I’ve been sitting in the pity pot for a couple of days now. Actually, I‘ve been stewing in it – my attention laser focused on what I don’t have, what isn’t working, and most of all, the ways in which I have not changed or grown.
It’s terrifying. Mostly because I lived my life this way all the time, once upon a time. It was only in “so-sad-rescue-me-from-myself-because-I-don’t-know-how-to” mode that I dared to believe I might get what I thought I needed.
Things changed. I changed. I’m not sure how – if it was learning to meditate, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a spiritual-business class. Making gratitude lists, losing weight, or getting sober. Just getting older. Or perhaps a little bit of all of it – but I did. And today, as a rule, people tend to see me (and I see myself) as pretty sunny, light. A light – full of gratitude, a big believer in G-d, the universe, and possibilities.
So it’s scary returning to that once familiar place of darkness, hopelessness, and self-pity. A not-so-fun house of circular thinking. Even if it’s brief. I know it’s not reasonable to think I will never take a sojourn here. And yet, it surprises me every time.
I forget that the way out is gratitude. Not just once, but continuous and sustained. Ever growing.
My nightly gratitude list, the one I exchange with a friend, the one I’ve been writing for double-digit years, isn’t enough right now. I had to pull out the big guns.
Last night I wrote on Facebook, “The universe is conspiring with me. At least in work. I need to say this out loud because it is true, as opposed to the lies my brain likes to tell me.”
I immediately felt better. Very quickly, I heard the Pavlovian “ping” of my cell phone, alerting me of Facebook activity. Thumbs up, sunny responses, connection – like attracting like.
This morning I woke to a message from a friend that didn’t sit right with me. Intellectually, I knew what he was asking of me was perfectly reasonable. That it had nothing to do with me. Nonetheless, I found myself wondering if I had done something wrong, along with the dreaded thought – “Are we ok?”
It was quickly displaced with, “Think about all of the love in your life.”
It was reflexive.
I thought about my friend Jonathan calling me “brilliant,” reposting my Facebook status, because “it is so appropriate.” About Amanda doing the same, writing, “(it is) My new mantra.”
I thought about the 30 people at the table jumping up and down to be with me, instead of the one who didn’t show – a lesson my friend Lisa tried to drill into my head for years.
It appeared I was no longer in the pity pot, ladling my fears over me – the old “I’m-not-loveable-I’m-doing-it-wrong-I’m-broken-God-is-fucking-with-me” refrain. I am certain this is a direct result of my speaking my gratitude – again, again and again. In larger and larger circles. How else could I have broken the cycle? I certainly wasn’t going to think my way out of it.
I thought about my drive home to Chicago, from Detroit, a few summers ago – right after my best girlfriend’s father died. On the way in, I noticed my car sounded really loud. Her husband took it to the shop for me. The muffler had a hole in it, but his mechanic couldn’t fix it right then. So I drove home “as is.”
My 4-cylinder Honda Civic is great on gas. Great for parking. But a powerhouse on the road, it is not. And with the muffler shot, I had less power than usual.
Around Kalamazoo I found myself wedged into a single-lane gauntlet, construction barriers on either side. As a rule, I do not like narrow spaces, but here I was – with an aggressive Michigan driver on my ass, with nowhere to go but forward.
I was terrified. And then I wasn’t. Something kicked in. I began reciting a gratitude list out loud. Quickly. Without breath or punctuation. Everything and anything that came to mind.
“I am grateful for this car. For Julie. For my flexible schedule that allows me to take trips like this. I am grateful for the sun. That I live close enough to drive to Detroit there easily. For the CD in the car. For John Lennon. I am grateful for John Lennon singing to me, “It’s been too long since we took the time, no-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly.” That shaky, kind of rockabilly quality to his voice.
And then the lanes opened up. I glided over to the right and watched the aggressor behind me whisk by. I was safe. It was over.
It was been said that fear and faith cannot exist at the same time. I don’t know. I don’t know if I had faith in that moment that I was ok. But I could name what was ok. Just like I did last night. And again this morning. I stepped out of the pity pot and wrapped a plush, oversized Ralph Lauren towel of gratitude – of ok-ness, of ok-enough-ness – around me. And I was ok. Perhaps, even more than. It was “Just Like Starting Over.”