Before recovery I’d never heard of a gratitude list or journal, even though it seems to be all the rage in the world of mindfulness and self-help right now. Here’s how the practice has helped shape my thinking and recovery journey.
I was unintentionally “twelve stepped” into my first meeting. A chance meeting with an old friend turned into a serious chat and eventually they told me they’d been in AA for six-weeks and how it was changing his life. He mentioned a gratitude list as part of his daily routine and we spoke about it briefly amongst other things that evening. I started to write a list each day after I went to my first meeting and sent it to my closest two friends who I’d told about recovery, our Whatsapp group became a safe space to share my lists.
I was probably in my second or so week of recovery, everything was still new and I didn’t know many people in the programme, but I’d been to a few meetings my friend and I spoke again about how I was finding the programme. He introduced me to a fellow who was part of a recovery Gratitude group on Whatsapp and I was invited in.
What I saw in the group was inspiring beyond measure. There were thirty or so lads (all from London recovery groups) who each day wrote and shared lists of everything they were grateful for. The openness and honesty was incredible to see. The group gave me perspective, opening my eyes to everything I had to be thankful for. It also gave me a sense of accountability, each day as people posted their lists it acted as a reminder to write my own. The group was also full of support for each other, as fellows hit certain recovery milestones or if people had been through a particularly hard time, there would always be an outpouring of unconditional support.
There’s something incredible about this. A group of strangers, adult men, being open and honest about their feelings with each other. Knowing that they are in a safe space and feeling supported was another reminder of just how powerful this programme and fellowship is. As time went on and I attended more meetings, I’d also begin to recognise people “hey are you from the gratitude group?” being able to put a face to the profile pic from the group was a great way to break the ice and make another connection in AA.
Before the programme I was full of negativity and fear. The world to me was a cruel, unfair place. I was alone, against the odds. I never had enough, I never felt like I was enough. I was constantly comparing myself to others which would in turn fill me with negative thoughts and feelings rather than focussing on myself and who I was.
Gratitude has helped me reframe my thinking. It helps me appreciate everything I have and realise just how fortunate I am. Writing the list each day helps me gain perspective and reminds me of how many positive things I have in my life. It’s also something I can look back on when times are hard to remind myself of this fact. In conjunction with the programme It’s almost as if my brain is being re-wired to focus on positivity, love and joy rather than fear, negativity and jealousy.
If you’re new to recovery, I’d can’t recommend a gratitude list enough. It can be hard at first, I found it difficult to think of things to be grateful for and many of my lists in my early days seemed to be the same. However over time as I gained more perspective on my life and spent more time in the programme I was able to fully appreciate more and more things I had to be grateful for, no matter how small.
If you don’t have access to a gratitude group through fellows you meet regularly, see if a close friend or your sponsor is happy to be a safe place to send your lists to each day. They don’t have to read them (I’m sure everyone in our Whatsapp group has notifications turned off given how many messages go out each day!).
It’s also worth noting, sending your lists isn’t essential, keeping a private journal is also fine (some people I’ve spoke to prefer to keep a physical journal as writing by hand feels more personal and gives their lists more importance). Personally I’ve just found (especially in early recovery) that having a safe space to send my lists to has helped me keep myself accountable and helped me to continue the practice, as well as acting as a constant place of inspiration and support.