What are we thankful for?

It’s that time of year again, when we stop, step back from the weekly grind, and remember what we’re thankful for.
And it just seems fitting that I re-post something I wrote many Thanksgivings ago, because it still fits, and it’s all still very true…



There is a day in this country set aside for giving thanks, yet every day I try to express my
appreciation for life and love and all that comes with it

My heart is full of gratitude for the friends who see me for who I am,
know my heart,      and stand by me as I stand in my truth

And I am grateful for the lessons learned from the disillusionment of
relationships that no longer serve me
and for each step of the unabashed movement toward my    higher purpose

I am grateful for the realizations in the aftermath that
nothing is as it seems
and that sometimes reality is merely an illusion

I am thankful for the liberation that comes with letting go, with no ill will
only appreciation for the time spent on that particular path
remembering that without honest and sincere communication –
the foundation upon which relationships are built        and maintained –
there is no real relationship

I am thankful for a year of dreams realized, of unimagined spiritual moments
shared with those to whom I don’t feel the need to explain

I am thankful for the journey to the mountaintop
for the extraordinarily breathtaking display of fall colors in Vermont
reminders of the beauty that is in and around us
humble reminders to keep open our eyes and our hearts

I give thanks for the compassion felt for those who don’t have the capacity
for those who can’t or won’t open themselves enough to truly love
and for the understanding that no one can love us until they truly love themselves

I am grateful for the true friends who love unconditionally
who love through it all and give of themselves expecting nothing in return

I am beholden to the men in my life who have caused my heart to flutter
and those who mangled it and left it for dead
for either way, they cause me to stop to remember the divine feminine in each of us

And I’m glad for the time I had with the most difficult of men
the ones whose anger and rage taught me what I will and will not tolerate

I thank humankind for the daily doses of pain and heartache that come,
sometimes relentlessly
teaching me, again,
that we all have an unlimited supply of patience, tolerance and love

I am thankful for the growth that comes from leaving behind old hurts
and frustrations and fears
old scars from childhood or wounds from recent battles
because it is in the tearing down that we are built back up

I am thankful for the voices of all humanity, and of those on the other side
who talk to me, in the daylight and in my dreams
whispering the secrets of the universe to me,
knowing I will carry them close to my heart

I am grateful for strangers, who upon approaching, aren’t afraid to make eye contact
who acknowledge the divine in me, as I do in them

I am grateful for the children, the tiny messengers of hope,
who reach inside me and touch my heart and awaken my soul in ways that
bring  me  to  my   knees

I am thankful for the memories of all my friends and enemies, here and on the other
because the time they gave me and the lessons they taught me
will forever be part of me, part of who I am to be

I am thankful for the dark times and the tears that have come in the night
silently slipping out of their bottomless well, reminding me that I’m human

I can’t express enough gratitude for my family, who, though I don’t see them often
remind me of where this journey began, who recognize themselves in me,
as I do in them,
and who remind me of the innate potential in every moment, in every breath

I am grateful that I am never lonely, for there are always words to keep me company
words – the gifts given to us to aid in expressing our truest selves
and I’m grateful for the gift of freedom we have in this country to use those words

I am grateful for music, that sweet universal language that often speaks without words,
in times of intense emotion, reaching in and touching the very core of who we are

I thank the universe for the still, quiet moments
those fragments of time that allow communion with all that is and all that will be

And above all, I am thankful for
and faith
and love
and knowing
for these are the things that sustain me
when all else
. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .  . . f a l l s
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . a w a y

©Sunny Stephens  /  11-22-07






Devastated by the loss of Robin Williams…

Yesterday, as I watched online as a friend performed on WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, I also had the TV on. It was muted, but when the news came across the screen that Robin Williams had died, I was dumbfounded. Then the news that it may have been suicide took my breath away…

No stranger to the mental health field, I’ve seen my share of the devastation that suicide inflicts on the loved ones left behind. For nearly ten years as the office manager in a counseling center, I saw the hollowed eyes of the depressed, the super-excitement of the manic, and the humble gratitude of those who survived a suicide attempt. Every day when the phone rang, or the door to our office opened, I never knew who would be crossing our path, and what baggage they may be carrying.

We all have baggage. But some of us stumble under the weight. And we get tired from struggling to carry it…

My first encounter with suicide was when a friend in high school told me that her mother had recently died by her own hand. I was 15 or 16 years old. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could feel so bad that they would hurt themselves, and leave their loved ones to question, and to grieve in a way I had never known.

And yet only a few years later, I found myself in a place where I was tired of the struggle, tired of the fighting, tired of being on this planet and trying to live up to other people’s expectations of what my life should be like. I was ready to check out, but a friend intervened. She was so kind and compassionate. She talked to me, but more importantly, she listened, without judging. To this day, nearly forty years later, we are still dear friends, with a spiritual connection across the miles that is beyond explanation…

The second time that death by suicide altered my life was about three years later. The husband of a colleague shot himself in the chest, on their bed. He had done it early in the day, so when the wife and young daughter got home and saw his car in the driveway, knowing he was home, the child ran around the house trying to find him to greet him. Her exuberance ended abruptly when she found him drenched in blood, not moving, not responding to her screaming out “Daddy! Daddy!”

For decades the image of that child finding her daddy like that has haunted me. Ironically, at that same time, one of the songs that was played in regular rotation on country radio was “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones. To this day, every time I hear that song I go right back to that moment in her living room, and that look on her face when Pam told me what had happened…

I have watched through the years as people I knew, young and old alike, have either threatened suicide, or actually took their own lives, by various means – driving a car into a lake, drinking themselves to death, sitting in a running car in the garage, gunshots, and by playing “the choking game.” And there are countless others whose death by their own hand has shaken me to my core.

It’s all around us, all the time. And it doesn’t matter how a person takes their own life, we may never fully understand why.

Later in life, during a wildly spiritual phase, once again I found myself exhausted, and tired of fighting. I remember calling a friend, and simply saying “I’m so tired….” Thankfully that she heard the meaning between the lines, and came over to help.

Looking back, I know that I wasn’t really ready to check out that night. I simply needed life to change, to slow down, dramatically. And needless to say, after that experience, it did. I’m grateful for the exhausting and trying times, the low points, the days and nights of struggling. They remind me of how utterly fabulous the good times are, and if I had no way to compare them, I probably wouldn’t appreciate the good days quite as much.

Ironically, years later I would find myself working in a Suicide Prevention Training office. We served all of Tennessee, and reached hundreds of “gatekeepers” – the adults who regularly work with at-risk youth. It was very rewarding to work for such a wonderful cause, and to this day their training continues…

The most important thing that this training revealed was that if someone does hint at any suicidal thoughts, the best thing a friend or family member can do is to ask the question – “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” Like CPR, the process is called “QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer.”

I’m not a therapist, and don’t claim to be, but here’s a good video that explains the basic fundamentals of QPR. And ANYone can do it, to help save a life.

There will be many stories about Robin’s passing on the news for days, weeks, and months to come. There will be calls to action, and people will be encouraged to reach out and help those suffering from depression and addiction. But simply put, we can’t help those who don’t want help. No matter the issue – addictions, suicidal tendencies, even homicidal tendencies – if the person suffering doesn’t want help, it’s likely not going to happen. While it’s true that Robin recently went into treatment again, as we all have seen, nothing is guaranteed.

Inevitably, Robin’s story will start to fade, and it will no longer be the top news item…

Then when the next big name dies at their own hand everyone will be in an uproar again. Or when there’s another mass shooting, by someone who is mentally ill, there will be more talk and anger and questions and meetings and quotes from the media….

And then what?

The sad reality is that, even though there ARE resources available, and 24-hour hotlines, and hospitals, and medically trained people who can help, too often the suicidal person either can’t or won’t reach out for help. Until we find a way to eliminate the stigma of mental illness, and accept it as simply another medical condition that needs to be addressed, we will continue to see suicides and homicides in unimaginable numbers.

It’s been said time and time again, but I’ll write it again here. A brain illness is no different from a broken bone, a bad heart, a tumor, or diabetes. It’s an ILLNESS, and should be treated as that, with NO judgment. Most of us know someone who suffers from mental illness, whether it’s clearly visible or not.

The question is – What can we do to help? How can we break down the barriers and make them feel less like an outsider than they already do? Where do we start? How can we make a difference?

Glenn Close seems to be finding her way with getting the message out. Her organization is trying to get the conversation started, and I truly hope they succeed. Here’s a very powerful video that she and her sister made.

In the movie “What Dreams May Come,” Robin’s character dies in an accident. And yet his love for his wife, who died by suicide, knew no boundaries. He literally went to hell and back to find her. How ironic that his life was ended by suicide. How sad, and how unexplainable…

I’d like to think that this is how he feels now – full of laughter, with no worries to weigh him down.
What-Dreams-May-Come-robin-williams-26619597-1499-973(From the movie “What Dreams May Come.” Image credit – http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1919143424/tt0120889?ref_=ttmd_md_pv)

As we all say goodbye to Robin Williams, the actor, the comedian, the brilliant human being that he was, let’s all remember that…
Sometimes the one who laughs the loudest is the one who hurts the most…