Thanksgiving tops my list of favorite holidays. It lacks the pressure often paired with other holidays and provides an excuse to get together with loved ones and bask in feelings of gratitude. I’m usually pretty dedicated about using Thanksgiving as a day to practice being mindful and thankful for every specific thing I can come up with. Most days I can write a never-ending list of what I’m thankful for–but some days that never-ending list, like the idea of infinite, gets too big and packed together for me to see or remember any one thing. I’m embarrassed to say that this Thanksgiving proved to be a day where I couldn’t handle grand ideas and even the concept of infinite didn’t seem real. I made myself concentrate on the simple and obvious things I’m thankful for like: loved ones, my education and ability to have a voice, in addition to the basic things like: indoor plumbing, heat, food, water, etc…
Somehow even the simple things felt complicated on Thursday. Despite knowing, logically, I am always and forever grateful for all of those things and many more, I didn’t feel grateful. I dwelled on everything difficult or damaging about whatever I came up with to remind myself to be thankful. My mind took on a life of its own for moments of the day, and I had to gently remind it that I’m in control, making sure to avoid judging it for where it took me.
The night before Thanksgiving, I met up with a group of friends from a service-learning group I used to be apart of. It had been years since we’d all been together, and I loved catching up with all of them. I’ve shared deeply spiritual moments at both ends of the emotional spectrum with these group members. I guess that’s how we form spiritual connections with one another–by seeing each other at every extreme and helping each other learn to let go of our desire to “be tough” and “in control” all of the time. On our trips, we all witnessed horrendous poverty and the emotional and physical suffering that comes along with it. Yet, the miracles we’ve seen in smiles from gang members or felt in hugs from kids afraid to trust and terrified of love, keeps us going. We feed off of each others positive memories and the reminder of our ability to feel fierce love.
My best friend, Laura, and my older brother picked me up from dinner to take me to the bar where we’d meet up with more of my closest friends. I left the service-learning-group, overwhelmed with gratitude and excited for an evening with my best friends and brother. Due to my favorite bar closing, and a few other miscellaneous factors, the bar I went to had more people from high school in it than anywhere I’ve been since being in high school. Seeing so many people I used to know, overwhelmed me. I should clarify, it’s not that I dislike people from high school I lost contact with, in fact, I really enjoyed reconnecting with some. I just don’t like to be reminded of what I used to be like in high school. I suffered a lot in high school because I had an intense case of perfectionism and a fear of being disliked by anyone. I sacrificed being myself in order to be liked, or at least not disliked, by almost everyone. When people ask me what I’m doing these days, it takes more than a sentence to answer. “Living at a retirement home for nuns” isn’t enough information. When people ask me what my book is about, it requires a conscious choice for me not to smile and sugarcoat it. “It’s a memoir about struggling with mental health and spirituality, and how I think they’re connected,” I say, reminding myself there is nothing to be embarrassed about. I typically get one of two responses: “But you were always so happy” or awkward silence with an attempt to switch subjects. I’m still working to remind myself that I don’t need to internalize people’s discomfort when it involves insecurity on their end.
I got a few supportive comments from people I hadn’t seen in years–either about my project and current living situation in order to pursue it or just by letting me know they read this blog. Those are the little things that keep me going and remind me to be proud of myself for working hard not to return to my high school self when I run into people who knew me then. It’s easier to snap back into my high school politeness and eagerness to please, but I try to force myself to be real if they ask questions that require real answers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going around telling my life story to every person I ever knew, but I feel like if people are nice enough to ask about me, I’m going to answer honestly. If they didn’t want an honest answer, they shouldn’t have asked.
Overall, I left the bar feeling thankful for the growth I’ve had since high school. My brother made me laugh, saying he realized “he’s made it,” because he doesn’t have any kids, is in a PhD program, and was able to end the night by pissing on a Kid Rock beer bottle already in the urinal. I appreciated the metaphor.