Reflecting upon my first Thanksgiving in recovery brings some vivid memories of a time in my life that was clearly full of grace. It had been about a month and a half since my last drink or use of any mind-altering drugs, and the fog that had been occupying space in my mind for quite some time was lifting.
What seemed radically different was the intentional nature of my friends and fellows in recovery with whom I was just becoming acquainted. Many discussions in recovery meetings were centered around gratitude and the opportunities we now have to serve others thanks to the blessings we’ve freely received from God and our fellow brothers and sisters. Like many things during this time, I was aware of a radical shift from what life and my attitude toward it was like. Things were clearly changing.
God, who shares an abundance of love and mercy, makes all things new. Prior to finding new life in the Church and addiction recovery fellowships, I approached Thanksgiving with the belief that holidays such as these are meant to soak up as much self-indulgent pleasure as possible. The food was pleasant and often served as an escape from unwanted conversation.
However, the festive spirit where drunkenness and laziness were the norm rather than the exception was what I really looked forward to. For many years, Thanksgiving marked the beginning of a couple-month spree that would leave me feeling hopelessly depressed by mid-January.
My sponsor in recovery often noted that a “complete psychic change” was necessary for continuous sobriety. Setting aside the alcohol, drugs, lustful attachments, compulsive overeating, and other addictive behaviors is just the beginning of this change. Rather than living with a spirit of scarcity, which had roots in envy, pride, and fear, I could instead be grateful and aware of the wonderful things God was doing in my life despite my self-centered history.
The best expression of gratitude is service and self-sacrifice for others. Oddly, there is a joy found in looking out for the well-being of others that I always hoped to find in being served by others. If you believe that human connection is the opposite of addiction, this is where that magic happens.
Many spiritual tools help build gratitude, including making a gratitude list, putting our concerns into a “God Box,” and surrounding ourselves with others who eagerly express gratitude. These are all tactics that have been very helpful to me on occasions where I felt distant from hope. In addition to writing or speaking about gratitude, we can convey gratitude in a very humble way by seeking to do good for others. Recipients of our service might be God’s children in recovery, the homeless or sheltered who have limited resources, families in our parish in need, or relatives and friends who are unable to give anything in return.
When service is done in the name of gratitude, then we should expect nothing in return. In fact, hoping for a return from our time given is not much different than the transactional nature of relationships from which most of us with addictions or unhealthy attachments are seeking to transition.
The point is that God and the people who have given their time to our own continued recovery have come into our lives in a way that is so miraculous that we could never properly pay Him or them back. Therefore, setting out to be His hands, ears, and heart is something we do willingly with the hope that our ego doesn’t find out.
This Thanksgiving, I am incredibly grateful for the growth and movement of Catholic in Recovery. We hope to continue bringing individuals and families together in order to stay close to the solution offered by God. I have personally been motivated and moved by the stories of courageous women and men who have taken up their cross to follow Jesus despite the daunting prospect of facing an addiction head on. I believe that the moment we acknowledge our own powerlessness is the moment that God flourishes, and I pray that He flourishes and reigns as King of each of our lives, families, and communities.
May God bless you abundantly, and may you and those you love have a blessed, service-filled Thanksgiving!
Scott Weeman is the founder and Executive Director of Catholic in Recovery and author of The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments: A Catholic Journey through Recovery (Ave Maria Press). He is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, has a heart for serving young adults and those seeking recovery from addictions, and loves God and his family.