WakeUp Carolina is sharing a six-part weekly series, “Turning A Mess Into A Message,” guest authored by Keegan. He has decided to publicly share how a tragic incident led to his recovery in order to hopefully provide someone hope that there is another way to live. This is Part 5 of the series. If you haven’t yet, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

November 17, 2022

Gratitude is an essential component of living a happy and contented life for all people, not just those trying to recover from alcoholism and drug addiction. Gratitude keeps us from being bitter, angry, or resentful toward situations, people, places, things, and institutions. It also gives us a perspective on life that not everything is bad and even when seemingly bad things happen, they actually can work out for good and turn into something you can be thankful for.

In early recovery, it can be very hard to be thankful or happy with any situation, person, place, or thing. For me, it was almost as if everything seemed pointless or hopeless as well as pissed me off. So I know firsthand how hard it can be in early recovery to find gratitude for things. After all, what do we, as alcoholics and drug addicts, have to be thankful for anyways? Broken homes, shattered promises, pending jail time, destroyed friendships, extreme debt, the list can go on forever. However, even with all these things that come with being an addict or alcoholic, you would be surprised how much we have to be grateful for and what it can do for our outlook on life and our journey to recovery. Ultimately, what gratitude does is take your focus off the negative and turn it to the positive in your life. Also, gratitude can give you hope for the future, that things will continue to improve.

The difficulty with gratitude in early recovery is that we as addicts and alcoholics tend to have so much negative baggage that it can be extremely hard to find good things in our lives to focus on. When you first start to sober up all your feelings start rushing back, and most of them are negative, such as; guilt, regret, shame, remorse, fear, and anger. Over time we need to attempt to train our minds to look for the positive in EVERY situation. This will prove to be extremely difficult at first because as former addicts and alcoholics, we have what I like to call a “magnifying mind” that focuses on the negative in every situation. Training our minds to find the positive in situations can be the flip of the switch we need to start building purposeful lives and carrying out that purpose. Our goal should be to completely change our perspective on life and hold onto the gratitude we are able to find in daily life, which can help keep us headed in the right direction. After all, when you stop to think about it, we as recovering addicts and alcoholics have a lot to be grateful for. For example, we are still alive and breathing, we have experienced situations and feelings which give us the unique ability to help other addicts and alcoholics trying to recover, we have survived situations most “normal” people cannot even fathom, and we have been given new leases on life that should not be taken lightly. Not to mention we have so many little things to be thankful for like food, shelter, water, etc. All necessities for life, which can be taken for granted and neglected during our active addiction.

Practical Application

One of the easiest ways to start training your brain and shifting your perspective to focus on the positive in your life is by writing out a daily gratitude list. Yes, I mean getting a pencil or pen and paper and physically writing out a list of the things you are most grateful for. This list can include people, places, things, situations, feelings, institutions, and ideas. I know it sounds way too simple and maybe even a little bit cliche, but in my experience it really does work. When I was first getting sober, I had numerous people suggest writing gratitude lists to pull me out of my negative attitude on bad days when I was only focusing on the bad in my life, and how I felt everything could and would go wrong. It quickly helped me to get out of my “stinking thinking” if you will. I can only give suggestions that others gave to me and this one really helped.

Another thing that can help with your perspective is to get together with another alcoholic or drug addict and talk with them about their experience in active addiction and early recovery. You will be surprised to find out how many people had a rougher go of things than you did, most people feel that their “bottom” was the lowest which is true for each individual, but many people have been in darker, worse situations which hearing about can help to change your perspective as well and help to pull you out of negativity and self-pity. Sometimes as recovering alcoholics and addicts in early recovery, we can feel like our situation is hopeless until we talk to others who have similar experiences. Even if you speak to someone whose “bottom” was not as “low” as yours, you will find that being able to relate with each other about the feelings and emotions you both experienced regardless of the difference in scenarios. This is one of the amazing aspects of recovery that will help shift your perspective and help you to realize you are not alone. We, as addicts and alcoholics, can meet on common ground and relate to one another in ways other “normal” people would never even be able to imagine. What an amazing gift it is.

My Experience

When I first started my journey in recovery I was absolutely hopeless. I could not see how anything positive could come out of the horrible situation that I had put myself into. I first started sobering up in jail, where I learned that my drug use and drinking as well as my actions had led me to take the life of an innocent person. I was absolutely crushed. The one thing that I can look back on and say that I had going for me in those days was that I had the gift of desperation. That gift definitely propelled me into action once I was given some tools to use and learned a little more about recovery and the work that needed to be done.

It was very hard for me at first because I hated myself for the person I had become, and the things that I had done. This is exactly what I mentioned earlier about how it can be hard for us in early recovery due to the amount of negative baggage that we bring with us when we start getting sober. I was unable to even comprehend how the tragedy my actions caused would ever be able to be used for good, let alone how I was able to find gratitude for anything. As a matter of fact, when I was first getting sober the people around me who were happy or showing any positive emotion at all, I thought were crazy. There were so many days early on that it seemed like they would never end, the negativity in my head would never quiet down. It wasn’t until someone I trusted suggested writing gratitude lists that my perspective on life and my situation began to shift. I slowly began to realize and accept that even though I had done some very horrible things in life and caused a lot of damage to people, I still had a lot of good things going for me. By God, I am still alive! I could have easily died the night of my accident. I started to internalize that there had to be a reason I am still alive. Today I believe that reason is to give back and share my testimony with others to give them hope for their future. Even when things seem hopeless and there’s no point pushing on, take it from me, that is when we need to double down on our efforts and keep pushing forward.

Over time in early recovery through writing gratitude lists and talking to others about my situation and theirs, my perspective completely shifted and I was able to find gratitude in everything and every situation. I was even able to find the good in a negative situation which is a gift that can help us in recovery. It definitely was not an easy process to train my mind to look for the positive over the negative and it took time. I still practice what I preach today from prison. I write daily gratitude lists that help me to escape the negativity of this extremely negative place. I am able to walk around the prison with an attitude of gratitude which is a beautiful thing. My amazing magnifying mind is able to identify today that even though I am in prison and have less than I have had at all other points in my life, I am still able to find gratitude because there are people around the world that wish they could have some of the things we have here in prison, such as running water, shelter, food, and a bed for example.

It took a lot of work but throughout my recovery, I have learned that I can find gratitude in any situation as long as I look for it and don’t dwell on the negative. My experience has been that once we can take a step back to see the whole forest and not just a single dying tree. If you will, things in our lives become brighter and more beautiful tools that we are able to use to help others. I pray that anyone reading this is able to put into practice my suggestions and experience the amount of peace that I have in my life today. Gratitude is an amazing tool for us in recovery. All we have to do is learn how to use it.


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