There’s a song by Sun Kil Moon called “That Was The Greatest Night Of My Life” in which he tells the short story of a chance meeting with a fan which left a lasting impression. It’s quite beautiful and feels incredibly sad. A two minute tale of frustrated desire.
We are all, in one way or another, addicts. Drawn to our own selection of destructive and self harming behaviours. Drink or drugs. Sex or shopping. Depression, anger, jealousy, bitterness, resentment.
Perhaps the most powerful addiction I have wrestled with over the years has been to unhelpful and inaccurate self analysis. An introspection which sidesteps usefulness and instead, settles on a berating self indulgence. I used to ask myself why I felt so dissatisfied, why I’d been burdened with such a dysfunctional back story which was far less dysfunctional than I imagined. I couldn’t see gratitude because I was too intent on looking at what obscured it.
Once, playing a board game with my then girlfriend and her family, the question on the card was, “Which player wishes he had been someone else?” My girlfriends brother answered without hesitation. “Graham”. It hurt me, but he was right. It seemed so much easier to reject myself than to recognise anything worthwhile.
Addiction is characterised by the space it occupies. It can be defined as a behaviour we put in the place where positive and healthy emotion fits but cannot be located. It is a gap which cannot be filled with drink or drugs, with anger or bitterness or with self abasement.
To be free from addiction is to move our focus from what is missing, and to concentrate on everything which is present. This is gratitude, and it is our greatest weapon.
Gratitude turns the tables on dissatisfaction by considering the beauty in the tiniest indisputable pieces of our lives. Gratitude takes a look through a different window at the same view and, instead of water rising, looks at everything which is yet to be submerged. Gratitude is, in its purest form, the simplest thing in the world because it is defined by the simplest things in the world.
When my mind wanders over the most apparently mundane pieces of life, nosing through the smallest details and finding happiness in them, there is an overwhelming feeling of resilience. A bag of cherries or a bus ride to the coast. Throwing a stick for the dog which he would never bring back or the football match where I celebrated a goal so enthusiastically that I knocked the lens out of Martin’s glasses. The night I slipped on the kitchen floor and sent a fruit salad flying leaving Adam in stitches before imploring him to help me scoop it back into the bowl before chef found out. Nobody can take these away because they are real, they are tiny and they are what really fills the space when nothing else will do.
In each moment we have a choice. We can see something as a disaster, as confirmation of our uselessness, as evidence of our worthlessness. Or instead we can see them as something else entirely which marks our life distinct and unique from all others.
After listening to the song countless times I started to hear something different. It no longer sounded hopeless because, at its core, was gratitude.
That Was The Greatest Night Of My Life
It was backstage in Moscow late one night
We shared a cigarette, a kiss goodbye
Her name was Cayenne, so young and soft
Her hands trembled badly, her eyes trailed off
To bottles and objects around the room
My backup guitar, a tray of food
We didn’t have very much to say
She said that she’d come from some other place
A town called Troyskirt, maybe Troysworth
I was pretty distracted packing my stuff
But I did make a point to ask her to stay
But she said she had friends that she had to go see
Later that summer I picked up my mail
She sent me a letter with a touching detail
“I used up my minutes calling hotels
To find you that night but to no avail”
“I know it’s pathetic, ” she continued to write,
“But that was the greatest night of my life.”