Gratitude, Support Groups & Getting Better

gratitudeJohn F. Kennedy once said that as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

M. Scott Peck said that love is an action.

Both love and gratitude are actions. It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what you DO. Every year I post the YouTube video HERE for my readers on gratitude and I was touched, and grateful, for both the public and private response to it. I am always humbled by being in a position to give even one person a small ray of hope, especially on a difficult day like a holiday. We may be fine before the holiday, but holidays and anniversaries and birthdays can trigger all kinds of unexpected sadness and anxiety.

My life would not be possible without others who helped me during those very bleak and dark days when I was depressed, anxious, borderline suicidal and feeling hopeless. I remember driving down the road and the only way to avoid driving the car into a wall was to keep chanting, as tears streamed down my face, “I am a child of God and God loves me.” Someone gave me that to say when I was sitting in a therapist’s waiting room and my hands were physically shaking. This man, someone I didn’t know and had never met, turned to me and said, “Just remember, you are a child of God and God loves you.” He said it in this sweet and kind voice, almost a whisper, that was incredibly soothing. I wasn’t even sure if it was true or even if there was a God but I held onto it, and I said it like a mantra whenever I didn’t think I could go on another minute.  Many of the techniques I’ve taught over the years – affirmations, mantras, acceptance statement, “even though” statements are in the workbook.  I couldn’t fit them all in the books, but all of them are in the workbook (order HERE), and in that dark moment, before anyone taught me anything, I held onto that mantra like it was the only lifeline I had.  At the time it was.  But I learned the importance of all of them.

I’ve told the following story when I’ve done speaking engagements and in seminars and on the blog. It’s a story that really has stayed with me all these years.

I was a MESS.  A completely upset, crying mess.  My hands shook. I couldn’t eat and hadn’t eaten a real meal in weeks.   I used to say that my anxiety got up an hour before I did. I would wake up with such a pain in my chest, I was convinced I was dying.

During the day I took care of the kids, looked for work and counted the minutes until I could go to a support group.  It seemed like it was the only time – the time in those support meetings – that I didn’t feel like jumping in front of a car.

I went to support groups – my therapist’s groups, community groups and many 12 step meetings.  I would sit in the back, huddled into my coat and hope no one noticed me (months later they would all tell me they all noticed me and my pain).  That is who I was in those months.  When I walked in, it was Susan and her pain.  Here comes Susan and her pain.  You could not miss the two of us.  Me and my pain.  We’re here screaming for help without saying a word.  Can you hear us?  They heard us.

Here I was, another night I was anxious and depressed and was supposed to go to a new support group meeting. I really kept myself sane all day by counting down the minutes until I could go there.

Then it was time to go. It was raining but the meeting was near where I used to live and I would find it.  There was no GPS and all I had was an address.

But when I got there, it was all torn up.  The place was no longer familiar.  They were building something right where an intersection used to be.

In the dark and in the rain, I drove all over and couldn’t figure out how to get to the building.  The section of town that I once knew was unrecognizable. They were tearing up roads and putting buildings up. There was nowhere to park and it was dark and raining. I couldn’t figure out where to put my car.

It was getting closer to the meeting time; I was becoming anxious and upset. Finally, I parked my car near a construction site on the other side of where I needed to be. I got out and stumbled, almost falling several times, through the construction site and up a hill to where I thought I was supposed to be.  It was either an Al-Anon meeting or an Adult Children meeting or a Women Who Love Too Much meeting.  I realized I had left my meeting information home.  All I had was the address.  I was sure this church…high on the hill next to the construction site…was the place.

Finally I was there.  WHEW!

Somehow, some way, I walked into a very nice church.  Quaint, New England church with the steeple.  The same kind of church all my other meetings were in.  So this seemed right.

It truly was a dark and stormy night, but the peacefulness and soothing light sconces lined the hallway.  The meeting was down a well-lacquered parquet hall and to the right.  I could smell coffee and followed the smell.  I felt my whole body relax.  That is how going to support groups felt to me in those bleak dark days.  I would just smile and nod on the way in and try to not make eye contact with anyone.

Just walking in there calmed me.  I walked into a room that seemed full of nice people getting coffee and looking as if they were ready to have a meeting. A few of them looked at me somewhat oddly.  I know that in many support meetings, they want to “help” the newbie.  I didn’t always want to look like the desperate newbie that I was. I gave a few of them a half smile and then proceeded to look at the floor.

I was in a church, there was coffee, there were people.  This was the recipe of every 12 step meeting or support group I’ve ever been in (not that there were that many yet). So I  assumed this was where I was supposed to be. I sat down and looked up and was sure I had lost my mind. I couldn’t read any of the signs in the room. I thought, no that can’t be right, I thoght they were in French. As I looked closer, I thought, MY GOD, they ARE in French!!!!

I figured I had gone completely crazy. I just never would have guessed that crazy would be in French.  Who knew?

My face must have turned ashen, but I couldn’t move. I had to stay here. No matter what. Where was I?  I didn’t care. I wanted to stay here.  Wherever here was.

An elderly gentleman turned to me. I figured it wasn’t a Women Who Love Too Much meeting.

He looked at me, strangely, leaned over and gently asked if I was in the right place. I felt like I was at the end of my rope…if they made me leave, go back through that construction site, I would not make it. I would hurl myself off a backhoe.  I would find the tallest tractor and jump from it – into the mud – and they could find me in the morning and wonder what the hell happened.  Maybe I should scribble out a suicide note, “The French people MADE ME LEAVE and I couldn’t take it anymore.”

So I smiled meekly and decided I needed to stay here with these nice people, these nice French-speaking people for what, I found out, was a Sons of Quebec meeting. All these people either started their lives in Quebec or their parents were from Quebec.  I was adopted.  Maybe my parents WERE from Quebec.  One of my brothers thinks his father was Canadian because he says “about” like “aboot”  – so maybe?  Okay, I swear I will learn French in the next 5 minutes, I would bake cookies, I would get everyone coffee. I would do anything, but I didn’t want to leave.  Please don’t make me.  Want to hear me say aboot?

Instead smiled weakly, trying to get away from him.  I said in a low voice,  “No I’m okay.” and tried to wave him off as if I really had come for the Sons of Quebec meeting…trying to look like I belonged. I just wanted to STAY here in this warm room with coffee and cookies and nice happy people…my eyes pleaded “Please don’t make me leave.”  Aboot?  Anyone?

He was not, of course, taking that for an answer. He said, “Where do you need to be?” and I had to tell him, what with the open-ended question and all.  I pulled out the piece of paper in my pocket with the address on it.  It was in a church, right?  And this is a church, right?  WHY DO I NEED TO LEAVE?

He said the address I was looking for was a few blocks away and he tried to explain how to get there but I was blanking and starting to panic. I just wanted to stay here. I felt incapable of finding where I needed to be.  Please Mr. Elderly French Dude….please let me stay.

I must have looked crushed and was on the verge of begging him to let me stay because he said, “If you drive me home afterwards, I’ll take you there.” I would not normally accept this but I had no choice. I felt like my brain was exploding. I didn’t think my mind would last the night and if I wasn’t going to be allowed to become a Son of Quebec, then I needed to find where I was supposed to be.  And fast!  The other meeting must be starting soon.

When he got up to put his coat on and go with me, I noticed he had a cane. I stopped him and explained where my car was and how treacherous a walk it was. He just smiled and said that was okay.  No no no.  No Mr. Elderly French Dude.  It is NOT okay…you’re going to fall to a certain death if you go with me….but now he was not taking no for an answer.

He walked with me back through the construction site where I was sure he would fall down and die and I would be arrested for murder…because that is how the day was going.  “Ms. Elliott, why did you murder Mr. Elderly French Dude?”  “I didn’t!  He offered to go with me!  I swear to you!”  “Go with you, where?”  “I don’t know.  Wherever the hell I was going.”  “And that was?”  “I DON’T KNOW!”  25-life for murdering Mr. EFD.  F my life. Truly.

But that didn’t happen and believe it or not, we actually found the group.  It was a “Young People’s” Adult Children of Alcoholics.  We made it there just in time.

Mr. EFD stayed for the meeting and he smiled at the group and they smiled at him.  Everyone was lovely to him and he was lovely to them. After years of being with abusive and controlling people, all of this kindness was almost too much for me. This was life…this is how nice and happy people acted. It amazed me.

I took him home afterwards, thanking him profusely the entire time and he kept saying it was no problem. He was just sweet and kind. As he toddled into the building, I could not believe what happened.

Those were just two of the many encounters I had in my first year or so of turning my life around.  That happened the first MONTH of turning my life around.  Of escaping from abuse.  Of getting out from under those who gaslight you, who taunt you, who abuse you.  I was not used to being treated well….and yet, the people in the meetings – even meetings that had NOTHING whatsoever to do with my issues – were just so damn nice to me.

My life was full of good people who came to my aid and rescue and touched my life. I found other people who became my support and my allies, but there were others who came to guide me for a minute, a few hours or a week, and then they were gone. This is my way of thanking them, all of them, for being there for me–by being there for others.

I am busy and some days I feel crazed by the busy-ness but I know that if you are grateful you have to live as if you are, and to put yourself in the path of others who may need what you were freely given. Pay it forward or pass it on are not just words. They are actions. Gratitude, like love, is an action. I thank you all for being here.

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