Note: In this article, I talk about the difficulties of having celiac disease, but the gratitude exercises are effective for all kinds of difficulty, not just celiac issues.
It’s easy to see what not to like about being a celiac – I don’t like packing all my own food in case the available food is cross-contaminated, I don’t like eating a can of cold soup while everyone else is lining up for a buffet that I paid for too, I don’t like going hungry while everyone else is eating pizza, I don’t like saying no to food that people offer me, I don’t like worrying that something delicious I’m eating at a restaurant is possibly poisoning me with each bite, I don’t like facing weeks of debilitating health issues after a mistake, and so on.
It’s easy to feel justified in feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s easy to be angry, sad, and out of sorts.
BUT… if we take the easy way and go through life feeling hard-done-by, we will find that it’s not actually the easy way at all – it’s difficult and unpleasant to live that way.
The opposite of feeling hard-done-by is feeling grateful. But how can we possibly feel grateful for diarrhea and gas? How can we possibly feel grateful for severe dietary limitations? Well, if that’s what we’ve got, then that’s life’s gift to us. Let’s find a way to be grateful for it.
A simple trick for cultivating gratitude is to find three ways in which the opposite of our hard-done-by belief is just as true.
Let’s try this with a few painful beliefs about being a celiac:
PAINFUL BELIEF #1: I don’t like packing all my own food in case the available food is cross-contaminated.
OPPOSITE: I like packing all my own food.
THREE WAYS THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE: 1) I love it that so many more gluten-free options are available these days for me to pack; 2) I look forward to having those yummy canned peaches; 3) I feel resourceful and powerful when I pack my own food instead of giving up and staying home. (I’m kind of like some kind of gluten-free super-hero, actually. 😉)
PAINFUL BELIEF #2: I don’t like eating a can of cold soup while everyone else is lining up for a buffet that I paid for too.
OPPOSITE: I like eating a can of cold soup while everyone else is lining up for a buffet that I paid for too.
THREE WAYS THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE: 1) I am saved from over-indulging in all that tempting food; 2) I won’t be too stuffed after dinner, so I can dance my face off when the music starts up; 3) I’m glad that the canned soup makes it possible for me to be here enjoying the party.
PAINFUL BELIEF #3: I don’t like going hungry while everyone else is eating pizza.
OPPOSITE: I like going hungry while everyone else is eating pizza.
THREE WAYS THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE: 1) Suffering like this gives me empathy for the suffering of others; 2) This is a good opportunity to practice sitting in acceptance of discomfort, which replaces old fear with new confidence that I have developed the skills to gracefully handle whatever life throws at me; 3) This is a good chance for me to develop my resourcefulness and find some other way of meeting my nutritional needs right now.
Going through this process of finding the truth in the opposite of our painful beliefs is effective because it widens our focus.
When we’re feeling negative and hard-done-by, our focus is very narrow and constricted. All we can see is our trouble and our pain.
When we widen our focus, space opens up and we can once again notice – with gratitude — the beauty and mystery of life all around us.
Even if we just find tiny examples of the truth in the opposite of our painful beliefs, some space opens up. Give it a try next time you notice you’re feeling sorry for yourself.
Thank you, celiac disease, for opening us up to the startling beauty of life outside of our normal expectations.
P.S. I’m a counsellor. Are you having trouble finding gratitude for the difficulties in your life? Let’s work on it! Contact me and we can do sessions at my Victoria BC office, or over Skype.