Gratitude & Grief

If you’ve followed me on social media for the last few years, you’ll know that I occasionally engage in 30 Days of Gratitude wherein I post three things I’m grateful for on my Instagram stories. Usually, I’m speaking directly to the camera, and other times, they are text posts. Either way, the idea is that at the end of my day, I want to reflect on three experiences I can be thankful for. The first time I engaged in intentionally practicing gratitude, I did it in conjunction with meditation for 30 days leading up to my first stand-up performance. At the time, I was deeply depressed and insecure about how I was showing up in the world. There were misalignment and dissonance internally and in taking steps toward alignment, I felt so much resistance, in part because I over-identified with my depression and despair. If I wasn’t a miserable person who hated my job or hopeless because I couldn’t this or that, then who was I? Every small step I’d taken thus far towards congruence hadn’t felt as threatening as doing comedy on stage in front of people. Anyway, practicing meditation and gratitude helped me center myself for long enough periods of time to craft those seven minutes into something that made a room full of drunk people laugh. Moreover, I gained new daily practices that would lead me deeper into myself allowing me to continue making choices that were more in alignment with not only who I was, but who I wanted to become.

Thus began daily gratitude journaling and occasional 30 Days of Gratitude on Instagram. It’s not something I necessarily do for anyone other than myself even though there’s a performative aspect to it since it is online for anyone to see. The idea behind posting it is having accountability, and still, I would be lying if I didn’t say it was also to get me into the practice of telling poignant stories. At the end of every day, I want to ask myself what annoyed me today as well as what brought me joy, or better yet, what moved me today? And how am I grateful for these experiences equally? This turning experiences on their heads shifted my perspective and helped lift me out of some really dark places. It asked me to see things in a different light, which first and foremost asked me to shed light on things I would have otherwise allowed to fester in the shadows.

This year has been challenging to say the least, but it asked of us to shed light on things we’d previously let fester in the shadows on both the macro and micro level. We, collectively and individually, had to face our reality, our mortality, our racist, oppressive systems, and a litany of personal issues while socially isolated from one another. And good grief, none of that came with a modicum of ease. Speaking of grief, this year has been full of it for me. I would argue that it dates back before 2020 as so much of my life has changed in the last two years. This year slowed me down long enough to experience and release the grief, mourn the change (which is a form of loss), and eventually celebrate this chapter of my life — A Return to Self — as I like to consider it.

Twice in the last week, it has been pointed out to me that my life is vastly different from just two years ago — once by my dear friend, Shelleen, and once by my therapist. Both brought this to my attention for different reasons, but ultimately I think they were both asking me to consider all that has shifted for me. I left my career job, started working at Trader Joes, left a long-term relationship, realized I am gay, came out, subsequently lost 20 pounds, co-founded The Heartbreak Artists, curated an art show, became an essential worker during a pandemic, moved twice, experienced shifts in friendships, lost an additional 10 pounds, haven’t had a proper hug in months (which we can all agree is the real tragedy here). I’ve listed these events in chronological order to give you an idea of where we are on the timeline. I also excluded the pattern of heartache and elation that accompanied these events sometimes simultaneously, because it seemed a bit much to add heartache/elation between each of these experiences.

While I mentioned earlier that practicing gratitude was newish to me, in truth, gratitude and mediation have been part of my spiritual practices since my youth. I just had a different framework for them — prayer and worship. I practiced them unconsciously, out of ritual and obligation as a good Christian, not necessarily consciously or even for my own spiritual edification. It wasn’t until my own deconstruction and reconstruction did I employ these practices consciously; and in doing so, I was able to make those small steps towards congruence into big leaps towards alignment. I.E. how I went from listening to the quiet nudges asking me to try performing again to obeying the full-body requests to accept and love that I’m gay. But I am exhausted. I am emotionally spent. My daily gratitude and mediation practices have taken a back seat. It’s not that I’m not grateful, but I am grieving. I am mourning. I am grieving the loss of relationships, the loss of the life I thought I was supposed to lead (even though I didn’t really want that life), the loss of my beloved social life, the loss of the way life used to be. I’m mourning the preventable loss of over a million lives to a deadly virus — an incomprehensible factor that I know adds to this exhaustion considering how exposed I am to the ways in which people are dealing with the pandemic (ringing up panic purchases for the last 8 months). Still, I am in awe at all there is to be celebrated. I celebrate having a job, keeping my health insurance, not having my life vastly interrupted by this pandemic. Moreover, I am breathing more freely than I ever have, because I am living in my fullest truth (yes even with a mask). Leaving my career, losing relationships, and ultimately shedding a constructed version of myself I thought I needed to fit into has been simultaneously the most painful and rewarding experience in which I have had the honor of participating.

Sometimes I think about how unprepared for this year I was, but then I read what I wrote on my birthday last year — musings on not only a new calendar decade but also a new decade for me.

I’ve always described doing the work (of growth & expansion) as drops in the ocean. A slow, non-linear build. This week while taking stock of this decade (my 20’s), I suddenly realized I’m wading in an ocean of my own creation — this culmination of small and large decisions. It was terrifying and liberating all at once to realize that the ocean is vast, but the water is clear and there is so much exploring to be done in this coming decade. As this decade ends and a new one begins I’m in such a space of gratitude for my twenties and all they taught me. I’m also experiencing joyful anticipation for this new decade of life and all it has to teach me.

Reading this back, I suppose I wasn’t all that unprepared for the year ahead. Obviously, nothing could have prepared me for a pandemic, but that I was in a space of gratitude and joyful anticipation for this new decade only set me up to continue seeking that which I can be thankful for, that which sparks joy, that which allows me to sometimes only get by and other times thrive.

So as I enter 31 and end the first year of the new decade, I want to acknowledge that in a time of global and personal despair, I have had the continued privilege of being able to turn inward, cultivating ways I want to continue showing up and excavating that which needs further examination. For that, I am infinitely grateful.

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Stevie Rae

Stevie Rae

I like to believe I'm funny, in a self-deprecating kind of way.