Gratitude: Wanting what you have

In the rooms of AA, I’ve learned that gratitude means “wanting what you have.” At first I had thought this was silly and trite. Of course, I “want what I have!” But upon further thinking it became obvious the trite phrase has a deeper meaning.

In our alcoholism, one drink was never enough. The idea of just having one rarely enjoyed consideration. If one is good, then ten is awesome! Only ten?

And so we eventually found out the detrimental side effects of this attitude. If you’re an alcoholic, you know what those are.

But if you’re in recovery, even for a long while, a type of addictive thinking can still affect you. You may be dissatisfied with your material possessions. What you have isn’t enough. A better car, bigger residence, nicer computer, a smartphone with more bells and whistles, whatever, what you own that actually serves your needs somehow is no longer satisfying.

I think this is still a residual addiction. Although you no longer drink, the addictive side of your personality still craves something more. Not satisfied, it comes up with justifications for wanting more.

Many times in meetings you hear the phrase, “Stick with the winners.” It is good advice for newcomers; they are told to seek out those in sobriety who “have what they want,” namely a good, sustained quality of sobriety. Unfortunately, some use the trappings of materialism to determine that good sobriety. The idea is that after you’ve been sober for a while, you begin to recover many things that were lost, including material wealth. If you never had it, then you’ll get it. It is even inferred in the so-called “Twelve Promises,” found on Page 83 of AA’s “Big Book.” (See the online version at Alcoholics Anonymous. It is available as a PDF.)

Somewhere I’ve heard that to determine who’s a “winner,” you check out the vehicles people drive away from meetings in. The better, the more “successful.” There are other ways of determining material success, of course.

To me, the only real manner in which a person should be judges on their sobriety, how much of a “winner” they are, is how long have they been sober? Do they take life in stride? Have they been the target of a lot of “stuff” that life throws at them? Do they bear their Crosses well?

Although I’ve typically loathed discussions on ‘”gratitude” during meetings, I have now come to realize that gratitude is an essential tool in recovery, for it helps to retard or curtail “addictive thinking” elsewhere, and especially the draw of materialism. In my previous post, Be transformed!, I quoted Jesus’ saying “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

Indeed!

It is not enough to just maintain sobriety, one also has to express gratitude for it, but also for everything else one has in life. If you are truly grateful for what you have, and your needs are consistently supplied, then you will have little desire for the “wants,” as they are rarely what you “need.”

Focusing on your “wants” is an addictive thought process: it means you are not satisfied with your needs, and you want more. Just as “one drink” was never enough, whatever you have in life now may not be enough, even though it adequately supplies your needs.

Think about it. Sometime ago, you got some “things.” They were fine and supplied your needs. Then they no longer did, or so it seemed, and so you got “more things.” After a while, it happened again; they no longer seemed sufficient and you went out and got “still more things.”

Really? Was all that necessary? What was different between the time you had just the “things” and then “more things,” and so on to “still more things?” What changed? Did they really not satisfy your needs, or was the accumulation just serving your “wants?” On Page 559 of AA’s “Big Book” there’s a line that says something like “our needs, which are always satisfied; and our wants, which never are.” I think that is the core. Our “wants” never are satisfied and so we desire “more.” Even though our needs were taken care of. That’s addictive thinking. One drink isn’t enough. Another is needed. And another. And so it is with material possessions. The car we drive isn’t good enough. (Yes it is, we just don’t want to see it. We see people in AA meetings drive better ones and we have to show our success in sobriety and get a newer one.) The computer we have isn’t powerful or fast enough. (Yes it is, we just feel self-conscious when we don’t have the latest Mac or Windows PC. That machine is from 2006???)

I am just putting this out there for consideration and discernment. Just an admonishment towards those who do see success in material terms. I do notice many people in recovery have a more relaxed attitude towards material possessions and are truly grateful for what they have. After all, there’s a reason why “gratitude” is a popular topic in meetings. We need to hear it, perhaps there’s an understanding of the danger in not being grateful for what we have. Especially since many have lost so much.

Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)

"The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts"

and "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"