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 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 things, it is 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 really important.

There is no doubt that 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.

Dark Thoughts

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 to have a high degree of negativity about their thought and feelings, and as such being grateful or doing a crescent list hopes 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 life, 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 the 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 the life, and move away from an underlying sense of dread about the past and their alcoholism generally. Here comes the but – there are two other important things that 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 idiot sometimes people will feel 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 they are.

It may be that in early recovery people are not able to face that in 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 own feelings, whatever those feelings are, and use those feelings as a guide to what is going on in there 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 until 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, especially 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 more healthy 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.