Thanksgiving is an important day for families in recovery. For many of us the holidays used to represent much of what was wrong in our lives. Addicts and alcoholics used holidays to excuse over-indulgence while family members hoped and prayed that somehow “this year will be different.” The acknowledgment of a drug or alcohol problem gives the opportunity for wounded families to begin the process of coming back together.
While this post will hopefully be found at a timely part of the year, we like to think that it applies for more than just the holiday season! After all, one of the most common tools in early recovery is to write gratitude lists and/or discuss things we are grateful for with our newfound friends and sponsors in sobriety!
Gratitude is our Greatest Spiritual Tool
Years ago, an old timer in the rooms used to say, “Gratitude is our greatest spiritual tool in recovery.” When asked why, he would answer, “because a grateful alcoholic won’t drink!”
It’s a pretty bold statement to say that gratitude is the greatest tool in our toolkit. What about honesty, service, or living in the moment? Those all seem like pretty big deals, right?
The truth is that when we are grateful in recovery, we become mentally cognizant of the blessings we’ve had the privilege of enjoying since we were given our “new lease on life.” Gratitude takes us out of of “stinking thinking” and into serenity. We’re much more likely to treat the people in our lives with kindness and patience, because we become keenly aware of what we have to lose.
Unchecked negative thoughts, resentments, and self-pity are the silent killers of alcoholics, drug addicts, and family bonds.
Benefits of Gratitude in Sobriety (and life in general!)
Practicing gratitude daily is one of the most powerful things any human can do, not just those in addiction recovery. Psychology Today did a great article detailing some of the benefits of developing a positive outlook through gratitude. Among them:
- Better relationships with friends and family
- Improved mental health
- Improved self esteem
- Experience better sleep
- Improved physical health
- Improved mental strength
The part about how grateful people report less aches and pains was especially interesting. It just goes to show how our spiritual, emotional, and physical health really are all tied together!
How to Develop Gratitude
Learning why gratitude is important in recovery is not enough – we must also learn what to do! While every person is different, here are some practical suggestions that fit very well into a 12 step lifestyle:
- Gratitude lists. Add a couple things to the list every day.
- Meditate on gratitude. Reflect on the things in your life that you are grateful for during meditation.
- Listen to a song that always reminds you to be grateful at different points during the day.
- Help someone. One of the quickest ways to get in touch with gratitude is to help people in recovery who aren’t as far along in the recovery process.
The Insight Gratitude Meeting
Substance use disorder, mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction – these things are no joke. They take a major toll on everyone in the user’s life. Once in a while, we think it’s worth it to get everyone together to reflect on the road travelled. After a year of recovery, it’s unlikely that things will be perfect. However, it’s often astonishing to spend a few moments thinking about how far we’ve come!
Every year at Insight we have a Gratitude Meeting the night before Thanksgiving. This tradition has been a significant part of our addiction treatment program for over 40 years. It is the one meeting a year that the entire family is together in the same room. Young addicts and alcoholics, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and any other significant family members participate.
There is nothing like seeing families express gratitude in a real and meaningful way. For many, this is the first time in a long time that communication has been this real and honest. It can be an inspiration for long term sobriety and family health. If you are anywhere near Tampa, Charlotte, Raleigh, Peachtree City, or Atlanta I would highly recommend attending this meeting. It could make a difference for you and your family on this very important holiday.
We hope you’ve taken something from this post. If you’ve got questions or would like a substance abuse evaluation, please contact us. For now, we’ll leave you with one of our favorite poems, which sums up our experience very succinctly:
“I ain’t what I could be,
I ain’t what I should be,
but thank God I ain’t what I used to be!”