My gratitude list gets a lot of hits this time of year. November is “gratitude month” in AA and I know that many non AAs are also looking to increase the concept of gratitude in their lives at this time.
For me, gratitude is a foundational concept of AA, and it is most definitely one of the major contributors to my long-term sobriety. It is traditional for me to put in to the “gratitude” collection a dollar for every year I’ve been sober. My contribution this year will be $28, and that is a major miracle.
I was told early on to say “Thank God” instead of “God dammit.” I wasn’t, I don’t think, a particularly ungrateful person when I came in, but I have no doubt I did not see an appreciate all the many, many, many good things in my life.
As I’ve grown and stayed sober in the program and continued to live by its guiding principles, I hope I have broadened and deepened my understanding of gratitude and of all I personally have to be grateful for. As I’ve studied the literature (both “approved” and not) and heard it discussed and as I have done it myself, I’ve come to understand a little bit better that, as a spiritual ideal, I am to be grateful for everything, both good and bad. That is the target I’m aiming at, and I will hopefully come ever closer, and I know I’ll never get there.
There are two “fox hole” kinds gratitude exercises I engage in when I need a little bit more gratitude. One is to imagine that reincarnation has been proven and that it is known that, when I die, I will come back again and live as the next person to be born. My goodness. I really hope I don’t come back as someone who is disabled/impoverished/oppressed/ seriously ill/mentally ill/intellectually impaired/unemployable/unable to vote/not allowed to drive/doesn’t have clean water/can’t access medical care – you get the idea. I have a great gratitude list going right there. Those people do exist, and I would hate to have to tell them what I perceive to be my problems. Any “thing” that exists in my life is most likely a “thing” that most of the world, or at least a huge portion of the world, does without and would perceive as luxurious.
The second is the saying that heads up my gratitude list: What if, when you woke up tomorrow, you had only the things you remembered to be grateful for today? If that happened, I might be existing without most of my “stuff.”
How does all that help me stay sober? Honestly, I feel like I have an incomplete understanding of that. It’s been so long since I drank that it’s harder and harder for me to touch the hopelessness and desperation that drinking entailed. But I don’t think a lot of gratitude preceded the alcohol. And, if it did, it wasn’t in a truly grateful way. I was more like, “Look at all the good things I have, and I’m still such a fuck up. Poor me.”
So I used a random number generator to choose something from my gratitude list and came up with “Books on CD for the car ride.” Perfect. I work about 25 miles away from where I live so I spend a lot of time in the car. My daughter lives several hundred miles away and so we listen to books on CD on the way there and back. I cannot “waste” all that time in the car. I need to be doing something productive, so I’m “reading.” Plus, I just like it.
Perfect. I will be buying myself a huge iPod after Christmas so that I no longer have to deal with the inconvenience of books on CD (and other reasons, but that’s a very big reason). Because now I have to drive myself all the way to my local library, which is a few miles away and takes 15-30 minutes to get to. I have to look through the books on CD and choose some. I have to check them out and then renew them. My library only allows me to do this twice and so, after six weeks, I have to drive myself back to the library, return those and repeat the process. How inconvenient! With the new enormous iPod I will borrow the books from right here in my dining room! Anyone can see why this is necessary.
And I can see why my own personal gratitude needs some more work.