In this season of Thanksgiving, it’s worth taking time to reflect on the role of gratitude in our lives. When someone we love is in the throes of addiction, it can be hard to remember that we have much to be thankful for. Instead, we often focus on our fear and grief and self-pity, asking ourselves, “Why did I have to be burdened with this problem of addiction? Why can’t this person I love be normal and give me some peace of mind?”
Yet, in our struggle to cope with addiction, we have the potential to acquire certain gifts. Many years ago, a member of my Nar-Anon group introduced me to this startling concept at one of our meetings. “My daughter’s addiction has made me a better person, and for that I’m grateful,” he said. “I’m not grateful for the addiction. I wish it had never happened. But her addiction has made me more compassionate and understanding.”
How had that happened? There was a time, he explained, when if someone’s kid was having problems, he’d chalk it up to bad parenting. If someone was struggling with an alcoholic partner, he’d tell himself, “I know what I’d do in that situation.” He was convinced that there was no situation beyond his control.
Addiction taught him otherwise. “My wife and I have gone through a lot with our daughter,” he said, “the late-night phone calls, the race to the emergency room, the long silences when we didn’t know if she was alive or dead.” He was humbled by his inability to solve her problems, and in his humility he became more sensitive to the struggles of others. He became kinder and less judgmental.
I was inspired by his insight. Pain, I realized, can turn us inward and make us view the world through the dark lens of resentment and apprehension. Or we can choose to grow and learn from our pain. We can recognize that we are not alone in our struggles, for all people struggle, and everyone carries the weight of worry or loss.
And from our acceptance of the complexities of life we can better appreciate the gifts that are ours for the taking: the beauty of nature, family and friends who care about us, the kindness of strangers, and our own inner strength.
In this time of Thanksgiving, we can give thanks not for the addiction that entered our lives, but for the lessons to be learned if we open our hearts to them.
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