It’s Thanksgiving. And it’s still 2020.
If you are like me, as you have scrolled through your social media, listened to podcasts, and generally looked around to see how others are coping with this crazy year, you have probably run into a lot of quotes and memes and discussions about gratitude. We are told to focus on what we have to be grateful for to help us maintain a positive attitude and point our minds away from doom and fear. Gratitude lists, journals, and exercises abound.
This is not bad advice. In fact, it is spot on. We need to be intentional with gratitude now more than ever. Otherwise, our minds might wander off. And none of us needs that.
Remember, thoughts create feelings. So being mindful and aware of what our thoughts are preoccupied with is very important. Focusing on what we are grateful for can change the proverbial tape and, as a result, change our mood and feeling state, shifting us out of fear and into calm and optimism.
If you are like me, however, you have also experienced an enormous amount of loss this year. Loss of connection, loss of autonomy, loss of security, loss of community, etc.
At this moment, I have a brother and his entire family who have COVID, I have another friend in the hospital with COVID and pneumonia, I have an 84-year-old immune-compromised father who refuses to use Instacart because he ‘doesn’t like how they shop’ and keeps going to the grocery store twice a week. I have not seen my family since last Thanksgiving and my chosen family since last Christmas. I have friends I have not seen since we went into lockdown in March and don’t get me started on how little fun I have experienced this year. My Thanksgiving plans have cancelled. I have a clinical team who are exhausted from trying to care for clients through Zoom, and I myself feel like I am growing an ass-root in front of my computer. I am worried about our country, I am worried about the world, and I am heartbroken at the level of divisiveness that we all seem so hopelessly caught up in.
What I am aware of this Thanksgiving is that I am grieving. I am grieving all the losses that I just mentioned and many more. I am grieving for myself, for my family, for my loved ones, for my friends, for my clients, for my team. I am sad and frustrated and sometimes overwhelmed.
This grieving is not short-term, either. It is one thing to grieve a loss that is an event. It is another to enter into a period of prolonged, serial losses. As the months have passed and the uncertainty has increased, the losses have piled up and my ability to cope has maxed out. And I am not alone with this. We are all tired and running out of the internal resources that it takes to manage our inner-worlds.
If you are feeling the strain of 2020 and experiencing losses that are painful, it is just as important that you make room for your grief and sadness as it is to be grateful. Grief and sadness need to be felt, to be breathed through, to be cried out or yelled out or run out. They need to move through the body so they can be released. When we ignore our grief and sadness, those feelings can become trapped in the body, dragging us into depression, lethargy, and hopelessness.
Because grief and sadness are difficult feelings to feel, we often don’t talk about them or even acknowledge that they are happening. When we ignore our grief, we will inevitably find ourselves medicating in some way to try to numb our feelings. Overeating, drinking, zoning out with trash TV, trying to control the world and other people, etc.
This Thanksgiving—this crazy, unprecedented wild Thanksgiving—I invite you to make room for your grief. I invite you to be sad about whatever you have missed and will miss out on this year. I invite you to gently and compassionately acknowledge the losses that you are experiencing, and to bravely go closer to the feelings those losses bring up. As you do so, remind yourself that grief is not a destination; it is a passageway to be moved through, and it is only by feeling the feelings of loss and sadness that we get to the other side.
What I find for myself is that when I am able to acknowledge my grief and sadness and allow it to express itself in whatever way is needed, I am then able to move into gratitude. If, when I’m experiencing loss, I try to force myself to gratitude before offering myself kindness and self-compassion around my grief, it feels stale—like a mental exercise that I am detached from.When I come to gratitude through the route of grief, I experience it very differently. I feel the gratitude in my heart and in my body. It feels whole and cleansing and re-orienting. It feels meaningful and real.
At this moment, I am grateful for the technology that allows me to stay connected to those I love but can’t be with. I am grateful for my friends, family, and loved ones who all add so much relational bounty to my life. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for the ability to work and a lovely home to do it from. I am grateful for my team and their amazingly positive attitudes and perseverance. I am grateful for the sunny day we are having right now. I am grateful that I have not lost anyone to COVID. I am grateful for my endlessly joyful puppy Lyla who reminds me to play some every day. I am grateful for my clients who, despite all the world is throwing at them, stay in the struggle to heal and move toward freedom and wholeness. I am grateful for the ability to sit here at my computer with a good cup of coffee and a sleeping dog at my feet while I write this post.
Thanksgiving this year is multi-dimensional for most of us. We are experiencing both losses and joys, sorrows and happiness. My hope for each of us is that we will give ourselves permission to be in the full experience of all of it, making room for both our sadness and our gratitude in turn.
Please know how grateful I am to each of you who read this blog, support PartnerHope, and allow me the great privilege of being on the journey with you in some small way.