One day, early on in my sobriety, I wrote in my journal:
“How about every day I write down one thing I’m grateful for about being booze-free? Today I’m grateful for being clear-headed enough to go to bed with a good book.”
This was something small that I could do every day – an easy habit to form. It took hardly any time, cost nothing, and on the surface it might seem trivial. But it turned out to be a HUGE factor in my staying sober, because it helped me to acknowledge the up-side of staying booze free, not wallow in what I was losing, or missing out on. It proved to me, in my own words and direct experience, that not drinking was far better or me than drinking.
“I’m grateful to wake up and feel no remorse. That’s gold.”
“I’m grateful for waking up in the night and feeling calm and happy, able to go back to sleep.”
“Grateful to wake up in the morning feeling fresh.”
How does gratitude work?
Gratitude changes our attitude. We get more of what we focus our thoughts on. We can “change the channel” in our thinking to help us do the things we want (or need) to do. New ways of thinking and expressing ourselves result in new behaviours. Looking at any situation, and finding something to be grateful about, sends a strong message to our whole being, and it’s powerful enough to sway our motivations and actions. This goes for whatever other resolutions or intentions you set for the New Year. If it’s a fitness goal you’ve set, write down what you’re grateful for about sticking to your programme. Add gratitude into any of your intentions, and watch them stick.
On the days I felt like buckling and drinking again (and there were plenty of those early on) I just needed to open my journal and read a few entries to remind myself about why I was doing this sobriety thing.
“A sense of the internal body energy field calming down, not internally wound up. That feels really good.”
“Grateful for more productive hours in the day – more spare time.”
“Grateful for getting into bed feeling proud of myself and nice and calm.”
Did I want to flush all that down the toilet by having a glass of wine? Absolutely not. If I did drink, would I write the next morning, “Grateful to wake up feeling like a failure.” Umm. No.
Setting a new habit
Some people find it easy to start and maintain a new habit. Others don’t. If you are in the first group, you know what to do to get in the gratitude habit.
If you struggle with new habits, here are some things to try:
Set an alarm: use your phone to set a daily reminder to do your gratitude practice.
Try a simple ritual: get yourself a new notebook and pen, just for your gratitude practice. Put it somewhere you will see it and use it daily. If you don’t like writing, try an audio or video recording of your gratitude notes instead. Or take a photo that reminds you of what you’re grateful for.
Find your spot: Do you have a favourite chair or sitting spot for relaxing? Maybe your bed is your happy spot. Wherever it is, think about making that your gratitude spot, keep your notebook and pen handy, and write your gratitude note as soon as you sit down.
Tack it on to another habit. Do you already have another habit or ritual that you do every day? It might make sense to tack your gratitude practice onto it, so you’re not adding a whole new thing to your day.
Keeping it up
For me, the best thing about writing regular gratitude notes, is going back and reading them. That’s why I encourage you to write them down or record them, not just think them. It’s a great boost to your motivation, an un-ignorable reminder of why this habit is better than your old habit. And it’s a confidence booster. You’re doing the right thing for yourself. You’re on the right track.
“Grateful for not feeling gloomy or worried. Yay.”
“Grateful that food tastes just as good with water as with wine! Who knew?”
“Grateful this cold isn’t worse because of booze in my system.”
It’s not just for sobriety
Gratitude practice is a big help for the early days of sobriety, and my gratitude notes were all about not drinking at first. But over the years, they have become helpful in all sorts of other ways. These days I remain grateful to be sober for sure, and sobriety shows up regularly in my gratitude notes, but it’s amazing how gratitude can change your attitude to: other people, work, living situations, health, fitness, sleep. Even when our lives feel hopeless, it’s good to push ourselves to see the good in things.
Here’s a real life example. All the talk about climate change and environmental collapse, makes me feel a mix of despair, confusion, anger, hopelessness. I feel bombarded with doom and gloom in the news, but have no idea what I can do to significantly change the situation. How could gratitude practice make any difference to this?
When I feel overwhelmed with this stuff, I stop, look out the window, and express gratitude for what I actually see. Depending on the time of day:
“Grateful to see the lunar eclipse this morning.”
“Grateful for the sunshine and blue sky.”
“Grateful for the racket the birds are making in the plum tree.”
What I see out my window is a reality, and I’m grateful for it. It doesn’t negate environmental problems, but it provides a balance, and it gives me some peace to notice the amazing beauty in the world.
Give it a try
Get started. Get yourself a new notebook and a pen, or open a digital file, and dedicate it to your gratitude practice.
Make it achievable! You don’t need to write an essay. One sentence is enough to get started. Eventually you might get yourself on a roll and write three things you’re grateful for. No pressure!
Do it daily if possible. That way it’s more likely to become a habit with long-lasting benefits.
Read what you’ve written. Notice how your attitude changes as you express gratitude.
Share what you’re experiencing, if you like, here or on your social media pages.
As for me, right now: “I’m grateful to be writing again!”
See you in the next Self Care blog post.