Think about the things that you were grateful for during your eminent career of using and drinking and it may look something like this: ‘Thank goodness the dealer picked up the phone and is at the end of the road now and I don’t have to wait 3 nail-biting hours like last time’, ‘thank the lord the police didn’t find that stash’, ‘I can’t believe that nobody noticed how drunk I was’ and ‘Fricking awesome, that $20 I just found tucked away at the bottom of my partner’s dirty jeans will buy me a bottle or two’. The actual word ‘grateful’ probably didn’t even come into it, it was more just complete relief that the world was spinning your way or that you got away with something and seemingly had no consequences.
So what is Gratitude?
The adjective ‘Grateful’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘showing or expressing thanks, especially to another person’. Now, it’s dubious that you would be marching up to the copper who just busted you to thank him for not being thorough at his job or that you would be expressing your joy over some money you had essentially stolen from your better half, directly to their face. And it’s probable that any thanks that you did proffer, more often than not, was dropped like a large hammer in the middle of an empty bell chamber, all echo and no meaning, or part of some elaborate manipulation. Thus, like so many concepts, the notion of gratitude gets warped by the disease of addiction, stretched up, hollowed out and squashed sideways as if looking at it through those old-fashioned fairground mirrors of distortion.
To feel gratitude means to have a deep sense of appreciation for a situation, a place, a thing or a person. Sometimes, because the nature of addiction leads the sufferer to cover the albatross of so called negative emotions with more substances, which consequently sinks their ship of all feelings both good and bad, the thawing out process can take a while. It takes time for the dopamine centres and synapses in the brain to begin to work properly again even when a detox is finished. Of course this depends on many things including what your poison was, how long you used for and your general physical state. So, it is unlikely that you will stop using and be filled with the light of this important recovery principle. It takes time to understand it, learn how to practice it and for it to pass from an intellectual notion to a concept of the heart.
Don’t shoot your Albatross
The Albatross in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Marnier’ is a symbol of hope, sent to steer the ship away from the icefields to safety and the Marnier, obviously an addict bent on destruction, shoots it. Subsequently, he is forced by the crew of the boat to wear it around his neck as a penance and embarks on a horrific and fantastical adventure where he learns the error of his ways.
Gratitude as the opposite of the Dead Albatross
A millstone of negativity hangs around the neck of every using addict fashioned from the greasy feathers of guilt, shame, self-pity and resentment. These plumes of feeling are the exact things that most seek escape from in the bottom of a bottle or in safe confines of a bag of powder or pill. These hideous snakes of emotion writhe beneath the surface of even the most wasted and raise their heads every time the effects of a substance wear off. These feelings don’t go away just because you get clean and gratitude is the blessing which helps to lift the curse.
Some Ways of Showing Gratitude
Gratitude is not just about revelling in feeling good, it’s also about acting differently and as the dictionary definition points out, is about showing your appreciation. This is about walking through life without the dead-weight of a bad attitude round your neck and learning how to be grateful is about action.
Now, even before you feel this rooted in your heart, your actions can help forge that important path from the head to the core. It’s not about being a door mat and it’s not about being ingenuous but sometimes it’s about ‘acting as if’ until the rest of you follows. Sometimes it’s just about starting with the things you know you should be grateful for. Often in recovery speak we talk about ‘the shoulds’ as being a bad thing but with this concept you can absolutely work them to your advantage.
One of the ways people do this is by keeping a gratitude journal and recognising the small things throughout the day that are special, like the deliciousness of that first cup of coffee, waking up and not having to use or drink or the fact the sun is shining. This is a happiness practice, a way of focusing on the positive because addicts love a raging storm of adversity and chaos. Addiction is a disease of perception and this realigns the compass and sets your ship in a different direction.
Another way of showing gratitude is by actually verbalising it to the person you are grateful for, whether it is for something they did or just the fact you cherish their presence. This is a way of connecting to people and acknowledging their contributions to your life without an ulterior motive.
Displaying your gratitude can actually be more understated than this and can be as simple as respecting other people and yourself. Perhaps this is as simple as wiping up the sugar you spilt in the kitchen, replacing the loo roll and hanging up your towel to dry. It’s the small winds of change that set the course for a new experience.
Human beings and especially addicts like a good moan, we like to shoot those albatrosses, we like to focus on the burdens of life and live in the ship of Zombie’s on a sea of snakes. And, at times living in gratitude is as simple as just not nit-picking and complaining when the world is not doing back flips for your entertainment.
The proficient seadog can even become grateful for the things that on the face of it look like adversity. The things in life that challenge you: the seemingly hopeless storm that brought you into recovery, losing a job, failing an exam and dealing with challenging people can all be approached with this principle in mind. The things that actually look nightmarish on the surface and actually feel pretty wretched at the time can actually be our greatest teachers.
The practice of gratitude keeps your albatross airborne on thermals of appreciation, don’t wear it around your neck like some sick atonement or warped badge of honour. It’s really as simple as this: the grateful addict will not use or drink.
So if you or anyone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol and would like to do something about their problem give one of our expert advisors a call at 1300 705 011.