In my teens and twenties, I fell in love with reading novels that blurred the line between fact and fiction. I would read everything I could get my hands on about each author so I could tease out the real story from what was in the novel. What I discovered disappointed me. Other than the adventures that inspired their fictitious pages, nothing much happened in their downtime. For example, Jack Kerouac sat in an easy chair watching TV and drinking beer with his mother for months on end. I realize that this was when they did their writing but it was a letdown to my nineteen-year old self. I saw no value in ordinary days.
During the early days of getting clean and sober it’s such an overwhelming experience that the process of adjusting to life on its own terms is an adventure all its own. The high highs and low lows are almost comforting because emotional instability is familiar to us. We may cry that we want inner peace but what we usually mean is that we want a little less intensity.
Once that inner turmoil normalizes, most of us go through a phase of creating drama because anything less feels like boredom. The no-drama grey area is too uncomfortable. We act out in anger, start arguments, begin gossiping, act inappropriately on the job, go hunting for sexual or romantic companionship – anything to not have to feel bored.
In time we gain experience living without having to Ping-Pong between highs and lows and we start to find comfort in the grey area. We can sit with our feelings. We’re surprise when we discover that drama no longer seduces us. Life goes on. We exercise, meditate, create goals, get hobbies and develop new interests, and attain healthy relationships.
But do we ever really value our ordinary days? I still get caught up in goals and deadlines, projects unfinished, the pressure of time passing. I savor the fun stuff as much as my peace of mind but sometimes I wonder if part of me still the 19-year old longing for on-the-page adventure while undervaluing the ordinary day. I know most people – not just people in recovery – plan activities to look forward to and “get through” the days leading up to them. Practicing mindfulness brings us into the moment but do we really feel gratitude for dull daily routines?
It isn’t until we are faced with crisis, loss, grief, tragedy, health issues, or a relationship storm that all we want is for things to “go back to normal”. Gratitude comes as a reminder that we have it good. Gratitude may cross our minds when we watch the news and realize the horrors people experience but sustaining feelings of gratitude requires conscious effort when day after day is filled up by work, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, and the whole “to-do” list. Sure, life always presents new adventures and excitement – we know this from experience – but the majority of the time it’s the typical “day in a life” stuff. It’s no different than what I learned about the favorite writers of my youth.
Recently someone new to recovery shared a gratitude list with me. It was simple: health, family and ordinary days. The words “gratitude for ordinary days” jumped off the page and shifted my perspective on my own life. I wanted to share it in the hope that it does the same for you.