In a lot of my work, you’ll see the topic of recovery woven throughout; it’s also at the forefront of some of my most read pieces. This is not a blog about sobriety, but I’ve found myself touching on the topic more and more as I realize that recovery is really about trying to live more happy and more free, one day at a time. I think everyone wants that-whether you’re an addict or not.
It’s Thanksgiving. I could talk about something else besides gratitude, but that’d be shitty. I want to conform today, to go with the flow. Riding the spirit of the season feels good, and I’m glad to take the opportunity each and every time it comes around.
I got to thinking about how most of us start to really focus on what we are grateful for during the holidays. Then I smiled when I considered how putting an emphasis on the things we are thankful for in just the last month and a half of the year could never fly in recovery. If you’re a person who’s been clean and sober for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly made your fair share of gratitude lists. The recovery community is all about them. Recognizing what we have and cultivating an honest appreciation for the people, experiences, and even the things in our lives, is essential in filling that hole we used to overload with substances. If we only did this around Thanksgiving and Christmas, I reckon most of us would wind up drunk or high the other ten months out of the year.
I think that’s the fascinating thing about gratitude–it fills us up. Living in a capitalist system, we’re constantly encouraged to look outside of ourselves for happiness, and it starts from the time we are babies. It begins to seem impossible not to feel like life wouldn’t be a little bit better with that toy, or those boots, or that car. And for a short time, I think life really does feel better with stuff–stuff is great. We attach meaning to so many material things that for a while, we can even convince ourselves that we might really be able to buy happiness. Of course we don’t say that out loud, or even think it consciously. But when we have that car, or those jeans, or the house in that neighborhood, we’re able to mirror what our culture has told us happiness and success should look like. The shittiest feeling is when you’ve done it all–you’ve got the house, the car, the clothes–the kids have all the toys, and somehow, still, it doesn’t feel quite as wonderful as you thought it would. I think part of the brilliance of capitalism is to keep enough people at the mid to lower bottom–who are always looking up and idealizing this picture of success, and who only ever get to taste a small part of it. If you can keep them always wanting more, always believing that more money and in turn more things would make them happier, and then keep those above them (but not all the way at the top) in a constant state of inadequacy, you’ve created rabid consumers for life.
It’s become so cliche now, “happiness comes from the inside”, blah blah blah. While I’ve always believed this in theory cause you know I want to like, be a good person, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized I wanted to believe it because I knew it to be true. I realized the only way I could know it to be true was simple, but actually really hard in practice. I had to buy less. It’s been quite an experiment the past couple of years. Until I consciously set out to spend less, I never realized how set the conditioned consumerist voices in my brain were. I think what shocked me most was to understand how quickly those voices replaced the word want with the word need. I don’t “browse” shopping sites at all anymore. It’s something I used to do often, but stopped after I realized that going on them resulted in me needing items I never new existed. Ooh, I like that skirt. I don’t have any skirts. How do I not have any skirts? I should wear skirts to work in the Spring. I should dress nicer. I need to look more put together. Skirts make you look more put together. I need skirts.
So far, buying less has gone really really well. I have more in savings than I’ve ever had before. I am able to contribute money to our vacation fund every month. When something breaks around the house I don’t feel freaked out about it. I am bummed to have to shell out the money–but the money is there, and that feels good. More than all that though, I have a sense of pride that for some reason, a new pair of jeans was never able to give me. Until I actually stopped buying the new pair of jeans (unless I actually needed them, of course) I never understood how full and complete I could feel without them.
As I reflect this Thanksgiving on all the things I am grateful for, I find that gratitude itself is at the top of the list. As I’ve consumed less, I’ve gained more appreciation for the things I already have, and for the people in my life. I have to say, wanting less, is a pretty incredible feeling. As a person who likes control, it’s made me feel like I’ve taken back the reigns to that part of my life. I felt a bit like a sheep before, always being herded towards the next thing I had to have and couldn’t live without.
This holiday season, maybe…
Take away some of the stuff. Let yourself feel gratitude for your life. Walk around full of that gratitude. Feel happy without the stuff.
Or don’t, and buy all of Amazon. Either way, let’s make it great ;).
So incredibly grateful for all of you. Always. Happy Thanksgiving All. x
image: josh boot