Brinkley Port April 12

Former Oklahoma State Senator Rick Brinkley poses for a portrait at the Office of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform on Friday, April 12, 2019. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

We all know the story. Thanksgiving began in 1621 with the Pilgrims and President George Washington proclaimed a day of National Thanksgiving in 1789. Presidents after that, off and on, pretty much ignored it. Seventy-four years later, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a federal holiday. That brings us to 2019.

In the 398 years since its inception, the Thanksgiving dinner has evolved into a Bacchanalian feast before an orgy of football games and commercials.

But Lincoln did not just add another federal holiday to the list. 1863 was the middle of the Civil War. Lincoln knew there was no more important time to list the things for which we are most thankful than in the midst of the chaos of a nation at war with itself. That lesson — giving thanks in chaos — is not just about nations. It is about each of us.

If there is anything I have learned through addiction recovery, which is a war within one’s self for sanity, it is that chaos is a deception to convince us we have nothing to live for.

At this very moment people are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they are in the midst of unemployment, divorce, dying loved ones, depression, thoughts of suicide and addiction. If that’s not you, chances are people at your dinner table are quietly trying to fake their way through today and the darkness that is their life.

My story is more than likely the same as theirs. Each addict’s story is different, but at the end of the day, they are all the same. Probably the only difference is that mine played out on the front page of newspapers, led newscasts and gave bloggers plenty to write about. I have been referred to as the “face” or “poster child” of addiction. I say those things not to imply I am proud of them, but to say sometimes we create chapters of our lives we would have never chosen to write.

I don’t like owning those titles, but I will own the responsibility to teach others in the midst of their own chaos that now is the time to discover those things for which you are most grateful. I know it’s hard. During my personal and public implosion, I had a re-occurring dream that, eventually, in the darkest moments of my life, became my prayer: “God, I will accept a life prison sentence for what I have done, if you will erase my grandson’s memory that I ever existed.” Chaos can lead us down some very dark paths that can lead many to take their own lives.

Through taking the first step to recovery, my life and my future changed. I went to rehab. I attended 12-step meetings, sometimes eight times a week and I kept pushing through. I was sentenced to 37-months in prison, where my addiction was available to me 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. But, I never relapsed.

Through recovery, I learned to always be grateful. Even in momentary remnants of depression, I fight the chaos of my mind to find something, anything for which to be grateful. Every morning I say these three things: “I am alive. I can make a difference. Despite my prayers, my grandson remembers me and loves me.”

That doesn’t mean everything is easy. I’ve been out of prison for nearly a year. I am still not employed full-time. But I volunteer for a 12-step hotline for others with my same addiction. Nearly every day, I talk to people who remind me where I used to be and I can meet them where they are right now. That is a daily way to experience “Thanksgiving.” It is very difficult for depression, anxiety or darkness to exist in a grateful and hope-filled heart.

It is in your chaos when you must be most thankful. In your peaceful times, you cannot take your blessings for granted. Be blessed, but more importantly, be thankful. Thanksgiving is not just a federal holiday. It is understanding “thanks giving” is a grace-filled grateful way of life. A weapon to beat the chaos of deception in your life, your family, our nation.

Lincoln knew what he was doing.

Former state Sen. Rick Brinkley pleaded guilty to mail fraud charges and filing a false tax return as a result of choices made due to his addiction. The charges were not related to his position as a legislator. Currently, he serves as a radio commentator and occasional host and speaks to professional and civic conferences and conventions.

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