In “Thanks,” a poem written by W.S. Merwin, the speaker gives thanks to the shadow side of life.
He writes, “Listen/ with the night falling we are saying thank you/ we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings/ we are running out of the glass rooms/ with our mouths full of food to look at the sky/ and say thank you/ we are standing by the water thanking it.”
For some of us, the holiday season can bring stressful moments or even triggers, so as we settle into the heart of the holiday season, it’s essential to stay grounded in gratitude. Take a moment to consider how gratitude can aid in your long-term recovery.
Gratitude is a state of appreciation. In recovery, gratitude allows us the ability to reclaim our “selves.” As long as we gaze toward our past with negative eyes, we will be subservient to a negative self-image and fall into the illusion of being victims of our own lives.
When you accept your past mistakes and find a pathway to being thankful, you create space and pour positive energy into that space. This is because you are making amends with yourself, forgiving yourself, and realizing that, against all odds, you made it out alive. The longer you hold regret toward your past, the longer you stay chained to it.
You know, as well as the rest of us, that no amount of regret can buy back time.
As the saying goes, “It’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have.” What you have is a wisdom gained from walking a road through darkness and choosing to walk in light again. This is no small feat.
Living a life of gratitude is a simple shifting of focus. Rather than searching for what you don’t like, you start seeing the gift of experience.
Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude allows you to make better friends.
Having a grateful attitude creates a positive magnetism that will draw like-minded people toward you. When you show gratitude, you are prone toward showing kindness and empathy toward others; in doing this, you are bound to bond with kind people.
Gratitude allows you to open your heart.
It’s no surprise that suffering through substance abuse leaves wounds inside of us. Many of those wounds close us off to the adventure of life. Gratitude reminds us to take healthy risks, such as joining a class to learn something new or being vulnerable with someone. By taking risks, you open your heart once again to the incredible wonder of our world.
Gratitude decreases stress.
When we are thankful, we let go of that which we cannot control, and letting go lessens stress. Rather than seeing challenges as impassible barriers, we see challenges as possible lessons. Considering life as a lesson allows an optimistic point of view to take the reins.
Gratitude creates better interpersonal relationships.
People who are thankful are less likely to encounter conflict because they aren’t tethered to hidden agendas or a need to get their own way.
Significance of Gratitude for Sobriety
When people are thankful for sobriety, they honor it, and thus will make it a priority to protect their sobriety. When gratitude starts to slip away, people are more likely to become vulnerable to triggers and, ultimately, relapsing. When you forget to be thankful, you take for granted the struggle you’ve overcome.
Gratitude provides clarity. When people in recovery are faced with challenges, a grateful attitude begets a calm mind and a grounded approach to dealing with whatever comes up. The key to recovery is understanding that everything is not going to get better, but rather the way you perceive life will improve as long as you remain in a state of gratitude.
When you are thankful for the small joys of life—a quiet conversation with a friend, leaves changing colors in autumn, running water—you stay connected and avoid becoming self-absorbed.
Self-absorption is the opposite of gratitude. Self-absorption is a focus on the things you don’t have and think you need to be happy or to treat others kindly. Self-absorption inevitably leads to selfish behavior and an attitude that centers around self-gratification. Losing sight of the things you can be grateful for makes you vulnerable to wanting what you don’t have.
When people suffer from substance abuse, their lives become centered around filling a void. Trying to fill a void pushes you further away from gratitude. Happiness is not something that is produced by substance, but rather through being grateful. When you are grateful, you look at the world and recognize beauty.
How Do We Increase Gratitude?
Creating a gratitude journal is a great way to start filtering through your life. As you write about the things you are grateful for, you will most likely come across surprising subjects. On days where you’re feeling down in the blues, open your gratitude journal and read what you have written.
Meditation and mindfulness are also great practices in order to gain insight and practice gratitude. There are guided affirmations on YouTube as well, if you prefer.
Like anything, gratitude is a practice. The more you implement it in your life, the more inclined you will be to use gratitude. It’s never too late to be thankful and show gratitude for—if nothing else—a beating heart and the ability to experience being alive.