The first time I ever made a gratitude list, I truly didn’t think I had anything to be grateful for. My life was falling apart. I had destroyed everything that meant anything to me and pushed everyone so far away that I had few people left to reach out to.
Something about the distance was safe.
The way I saw it, I had always done everything on my own and when I was alone – in the insular world of my own design – I was safe. Always safer alone. Safer because I knew what was going to happen. I couldn’t disappoint anyone as I always seemed to do eventually and no one could disappoint me - which I had also learned was inevitable.
I knew a lot about how to care for other people but very little about how to care for myself. I was always running around trying to juggle this person’s needs and that person’s wants and trying desperately to discover myself somewhere in between.
I always failed.
Being alone felt easier than failing. I have always hated disappointing people. Even as a child, I would prefer my parents be angry with me than disappointed in me.
And somehow, I was always disappointed in me.
I had the loftiest ideals of the woman I wanted to be: the kind of friend, the kind of daughter, the kind of partner. I was falling short every time and every time I fell short, I didn’t seem capable of doing anything other than burning it all the way down.
I was talking with someone one day, someone I trusted – people I trusted were a rare thing then. She asked me what I was grateful for.
I told her nothing.
I meant it.
She encouraged me to slow down. To give it some thought. To write my thoughts. She called it a gratitude list. She told me I didn’t have to do it, that it was just a suggestion. My ideas of how to run my life had failed me for so long. After all – it was me who had gotten me to this point.
I took her suggestion. I started a list. I realized a lot of things that day.
Most importantly, that I was wrong.
Years have passed since I have spoken with this woman. She may not even be alive anymore, for all I know. What I do know is the value of the lesson she taught me. That I always have something to be grateful for, despite what I think or the way I feel. She gave new meaning to the phrase “count your blessings”.
1. I have amazing friends. People who just let me be me. They love me in spite of and because of my imperfections. They take the time, to take the time.
2. I get to be this same sort of friend. People trust me with their real selves, with their secrets and their heartache. They share their triumphs with me and call me when the world falls apart.
3. I don’t have secrets anymore. I am no longer plagued by memories of my failures and shortcomings, of people I have hurt with or without meaning to. – I get to set these things right. One at a time. Each time I do, I become a little more free.
4. I have the opportunity to write – to use my voice - to be vulnerable in my work and give voice to things maybe other people can’t say – so that maybe, just maybe, someone will read my words and feel less alone. –
Today, I can be grateful for all of the experiences in my life – both those that have brought joy and those that have been painful. All of these things can benefit others if I share them.
They help no one if I hide.