When it comes to relapse prevention in alcoholism and addiction recovery, gratitude is like rocket fuel.
If you are truly grateful then you are not in any danger of relapsing.
The attitude that a person has at the moment of relapse is essentially:
“Screw it, I am just going to go ahead and drink.”
Notice the key words here: “Screw it.”
As in “screw everything.”
As in, “nothing really matters.” “I am sick of it all.” And maybe even “I just don’t care any more.”
When an alcoholic or a drug addict relapses, it is not because they accidentally took a drink or a drug. They have to first make a very deliberate decision that they are going to drink or use drugs again. It is not an accident. There is no such thing as a “slip” in recovery. If you put alcohol or drugs into your body on purpose then you had to first make a decision to do so.
And that decision to relapse is an emotional one. It is not based on logic necessarily. It is based on emotion. It has to do with your attitude at the time. Your attitude is everything when it comes to protecting yourself from relapse.
Is it possible for someone to relapse who is really, truly grateful?
Gratitude is an attitude. It is the idea that you are appreciative for whatever circumstances that you might find yourself in.
Just think about how many people do not even exist. Just think of all the people who have lost their chance at life due to addiction. Just think of how lucky you are to be here, on this little planet, and breathing air right now.
It is downright incredible when you think about it. Why would anyone want to throw this opportunity away by drinking themselves to death?
This is the power of gratitude. You can appreciate nearly any situation if you imagine the alternatives.
The stoic philosophers had this same idea. They found that if they used “negative visualization” that it actually made them happier.
So if it was raining or something and they were sad, they would remind themselves that “it could be worse.” It could be a hurricane, or a tornado, or a blizzard out. The weather could get really extreme and outright kill them.
This is a counter-intuitive concept. Most people believe that in order to be happier, they should only focus on the positive things.
And many people also get alarmed when you tell them to picture the negative. If you suggest that negative visualization might make them happier, many people reject this notion without even fully exploring it. They don’t even try it because they believe it will not work. They say things like “why would I visualize a negative situation, that will just bring me further down!” But in doing this they are doing themselves a disservice because in fact the technique could make them much happier.
This technique of negative visualization is just one way of implementing gratitude in your life. There are other ways.
Practicing gratitude on a daily basis
Perhaps the most popular way of implementing gratitude on a daily basis is to make a gratitude list.
I did not see the point of this when it was first suggested to me. I thought it was stupid.
The point is not to have this list that makes you happy. Instead, the point is derived from the process of actually brainstorming the list.
Let’s say that your sponsor in AA tells you to write out a gratitude list and to make sure there are 50 things on it. “Write down 50 things you are grateful for!”
And maybe you struggle with this and you find that you can’t do it. You can’t come up with 50 things.
And so you complain to your sponsor and tell him: “I just can’t come up with 50 things. I can’t do it.”
And your sponsor replies: “Then come up with 100 things.”
Funny, right? But it’s not actually a joke. And the sponsor is not kidding or trying to be silly or anything. If you can’t come up with 50 things then it means that you are not looking for the right sort of things to be grateful for. You are trying to hard. Make it easier on yourself.
So instead of racking your brain and trying to come up with this perfect list, just look around you and see what you are grateful for. You have your health. You have shelter. You are warm, you have decent clothing on, whatever. Start writing it all down. Broaden your perspective a bit. Be grateful for all of it.
And then, what you can do if you really want to get good at this gratitude stuff, is you start making a list every single day.
Now that seems really ridiculous, right? To write out a fresh gratitude list every single day?
Try to do it every single day for 30 days straight. Set a number like 50 things on your list. Maybe you repeat some of them each day. They don’t all have to be 100 percent original every day.
Then when you get down jotting the list down, tear it up and throw it away.
Is this madness? Not at all!
The whole idea is to get your brain good at finding the gratitude. So you are practicing. And if you write out gratitude lists every day for a month straight, your brain will become much better at finding reasons to be grateful.
In this way, you are retraining your brain to find the positive in things.
Can you imagine how powerful this is in terms of relapse prevention?
Can you think of a single spiritual principle that could possibly be more powerful than this?
What to do if you have lost all gratitude in your life
I have noticed that when everything is going well in my life, gratitude is very easy. It is easy to be grateful when the chips are falling your way.
It is much more difficult to be grateful when things are not going so well.
And it is at those times when we need the gratitude the most.
So how do we resolve this dilemma? How do we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we are feeling down in the dumps? How do we create gratitude out of thin air?
There are a number of suggestions for this. First and foremost I would recommend that you follow some sort of daily practice.
The daily practice is the idea that you have certain habits and actions that you do every single day as a matter of routine.
This is not something that you can just do on a whim without any forethought.
The daily practice is something that you build up. It is something that you discover over time as you remain clean and sober. It is always evolving.
The idea behind it is that you have to take care of yourself. Not just physically, but also spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and socially.
So the idea is that you need to take care of yourself every single day, and in all of these different areas of your life.
If you are doing that on a consistent basis then finding gratitude should not be difficult at all.
But if you are neglecting your health in any of these areas (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually) then you will not be able to find that feeling of gratitude as easily.
The solution is to take care of yourself.
The solution is to find the habits that lead you to a healthier life in recovery.
The solution is to take positive action each and every day.
This is the daily practice.
Part of my daily practice is exercise. I work out every day in order to feel better about myself and be healthier. Plus I think it helps me sleep better as well.
Your daily practice might consist of other things. Maybe you don’t work out, but maybe you do yoga instead. Or seated meditation. Or you do Tai Chi. Or maybe this will evolve for you over time.
And it doesn’t have to be exercise or even physical stuff. We could be talking about taking care of yourself socially. Maybe you have been isolating lately, so you vow to hit some AA meetings every day for a while. Maybe you commit to doing 90 meetings in 90 days and going out for coffee with sober folks afterwards. Or whatever.
If you are not taking care of yourself in all of those five areas then it will be much more difficult to stay grateful.
How gratitude protects you from relapse
Think about someone who is about to relapse and take a drink. They are not grateful at all in that very moment. If anything they are at the complete opposite end of the gratitude spectrum: They are in a complete moment of selfishness.
So instead of thinking of all the great things that they have in life, they think of how unfair everything is to them. They think of how they have been a victim, rather than all of the opportunities they have been afforded.
If you can summon gratitude instantly then it protects you from this poisonous thinking. If you can summon gratitude at will then you will not fall into this selfish thinking that leads to relapse.
And what better way to be able to summon this gratitude than if you are in the habit of doing so every single day?
It is all about your mindset. It is all about your attitude.
If you want to relapse then just keep telling yourself that you deserve more, that you have been cheated out of your fair share in life, and that you never get any breaks at all. This is the kind of selfish thinking that leads to relapse. It is easy to justify a drink if everyone is against you.
Just think about how lucky you are to even exist. Here you are on earth, breathing air, and apparently your position in life is good enough right now that you are able to browse the Internet. That is not too shabby. Just think of all those who are less fortunate than you. There are billions of them. This is not an exaggeration! Literally billions of people who would just love to have your degree of freedom right now.
Gratitude protects you from relapse because it allows you to deem the current moment to be acceptable. It is sufficient. If it is not sufficient then you might seek to self medicate instead.
Having faith and going through the motions
If you don’t seem to have gratitude right now then you need to generate from your actions.
Start by going through the motions. Get yourself up and out there and moving. Go do something physical. Positive attitudes start with positive action. You can change how you feel in life by forcing yourself to do something different.
Go through the motions. Go do something positive. Simply go take a long walk and move your body. If you don’t feel any better then go walk twice as far. The endorphin boost should help at some point. Simply moving your body should feel good.
Find someone to connect with. Find someone who needs help in solving a problem. We all love to feel useful. If you can help someone solve a problem then you will inherently feel grateful for having done so. You will feel better about yourself and you may not even realize how or why at first. And that is OK. Just go through the motions for now. Do what is in front of you.
Part of being grateful in recovery is just learning how to get out of our own way. It is a surprising thing to learn that most of us do not really know what makes us happy. We think we know what we need to be happy in this life, but then when we finally achieve that thing, we are not so happy. And yet we might be surprised and delighted by something else entirely that we did not anticipate. And so we can look back and realize that we were happier with the thing that surprised us and less happy with the thing that we had been so sure would make us happy.
This is a universal disease. I am the same way. I think I know what will make me happy, and I am often wrong. What usually ends up making me happy is something that I did not anticipate at all.
And so this is part of the journey. We must learn to enjoy the journey, to smell the roses, to take our time. We try to rush ahead and get to this thing called “happiness” and yet we forget to be grateful along the way. We are so busy chasing happiness that we forget to just be happy.
Somehow we have to fix this. We have to pause and say to ourselves: “What can I be grateful for RIGHT NOW, in this very moment?”
Because if we don’t do that every day then happiness will forever remain elusive. It is just like when we were drinking, and we were clinging to the memory of when we got really drunk and had a lot of fun one time. And so we chase that memory and we keep trying to recreate it and we end up being completely miserable. That moment is gone and we can never get it back. Once your alcoholism reaches a certain point the “fun” is squeezed out of it forever. Time to move on and create a new kind of fun in life. You can do this in recovery, but it takes guts to start down this particular rabbit hole.
If you have control of your attitude then you have control over your disease. The only way that your addiction can win is if your brain convinces you that you deserve to take a drink or a drug. So you have to protect yourself from the threat of relapse by being able to appreciate your very existence. Maybe today is a bad day but it is still better than not existing at all, right? Maybe you have had some tough times lately but so many people are gone and have way to even attempt to be happy again. They lost their chance at life and at happiness, gone forever. But here you are, still existing, and with the ability to take control of your attitude today.
You get to choose how you will react to the world. You get to choose how amazed you are that you even get to exist. Some people take this existence entirely for granted, and could care less about everything and everyone in the world. They are feeling selfish and just want to self medicate.
You can rise above that poisonous attitude, but it takes work. It takes consistent effort and a daily practice. You may be starting from ground zero and you may have to take advice from many different people. If so then this is the best way to get back on track and protect yourself from relapse. Start taking advice and putting it into practice. Start experimenting with your life. Take suggestions from people who are successful at staying sober. Ask them what their daily habits are. Then emulate those habits and find the ones that work for you.
If everything is working against you then it is very tough to be grateful in life. On the other hand, if you are taking care of yourself in several different ways then it is much easier to find gratitude. Opportunities will find you as if by magic if you are using this holistic approach. And there is no way to predict or describe exactly how such opportunities will arise. They come to you as if by magic because you are taking positive action every day, in different areas of your life, and the benefits and rewards from those efforts will begin to interact in unpredictable ways. This always amazes me and delights me, yet I could never figure this out when I was still stuck in addiction.
If you are trapped in addiction then everything seems to be working against you instead. It is the exact opposite of recovery. Instead of opportunities being created magically they are instead destroyed due to your addiction.
You can reverse this trend in recovery and create new reasons to be grateful in your life, every single day. The journey starts slowly but eventually the gratitude that you feel in your life will become overwhelming. The key is to be consistent and to keep taking positive action every day. If you do this for long enough and you practice gratitude along the way then you can find true happiness and peace in recovery.
What about you, have you been able to find gratitude in your journey? Are you still working on it? For me it is a daily struggle and I have to keep practicing. How is it working out for you?Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!