My friend Terrie had a beaming smile and a one-of-a-kind laugh. She also had a serious streak that was genuine and arrived at via her own challenges. She died in 2003, at age 64, with twenty years of sobriety. Terrie was a person who drew others to her with something that I barely recognized at the time–joy in living. She was one of my “Messengers and Menders” in early recovery. The difference she made, and continues to make in my life, cannot be measured. It can, however, be lived daily.
Terrie gave me what became my first gratitude journal as a birthday gift in July of 1994. By then, she knew me well enough to know that her suggestion to try gratitude practice was a valid one. She had heard my whiny, “poor me” self-pity numerous times in her role as listener and advisor. I was still stuck in the muck of what she called “terminal uniqueness.” Nobody could comprehend what I saw in the mirror. Nobody understood my pain and inhibitions. Nobody could know the deep remorse and weakness I had felt after many drunken nights and failed attempts to quit on my own.
Except I was wrong. Terrie understood, as did many others. I just needed help getting out of the bad neighborhood of my own mind. Several months later, in February of 1995, I finally decided to take action and try this gratitude stuff. It felt a little unnatural at first to write down two things I was grateful for each day.
People, places, events; some seemed trivial, others seemed monumental. Most were in between. I was beginning to notice that life wasn’t as terrible as I had made it out to be, that I wasn’t as hopeless as I sometimes felt. And that people actually cared about how I was doing. (My family cared, I knew, but I was somewhat distant from them at the time.)
Here is the journal Terrie gave me:
Today, it feels unnatural if I don’t write in my latest gratitude journal, my thirteenth. It didn’t transform my thinking overnight. Life doesn’t work that way. It slowly and surely chipped away at the negative perceptions I had of myself and the world around me. One day at a time, one journal entry at a time, my broken thinking was being mended.
Terrie delivered other messages to me in her kind and loving way, yet none have had the mending quality that regular focus on gratefulness has had. The debt of gratitude I owe Terrie can only be returned in one way. Keep finding the good in life, nature, humankind, and myself. Then do what Terrie did so well. Share it. Speak it. Live it.