Gratitude

by Elaine Palmore

One of the parents at a school where I taught for many years told me one afternoon that gratitude was the essential element to all of life. She had done the research for her Ph.D. all over the world and this theory was the outcome. She studied at Harvard and Vanderbilt and lived with Soto Buddhist Nuns for a year in a cloistered Buddhist monastery in Japan. Paula studied the factors that contributed to female longevity for this advanced degree. She said unmistakably that the common thread that ran through all the lives of these remarkable women was “gratitude.” My guess would have been healthy food, exercise, meditation, or any other of several possible factors, but gratitude, that was a revelation. How challenging might it be to just have grateful? I was soon to find out as I stopped drinking and attempted to clean up my life.

I could have been grateful for my family, except that at that point I had been forbidden to be anywhere near most family members or their homes. It was simple to understand their reasoning since my behavior had been outrageous at holiday get-togethers and parties. I could have been grateful for my health except that most systems were either not working at all or working intermittingly. I could have been grateful for my home except that I didn’t have one. This line of thought could go on and on. I was bankrupt and feeling sorry for myself. The year was 1990 and it was time to do things differently.

I began looking for support in some form of group therapy and hoped this could be the answer. The journey began with surrender strangely enough. Realizing that my addiction was stronger than any will power or courage that I could muster was the foundation. Healing began in the meetings when I began sharing and other people shared like experiences. I listened with my heart and my head which was a first for me. These people at the meetings did not give advice only talked about how it had been for them and the steps they took to live a sober life. This led us to discover some measure of right thinking.

In the early days I was rebellious and could not or would not follow the rules especially with stated gender boundaries, women work with women and men work with other men. My plan was to stay as close to the men as possible and as far away from the women as I could get. The miracles began after I realized that my plan was not working and I turned another corner.

My first women’s meeting was an awakening. Pretentiousness and make-believe were nonexistent in these meetings. The first meeting was raw and real and helped me realize that I was on the path but going in the wrong direction. These ladies loved me until I could love myself and taught me about working simple steps, coming to meetings, and taking action to stay sober. At some point in this process I became grateful for the acceptance and love. The love was flowing freely in both directions.

After a while there was a place to live, a car to drive, and a good job. I was grateful to have made it through. I was grateful that my children had survived and done well in spite of their mother and largely because of the help and support of their father and grandparents. Lastly, I became grateful for my sobriety and being in the process of recovery which can lasts a lifetime or be over in the second it takes to allow that addiction back in your life.

Eventually, as many of us do, I went back to school seeking a degree, which I earned. There was a wonderful fellow thrown into my path on New Year’s Eve in 1991 and we have been together ever since and for him I am truly grateful. Then there was graduate school and another degree. There are now grandchildren in the mix, one just started preschool and one is a freshman in college.

The gratitude overflows, it abounds and is with me all the time, in all places even when times are hard and there no way out of pain but to go through it. For this and my life generally I am truly grateful.

Don’t postpone joy, be grateful.