“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
The season of giving thanks is here. In just a few days, we will be filling our time with loved ones, filling our bellies with turkey, and filling our hearts with gratitude for the countless blessings that surround us. Many of us will take a moment to pause – whether at the table or in solitude – to think about the things we are thankful for: supportive friends, a loving family, the food on our plates, the roof over our heads, good health and happiness. For those of us in addiction recovery, this reflection of gratitude is nothing new. Gratitude is a powerful, vital component of the recovery process – and it’s key to your everyday.
If you are new to sobriety, however, expressing gratitude may not be coming as easy to you this holiday season. Out of feelings of pain and hopelessness, you may be wondering things like, “What do I have to be grateful for in recovery?” and “What is the point?” Maybe your counselor, sponsor, or friend who is also in recovery recommended that you create a gratitude list. You may be wondering where to start.
As we’ve written previously, gratitude goes hand-in-hand with healing. By paying attention to the positive things in our lives, and expressing thanks for them, we can achieve mental stability, foster healthy thought patterns, and find greater happiness in even the littlest things.
The Power of a Gratitude List in Recovery
Addiction – particularly substance addiction, in which the chemical makeup of your brain gets disrupted – is inherently negative in nature. It provokes negative feelings of anger, anxiety, pain, depression, and low self-worth. When you were using, chances are you had a habit of focusing on all the misery and pain points in your life – the things that life inflicted on you, and the things that you inflicted on yourself and those around you. More than likely, when you were addicted, you were thinking only of yourself, rather than those around you.
Gratitude is quite the opposite. It provokes a positive outlook and attitude. It reduces conflict and feelings of isolation. It inspires us to keep going, bringing feelings of fullness and joy to our lives. It reminds us to open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and that we do in fact have things to be thankful for in recovery. Gratitude also has physical benefits for our bodies, including healthier heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, according to some studies. Drug treatment experts also agree that gratitude can positively influence a person’s chances at a successful recovery. It reduces the chance of relapse. That is why so many encourage creating a “gratitude list.”
A gratitude list in recovery is exactly what it sounds like: a written list of all the things you are grateful for in recovery and in your life. It is not, however, a one-time assignment. A gratitude list is an ongoing, everyday endeavor. It may start with the top 10 things you are thankful for, but each day, should grow. Every day, you should add at least one more item to your gratitude list. We recommend starting with a blank notebook, so that your gratitude list has room to grow.
Again, if you are just starting your recovery journey, this all may be easier said than done. In early recovery, it can be hard to find things to be thankful for when you are simultaneously battling withdrawal symptoms and the consequences or realities of your drug problem. This is okay. You can always start small. Are you thankful to be sober and safe? Are you grateful to be alive? Write that down.
Finding Things to Be Grateful for in Recovery
Finding gratitude in recovery – and therefore creating a gratitude list in recovery – requires change: a change in your attitude, a change in your outlook, and also a willingness to change. There are ways to ignite this change and to establish a more positive, grateful perspective in life, such as:
- Set goals and focus on achieving them. Your goals may be to make amends with your parents, to pay back a family member, to rebuild bridges with friends you lost. Your goal may be to find success at work, to finish college, or maybe just get back to once loved hobbies and habits, like exercise or a sport. Changing your focus from “I want to use drugs” to “I want to change” can be very inspirational in recovery, and allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment in the process.
- Stop comparing yourself to others, and focus on loving you. Comparing yourself to the success of others will only provoke negative feelings inside. Remember that no one is perfect, and everyone has their struggles, even if you cannot see them right away. Focus on your own success and find ways to love yourself. Be thankful for who you are and who you are becoming.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Surrounding yourself with positive people can help trigger optimism in your life. Being around positive role models will also help inspire your success.
- Do things for others. Part of being grateful – especially during this Thanksgiving season – is giving others something to be grateful for, too. It enables others to feel grateful in a time they need it most. It also allows you to fill your time, by giving back to friends, family, and the community.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness in recovery means finding a state of presence, rather than thinking about the past or the future. One way to practice mindfulness is to stop and think about the things you are grateful for in recovery, whether that is some-time sober or the family and friends around you. Take some time to do this every day, to reflect on the present moment.
- Start a gratitude journal, to hold your gratitude list. A gratitude list or gratitude journal in recovery will remind you of everything you have to be grateful for – the good things in your life. When you experience cravings or negative feelings, you can simply open your notebook and look at the many positive aspects of your life. This list will remind you of the little things you may have forgotten along the way.
Things to Put on Your Gratitude List in Recovery
There are many things to be grateful for in recovery, and you can start identifying them by asking yourself this question: What is great about your life right now?
- You are sober
- You woke up without a hangover
- You are in good health
- You look good and healthy
- You have a supportive family
- You have a loyal sober network of friends
- You are a better friend and family member
- You have 12-step meetings, counselors, sponsors, and support groups to keep you going
- You have freedom – you are not trapped, emotionally or physically, by anxiety or behind bars
- You have career opportunities and the ability to work
- You have a growing bank account
- You have the potential to make a difference in the lives of others
- You can accomplish your goals without being held back by drugs or alcohol
But don’t let us do the work for you! Close your eyes. Be present. Reflect. Be grateful. Write. Doodle, even. Do what makes you feel good and healthy and positive about the day. Not just Thanksgiving day, but every day moving forward.
Creating a gratitude list in recovery is an effective relapse prevention tool, in that it can give you a sense of meaning and purpose. It gives voice to what you feel inside, and allow you to recognize even the little things that make your life better. As famous musician Willie Nelson once said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” You can do this, too.
If you or a loved one is struggling with recovery or addiction, please do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge. Our addiction treatment specialists can help you get back on the path towards a healthy, successful life. Call 877-581-1793 today.