One of the hardest but most useful tools of sobriety, and really life in general, is finding and keeping gratitude in dark times.
We are often told in the rooms to practice an “attitude of gratitude.” When I first heard this I thought it meant being polite, and saying thank you when someone did something for me. Thanks to good sponsorship and trial and error, I have discovered the true meaning of gratitude, and how keeping gratitude in the dark times can shape and mold my life in sobriety.
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I always heard the old heads in meetings talk about gratitude lists, and practicing gratitude in daily life, and thought it sounded nice, but would never really need to utilize it. As my time in sobriety went on, and life started happening, I realized that I maybe needed more outlets to deal with life on life’s terms. I tried every other option, more meetings, more 12 step work, more prayer. Until one day, when the pain got great enough, and my unrealistic expectations were taking hold of my life. I pulled out a piece of paper my sponsor had given me at the beginning of my sobriety that she called a gratitude list, and decided to try it.
At first, I felt awkward writing down 10 things I was grateful for, I obviously wrote down things such as, my family, my car, my job, etc. etc. Only external things. I realized, I never really thought about how grateful I was for waking up and not feeling dope sick, or for even being able to have clean water to drink or to make my coffee with. I never thought about how lucky I was to even be waking up that day, and to have the ability to change myself, to see myself in the mirror, and to shower and dress myself on my own. When I finally stopped to think about the little things that I took advantage of so often, I realized, how the issues in my life that seemed colossal were actually just temporary hurdles that I could climb and manage.
Some may say that these are basic human instincts, but after that first day of making my gratitude list, my perception slowly started to change. I found that day by day, I was writing down deeper and more personal things. Things that were meaningful to only me like finding trust in a higher power of MY OWN understanding or being surrounded by friends and family and actually enjoying it. I started to be thankful for the willingness to pray in the mornings, and even for the sweet old woman who smiled at me in the grocery store.
Finding and keeping gratitude in our daily life, and through the dark times, is essential to the blooming of our sobriety. It opens us up to the little things that are so easy to avoid in the hustle and bustle of day to day life. Although we may not stop and smell the roses in that moment, we get the opportunity to reflect on them at a later date.
“It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful”
-Brother David Steindl-Rast
When my sponsor handed me my first gratitude list template, it had written at the top of it, “life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it. We are in charge of our attitudes, and God is in charge of our lives.” Adopting an attitude of gratitude can take practice for many of us. Here are a few little tips that I use to remind myself throughout the day to be grateful.
Carry a Gratitude Token
It might sound cheesy, but carrying around your own little gratitude memento can help you stay thankful in the moment. I have a cute little squishy ball on my key chain that was given to me as a gift. Every time I see it or touch it, I am reminded of the thoughtfulness of that friend. This, in turn, reminds me to be thankful in that very moment for the other gifts in my life. There is nothing wrong with having a little push to be grateful, and when I’m stuck in traffic or waiting in a long line at the store, I can always look at it and smile.
Practice Positive Thinking
Whether your roommates are bugging you, your job is stressful, or your car is acting up, try to think of every situation in a positive light. Before you got sober, you may not have even had those things, it helps me immensely to change my wording from “I have to do this” to “I get to do this.” I get to fix my own car with my own money that I worked hard for. Positive thinking stops our unrealistic expectations on situations.
Seek it in Others!
The best way to adopt new thinking is to get around people who already have it. I find that when I surround myself with people who only speak highly of themselves, their god, and others, that my mind tends to do the same, and vice versa. There is no shame in the rooms for latching onto the winners!
Gratitude – Share it With Others
There is no better feeling than to make someone feel truly good about themselves. We should never be shy about this. If someone helps us, they may never know how much until we tell them. Being consistent with the giving will open our hearts to receiving.
Life can be a dark place, and we alcoholics know that better than a lot of people. Once we have found a new way of life, we owe it to ourselves to hold onto it any way we can. Making a gratitude list can open our perception to the beauty around us.
When we become accepting and willing to put the will of our higher power before our own, we can see all things as a gift. Regardless of whether we can see the outcome immediately, we can remember that we have survived our tumultuous past. We were kept alive for a reason, and every day that we wake up should be treated as a gift to be thankful for.
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