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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 11 5 21 - The Attitude of Gratitude

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus

For some pathways of recovery, November is considered gratitude month. It is also harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere. People have long celebrated the time of plenty before winter when austerity and long, cold, dark nights set in. It is the season to celebrate what has been reaped and the work it has taken to grow. Winter would be hard, possibly not even survivable. They rejoiced anyway. They had toiled through the sowing and growing phases over the Spring and Summer. This was the moment of plenty. They took stock of their fortunes and celebrated, together. Living in the present and counting their blessings for what they had, come what may. There is profound wisdom in this tradition.

It was not always this way for me. Focusing on positives does not come naturally. I had to learn it. My sense of living in the moment did not mean constructive planning, preparation, and hard work. It was strictly about instant gratification. This is far different than the underlying concepts of feeling grateful for what one has worked for, each other and what nature has provided. I had no such framework, no preparation, no sense of purpose, no appreciation for the bounty around me and little connection to others. My plan ended in nuclear winter, I thought would occur by the mid-80s. I was caught flatfooted when it did not happen. I had no “plan B” to planetary annihilation.

As addiction took hold and started to remove much more than the drugs had ever given, recovery was not my preferred plan, but rather the last one available. A shot in the dark. I learned about gratitude in my first month of recovery and the practice of it was a vital tool in those early days. I had what Dr. Lembke in Dopamine Nation calls a dopamine deficit. Gratitude was one of the few tools I had used to pull myself out of the abyss. Drug use only dug me deeper into that hole. It didn’t even feel good anymore. I battled powerful thoughts of using that would come every moment, my brain trying to calculate any new way to use without consequences. Truth be told, I had tried all the ones I could think of hundreds of times and none of them worked with any reliability. I had what I now call my “inner Eeyore,” a voice of doom and gloom that told me to just jump in the hole, the future be dammed. Recovery was the only lifeline I had.

Gratitude helped. It was one of the tools well-meaning people with more recovery experience than I taught me to help me get through each minute. The list started with life itself. I also had all my limbs, and my cognitive function was relatively intact. My list moved to things like a second chance to apply myself to a purpose if I stayed on the path I was on. There were now people me around who thought I was worth more than I did. I had the developing knowledge that I had been wrong about so much, maybe they were right about me despite my inner naysayer. I clawed myself through those minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months. My head started to clear, and my gratitude list began to increase.

Eeyore is still with me, but so are the tools I have learned to quiet him down. I found purpose, and got a second chance at life, a lot of people close to me never got far enough out of the grips of addiction to clear their heads and latch onto the opportunities afforded by recovery. So many have died. I am now in my 36th year of recovery. This does not make me a Zen Master of recovery, it simply means mean I have made it a bunch of days in a row, just under 13,000 wake ups without having to use drugs and alcohol to numb out the world. I do not think I would have made it into four digits of days on earth unless I had taken that first step into recovery. Recovery itself is now at the top of my gratitude list.

The early life insight into the pursuit of purpose over hedonism was a key insight. Also a recovery gift. I have a long list of non-material things in my life that I am grateful for today. It is not an uncommon focus for many of us. I am also grateful for reading. I just finished Dopamine Nation. America is indeed awash in overabundance yet mired in misery. Dr. Lembke views people in recovery as prophets who have found their way in a world lost so far into the pursuit of pleasure that we have become more sensitive to and experience more pain. What a paradox. It is similar to how the overuse of opioids makes a person more sensitive to pain. She talks about seeking out doing challenging or creative things without interruption. Reminiscent of what Dr. Angela Duckworth has found on her work on what is called Grit.

Today, I am grateful for life, and for Julie. Living with an artist means being surrounded by art and creativity and coming home to see creations that comes from her very soul. Grateful for nature and the ability to get out into it on a regular basis. Grateful for recovery and all of what has come in my path before and since that day I stepped into a new way of living. Grateful for the mentors who taught me and friends that stand beside me. Grateful for the challenges that have made me stronger. Grateful for connection and the ability to experience the world and not needing to numb myself to it. Grateful that my eyes (and yours) fluttered open this morning.

What are you grateful for today?

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