Addiction recovery often isn’t just about whether you can stay sober for a year, but whether you have a reason to. When people quit an addiction, it is typically because they begin to realize the effect their bad habits have had on those around them. Most people decide enough is enough, and they begin the road towards improving themselves.
Yet as that road goes on, many come upon speed bumps, imposed by their own intrusive thoughts. Doubt and guilt creeps in, and some people struggle with finding a reason why they should really deserve staying sober.
It’s no secret that there is an abnormally high correlation between addiction, depression and anxiety. Whether as a cause or an effect, mental anguish and substance abuse go hand-in-hand. Coming out of that dark hole and beginning a new life is hard, not only because it’s a demanding and challenging task in its own right, but because people often dissuade themselves out of making the progress they could be making.
That’s where the role of forgiveness plays such a huge role in promoting sobriety and a drug-free lifestyle. Guilt, anger – volatile and negative emotions help induce and strengthen the urge to use, making avoiding a relapse especially difficult early on in recovery, when emotions are at their most tumultuous. You cannot simply ignore these feelings and hope that they’ll go away – instead, you must work through them.
Forgiveness Is More Than a Buzzword
Forgiveness, higher power, spirituality being in-touch with yourself, making the best of things – there are a million phrases and terms and words in addiction recovery language that some patients may simply be sick of. It’s important, however, not to let these words become dull and lose meaning. Forgiveness in particular seems like such a naïve concept, especially in the face of how unjust things can be in the “real world” – yet it’s not just about forgiving others. It’s about being able to look in the mirror and smile at yourself, without feeling self-conscious, shameful, or angry.
It’s about being okay with who you are. If you can’t do that – if you can’t forgive yourself – then your recovery is simply doomed.
There’s more to wanting to recover from an addiction than just wanting to do it for the sake of others. You have to be able to convince yourself that you deserve being a happy and sober person, and that you, as a happy and sober person, have a place in this world – among family, among friends, among people who love you and whom you choose to be with. Even forgiving someone else isn’t necessarily about lending someone else a hand – it’s about showing yourself that it’s more important to be able to look forward than it is to be stuck in anger.
However, that’s easier said than done. So here are a few concrete steps to help prepare you for forgiveness, and gratitude.
Cultivating an Attitude for Gratitude
Forgiveness and gratitude can be put into practice through concise (but not necessarily simple) steps.
1. Examine and Understand Your Perspective
Perspective matters a lot in life. There are often times when the proper perspective changes everything – it allows you to turn a massive loss into a win of a different kind, and allows you to tackle a challenge in life and see it as an opportunity to do something else.
There are times when a situation is terrible no matter what perspective you approach it with – but even then, the worst thing to do is lose all hope. By examining your mind set in the face of the challenges and problems life throws your way, and by examining how you’ve shaped up – if at all – to those challenges, you can best determine how you need to change your mind set in order to overcome the challenge of addiction.
When it comes to being grateful, it’s simply a matter of making that conscious choice in your mind to focus on the good, rather than the bad in life. The reason why is simple psychology. If you enter a room and are asked to scan every blue object within the next five seconds before closing your eyes, you’ll be stumped when asked to name all red objects. If you focus on one thing, you’ll lose sight of other possibilities.
Human beings prioritize. Prioritize the good in life, and you’re more likely to notice opportunities for new things – you’ll meet new people, make new friendships, find new hobbies, and create new experiences in discovery.
2. Think About the Things You Appreciate
To maintain a sense of gratitude, you need to actively remind yourself of the things you appreciate in life, both the old and the new. Think about your relationships with the people who stuck by you on the road to recovery. Think about the taste of your favorite dish, or your favorite season and the way it manifests in nature. Think about a childhood experience you hold dear.
We begin to lose track of why life becomes worth every second of it when we forget to remember the greatest parts of it. Reminding yourself why it is you get up in the morning, and looking forward to new opportunities to create more such memories, is a powerful way to practice gratitude.
3. Promise to Think Better of Yourself
As you continue to focus on the things in life that actually matter to you – the experiences you found most wholesome, the times you felt the most touched and connected to others – you have to make it a point to channel your gratitude inwards. Thank yourself for quitting, and for sticking through your program. Support yourself in dire times, such as when you feel weak. Encourage yourself to think better.
Only when a person truly believes that they’re worth the efforts of sobriety, can they give it their all on the road to staying sober.
Forgiveness is not just a word with a lot of religious and spiritual context – it is something that requires real practice. Think of it as a manifestation of “fake it till you make it” – at first, forgiving yourself and others is something you have to force yourself into. It’ll feel unnatural, and you’ll have a thousand inner instincts telling you that you’d rather continue feeling bad about how things are.
Now, you may have every right in the world to complain. You may have been born into severe disadvantage, with socioeconomic issues and a set of genes prone to alcoholism – but if you want the best shot at sobriety, you have to let the anger and the guilt and the negativity produced by years of exterior stigma go.
That begins through practice. Every single day. Take a step at a time to let go of the emotions that chain you to the seabed and keep you from really learning to feel better about yourself.