Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On Giving Thanks

November means turkey, Pilgrims, and giving thanks. Most years I've kept my own tradition of listing the things I'm grateful for. But this year's list is going to have a new twist.

A few weeks ago, my neighbor invited me along to her yoga class. As we stretched and then rested our muscles, the instructor suggested meditative thoughts as well. "Thank your body for what it is doing for you. Thank yourself for taking this time..." I don't remember what came next because my eyes were already beginning to puddle.

For months, my heart had been flooded with a sense of gratefulness. This has been an epic year for me, and I am thankful for each person who has participated in my life: family, friends, neighbors, enemies, strangers. I feel a debt of gratitude to so many; even individuals I don't speak to anymore, or who don't speak to me, have given me gifts that I treasure daily.

But to be grateful to myself? That was a new thought!

It's been sixteen years since Bill Gothard terminated my employment at his cult headquarters and it often seems that I must have recovered from the brainwashing by now. But then something small, like a sentence in a yoga class, triggers a cascade of thoughts and associations and helps me identify and shed yet another layer of Gothard's influence.

My mother drilled the importance of Gratefulness into us as children, and when I was a little older, Gothard emphasized it to his followers. Gratefulness had been known to cure depression, he said. His oft-repeated definition still springs to mind:
Making known to God and others in what ways they have benefited my life.
We also learned Bill's definition of Humility:
Recognizing that it is actually God and others who are responsible for the achievements in my life.
Together with other parts of the Institute's cult program, these "character qualities" helped to stamp out a sense of volition or self-determination. We were to clay to be shaped, vessels to be used, sheep to be led.

And yet, this year I took the reins of my life in a new way. While there have been many supporting roles, the lead part is mine. My growth and happiness today are the result of my own choices.

I was bold.

took risks.

I colored outside the lines and wrote my own rules.

I scared myself and held on anyway. I followed up. I put in the effort. I invested in my happiness and let go of what was choking it. I allowed myself to have fun. I said "yes"--though not as many times as I wish I had!

Looking back to my twenties, I walked away from the cult. I abandoned fundamentalism. I researched birth control, studied science, found a therapist, started college. I enrolled my kids in school. I made new friends. At some points I had a friend cheering me on, other times I felt alone. Each step forward was one I had to take for myself.

The changes I am now so proud of were watered with my own sweat and plenty of tears.

This November, I give thanks to my self. For being strong. For being resilient. For digging deep and discovering who I wanted to be. For doing what was necessary to heal old hurts and reclaim what was mine. For signing up for daring adventures and learning new things. For taking up space and spending time. For standing up for myself.

What can you thank yourself for today?