What are you grateful for? Your health? Your job? Food in the pantry?
There was a time in my life where I found it really hard to be grateful for anything. I lived in constant fear of losing the ones I loved or not being able to pay the bills. A lot of my energy was spent surviving the day and clinging to the people in my life. I constantly felt anxious and uptight. At one point, I even started to resent other people’s happiness. Why did they get to be so lucky? What was wrong with me? I felt angry and resentful at being dealt such a crappy hand. Stuck in my head for a decade, I missed out on a lot of happy moments and my life spun out of control. It all ended one New Year’s Eve when I found myself in a women’s shelter.
I don’t think I ever fully grasped the full impact of my choices until that point. But this time, I was forced to face the consequences of my actions. And it was pretty grim. All our belongings were gone, I had almost lost my kids to social services, and my bank accounts were empty. But despite the anguish (I spent most of the night crying) and the shame of living in a shelter, I felt a profound sense of relief. For the first time in a really long while we were safe and the shelter offered a support system (a mandatory support system mind you) that gave me the structure I so desperately needed. But most importantly, I finally understood that I needed to take charge and be accountable if I wanted to build a better life for me and my children.
So I attended the weekly group and one on one counseling meetings, I worked my butt off in school (I had just started a computer degree program at DeVry) and I counted my blessings. Living in a shelter had its ups and downs but the overall support and opportunities made available to us were God sent. For the first time ever maybe, I didn’t have to worry about unexpected drama. I began to relax, took better care of myself and every night, I started to give thanks for all the help and love we were receiving from the staff and residents alike. Practicing gratitude became a habit. Every time I caught myself entertaining dark thoughts I would stop and refocus on the many things I was grateful for. Thanks for a great school, thanks for a good meeting, thanks for free tickets to the zoo, thanks for the security guard at the front door, and so on.
It would be a lie to say that life went smoothly from then on but I kept up with my gratitude practice and support poured in every time we needed it the most (like the time my boss gave everyone an unheard of Christmas bonus just days before my electricity was scheduled to be turned off because I could only afford minimum payment on the bill). Looking back, I can say that choosing to focus on what was going well in our life was a major turning point. I no longer felt like a victim of circumstances. I had become an active participant and the decisions I was making were finally in line with what mattered the most to me. Did I stumble a few times along the way? You bet. But today my life and prospects are light years away from anything I could ever have imagined and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Much love: Sandrine
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