We hear at meetings that gratitude will help eliminate self-pity and resentment, as well as some of the other demons that seem to afflict alcoholics even in sobriety. But how does it work in practice? Is there a quick, easy way to put this principle into operation?
I think I stumbled onto the one-minute solution for self-pity back in the winter of 1988. Our daughter, Lynne, was in her first semester at Kent State University, and I had driven from Toledo, Ohio, to bring her home for the Christmas holidays. But first I had gone to Cleveland for a brief business call and began encountering considerable snow as I headed south toward Kent, Ohio.
When I arrived on the campus, I discovered that I had to park about seventy-five yards from Lynne's dormitory. The snow was getting worse, and I had not brought overshoes. I also discovered that Lynne had to take mountains of clothes home because of some college rule that I didn't understand. I found myself making several trips to the parking lot, staggering under each load of clothes, fearful that I would lose some of the garments in the snow. My ankles were cold and wet, and the fierce wind and snow were tearing at my face.
As I struggled, the thought came to me that I was a wonderful dad to be helping Lynne in this way. My second thought was that lots of other dads were perched in front of the TV drinking beer or weren't even around to assist their children. My third self-congratulatory thought was that I had been a great dad for a long time, as we had previously trekked over to Kent State during the five years our oldest son was studying architecture. My wife and I had also put ourselves out for our other two children and our young grandchildren as well. Not bad for a sixty-three-year-old dad who had once been a high school dropout!
It's hard to pat yourself on the back while struggling through the snow with loads of clothing, though. And I had no sooner finished praising myself when some dark thoughts began to hit me. I thought about my own problems growing up during the Great American Depression, and the fact that my parents had neither the desire nor the means to send me to college. I lashed myself for my failure to take advantage of the GI Bill after World War II, which gave veterans such as me a generous stipend for four years of college. I groaned inwardly at the way drinking had destroyed other educational opportunities. (I had finally received a college degree at age fifty, but that didn't seem to be the same as getting one at twenty-two. I didn't even recall that my father had sent me congratulations and the price of a new watch when I finally got my degree.)
As I continued to let these angry thoughts seethe in my soul, my mood became darker and darker. I was feeling really bad, and there were still mountains of clothes and other items to bring back to the car, which was now covered with snow. On top of that, we would have to drive back to Toledo under difficult road conditions. My gloom and self-pity deepened.
But then I returned to the dormitory and saw Lynne chatting with her friends and apparently enjoying all the benefits of college life. I suddenly started to feel grateful that she could have this experience and that she was making the best of it, as she had done earning honors in high school. I immediately felt grateful that AA had kept me sober for thirty-nine years so my income and my wife's earnings could go for such things as tuition, books, and dental care, instead of booze and bad trips. I thought of all the other nice things and experiences our family had, all due to AA. And as my gratitude for this increased, the dark feelings and self-pity simply disappeared. This probably took all of one minute, but it worked. Snow or no snow, I suddenly felt great.
Because of road conditions, it took longer than usual to drive the 150 miles home to Toledo. But I felt pretty serene and happy all the way. If I still thought I was a great dad, it was only because Alcoholics Anonymous had helped me become what a dad should be. Gratitude works, if you work it!
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