A common practice among treatment facilities is the encouragement of daily affirmations and gratitude. Placing sticky notes with affirming phrases on your bathroom mirror or anywhere to be seen when you first wake up, compiling a list of the things you’re grateful for, or saying them out loud to your peers are exercises executed in early recovery. Practicing appreciation or gratitude in recovery allows us to focus on the present and what is happening around us.
The Foundation of Appreciation
Recognizing the good things that surround us daily is the foundation of a spiritually fit life. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) encourages a spiritual connection with a power greater than ourselves. Basically, letting go of our ego opens our hearts and our minds to the endless possibilities of living a renewed life.
As per the Big Book of AA, finding a spiritual side to our lives is the foundation to living a recovered life. A life of substance use disorder (SUD) brings spiritual malady, making it difficult to be our truest selves. For the agnostic, the thought of spirituality or the word God can deter them from wanting to move forward in sobriety. Understandably so.
If we think of spirituality as a shift in perspective, rather than offering our lives and our care to something we cannot conceptualize, then we can consider the spiritual side of recovery a little easier. A perspective shift can be the beginning of finding things to be grateful for.
Practicing appreciation can look like anything you want it to. A common exercise is to create a list of the things in your life that you’re grateful for. It can also look like meditation: pausing and taking a deep breath and feeling at peace in that moment. Practicing appreciation can just as easily be speaking to or thanking your higher power. Intentionally taking the time to reflect on the present and feeling grateful for at least one thing can be the action that turns your mood around.
Being appreciative of where you are in terms of recovery can feel challenging. Going to a treatment facility, beginning the process of recovering from SUD, feeling like you’re at rock bottom. At this time in your life, it can feel invalidating to your struggles to be asked to find anything to be appreciative of. You might feel resentful toward the task, and that’s understandable.
Appreciation and Your Recovery
Finding moments or specific things to be appreciative of does bring proven benefits to our overall wellness. Practicing gratitude regularly can improve mental health, reducing anxiety and depression over time. It can also help reduce stress; if we’re able to recognize a few good things in our day instead of constantly seeing the negatives, then over time, we’re able to control how we react to stressful situations. Change the thought, change the behavior.
Again, if it’s your first time in treatment, then it might feel nearly impossible to find anything to appreciate. When we’re in a dark place, it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It’s okay if it takes some time to get to a place where you’re thankful for anything. The good news is, in the beginning, if it’s difficult, appreciation doesn’t have to be anything profound. It can be as simple as being grateful for that first cup of coffee in the morning.
If your gratitude for the day starts with that first cup of coffee, then, over time, there’s potential for it to grow. It starts with coffee, then maybe a meal, or the sun shining or the rain falling or the people you are surrounded by. They sound minuscule, but the practice of appreciating the little things can grow in time and teach us to find gratitude in any moment of our day.
Benefits of Practicing Appreciation
Research has shown there can be physical and mental benefits to practicing gratitude in your daily life. Some of those things include:
- Lowered stress levels
- Reduced body aches
- Increased desire to take care of oneself
- Increased sense of joy
- Increased feelings of optimism
- Increased levels of dopamine
It might feel like a bit of a stretch to say that practicing gratitude would increase any of the aforementioned attributes. However, if you think about it, there is weight to these claims. If we spend time and energy thinking about the good things around us, we spend less time in angry or stressful emotions. Reduce our anger or resentment, increase the recognition of what is going right in our lives, and find delight in those things.
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