Now that we’ve dispensed with the eating part of Thanksgiving—amateur day for the non-compulsive eaters—let’s have a closer look at the idea behind it.
While the circumstances of the first celebration of Thanksgiving Day in America are a matter of historical debate, we do know that the holiday has its roots in England and Europe as a day of prayer and celebration for an abundant harvest. An annual feast that shared the bounty of the year’s labor in a degree and manner that was otherwise special in the hardscrabble colonial world. Today, we can have a Thanksgiving dinner whenever we want, and as food addicts, we often do….
But that notion of giving thanks for abundance is powerful because it is really about giving thanks for life and the means to sustain it. As addicts, our life is as day-to-day as the colonists’ was. While a crop failure, a vicious summer or winter storm, or simple pestilence could destroy their lives on any given day, we need only take one bite or one swig of a trigger item and we’re on the road to perdition. Research recently written about in the New York Times suggests that adopting an attitude of gratitude, even when we’re not sure we mean it, leads us to a higher quality of mind and life. We addicts know this. Fake it til you make it! When we become full of thanks, of gratitude, we don’t need to eat because we now see abundance all around us: family, friends, jobs, material well being, physical well being, we can increase the list ad infinitum. We are filled with spiritual things instead of self-pity, self-recrimination, resentment, and any of a dozen other negative feelings in which we can only see ourselves. We forget everything good in our lives and seek relief in the one thing we know to do…eat. Giving thanks isn’t merely a good idea, it’s an essential way of life for people who are constitutionally predisposed to the centrality of their suffering.
But how about another way of looking at it? What if we insert a certain preposition in the word Thanksgiving? Thanks for giving. Here we can choose to observe our Higher Power at work in our life. We aren’t only grateful for something, we are grateful to Something. We can celebrate our relationship with the God of our understanding with thanks for being able to receive our blessings. What this means is that we have opened ourselves to help. We have torn down the walls between us and our Higher Power, however we may conceive of an HP. Without this turn of thought, we cannot see the abundance in front of our faces. Before program we not could truly receive from God; we thought we were providing our own blessings. In recovery our eyes are opened to the truth. Indeed, in many cases the family, friends, and circumstances that used to drive us to the fridge now delight us. Did they change? No, we changed by letting God into our lives.
Finally, what about thanks, giving. Here we might think about these two words sequentially. That is, in the way that step 12 guides us. If we are thankful, we must demonstrate it. To keep our attitude of gratitude, we must give it away. Good words signal a grateful mind, good deeds a grateful heart. If we are thankful for family and friends, are we telling them we love them and being of help and service to them? If we are thankful for OA, are we providing service? Or do we just attend meetings and let others do the work for us? Most important, if we are thankful for recovery, no matter where we are at in that journey, are we giving it away by helping newcomers? Do we greet them warmly? Do we call them? Do we tell them about our experiences so that they can identify with us and find a home in OA? We are told that if we do not carry this message, we will return to our old ways. We have to give it away if we want to keep it. And to return to our old ways means to die. First spiritually, then emotionally, and then physically.
We are never cured of the disease of compulsive eating. We have a daily reprieve. When we remember to tell God how grateful we are, we pave the road to ongoing recovery. When we tell other people how grateful we are, even those not in program and perhaps even strangers, we bring a little peace into someone else’s day. Thanksgiving is a day when “normals” take a moment to count their blessings and then feast. Just as we are significantly more experienced at feasting than they are, becoming similarly expert at counting our blessings will make our blessings count more and lives saner and happier.