In gratitude, harmony, and support,
Reflections on the meaning and practice of gratitude and living fully in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction
by JoAnn Campbell-Rice
One time I was at my cabin when I truly recognized how good my life is. It was early morning, my husband was still asleep, the cat was on my lap, the dog at my feet, and I looked out at a perfectly still lake, surrounded by the brilliant colors of fall. As I basked in the well-being of the moment, I felt something I have searched for my entire life—a sense that this is enough.
In active addiction, I had no clue what enough was, so noticing quiet contentment takes practice. To savor moments of connection, beauty and inner peace—such as laughter before a meeting, a hug or word of care afterwards, or someone honestly telling her story—is the joy of lifelong recovery. Gratitude makes a difference because it shows me the subtle changes that occur over the months and years of recovery.
Gratitude is a muscle that develops with practice. The more we appreciate and express our appreciation, the more we are able to see and feel the daily gifts of life in sobriety. Taking time to notice natural beauty, keeping a list of things that are going well, and sharing what we appreciate about our partner or children with them daily, keeps us on the path of recovery just as strong muscles keep bones in place.
Gratitude is a magnet. By focusing on what I do have rather than on what I don’t have, gratitude draws the best of any given moment, person or situation. Everyone has character assets and defects, and when I focus on the best in others, that’s usually how they show up. Appreciating what I have, savoring the good, focusing on what’s working, feeling the contentment of the moment and thanking others are actions that change my consciousness.
Gratitude is a gauge of spiritual fitness and emotional health. Resentment and resistance are the calling cards of my inner addict. Gratitude, appreciation and thankfulness come from my innermost self, which is connected to my higher power. The more grateful and thankful I feel, the more useful I am, which is a goal of Step Twelve. Being grateful, truly grateful, actually feels a lot better than talking about what I’m missing, what’s not good enough, or what could be better. A Tenth Step inventory helps me notice when gratitude is seeping away and pray for change.
As we head into a holiday devoted to appreciating what we have rather than on acquiring more, the following considerations may be helpful in gauging your level of gratitude:
- Something that I have in recovery for which I’m grateful.
- Someone in my life for whom I’m grateful.
- Something about my body for which I give thanks.
- Something about my mind or spirit I appreciate.
- Something valuable I have learned or inherited from my family.
- One challenge I face that I could be thankful for.
- Something people would be surprised I am thankful for.
- A lesson I most appreciate from my treatment experience or earliest days in addiction recovery.
The dictionary defines gratitude as a noun. In recovery, gratitude is very much a verb. Look for generosity, kindness and joy wherever they appear; give thanks; and watch your life bloom.
JoAnn Campbell-Rice is manager of Renewal Programs and Spiritual Care at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center. A former professor of writing, she has a private practice of spiritual direction in St. Paul, Minnesota.