Find A Reason To Live Through The Holidays

Gratitude is the fuel of the living. Hope is the dope.

Thanksgiving is coming, and with that, I see the same thing every year. Every year there are two waves of suicides, one around Thanksgiving and the other around Christmas. These are people who suffered losses. They made mistakes they think they can never recover from. They feel unlovable, they feel less than, they feel lonely, they feel like they can never be loved.

This is one reason I don’t read the local news too much. Not a year goes by that I don’t read about some awful thing that happens around the holidays. In the local news, I tend to find stories about someone killing someone else and/or themselves over some argument, over custody, over property, or something else. There is often a fight over something around the holidays. During the holidays, the news is usually pretty grim.

I know that the holidays can be hard. I know that people can feel lonely when they’re single and they’re visiting with their family, only to see their married brothers and sisters and all of their kids. I was there myself in my 20s and 30s, was the loner when my sibs were married with kids.

I know people who have died, who have taken their own life. When you hit middle age, you can see death getting closer and closer to you. I’ve seen three of my schoolmates die in the last few years. They were adversaries in school, but they were still human. They didn’t get to see what we the living get to see. They didn’t get to see their kids grow up. They didn’t get to see their kids have kids. They didn’t get to see who they really were.

I have at times contemplated taking my own life, but there was always something there to hold me back, something that made me question the very thoughts I had about suicide. I contemplated suicide until a good friend of mine told me something that was priceless, something that I needed to hear:

“Suicide? That is the most selfish thing you could ever do. It’s a slap in the face to everyone you leave behind. You have the rest of your life to think about suicide. Why don’t you do something else while you’re waiting?”

I just never forgot those words. I was stunned to hear those words and I am grateful that I heard them. I don’t think about doing myself in anymore. I don’t think about being apart, I think about being together. I don’t think about how I’m going to do it. I think about how I’m going to live for as long as I possibly can just to see what happens next. That’s it. I just want to know what happens next and I have the rest of my life to find out.

So when I see the stories in the news about people flipping out during the holidays, I’m thinking about why they do it. I’m thinking about how there is just so much more to life than one conflict, one bad day, or a long series of bad decisions.

Every one of those people who take their own lives made a decision. They may not feel like they have freedom of choice, but they can always choose to live. I know because I’ve done it. I’ve seen other people do it, too. I’ve seen drug addicts recover. I’ve seen people who were in disastrous affairs recover. I’ve seen gambling addicts recover. I’ve seen people go so low and still recover. If you think you’ve hit a low spot, trust me, you can still go lower, and you can still recover.

I think it’s fair to say that people who can justify violence to themselves or others have not considered everything else they could be grateful for. They’re not thinking things through, and to me, every act of violence is a selfish act. Even verbal abuse is selfish.

So I avoid going there. I don’t think about what’s there. I redirect my energies to something else. I look at my surroundings and I find something that I’m grateful for and I notice it. I just take notice of it. I know that doing such a simple thing can be difficult at times. But going down the road of abuse or self-destruction is much, much harder than just finding something to be grateful for.

Gratitude, even in the tiniest doses, can set off a subtle yet power chain reaction in a very positive direction. Even in my lowest moments, I often noticed how I was thinking, and I just took notice of one thing to be grateful to interrupt a destructive intention or thought process. I’ve done this so many times that now it’s a habit. Gratitude is the most reliable fallback to life’s disappointments and upsets.

If you’re even thinking about taking your life, or that of another, just stop and think of one thing you’re grateful for. Just one milligram of gratitude can completely disrupt any suicidal or destructive thinking. Practiced over and over again, gratitude can derail even the most hostile attitudes. I’ve seen it myself.

Back in the days when I was working for a retirement home, I saw old people every day, and when I say “old” I mean people in their 80s and 90s. These are people who might have, at one time, had a reason to take their own lives but they just kept on living. The happiest of them were walking every day. They had a sense of humor. They found a reason to live every day.

And back in those days, I sometimes had a dark cloud over my head. I would resolve not to say anything funny to anyone for a day. I would withhold my humor because I didn’t get what I wanted. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t get a raise, I didn’t have the car of my dreams, or I didn't have a house. I could go on and on about what I didn’t have back then.

Then I found myself standing at the side of the reception desk, next to Laura, the receptionist. Laura often laughed at my jokes. So while I was musing about all my misfortune one morning, I was talking with her about something else, and she said something that totally set her up for a great joke that she could laugh at. So I said something a little funny to me, but it was hysterically funny to her. She laughed for a good 3 minutes before she finally settled down. I forgot what I was so unhappy about before, and went back to work. Even in my dark moments, if I’m around the right person, I can’t resist saying something funny.

Just living requires work. Living requires cognition, it requires a constant stream of decisions to be made. We get to choose what we do. Granted that there are limits to what we can choose to do out there, beyond our bodies, we can still find freedom in our minds. The Jews in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II found that mental freedom. War veterans find that freedom if they look. JK Rowling found mental freedom when she wrote her first book. To live, we must make a decision to live.

Hope is a requirement for living. We cannot live without hope. When I feel any sense of despair, I look about me and notice something that I can be grateful for, and I seize on it as a drowning man seizes a life preserver. And if that isn’t enough, I notice another thing and another thing and another thing, whatever it takes. I just notice enough things to be grateful for until that discomfort passes. I keep noticing that stuff until the hope comes back. I keep noticing that stuff until the despair goes away. There is no drug, no self-medication, nothing that I can ingest, buy, or otherwise acquire, that compares to gratitude. Gratitude gives me hope, and hope is the dope.

If you are having serious thoughts of self-destruction or harm to another, or you know of someone who is, call 211. There is someone out there who can help you. Everyone who needs help can get it if they ask. And remember that you can always think of something you’re grateful for. It only takes one grateful thought to stop the talk of destruction in the head. Just one. And one grateful thought can bring another. If you keep on thinking of things to be grateful for, you’ll start a habit that can change your life.

Write on.

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