My Gratitude List Practice

Last December, my AA Sponsor asked me to start a daily practice of writing down 30 things I'm grateful for.  At first, I totally balked at this invitation to jot down 30 items.  I mean, 30?  C'mon - that seems like a lot, right?  I wrestled with the idea, mainly because it wasn't mine, but I finally agreed to do it for 30 days.

My first ever gratitude list

My first ever gratitude list

The December lists were comprised of thoughts that were on the surface of my mind, people I was actively talking to or texting, authors I was reading and rituals that helped get me through my first round of holidays while struggling with my sobriety.

Fast forward almost five months and these lists are the way I choose to start my day.  They completely center me and I start off my day in full gratitude for all of the good, all of the abundance and all of the support and resources I have in my life.

After 30 days, my Sponsor invited me to be part of a gratitude email circle with her Sponsor and about a dozen other sober women.  The 30-item list became easier and easier to jot down.  I started writing the lists during the readings at my 7 a.m. AA meeting.  I could quickly write the list in less than five minutes, as the thoughts came pouring out and onto the blank journal page.  This new ritual calmed my anxiety in the meetings and helped me turn my anxious thoughts into calm, linear ones.  It's like I had to spill the contents of my mind onto the blank page before it would quiet itself long enough for me to listen to the group shares going on around me.

As the days marched on, I started to see myself and my life differently.  A definite shift was occurring.  What once I took for granted, now was evidenced as concrete written proof that I had a lot of good in my life and a lot to be thankful and grateful for.  Now all I had to do was look at the pages and remind myself of these simple facts on a daily basis.  This practice helped to stave off the pity parties when they rolled around and it worked as a quiet anchor to keep me centered in my everyday life.

The daily emails arriving in my inbox from my Sponsor's gratitude circle was helping to show me other ideas for gratefulness - like access to clean water, the concept of ENOUGH, rolling green hills, my 16 year old car that still runs and a good night's sleep.

As March approached, I began to totally rely on the creation of the list as THE way I had to start the day.  If I didn't, I felt off.  But the lists had become boring to look at, so I started to doodle on the pages and bring in my love of geometric shapes and graphic details and color to plump them up visually.  You see, I am a very visual person and once I started, I couldn't stop.  Not a bad problem to have considering my former habits!

Over time, I gave myself permission to write less than or more than 30 items.  Upon waking, I would shuffle to my desk and draw first and think about my life and all that I had to be grateful for as I watched the sun rise.

There is something so powerful in reminding myself that I have a really lovely life.  Writing it down, re-reading it and reflecting back on the list throughout the day, if I need to, reframes my thinking and any self-doubt that creeps in over the course of the day.

I dropped out of my Sponsor's gratitude circle on April 1st and asked a few of my sober friends to join me in a smaller gratitude circle.  I knew all of these women from social media and have met one of them in real life.  We are a band of six grateful women and we've been emailing every single day and sharing our art, our words and our gratitudes with one another.

I shared the above April 13th list on Elizabeth Gilbert's Facebook page today and got a response from Liz (yes, I'm calling her Liz now!) and some of her Facebook friends.  Their kind feedback prompted this post.  I've been wanting to share this practice with my blog readers for awhile and today's feedback from Liz (yes, I'm going to keep calling her that!) was just the motivation I needed to put my thoughts into words and grab some images to show you the slow evolution of my daily gratitude practice; my favorite form of meditation.

This week I was in Southern California with my best friend as she underwent surgery for removal of her breast cancer.  As I was sitting in the healing garden at the hospital, trying to distract myself with homework and social media, I opened an emailed gratitude list from one of the women in my gratitude circle.  Her words and outlook on life touched me and pulled me out of my pity party.  

Tuesday was a great day - it was the day I became a mama 13 years ago; it was the day the cancer was extracted from my best friend's body; it was a day that ended well; and it was a day to remind myself of the importance of being grateful for the incredible life I was living.

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The above image is my gratitude list from this morning.  Upon reading the list again as I'm posting it here, I'm reminded that my day was also full of...

Obligations and the energy of one hundred 7th graders.

Unexpected joy and laughter.

A quick thrill and utter chaos.

An impromptu afternoon coffee date with my husband.

Connection and storytellers.

Comforts and routines.

And, plenty more to be grateful for.