By Cassandra Rustvold, Trauma Therapist, Gentle Path at The Meadows
Thanksgiving is approaching and the spirit of gratitude is taking hold for many. The following is an exploration of the ways a regular practice of gratitude can influence the creation and sustainability of recovery from addiction.
Acceptance of What Is Versus Control
In recovery, letting go of the outcome and relinquishing the false sense of complete control over one’s life is one of the hardest practices to implement. Sometimes, patients are paralyzed by fear. Fear…
- feeds their resistance to letting go of control,
- makes it difficult for them to trust the process of therapy and the power of community in 12-step groups,
- and increases their overall anxiety about the uncertainty of life.
Through the lens of gratitude, control is rendered useless. We can begin to understand that the opposite of giving up complete control is learning to trust others and the world around you by accepting things as they are regardless of your level of investment.
Abundance Versus Scarcity
In the cycle of addiction, there is often a maladaptive approach to getting one’s needs met in a healthy way. Fear of minimal or diminishing amounts of love, money, time, and joy often set someone up to develop cognitive distortions to justify their compulsive behaviors.
By its nature, gratitude invites us to enter a mental framework that seeks to acknowledge and celebrate what we do have rather than what we don’t. Cultivating this mentality of abundance is a necessary antidote to the addicted mind’s tendency towards anticipating scarcity.
A sense of entitlement to engage in secretive and addictive behaviors is a common theme among people struggling with addiction of all forms. The driving forces of entitlement begin with a sense of lack or deprivation: “I have worked long hours this week at work, I deserve to act out.”
The act of overworking is an example of deprivation of personal time, rest, connection with family, attention to health, etc. The core belief that accompanies this sense of deprivation is likely one of not being enough and needing to prove one’s worth through professional and/or financial success. When people are able to consistently shift their thoughts to a place of gratitude, they become more aware of what they already have, which serves to combat the feeling of something lacking.
Life as Gift Versus Life as Burden
The rate of dual diagnoses (having co-occurring addiction and mental illness) of affective disorders such as Depression, Bipolar, and Anxiety is staggering. The common feelings of hopelessness, shame, and fear that accompany these disorders, combined with the neurochemical deficits in natural feel-good chemicals like serotonin, create the perfect storm for people in recovery to experience life as burdensome.
In these difficult states of mind, integrating a gratitude practice is a way to reframe even the less than pleasant aspects of life (e.g. being thankful for having the continued support of your family versus fostering shame that your family has invested time and money in your wellbeing) and to combat hopelessness.
Presence Versus Rumination or Catastrophic Thinking
In the process of recovery, many individuals become aware that the amount of time their minds are actually focused on the present moment is minimal. This time-traveling nature of the mind is a symptom of anxiety as well as trauma. By consistently thinking of occurrences in the past or potential outcomes in the future, we rob ourselves of both reality and emotional awareness. Mindfulness is now being seen as not only a calming practice but as one of the most important components of what it means to have mental health. Gratitude asks us to consider, “what is going well in my life right now?” which has an incredible ability to heighten our awareness of our existence in this moment.
Gratitude and Gentle Path
At Gentle Path, we conceptualize the expression of gratitude as a defense against the many culprits that play a role in the cycle of sexual addiction. Therefore, gratitude practices are integrated throughout the programming offered and patients are encouraged to cultivate practices that feel authentic and attainable to their individual lives. The cultivation of giving attention and time to what you are thankful for is a thread that runs through all spiritual disciplines and cultures. For more information about our inpatient and comprehensive outpatient programs for sex addiction give us a call at 855-333-6076 or send us a message online.