Gratitude is a gift I give myself. Even in the darkest of times, it is waiting there for me to open it and explore what’s right in front of me so that I can appreciate life’s beauty. This isn’t to minimize the darkness, but rather to accept any difficult feelings along with everything else. Afterall, there are many times when that is exactly what life offers.

I’ve learned to find this zen-like place slowly and carefully over the past two years, as my son has been exploring his own recovery in a variety of residential treatment programs. As this journey began, I transitioned from solely wanting him fixed to recognizing my role in his addiction. With this insight, I peeled back layers of guilt for my role in shaming him, alternating with anger at my community and the world at large. At times, I tearfully apologized to my son prompting his new therapist to urge caution, lest my son never understand his own role. Still other times, I mourned that teachers, doctors, and therapists had either not understood his Inattentive ADHD or been able to warn me of his risk of addiction. I also took jabs at society and its obsession with alcohol.

None of this is wrong. I still have regrets with all of the missed opportunities to intervene. Now, however, I have parent support groups and personal therapy giving me the ability to explore these emotions and learn to accept them, and importantly, I have gratitude.

About a year ago, I began to test the waters and speak of my appreciations. Later I became more disciplined, and wrote down my gratitudes. Sometimes they are so simple — a cozy bed, a warm cup of tea, or a friendly cashier, and other times I simply fake it. There are definitely still days I struggle to find them, but the practice is always there, welcoming me back when I’m ready.

In April 2021, my son ran away from his placement and was missing in the desert of Arizona for 4.5 days. Painful as this was, I stayed afloat during this dark period partly due to the power of gratitude. With the support of co-workers and family I was able to travel to Tucson and search for him, giving me some agency over this traumatic time. When he was found, I was able to stay present, to hug him and truly be with him while we determined his next placement. 

This was an incredible gift. Our lives are full of pain, but gratitude has helped me appreciate life along the way. I still have memories of the fear and confusion I felt when he was missing and when I saw the lost souls in vast tent cities, but I also remember the support I got from other parents, my co-workers, and my family, as well as the time I got to connect with my son. And I remember the brilliant blooming saguaro cacti and clear blue skies, quite simply because I took the time to notice them.

Gratitude is a gift I give myself, and it has the power to transform my life, even in the darkest times.