Welcome back to my blog, the last one for the year. I hope you had a lovely Christmas. Here’s the link to the audio version for those of you who prefer to listen to me reading it. A very special welcome to those of you who’ve recently subscribed after The Irish Times re-published my article that they first ran in July. Thanks to the internet and The Irish Times online, my blog is reaching readers in every corner of the globe. The article has been shared widely through Facebook too which I gather has brought hope to others judging by the comments it continues to generate. The fact that my story was one of the most read in 2022 is a clear indication of the level of interest there is in the relationship that we have with alcohol.
Santa hats and bikinis
I’m writing this from the shores of the Indian Ocean in a rustic beach shack south of Perth where we’ve escaped to for a little break. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my fourth sober Christmas. We spent it on the beach again this year – that’s 12 Christmases in a row now that we’ve donned Santa hats and bikinis. Well, actually, my husband doesn’t look so good in a bikini, so he was wearing the local ‘boardies’, as they’re called! Anyway, irrelevant as it is what we were wearing, we spent many hours in and out of the refreshing turquoise ocean under a hot sun in a perfectly blue sky. Even after all these years, it still feels weird! It was hard to drag ourselves away and even harder to get cooking the Christmas dinner in sandy bare feet and damp togs. Yes, true to our Irish roots, we have cooked the turkey and ham every year complete with stuffing and roast potatoes. Being plant-based, I stuck to my home-made nut roast which was delicious thank you very much. I’m delighted that my kids and husband have declared their intention to embrace a more plant-based diet in 2023 which will make life much easier for me. But enough about me and my Christmas fare and more about the Glass Half-Full that I want to share with you. As we start to think ahead to next week and the beginning of a brand-new year, I’d hazard a guess that resolutions will be on many a mind. Am I right? Instead of making the focus of my blog about giving stuff up as part of our new year’s resolutions, I’m inviting you to join me to take stock of what we do have in our lives that is worth holding on to.
The practice of gratitude
What if I were to tell you that there is one small exercise that isn’t related to alcohol or drugs that you can do right now that is proven to make people happier? What if I said that this one small exercise will pave the way for a healthier, more connected you? Would you believe me? Speaking from experience, I can assure you that I’m telling the truth. That one small exercise is the daily practice of gratitude, or to put it another way, it is the practice of noticing what’s in the glass, not what’s missing from it, and giving thanks for it.
Lamenting for what is not
I think it’s fair to make the assumption, for the purposes of this blog, that every single one of us has access to a glass of water. It’s never full because life isn’t like that. The water in the glass represents all that we are dealt, a helping of good and bad to varying degrees, an abundance of some things and scarcity of others, advantages and obstacles. Our perception of what constitutes a good life is influenced by many things – what we see others having, fairy tales we were read as kids, movies, social media, and our dreams. When we look at our glass of water, we have a choice to make. We can either see the water that we have in our glass and appreciate that it’s there, savour it, feel the benefit of it when we drink it and rejoice each time it is replenished. Or we can see the empty space in the glass where we wish there were other things. We can lament the fact that our neighbour seems to have more, and their water appears to be making them much happier than us. In fact, we can spend an awful lot of time and energy wishing that there was more in that empty space to the point that we get angry for having what we think is a pitiful amount.
Look in the mirror
To put it another way, looking into a different type of glass, when we look at ourselves in the mirror do we see the person that we are and love them for all their flaws and failings or do we see what we are not and lament for all those qualities we wish we had? This goes back to my last blog about how we are all made of the same essence, and we are all equally worthy of love. When I look at myself in the mirror these days, it’s a bit of a shock to see yet more wrinkles and how ageing has changed me but that’s not a reason to love myself less, is it? In fact, I love myself more now than I ever did. There was a time, in my heyday, when I couldn’t bear the sight of myself with each glimpse! And people said I was pretty back then, not a wrinkle in sight! But my eyes told a different story. Deep inside I was racked with shame and self-loathing that caused me immense pain, pain that was so unbearable I had to self-medicate with alcohol and cannabis.
Everything but nothing
Once upon a time, in a land far way, there lived a woman who had everything, but her heart was full of yearning. I had everything I could possibly have needed for a good life, but I couldn’t see it. No amount of money could make me happy because inside I was missing a key ingredient – gratitude for my life and all that it has given me. I looked outside of myself for what I believed was missing – approval, belonging, connection. I cried for the emptiness I felt inside. It’s shocking now to admit that, even though I had a husband, two beautiful children, a devoted canine companion, a lovely home in a safe place and no shortage of material things, all I could see was the empty space in my glass where I believed certain things should be for me to be happy. To kill the pain of the sadness, I drank. The more I drank, the angrier I grew. The angrier I grew, the more I drove people away from me. I almost lost my family. Not because they were going to leave me (maybe they might have done eventually), but because I was blinding myself and was losing sight of them. Fast forward five years, and I see them clearly now. Embracing a sober life has been a huge part of restoring my sight. Without the blinding effect of alcohol, I have clarity of mind that allows me to appreciate how lucky I am to have so much in my life. I have been with my husband for twenty years and there have been times when I thought we wouldn’t last. I always thought it was he who was at fault. How wrong I was!
Gratitude opened my heart
Drinking was never my main problem. My biggest problem was my mindset, my skewed thinking. To fix the latter, I had to deal with the former. When I got my drinking under control through abstinence (moderation was way too hard for me), I was able to fully embrace the opportunity that counselling presented to tackle the deep-rooted issues that underpinned my drinking. I learnt to appreciate myself so that when I looked in the mirror, I began to see a person who is lovely, true, dependable, and kind. This appreciation is a display of gratitude, something that was alien to me for much of my life. My counsellor reminded me that, according to scientists, there was only one chance in 400 trillion that I was born at all!! That got me thinking about how I really am a miracle, and so are you.
Let that sink in.
Gratitude brings us happiness
It is knowing how lucky we are to be alive that allowed me to start to feel deep gratitude for everything in my life. In a very short space of time, I noticed things changing. I quickly realised the power I had to change how things panned out. The more appreciation I showed towards my husband, the more he loved me back. The same with my kids. It soon became apparent that it is not happiness that brings us gratitude but gratitude that brings us happiness. I delved into this, as the glutton I am for knowledge, and discovered that there is a lot of scientific evidence out there to back up claims that the act of gratitude has a healing effect on the body. The benefits include:
- Enhanced mood
- Stronger immune system
- Increased self-satisfaction
- More empathy
- Stronger relationships
- Better sleep
At a neurobiological level, gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our anxiety response. If you find this hard to believe, just take a moment to conjure up a real feeling of gratitude – notice what happens in your body when you think about somebody you are deeply grateful to have in your life. I can attest to the fact that when I am feeling thankful for my husband and children, I am not feeling anxious. It’s as though both things cannot exist together. I love that! It’s a simple change of thinking that has a significant impact on my feelings. I also notice that the more grateful I feel for my sober life, the more committed I am to persist with it and the stronger I become. It’s as though the gratitude I have for my life gives me the courage to move forward.
Final words from me for 2022
I’d love for you to enter 2023 with a sense of gratitude in your heart for all that you are, all that you have, all that you get from others and all that you can give to them. Take the time today to ask yourself ‘what are you grateful for?’ Write down the answers. Take a few moments to study them, close your eyes and feel good in your heart that you can see and appreciate these things because they will bring you happiness. Don’t hesitate to show that gratitude to the people you appreciate, it feels so good! I’m grateful for your presence, for sharing this experience with me. I feel grateful that I can afford to run a website because it allows me to publish this blog which I know from the feedback I receive is of value to many. This is my way of giving back, of showing my appreciation for all that life has given me. Wishing each one of you the best for the new year ahead, and may you be able to clearly see all that you have in your life and feel good about it. You deserve to feel that warmth in your heart. I’ll leave you with a lovely quote from author, Robert Brault: ‘Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.’ Love, Gill