By Bo Howell
In sobriety and recovery, we often refer to the spiritual “tool kit” when we refer to all of the suggested actions and practices that we have found effective in helping us to live and face life and its challenges successfully. In the spiritual tool kit, I would have to say that Gratitude is perhaps the Phillips head screwdriver. It’s simple, effective, and required often.
In my first 12 step meeting, I remember the leader sharing something that sticks with me to this day. He said, “the enemy of sobriety is negative thinking.” As a matter of fact, the root of addiction itself is in negative, fear-based obsessive thinking. If not challenged and actively addressed using the tool kit, this untreated thinking will undoubtedly lead the sufferer to seek relief via substances.
One of the best definitions of gratitude is “an acknowledgement of a benefit that an individual has received.” However, the addict or alcoholic, whose perspective is often entirely negative and discontented, is only able to perceive circumstances in their lives negatively, and without constant daily efforts to connect with the truth of the benefits they have received, they will stay in the painful place of taking good things for granted and keeping tally of all of the perceived wrongs. If out of a 1000 things, 999 are positive blessings, the unwell addict will only be able to focus on the 1 thing that didn’t go as they thought it should. In the active addict’s world, nothing is ever good enough. This is only worsened when he inaccurately compares himself to those whom he is certain have been more fortunate, which triggers a deep sense of self-pity and shame.
The best medicine for this self-centered lack of perspective is the daily practice of gratitude. Some of the best advice most of us ever got was when we were very young. “Count your blessings,” they told us. And for his very survival and ultimately happiness, the addict needs to practice this diligently. Thankfulness is a muscle. The more it is exercised, the stronger it becomes. When connecting with the positive benefits we have received, we are automatically practicing positive thinking. The negative thinking an addict engages in is never accurate. Daily gratitude is the connecting with the truth of the blessings in our lives. Whether it’s a daily gratitude journal or list, or an action of service based upon the awareness of our fortune, or a deep mindful meditation of gratitude, we’ve found a little often goes a long way. Connecting with the truth and its underlying power is the beginning of hope, sanity and healing from the pernicious disease of addiction.