Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Gratitude month

 In AA, November is designated "Gratitude Month," likely related to Thanksgiving and maybe Step 11. Sometimes thinking of something to be grateful for is easy - other times a push, but always good to remember that gratitude is described as a spiritual elevator. Even if I'm faking it 'till I make it, the exercise helps me remember what it was like and what it's like now. I did not die at the end of a needle or behind the wheel of a car, which means that each day truly is a gift. 

Someone in a meeting once said that when they're having a hard time falling asleep, they go through the alphabet, naming something they're grateful for with each letter. Sometimes that flows, other times a struggle (Q? ok, quiet morning time with my journal, but K? U?). Years ago, I found myself classicly scrawling out things that upset me - the spouse, the job, the x,y,z with just a week later, those same exact things on my gratitude list. Perception. Perception and my being centered, or not. Sometimes the directive to write a gratitude list can feel Pollyanna-ish, head in the sand. And, even on the dark days, there is much to be thankful for - a warm bed, food in the fridge, gas in the car, and oh yeah, sobriety.

A memory came up recently, of a time that my good friend, Ruth, and I went to Seaside for our aftercare. Ruth was a character - my mother's age, funny, and very committed to her sobriety, having lost a son in an alcohol related car accident. She and I, and our other housemate (and still best friend), a decade younger than me, shared coffee and daily meditations in the kitchen each morning, laughing and crying over our individual drunk-a-logs. Those were magical times. 

On the particular day I'm thinking of, we finished aftercare and then hit the evening meeting at the Little Yellow House. The proverbial dark and stormy night, we were nervous about the 90-minute drive home, when one of the treatment staff invited us to sleep on the fold-out couch at his place and head home in the morning. His wife greeted us when we got there, with a look that said this wasn't the first time Joe had brought home a stray or two. Ruth and I were so grateful, so in awe of this AA thing that showed us service and fellowship in action. 

Maybe 10 years later, I was working on the locked psychiatric unit at a local hospital, and who was being admitted, incoherent and drunk? Joe. I was heartbroken. Heartbroken and confused. How could anyone as serious as he'd been about sobriety be sitting here slurring his words? Once you've fully conceded to your innermost self that you're alcoholic, how do you un-concede?

That same best friend/early roommate told me that people forget. People forget the pitiful, incomprehensible, demoralization. They forget that they have a disease, that it's alcoholism not alcohol-wasm. I don't walk around in fear of being struck drunk, but I am acutely aware of the danger of forgetting I'm an alcoholic. I hear too many stories of those who drank after decades sober and have a hard time getting back, or those who "slipped" only to suffer a terrible fall or car accident or blow to the head. I feel solid in my recovery, and I am not immune. 

Recently I read a quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius - Understand that your time has a limit set to it. Use it then, to your enlightenment or it will be gone and never in your power again.  As I age, I'm noticing more, paying attention more to reminders that I'll only pass this way once (as far as we know). Where is my attention today? 

And, where do I acknowledge my age without throwing up my hands in defeat? An example - this week I volunteered for leaf-raking detail up in Forest Park, a three-hour stint with twelve other people, getting fallen leaves off the trails. In years past, I would've gotten up early to go for a run or walk before heading out, but this time, had a little talk with myself. "Jeanine, you're not 49. You're not even 59! It's ok to enjoy your morning coffee and then drive up to the woods." Trust me, my legs and torso are feeling it. Could I have squeezed in three or four miles on the pavement beforehand? Sure, but why? "Motion is lotion" for the joints, I'm told, and I've really got nothing to prove (though I must admit to enjoying sharing my past trail running experiences with a couple of younger runners on the crew. I know, I know - I don't look like my story, either the before or the after).

And so, today, on a gloriously colorful November morning, I am grateful for all my senses, for this body that takes me outdoors or to the computer for zoom meetings. I am grateful for a strong marriage, for good, solid friendships, for memories old and new. And yes, for sobriety and that I've not un-conceded to my innermost self the true nature of alcoholism. I'm also always grateful for Bill and Bob, and that Bob said "OK" when Bill came over to talk. One alcoholic to another., sharing experience, strength and hope.

What is on your gratitude list today? How do you keep the memory of your own pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization fresh without it being morbid reflection? What will you do for your sobriety today? 

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Thinking of a year-end inventory? I've restocked my supply of the workbook "I've Been Sober a Long Time - Now What?"  with 78 pages of topics, member's views, and processing questions. (See the Jan 13, 2023 post for a sample.) Available in PDF format ($12.95) for those of you outside the US (or who prefer that format) or hardcopy ($19.95 mailed to you). Email me at with questions.  You can order from the WEB VERSION of this page, payment link on top right. Note that the workbook is also available at Portland Area Intergroup at 825 NE 20th 

1 comment:

  1. Jeanine, Thank you
    for sharing your experience, strength and hope in these weekly messages. This one in particular touched me. I'm grateful for you. Peg T