned in recovery is that my worst qualities can also be my best ones, if kept in check or at least just channeled positively.
My old stubbornness can be a fierce determination to succeed in seemingly impossible or miserable situations, or even to just try and excel at hobbies and skills I’d never tried before. My resourcefulness throughout the past assures me in tough times that I’ve survived with less and that I’ve always managed to find a way to make it work. My obsessive chasing of highs has lead me to pursue running, hiking, yoga, weight lifting- heck, even pole dancing to work for some kind of physical, emotional, and mental rush. My formerly daily need to adjust to the emotional roller coaster of addiction now soothes all current anxieties about any big changes because I’ve remade myself once before. And I know how much help I have at my disposal to accomplish that again if need be.
The two reasons I’m most grateful to be a junkie stem from my worst lows, whether they were the dramatic hospital visits or simply the emotional breaking point of finally wanting to quit but being completely unable to do so on my own. These memories give me what I like to call rock bottom gratitude. In the midst of catastrophizing trivialities in my current day-to-day, all I need to do is stop and remember that being alive is a privilege. With overdose deaths as frequent as they have been in my hometown and across the country, I know that it’s a privilege many people like me, some of them friends, do not have anymore. And me being alive- that’s not because I’m special or chosen or blessed. It’s because I was very lucky to have the resources, timing, and opportunities that I did at the time. That thought alone is humbling enough to silence whatever anxieties or frustrations I’ve let cloud my mind.
Ultimately, these experiences give me what I’m most grateful for: the gift of hope. Not for me exactly but for those affected by addiction whether it’s personally or through a loved one. I understand that this may seem like an incredibly cheeseball thing of me to say (and in a post about gratitude near Thanksgiving to boot.) I get that. Just imagine your worst self, whatever that may entail, and in your moment of mourning or regret, someone openly shares with you the very same feelings, thoughts, fears that have made you feel alienated, despicable, and broken. Maybe they laugh about it in an attempt to lighten the mood. Maybe they don’t share your exact circumstances. But they do tell you, “it gets better.”
That sentence is not something I believed coming from the mouths of my doctors or parents or friends or boyfriends. But when a fellow recovering addict told me this at the beginning of my sobriety, I thought, “Okay.” I thought, “Maybe this can work.” And then I tried. And then I got better. And then things got better. And then they got worse. And then I got a little worse but bounced back better than before. And then I get to tell someone else about it and they think, “Okay.” Then they think, “Maybe this can work.” There is no earthly possession or experience that could match the feeling of being able to pass along some fraction of hope to someone else.
Although this may come off as just another #humblebrag, I think we’ve got to look deeper with gratitude. We have to see the best in terrible situations that initially wrecked us but forced us into growth or change that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. We have to take the worst things we have done or the most terrifying feelings we’d never want to share and see how starting a dialogue can echo and help someone somewhere in some small way. There are times I want to cry just to wake up without sweats and shakes or to be driving at night with a clear head and a clean conscience. And I can honestly say that I am thankful to be a junkie: still recovering, still learning, still hoping, but always a junkie, for better or worse. There is a possibility of gratitude in everything, no matter how seemingly ordinary or awful. It only works if we’re thankful for it all.
Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.
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