Gratitude, Thankfulness and Recovery in the Real World…

 

I went away to a retreat last weekend. I was feeling a bit “rusty” in my recovery and decided I could use a tune-up. One of the things that hit me like a gong at a Buddhist temple while I was there, was the fact I had stopped doing a daily check on the condition of my condition…

 

Sometimes Life Gets in the Way of Recovery…

At the retreat there was yoga, mindful meditation, forest bathing and 12-step guidance. We anticipated the 24 hours to come and recapped at day’s end. Similarly, at Sanford House we start the day with affirmations and end with candlelit gratitude. It is a wonderful way, during treatment, to illustrate the concept of “one day at a time”. It also feels a bit like confession to me – the slate wiped clean of missteps each night and a pristine, grateful start the next day.

 

Hard to miss God in his heavens when you are high atop a mountain in the Pacific NW.

 

Of course, when I got home from the West Coast respite, my alarm did not go off and I overslept for the first time in ages. I was due to lead a “Walk with Mare” at 7 AM. I threw on winter clothes and mad dashed – stressed and 15 minutes late for the one thing I tell everyone in recovery to do. Get up early and go for a walk. 

 

So much for guided breathing, and anticipating the serenity of the day with a recording of chirping frogs…

 

Reminding Ourselves to be Thankful…

But that is what recovery is like in the real world. There are morning commitments and dicky machinery and last minute changes – even road rage when we’re running late. In fact, carving out the time to be thankful can be difficult in our fast-paced lives.

 

It’s the Thanksgiving weekend. And in our family, we have a tradition to go around the table and say what we are thankful for. It’s corny, but one day out of the year my kin remind themselves we are fortunate to have a bountiful feast and love in our family.

 

Carving Out Time for Thankfulness and Gratitude Every Day

What the positive thinking pundits and addiction treatment advocates know, is that a positive attitude – voicing thanks – can actually shape a person’s perception of the day. There’s a reason why everyone in my family feels satisfied and happy on Thanksgiving (and it’s not just  the candied yams). It’s because we have reaffirmed how lucky we are and how connected we are.

 

So, how do we make that feeling stick?

 

Families push buttons…

Let’s start with my family at Thanksgiving. I do not mean to sound as if, like some Norman Rockwell painting, we are perfectly quaffed and flawlessly mannered. People in my family drink. We play competitive games and I am an obnoxious winner. But what works at Thanksgiving is the shared history. The wordless communication and the undeniable love. And there’s the gorging too. We’re too sleepy to get snippy. It would do us all good to remember that love every day – long after the turkey is digested.

 

Carve out time for gratitude

During “real life” it is actually stressful for me to think I have to meditate first thing in the morning. Every morning. What if I have a blog post to write? What if I want to hike at 6:30? What if there’s a guest who wants breakfast? Work to finish before an early meeting? AHHHHGGGGG!! Putting parentheses on your day with resonate “Oms” is probably the best way to forge a solid recovery. But if life gets in the way, carve out time at some point each day to remember how very fortune you are. Say it out loud, paint it or write it down and you get a double whammy of positive results!

 

Go outside and listen – it’s for the birds…

You don’t even have to hike a long distance to get the benefit of nature’s positive effects. You can step into the backyard and open your ears. One of my favorite meditations is to follow the birdsong to find the bird (nerd much?). Or take an hour-long, after work “gratitude stroll”. Meander along and think of all the good things in your life. By hour’s end you’ll be struggling (I’m grateful that I have a few extra rolls of toilet paper in the linen closet?), but that’s the point. If you do it regularly, it will change your way of thinking. You’ll begin to look for good in the world.

 

autumn gratitude walk - recovery

Where’s the birdie?

 

Get thee to a 12-step meeting, therapy group, yoga class, bible study or other gathering of peers…

A wise man once said, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” Connection, friendship and service are the cornerstones of recovery. After years of isolation and the feeling of being alone in your addiction, a gathering of peers can feel like a miracle. And once you enter a room you will feel obligated to go with the flow. Even if meditation, downward dog and “sharing” is not natural to you.

 

Put away your phone!

Which brings me to phones. Do not be that person who’s phone goes off during the telling of a particularly raw personal story. Or while a moment of silence is being observed. Leaving your phone in a locker, purse or the car is freeing. Even having the phone tucked in a pocket with the ringer off is a distraction.

 

Read the signs…

Relapse is more of a process than a singular event. And there are warning signs:  subtle changes in attitudes and behaviors that can gradually erode the best of intentions. Working toward a life that minimizes stress and frustration and emphasizes mindfulness and healthy activities is a commendable goal. But when real life gets in the way of your positive thoughts the best thing you can do is to stop and read the signs. Take stock every day.  Know yourself and for God’s sake tell somebody if you’re struggling. 

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

It’s Thanksgiving. Before the feasting begins my loved ones will want to know what I am thankful for this year. I will say that I am thankful for the delicious food. For the kinship and love (even though I will miss my daughter and her fiance’). I’m thankful to be in Florida for a short time and warm. Grateful for the conversation and the inevitable laughter… the burned bridges patched and repaired…

 

But most of all, I am grateful for a life reclaimed. Carving out time to be thankful and grateful every day. I look forward to what comes next, and am fiercely protective of my new “normal”. Grateful, thankful and present in the real world. Bring it on…

 

Author, Marilyn Spiller is a writer, speaker, sober coach and recovery advocate with a 20-year history of international hobnobbing and outrageous over-drinking. Five years sober, she writes a popular blog called Waking Up the Ghost, where she pens a humorous account of her wobbly steps toward long-term recovery. Marilyn is the Executive Director of Marketing for Sanford House. She is responsible for business development and branding, all Sanford House publications and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford House online magazine, Excursions.