The concept of gratitude arose many times throughout my day. So I wanted to share an article that I wrote recently about the topic. Enjoy!
I am Grateful: Perspective is Everything by Jenni Schaefer
You are breathing. You have two arms and two legs. You have not been run over by a truck. You should not feel bad. Be grateful.
During my recovery from my eating disorder, one friend told me I should be happy I had not been run over by a truck so often that I actually started to worry about getting hit by large vehicles when I crossed the road. Did she know something I didn’t? Others repeated again and again that I needed to stop agonizing over how bad it was to have an eating disorder and just appreciate that I was alive.
Yes, I am grateful that I have not been hit by a truck ---- so far. But this fact does not make the pain I have experienced in my life hurt any less. Just because I am still standing upright does not take away the gut-wrenching aches and pains I went through when struggling to recover from anorexia and bulimia. The lows still felt just as low. So I was not particularly inspired when I heard, “You still have your legs. You should be grateful.”
I often complained to my therapist, Thom Rutledge, about these remarks. “Thom,” I said, “Why is everyone talking to me about trucks all of the time?”
To my surprise, Thom actually defended these homicidal-type people. He explained that being grateful is all about perspective. He said that sometimes these comments directed to me are really intended to help by providing a perspective on my life. Other times the words might be said in a way that is actually shaming and not beneficial at all.
I began asking myself, “Am I grateful?”
I started viewing wisdom from others with both a cautious and open eye. I noted who was speaking. Was I listening to someone who really cared about me?
I became aware that careful timing and placement of the “truck” comment determined whether or not it helped me gain perspective or instead added to my already present sense of shame. If I relapsed with my eating disorder, for instance, it was actually helpful for me to be confronted by someone after several days of self-pity and victimization. They would point out the things I should be grateful for in my life. Yes, I might have an eating disorder. Yes, I might feel horribly depressed. But I also had a great family. I had wonderful friends. I had talents and passions. And, no, I had not been hit by a truck. From this perspective, I was catapulted back into the world and back into my dreams. For that, I am grateful. I was grateful.
With Thom’s help, I also realized which comments fell more on the shaming side. These words might have been directed to me more immediately following a relapse. Instead of allowing me time to regain strength on my own, someone would walk into my life instantly with an arrogant stance proclaiming, “You should be happy. Other people in this world are starving with absolutely no means of food or water.”
The advice was not surrounded with wisdom or empathy but instead with a sense of superiority. Rather than helping me move forward, this shaming actually led me to feeling more self-absorbed. I felt horrible for feeling horrible. How could I be miserable when other people are starving? I thought, “I am a terrible, ungrateful person.”
This form of shaming reminds me of the remark I often heard throughout my recovery: “just eat.” To encourage me to develop healthy behaviors with food, people simplified the very complex process to: “Why don’t you just eat?” With the concept of gratitude, I heard that word, “just,” again, and chills ran down my spine. Telling me to “just-be -grateful” felt like minimizing the problem. People were not hearing me and simply telling me to just do this or that. I wanted to scream, “I am in real pain! Please don’t tell me to just eat or just be grateful. If I hear “just” one more time, I am going to go stand in front of a truck myself.”
Before I took that step into a busy intersection, Thom taught me --- through patience and compassion --- that, in the end, I would finally have to “just eat” and “just-be-grateful.” I learned that “just” does not equate to “easy,” but actually entails pain, sweat, and lots of hard work. It is not really a matter of “just do it,” but rather a question of whether or not you are willing to never give up.
When bad things happen in my life today, I know that I need to be grateful --- in my own time and with a proper perspective. I do not need to rush the process or abuse myself along the way. I am grateful for that.
I am grateful for my life today. After all, I have not been run over by a truck.
Maybe I should worry about the bus.