Being in recovery, at almost any stage can be a lesson in frustration some days. Things that cause stress, that were normally handled by use of one substance or another, can make it difficult to not feel stuck in a rut. What’s more many people in earlier stages of recovery run into what Terrance Gorski called the “Demoralization Crisis.”
The Demoralization Crisis in it’s simplest terms is when people get to a point in their recovery where they see how far they’ve come, but also how far they have to go. A clinical supervisor once told me, “You are gonna go far in recovery,” to which I replied, “Thanks.” “Ya, you’re gonna go far cause you have so far to go,” he said. Ouch. True however, and a lot of people have a lot of work to do to get their lives back to some semblance of normality. The problem usually arises when people in earlier recovery start comparing their lives to those who didn’t struggle with addiction. They see how far their peers have come in terms of career, family, relationships, etc.. and feel like that’s were they need to be at. I will tell you right now that comparing yourself to someone else who didn’t have to go through the same struggles, is not only unfair to you, it’s pointless. If you are in recovery, today, you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. If you were supposed to be anywhere else in your life that’s where you’d be. Set down all the “shoulds,” as all they do is add to the growing frustration people experience when they start doing these comparisons.
This is where gratitude comes in. Especially as I am writing this at the beginning of the holiday season, a season that is infamous for the loss of people in recovery, who for one reason or another return to active addiction or even have a lapse on substances and don’t come back.
The simplest form of gratitude comes in the form of a gratitude list. In recovery we often tell people “write it down.” There’s a reason for that. One, your brain in early recovery is still healing and often remembering what it was you were doing can be trying. Secondly, writing it (or in my case typing it) down allows you to examine it in real time and refer to it later on. Start now by grabbing a piece of paper or whatever and a writing tool, or open the laptop or computer. Now write! Write down every little thing you are grateful for currently. Start small. “Grateful I ate today, am wearing clothes, have a roof over my head, don’t have to work today (or get overtime if I do) grateful for that job, my family (even if they drive you nuts), etc…” Keep going and the list will grow pretty quickly. Once you’ve finished you’re “grateful for” list, grab another piece of paper and start your “grateful I’m not,” list. Sounds odd, but do it anyway. Again start small, and be creative. “Grateful my parents didn’t enroll me in clown college while I was in my addiction, cause I probably would have dropped out and instead of the circus, joined a traveling carnival, and be carnie folk right now.” “Grateful I’m not homeless, jobless, that my family (even if they drive me nuts) will still talk to me, etc..”
Surround yourself with people who help you feel good about yourself and are supportive of your recovery efforts. Happiness and caring are contagious. Being around people who are happy themselves and who have your best interest at heart can be just the ticket to feeling better about yourself. “But Rick, I don’t like people,” or “I have social anxiety. I can’t be around a bunch of people.” Let me clue you in on something. Especially in early recovery, if you are feeling down, if you are isolating and keeping your distance from others, you are not alone. Not by a long shot. However, instead of being with people who could help you feel better and grateful for where you are at, you get to hang out with the “Itty, bitty, shitty committee,” in your own head. I promise you they don’t have your best interest in mind and will help you make some plans that are not going to have a great outcome.
It can be hard during the holiday season for a lot of us. Not just people in recovery struggle with feeling depressed, melancholy, or just over all “blah.” However, trying some of the things mentioned above can help. I’ve seen it work and it has worked for me. You have nothing to lose by trying it, but a few minutes of feeling bad about your situation. Don’t worry, your misery will be right were you left it, if you wanna pick it back up when your done.
I wanted to close this with a story from my own recovery, and how gratitude helped. A few years back, during the holiday season, I was struggling (like a lot of people do this time of year) to figure out how I was going to get my two boys whatever “thing” it was I thought would make for a great X-mas. It had me pretty down. For those of us who struggle with depression on top of addiction, this season can be a grind if we aren’t careful. Anyway, at the time the war in Syria was just getting rolling, and stories from the refugee camps where streaming into the news stations. As I sat there, watching those stories it occurred to me that somewhere that evening across the world, was a father just like me, with boys the same age as mine. And that father wasn’t worrying about whether or not his kids were going to get some “thing” that was going to make their holiday perfect. That father was worrying about whether or not he could find a blanket to wrap around his kids so they wouldn’t freeze to death in the night, because they were forced to leave their homes due to some jackass who decided to drop a bomb on it. At that moment, my concerns seemed petty. I don’t remember if I got whatever thing it was I thought I needed to. My boys don’t remember. I’m fairly certain they aren’t carrying emotional scars if they didn’t. What I am sure is that in that moment, gratitude worked. It was so simple, but yet so effective. Try it. You’ve got nothing to lose but your misery.