Any talk of gratitude can feel like cliché; some people may roll their eyes at the mere mention of the word. I get it. When you see Target throw pillows espousing the importance of gratitude, it can feel a bit ridiculous. But as someone with anxiety, historical bouts of depression, and five years of sobriety, I can personally attest to its usefulness.
To me, gratitude is in the same philosophical tradition as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches people to become aware of their thought patterns—especially the negative ones that might drive harmful behaviors—and interrupt them. Gratitude also helps you recognize and change your thought patterns.
Sure, some days you may have no trouble finding gratitude. But sometimes gratitude is about reframing things that might seem negative. When I was in active addiction, any mistakes I made were a reflection of my character or worth as a person. Plenty of us with addiction—especially in active addiction—get stuck in this type of all-or-nothing thinking. In sobriety, I’ve started to see mistakes as opportunities for growth. This is a form of gratitude.
Other times in my life I tried to get sober or cut back, I saw it as punishment, unfair, something I didn’t “get” to do. While I came into sobriety this time with some similar sentiments—inability to fathom my life without substances, hesitation—I was excited about future growth. A lot of things have contributed to my continuous sobriety, but I really think my attitude towards recovery has played a big role.
If you actively work on finding gratitude—and sometimes it is work—you don’t feel like giving up at every setback. You know that there are things worth fighting for, even when you can’t feel them in the moment. This is important for recovery.
Gratitude journaling is suggested often; it’s a good, practical step. But you may be stumped when you get to your journal—what do I put in there?
I’ve found it helpful to consider things that are possible for me in sobriety that weren’t in active addiction. This very directly reminds me why I’m sober. Sometimes I think about the people I love, and what I love about them; having that mindset opens me up to other points of gratitude.
There are things you can do throughout the day—not just when you’re sitting down to make a gratitude list—that will make gratitude come easier. As mentioned, I try to mentally transform things that seem like challenges into exciting opportunities for growth.
This is hard in the era of social media, but I generally aim for not comparing myself to other people. I say “aim for” because I’d be lying if I said I never did it.
This is where the practice of CBT methods comes in; if I notice I’m comparing my life to someone else’s, I try to interrupt the thought. Comparisons will always be unfair because everyone is so individual. Plus, if you’re going by social media, you’re not seeing the full story.
One of the reasons I used to roll my eyes at gratitude lists is because I thought they were a form of complacency. If you were grateful, you weren’t working on the things in your life that needed to change, or challenging systems that didn’t align with your values.
But now I see it as the opposite. Gratitude allows me to separate what really needs to change from what I’m just having a bad mood about. It helps me move forward, without getting burnt out by all the work that needs to be done. It’s a way to take inventory of the things that are working, so I can be energized to adjust the things that aren’t.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers across the country offer high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build healthy coping skills, and a life for which you can be grateful. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.