What Are You Grateful For?

Have you ever just stopped to be grateful?

In the past three weeks, I have shared many things about struggle, temptation, being still, addiction, and other things that can sometimes be hard to deal with. And I believe we need to talk about them more. We need to be more vulnerable. We need to be more honest about our struggles.

But we also need to be more grateful. We need to name the things in our lives we are thankful for, even when we think we have nothing to be thankful for.

So what is it for you?

It could be anything. Some days, I am able to list item after item of things I am thankful for. Other days, about the only thing I can name is that I got out of bed that morning.

I have met people who were facing some of the most difficult struggles anyone could face in life. Yet they were grateful.

I have met people in the midst of grief and loss. Yet they were grateful.

I often hear stories of victimization of the worst kinds. Yet the victims have become grateful.

So what are you thankful for?

Today, I am thankful for my students at FaithWorks of Abilene. Today, I am thankful for the young people at the church I attend. Today, I am thankful for my family.

So even in the midst of fatigue and exhaustion and worry, today I can say I am grateful.

What about you? What are you grateful for?

My Life In Recovery

In yesterday’s post, I shared my story of alcoholism and recovery. Most of what I do today has been inspired and driven by that experience: my return to school, my career, my volunteer work. It has affected my family in many ways, both positive and negative.

But my life in recovery is not consumed with daily thoughts of addiction and recovery.

When I first stopped drinking, I had been fired. Our family was facing some financial difficulty and a lot of uncertainty. In those days, I woke up every morning wondering how I could make it through the day without drinking. I went to bed every night surprised that I had made it another day.

But that was early on. That is a common experience for anyone recovering from any addiction. When someone removes an addictive substance from their bodies or stops performing an addictive behavior, every part of life is affected. And for a while, every waking action is directly impacted by the bizarre, unknown, scary shift our bodies and minds are going through.

But that does not last forever.

Today, thoughts of drinking and sobriety do not consume my attention. I don’t wake up wondering if today is the day that I relapse. I don’t go through the day constantly looking over my shoulder afraid of the next temptation that will come my way. It is no longer a surprise to go to bed sober.

But I do view every day as a gift.

I still attend 12 Step meetings to help process issues that come up (and, yes; some days I need meetings more than others). It also allows me to interact with other people at various stages of addiction and recovery. It allows me to share community and life with people—some of whom speak wisdom into my life and some of whom need to hear a word from me. I still choose to not drink. (For me, this is not negotiable.)

I have sought out and benefit greatly from several spiritual mentors who help guide me. They hold me accountable. They keep me honest. They have allowed me safe spaces to be open and vulnerable.

I am still heavily involved in church and volunteer opportunities. My faith is important and I need to find ways for that faith to be active. It is important to get my mind off of myself and on to others.

And I just live every day. I wake up, go to work, share meals with friends, talk with my family, attend school and extra-curricular activities.

My “life in recovery” is exactly that: life. I don’t live in fear of what might happen, I live in gratitude of all that continues to happen each and every day. As with everyone else, I have good days and bad days. I have days that I glide through and days I struggle through.

But every day is a gift. I will enjoy each one to the best of my ability—living in gratitude and not fear.

When Thanksgiving Ends

Holidays…are weird.

They are times of excitement and joy. They are times filled with busy-ness. They are times that bring stress and anxiety. On some holidays, there is even a little bit of a type of historical-multiple-personality-disorder going on.

Thanksgiving is no exception:

Lots of food. But someone has to cook it.

Lots of family and friend get-togethers. But a lot of miles have to be travled.

Lots of pageants chronicling the tale of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. But the knowledge of imperialism and colonialism that almost wiped out a race of people.

Thanksgiving is at the same time a day to be thankful for all that we have while gluttonously devouring way too much food. And that is followed by Black Friday.

Although Thanksgiving is indeed a call to be grateful, that thanks-giving often ends way too soon.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when the last bite of the meal is taken. At that point, it is time to move away from the table and go sit in front of the television while slipping into a food-induced coma.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when Black Friday shopping begins. It is no longer time to be content when there are door busters to be had.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when the Christmas decorations come out. We have so segmented each holiday that we fail to see any overlap. So we put one away to make room for Nativity scenes and the Santas.

For some, Thanksgiving never really begins. For some people, holidays are just a reminder of what all they do not have. For some people, Thanksgiving is another day to watch other people be happy. For some people, the despair felt every day becomes even more heightened on Thanksgiving Day.

_________________________

The holiday season is a scary season for recovering addicts. There are several reasons for this. First, a lot of drinking takes place during the holidays. For those who are addicted, holiday memories include intoxication. Some habits are hard to break.

Second, holidays create a lot of stress. Drugs and alcohol, in addition to being unhealthy and destructive, are really good stress relievers. Other anxiety reducing activities need to be identified and practiced.

Third, when holidays create joy for some people, they intensify despair for others. Holidays are a reminder of relationships lost—both family and friends. Holidays are sometimes overwhelming evidence of “what could have been.”

When people are depressed, the solution is not watching others be happy. So when holidays come around, it often creates more feelings of dis-ease and lack of stability and longing and misery.

So for a lot of people, their Thanksgiving ends before it ever really begins.

_________________________

How do we become a people for whom Thanksgiving never ends?

Obviously, the day on the calendar is going to come and go. The season of the Thanksgiving holiday is here and then gone. And to be certain, there are many signs of thankfulness shown throughout the month leading up to the fourth Thursday of November. There are lists posted on walls in houses all across the country. Social media fills up with gratitude challenges as people post something new every day. Many families will share stories of thankfulness around the table as they share the meal. A lot of good-hearted people spend time cooking, serving, and sharing life and resources with people who are in need.

But too often, those activities of gratitude cycle out with the turn of the calendar. And for others, the ability to express gratitude just seems like too much to bear.

But we can change that. So today, I post a new Thanksgiving challenge. And you don’t have to write it on a paper and stick it to your wall. You don’t have to post it to social media with a hashtag. But if we all do this, it can help us either continue our thanksgiving or renew the gratitude that is missing in our lives.

First, every day when you wake up, think of one thing you are grateful for. It can be simple: the bed you are in, socks, toothpaste, alarm clocks, toast, coffee, anything. But each day think of one new thing (in other words, don’t just think “coffee” every morning. #confession).

Second, every day when you go to bed, think of one thing that happened that day that you are thankful for. A kind word. A meal. A job well done. Survival.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s how we keep thanksgiving going.

So whether you are the type of person who shoves off from Thanksgiving once the meal is done or you are the type of person who can never get into the holiday because life just sucks, try these two things. Be thankful for one thing in the morning and one thing in the evening.

Because when thanksgiving ends, life becomes tough. Let’s keep giving thanks.

I Am a Grateful Recovering Alcoholic–GAH!

When I started attending AA meetings, some people would introduce themselves as “grateful recovering alcoholics.”

I thought they were crazy.

It was hard for me to be grateful early in sobriety. It was hard for me to recognize anything to be thankful for.

But slowly, that awareness grew. Some things were simple: spouse, children, parents and siblings, church family, shelter. Others took more a little more work to recognize: a part-time overnight grocery store job, the care and concern of the people who fired me, those people at the meetings who kept saying the same thing every day.

And at some point along the way, I don’t even remember when, I started saying, “I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.”

Being grateful is not always easy. Sometimes, the circumstances of life can seemingly drown out the good that exists. Sometimes, our focus is so much on the present that we cannot step back to view the bigger picture.

Sometimes, we have to say, “I’m grateful,” through gritted teeth.

When my partner does not live up to my expectations in our relationship, I am still grateful to have her in my life.

When my child is undergoing several medical tests that may or may not reveal something serious, I am still grateful I am blessed with children.

When my job has several tough days in a row, I am still grateful for work.

When I think I might want a drink to drown out the noise in my head, I am still grateful that I am experiencing emotions.

When I am so busy and overwhelmed with life, I am still grateful to have life.

When my shoelaces break, I am still grateful to have shoes on my feet.

Every Sunday, my home church does a prayer time called Prayers of the People. Yesterday, the church wrote out prayers of thanksgiving in addition to the normal weekly prayers. On my prayer card, I listed some of the experiences I have endured this year. It has not been easy.

But I could still say I am grateful. I am grateful that hope exists in the midst of grief and despair. I am grateful that a church family could and would surround me and hold me up on my weakest days. I am grateful for a youth group at our church that exhibits a maturity and spirituality far beyond their years.

So yes: I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.

I am grateful because I am sober today.

I am grateful because I can recognize things to be thankful for. Even on the hard days.

Thanksgiving can be difficult. Let’s face it: all the holidays can be difficult. Trying to maintain sobriety on a regular day is hard enough, but trying to maintain sobriety when given time off of work, shopping amongst crazy throngs of people, and dealing with family drama reserved for this time of year can seem almost unbearable.

So let’s start being thankful right now. What are you thankful for? Start working on a list. Remember it when things get crazy at the end of this week.

No matter how tightly you have to grit your teeth, open your mouth, and grumble the words with me:

I am grateful.

Post-Thanksgiving Challenge

I believe I benefit from White Privilege.

I believe Black Lives Matter. I believe that every life matters.

I believe what was done in Ferguson was a grave miscarriage of justice.

I believe Christians need to step up and use their voice to advocate for the oppressed.

I believe I am only one person in a small West Texas town and that I do not have a lot of influence. But I believe I should speak up whenever I can.

I am going to participate in a Black Friday boycott and I encourage you to consider the same. In fact, consider boycotting for the next 60 days. Many people in power will not change unless they see their bottom line affected. So affect their bottom line. But more than just taking money from them, pay attention to where your money is spent:

Buy from local people you know.

Buy from stores owned by minority proprietors.

Research large corporations and if they do not stand for justice, do not patronize them.

It is not easy. It may require sacrifice. But if enough of us buy only what is necessary and buy only from people willing to advocate for justice we can make a difference. We can make a change.

The following is borrowed from Julian Long:

I am stepping out of the cycle of hedonistic consumerism.

Yes there are things I want. Even some things I think I need.

But WE need justice and a voice more.
Economic Disparity is a massive part of this system of injustice we are raging against. They hate “looting” and “riots” and make us villains for that?
Then Break the Back of the Beast another way.
And don’t fall for the feel good symbolic okey doke of Boycotting ONE DAMN DAY.Do not boycott Black Friday only to pick up the same deal on Cyber Monday.
WITHHOLD YOUR DOLLARS.
MAKE IT MEAN SOMETHING.
Put your money into building the infrastructure of a just nation not reinforcing the infrastructure of an unjust one.
This will NOT be easy.
Accountability never is.
But being mindful of what is ESSENTIAL will help us FOCUS. Convenience and Comfort and Capitalism have lead to our Complacency and lack of focus. This is what the Roman Empire called Bread & Circuses. A fat, fed and entertained populace will let anything pass.
We’ve forgotten that “the Struggle” means sometimes we have to STRUGGLE. We have to eschew the convenient comforts and pursue inconvenient truths, impolite conversations, ugly realities and painful progress.
It’s about to get uncomfortable for us.
But we should really be uncomfortable now.
When a child is sitting in a dirty diaper he acts out and cries out until the filth is changed.
Brothers and Sisters we are sitting in the filth of what American commercialization has done to us. We are sitting in the putrid stink of a system that is utterly and completely co-opted by the wealth and greed of the 1 percent. And we are funding it. We eat the corrupted bread. We support the frenzied spending circuses. We consume what we are fed and the more we consume, the more shit we sit in.
Build the economy of conviction. Focus on the essential and build on what matters. For every Black life snuffed out by rampant unchecked authority you check them by removing dollars from the economy that supports it.
AND BE VOCAL ABOUT IT.
Declare often exactly why you don’t spend so there is no confusion as to where the money has gone- why the coffers of injustices are withering. Proselytize and evangelize and RAGE. So that others might see the example and join in starving the beast and breaking its back. But be loud, clear and committed to your convictions. Pick a time period. Six weeks. Set a personal trackable goal so you can see results in your own life. In your own community. Hold yourself and each other accountable.
We know that the impact of rioting and looting is economic but the optics of it create a conversation that maligns and miscasts us when the media is trained to be sympathetic to the monied system. They WILL miscast our actions as violent and animalistic– they cannot miscast our deliberate inaction. They cannot miscast our refusal to participate. Either way the system will suffer. Both actions are justified- one will change the optics of the conversation against us. Break The Beast’s Back.
-Julian Long

‪#‎BuyOnlyThingsNecessary