April 1989: I was 48 years old. On the surface, I was doing quite well. But underneath the façade of my many successful family, professional, and community accomplishments was a life in turmoil. I was so empty.
No matter what I had accomplished, I was always on to the next project. I suffered from the addiction of “more.” Maybe therapy would help. I heard about this new hotshot Ph.D. in town. Maybe he could somehow explain my behavior. I felt so alone, so lost. There really was “a hole in my soul.” Nothing ever seemed to satisfy me. Nothing was ever enough.
Little did I know that his suggestions were going to change my life forever.
Wait till you hear this one. He suggested—no, he insisted—that I try leading a sober, moral, spiritual, God-centered life. Where in the world did that come from? It still amazes me, all these years later, that I actually agreed to try it. If I had problems initially pulling it off, the suggestion was: “Fake it till I make it.” That seemed preposterous.
Could a new relationship with a higher power, whom I called God, along with my new friends in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), teach me how to lead a more productive life? Judge for yourself. Thirty-two years later, still sober, still speaking to the man upstairs for guidance, understanding, and support, my life has truly been transformed. But it really started in November 1989, when I attended my first life-changing Thanksgiving.
I always thought that the whole point of Thanksgiving Day was the football games, the Macy’s Parade, and of course, the great family get-together with the outstanding food.
But that was about to change. It seems that every year, my new AA home group ran an all-day, holiday “party.” From 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., they had their own brand of Thanksgiving. Open to everyone, in reality, it was a safe place, a haven for anyone alone or in need of help.
It was “suggested” that I volunteer, even if it was only for an hour. Everyone in my group took part. Some actually cooked food for the day-long event. Some set up the room. Some served the food. Others cleaned up afterward. Why would they do that? What did that have to do with my new life, and especially, my new relationship with God?
I really was much too busy that day. Their reaction reminded me of the look on my mother’s face when, as a teenager, I had violated one of her many mandatory rules. I was just beginning to understand that these were not “suggestions” at all. They were a necessary part of my new life.
So, on Thanksgiving Day, before my family’s get-together had even begun, before the opening kick-off, I headed over to the Port Washington’s United Presbyterian Church and AA’s all-day Thanksgiving Day celebration.
What a shock! What a surprise! The church basement room was filled with all sorts of people, some familiar faces, others I didn’t know. Some came for a cup of coffee, others “hung out” all day. Some enjoyed our food. Others just tried our amazing deserts. It didn’t take long before I figured it all out. Thanksgiving had taken on a totally new meaning. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I met people who were alone and unfortunately had no family at all.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I found myself serving food to people who were down and out and really needed a good meal.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I spoke to others who were close to picking up a drink or a drug, and needed our help to talk them out of a really bad decision.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I met people who actually had no place to go other than our AA meeting or the neighborhood bar.
And most important, instead of thinking only of myself, I “worked” hand in hand with sober, spiritual, God-loving people who taught me the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
That day, 32 years ago, in that church basement, my life changed forever. It became clear to me that, compared to other people’s problems, mine weren’t so bad after all. And it also became obvious that in order for me to stay sober and truly live a spiritual God-centered life, I would have to reach out and extend a helping hand to those less fortunate.
Only then would I see that God had blessed me with a life beyond my wildest dreams. “He has done for me what I couldn’t do for myself.”
I returned home with a whole new attitude. I learned that:
– It’s not the food.
– It’s not the football games.
– It’s not the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
– It’s not the frivolous, boring conversations with people I only see on holidays.
– It’s certainly not the expensive wine.
It is absolutely about the satisfaction of knowing that I have made a difference in the life of another human being.
For years, until I moved to Nashville six years ago:
– sure, I watched the parade and football games.
– sure, I enjoyed a great family-oriented Thanksgiving dinner. But I always found the time to attend that glorious celebration where I was reminded of everything I had to be grateful for.
Have a glorious holiday, everyone. Hug your kids. Tell your spouse or your loved ones that you love and appreciate them. Reach out and help someone in need. Pray for those less fortunate.
Only then will God bless you with “a life beyond your wildest dreams.”
“One Thanksgiving at a time.”
Dr. Steve Morris, Tennessee