Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

By Stan B M. Div., Counselor

Earlier this month we celebrated Veteran’s Day, the one day a year we recognize the sacrifice and courage of America’s military and their families.  This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, the one day a year we overeat with family and friends to commemorate the first full year Europeans survived in the New World. Next month we will celebrate Christmas, the one day a year we recognize the birth of Christ born to create hope in a better world.

What’s with these one-day celebrations? We begin the year with New Year’s Day, followed by Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, the list goes on. I suppose marking one day a year on the calendar to recognize our partners and parents is better than forgetting them, but all the special days seem artificial to me.

Today our lives are busy and incredibly distracted, but what would it be like if we sincerely endorsed creating hope in a better world every day? Or committed ourselves to making our loved ones and parents feel special all the time? What would our lives be like if we started each day by giving thanks for the amazing world in which we live?

In recovery, I’ve learned how self-centered I can be. It’s disturbing to me. When things don’t go exactly as I think they should and people don’t act the way I want, I become frustrated. If I’m not working my program, this leads me to a mental state referred to as the “Mean Reds” by Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

For me, the Mean Reds is a depressive state of fear and lethargy which is difficult to shake. The world including everyone and everything in it is flawed. I become inexplicably afraid of everything. However, when I am open to the experience, this is when the miracle can happen.

I’ve noticed when the Mean Reds overtake me they are talking about gratitude in every 12-Step meeting I attend. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I want to run from the rooms screaming, “Enough with the gratitude already!”

But practicing gratitude is the one sure antidote I’ve found to the Mean Reds. If left to my own devices, I can forget to be grateful about anything. I need practice every day.

When practicing gratitude I begin to recognize all the gifts in my life. It is difficult to sustain self-pity and fear when considering my friends, loved ones, co-workers, my church community, my children and my home. It doesn’t take long for me to begin appreciating how good my life really is.

Thanksgiving is a noun. It defines the family holiday of sibling dysfunction, overeating and watching football games with uncles who loosen their belts and recline in Lazy Boys. We should probably be thankful it only happens once a year.

Giving thanks, that’s a verb. It takes action. It’s not enough to merely say we are grateful, we have to show it. We may give thanks every day by praying and meditating in the morning, being kind and loving to those closest to us as well as perfect strangers and surrendering to the idea we are brought into this world to make it a more hopeful place. Then we must shoulder the work which will make it happen.  Not just once a year in November, but one day at a time all year long.

Stan graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2006 and worked for the Tennessee Association of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services teaching ministers across the state. This led him to become an alcohol and drug counselor, a position he currently holds as primary counselor for the Cumberland Heights Extended Care program for men. Stan is a regular speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clarksville, the father of thirteen-year-old twins and active in his own 12-Step recovery.