Photo by martinak
Gratitude is one of life’s most powerful forces—when you’re feeling it, that is. When you’re not feeling it, it’s a word that can evoke that awful combination of guilt and resentment (someone needs to come up with a word for that, because the two feelings almost always arrive in tandem, for me).
I have had my share of not-feeling-thankful times. Thanksgiving was the first holiday I faced after my ex-husband and I separated and filed for divorce; it was also the first major holiday I spent away from my kids. Even though that day was nine years ago, I still remember exactly how I felt: Let’s just say my heart was not full of gratitude, even though I knew, in my head, I had much to be thankful for. It was really difficult to approach Thanksgiving—an entire holiday devoted to gratitude—with so much disappointment and loss in my life.
If you’ve ever dreaded the holidays, or even just felt a bit guilty for not overflowing with the gratitude and joy we culturally expect the holidays to inspire, you might appreciate the post I wrote this week for Huffington Post. Here’s an excerpt, or you can read the full post on their site. I hope it inspires you to see and gather up even the smallest crumbs of goodness these next few days.
* * * *
I pulled out a chair and sat down at the dining room table in my childhood home, dreading what I knew was about to happen next.
Nothing about the scene would have looked foreboding to an outsider. The table, set with my mom’s best wedding china and silver, was piled with all the traditional fixings of a Thanksgiving feast, and I was surrounded by people I loved—my parents, both of my grandmothers, and my best friend and her husband.
No, it wasn’t the food or conversation I was dreading, but a particular Thanksgiving tradition: going around the table and each taking a turn to share what we’re thankful for.
I was dreading it because I wasn’t feeling very thankful for anything.
That first Thanksgiving after my ex and I separated and were in the process of getting a divorce, our two young daughters were traveling with him to visit his family. At that moment in my life, nothing felt right. Not only had I been in flux over what to do about Thanksgiving—I didn’t want to stay away from my family, but I also didn’t want to be there without my kids—I was in flux about everything.
Waking up in the morning and thinking, “This is my life? How did I get here?” had become a regular occurrence. I was living somewhere I had never dreamed of living, I wasn’t as financially secure as I thought I’d be by 32, and I had definitely never imagined being someone who would get a divorce. I felt like I was living someone else’s life—like I was moving several spaces backwards in the Game of Life, right when I imagined I would be taking leaps ahead.
So as I sat there at Thanksgiving dinner, a single mom who didn’t even have her kids by her side, it was hard to think of the good things in my life. Sure, I knew in my head that I had a lot to be thankful for—all the usual things people say, like health and food and a roof over my head. I knew it, but I wasn’t feeling it.
* * * *
It’s no secret that the holidays can be a stressful and emotional time for lots of people. For anyone who’s recently experienced some type of loss, like a death or divorce, the stress and emotions are amplified.
And if you’re divorced and have kids, sometimes it feels like there’s no way you can win this time of year. Either you’re missing your kids because they’re spending the holiday with your ex, or you have your kids and are busy trying to be jolly and organized and generally “on” as a single parent. Whether you’re traveling or just trying to uphold—or establish—family traditions, doing it solo is never easy.
Most of us in these circumstances are quick to acknowledge the particular challenges related to holiday schedules and logistics. But the emotional challenges? We’d rather pretend they don’t exist. They do, though, and they become more dangerous than ever when they collide with unrealistic holiday expectations—ours or those of others.
So if it isn’t healthy to fake how we feel and it isn’t healthy to wallow in it, what’s left?
Ironically, the practice that helped me break this cycle of pretending and wallowing was the same one I was dreading that first post-divorce Thanksgiving: gratitude. And while Thanksgiving might be a difficult time for many of us, maybe it can actually lay the groundwork for the acceptance, healing, and hope we need if we’re going to move forward. Because I think that it’s when feeling thankful is hardest that we need it most.
Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t just magically become grateful that Thanksgiving a decade ago. Often, when you’re in a difficult phase of life, the minute you try to focus on what you’re thankful for, all the things you’re angry and unhappy about show up instead. And they tend to be loud—they get right up in your face, blocking your view of those positive sights that are more distant and vague. Anger and resentment are obnoxious and relentless in that way. In my case, it took some time, healing, and a strong desire to usher a turning point into my life, before I could be thankful for this life I hadn’t wanted.
Head over to Huffington Post to read the rest of the post!