on being generous 

A picture of heart-shaped graphics colored in with red, yellow, and blue. Unfinished.

One of my hallmarks is deficit-based thinking.

  • Critiqued in lab? I am a poor scientist.
  • Partner not talking?  They don’t care.
  • Project piling up? I’ll never get through this.
  • Cute friend getting the once-over? I must be a beast.
  • Others’ work being praised? No one recognizes me.

My reaction to these scenarios vary: Anger. Petulance. Tears. Being argumentative. Dismay. Shutting down.

But the solution is pretty consistent: Alcohol. Sometimes cake. Mostly alcohol. Generally alcohol to excess. But you knew that, right? Or at least had a pretty strong inkling…

This summer, as I’ve been working sobriety (47 days today, thank you!) I’ve been diligently retraining my mind. See, sobriety doesn’t work with deficit-based thinking. Sobriety is about honesty and strength. About owning shit and doing better. It’s about wading in the discomfort of wanting to practice former habits and, instead, acting out new ones. It’s about doing the thing you’re not inclined to do – like stay sober, or ask for help, or practice honesty. And so, for me, sobriety is about generosity.

When I’m being generous, my thoughts and actions lift up myself and those I love.

  • Critiqued in lab? Wow! I’m improving. Yay science!
  • Partner not talking? I wonder if they’re okay?
  • Project piling up? I can do this – one task at a time.
  • Cute friend getting the once-over? They really are cute…and so am I!
  • Others’ work being praised? Yes!! They worked SO hard.

See? How much better was it to read that second list? Heck, I found myself smiling just rewriting the responses.

generosity /dʒɛnəˈrɒsəti/ 

Noun: The quality of being kind and generous.

Synonyms: liberality, lavishness, magnanimity, munificence, openhandedness, free-handedness, unselfishness

Generosity is a noun predicated on a verb. Generosity requires acting out kindness and unselfishness. It requires bigheartedness.

My heart wants to be big and open. Years of anxiety and hurts have conditioned my heart into wariness. But when my heart is wary my brain takes over. Enter scarcity. Enter deficit-based thinking. Enter reactivity. Enter numbing. Enter alcohol. 

But, if generosity is a noun predicated on a verb and if generosity requires acting out kindness and unselfishness, then generosity is a practice. A practice. It is not a given nor a truth. It is a practice.

This morning I read a blog post by Dr. Kelly  Flanagan on anxiety. One passage in particular struck me in the context of this blog post (emphasis added):

“Maybe, for this next thirty minutes of my life and the lives of my children, I’ll steal the present moment back from my anxiety. And I will do so by repeating this mantra on every breath, “Don’t miss this thirty minutes.”

This isn’t an idea; it’s a practice. And like any practice, if we are faithful to it, it can bend our life to its shape. If we are faithful to it, for just a little while, we may discover the freedom to simply sway.”

Generosity is a practice. While I may default to deficit-based thinking, I can learn generosity. By being generous in the moment, by meeting experience with bigheartedness, I practice. I act. I reframe. I smile. And, ultimately, I stay sober.

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