“Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation.”
― John Ortberg
It is easy during recovery—when our eyes are turned toward our failures and our hopes toward sobriety—to become lost in self-preoccupation and unhealthy introspection. After all, depending on our medicated self to “figure it all out” has been our modus operandi for a long time, even though it has cheated us out of the life we really wanted. As we tackle the demands of sobriety, we are tempted to avert our eyes from the goal and again turn inward, expecting that our broken, unhealed self can somehow provide answers to the toughest challenges and help us move forward. We realize once again that the all-powerful, lying self can only offer cheap anesthesia for a fleeting moment.
I have found that one of the most important keys to releasing me from unproductive self-preoccupation and the endless spiral into my darkened self is the cultivation of gratitude in every area of my life—to notice and appreciate all that is good, true, joyful, and beautiful that I receive each day from the world, from nature, from the hard things, from my relationships, and from a loving God.
Why is gratitude so important to recovery of the true self? Consider this:
- Gratitude grounds us in reality.In my addiction, everything seemed fearful, toxic, negative, and depressing. The world was a bad place. God and people (including myself) were not to be trusted. Life was not worth living, and everything appeared dull and gray. When I began to recover, my senses were flooded with meaning, purpose, significance, dignity, and beauty. I began to receive what I needed to grow and flourish. Life began to make more sense. Hope changed my distorted thinking so that I could hold in tension the reality that, “the world is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with the overcoming of it.”
- Gratitude displaces entitlement.What fuels addiction is the sense that “the world owes me.” Entitlement is the negative attitude that I automatically deserve whatever I want, and I am justified in walking all over everyone in order to get it. Gratitude displaces entitlement because it is an act of humility that acknowledges I would not be where I am without the grace of God, and the care of others from whom I have generously received.
- Gratitude bears the burden of things we cannot control. Gratitude looks for reasons to be thankful, even in moments of disappointment and circumstances beyond our control. “Taking this world as it is, not as I would have it,”a grateful heart is released to enjoy the myriad gifts of today, and to set down the burdens we are unable to carry.
- Gratitude empowers forgiveness.When I realize how my own brokenness has hurt others and the many times people have forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it, I am filled with gratitude, which empowers me to forgive those who have hurt me also. This does not mean I pretend an offense was unreal, or that the offender is no longer responsible for hurting me. Nor does it mean I minimize the way I have been harmed. It does mean that I no longer have to carry the weight of the abuse I suffered. I can release it to God. I am free to live in peace. Gratitude paves the way for me to forgive others by remembrance that I am also forgiven.
- Gratitude steers us away from the need to self-medicate.Appreciation of life’s many gifts has a way of balancing the pain in order that we are strengthened to face it, grieve our losses, surrender to a healing process, and recover. When I begin to notice and label everything in my life as a gift to receive, appreciate, receive, and learn from, rather than a curse, no longer am I paralyzed by the fear the pain will overwhelm and consume me. No longer do I need to self-medicate to avoid feeling.
- Gratitude releases the transformative nature of love.Gratitude is a posture of openness to life. It is a way of relating to myself, others, God, and the world so that love may have its full effect in me. A grateful heart is transformed by multiple demonstrations of love and awakens to possibilities not yet realized. Gratitude appreciates that no one individual can meet all my needs. Instead, I may receive a kind word from one person, generosity from another person, and mercy from still another. It recognizes love can be cobbled together from many places and sources and does not complain when unrealistic expectations go unmet. It chooses to focus on the simple gifts that flow my way, even when I am undeserving. I learn through the discipline of gratitude how to position myself to receive countless signs of love from others, and by this, I learn to love.
As we begin to discover the benefits of surrendering the false self in favor of a grateful interdependence upon others and a Power greater than ourselves, we become like a child learning to walk. In a short time, as muscle memory develops, she transitions from crawling to standing, from standing to walking, then running. Her motor potential has been achieved and she is free to explore the goodness of the world and her surroundings on her own, without the need to doubt her own steps.
Recovery is a step-by-step journey to right-ordered love, cobbled together with a thousand graces, by way of gratitude. What are you grateful for?
Written by: Robert Rubinow, M.A., LPC