For over a decade I was actively involved in 12-Step recovery groups; primarily Overeater’s Anonymous because of my struggles with emotional-binge eating.
During that chapter in my life, I was totally committed to developing healthier relationships; not only with myself but with others and I read a book called “Beyond Codependency” by Melody Beattie. The book contained a story that was written by a recovering addict and it greatly impacted my life in the area of gratitude. This lady’s story helped me to understand the principle of how grateful thinking can turn what we currently have into more and how deprived, negative thinking can have the opposite effect. Her story still encourages me today and since it’s almost Thanksgiving, I decided to share it again.
From the book….
Deprived thinking turns good things into less or nothing. Grateful thinking turns things into more.
Many years ago when I started rebuilding a life shattered by my chemical use, I dreamt of getting married and raising a family. I also dreamt of owning a house, a beautiful home to be our little castle. I wanted some of the things other people had. I wanted “normal” whatever that was.
It looked like I was about to get it. I got married. I got pregnant. I had a baby girl. Now all I needed was the home. We looked at all sorts of dream homes—big dream homes and in-between dream homes. The home we bought didn’t turn out to be one of those but it was the one we could afford.
It had been used as rental property for fifteen years, had been standing vacant for a year and was three stories of broken windows and broken wood. Some rooms had ten layers of wallpaper on the walls. Some walls had holes straight through to the outdoors. The floors were covered with bright orange carpeting with large stains on it. And we didn’t have money or skills to fix it. We had no money for windows, curtains, paint. We couldn’t afford to furnish it. We had three stories of a dilapidated home with a kitchen table, two chairs, a high chair, a bed, a crib and two dressers; one of which had broken drawers.
About two weeks after we moved in, a friend stopped by. We stood talking on what would have been the lawn if grass had been growing there. My friend kept repeating how lucky I was and how nice it was to own your own house. But I didn’t feel lucky and it didn’t feel nice. I didn’t know anyone else who owned a home like this.
I didn’t talk much about how I felt, but each night while my husband and daughter slept, I tiptoed down to the living room, sat on the floor and cried. This became a ritual. When everyone was asleep, I sat in the middle of the floor thinking about everything I hated about the house, crying and feeling hopeless. I did this for months. However legitimate my reaction may have been, it changed nothing.
A few times in desperation I tried to fix up the house, but nothing worked. The day before Thanksgiving I attempted to put some paint on the living and dining room walls. But layers of wallpaper started to peel off the minute I put paint on them. Another time I ordered expensive wallpaper trying to have faith I’d have the money to pay for it when it came. I didn’t.
Then one evening when I was sitting in the middle of the floor going through my wailing ritual, a thought occurred to me. Why don’t I try gratitude?
At first I dismissed the idea. Gratitude was absurd. What could I possibly be grateful for? How could I? And why should I? Then I decided to try anyway. I had nothing to lose. And I was getting sick of my whining.
I still wasn’t certain what to be grateful for so I decided to be grateful for everything. I didn’t feel grateful. I willed it. I forced it. I faked it. I pretended. I made myself think grateful thoughts. When I thought about the layers of peeling wallpaper, I thanked God. I thanked God for each thing I hated about that house. I thanked Him for giving it to me. I thanked Him I was there. I even thanked Him I hated it. Each time I had a negative thought about the house, I countered it with a grateful one.
Maybe this wasn’t as logical a reaction as negativity, but it turned out to be more effective. After I practiced gratitude for about three or four months, things started to change.
My attitude changed. I stopped sitting and crying in the middle of the floor and started to accept the house—as it was. I started taking care of the house as though it were a dream home. I acted as if it were my dream home. I kept it clean, orderly; as nice as could be.
Then I started thinking. If I took all the old wallpaper off first, maybe the paint would stay on. I pulled up some of the orange carpeting and discovered solid oak floors throughout the house. I went through some boxes I had packed away and found antique lace curtains that fit the windows. I found a community action program that sold decent wallpaper for a dollar a roll. I learned about textured paint; the kind that fills and covers old, cracked walls. I decided if I didn’t know how to do the work, I could learn. My mother volunteered to help me with wallpapering. Everything I needed came to me.
Nine months later, I had a beautiful home. Solid oak floors glistened throughout the house. Country-print wallpaper and textured white walls contrasted beautifully with the dark, scrolled woodwork that decorated each room.
Whenever I encountered a problem—half the cupboard doors are missing and I don’t have money to hire a carpenter—I willed gratitude. Pretty soon, a solution appeared; tear all the doors off and have an open, country kitchen pantry.
I worked and worked and I had three floors of beautiful home. It wasn’t perfect but it was mine and I was happy to be there. Proud to be there. Truly grateful to be there. I loved that home.
Soon the house filled up with furniture too. I learned to selectively collect pieces here and there for $5 and $10, cover the flaws with lace doilies and refinish. I learned how to make something out of almost nothing instead of nothing out of something.
I have had the opportunity to practice the gratitude principle many times in my recovery. It hasn’t failed me. Either I change, my circumstances change or both change.
“But you don’t know how deprived I am!” people say. “You don’t know everything I’ve gone without. You don’t know how difficult it is right now. You don’t know what it’s like to have nothing!”
Yes, I do. And gratitude is the solution. Being grateful for what we have today doesn’t mean we have to have that forever. It means we acknowledge that what we have today is what we’re supposed to have today. There is enough, we’re enough and all we need will come to us. We don’t have to be desperate, fearful, jealous, resentful or miserly. We don’t have to worry about what someone else has; they don’t have ours. All we need to do is appreciate and take care of what we have today. The trick is we need to be grateful first—before we get anything else, not afterward.