Okay. I admit it.

Sometimes I get frustrated by the happy crowd.

You know. The ones who always seem to be all bright and cheery at the meeting. Every single time. I can’t handle them for too long.

Now let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with being happy. Me, I absolutely love happy moments when they come. But every single day, when you are in a room where people are trying to find trust in the process? I don’t know about that.

What I mean to say is, I don’t believe anyone is really happy all the time, nor do I believe that happiness is the goal of recovery.

At the risk of being a Debbie Downer, I gotta say, life is not easy sometimes. Recovery certainly isn’t. Sometimes.

Oh sure, in my 32 plus years of abstinence, there have been periods, occasionally long periods, of happiness. Days, maybe weeks. But I’ve got to be honest. Life happens whether you are in recovery or not. And life is not always happy.

This past few months, I have lost five people. As in they are no longer here. I feel selfish saying “I have lost” because, obviously, I never had them to lose. But you know what I mean. Five souls who touched my life, have died. I am bummed out. I am watching that I don’t slide into a depression over it. But I am also allowing myself to feel grief. Sadness. An emptiness.

I went to a meeting in my first few years where some much-heralded old timer was voicing the sentiment about happiness.

“If you are not happy in Alcoholics Anonymous, you are doing something wrong,” he pontificated.

I understood the sentiment back then. Afterall, compared to the drunk tank cells, the broken bones, the pawnshop blues, the two-day long hangovers of my life, what is not to be happy about being in Alcoholics Anonymous? I get it.

But the truth is, I was young in recovery back when I heard that catchy seemingly profound statement. Like many of us who have become senior members in recovery circles, I was very impressionable, very desperate for this thing to work, very teachable.

I took it all to mean that I was supposed to be happy all the time.

Here is what I have learned.

What I hear and what is meant from people in my life are not always the same thing. So, when that person said, “If you are not happy in Alcoholics Anonymous, you are doing something wrong,” maybe what he really meant was “If you are not grateful in Alcoholics Anonymous, you are doing something wrong.”

Gratitude versus happiness. Both have three syllables, both bring up images of smiles, no? But yet, they have very different meanings. To me, gratitude is a feeling of appreciation, while happiness is a general feeling of joy.

When I think of these five beautiful, kind, quirky gentle souls who have recently departed from the circle of life I inhabit, I am not happy. And I am doing nothing wrong.

But I am grateful. Grateful that I got to know them, to spend a little or a lot of time with them over my life. Grateful that of all the people in the world that I had the chance to meet, they were in that group.

If you are one of the ones who show up at a meeting and let others know that they are not measuring up to some invisible standard of recovery because we they are not happy today, please look at your expectations.

If you are going through a breakup, a job loss, a depressing time in your life, or are grieving something, please do not feel it necessary to put on a happy face when you show up at a meeting. Just bring whatever you got that day. Tell me about that. It helps me to stay sober, knowing that you are processing less than happiness today, and still staying sober.

In my recovery, gratitude can be present, in fact, usually is, even during times of unhappiness. But to me, unhappiness is a very different animal from gratitude.

Hey pontificators! Just for today, please don’t tell me to be happy.

Just encourage me to be real, okay?

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