Sometimes we discover a 12 step room that could be from a movie set. All of the chairs are comfortable. The room is well lit and airy. We can see trees and sky through the picture windows. There is the wonderful strong aroma of fresh brewed high quality coffee. Some delicious treats have been laid out buffet style for all to enjoy. The space is wonderfully cool during the warm weather months and nice and toasty in the winter.
Yes, sometimes we find a room like that, but much of the time that’s not the case. Often the chairs are rickety, the lighting is poor, it’s hot in the summer and chilly in the winter and the coffee looks and tastes like mud.
But the truth is that none of that matters. We could be sitting on pogo sticks and still need to be full of gratitude. We are part of a fellowship which has changed our lives. Apart from freeing us from of our drug of choice, we have experienced a psychic change. We are no longer the same person who walked through the door of AA, NA or OA the first time. Emotional sobriety has been encountered and has begun to be absorbed. That rickety chair you’ve been sitting on is worth more than a truckload of massage chairs and recliners.
Personal Reflection: Why is my home group seat so valuable?
As active alcoholics and addicts we did many things that we weren’t proud of. When we entered sobriety, we finally put down our drug of choice. That was a truly wonderful thing. The problem was that we carried around remnants from our days of using. These often manifested themselves as guilt. Even after an extended period of sobriety, we still had strong feelings of shame. We continued to have obsessive thoughts about events from long ago. Although others had long forgotten those actions, they were still front and center in our mind.
What changed for us was that at meetings we began to hear people speak about their gratitude. They too had done things in the past which they regretted. By going through the steps they had made their amends where possible and had moved on. Their focus was now on the present. Many of them had a daily practice of making a gratitude list. We decided to follow their example.
Over time many of those obsessive thoughts of guilt and shame dissipated. Since we could only keep one thought in our mind at it time, it made sense to us to make that thought one of gratitude. Even when we had guilty thoughts about current actions, we learned to let go of them as well.
Personal Reflection: Do I chose gratitude over guilt?
There is a story told of a sage who was asked by his students to explain the concept of being grateful with your portion. He told them they should go see a certain man in a nearby village for the answer. The students traveled to the village and asked the residents where the local sage was. When they went to his house however they discovered that he was not the man their teacher had been referring to. He directed them to a poor fellow who had a broken down shack in the woods. He was barely literate so at first the students were reticent about asking him their question. However since their teacher had sent them, they went and asked him about being satisfied with your portion. He replied to them, “I really don’t understand why your teacher sent you to me. I’ve never had a day in my life when I wasn’t grateful for what I had”.
We can learn a lot from that fellow in the woods. The very fact that we are here alive in this moment is a great place to start with in acknowledging our gratitude. Much of life is not situational. Rather it can be referenced by our attitudes. Of course there will be times of difficulty; and when that happens we need to make gratitude our fallback position
Personal Reflection: What am I grateful for today?
Like many a newcomer we had called our sponsor full of complaints about how all the people in our life had wronged us. After listening to us for a few minutes our sponsor cut us off. He or she directed us to get a piece of paper and a pen and then get back on the call. We dutifully complied thinking that we were going to have an opportunity to blast everyone in our life who had angered or disappointed us recently. We would probably have to go to the post office to get a roll of stamps for all of the letters we would be writing to all those who had wronged us. However, when we got back on the phone, the conversation took a distinct turn. No, our sponsor wasn’t interested in our grievances. Rather, he or she asked us to write a gratitude list. At first we thought this was a bit strange. Why should we write down our gratitudes when we were full of upset about others. What we found that as we wrote down our gratitudes a lot of our feelings of upset dissipated. We realized that we had a lot to be grateful for. As we gained some time many of us have made this a daily practice where we write down a few gratitudes as part of our daily journaling regimen.
Personal Reflection: What am I grateful for right now?
Every decade scientists have made progress in finding cures and treatments for various diseases. A generation ago, the epidemics of polio were eliminated with the Salk vaccine. More recently, great strides have been made in the areas of cancer and cardiovascular research. With all that, one of the most prevalent diseases of the millennia has remained largely untreated. In fact, one could argue that there has been an epidemic of the disease. Almost everyone you meet is suffering it to some degree. We are of course referring to the condition of “negativity”. The symptoms are easy enough to identify. They include irritability, feelings of resentment, self belittlement and personal doubt. This disease is found in the workplace as well as in people’s homes, and especially on highways and other modes of public transportation. Unfortunately, the researchers have not come up with a vaccine to prevent this malady. What has been discovered is that individuals actually do have some tools to help alleviate some of the symptoms of negativity. One that has been shown to be remarkably effective is the expression of gratitude throughout of day. The latest research seems to indicate that when we not only have thoughts of gratitude, but actually verbally express it, their is an immediate relief of the symptoms of negativity. Sharing our feelings with others and and doing service also seem to have promise in treating the negativity disease.
Personal Reflection: What home remedies do I use for negativity?
Many people prior to entering the program thought they were terminally unique. Their view of the world was often skewed. For instance, because they were often isolators or self absorbed, they really had no idea what was happening with other people. Thus, they often had the attitude that their life was somehow more challenging and difficult than that of the majority of other people. Because of this, they justified their drug of choice as a type of self medication administered because life had dealt them the worst possible hand. They reasoned that if they had been dealt a better hand they wouldn’t have turned to drugs and alcohol.
Upon entering the rooms, they learned some valuable life lessons. They encountered people in the program who had were facing major life crises. These included serious illness, bankruptcy, loss of loved ones and problems with relationships. To the newcomer’s amazement, problems were faced by these people without a drink or a drug or a substance. What really astonished them was that these same people at meetings were able to express gratitude for their lives. Upon seeing and hearing this, the newcomer began to reassess his or her own life. Perhaps their problems weren’t as insurmountable as they had once thought. Given that this was the case, perhaps they could obtain sobriety one day at a time.
Personal Reflection: Do I have enough gratitude?
All of us of course need to fulfill some very basic needs in order to survive. Food clothing and shelter of course immediately come to mind. Beyond that we begin to get into the area of wants. Within that arena, one of the most common mentioned wants is the desire to be happy. Many an alcoholic, drug or food addict were part of this group of seekers of happiness. The problem was that happiness often eluded us. As a result, we often turned to our drug of choice to fill those feelings of emptiness and sadness. We soon learned that not only did happiness continue to escape us, but a whole new set of problems arose. We often tumbled into depression as our lives deteriorated.
In the rooms we quickly heard a different take on happiness. Someone at a meeting would invariably say to us; “You’re a winner today. You didn’t take a drink or a drug. Everything else is gravy”. As timed passed we began to see that we really did have “a lot of gravy” in our lives. We had a boatload of little reasons to be happy. As we readjusted our expectations, that smile on our faces ever widened.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to lower the bar?
When we we heard someone using words like “miracles” or “miraculous” many of us felt uncomfortable. We were of the school of thought that felt there was a logical explanation for almost everything that occurred in the universe. We had repeatedly heard about miracles which were later found to be explainable thru the laws of reason or science. Then perhaps one day while we were griping to someone about this miracle talk, an old timer interrupted our conversation and said, “how has your life changed since you entered the program”? Now that was something we could talk about. There had been so many changes for the better. Relationships had been reclaimed, finances had been restored, and health greatly improved. While we were active, in our wildest dreams we didn’t think that the type of life we were living was even in the realm of “possibility”. Yet now, thru the program we had fulfilled those supposedly unobtainable possibilities. We had even begun to look towards the future with an eye on uncovering a whole new set of possibilities. Upon consideration, our turning possibilities into reality really was miraculous.
Personal Reflection: How have my possibilities been miraculous?
When it comes to all of the blessings we have, our minds are like a sieve. I mean really, how anyone can walk around bemoaning their fate is really quite puzzling. Each of us has so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are people that are facing a lot of adversity. That being said, they too have a bounty of blessings. The fact that we can breathe without having to think about it or walk without having to balance ourselves surely are gifts. If only we were able to have all of these gifts front and center in our minds; how much brighter each day would would be.
Paradoxically, when it comes to our troubles; are minds are more like a sponge. It is so easy for us to soak up negative energy and then hold onto to it for dear life. Some of us walk around with a troubling event long after it has past. So here is a modest proposal. Let’s attempt to reverse our brain patterns. Let’s remember our blessings like we remember our troubles; and forget our troubles like we forget our blessings. That my friends,is called recovery.
Personal Reflection: Am I able to forget my troubles and remember my blessings?
In recent years there have been a flurry of books on gratitude. Internet self help experts advice people to keep daily gratitude lists to record all that is good in their lives. In program, we too acknowledge the incredible importance of gratitude. We also maintain daily gratitude lists.
Beyond that, as part of our step work, we continue to take daily personal inventory. It is all well and good to write down 2 or 3 gratitudes in our daily journal. However, if after that we walk around leaking negativity, complaining, and judging others, are we really full of gratitude? It is only through a rigorous daily self assessment that we can ascertain how grateful we really are. It is also important to listen to the feedback from others regarding our behavior. When people indicate to us that we are being judgmental or negative, rather than getting defensive, we need to take the information and meditate on it carefully. As they say, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Finally, part of gratitude is being a gracious person who is willing to be of service to others. When you acknowledge that your cup truly does runneth over, then there is the possibility of sharing your good fortune with others.
Personal Reflection: Are your gratitude and actions in sync?