I Hated Being on a Group Gratitude List
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I Hated Being on a Group Gratitude List


I Hated Being on a Group Gratitude ListThis post was originally published on August 19, 2013.

Now let me start by saying that gratitude lists are important.

Actually, scratch that—for my money, gratitude lists are crucial. They have changed my perspective at times from thinking that my life is so riddled with problems and misfortunes that it’s barely worth living to seeing that I’m not only luckier than most but luckier than I’ve ever been. And I’ll never forget the time when every bad thing came at once—unbearable physical pain combined with a sudden, unbelievably harsh, job loss—and I called my sponsor to sob. Because I was driving, she instructed me to pull over to the side of the road and start writing a gratitude list; I was not to stop, she explained, until I got to 50 items. I did as I was instructed and managed to make it all the way to 50 but the deep conviction that my life was not worth living had thoroughly evaporated before I’d even hit the 20-mark. That’s when I got it: the reason I did so many drugs was that I always wanted to change the way I perceived my life. But drugs had never really worked for that, or at least they stopped working for that after about the first year of heavy use. But now I could change my perception whenever I wanted—and for free! The gratitude list was cocaine without the jitters and come down!

And yet, despite that epiphany, I don’t make a a lot of gratitude lists. I can’t really tell you why. Surely it’s some combination of telling myself I’m too busy, being too busy and just the basic, everyday self-sabotage techniques I still engage in, despite the fact that nearly every facet of my life is built around trying to not self-sabotage. Considering how perspective-shifting gratitude lists are, I should probably be making one right now instead of writing this. But I’m not and know I won’t later—though I will when despair is overwhelming, hope is non-existent and it feels absolutely necessary. That I promise.

And this brings me to the topic of the group gratitude list. You all know about these group gratitude lists? For the uninitiated, let me explain: it is an email chain that goes out to a group of people in which you express your gratitude—daily, whether you feel like it or not. Sounds fairly obvious, right? Well, what’s not obvious, somehow, is that being on one of these triggered me to degrees I can’t even quite articulate.

Here’s how it went: when I was living in New York, a girl I knew asked me if I wanted to join her gratitude list and I said yes. I’d long heard of people doing these group lists and figured I’d get a lot of joining in.

Almost immediately, I regretted my decision. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, lists of gratitude entered my inbox. Now, I did not know any of these women (save the one girl) and maybe that’s where the problem started. Because, and I know how horrible this sounds, the gratitude of these women felt incredibly stupid to me. I wonder now if it’s sort of like how nearly everyone you ever eavesdrop on sounds like a stupid person. If circumstances could be arranged so that Albert Einstein and William Shakespeare could sit down near me in a Starbucks and start chatting over non-fat soy lattes, even their conversation could probably sound banal to me solely because I was not inside of it. And I’m wholly aware of the fact that my conversations probably sound ludicrous to anyone who happens to overhear one.

And so this is what being on this group gratitude list was like for me: eavesdropping on five different conversations I found silly (this was a small group of six, one of whom judged the shit out of it, obviously). Even when a girl listed that she was grateful for the very things I, too, was grateful for (as it turns out, I’m not the only gal out there whose cat often tops every gratitude list), I found her gratitude silly. And the most horrible part of it all is that when a girl was grateful for something small—say, the fact that she was able to make a cup of coffee first thing in the morning—I judged her for this. Me, a person who devotes significant time and energy toward trying to be of service to other addicts and helping other addicts change their perspective. My group gratitude list was bringing out the worst in me!

I was, of course, self-conscious contributing my gratitude to these lists, knowing how cruelly they could be judged. And I guess I just didn’t feel comfortable putting these items out there to these near-strangers that I was supposedly bonded to. What felt significant and meaningful in whatever pages of a notebook that I wrote them in somehow felt empty when typed into my email and sent to these women.

Perhaps the arrangement bothered me because this was all happening at a time when I was as friendless as I’d ever been. I’d moved to New York assuming I’d be able to make a whole slew of sober female friends the way I’d easily been able to in LA but had found the sober scene, if you could even call it that, cold and off-putting. Surely if these lists that flew back and forth from our different tiny hovels had led to some actual face time, or even reactions beyond the rote listing of more items for which the woman felt grateful, I would have been more enthusiastic. But any attempts I made to bond—or even to meet—never amounted to much and besides, the more I read about what these women were grateful for, the more I theorized that I might not want to hang out with them if I could.

I ended up opting out of the list only a few months after agreeing to take part in it. It was one of these things that seemed to require multiple requests (one person would inevitably always forget to take me off and so the lists would keep coming). And I felt horrible as I repeatedly requested not to be told about all their gratitude—like I was anti-gratitude or just somehow wanting to stew in my negativity. My point here is that sometimes, in sobriety, we feel like we have to be gung ho about every last thing that’s requested of us—that it’s our disease working against us if we don’t want to be a part of something that’s been decreed “good sober behavior.” But I have to figure out where I fit into all of this—where what I want and feel gels with what I’m told is “right.”

Eventually I made it off that group gratitude list for good. And for that I am grateful.

Photo courtesy of Mary Patterson Broome

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About Author

Anna David is the founder and former CEO/Editor-in-Chief of After Party. She hosts the Light Hustler podcast, formerly known as the AfterPartyPod. She's also the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me, By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There and True Tales of Lust and Love. She's written for numerous magazines, including Playboy, Cosmo and Details, and appeared repeatedly on the TV shows Attack of the Show, The Today Show and The Talk, among many others.