(Content Notice: substance abuse)
I like Thanksgiving. In addition to it being socially acceptable to eat an entire pumpkin pie while wearing stretchy pants and binge watching multiple seasons of your favorite show on Netflix (all of which I am 100% on board for), it’s also a time when just about everyone takes a minute to stop and show a little appreciation for the things they’re grateful for.
Gratitude is a big part of my life year round. Every morning in my journal (or, if I oversleep and don’t have time to journal, in the “Notes” section of my phone… whatever works, right?), I jot down at least three things I’m grateful for.
Taking time out of my day to remind myself of all the great things in my life keeps me grounded.
My daily gratitude lists are typically pretty mundane (I’m grateful my fiance took out the recycling in the rain so I didn’t have to get my hair wet; I’m grateful the grocery store restocked those animal crackers I like; I’m grateful that hair-puller of a project is finally over… that kind of thing), but during the Thanksgiving season, I like to take a more big-picture view and dig into the major “life stuff” that makes me feel all warm, fuzz, and grateful inside.
And every year, I have the same experience. When I look at my Thanksgiving gratitude list and reflect on everything I have to be grateful for, I have the somewhat jarring realization that a lot of those things are what most people would consider… well, kind of messed up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are definitely items on my gratitude list that fall within the confines of “normal” and “to be expected,” like my sweet little furball of a child, my upcoming wedding to the most kick-ass man I’ve ever known, and the fact that I get to write in my pajamas all day (and get paid for it).
But far more items on my list fall into the realm of “Whoa… that’s heavy.”
Like, “I’m grateful for the six years I spent drinking to blackout and snorting various substances up my nose.”
Or, “I’m grateful for what is now affectionately referred to as ‘The Great Mental Breakdown of 2016.’”
Or, “I’m grateful for the daily struggle of living with an anxiety disorder.”
To a casual reader, my gratitude list probably looks confusing… and let’s be real, a little depressing. Why would anyone be grateful for such messed up things?
But the truth is, I am. I really, truly am. Because when you dig a little deeper, all of those “messed up” things? They’re really not so messed up at all. In fact, they’re actually pretty amazing.
That was, by far, the hardest and scariest experience of my life. But if that experience wasn’t so hard or scary, I might have gone my entire life without getting the help I so desperately needed.
Like the six years I spent drinking and snorting anything I could get my hands on. Not exactly a walk in the park, and I did a lot of damage to myself and to the people I love. But if it wasn’t for the darkness of my active addiction (and let me tell you — things got pretty dark), I never would have seen the light, so to speak. I never would have acknowledged the pain that was hiding just beneath the surface of my addictive behaviors. I’d still be a prisoner to that pain, numbing it instead of facing it. But because my addiction spiraled so out of control that I really had no choice but to stop and face what was really going on?
I’m not a prisoner anymore. I’m free. And for that, I’m grateful.
Or my full-blown mental breakdown last year, which had me seriously worried I was losing my sanity. My mind was a scary place (not exactly a neighborhood you’d want to go walking through alone at night, if you know what I mean), and I couldn’t trust my thoughts, my feelings… or really, my self.
That was, by far, the hardest and scariest experience of my life. But if that experience wasn’t so hard or scary, I might have gone my entire life without getting the help I so desperately needed. Because my breakdown was so terrifying, it forced me to swallow my pride and reach out for help. As a result, not only did I get the proper diagnosis, but I also got educated on exactly what was happening to me and how to deal with it. That knowledge was (and is) incredibly empowering and was exactly what I needed to transform that breakdown into a breakthrough (cue “Rocky” theme song).
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Or my anxiety disorder. Is managing my anxiety and keeping my mind from spiraling into all sorts of stress-inducing scenarios that leave me sitting on the floor breathing into a paper bag a daily struggle?
But as a happy byproduct of my efforts to keep my anxiety under control, I’ve developed a whole slew of habits — like meditation and journaling — that have completely enriched my life. Not only do they help keep my anxiety at bay, they also give me invaluable insights into my thoughts and emotions and make me a more resilient person. And to me, that’s a win — a win I’m incredibly grateful for.
So, are the items on my gratitude list a little different from most? Yes. And, to a casual onlooker, do they appear to be kind of messed up? Sure. But for me, it’s those struggles — the “kind of messed up” ones - that I’m most grateful for. Because it’s through those struggles that I grew into the woman I am today. The woman with the sweet little furball of a child and the kick-ass future husband. The woman who’s writing this in her pajamas, eating a slice of pumpkin pie.