Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An attitude of gratitude

I've missed three consecutive weeks of showing up for my volunteer gig at the nearby federal prison, but felt well enough to go in last night. (If you've only recently started reading, I help facilitate an AA meeting at a women's prison every Tuesday evening.)

For the past several years, we volunteers have encouraged the inmates to share what they're grateful for during the Thanksgiving week meeting. The first year we did it, I was a little worried. What could someone stuck in prison possibly be grateful for, especially when their Thanksgiving dinner was going to be eaten far from their homes and families?

I was surprised and touched by the shared feelings then, and I have been every year since. It's my favorite meeting of the year. I was so grateful not to be coughing, sneezing and sniffling my way through the meeting.

Many of the women don't care to speak at the meeting, so anyone is permitted to pass. There were about 80 women in attendance and the first three rows pretty much all declined to share anything at all. I was a little worried at that point. But seriously? In a room full of women, all focused on recovery, I didn't have a thing to worry about.

These women lift me up, without fail, with their insight and grace. They're grateful for their families' support, for their mothers or grandmothers who are raising their children while they're locked up, for their relatives who send them money every month to supplement the $15 a month they earn at their prison jobs, for their children's forgiveness and unconditional love.

Photo by Andy Dean
They're grateful for the friends they've made inside. These women come from all walks of life – doctors, accountants, waitresses, housekeepers, teachers, prostitutes, drug dealers. Many would never have crossed paths in Washington, D.C., or St. Louis, MO, or Columbus, OH. But they are sisters in prison, sharing shampoo and hot chocolate packets and advice and laughter and tears.

They're grateful for their recovery, for learning to deal with their feelings instead of hiding in a bottle or behind a crack pipe. As the fog of addiction lifts, they realize their strengths and begin using them to deal with life's lemons. One small success leads to another and one day it occurs to them that feeling good feels pretty good.

They're grateful the warden allows an AA meeting to be held every week at the prison, and they're grateful for us, the volunteers who take our time to bring it to them. And they don't believe us when we tell them we need them more than they need us.

Most surprising of all is that they're grateful for the snitch or the co-defendant or the police or the judge or the answered prayer (Please, God, help me stop destroying my life) that landed them in prison. Most of them give God the credit for sitting them down in a confined place far from the worries and responsibilities they couldn't deal with sober. They have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, to work on themselves, to think about how they've lived in the past and what they'd like their future to look like.

I'm grateful to be a part of it. And if I weren't an alcoholic, I'd never have gotten the chance.

Thanks for reading. What are you grateful for?

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