This month on the SGO blog, I want to begin a two part series on the power of gratitude in recovery.
Over the past 12 years in recovery, one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten has come from my wife Tracey. Throughout our marriage, during times of great anxiety, fear, worry, and doubt, Tracey has encouraged me to “practice gratefulness”. Practicing gratefulness. You see, there’s something very powerful about adjusting the needle of your heart off of your fears and onto all that you’ve been given.
For me, as I’ve practiced gratefulness throughout the years, it’s helped me to find more contentment than ever! And I believe that could very well be the greatest goals to being grateful is the establishment of contentment & satisfaction in a person’s life.
For many years of my life, I felt deeply unwanted and I also lacked purpose. I had discovered pornography at around 12 or 13 and what began as simply a curiosity delved quickly into a nightly ritual of finding the latest and the greatest thrill that would give me a real sense of fulfillment and control. But unbeknownst to me at 12, porn would lead me on a 13 year cycle of guilt and shame with no end until around the age of 26.
I’m thankful today that I’ve had freedom for many years and experienced tremendous healing from the clutches of pornography. And while I don’t even remotely desire porn anymore, there are still many times I have to dig my heels in the ground to fight for contentment.
Until we realize all that we have and all that we have been given, we will struggle with giving thanks. We will always try to seek out the next thing, the next shiny new object, the next thrill to give us relief. In many ways, we may trade one addiction for another!
You may have not known this, but gratitude has the literal power to change the brain and create new neural pathways. Similarly to how our continual dependence upon porn created literal “ditches” in our brains is the same way that gratitude also has the ability to re-wire the brain.
Specifically, the brain releases powerful chemicals that can actually cause feelings of joy and pleasure:
“Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a well-known meditation training site, mentioned in one of her publications that gratitude as a ‘natural antidepressant’. The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily can be almost the same as medications. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level. When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.” (The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief, PositivePsychology.com, https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/)
The very chemicals that were released through repeated exposures to pornography can also be delivered through simple acts of giving thanks. Practicing gratitude. And it can CHANGE your brain.
So we can see how positively impacted the brain is from practicing gratitude. But where does a person begin?
One simple exercise you might consider is saying out loud or journaling 3 things that you’re grateful for every single day. This could be done when you wake up or before bed and doesn’t have to take very long. It’s the genuine recognition of the good things in your life. EVERYONE has the ability to find something to be grateful for. So there you go. Crate a gratitude journal.
In the next post, we’ll zoom in a little bit and specifically look at the role that gratitude takes for a person who’s actively involved in pornography or in recovery from porn. But until then, give thanks for something in your life. It could even be the fact that you woke up with breath in your lungs. Remember, it’s oftentimes the small, seemingly insignificant things that have the ability to turn the ship around and help change your attitude.
Here’s something to be thankful for: Small Groups Online! An incredible online experience that matches you up with a group that meets weekly on Zoom, comprised of other men or women who share similar struggles as you do. With SGO, you’ll quickly find an incredible community of people who can encourage you on your journey to sexual freedom. Check out SGO today!
Frank is passionate about helping individuals live with sexual integrity. He also works alongside his wife Tracey in helping spouses who have been devastated by their partner’s addiction. Frank & Tracey live in beautiful southern Delaware with their two children: Nathan and Addison.