The Value of Gratitude in Addiction Recovery
Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu
The treatment and recovery journey from substance use requires persistence and commitment. For treatment to be effective, an individual must make the challenging decision to admit their loss of control over substance use and choose to receive professional treatment. While this may be the most challenging step in recovery for some, the first few weeks and months of treatment can present several obstacles for just about everyone in recovery. How does one stay positive and motivated during treatment when they are constantly facing these hardships? The answer lies in gratitude.
What is gratitude in addiction recovery?
Gratitude is the act of being thankful and appreciative. Gratitude is known to help individuals feel more positive emotions, especially during times of mental or emotional distress. Not only does gratitude encourage one to be present in the moment, but it also serves as a stress reduction tactic. Although gratitude may be a familiar concept, many people do not take advantage of the benefits it can have on overall health.
How can gratitude impact the recovery journey?
Individuals in addiction treatment may experience a rollercoaster of emotions throughout their recovery journey. Many people who struggle with their mental health and/or substance use disorder (SUD) will experience feelings of guilt, shame, resentment and regret throughout treatment.
This inner battle of emotions can surface from a combination of years of stigma and stereotypes of mental health conditions, dysfunction of important brain areas caused by substance use and a disoriented sense of self, which may have been caused or exacerbated by substance use. Still, these all-too-common negative feelings can keep individuals feeling “stuck” in recovery and cause them to question their worthiness of recovery altogether.
When individuals in recovery lack knowledge of important coping skills and resources for overcoming intrusive thoughts and emotions, they are more likely to relapse. Gratitude, then, becomes an incredibly valuable skill to learn and practice, as it can help one recognize the positive things in life. Even creating time to embrace or remember a joyful moment can help individuals in recovery realize that they are worthy and deserving of joy, which can motivate their participation and long-term commitment to recovery.
Ways to practice gratitude in addiction recovery
Practicing gratitude is easier said than done, especially for those who are new to the concept of gratitude. Still, there are endless ways that one can practice gratitude in recovery. Here are a few examples:
#1. Thank your support system.
Whether someone is new to treatment or has been in recovery for a while, a great way to practice gratitude is by thanking the family members, friends and professionals who have helped them get where they are today. More likely than not, recovering individuals are surrounded by a group of people who have all contributed to their recovery in some way. Create an opportunity to thank them for their love, support and encouragement.
It may be helpful to remember that everyone gives love and receives love in their own unique and preferred way. If an individual is familiar with the love language of their friend or family member, they can thank them using their love language. For example, some people receive love best through gifts, while others prefer quality time or words of affirmation. Individuals can be even more intentional with their gratitude by catering to their support systems’ preferred love languages.
#2. Start a gratitude journal.
Although journaling is certainly not for everyone, it can be a great motivator for personal growth. A gratitude journal can be anything one wants it to be. Individuals can write in it as often as they like. However, individuals are encouraged to utilize gratitude journals with consistency in how often and how much they write.
Gratitude journals can empower individuals in recovery to set aside intentional time for gratitude. For example, some people choose to write in a gratitude journal daily for five to 10 minutes. Because many people in treatment and recovery are busy with both recovery and general life activities, this short, scheduled time for gratitude can encourage mindfulness and presence.
#3. Volunteer in your community.
Gratitude does not always have to be directed toward someone the individual has an established relationship with. A great way to practice gratitude is by giving back or volunteering within one’s community. Volunteering serves as a reminder to be grateful for the little things, especially when people get caught up in their recovery. Similarly, volunteering can offer new perspectives on what one has to be grateful for, especially when they are struggling.
#4. Engage in self-care.
Another way that individuals can practice gratitude is through self-care. Gratitude is not always outward expression; individuals can show gratitude toward themselves and their inward progress. Self-care can include things like taking a nice bath, allowing oneself time to relax, spending time with people one cares about and doing things one enjoys. Learning how to engage in self-care regularly throughout treatment can aid in relapse prevention throughout long-term recovery.
Cliffside Malibu is an addiction treatment facility where the staff knows the power gratitude can have on short-term treatment and long-term recovery. We encourage gratitude practices throughout treatment for all of our patients. We can teach you the value that mindfulness can have on your healing journey. To learn more, call (855) 403-5641.