By: Jamie Salsberg, LCSW, CAP, MPH
Clinical Director at Transformations Treatment Center

Thanksgiving time tends to bring the concept of gratitude to the forefront of our thinking, as it is typically a time of giving thanks for the things we have been blessed with.  When most people hear the word gratitude, they think of paying attention to the good things in their life, sometimes acknowledging the fact that they are more fortunate than others around them.  The idea of “let me take some time to appreciate the fact that I am so much better off than that guy,” is often the default when thinking about this idea. Particularly for those with an interest in living a life of recovery, it is essential that the idea of gratitude be considered on another level.

Whether struggling with addiction, mental health, or other significantly debilitating life stressors, the idea of recovery necessitates two major life changes: one, that behaviors are modified to address the problem, and two, that the perception and thoughts that have contributed to those behaviors be reframed.  In this context, can we really be content to live in a definition of gratitude that says ‘things could be worse’?

I would suggest in fact that we apply an entirely different idea, and choose to see gratitude as a process of surrender and acceptance by having what I have. In other words, accepting that when we cannot change the world, the way to recover is to change our minds about the world. We cannot simply be okay with the way things are, rather, it is necessary to welcome it, particularly as it relates to the things we resist. While this may seem radical, if recovery is about having an experience of wellness, joy, and peace of mind, this is the only option.  It is not enough to take the time to recognize the positive things in our lives; in fact, I would suggest that doing so is a luxury for those who already experience a life of happiness. The journey to experience a life of gratitude is instead to appreciate and honor the challenges in our lives that have led to our growth and the struggles that have shaped us into who we are.  The goal then becomes a choice to reframe the things we classify as problems in our lives, as gifts.

The experience of the individual who can only appreciate the good things in their life is not realistic for someone interested in a life of recovery.  Life is lived in the mundane, which is a difficult concept to grasp for those who become accustomed to a life of constant chaos and drama that comes with mental health and addictions.  This rings true for those individuals struggling with such issues as well as the family and friends who surround them.  What it means to live a life of recovery, is to embrace what is, and to give up the hope that life for us could have been any other way.  Only then, can we experience the joy of being present for each breath, each moment, each subtle experience, regardless of our expectations; only then are we free to experience the peace of mind that comes as a result of true gratitude.

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