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National Gratitude Month: Use November for Improving Recovery

 National Gratitude Month: Use November for Improving Recovery

Author: Justin Mckibben

Being the month of THANKSgiving, not to mention the month of Veterans Day to show appreciation for the armed forces, it should come as no surprise that November is recognized by many as National Gratitude Month.

But we know that true gratitude is more than saying “thank you” for what others may do or the things we are fortunate enough to have. Gratitude gives us the ability to look past the negative parts of our situation, our lives or the world we live in and focus on appreciating all the good that we do have. Practicing daily gratitude allows us to create a more profound understanding and connection with ourselves, our loved ones and the world around us. Gratitude creates compassion and empathy; it helps us to be more involved and more self-aware.

But this writer believes that true gratitude takes action. So this month, in observance of National Gratitude Month, I encourage people to take action to share that gratitude with others.

The Practice of Being Grateful

Back in 2015, November was officially proclaimed National Gratitude Month throughout the US and Canada by National Day Calendar. The initial announcement for the observance comes from Stacey Grewal, an author, spiritual mentor and coach who advocated for the proclamation. Grewal stated,

“Gratitude is an essential ingredient of a happy, fulfilling life,”

Grewal herself has been proclaimed a “gratitude guru” who wrote the book Gratitude and Goals.

10 years ago in 2007, Robert Emmons began researching gratitude and found that expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational well-being. Practicing gratitude also impacts the overall experience of happiness. All this is typically not a momentary improvement. Many of these benefits turn out to be long-lasting.

Benefits of Gratitude

  • Improved physical, emotional, and social well-being
  • Greater optimism and happiness
  • Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crisis
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Amplified energy levels
  • Strengthened heart
  • Improved immune system
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved emotional and academic intelligence
  • Extended aptitude for forgiveness
  • Decreased stress, anxiety, depression
  • Reduced headaches
  • Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
  • Heightened sense of spirituality

There are even a number of events and activities to get involved with this month, including the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge where one can sign up for a daily email that suggests opportunities to practice gratitude in new and interesting ways.

But you don’t have to commit to any event or challenge to help promote gratitude.

Giving with Gratitude

Looking at the definition of gratitude on the all-knowing Google, we find it as:

“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Right there we see the inclusion of the concept that gratitude means to at least be willing to take some kind of action, i.e. showing appreciation and returning the kindness.

The way I express my understanding of gratitude is like this:

  • If I am grateful for my job, I show up and work hard
  • If I am grateful for my home, I respect it and honor it, along with anyone who may live there
  • Being grateful for those who have helped me, I help whoever I can when I can

My expression of gratitude means making every attempt possible to ensure I do not take the gifts I have for granted. We should not neglect the things or the people we have in our lives as if we know they will always be there. When we become complacent, our gratitude might slip away.

Recovery from addiction gives us so much more to do with that gratitude.

Grateful for Recovery

In recovery from drugs or alcohol, it can be especially important for many of us to stay grateful. In the recovery community, we hear people all the time talking about how grateful they are to be alive, or how grateful they are to have another chance at life or a fellowship of support in recovery. All of this is so important, but again it takes action.

If we are grateful for the opportunity to get better, we should not squander it with defiance and neglect.

If we are grateful to be alive, we should focus on living better lives and doing something meaning with our lives; even if to you that simply means being a better parent/spouse/child/sibling in your family.

Being grateful reminds us of the kindness of others and the strength that they gave us to get ourselves out of addiction. So we should live by example and help those who still need help, recovering or not. With all the benefits of gratitude we’ve mentioned, it only makes sense that someone in recovery from addiction would want to take advantage of National Gratitude Month as an excuse to exercise that part of themselves. Treating others as if you are already grateful for the opportunity is training for the mind, body, and spirit. For those working to overcome addiction, gratitude can be a

Share the Love for National Gratitude Month

If you want to get involved, it is pretty easy. Just be grateful every chance you get.

In the world, as it is right now we could use more love and gratitude. With so much going on in such divisive times, like the opioid crisis and overdose outbreak tearing apart so many lives, we should take every chance to bring our communities together.

Or if you want to help share the love and raise awareness, share this article with your friends and use #NationalGratitudeMonth on social media posts.

Have an amazing November! Remember to be grateful and to show that appreciation and kindness with action and goodwill toward others!

It’s been said that healing can come from the places you least expect it. Make sure to appreciate the opportunity. For those who are looking for something to be grateful for, it starts with the fact you are still here. If you are suffering or lost, maybe its time for a new foundation. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Gratitude: Spiritual Medicine for the Heart

Gratitude: Spiritual Medicine for the Heart

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Today I am grateful for so much, and there is so much enriching my life I can’t explain or justify. Too often do we forget to appreciate the gifts we have every second of every day, like our own pulse… our own heartbeat.

Having appreciation in our hearts goes a long way, especially those of us in recovery. Being grateful is essential to staying aligned with our interpersonal connections and our compassion. Gratitude reminds us where we come from, what we have accomplished, and how others have nurtured us in that process.

Now it seems it can be healing at our core, from where all love and emotion starts… in the heart.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association acknowledging the beauty and the fulfilling aspects of life can result in improved mental health, and also ultimately physical health in patients with asymptomatic heart failure.

This brings one to speculate that if those who have suffered severe heart failure can see such impressive results in their recovery, what does that mean for the rest of us?

Is gratitude in our lives a key element to a happy and healthier heart?

Gratitude and Spirituality

Paul J. Mills, PhD, is a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. Mills was the lead author on a study published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

In this study Mills defined gratitude as part of a broader outlook on life, with elements described as:

  • Noticing and appreciating the positive parts of our life
  • It’s often credited to an external source (e.g., a pet), another person or a non-human (e.g., God)
  • Also a commonly an aspect of spirituality

Past studies have shown people who considered themselves to be more spiritual actually had greater overall well-being, including physical health. So taking that into account Mills and his colleagues set out to examine the role of both spirituality and gratitude as potential health markers in patients recovering from heart failure. In relation to his work Mills stated,

“We found that more gratitude in these patients was associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health,”

Study of Stage B

186 men and women were included in the study. Each of them had been diagnosed with asymptomatic (Stage B) heart failure for at least three months.

Stage B includes:

  • Patients who have developed structural heart disease (e.g., have had a heart attack that damaged the heart)
  • Do not show symptoms of heart failure (e.g., shortness of breath or fatigue)

According to Mills this stage is an important period for therapy in hopes of blocking the disease progression because patients are at a high risk of progressing to symptomatic (Stage C) heart failure, so improving quality of life is paramount.

Researchers created scores for gratitude and spiritual well-being with standard psychological tests then compared those scores with the patients’ scores for:

Higher gratitude scores were associated with better mood, higher quality sleep, more self-efficacy and less inflammation.

Gratitude Lists

The researchers then asked some of the patients to write down three things for which they were thankful most days of the week, which they continued for 8 weeks.

Yeah, they had them write gratitude lists… in case it sounded familiar.

According to Mills, patients who kept gratitude journals for those weeks showed amazing points of improvement, including:

  • Reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers
  • Increase in heart rate variability (considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk) while they wrote their lists

What is the point of all this? Well I personally think it’s pretty amazing the idea that science may support the notion that gratitude is its own medicine for the organ that pumps the blood of life through our bodies. That our emotional muscle can be flexed to the point it takes better care of itself.

The theory our gratitude has the potential to impact our health at the heart of it all is awesome!

Being thankful and acting on that can actually make us healthier, and for many drug addicts the extra help goes a long way with the damage we have done to our bodies with alcohol and other substances. Not to mention how important gratitude becomes in a lot of our everyday lives in recovery.

Something about two birds and a stone…

The concept of healing through gratitude isn’t new, and holistic healing is all about working on the inside and out, integrating it all to get the most out of the process. Letting mental, physical and spiritual health be a part of each other can make all the difference, and being grateful for your life can help you save it.

Healing can come from the places you least expect it, and help can come in all forms when we are willing to accept it. Drugs and alcohol do real damage to our bodies and our lives, but there are people who want to help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Lifting the Black Veil: Getting Through the Loss of a Loved One

Lifting the Black Veil: Getting Through the Loss of a Loved One

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

The life of an addict is a desolate and despairing world to live in, and too often it is a landscape riddled with shattered relationships, selfish isolation, and death in its most tragic design. A majority of addicts and alcoholics are no stranger to the concept of death. Many of us find ourselves teetering on the edge of sanity, using drugs or alcohol as an escape from facing what we are afraid to accept; that we cannot cope without causing more hurt to the people we love.

In recovery death can translate differently. I know first-hand. In the past year sober I have lost a handful of friends, most to the disease of addiction. These were some of the most amazing and passionate people I met in my sobriety. Just almost 2 weeks ago I went home to be present for a funeral of a close family member, and on the way back heard that an old friend had died of an overdose. The world keeps turning, and today somewhere someone will lose their life, probably in the time it takes you to read this article, to the disease of addiction.

While the loss of a loved one is still an injurious experience, it is one that is an essential piece of life that must be endured by those of us that live on. In sobriety one of the various gifts we are given is the clarity and emotional sobriety to get through our grieving without poisoning our minds and smothering our spirits.

Grieving is healthy and important, but it is important to see when it can become destructive. The black veil of mourning we take on for our lost loved one can sometimes blind us from the truths that we need to see to survive, so we must learn to not get tangled up in that grief, and to step out of the shade of grief to live in the moment.

Acceptance

Accepting death as a necessary transition is never easy while wrapped in the throes of mourning. But whether we like it or not, we all eventually leave this plane of existence, and move on to whatever waits for us beyond the fine line of the life we know. Time waits for no man, so spending too much time dwelling on this inevitability is futile. As my father put it- they don’t need our pity, because they will never suffer again.

People in recovery who use the 12 Steps are familiar with the idea of acceptance being the answer to life’s problems. Some would extend that to their spiritual understanding of what it means to have acceptance and turn your will over to a power greater than yourself.

When we lose someone we love, accepting it is hard. Sometimes it doesn’t even hit us right away that it’s even possible we have lost someone we care for so much. But once we do embrace the impact of those feelings, we open ourselves up to a new level of learning to let go (and some would say- bring God into it) to grow.

Appreciation

Another salient part of lifting the black veil of grief is having some appreciation. Not everyone is able to be graced with as much love and togetherness in their lives as some. When you lose someone you love, it is always easier to endure if instead of obsessing over their passing, you appreciate their life, and every fragment of it you were allowed to share with them.

Appreciating their time, their affection, and their connection is something we can do at any moment to honor their memory. Whether someone dies from their addiction, if they die from natural causes or anything in between, they deserve to be appreciated for what they shared with those they loved enough to share it with.

In my understanding, part of my appreciation means respecting their memory. Too many times people, myself included, have used the death of a loved one as a reason to use drugs or drink.

As I understand it now if I love and cherish someone, and then I use their death as an excuse to get high or get drunk, I dishonor their memory. It is absurdly selfish of me to justify my addiction with the life and death of someone else. I no longer cheers my beers to a dead friend. I pray for their families and express gratitude for their presence in my life, in any way I can. That gets me through, knowing that the love was there, and remembering them as someone close to my heart.

Action

As with most things in recovery, you need some action if you expect to create some real results and grow any as an individual. We talked about gratitude, and that is an action word. There is always a way to put in work.

One way to put in work while coping with the loss of a friend is by being available for others who are struggling with the loss of that loved one. Just to be able to be there for friends and relatives can change everything. It gives you a chance to step outside of your own heartache and share some strength with others who care with the same conviction as your own.

Sharing yourself in times of need is not an exclusive thing you can only do with people you know. There are grief support groups all over the country. Some are specific for parents who have had a child die, some specifically for those who have a loved one who was an addict or alcoholic, and other groups that are generic and can be found by an internet search. Grief support groups can be invaluable in the short run. Long term serenity comes with further action, which may proceed the understanding.

Either way, speaking openly and honestly about how you are getting through this time can mean a lot. None of us, addict or not, has a monopoly on suffering and depression. We all get swallowed up in our sorrows sometimes, and we all remember how easy it is to forget how we hurt others when we don’t cope by constructive means.

Feel Those Feelings

In the end sometimes crying is all you can do. Letting yourself feel whatever it is you have to feel and having that raw emotion and vivid catharsis in sobriety can change your perspective on what it means to hurt. Some say that a broken heart can hurt more than any physical pain, but when we can face it and experience it at its fullest; we let new strength flow into the heart.

Every experience only means to us the meaning that we give it. We ultimately create the connection of an event or a memory to the feeling we will associate with it. We give power and priority to the tiniest pieces of our time-line and to the beautiful people that make up our peers. Allowing ourselves to create an empowering connection can be instrumental.

Getting past the black veil of grief is not easy. Human beings are easily ensnared in a matted mess of emotions, which sometimes end up conflicting with our actions because we are trying to put up walls, or begging for help in a voice even we can’t hear. I do not mean to say that feeling the pain of a loss is bad for sobriety, it is actually the opposite.

Feeling those feelings and slipping past the black veil into the sunlight of your own spirit is a transformation that can breathe new life and purpose into your sobriety. Death is not an excuse to keep killing yourself; it should inspire you to live free.

People who struggle with drugs and alcohol die every single day from the disease of addiction, and others are left to try and make sense of what that life meant. Every life, addict, alcoholic or otherwise is worth so much. Don’t throw yours away. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

 

 

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