Quite a lot of people out there are going to read the title and roll their eyes, or sigh with frustration, or wonder why they have to put up with “feel-good” nonsense when all they want to do is find a concrete way to tackle their addiction.
It’s not hard to see that after the twentieth time of hearing about the power of emotions and the need for friendship and support in the world of recovery, things start to get a little tiresome. Overcoming an addiction isn’t very pleasant – so where does gratitude come into play? What role does that have in a task marked by its harshness and overall difficulty? Why should a recovering addict – why should you – be grateful?
Gratitude is a very powerful thing in recovery, because of the system of emotions it carries with itself.
What Comes with Gratitude?
With gratitude comes humility, and a security that you’re on the right track and are doing better. Gratitude supplants and eliminates guilt – to be grateful, truly, you have to take away any and all room that guilt could occupy.
Gratitude is also an emotional meditation – it’s reflective. It allows you to look back at what you’ve achieved, what others have done for you, and what you’ve all done together – and most profoundly, what you’ve actually managed to do for others if you’ve done any group therapy or volunteer work. Through this sort of calm introspection, you begin to solidify your path towards recovery and take the wind out from underneath the cycle of negativity and shame that fuels addiction for so many.
Being grateful is a sign of progress – a powerful sign at that. Not only is being grateful an emotion that means you’re coming to terms with what has happened and are actually happy about the steps you’ve taken to prevent relapse, get clean and stay clean – gratitude also means you’re no longer blaming yourself or anyone else for your addiction.
Gratitude vs. Denial
One of the many pitfalls of addiction is the lies we tell others and each other to keep on using. Some people blame all their woes on their own incompetence and inability to act or do or say anything constructive, and they wallow in a pitiful self-image. Others turn it the other way around, blaming the cruel world and its sinister machinations and conspiracies for their own failures and issues. Neither is a “good approach”, or even one that works in any capacity – all it fosters is anger, disillusionment, and depression. Why? Because these delusions are just that – lies, and falsehoods. You can’t build a solid view of reality around those things.
To be honestly grateful means to first be honest and to accept. Gratitude is in part something that becomes a natural stepping stone on the path to recovery, but it’s also a goal – one that has to be worked for and worked towards.
Gratitude Is Not Easy
You cannot begin therapy and look upon all this “feel-good stuff” and assume that you’ll eventually get it one day, or that it doesn’t apply to you. Put aside your distaste for clichés and self-help advice, and try to swallow the fundamental message here: gratitude is a choice. You can choose to be grateful for what you have and where you are, for being alive and for the people who have helped you get started on your program, or grateful for yourself and your capacity to look past the denial and get help – or you can choose to be petulant, angry, pessimistic and skeptical of every offer of help and every comment towards your improvements.
Most people will start their journey out with a lot of lashing out, negativity and self-doubt. Once you let the gratitude seep in, however, it’s a clear sign of an emotional reversal deep, deep within. A good sign.
Turning Negativity Around
Life is not all roses and rainbows. It’s not a joyride filled with nothing but fun and laughter. The least bit of life is actual happiness – the rest of it is spent without happiness, in various states of emotion. And in cases of addiction, life is often filled with regrets, wasted opportunities, anger, doubt, depression and a slew of other negative emotions.
These have their place in life. They’re not to be shunned, ignored, or somehow wished away – and no one should tell you that they’re worthless, or evil. They’re just that – emotions. They have no stakes, no skin in the game, no hidden agenda. Life isn’t about being happy all the time – you should feel as you damn please to feel, even when that means expressing a lot of anger or frustration or sorrow.
But every time you delve into negativity, it’s an opportunity to learn from that emotion or let it trap you in a cycle of continued oppression. Addiction can be broken out of – and with time, you can look back on your worst days and most horrible moments as formative points in your life, points where you learned to either take in one of life’s countless lessons, or points of weakness from which you’ve managed to bounce back so fiercely that they’ve made you unbelievably strong.
Gratitude allows you to look back upon all of your life’s negativity and see it in a positive light. Not by ignoring it, or casting it into the mysterious shadows of your past, but by examining those moments and gleaming from them what little silver lining you can find.
Find Your Own Gratitude
Gratitude can be extremely challenging. It’s like being faced with depression and tasked with repeating the words “I love myself” in front of a mirror. It sounds sappy, useless, a waste of anyone’s time. Meaningless. Illegitimate. But then you say the words, and you say them again and again, and at some point, they break through to you – whether through tears of sadness or tears of joy – and eventually you come to believe them.
Gratitude is much the same way, it’s something you have to choose to feel in your recovery journey. Ask yourself every day – not just on Thanksgiving – what you’re grateful for, and be honest with yourself. Some days you might not come up with very much or even nothing at all, and at other times you may realize you’re grateful for far more than you would’ve imagined. And in that, you choose to put on a positive attitude, and face the day with a brighter outlook, than spend another minute trapped by the negativity surrounding addiction and substance abuse.