Google defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Those of us in recovery have spent many a meeting discussing gratitude. It is the topic of open discussion meetings and is the focus of one of the many one-liners that we throw at newcomers. “You have to have an attitude of gratitude” can be heard from sponsors all over the world. It has been suggested that gratitude as a subject matter is so prevalent that its meaning is lost on us. Why is it a constant theme in the recovery world? There must be something to it….right?
Those more inclined to pessimism would say it is sheer laziness that leads members to use gratitude as a topic, an easy out when nothing else comes to mind. Then we get to talk about what we are thankful for rather than addressing the hard work involved in getting and staying sober or what is really standing in the way of personal growth.
There is an element of truth to this, but the old-timers were on to something when they embraced the concept of gratitude. In fact, a good way to identify the ultimate ‘goal’ of recovery is to examine the common traits amongst members with both time AND emotional sobriety (the two are not always present together).
Before we wiggle down this rabbit hole, it’s time for a disclaimer: this is an opinion based on observation and experience over years of personal recovery and working with those in the recovery professions. Quality of sobriety is always a touchy subject, and you may have a different take on this topic. That’s okay. We are simply looking at the subject from one point of view in an area where there are many points of view.
There are some common traits among old-timers who embody the concept of emotional sobriety. Let’s take a closer look at these traits, while understanding that no one is perfect:
• A Sense of Service: they are always busy helping others within the recovery community and in the greater community.
• Action Oriented: there are fewer and fewer words as the years pass and more and more action.
• Full Lives: their lives are full beyond recovery. Careers, families, hobbies, friends.
• Willingness to Work with Newcomers: they understand our primary purpose, to help the still-suffering addict/alcoholic, and they are not shy about helping.
Gratitude is the opposite of selfish/self-seeking; its most important characteristic is an action. The traits listed above are examples of behaviors reflective of gratitude.
Service for the sake of service shows gratitude for the life you have. Action shows an understanding that standing still will not produce change, much less gratitude. Living a full life shows appreciation for your life by utilizing that life to its capacity. Working with newcomers shows gratitude for the gift of sobriety that was so graciously given to you.
Is gratitude without action even possible? Maybe or maybe not. A man in recovery summed it up this way:
“When I am being of service, attending meetings, working with newcomers, just being a good human being, then I am married to the right woman, I have the right job, my car is just fine and I live in the right house. When I stop doing these things I married to wrong woman, have the wrong car, I need a different house and my job stinks.”
A lot of us who have been sober long enough can relate to that. Rarely do we get sober and do what is required for emotional sobriety. Our actions ebb and flow. During the ebb, we recognize the deterioration of our attitude and start healthy actions again. It’s a normal process in a population that is easily led astray by things like finance and romance.
Gratitude is not achieved through simple thought; it is brought about and evidenced in action. Watch a couple who have been married for 50 plus years who still dote on each other. That’s gratitude in action. You can see it and feel it.
Another way to look at this topic is by asking “Do I take this relationship/gift/community for granted?” When I take my sobriety for granted, I am no longer grateful for it in the same way; if I take my spouse for granted, I am not grateful for her. I lose sight of the importance something plays in my life, and if this persists, that something will eventually go away.
All too often we get caught up in talking about concepts rather than living them. Recovery is not a book club for the free exchange of ideas about a subject (although as in any community, this happens). Instead, it’s a place where we show up to save our lives. Those of us who have been relieved of the obsession to drink and use have an obligation first and foremost to be examples of change. We owe it to the newcomer (whether he is in a treatment center or in the rooms) to present a program of action, not just a program of attendance.
Abstinence is only one part of the goal when we get sober. We set the bar too low when abstinence is the only goal. The Steps are designed to evoke change beyond simply not drinking. Being grateful is one of the changes that takes place….if we do the work. At Gray Wolf Ranch we believe that sobriety is built on the bedrock of service, because service provides perspective and leads to gratitude. This is not a new idea; it’s been around for ages. It is a formula that works if you WORK at it. If we view gratitude as an action rather than just a state of mind, amazing things occur. Try it and see!