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Gratitude: The Best Meal To Serve Your Hungry Ghost 640 480 Thayer Fox

Gratitude: The Best Meal To Serve Your Hungry Ghost

Gratitude is wishing for what you already have. For most of us, this doesn’t happen naturally. Good news is that our brains can be re-wired. Daily practice carves out neural pathways that will routinely lead us to fresh ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Grateful people are happy ones; there is nothing complicated about this equation.

Gratitude is a trendy word today. The star of self-help books and Ted talks, like the beautiful one given by David Steindl-Rast, gratitude’s power is undeniable. Gratitude challenges are prevalent on social media, people post lists for a period and then stop. Schools discuss ways to instill gratitude in children. Gratitude journals are sold at toy stores near the Uno cards.

The mass effort to bring gratitude to the forefront of our collective thinking is a positive step. But when something becomes familiar, we stop noticing it. It’s the reason we forget to wish for what we already have. The concept of gratitude has reached the tipping point of overuse, and people feel like they are cultivating gratitude by attending a lecture at their children’s school or highlighting paragraphs in a book. Engaging in a practice and understanding a concept are worlds apart.

For the first thirty years of my life, I didn’t have an ounce of gratitude. Growing up in an environment that kept my fight and flight response activated, the hungry ghost was strong inside me. I craved and schemed to obtain what I wanted as quickly as I could get my hands on it. It was never enough. Entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. There is no appreciation or relief in the world owes me mindset.

So how did I transform from an entitled wretch to someone who feels deeply grateful for my life? Slowly.

Gratitude has been a focus in the rooms of AA long before it surfaced in the mainstream. Fourteen and half years ago, after not drinking for ninety days, my sponsor told me that my thinking was now the source of my misery. She suggested that I email her a gratitude list every morning containing three items. I asked her how she expected me to be grateful sitting amidst the rubble of my life? With few people left, no job, depressed and over-weight, making a gratitude list felt like a cruel request.

When I would call my sponsor to complain that I had nothing to put down on my list, she would calmly ask me, “Did you have a bed to sleep in last night? A warm meal for dinner? A roof over your head?” Annoyed that she would suggest these necessities for my list, I was desperate to feel differently, so I did what she said.

For the next few years, I made gratitude lists daily. The lists became effortless as my life grew. They still included simple things like a great yoga class, walks around the reservoir in Central Park, a delicious meal at City Bakery, and a job that paid my bills. On challenging days, I would put down the three items that my sponsor mentioned when I started the practice. I didn’t just scribble them down anymore, I sat with each one, finally understanding that they weren’t as elementary as I initially believed. They were and still are enormous blessings.

My baseline well-being shifted with my thinking. There is always something right in front of me to be grateful for, it just requires a shift in perspective. I no longer write lists, but I end my two daily meditations by saying thank you for whatever blessings I am present to at that moment. What I focus on is my choice and choosing to focus on the abundance in my life always improves my mindset.


Judgment or Reality? 640 432 Thayer Fox

Judgment or Reality?

How many times have you made a decision based on an abrupt judgment? Do you feel confident that the way you see things is reality? Do you explain some of your judgments as instinct?

I’ve been off lately, barely able to sit through my two daily meditations because of the creepy crawly energy under my skin. The voice in my head has been relentlessly antagonistic. I could chart and study the chain of minor events that lead me here, but that would be a waste of time.

Looking for relief, I walked into a midday AA meeting in my neighborhood. Finding a seat in the first row, I adjusted the angle of my chair repeatedly, so I wasn’t too close to my neighbors in any direction. That’s the nature of the mood I can’t shake. Finally seated, I stared at my phone pretending to read something so no one would engage me in the usual friendly AA fashion.

Looking up at the clock, I cased the room, every person looked crazier than the next. Why did I think this was a good idea? How the hell could these people help me when they were all tearing at the seams?

No one sat in the leather speaker chair yet; there was still hope. I prayed a wise female version of Gandalf would plop down and say something astonishing.

A few minutes before the start time, a robust, dark-haired man took the seat. His sweaty face looked familiar. Then it hit me how I knew him. Struggling for over a year now, he could barely pull together ninety days of sober time before going on a bender. Thoroughly agitated, my instinct told me to bolt; no way this messy man had any sage advice to pass on.

Before I could gather my stuff, he introduced himself and began speaking. Debating whether I dashed for the door now or waited until he finished, I realized as I put a water bottle into my backpack, that the dark-haired man was staring only at me. Before I had time to be uncomfortable, he paused and pointed at me, “I know you” he said loudly.

This is totally off script, a speaker never addresses anyone in the audience during the twenty-minute opening talk. Without responding, I tilted my head giving him a quizzical look. He continued anyway, “I was counting days when I heard you speak at the 79th street workshop, you know that big Sunday 11th step meeting?” I nodded, I had spoken there recently. The speaker smiled, “That was the best qualification I’ve ever heard. I wanted to drink badly but stayed sober so I can sound like you one day.”

Sound like me? The judgmental shrew about to walk out as you bare your soul? I looked down, unworthy of his generous words. Today, I was not the woman who gave that talk. My eyes filled up as my heart opened. Putting my hands together, I bowed my head in a Namaste to show appreciation.

Gratitude surged through me, replacing all irritability. One sentence out of a stranger’s mouth smashed the self-centered glasses I had been wearing for days. Humbled, for the rest of the meeting I listened like my life depended on it.

My judgment almost kept me from being able to experience that mystical moment. I wonder how many beautiful minutes, hours, days, years have been stolen by snapshot opinions masquerading as instinct. God/ a higher intelligence/ destiny connects with us through other people. The most important job I have every day is to make myself available.


The Gift of Being an Alcoholic 1024 683 Thayer Fox

The Gift of Being an Alcoholic

Grateful for my DNA, being a recovered alcoholic is the best part of my life. I cannot fathom another way to experience this life other than through the wide-eyed wonder of sobriety. For the past fourteen years, I have plugged into energy beyond the limited container of self which has allowed me to be a light giver; part of a solution in this big, messy world.

My mindset as a child was drastically different. Born with an existential crisis raging inside me, I felt stranded here. Is this it? There’s got to be more….? People often ask about your first childhood memory, and those two lines repeated regularly are mine. Sobbing as I watched ET is another early memory. I identified with his longing to return home. I didn’t know where my home was, but it didn’t feel like it was on Park Avenue. After reading more on extraterrestrial life, I started taping notes on my window pane at night so my alien family could locate me; beam me the hell out of here.

When this didn’t happen, I shifted my focus to finding C.S Lewis’s Narnia by knocking on every inch of wall in our apartment. After exhausting that possibility, I started studying parapsychology and the occult, asking spirits from my Ouija board to send me signs. Increasingly detached from the movie set world around me, I became acutely aware of the subtext, the conversation occurring beneath the spoken conversations being had all around me. I noticed how people’s words and energy didn’t match. The awkward gestures, the break in eye contact, the divide happening in the most well-intentioned interactions. I longed to connect with people beyond the sterile, soulless way I witnessed.

The opportunity to drink presented itself at age 11. I was at my older friend Edith’s house up in Maine, where my family spent our summers. She taught me what proof meant on a bottle of alcohol and how to replace the alcohol you drank with water so your parents wouldn’t catch you. My first drink was a shot glass of Wild Turkey. It burned my throat going down, and I was concerned that it would damage my esophagus for a few minutes before a warmth overtook my body. Everything softened, my friend looked hazy as we stared at each giggling uncontrollably. We climbed out of her bedroom window onto the roof and lay in the sun for hours listening to The Grateful Dead. A secret portal to another world opened at last.

I drank to quiet the voice in my head. I drank to make the world more bearable. I drank to experience a connection with other people. I drank because of a genetic predisposition that I inherited from my father. I drank because of the undercurrent of anger in my home. I drank to be “cool” and create an identity for myself. I drank to be loved. I drank until I couldn’t remember why I needed to drink in the first place.

Alcohol helped me cope with painful events. When I was seventeen, my father shot himself. His decision tormented me until at the of age twenty-nine, buried alive under years of mistakes and self-loathing, suicide seemed like a logical escape plan. I stockpiled prescription medication asking myself every morning if today was the day that I would end my life. Alcoholism is a progressive disease; it works until the wreckage outweighs the relief. Once the elevator starts descending, it never goes back up. When suicide becomes a re-occurring, rational conversation; you have reached the basement.

Giving up drinking was not a conscious choice that I made one day. The series of random people and experiences that flooded my life at a critical time had nothing to do with me and can’t be written off as coincidence. Something that resided deep inside me chose life. For the first few years, I hated going to “meetings” in church basements. Apparently, AA was the last stop on the train where losers came to complain. I didn’t believe that I had anything in common with them; my story and pain were unique.

The best part of AA is that you don’t have to like it or want to be there for the process to work. If you don’t drink, go to meetings and work the step program with a sponsor, you will transform in spite of yourself. You can share about how much you hate it there, and people will smile and tell you after the meeting how much your rant helped them.

I heard many people share at meetings that sobriety restored them to the way they were before alcohol kidnapped their souls. I didn’t understand this concept because I never had a self, there was no material worth keeping. I dumped my broken Thayer shell and started building from scratch.

Inside any AA room, people are in different phases of recovery and the context is always growth. We unzip our personalities at the door, committed to sharing our truth from a deeper place than personal opinion. It’s an inclusive, no matter what community filled with pure emotion. Strangers saved my life.

Freedom is knowing that I am only rowing the vessel of my life, relinquishing the navigation to a force much more majestic than my limited brain. Today, I can step outside myself, show up and serve another human being without strings attached. The best part is that I can’t claim credit for what I have become.

For myself, I don’t believe in the anonymity part. AA was established over a hundred years ago when alcoholics were locked up and given electroshock therapy. When I want to connect with someone new, it’s the first thing I tell them, what they need to know about my story to know me. It’s the gift that I have to give away. Aside from being able to help someone else who struggles with any addiction or knows someone who does, my life is a stand for transformation.

None one is damaged beyond repair. Being broken is only a story. When I came to understand that the most shameful parts of my past inspire and support others, I stepped into strength. Becoming useful gave my life meaning. The darkest corner inside you? The one that you built cement walls around years ago and don’t dare discuss with even your closest friends?

Your gold is waiting for you there.