Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Grieving to Gratitude: How Thankfulness Changed My Life

            In my lifetime, I’ve heard more than a few rumors about myself. People have spread falsehoods about my family life, my friendships, my romantic relationships and more. I thought these rumors would end after high school but they are just as prevalent now, in college, as ever before. The most recent rumor I heard about myself is that I’m always happy. Apparently, I never stop smiling, am always in a good mood, and practically radiate positivity. Although this rumor is flattering, nothing could be farther from the truth. I am not always smiling and am most definitely not in some kind of eternally good mood. I get angry, sad, and feel pain far more often than most people seem to realize. I have my bad days just like everyone else. I’m human, not a Barbie doll with a smile plastered on its face.
            “You’re so lucky to have such a positive disposition. You can always find the good in every situation,” one of my friends informed me a few weeks ago. Yes, I try to find the good in every situation and yes, I tend to have a positive disposition but it’s not luck that made me this way. Life didn’t just coincidently grant me with a positive attitude. I wasn’t born an infinitely happy miracle baby. As a young adult, I do feel blessed to have a positive spirit but I was not always this way, I was not always able to find good in my life. No, I am not lucky to be positive. It was not by chance, but by choice, that I came to accept the gift of gratitude for my life.
            In the summer of 2010 I was miserable. I spent as much time as I possibly could in my bed sleeping because living was a nightmare. Every night before I fell asleep, I prayed to God that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. I asked Him to save me from this excruciating existence and every morning I opened my eyes in despair and anger realizing that God expected me to make it through another day. I thought He was trying to torture me and I despised Him for it.
 I was lonely all the time. Even when I was around other people, I felt completely isolated in my own mind. I dreaded every breath I had to take and looked forward to nothing except sleep.
            On one particularly horrible day, within a two-hour time period, I found out that the boy I was in a relationship with at the time was going to move away because he had gotten a scholarship to a school across the country and also that my mother was moving out of the house. When I got the news about my boyfriend, I cried uncontrollably for over an hour. My stomach ached so badly it seemed like a piece of lead must have been lodged inside of it. Each beat of my heart felt like a baseball was being pitched straight at my ribcage. Just when I had pulled myself together, I got the news about my mom. This time I didn’t cry, not even a little. I went numb and stayed numb for months.
            Then, one day, about three weeks before I started college, I decided I’d write in my journal. I felt so dull that I could only manage to put one sentence down: “I’m thankful that I have food on my plate.” I recall staring down at those words for several minutes in shock. Did I really have something to be thankful for in my miserable existence?
            The next day I wrote in my journal once more. Again, only one sentence and it said, “I’m thankful for waking up feeling better than when I went to sleep.” Like the day before, I stared down at the words I had written hardly believing they were my own. I wasn’t sure why I had said that, after all I always looked forward to sleep and dreaded waking up. I was intrigued by what I was writing and so I decided to continue. Everyday I sat down with my journal, stopped thinking, and wrote a sentence. I discovered that I was thankful for friends, laughter, technology, beauty in nature, giving and receiving love, family, patience, new opportunities, and more. Writing down a sentence of gratitude became so much of a habit that even on my bad days I found something to put down. It became a game to me, and I wasn’t about to let any negative emotion keep me from winning.
            “I’m thankful for tears because they mean I have something to lose,” I wrote one day. Another day I wrote, “I’m thankful for the pain in my heart because it means I’m alive.” I even went as far as to be thankful for the people who had made me angry because without them I would have never learned how to forgive.
            For months, I wrote down one thing I was thankful for every day no matter how tiny or silly it seemed. I wrote when I was happy, sad, tired, angry, desperate, and excited. Then, one day, I looked down at my journal and discovered words that I never, even in my wildest dreams, thought could come from me. I had written, “I am so incredibly thankful for my life.”
And the amazing thing was that beyond just seeing those words on paper, I actually felt it. I felt so grateful to be living and so thankful that I had woken up all of those mornings I had begged God not to let me. I was thankful to exist, to be a walking, talking, breathing, loving, being.
Last August, I went through a break-up with the same boyfriend who had moved away the year before. I can’t lie and say it was easy or that I handled it even remotely well. I wasn’t smiling or feeling positive. In fact, I was doing quite the opposite. However, there are two journal entries during that time that stand out to me. The first one is from the day we broke up and it says, “I am thankful for love and for life and for the people who have shaped me.” The second entry is from the day I said goodbye to him because I was heading off to another semester of college and it says, “I am thankful for you.”
Those were two of the most painful days I’d had since my misery summer of 2010. I felt completely heavy and depressed. If I was smiling, it was forced.
I’ve had plenty of terrible days since then. I’ve suffered. I’ve felt sad and hurt for dozens of reasons. I’ve been so venomously angry that I’m almost ashamed to talk about it. Despite what many of my friends think, I am not always happy or positive, and I’m certainly not always smiling. But, I am always thankful.
Now, instead of opening my eyes in despair each morning, I open them in anticipation. Instead of waking up grieving over the torturous life God is making me go through, I wake up grateful to be able to live the life He has blessed me with. My circumstances don’t always provide me with an easy path to happiness. I am not lucky. I am simply thankful everyday for whatever comes my way, and that has made all the difference.