Gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation – paying attention to the positive things in your life is an important part of a healthy outlook on living. For those who are recovering from substance abuse, gratitude for the things that addiction recovery brings can make it easier to stay focused on building a new life free of addictions.
What’s Gratitude Got To Do With It?
Addiction experts agree that gratitude can strongly influence a person’s chance for a successful recovery from any kind of addiction. Gratitude offers both mental and physical health benefits, which can contribute to mental stability and happiness. By focusing on what you have, instead of what you do not, you can foster healthier thought patterns, and achieve better satisfaction with your life.
A positive outlook is important because addiction itself fosters a host of negative emotions and ways of seeing the world. In the grip of an addiction, it’s easy to feel victimized, angry, and trapped. As the addiction progresses, substance abusers find themselves losing many of the things they valued in their lives, such as relationships, jobs and even homes. That leads to a cycle of despair, hopelessness and other negative feelings, which in turn lead to returning to being dependent on addictive substances. In fact, many people who abuse substances to fight these feelings also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, which creates its own set of symptoms.
Choosing to stop using addictive substances and actively work toward recovery is a positive step. But it can be derailed quickly by those hopeless, negative thoughts, and the actions that go with them. Trapped in that mindset, an addicted person might think that there’s no point in trying to recover, because they’ll always use again.
Thinking Positively Helps with Recovery
Successful addiction recovery requires major changes – in lifestyle, in thinking, and in behavior. A person who’s serious about recovery may have to stop going to certain addiction associated places – or cut ties with addicted friends. Recovery may mean working with a therapist to repair a broken marriage, or to regain custody of a child. Making these changes can seem impossible – as if the good things in life are so far in the future as to seem unattainable. But gratitude can change your perspective on life.
Gratitude can be defined in various ways, but it doesn’t depend on which spiritual path you might follow – or whether you follow one at all. According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence gratitude is part of daily living – a state of mind that allows you to recognize and affirm the good things that come from outside yourself – or even to pay attention to your life’s many little pleasures. The practice of gratitude is one that anyone can cultivate, and it brings a long list of benefits for emotional and physical well-being, such as:
- An improved ability to manage stress
- A stronger immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- A reduced risk for depression and anxiety
- Faster healing from trauma and grief
- A lower risk of substance abuse
Regular Gratitude Practice Promotes Recovery
For people working on recovery from substance abuse, cultivating the proverbial “attitude of gratitude” can boost the success of all aspects of a recovery plan. Practicing gratitude can provide reminders of reasons to stick with a recovery plan, a motivation to regain important things lost to substance abuse, and a way to turn attention away from addiction toward healthier things. For these reasons, seeing life through the lens of gratitude can also help to prevent relapses.
Gratitude doesn’t just happen, but it can be easy to develop, just by being mindful as you move through daily life. Creating a “gratitude practice” starts with simply paying attention to good things large and small – and tools such as journals, lists or meditation can help.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Journaling has a long-established history as a tool for self-discovery and healing. Journal therapy is a part of many kinds of counseling and group work, but anyone can use a journal to explore feelings, process events, and create conditions for change. For people working toward recovery, a journal can be a place to track progress, uncover causes for addiction, and figure out new ways of dealing with stressful situations. It can also be a way to cultivate gratitude.
If you’re already using a journal to support your recovery, you can add a gratitude section or allot part of every entry to record things that you’re grateful for that day. You may also want to create a dedicated gratitude journal to keep you focused.
In your journal, take time to note down the things and events of the day that you’re grateful for. Whether it’s a chance to sleep a little later in the morning or a meeting with an old friend, note it down. Include as many gratitude-inspiring things as you can in each session. Your entries create a picture of all the positive things in your life that you may never have noticed while using drugs or alcohol.
Meditate for Gratitude
Meditation is an age old way to increase concentration and focus, and a meditation practice centered on gratitude can not only help to calm both mind and body, but also to keep the goals of recovery in mind. Meditation encourages mindfulness – the practice of being in the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness helps you focus on all those everyday events and experiences that make you feel positive – and grateful.
Make a Gratitude List
Not everyone is inclined to take the time for daily journaling. A quick way to practice gratitude is by making a list of things you’re grateful for in recovery each day. Keep your lists for a reminder of why you’re working toward recovery- and what the future could be.
9 Things to Be Grateful for in Recovery
Everyone’s experience of addiction and recovery is unique, and the things you’re grateful for in your recovery depend on your unique circumstances. To jump start your gratitude practice, though, here are 9 things that many people in recovery are grateful for:
#1. Be Grateful For A “Second Chance.”
Addiction can be life threatening in many ways. Drugs and alcohol can take a severe toll on the body and brain, and an overdose can leave a user permanently disabled, or dead. Addiction also puts people at risk for violence and criminal activity. Having the opportunity to pursue recovery can be a cause for gratitude. Not everyone gets a “second chance” at life, so it is important to be grateful for your opportunity.
#2. Be Grateful For Recovering Relationships
Addictions can destroy relationships of all kinds. Recovery can give people with addictions the opportunity to repair relationships broken by substance abuse, and to move forward in healthier ways. Whether it’s with loved ones, family members, friends, or even co-workers, recovery can give you the option to rebuild, and strength your relationships in life.
#3. Be Grateful For Your Freedom
Addiction can rule a person’s life, as getting and using the drug or drink of choice can dictates actions large and small. Many addicts experience loss of time, as they are not as present when they are using. In recovery, you can be grateful for the opportunity to have the freedom to pursue new hobbies, activities and goals with your newfound time.
#4. Be Grateful For Getting Help
Getting the help you need is the first step toward recovering from addiction. Many people suffering from addiction put this step off for years, and some indefinitely. You should therefore be grateful for getting the help you required, or for the people in your life who got you help for your addiction. Regardless of how you got to where you are, you are here now, on the pathway to recovery.
#5. Be Grateful For Being Productive
Addiction can cause problems with getting things done, which can cost you jobs and other opportunities. Recovery makes it possible to reapply your energy to work, or school, and achieve higher goals in life.
#6. Be Grateful For Gaining Clarity
Once the body and mind are free of drugs or alcohol, it is easier to think clearly. That makes it possible to solve problems, make plans and take a clearer look at what’s happening in your life. Be grateful for being a better version of yourself in recovery.
#7. Be Grateful For Improving Your Health
Addiction can harm the body and mind in many ways, sometimes permanently. If you’ve come out of addiction without major health problems, or if recovery allows you to work on health problems, that might be cause for gratitude. Removing a dangerous substance from your everyday life is a huge step towards healthy living.
#8. Be Grateful For Finding New Opportunities
When addiction rules most aspects of life, it can be difficult to recognize and take advantage of new opportunities to learn, grow, and change. Recovery allows you to explore new opportunities and make new connections without the distraction of drugs or alcohol.
#9. Be Grateful For Looking Forward
Addiction keeps a person stuck in an unpleasant “now” that revolves around getting your next fix. But in recovery, it’s possible to recover hope for the future and to look forward to doing new and better things.
Tips For A Successful Recovery
Cultivating gratitude is a key to successful recovery – but it isn’t the only one. To go with nine things to be grateful for in recovery, here are nine strategies for making recovery work for you:
Make Your Recovery A Priority
When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, getting and using them becomes a priority –and recovery should be a priority as well. The steps of your recovery plan should be at the top of your list – consistently.
Self care and self-esteem can suffer during addiction. In recovery, make self-care a priority by taking steps to improve your circumstances or your health, or saying no to people and activities that don’t support your goals for recovery.
Set Small Actionable Goals
Recovery can seem big and impossible, so it’s important to set small doable goals along the way. That gives a sense of accomplishment, boosts self-esteem and gets things done. Break down big goals into smaller ones and mark them off your list as you complete them.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Recovery is a process, not an event. Mistakes can and do happen – sobriety slips, resolutions are broken. But addiction specialists say that it’s important to reflect on those mistakes, learn from them and make a plan to do things differently next time – not assume that you’re a failure who will never recover.
Have a Plan – and Stick To It
Having a recovery plan that you can always fall back on gives your recovery some structure. If you aren’t sure what to do, stick to the plan – and update it as your recovery progresses.
Addiction can be isolating, and it creates pain and misunderstanding in relationships of all kinds. Being able to communicate clearly about your recovery experience and to ask for help when you need it can strengthen relationships and solve problems.
Healthy changes can support recovery. Choose to go to new, drug free places rather than old hangouts connected to your addiction. Find new friends instead of people who are still using drugs or alcohol. Take a class, start an exercise program or take a trip. Make a deliberate effort to replace old drug related behaviors and thoughts with new, positive ones.
Improve Your Diet
Addicts often eat poorly – or not at all. The body needs healthy foods to heal from addiction, so improving your diet can play a major part in recovery. Explore new foods, or learn to cook – but take specific steps to give your body the energy it needs to work on recovery.
Help Someone Else
Helping others goes hand in hand with gratitude to promote a positive outlook. Volunteer your time, or join a support group to share your experiences with addiction and help others in similar circumstances find their way to recovery.
Gratitude can be practiced anytime, anywhere – and it doesn’t cost a penny. But learning to pay attention to the good things that surround you every day can be one of the most valuable tools for your recovery from addiction. Whether you keep a journal, make a list, or choose some other way to track the positives in your life, a gratitude practice can be a constant, comforting companion on the road to recovery.