Gratitude in Addiction Recovery
I want to take some time to look into some of the tools used at the Brook Retreat as means of helping people in early recovery cope with the adversity and difficulties that arise from this process. In my own experience, entering into recovery was never a pleasant time in my life. It involved a great deal of consequence and turmoil to bring me to a point of entering a treatment center for addiction. To sum it up, my life was not going the way I had planned it to!
Due to this issue of my vision for my life and how being completely sober didn’t seem to fit into that vision, I struggled with depression and mental anguish when I would picture my life as a sober person. I coped with this in a number of ways, whether I was consistently thinking about how I could manage my drug use (give it another try) or romanticizing about the “good times” from my past(few and far between). Either way, when I opened my eyes in the morning, I was not where I wanted to be. Discontent. Dissatisfied.
As I worked through the Twelve Step Program, I began to be awakened to some of my own challenges in life; all of which centered in my mind and its ideologies. For instance, I filled a notebook full of resentment that a large portion of was focused on envy and jealousy. Being completely drug free gave me a clear mind, almost too clear. I was able to see through this reflection that I was suffering due to my own feelings of inadequacy. Day in and day out, I would be hurt by those who had more than me, talked better than me, told better jokes, had better physical attributes, and whatever else I felt I didn’t have. I recognized through my own struggle that something needed to change. It was a lack of comfort, so often felt by those in early recovery that drove me to want to find a solution to this problem.
I was presented with this idea of gratitude. Being thankful for what I have. Being thankful for what other people have done for me. Being thankful for things that were positive in my life that were not of my own doing. It took a leap. I had to be willing to let go of my anger towards those who I felt were above me. I had to be willing to check out of the competition I had created in my own head. Then I had to search.
In my experience it was very easy for a person struggling with addiction to get hung up on the negative things in my life. I had an easier time complaining and spreading my own negative thoughts. This provided relief when I laid them on a supportive peer, but also perpetuated my suffering when I refused to try and work through them. Self-defeat was a major problem. In my own self-interest I started practicing gratitude. I began to incorporate it into my prayer life and focus on the word during meditation. By doing so, I checked out of the rat race in my mind. I looked for anything and everything to be grateful for; clothes on my back, two eyes that can see, two legs that work well, a loving family, and a second chance at life.
“Gratitude is effective in increasing well-being as it builds psychological, social, and spiritual resources” (Emmons, R. A., & Mccullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. doi:10.1037//0022-35126.96.36.1997)
In order to make it through the hard times of my first year sober, gratitude was one of many tools in my kit. When I eventually got that job, it kept me grounded and prevented me from getting ahead of myself. When I looked back at those who never suffered from addiction and became envious of their lives and their success; I counted my blessings for all the gifts recovery gave me. A big part of my alcoholism was this lust for more. I could never seem to have enough which was true for my active addiction as well. This drove home the point that simply getting rid of physical addiction symptoms would not save me. This dissatisfaction and lack of contentment would drive me to drink one day.
Sometimes it’s all a matter of perspective. While I may always be susceptible to some of my defects of character, putting gratitude into practice helps us to manage these symptoms. When the symptoms of my alcoholism are managed, I can make sound decisions based on truth. If you are struggling with a discontent outlook on your life, try putting gratitude into practice and be consistent. Try it each day for a week, just saying thanks for the things you have. You will certainly begin to change your perspective on your life into a more positive one. I know I have.
(This post was written by one of the staff members of the Brook Retreat, who works closely with each guest in the gender-specific programs in Weymouth and Plympton)