Those who are new to family recovery are often surprised to hear members introduce themselves as “grateful members” of Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. In the midst of the chaos and struggles that often accompany alcoholism and addiction, what is there to be grateful for? It’s difficult to be grateful when you are living in the midst of fear, anger, confusion, and hurt.
I remember when I was new to recovery and my sponsor asked me to start writing down three things I was grateful for every day. I thought she was crazy to even ask this of me! Luckily, one of the gifts of being in a place where I felt like I was out of answers was that I was open to taking direction. I didn’t think this assignment would help at all, but I imagined that it couldn’t make this worse, so I gave it a whirl.
Each evening I would sit down with my journal, and my resistant attitude. I would write the date, and then write down the three things I was grateful for on the page. My list looked like this:
- I have a roof over my head.
- I have a job.
- I have a cat.
My list looked like this every day for a long time. It wasn’t easy for me to see things to be grateful for, so I just went with what I knew. Each evening I would go through the same process. I didn’t think this was working at all.
But, something shifted. The gratitude list was only one of the things I was working on in recovery. I was also trying to figure out what powerlessness meant, and what parts of my life were unmanageable. I was learning to take the focus off the alcoholism and addiction happening in my life, and place that focus on myself and how I was showing up in the world. I was learning to change the things I could, and accept the things I couldn’t. And, I was watching my life start to feel a little better.
One evening I sat to write my obligatory gratitude list, and I couldn’t just write down my pre-programmed three items. I had grown bored with my list. Instead I took some time to reflect on other things that had happened during the day that I could be grateful for. And, the next day I started to actively look for those things throughout the day.
A magic moment happened. In the beginning of the process I was so focused on the negative impact of addiction in my life that I allowed this situation to mean that everything was awful in my life. There was no joy – how could there be? I looked at alcoholism and addiction as being all or nothing – if it existed there would be nothing I could possibly be happy about.
The practice of my imposed gratitude list changed my perspective of reality. Addiction and alcoholism were still present, that was true – but, they no longer had complete control of my life. I could accept the truth that they existed – AND find things to be grateful about at the same time. My attitude changed, and my heart opened. My gratitude practice became a choice. It became a way of living.
I realized that alcoholism and addiction had created a path in my life. Although there were times where that path felt rocky and impossible to traverse, it also lead me to places where I could see things that I had never seen before, and take in beauty I never knew existed. This scary disease brought me to a way of life that was beyond my expectation, and that I’m not sure that I would have found any other way. I became one of those folks who became grateful to be in family recovery.
Today I try to practice gratitude daily. Sometimes I’m grateful for mundane things, like soft blankets and pajamas. Other times I’m grateful for miracles, like a loved one finding his way into recovery after years of struggling with his meth addiction. Or, my husband maintaining his recovery consistently since coming through The Retreat almost 12 years ago. Even on the days where things aren’t going the way I would like them to, and maybe especially on those days, there is a way to connect with thankfulness. There is always, always something to be grateful for.
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