One of the perks of being an adult is the opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends. Taking a trip down memory lane together, while also getting to know each other as adult versions of our childhood selves, can forge a new friendship. It also can serve as a reminder of just how much has changed over the years.
When one of my friends and I were reminiscing about some of our antics in our youth, I commented that he had fared better than some of our mutual friends. My comment was in reference to the trouble we got in, and eluded, during our youth, but his response indicated that the conversation had taken an unexpected detour.
Instead of responding with a witty comeback or another funny memory, he shared the pain of the present. He detailed all of the reasons that he believed that he had not fared better than our friends or anyone else. Every area of his life has served up heaping doses of challenges. Marriage. Career. Financial. Health. He left no stone unturned. In his eyes, life, his life, was summed up as nothing more than a series of failures and obstacles. In my eyes, though, it was something much different.
Part of what he shared reflected how I have viewed my own life, at times. It is really easy to see all of the goodness in life when everything is going smoothly, but seeing that same goodness when life is proving to be difficult can be next to impossible. It is possible, though.
When I have encountered hardships, I have responded in a similar way that my friend has. I definitely felt more like a victim than a victor, and I was hard-pressed to find much of anything positive to be thankful for during those times. I found myself delaying my own happiness until certain situations changed and basing my own self-worth and well-being on those situations and on other people. It was a recipe for disaster, as it contributed to the anxiety and depression that has resurfaced over the years. Slowly, very slowly, that began to change.
I always have had pictures in my mind of the person I aspire to be and the life I want to create, and I have kept these pictures close to my heart. When these pictures became blurred, my descent down the rabbit’s hole of doom and gloom transformed my dreams into nightmares. I convinced myself that my current situation was my final destination. This definitely was not who I am at heart and did not reflect the life I know that I am meant to live.
I sought out help from professionals and loved ones, read lots of self-help books, and explored a variety of ways to change my life, but nothing seemed to make a lasting impact. During a resurgence of anxiety, I was increasingly frustrated with myself and the direction, or lack thereof, of my life. I began to fall prey to the faulty, self-absorbed thinking that I was somehow different and, therefore, incapable of making any changes or having what I wanted, unless everything and everyone else changed first. Then, I decided to change myself.
I did not experience an ah ha moment, as much as I experienced a series of moments that made me realize that I could not afford to wait around for people and things beyond my control to change, in order for me to be happy, to be my authentic self, and to have a meaningful life. I still was not sure what I needed to do, but I knew that I needed to do something. So, I went back to the basics.
I reached out for more support and dusted off some of my books and self-care techniques, but this time, I intentionally put everything I had learned into practice. I discovered that I actually knew what to do, I just was not deliberately or thoughtfully doing it on a consistent basis. So, I committed to doing small, but significant, things each day to change, starting with gratitude.
If that last statement elicited an eye roll, I understand, as I have given my eyeballs a workout at the mere mention of gratitude in the past. It is not that I was ungrateful, but when things were at their worst, being encouraged to feel grateful sounded like a sick joke. Gratitude, though, was the foundation for nearly everything that I learned about changing the trajectory of my life. So, I decided to try it. I had nothing to lose.
I have kept gratitude journals over the years, but I knew that I needed to add something to this practice. I decided to look for ways to practice gratitude throughout my day, instead of saving it for a nightly entry in my journal. As soon as I wake up, I silently identify five things I am thankful for at that moment, and I set my intentions and decide how I want to feel for the day. Throughout the day, when something happens, no matter how big or how small, I remind myself to give thanks for it. I end the day by writing five things that I am grateful for at that time. It is simple, yet powerful.
Gratitude has helped me to focus on the many things in my life that are going well and the people whom I love, instead of focusing on what is not going right and what may be lacking in my life. Instead of developing tunnel vision about challenges and obstacles, it has forced me to see people and events in a more positive light. By being more thankful, my good days are better, and my not so good days are not as overwhelming.
I used to think that if I allowed myself to be more positive and grateful that I somehow was betraying my pain or pretending that everything was perfect. I no longer think that. I have discovered that disappointments and painful outcomes can coexist with gratitude and positivity and the latter does not negate the former. The greater discovery is that I can use that gratitude and positivity to heal my pain and to feel better, regardless of what else is happening around me.
These discoveries do not mean that I never have negative thoughts or painful feelings, and it certainly does not mean that I have morphed into the best version of myself or have created a perfect life. What it does mean, though, is that when my thoughts and perceptions became more appreciative and positive, my words and actions began to follow suit. That is when my life began to change for the better, and I no longer fear the worst case scenario, as much I believe that best case scenario is truly possible. I believe in the best for myself and for my friend, and I hope that he soon believes it, too.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story