Recovery Corner with Jamie Smolen, MD

Holiday gratitude in recovery

Gratitude has been a time-honored tradition for us human beings. Since people first realized the importance and value of the life-sustaining elements, there has been an appreciation of them, an endearment that has given them the proper place in the history of the human race. For countless years, we have been thankful for the good Earth we call home and all the riches that have been discovered or created from all the resources that it holds for us: the food we grow from its soil; the fresh, clean air we breathe from which we extract the one ingredient that we cannot live without… oxygen; the plentiful water that bathes our planet and becomes the blood that circulates to every cell of our bodies. Twenty-four hours a day, there is a light somewhere in our world. In its natural form, it arrives after traveling millions of miles from a burning star that keeps us warm enough to survive and possesses a power that has been harnessed so that we may even see in the dark.

At this time of the year, gratitude has taken on a very special significance for those of us who have been less than fortunate to have received the gift of addiction and were powerless to understand its allure was nothing more than a ruse; a deceptive scamming hoax played upon our brains at great expense to us and our loved ones. I call it a gift because it exits, and all things that exist do so for a reason and with a purpose, which is no accident. It is by intention that addiction has been genetically wired into our brains and environmentally stimulated into a state of activity that has unleashed its destructive nature. While promising us pleasure from the start, the condition of addiction never warned us that by dancing to its irresistible music, we were actually speeding head-long to a premature and painful end of our precious and priceless lives.

So why mention addiction and gratitude together? Because with gratitude, we have found the truth. With gratitude, addiction can be stripped of all its treacherous trickery and devious disguises and exposed in its simplest form. With gratitude, we can see that it is nothing more than a malfunctioning array of brain circuitry that responds to drugs and alcohol with too much pleasure than we are built to handle safely. Although the delightful bliss and thrilling sensations we get from these reward pathways feels natural, it’s not. Too much of what feels like a good thing turns out to be bad for us. And so we want more, lots more.

There is no way we could have known that something feeling so innocent and benign could possibly turn against us and cause such torment. That this same pathway, once delivering rewards that we could not get enough of, could be converted by nature into something cruel. This pathway, now marked by addiction, has made us want to get high again and again. Yet it eventually failed to respond to the call for pleasure, no matter how desperately we tried, even to the point of overdosing ourselves and putting our lives in danger. And not only were we unable to bring back the good ol’ days, but we were rudely reminded that unless we fed, what now had become a monster, we would suffer from excruciating pain caused by withdrawal.

Now that we know what we’re up against. Now that we know our brains are in an altered state through no fault of our own. Now that we know it’s permanent and incurable, that it shows no mercy and has no conscience, that we can never again taste the pleasure of pills and booze without paying a price, we most certainly should feel helpless, hopeless and doomed to a life of gloom. And yet, with gratitude, we rejoice instead.

We see a blessing where once was a curse. With gratitude we are shielded and protected from the wrath of addiction and all of its vain and pathetic attempts to entice us back. With gratitude we are able to see through the lie that addiction has learned how to play nice. We are able to resist the false promise that next time it will be different and the pain won’t return because we are smarter and more seasoned and skilled at knowing how to take pills and drink booze and finally get it right.

With gratitude, we are given the ability to say “no” and mean it; to keep our word and hold our ground and not give in no matter how beautifully the table of addiction is set with all of our favorite dishes and mouth-watering treats. With gratitude, we can restore our natural ability to feel the rewards of life that are safe and healthy and available in bountiful quantities and inexhaustible supplies. With gratitude, we can feel love, the most powerful force in the universe that addiction cannot stand. With gratitude and love, we can thrive in the presence of addiction and grow into what we are meant to be as though addiction had been rendered helpless in our midst. With gratitude, we come to know what is truly important in our lives and become determined to preserve and protect it. We come to depend on what gratitude brings us to sustain our existence, and we call it family and fellowship.

With gratitude, we are sober, happy, joyous, free, productive, honest and trustworthy. And above all we are able to serve and receive our just reward, which is to be grateful that our service is needed and appreciated by those less fortunate who wait their turn to receive the gift of recovery; a gift that cannot be purchased and yet is priceless and can only be given by those who already possess the miracle it brings and that is….GRATITUDE.

Today, of all days, take time to be grateful. Love yourself. Love your family. Love the one you’re with. Mean it while you say it. Stop and feel its power. Create as much as you can. There will never be enough in this world. Then release it, and more will return, just for you. The gift that keeps giving is called gratitude.