How to Practice Gratitude in Recovery 

Have you experienced those moments in your recovery where it feels like everything is going wrong? On the other hand, have you experienced moments where it feels like you are exactly where you are supposed to be? In all of these moments of recovery, the ups, and the downs, there should be one constant carried throughout, gratitude. 

At the beginning for me, gratitude felt like just another word that reminded me of weird family holidays, akin to faith, trust, and God. I understood what other people meant when they said it, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually felt or experienced a deep sense of gratitude myself. 

So how does one go about practicing gratitude in recovery? What does it mean to you, how do you bring it into your daily life? 

First of All, What is Gratitude? 

I’m going to do it, I’m going to bring up Brene Brown. She is, at the very least, a behavioral analysis who has been studying guilt, shame, trauma, and joy in human lives. She has done a lot of research into people who have experienced severe traumatic events ranging from being in a war, losing a child or loved one, victims of genocide, to addicts and alcoholics. 

A common thread that she discovered was present throughout all of her study participants, was that they all remained grateful for what they had, what they lost, and what they have now. 

The dictionary definition for gratitude is, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” 

In the early days of our recovery, it can be hard, but if we really think about it, every morning we wake up sober is a reason to be grateful. If you struggle to think of other reasons, consider:

  • Not having to wait around for the dope man
  • Saving money 
  • Meeting sober people your own age
  • Knowing your loved ones can sleep soundly because you’re safe 

Show Appreciation and Return Kindness

In the first few months after going to inpatient treatment, it can be such a challenge to just be kind to everyone we meet. We are usually still consumed by negative thoughts, anxieties, and fears, and being around other people can sometimes amplify these feelings. This leads a lot of people into isolation, however, if we take the words of the program into our thoughts, we realize that these experiences are often the little puzzle pieces that will lead us into a place of serenity. 

gratitude in recovery stout street

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail” page 89. 

While this particular sentence is in regards to sponsorship, it holds true no matter how much time you have or if you have even started your steps. 

Here’s the thing, you will hear it over and over, get a sponsor, work the steps. A huge aspect of this process actually shows gratitude for the program, especially if we are talking about showing appreciation and kindness. Here is why. 

In the beginning, we are lost. We find a sponsor, and we provide them with the opportunity to be of service to the program, by taking us through the steps. That in itself, that trust that this sponsor will be able to help us, is a form of showing appreciation for the program. The reliance that this person has the answer, allows them, if not us as well, to experience a sense of gratitude for the program in action. 

Our sponsor will show us the tools we will use to practice gratitude in other areas of our lives, and they will show us how to be of service, and how to be kind and trust others again. 

Gratitude Lists

Another easy way to find gratitude in dark times is to write out gratitude lists. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make gratitude an actual practice, rather than something we “should have”. 

It can look different for everyone, but simply enough, just write down 5 or 10 things every day that you are grateful for. They can be so simple, or they can be deeper. 

I remember always being grateful for:

  • Not hating the birds chirping in the morning anymore
  • Being able to eat food without feeling nauseous or forcing it down
  • Being able to drive a car without the fear of getting pulled over and searched
  • Being able to hold down a job

Now that I have a few years sober, I am often more grateful for the people in my life and the gifts that I have received. I have been able to go back to school, and have actually maintained a 4.0 GPA, I am in a healthy relationship with a sober individual, I have found hobbies that challenge me and fuel me with passion, I have healthy dogs whom I can take to the veterinarian if need be and who get healthy expensive food. These were things I never thought I would want or be absolutely stoked to care about, but things change in sobriety and our gratitude changes with them. 

Showing Up Regardless

It is very common for us to go through periods where we just don’t want to do the things we are supposed to do. We don’t want to go to meetings, we don’t want to do step work, we don’t want to reach out. 

However, when we do these things, regardless of how we feel, we usually discover just how much we needed to do that thing, and just how grateful we are to have these moments. When we make the effort to show up to our lives, no matter how much we may not want to, we remember just how much it all matters to us.