By Kim Dennis, MD
I like using Thanksgiving as a season to intentionally practice gratitude, a practice that we may embrace right now and then continue to develop a day at a time far into the New Year.
Many refer to it as the start of season of giving, which is certainly a fine concept. In the eating disorder, mental health, and addiction space we often refer to it as “the playoffs,” given how difficult this time of year can be for people who have these conditions.
There are people experiencing a great deal of pain and suffering during this time of year both within the U.S. and certainly abroad, when we consider the atrocities the people of places such as Ukraine, Palestine and Israel currently face. Many people struggle, in the midst of great pain and loss, to identify anything for which they are grateful.
The fact that I am writing these words today and you are reading them indicates that we are far more blessed than many in the world. We are literate, relatively safe, have access to food, fuel, internet, clean water, and healthcare.
When I first entered recovery, gratitude was extremely difficult to find. I would try so hard each day to dig up even one thing to appreciate in my life. On very challenging days, the only thing I could conjure up to be grateful for was my eyelashes, and even that was a stretch. Many days back then, being alive did not feel like a blessing. That was a dark time, indeed.
After twenty years of sustained recovery from trauma, bulimia, and addiction, I am acutely aware of the abundant love, life and blessings that surround me every day—my relationships with family, a circle of close friends, patients willing to do the brave work of recovery day in and day out, colleagues and mentors, art, music, my pets, and plants that stay alive. I’m also grateful for my growing awareness of the responsibility to help others and impact systems of change that comes with the great privilege that is afforded to me in recovery.
Like so many, I was robbed of my vision by the diseases that threatened to take my life, and the traumas that created them. I had not yet developed eyes attuned to seeing the love and care around me. Like with food back then, I had not developed the skill of taking that in and digesting it, letting it nourish me, give me pleasure, security, and joy. Today not only do I have such vision, but also one of the greatest joys of my life is helping people who come to SunCloud to develop their own vision and start on their own journey towards receiving nourishment in body, mind, relationships, and Spirit.
Therein lies one of the beautiful aspects of the power of gratitude; when I didn’t have it, someone and Something held it for me. In that space, hope was born, and I began a long journey towards waking up and coming to life. In my life today, I have agency, the privilege of freedom, and the responsibility of passing that on. I am sober. I can see the truth. I am alive.
The whole first chapter of my life was focused solely on survival, including in early recovery. The more spiritually connected I grow, the deeper my attunement to the pain and suffering of others. This attunement comes with changed beliefs, intentions, actions, and rituals.
I grew up with a set of thanksgiving rituals—turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, Jello molds and pumpkin pies (and a whole lot of alcohol). I also grew up believing a history taught in grade school and supported by American culture that the Native Americans and Pilgrims were great friends, a script that effectively erased the atrocities that Native Americans faced and continue to face when we look at health and socioeconomic inequities.
By virtue of my spirit waking up and the privilege I have as a white American whose life was saved in recovery, I can’t deny or stay silent about the decimation of Native Americans due to germs, outright slaughter and land robbery beginning when the first colonizers arrived; nor can I be silent about the profound resilience of our Native American siblings, the many gifts they bring to our world, their stewardship and nurturance of the lands that most of us now occupy.
Repeating this holiday with no change and honoring the intolerance in its roots feels delusional at this point in my recovery. This holiday I can take small actions to care for the Earth and cultivate greater respect for all living things. I can take a moment of silence to honor the people whose land I occupy before nourishing my body and soul over a meal with loved ones. This is a practice I can do everyday of the year, not just once a year on a holiday.
I can live stream the National Day of Mourning where Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth since 1970 to honor the truth of what their ancestors experienced and what many continue to experience in the way of racism and oppression today.
I can pay the spiritual dividends that my recovery continues to bestow upon me forward to an ever-widening circle by speaking up and taking action.
We often hear “hurt people hurt people.” This year I sit in deep gratitude to be able to be part of the circle that saved my life…”healed people heal people.