Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 30th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Gratitude Heals

I was talking to a recovering client today who told me that she always went back to using drugs or alcohol because she was depressed.

I asked her to tell me about her depression. Had she been suffering from it for a long time? Was there ever a time when she was happy and positive? In her memory, what was the happiest period of her life?

She said that there had been periods when she was happy. But then the happiness seemed to become normal and ordinary and then her depression would creep back.  And she would be off to the liquor store or dope house.

I decided to offer her some suggestions about how to have conversations with herself that would put her life into a more positive trajectory.

Many times people grow up with unrealistic expectations about how life should be. We go to school, get good grades, graduate and expect to land a dream job. But for many people, that scenario doesn't play out.

Instead, they find that it's a tough, competitive job market out there.  And that they're just another face filling out applications. In fact, I often read about college graduates in their thirties still living with their parents because they haven't found a career opportunity in spite of having graduated in the top half of their class.

In this woman's case, she'd been divorced once, was raising a child by herself, and had been successful as a professional person who made a good salary. For a period of time, she had a nice home and car but eventually, drugs and alcohol caused her to lose everything. Plus the state had taken custody of her child until she could prove that she could live a sober life. Which is why she was with us.

I gave her this prescription which I found has helped me and some of our clients to get over bouts of depression. And no, it's not a pill. However, it does require a minimal amount of work. And it goes like this: every morning when you wake up write down five things that you are grateful for.

You might think as you read this that you're not grateful for anything. And that may be true. In fact, the woman who is the subject of this blog asked me what she had to be grateful for. Here she is trapped in this recovery program. She doesn't have her child with her. Her family is angry at her. She doesn't have a car. She's in a minimum wage job at a fast-food restaurant. She's back at the bottom again.

So I asked her to reframe her thinking and stop looking at what she didn't have. Instead, perhaps she should focus on what she did have. And by the look on her face, I could see that I hadn't really reached her. So I continued, asking her why she couldn't see the positive side of her situation right now.

First of all, she is in a safe place where she can focus on her recovery and her psychological issues. Her child is in safe hands. She has a chance to regain custody of her child when she graduates from our program and finds a job and a place to live. She has her freedom, which many addicts have lost because of the crimes they committed while they were using. She is still relatively young and healthy. Her parents are beginning to talk to her again because they see that she's trying to help herself. She's making a few sober friends.

I asked her to start writing a gratitude list every morning for a week, then come back to me with what she had written. She halfheartedly agreed to do it and I told her I was looking forward to see what she came up with.

Many times in life we addicts have a lot of false expectations about how life should be. And therein lies the problem. Because life, if we live it on a daily basis, is an up and down proposition. Everyone on the planet has good days and bad days - some more than others. But if we can develop the perspective that this is just the way life is then we develop resilience and can bounce back much faster when we fall into moments of depression. Any time I start falling into depression I look around me and find someone who's life is a much bigger mess than mine or who is much less fortunate than I. And when I do that I immediately get back on track.