Self-Pity and Gratitude

Some time ago, I was sitting alone, thinking about my family of origin and extended family. I considered the abuse and brokenness, the chasms of hurt between us. I also thought about the place where I was currently living, so far from home, and my lack of true family-like connection with anyone there. I felt desperately lonely and unloved. I started to cry, which has always been rare for me. I cried harder and harder until I realized that if I didn’t reach out for help, I was on the fast track to relapse.

I called a woman on my phone list who had many years of recovery. She listened quietly as I sputtered out my feelings of abandonment and isolation. What I wanted was for her to say, “Oh, poor you!” or to tell me how wonderful and deserving of close relationships I was. Instead, she addressed my self-pity head on. Then, she told me, “You need to sit down and write a gratitude list.”

I’d like to  say that I thanked her for her insight and wise counsel, but I did not. I felt offended and misunderstood. Didn’t she care that I was pouring my soul-ache out to her? What kind of trite prescription had she given me? Besides, genuine sorrow at genuine loss wasn’t the same thing as self-pity! I politely but stiffly ended the conversation and added her lack of sympathy to my list of woes. All right, all right. To may list of justifications to wallow in self-pity.

It took me close to a year to realize that she had been speaking the truth to me in love. I had just been to self-absorbed to appreciate it. It didn’t really matter if the things I was feeling  sad about were valid or not. Dwelling on them and wallowing in my negative feelings was indeed self-pity. And as an addict, I can’t afford that. Self-pity is much too handy an excuse to act out.

So, what’s the number one line of defense against self-pity? Gratitude! Keeping an ongoing gratitude list as a part of my daily routine is something I have struggled to be consistent with, but which always brings great returns when I follow through. I receive balance, perspective, awareness,  joy and self-confidence.

Those gifts are increasingly magnified when I put together several days (or weeks!) in a row of writing down my gratitude. Rather than each list standing on its own, they snowball into a bigger and bigger flame in my belly, thawing me from the inside out. Then, when bad things happen, I am so much better equipped to meet them with level-headedness and even a with a sense of humor. I move on from offenses and setbacks more quickly. I stay more solidly sober and accumulate even more to be grateful for.  What a simple, yet impactful gift!

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3 responses to “Self-Pity and Gratitude

  1. Thanks sure is alot of info you have on your website!

  2. Great stuff from you, man. Ive read your stuff before and youre just too awesome. I love what youve got here, love what youre saying and the way you say it.

    • Thank you very much. I’m sorry I didn’t respind sooner. I just now figured out where my comments are! This is all new to me, but it’s an honor to do. Thanks for the encouragement.

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