WHY AND HOW GRATITUDE
Speaking of a program of truisms, clichés, and threadbare platitudes, here's one for you: "Grateful addicts don't use." It's a fact of life in recovery; grateful addicts don't pick up. If you cherish what you have and what you have achieved in recovery and are grateful to the program, your sponsor, your friends, your own efforts, and the powers of the universe for that recovery, why throw it all away by using? It doesn't happen. Thus the old slogan: "Keep an attitude of gratitude."
But then the gasoline prices bump up another ten percent, layoffs are increased, the world's governments seem to be run by a bunch of brats, a close friend dies, a family member is into the alphabet soup of drugs, the dog gets run over, and your doctor tells you the test results just came in and would you please drop everything and come into his office—on the other hand, meet him at the emergency room!
Gratitude? When everything seems like it's falling apart, tempting one to play with thoughts of running from the head noise by chemically numbing it out, how does one get grateful? A gratitude list is usually called for, and there are different kinds. Some sponsors will simply tell the gratitude deficient to write a list of ten things for which the sponsee is grateful. In my meditation book, Yesterday's Tomorrow: Recovery Mediations For Hard Cases (Hazelden, 1997), Meditation 115, "For a Werewolf, Every Day Is a Bad Hair Day," describes how my sponsor taught me to do a gratitude list:
You take a piece of paper and run a line down the center. On the left side you write down your clean date. On the right side you write today's date. Returning to the left side, write down the names of all of the people you loved on your clean date, followed by the names of all of the people who loved you, then a list of all of the material things you had and how you felt about them. Finally, You write down how you felt then, about yourself, your purpose, and your place in the universe. After completing that, you do the same on the right side: In reference to today's date, you list those you love, those who love you, the material things you have and how you feel about them, and how you feel about yourself and your place in the universe today
I have yet even to begin one such gratitude list without suddenly being flooded with gratitude, the mean nasties in my head chased back into the shadows. Please note that I did not say the mean nasties were chased clean out of my head. That never happens. Gratitude is a temporary respite from the stormy attitudes and outlooks that tempt us back into using. With the passage of time, a few good days, a little complacency, and a few skipped meetings, suddenly a bad attitude springs up seemingly out of the blue, which is the disease of addiction running things from inside your own head.
Sometimes I hear from a sponsee, that a close friend just died, or he lost his job, or this crappy thing happened, or that crappy thing happened. "I have a right to feel bad, don't I?"
At things that cause sadness, the healthy person feels sad. At things that cause anger, the healthy person feels angry. At things that cause grief, the healthy person grieves. But neither sadness, anger, or grief makes one feel ungrateful. Ingratitude—the feeling that you're being singled out and screwed by the universe—is the feeling left over after the disease of addiction has made one blind to all of the good in his or her life. The gratitude list is how to bring those good things in your life back into focus.