Messes can be very, very messy. Is that the worst sentence you’ve ever read? Maybe, please allow me to explain. I have lived a good portion of my life in a mess, struggling to understand my place in it, and then how to rise from it. It is this mess that I’m going to use as an example while we explore how to become girls rising. Let’s dial it back to my childhood.
When I was small, I didn’t understand that I lived in a mess. Things were just how they were, I assumed my life was pretty much the same as everyone else. Parents argued and spankings happened, but over time a deep fear blanketed our home where emotions could escalate at a rapid pace. The fear I experienced was the kind that would make one question what was coming next. Life was being lived in high alert with frequent tummy aches and anxiety attacks.
At age sixteen, I’d been pushed to my limits. Caught between a longing to die and fear, I experienced the first tremors of a fight response. It rose up like bile burning my throat and I came out of my corner swinging. In the context of an angry and confused teenager, I turned to alcohol and college-age associates. With bitter determination, I decided that if no one could make me feel safe, I’d join the adult world and take care of myself.
Fierce rebellion mixed with a broken heart and deep scars from childhood hurts and severe abuse is a nasty combination. In retrospect, I was running away from the chaos and found myself a new supply of it, just labeled differently. The outcome was an accumulation of bad behaviors and bad habits, still living in fear, and being angry about it. This resulted in failed marriages, addiction, and broken self-worth.
My shattered dreams and heart full of despair often distracted me from the greatest treasure that was right in front of me. I’d become a mother of four patient and loving sons. These boys showed courage and faith in me at times when I thought all hope was lost. There is no question, I should have been a better mother. Still, they have loved me, been my anchors, and the light in the darkness when all others went out.
What does this have to do with gratitude? It’s simple, the time eventually came where I had to face my mess and start cleaning it up. Gratitude was the first of many tools required for such a task. With my sons for motivators, I started in a corner and began to work my way out. The process required a deep cleaning of introspection, analysis of my motivations, and a rigorous honesty that I had shied away from.
Introspection came first and I wondered, how could someone like me who felt like she was at the end of her rope face herself without being crushed by it?
The answer: Gratitude. By shifting my perspective away from the negative and into a place of gratefulness, I was able to see the sunlight, notice budding trees, and find the courage to accept the hard work of change. When storms washed over me, filling my muck-pit with puddles, I chose to be glad for the rain.
Gratitude requires habit building. It was suggested that I,
a) get a journal,
b) write in it each morning, a total of 5 things I was grateful for, and
c) the caveat, gratitude lists could not repeat.
Dedication to this practice was challenging. It required less snoozing and more doing. In the first ninety days, I committed to not getting out of my bed until I’d spoken my list out loud. When that was done, I’d scurry off to the lady’s room and then complete the written portion when I got back.
Setting a boundary for my wordy-self was also necessary. Items of gratitude could not extend longer than a tweet (150-ish characters). In order to be successful, I knew that this practice needed to be short, sweet, and to the point.
It wasn’t long before I learned that gratitude allows a broken and blinded soul to feel and see the wonders of the world around them. My lists got tough once the superficial stuff had been written about, forcing me to look harder at my environment and interactions. Without warning, beautiful blessings began to spring up all around me as my subconscious searched for gratitude unseen or ignored. The process was delightful.
Let’s pause for a quick moment, I want to be transparent. None of what I’m describing happened overnight. Cleaning up my mess has been underway for years and riddled with setbacks. If you’re reading this and feeling like giving gratitude a go, do it! If you’re feeling like quitting, don’t! No matter where you are in the process of becoming a girl rising, keep plugging. It grows on you one day after another. If you keep at it your heart will blossom in the willingness
of attempting to change.
By peeling away the layers of my rottenness, I discovered a fresh way of living. Life could be clean and wholesome, and it was in this renewed state of living that I began to feel safe and opened to exploring more.
In a book titled, Girl On Purpose, Danielle Fuligni McKay describes the negative space in our minds by saying,
“Gremlin thoughts only gain power over you when you choose to believe them.”
I totally agree! If I’d learned anything since starting down my gratitude path, it was that my thought patterns often dictated the way I felt while walking about.
The Book of Joy expands a great deal on action within gratitude. His Holiness the Dalai Lama provides a mantra for each day when you wake.
“I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.”
Mantras like this one help the girl in each of us to continue stepping forward in our journey. We must keep reminding ourselves that we have been empowered with the tools to clean up our messiness and to rise day after day, no matter the obstacles we might face. The Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in conversation with the Dalai Lama said,
“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.”
In order to pursue the blossoming process of becoming a Girl Rising, we must recognize that gratitude is at the core. Our framework for accepting the past, our present, and building a brighter future is predicated upon it.
Coupled with gratitude is forgiveness, without the first there isn’t strength to pursue the latter. Forgiveness seemed impossible to me for a long time. In the next blog we’ll explore the partnership between gratitude and forgiveness.
Hope is where I find myself as I type these final words; hoping that you will choose to walk in gratitude and that together we will pursue our individual quests of becoming a Girl Rising.
-Girl Rising Blog, Vol 1, No. 2