What I Learned Writing Gratitude Lists

In early sobriety, I was asked by my sponsor to write a daily gratitude list.

I recall answering in this fashion, “Gratitude? You’re kidding, right? What do I have to be grateful for? My life sucks and you want a gratitude list?!”

My First Gratitude List

That first list was short and sweet:

“I am grateful for, my old car starting this a.m.”

After my initial failure of an attempt, I couldn’t, wouldn’t, write a daily gratitude list. In fact, I did very little of the homework that I was encouraged to do. I felt physically and emotionally wrecked.

Convinced that I was having an atypical start in sobriety—mine HAD to be infinitely harder and more painful than others.

The goal that I set for myself was to do a ‘Ninety and Ninety’—90 meetings in 90 days. At the culmination of that, I reassured myself that all would be well. My cravings, irritability, anxiety, confusion and crying jags would be behind me.

As they say in AA, “Denial is not a river.”

Just Going to the Meetings Wasn’t Enough

I did pray and attend meetings each day. I rarely read the literature, called my sponsor or thought about the first step. By all accounts, I could have easily used again.

I lived, ‘one minute at a time,’ and obsessively, masochistically, thought about how wonderful a drink and a pill or two would feel in my system. I didn’t drink or pop, though. Something was helping me stay on track.

At one particularly intense meeting, a Vietnam Veteran told his story; wasted on beer and LSD, he had mistaken a bundled infant for a package that could have held explosives. He lifted his rifle and shot through it.

“Dear God, “I prayed, “Give this man some peace.”

As he finished speaking, he tearfully choked out, “I have much to be grateful for. I write a gratitude list each day and find it growing longer as time goes by.”

“Everything Has its Wonders”

I picked up my pen. For the first month, the list held rather superficial items. I was in tune with finances, shelter, food and the like. Certainly those were things to be grateful for, yet I hadn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

Then I found this quote:

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” –Helen Keller

Finally! I think I got it! Writing frantically, I listed…

  •   Diversity
  •   Tolerance
  •   Passion
  •   Spirituality
  •   Learning from mistakes
  •   Wonder
  •   Pizza (I try to have some frivolity in life)

I still have that battered list, folded and tucked into the front of my Step Book. Yes, gratitude was keeping me on track and until now, I hadn’t known that.

A heartfelt “Thanks!” to that AA veteran, and Helen Keller.

Author: Katie H. is a writer, recovering addict, and mother based in Connecticut.