When I was first introduced to treatment and recovery in a 12-step group, I heard people laughing and talking about how grateful they were to be an alcoholic or drug addict in recovery. These people talked about the years of happy sober living they had. I simply could not believe that anyone could put together any length of time without using, OR, that they could be happy and face the challenges in life without mind-altering substances.
I was sure that I was the only person who had suffered from the abuses that lead me to drinking and drugging, and that if ‘they’ had gone through what ‘I’ had gone through, they couldn’t face a single day without using either. And, I was sure that these people were lying – no one can stay sober for that long!
I was a mess when I landed in treatment, and could not imagine ever being happy again. I was victimized by physical and verbal abuse for so long that I believed everything my perpetrator said was true about me, even though I also knew what a liar this person was. I had lost everything I’d worked for my entire adult life – including my kids – to this abusive person. I was angry, vengeful and very broken. I had been a victim for so long, it was my identity and I didn’t know how to not be a victim.
At some point early on in my recovery, my sponsor suggested that I start a gratitude list. I scoffed. After some discussion, I agreed to write down 2 things I was grateful for every day for the next week.
This was the beginning of my growth from being a victim to taking back my power, finding joy, and eventually finding sobriety and serenity.
When I began my gratitude list, I found it challenging to think about anything I was grateful for. The first few days were difficult and uncomfortable for me. I wrote that I was grateful I had a job (even though I hated my job and was making very little money), at least, I was employable. I wrote that I was grateful that I had access to three meals each day, grateful I could finally sleep, grateful that someone cared about me.
As I continued to work on my gratitude list, the victim that I was began to take up less of my thoughts. I became more grateful and less angry. I began to feel grateful for things that I had taken for granted when I was drinking and using. Things like having someone ask me how I was doing became meaningful where it used to be annoying.
As the days in recovery have grown, one day at a time, my life has changed dramatically from one of being a victim and angry to a life filled with joy and serenity. My life and the relationships that I have are meaningful. I am no longer a victim. I can express gratitude in many things throughout my day.
Psychology Today reports that living in gratitude can significantly improve your life in ways such as increasing lasting happiness; protecting yourself from negativity; leading to better relationships; and, strengthening your willpower to make better decisions.
Breaking the cycle of anger and resentment began for me by finding and expressing gratitude. I grew as a person in sobriety as I began to be able to find gratitude even when facing difficult issues in life. As I focused on things I was grateful for, the negativity in my life began to dissipate and my life transformed into a life that is now as beautiful and blessed as I had ever imagined. My life today is opposite from the life I had when drinking and using. This is, in large part, due to my willingness to look for things to be grateful for, and expressing that gratitude.
Gratitude in Practice
Learning to live in gratitude can take some practice. Here are a few ideas that helped me learn this new way of living:
- Write about gratitude each morning or night in a gratitude journal. Set a timer and just write about things in life today that you are grateful for. Even just 5 minutes a day can give you a solid beginning to living in gratitude.
- Keep a gratitude list. I have a running list in the front of my journal and add to this list every day. After a bit of time, I can look back and see how much I have grown as a person.
- When you’re feeling frustrated, angry, or ‘victimized’, rather than reacting to that feeling, stop and think until you can come up with something you are grateful for at that moment. This exercise can help you move through a negative emotion without allowing it to become a trigger for you.
- Express gratitude to someone in your life daily. I have made it a point to be in the moment and thank people for kindnesses and helpful actions. This not only keeps me focused on the good in life but usually gives the other person a smile as well.
Gratitude is a Choice
My life is not perfect today. There are relationships that have not yet mended. There are circumstances in life that I would not have chosen. There are health issues to deal with and bills to pay. My life does not at all look like what I had planned for, in fact, it’s very different. BUT…
I would not trade the life I have today for the life I thought I wanted a few years ago. Because I am sober, I can face the challenges of the day no matter how difficult. Because I can choose to live in gratitude, I am no longer comfortable acting as a victim. I have the choice.
In choosing to live in gratitude, I have been blessed with a lot of serenity – something I didn’t even know existed. In choosing to live in gratitude, I attract people into my life who are not filled with negativity, and I am able to build healthy relationships with these people. And, in choosing gratitude, I am giving myself another tool to use in my recovery on a daily basis.