A New Gratitude

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You are really concerned about Thanksgiving. I’ve seen your dozens of posts about its racism, pilgrims and gluttony. These are all really important discussions. Likewise, I find all of the seasonal slideshows about stuffing, pie and potatoes to be equally important. Your thoughts on this holiday are valid but without sounding like a dick: if these are your only thoughts on Thanksgiving, you are doing it wrong. The delicious filling on the inside of this turkey-football-inception-puzzle-holiday is gratitude. Sorry ’bout it Hokey Pokey, but gratitude is what it’s actually all about. By all means, groan at this very word and whilst you do so, listen to Ms. Patti LaBelle. Please enjoy the hats and earrings.

See, I told you. Everything goes down better with shoulder pads and drum machines. Even concepts like gratitude. Look, I get it: the idea feels beaten to death. Rightfully so, as our culture currently offers a warped and syrupy expression of gratitude. There’s 6,001 inspirational gratitude memes (none of which I will post because I love you). There’s an underdeveloped but widely spread idea that if you’re just grateful for what you have a magical gift basket of your heart’s desires will show up on your doorstep. And how could we forget the tweets using #grateful for the most annoying superficial things? Yet if we clear away all of the lame ass Pinterest sentiment, gratitude is actually some badass shit. Turns out, science agrees with me too.

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The Greater Good Center at Berkeley is filled with neuroscientists, sociologists and psychologists who’ve “launched a $3 million research initiative to expand the scientific understanding of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of health and well-being, developmental science, and social contexts.” Clearly, this group of smarties thinks gratitude is something worth investing in. So far, the research is already paying off. According to the website:

They’re finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
Higher levels of positive emotions;
More joy, optimism, and happiness;
Acting with more generosity and compassion;
Feeling less lonely and isolated.

Tal Ben-Sharar, who taught Harvard’s most popular course on happiness agrees too. One of his six keys to happiness is to, “Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.” In fact, it was his book Happier which I stumbled on back in 2010 while housesitting, that blew my brain open and catapulted me into my own gratitude practice.

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When I was drinking, I remember watching a mid-2000’s episode of Oprah (which were the best in the craziest way possible. I could write 2,500 words on the Hermes episode alone) where she said she always wrote down 5 things she was grateful for before bed. It sounded like a brilliant idea and I probably even told people I started doing it too. But the reality was Oprah was a billionaire with lots of things to be grateful for and I was a drunken coke whore who was waiting tables. Coming up with 5 things back then was certainly a challenge. Still, it stuck in my brain so when Happier fell into my lap, I started making a daily list.

Keep in mind, I’m an addict so even my  early gratitude lists were excessive. 25 things every day along with 30 minutes of meditation. Apparently, I was trying to win some Best In Spirituality ribbon. However, binging on gratitude and meditation wasn’t exactly sustainable. Luckily, the practice morphed. First, a sponsee and I started texting our gratitude lists. Soon, my sponsor and I started sharing our gratitude lists in a private thread on Facebook. It was whittled down to five things. They were written with intention and I did it every single day for years even after I moved away from my sobriety family in Los Angeles to Denver. The list and ritual with it soon moved onto the people I’ve sponsored. And lo and behold, it’s been a daily part of my life for nearly 7 years. It’s the closest thing I have to a religion, if I’m totally honest.

Listen, I really don’t know how or why gratitude works. It’s magic and that’s kind of what my whole God spiritual life thing is based on. I don’t have any specific religious God defined. I just think the magic of the universe and all things I can’t explain fall under the God umbrella and it works for me. I do know that whatever bullshit I’m grappling with seems pretty incidental when I’m able to write down a few things that made my day easier or put a smile on my face. Sometimes, just horrible days being over is something to be grateful for. Gratitude has even managed to carry me through hard times. When I’ve struggled, muscling through and finding something, anything to be grateful my outlook transforms. Anger, sadness, depression all have been loosened when I focus on what’s amazing in my life and let go. Ditto with poor health. I’m no Berkeley grad but based on my last doctor’s visit, I can tell you my blood pressure is low and I feel pretty fantastic so I gotta believe gratitude (along with some decent choices) has certainly helped. Therefore, I guess it’s only natural like as gratitude has changed me, my idea of gratitude has recently changed too.

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As I was getting ready to write this, I was listening to Alanis, as one does in sorts of research situations. My current idea of gratitude was right there as sung by a 90’s Canadian songstress:

Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

That was it! When I started this practice it was all about just the sunny, wonderful things that made my life better. Yet as I listened to this song I realized, it ain’t really just about that anymore. Today, I am also grateful for the fucked up stuff too. I’m grateful for loss, for moments of darkness and yes even for situations that feel horrible and utterly hopeless. Like homegirl said, terror, frailty, disillusionment– all of it. Crazy but it’s the honest to god’s truth because I know that the healing and wisdom gained from hard times is immeasurable and something to be thankful for. Sure, I’d like that daily list to always be filled with rainbows and life-changing pieces of chocolate cake but being grateful for heartache and sadness is even more powerful.

Thus tomorrow, on Thanksgiving day, I’ll write my gratitude list as always. It’s not lost on me that I’m lucky to even be alive and celebrating Thanksgiving so that will certainly cross my mind. As will the people I’m grateful to have known who aren’t here this year. Not being drunk on holidays always makes the list. Then the list will move onto lovely things like hugs, my cats and mashed potatoes. But by taking 3 minutes to realize that everything doesn’t suck, the holiday becomes something incredibly special to me.

And then if I’m really lucky, I get to wake up on Friday and write a new list all over again.

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earrings off

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In my days working nightclubs in Hollywood, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (Trust. Those Triassic fools knew how to partaaay!) I’d every so often witness an urban legend come to life. One night drinking and doing blow, I mean “working”, at a hip hop night in Hollywood, I saw it.  The earrings came off. Girl B, who had been pushed by girl A, was ready to explode and she handed her earrings to her friend. Suddenly, this fight moved from pushing into Friday Night Smackdown territory in about two seconds. A co-worker and I immediately  grabbed security when the earrings came off and the girls were ushered out of the club in a hair pulling, screaming tornado in less than 3 minutes.

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In the 90’s, the widely spread idea of women taking their earrings off before getting a fist fight started somewhere. Could have actually happened and spread the old-fashioned( no. not through Twitter) from one mouth to the next. Things like this Jill Scott classic certainly helped bring the idea of being so pissed off and ready to kick so much ass that you had to take your earrings off before you beat someone’s ass.

There is a practical reason for this pre-fight ritual, mind you. The idea is you take your big ass hoops out before beating a bitch down to avoid getting your ears pulled off your face. But symbolically, the idea of being angry enough to say “Oh now. I’m really pissed off. Hold these while I kick some ass” is comedic and yet in this day and age oddly appropriate. Which is to say, things recently have annoyed me enough that even though I don’t have pierced ears, to remove the earrings and punch somebody in the neck.

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This all metaphoric, mind you. I’m far too lazy and delightfully fay to ever physically harm anyone. Violence falls under one of those gross, basic things I don’t take part in. This isn’t to say, I don’t get annoyed. 2016 is undoubtedly the year all of my emotions showed up the party at the same damn time and Mr. Bitchy is one of the emotions on the guest list. I’m currently experiencing what you’d call a dull, humming annoyance. Like terrible background music at a grocery store or an itch on the bottom of your foot you can’t get to because you’re wearing boots. My feeling of agitation is not unique, I realize this. But in the interest of not ending up on a roof top of a Wal-Mart in a showdown with police, I think it’s important to let it out and take the earrings off, so to speak.

Not to minimize a subject here nor waste 500 words on something 800,000 people have already wrote about but intolerance is number one on my annoyance list. I guess you could say I’m intolerant of intolerance. Yeah I’m not 5 years old and I don’t think we’re all going to get along. But Jeez Louise (that’s right I said “Jeez Louise.” I told you I was pissed off.) do people have to fight and be racist and generally horrible online at all times of the day? Like can’t we all call out sick from that crap for like ever? Even the simple pleasures, like hashtag games on Twitter, are hijacked by crazy people talking shit about women or gays or minorities. Like hello. You’re ruining the internet. Stop it. This is all entertainment. So if you’re being preachy or bigoted or posting in all caps, you are doing it wrong. Please throw your laptop out the window and go to the library to read books until we’ve decided you’ve learned your lesson and can come back to social media.

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Not being able to tolerate intolerance is undoubtedly a good thing. It sounds ridiculous that we even have to raise our hand and say, “Hi. Just so you know, I’m not with that racist gang of homophobic, xenophobic, sexist assholes.” Yet here we are. People aren’t pinning safety pins to their sweaters, to their jackets, to their faces just to be bleeding heart liberals. They’re also doing it so we can spot one another. So we can nod accordingly at like-minded folk who don’t suck. Yet I realize the irony here. If I want tolerance, I have to practice it even among people I find intolerable. Ugh. Admittedly, that’s some level 8 spiritual ninja shit I have yet to master.

In the spirit of honesty, I will say that I am also currently also annoyed by people in denial, people who walk with their dogs without leashes, people who don’t know how to stand in line, people who don’t return a”hello” when given one, people who drive while high (#DenverProblems), dishonest people and finally, most people who aren’t my cats. Listen, I don’t want to hate humanity right now. I really don’t but they’re making it hard for me to love them, okay?

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Yet an odd shift has happened in 2016, I’ve discovered that I can be pissed off, I can be heartbroken, I can be elated but none of these emotions has to sink the ship. Back when I was drinking and using drugs, emotions were either totally numbed and stuffed down or dialed up to an eleven. There was no in between. It’s an erratic and exhausting way to live. I found myself fighting with a lot of people too. There was always a falling out with someone happening or about to happen back then. I can happily say that today, although I might not a lot of people, I’m not fighting anyone. In fact, if I am in conflict with people, I take it as a warning sign that spiritually I’m pretty fucked up.

There’s a promise in that program I do which says, “And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone-even alcohol.” I take that as serious as a heart attack. I really want that promise. In fact, I chase that shit. Sure, I can be pissed off and hate everybody (current status) but I really want to live a life free of beating someone’s ass or having a list of people I actively despise. So I end up here. Laughing at myself, telling on myself and blathering on for some 1,100 words about how bitchy I am. My day, if I’m lucky, will move along with ease, without accessories coming off or any faces having to be punched. And for right now, in November 2016, that’s pretty spectacular.

 

I’m Gonna Be Festive. Dammit.

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It might not happen today. It might not happen next week. It might be a minute, as in the kind of minute that could take a month and not just 60 seconds. But it will happen. I’m going to be happy and I’m going celebrate. For fuck’s sake.

Moving into my first holiday season* sober back in 2009, I was petrified. What if multiple listens of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” caused me to relapse? (This is a legitimate concern, by the way. Turn on Judy Garland’s version and try not to wash down a bottle of Xanax with a tumbler of Jim Beam.) What if I was horribly miserable during the most wonderful time of the year? What if my first set of sober holidays were like everything else that first year–miraculous but really difficult? I voiced these concerns to my first sponsor to which he replied, “Boo, you need to worry about Tuesday.” His point was I was just as likely to relapse on any random day of the week than I was on the holidays. Fair enough. After all, I never needed a calendar holiday to justify being a hot wasted mess. He also said, I might as well find joy in the holidays and make them my own. In other words, embrace them or get crushed by them. I am also what’s been diagnosed as a “massive depressive” which means I even have to do depression more over the top and more dramatic than the average bear and therefore this is a good strategy. To say that holidays can be triggering for us residents of Depression Island (best. reality. show. ever.) is an understatement of the “maybe the planet is kind of getting hotter” variety. I have found that if I do fun things, watch ridiculous holiday movies, eat copious amounts of bake goods and hang out with people I love, the whole depressing holiday stigma melts away.

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Now, it should be mentioned again that I have no religious affiliation attached to the holidays and use them instead to celebrate peace on Earth and practice kindness. It’s also a nice time of year to breathe and enjoy beauty. This year, 2016 the year wherein Bowie, Prince and Cohen said, “You’re on your own, bitches!” it’s more vital and more challenging than ever to deck the halls. Don’t think I haven’t considered trying to operate the rest of 2016 as well as the holidays underneath a pile of cats and blankets (best. Christmas. special. ever). After all, it’s just 49 days. I think if I hid for 49 days people wouldn’t even be concerned. I mean Olivia Newton-John’s boyfriend disappeared like 10 years ago and we’re still not that worried about it.

What happened on Tuesday–which I won’t refer to by name for the sanctity of the internet and out of respect for you the reader– would be reason enough to zip up my massive depressive bodysuit and just linger there until further notice. Granted that event and the person at the center of that event are fucking terrifying and depressing. As stated at the top of the post, it will take a while for me to get over the shock and despair which has been sprinkled over humanity like sugar cookie decorations. There’s no time limit on sadness, by the way. I’ve read these horse shit posts over the last few days that are all, “Oh. Maybe it won’t be so bad. And now we can all breathe.” (By the way, STFU Oprah) Um. No. Fuck you. Maybe we’re not ready to breathe. Maybe we’re not ready to hop into action and fight the power either. Maybe we just need to eat Chinese food and watch a show about Queen Elizabeth. Okay? Stop telling me to fucking getting over it or to galvanize, Internet. I need to be still, hug my husband and my cats and not move too much until further notice.

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I will most likely move from wanting to slap everyone to wanting to hug everyone on Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday. There’s no gifts. There’s no out of whack expectations. Just pie and gratitude. I adore cooking and eating with my favorite people so Thanksgiving is kind of like my version of the Super Bowl. Last year was magical as we ate dinner and watched the snow fall. We had my grandma over along with other beloved family members. This year, grandma is no longer here and the group will be tiny. But the truth is I actually have a lot to be grateful for. I took several amazing trips to different parts of the world. I saw some amazing art and read incredible stuff. I got on the other side of pneumonia that nearly killed me and now feel better than ever. Creatively, I’ve had a complete overhaul and renaissance that can only be described as whoa. And I’ve been lucky enough to stay sober and present through some heavy, heartbreaking shit. Basically, I have a lot of gratitude to be expressed this Thanksgiving and will eat the amount of pie proportional to said gratitude.

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Right after that, it’ll be Christmas. The thing I like about Christmas is that it gives me a moment to be quiet and be still. Snowmen, twinkling lights and yes, even some of that sad ass music in the background are all things I look forward to. As suggested, I’ve grown into making the holidays my own. Every year, my husband and I along with a bunch of old Jewish couples go to the movies on Christmas Day. We eat brunch. We do gifts and then we sit in the dark and watch a movie. It’s heaven and I can’t wait to do it again. The thing is: no person, no event, no election can rob beauty from my life. No political climate can negate the truth that my life is beautiful and should be celebrated as such. Combatting the external shittiness of the world starts with me having joy. In fact, it feels more important than ever right now. And when the time is right and I feel less fragile, look the hell out.

 

*Read more about my first holiday sober in a Tough Cookie Christmas available here! 

hit bottom & be alright

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Today you will eat breakfast and go to work. You will come home and eat dinner. Tomorrow you will most likely do the same. And, spoiler alert, on Wednesday you will do it all yet again. Despite the promise of having to dodge fireballs or climb out of wrecked buildings which spontaneously collapsed due to the results of the election, you will be okay and your life will continue. Which I suppose is somewhat disappointing. It’s like if the asteroid in that Bruce Willis movie had gotten bored, decided that hitting Earth was stupid and took a nap instead. We’ve all been sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the worst to come for so long that it’ll feel like a bummer if it doesn’t happen. But the fact of the matter is that despite our,what the genius Sandra Bernhard once called, “post-apocalyptic fantasies”, we are emotional cockroaches and capable of surviving. Besides, it’s just an election, girl. Chill the fuck out.

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“I’m just really nervous,” is what I’ve heard about half a dozen coworkers say about this election. And I get it. There’s a lot at stake and blah blah blah. But,for me,it helps to have some perspective. When I hit rock bottom eight years ago in this exact month, it was during another highly charged election. That election, which coincided with the financial world also hitting rock bottom, felt like the end of the world. I was in California at the time so not only was there a presidential election at stake but a hateful proposition banning gay marriage.Compounded by watching the chattering parrot from hell that was Sarah Palin on television and tuning into CNN daily to see how terrible everything was, I too was really nervous. I soothed those nerves with tequila, cocaine and beer and whatever else I could find. The world felt incredibly bleak. Sure, dousing my life in booze wasn’t exactly helping matters but I was on edge to say the least. Well, other than Obama winning the worst case scenario did actually happen in that state. Prop 8. passed. Nearly two months later I got evicted from my apartment. Soon after that, I ended a longterm relationship and got sober. The start of 2009 was a turdfest of terrible events all set in motion by that November. It was a dark period, honey child. Like Sylvia Plath fucking dark. Like turn on some depressing music dark. Like Dickens orphan dark. Oh and it kinda stayed that way too. I didn’t stop drinking and change my whole life to suddenly wake up in a musical number. The contrary. Things got even harder. But I survived and I was alright.

My story is not uncommon among sober people. For those of us who’ve battled drugs and alcohol surviving is kind of what we do. Coming out on the other side of near life destroying events is our thing, dawg. It would be our talent in the Miss America pageant. During this non-stop WTF-fest of an election, sober pals and I have laughed a lot. The idea that maybe this country just needs to hit bottom, admit it has a problem and then get help has been tossed around more than once. It’s a funny analogy and certainly one we’re familiar with. But it isn’t the craziest thought ever. After all, everything being really, really jaw-droppingly bad and having to start from scratch worked for us so why couldn’t it work for a whole country? Hungary, Greece, Egypt all have hit bottom. England seems like it hit bottom but could have a few relapses in them before they get better. France’s rock bottom looks like it’s around the corner. The point is, everything crashing and all of the shit hitting the fan at once is a good thing. If that’s our collective path then I say okay. Bring it on. After all, acting like unhealthy, toxic and unsustainable ways of living are just fine and dandy sure sounds a lot like how I used to live as an addict. Might as well embrace the shittiness and work hard to get better.

Yet there’s another option. Maybe you’ll wake up on Wednesday morning and everything will be okay. Because if you’re able to eat, if you have people in your life who love you and have a roof over your head everything is pretty okay right now so why wouldn’t this fabulous okayness continue? There’s no reason. This existence that you’ve carved out where things are pretty damn great, thank you very much, won’t be shook by a person with a job in a house that happens to be white. This is the truth. I said this to my 20-something co-worker, who enjoys being right almost as much as he enjoys his Vape pen, and he responded, “Yeah but what if…” followed by a chain of world events that could happen but won’t exactly happen right now or on Wednesday morning or even by the end of the year. Basically, we are okay and will be okay even if the world isn’t.

With a little emotional intelligence, gratitude and unexplained magical protection from the universe, I’m gonna be okay. I know this because my doom and gloom mind which regularly says, “This time you’re really fucked!” is proved wrong on a daily basis. My cats, my husband, my family are all gonna be alright too. We’ll all get up on Wedensday and eat breakfast and go about our days and come home and eat dinner. It’ll all keep going, in the beautifully boring, free of fireball way that it always has. I’m going to be alright and you are too. In fact, we already are.