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The Power of Gratitude

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Daily, I'm grateful for my recovery, but as a group we think of November as a special Gratitude month. Why is that? And what are the benefits?


As to why, it might be as simple as reflecting on the preceding year as it winds down. We attribute the symbol of giving thanks, Thanksgiving, to the first settlers, the Pilgrims. It is natural for us in recovery to acknowledge our blessings, and what better time to do it?


Twenty-five years ago as I write this, I was in the midst of what I refer to as my orientation period. My old way of being, a drunken party animal musician wildman, was clearly no longer working. Physically and emotionally exhausted by years of drunken rampage, I was destroying what little things of significance I'd managed to build in my life. Music, livelihood, relationships were all failing. I couldn't yet envision a life in recovery, so that left me in a miserable state of limbo. I went to meetings, trying to figure it all out, but still couldn't make it through a day without a drink. I can be grateful that I went through that experience, and learned the huge lesson that if I'm to have what we have in recovery, I must do what we do to recover.


For the person in the middle of that purgatory type of situation, just as I was, what is there to be grateful for? Well, it's possible to have actual moments in between drinks when the need to change is apparent. Something has to give. The sense of knowing that something needs to happen is an important first step in having that something happen. Furthermore, the understanding that many have traveled that same road before, that changing is possible, is a reason to feel grateful. It's not too great a leap from really knowing there is a problem to being thankful that there is a solution. 


Here's what came as a revelation to me: When I stop and think about it, gratitude uses the same mental machinery as anxiety, depression, fear and sadness. These are all emotions indicative of my internal state. While gratitude is good and fear/anxiety etc. are not, they all involve some degree of visualizing, or imagination if you will. Even if only subconsciously, anxiety is driven by the fear that something bad is going to happen. Since it's not actually happening, and therefore not produced by my environment, it's being created in my mind. While I can associate different sensations, feelings and emotions with these various mental states, they all originate inside me. By understanding that every thought I have sends a signal to my body, which generates some chemical that causes a feeling which in turn reinforces the original thought... Which sends a signal that generates a chemical etc., I can begin to see how the thoughts I think influence how I feel, and vice versa. When I consider that my anxious, depressing or fearful thoughts gave rise to anxious, depressing or fearful feelings, I realize how important my attitude is in such matters.


Gratitude is no different. It starts as a thought which creates associated feelings. These are feelings of the most positive type, because gratitude opens the door to possibility. If I'm grateful, it's not a stretch to experiencing other positive things such as empathy, compassion, and even... love. Soon I'll want the same good things for others. If I'm not careful, I'll be happy before I even know what happened. And the more grateful we are, the less anxious, depressed or fearful we are. The positive emotion of gratitude and the negative emotions just mentioned are pretty much mutually exclusive.


While we can be thankful to something or someone, the general feeling of gratitude becomes an emotion. It's more than just thoughts. Feeling grateful is an expression; we're actually putting something out there. If thoughts are the language of the mind and feelings are the language of the body, gratitude is a real mind/body process. It creates energy. By experiencing gratitude, I am sending out a signal. I'm establishing a connection with something—whether you call it God, Spirit or higher power—greater. And if I can take this whole process one step further by actually being grateful for something before it comes, I'm communicating something very directly to that something greater which it will respond to. If I can feel gratitude for the life and recovery of my dreams before that dream comes true, I'm already living that dream. This is the richest conscious contact there is, and gratitude is the key.


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