I am insanely blessed. This is simple truth.
I did not always know this or live into it the way I do now. Years of self-pity, psychic pain & alcohol abuse kind of put a damper on my ability to receive and appreciate gifts from the Universe (or God or the Great Spirit or whatever). But now, now my gratitude has me belting out Taylor Swift tunes on the drive to my daughter’s preschool. Because I can. Because I recognize opportunities for joy. There is a current of gratitude that runs so deeply that daily circumstances cannot shake it. Okay, it may get ruffled just a bit on occasion, but I blame that on the complexities of living with a 4-year-old. Ahem.
This kind of gratitude isn’t my natural state of being. Left to my own devises, I am a fretful, self-centered mess. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous cracked opened a door for me to let goodness/God/gratitude into my life. I will admit, though, when I first got sober and heard about what AA calls “the Promises,” I thought that this might be just one more indication that the AAs’ were complete whackadoos. These Promises they spoke of seemed lofty and amorphous, like they would never have any bearing on my life.
Imagine hearing this when you still have the roar of a killer hangover in your head:
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Whatevs. I just wanted to know how to make my life not suck. This stuff seemed all guru-sitting-atop-a-mountain. I wanted real stuff. So, the Promises irked me. And I tuned them out. For six years. Truly, I never paid one smidgeon of attention to them until last night, when my wife spoke to a room full of people about the Promises. Then I had to pay attention.
Turns out that I had, in fact, been unknowingly paying attention to the Promises, and talking about how they played out in my life, for years now.
Exhibit A: My wife and I wanted two kids. Although it took 2 years to conceive our daughter, I thought I would get pregnant with a second kiddo in a flash. Because I deserved two kids. I mean, there are completely shitty parents who have a litter of kids. Surely, I deserved two.
I went into the whole reproductive adventure with a chip on my shoulder and a gigantic sense of entitlement. You can imagine my surprise when I didn’t get pregnant the first time. Or the second. Or the third. But the fourth time—score! And why not? I deserved this kid. Moreover, I clearly knew what was right for our family. So, obviously, I was going to get kid #2.
Except that I miscarried at 10 weeks. And I was crushed.
But I did what I what the AAs taught me. I was rigorously honest. With God. I told God that this sucked. That I was pissed. At him. At my body. At the injustice of denying me a child I deserved. I explained this to God over and over, until he probably just wanted to pick up the remote, flip on the TV and drown me out every time I prayed. I was relentless.
And then something happened. I got pregnant again—and immediately miscarried.
But—here’s the magic—I didn’t feel like a victim any more. I understood, as clear as if God had sat down and explained the whole deal over coffee, that this wasn’t going to work. That I would not have kid #2. Not the way I had planned. Perhaps not even at all. And, moreover, I was seized with a tremendous clarity that I had been so focused on producing another child, that I had not been grateful (not truly) for the one I already had. She, after all, is a miracle. Out of 4 pregnancies, she is the only one that made it here to share life with us, in our family. But I hadn’t even taken stock in the miracle I had already been handed, because trying to produce what I was convinced was right for me had consumed me.
Remember the part in the Promises that says “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” Yeah, me too. Because this acceptance, this gratitude didn’t come from me. I am a grasper. A control freak of epic proportions. But I know that I have been handed what is 100% right for me and for our family. I prayed for God to change my situation. He didn’t. But he did change my perspective, my understanding of who God (the Universe) is. And I know that the God (the Universe) only wants good for me. What I have been given is good. It is not what I expected or wanted. But expectations are just resentments waiting to happen (so say the AAs). If I stop attaching the label “bad” to situations that don’t seem to immediately go my way, I can be open to experiencing the events in my life as gifts—or at least as opportunities for growth.
I am often seized with excitement about what the future is going to bring, despite the fact that I am an anxiety-driven, control freak who obsessively worries about the future. How do I explain that contradiction? I can’t. Except that the AAs told me it would play out this way. I was just too irked to listen.