By Tian Dayton Ph.D.
How many times have I heard people share that they “do not regret the past”? “Whatever brought me into recovery,” says Sharon M., “has helped me to make such positive life changes that I truly feel appreciated more than resentful, much more in fact. I even feel grateful to the pain that led me to see so much about myself, other people, and this thing we call life that I have learned to live and love a day at a time.”
So, what can AcoA’s or anyone who has grown up with childhood trauma and has chosen to learn from the mistakes of others rather than repeat them be grateful for?
1. A Sense of Gratitude and Appreciation for an Ordinary Day
When you have lived with the pain and angst of addiction, you have stared into the jaws of hell. You have seen firsthand how bad choices can destroy a life. This is true not only for the addict but for all those who live with an addict. When you have been a part of recovery, you have seen firsthand how good choices can make a life. At the very center of this feeling is how it impacts each day. An ordinary, normal day, one in which problems are normal ones, dinner finds its way onto a table, and there is normal conversation, some laughter, some quiet, some chit-chat, comes to have an almost spiritual quality. It feels soothing, real, alive, and worthwhile.
We no longer take these days for granted. We know the beauty of an ordinary day.
2. Relationship Sobriety
When we lack emotional sobriety because we have lived with the constant stress of addiction, our relationships lack emotional sobriety. As our own inner world feels less manageable, our relationships come to mirror this unmanageability. We don’t know where we leave off, and others begin, the inevitable overlapping of inner worlds that happens naturally in intimacy becomes codependent rather than inter-dependent. Tensions become exaggerated, and easy good times make us anxious because we do not expect them to last. We look for problems before they look for us. It’s part of the hyper-vigilance that is the legacy of trauma.
In recovery, we learn new ways of being with ourselves and with others. We learn to tolerate and manage emotions, to talk out feelings rather than act them out. As our trust in ourselves increases, our ability to trust ourselves with others does as well. We learn how to have boundaries that take care of ourselves and the relationship; boundaries become porous rather than rigid. We can relax, let go and enjoy being in the presence of others rather than needing to withdraw from connection because we cannot hold onto a sense of self in connection with others.
3. Learn What NOT to Do
We learn as much by negative examples as by positive ones. Growing up with addicted parents and witnessing firsthand the cost to the family can make us if we accept that lesson, never want to be the agent of such destruction in our own lives. We encounter many problems in life that we have to accept and cope with as best we can, but both addiction and enabling have an element of choice. We can choose recovery and health.
4. A Sense of the Depth and Wonder of Life
If, as Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then living with addiction makes a choice even starker. Choosing addiction is choosing a slow walk to the grave. Choosing to examine and understand all that drives us to our own destruction opens the door. In fact, it flings the door open to choosing life.
5. A Sense of Community
You always have a place to go. Alanon, ACoA, and CODA are worldwide self-help organizations that offer a safe haven, connection, and a sense of community. If you move, travel, or find yourself with either time or personal need, you can enter “the rooms” and find like-minded people, you can find caring and support.
6. A New Design for Living
It’s not only the addict who finds a “new design for living”: through recovery. Children, spouses, and family members can and do as well. Recovery is about awareness, acceptance, and action. Choice. Recovery allows and encourages us to examine life, to become humble and vulnerable enough to grow and stretch and be open to change. We become capable of embracing the mystery of life.
7. The Gift of Recovery” Including Mindful Living
All of the above points are what those of us who no longer “regret the past nor wish to close the door on it” would see as a part of recovery. Living on purpose is its own reward. Making one positive choice leads to another, and taking responsibility for our own happiness puts us in the driver’s seat.
So make a gratitude list today. Whether you choose to say thank you to someone who does something nice, or express appreciation to someone you care about, or even think grateful thoughts, the science behind gratitude is clear.
A one-time grateful thought and act of gratitude or appreciation produce a 10% bump up in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms.
These happy effects and feelings, according to the study conducted by Martin E. Seligman, the father of positive psychology and his team, disappear within three to six months. That’s a pretty good return on investment if you ask me. It also makes clear that the benefits of regular, even weekly “attitudes of gratitude” and their corresponding acts, can be literally medicine to our body and our mental health.
So say thank you to someone today, including yourself and see what happens!