The Need to Question Gratitude
Quite often in an AA meeting or similar, you will hear someone announce themselves as my name is so-and-so and I’m a grateful alcoholic/ addict, or I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic/addict.
Equally, you are quite likely to hear someone say at a meeting something along the lines of a grateful alcoholic will never drink.
There is a sense that being grateful is not only a good and worthwhile thing, but it is also an important part of recovery, and to some people, it is a vital part of staying sober.
It is also often thought of as a way of preventing the build-up of anger. The word gratitude can mean different things to different people, and it is worth being aware there are a couple of areas to it that are both important.
No doubt having some type of perspective about either what you have in life, or what is going for you in life can be helpful in terms of giving you a more balanced outlook on who you are and where your life is going.
This can be especially true for people who are alcoholics, especially those who are recently sober or trying to get sober.
There is a general sense that people in recovery have a high degree of negativity about their thoughts and feelings, and as such being grateful or doing a gratitude list helps to counterbalance that sense of negativity.
This can certainly be true. The depressive effects of alcohol can induce a wide range of dark thoughts and feelings within an individual, often compounding an already distorted outlook on themselves and their lives, and deepening a sense of dread about their future.
The process of 12-step recovery involves many stages, one of which is laying the foundations for a stable period of sobriety. Part of the process of laying these foundations is to give the individual hope and let them discover for themselves the reality of their inner world, and what it means to them.
Developing a perspective that looks at their reality is hugely important to most people.
Often writing out a gratitude list helps people focus on the good in life, and move away from an underlying sense of dread about the past and their alcoholism generally. Here comes the but – two other important things need to be considered.
Gratitude is often touted as a good emotion or good feeling, as opposed to various other not-so-good feelings, and therefore one that should be encouraged. The danger with this idea is that sometimes people will believe that they should be feeling a particular way when they aren’t.
This feeds into the whole issue of authenticity, and the need for people to have a genuine sense of being able to be who they are.
It may be that in early recovery people are not able to face that reality because of the dread attached to it. A focus on what is going well for them can help move them forward.
There does come a point however when that person needs to have space to own their feelings, whatever those feelings are, and use those feelings as a guide to what is going on in their inner world.
This does not mean that they have to let go of looking for the good in their life, but it does mean that they need to be aware of what the so-called negative feelings are and where they are coming from.
There is a sense in recovery that there are two ongoing parts to it. One is dealing with the day-to-day stuff which most people should get better with when sober, and dealing with the underlying stuff which for many people can be fairly traumatic, especially if there is a history of abuse or trauma, particularly in childhood.
For many sober alcoholics, the process of dealing with the underlying issues becomes more important as time goes on, and also leads to a healthier resolution of the effects of trauma and abuse which give rise to much of the so-called negativity or dread that helped fuel their drinking.