There was a time in my life when expressing gratitude was difficult. Fear, shame, anger, disbelief in the positive made believing in anything good too much to handle. I felt grateful for being alive, relatively safe, and able to recover. I thought about the blessings almost as much as the curses and reflected on both in and out of therapy. But I couldn’t say or think or share the words/expressions/behaviors with my conscious self and others in the outside world. That made me feel too vulnerable.
Round 1 of Therapy
My first official therapist was a clinical psychologist who had previously treated a first cousin so was familiar with some family dynamics. We focused more on rebuilding my internal foundations – repairing cracks, identifying & “disabling” automatic defense mechanisms, keeping me in the present while minimizing “psychotic” symptoms – and coping strategies for anxiety & anorexia. Her favorite strategies involved Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and challenging the beliefs in my mind. We touched on gratitude, but not much. Some words here are in quotes because this therapist did not believe in trauma or DID. All signs of trauma-related symptoms were deemed “psychosis” or “psychotic” in nature and required medication.
Round 2 of Therapy
My second therapist did not work with trauma – she told me that up front – but she helped me with anxiety and anorexia until the trauma symptoms took over; then I had to find someone else. But this therapist started teaching me about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and gratitude affirmations or prayers. She also talked to me about the different 12-step programs and how they are designed around spirituality and connecting to a higher power more than a specific religion. We practiced creating and saying gratitude prayers (aka affirmations) together in session. The ones I liked, I wrote down or memorized to use later.
Round 1 of Partial In-Patient programs
Here I learned more about DBT, Positive Affirmations (previously discussed with a doctor-sponsored life coach and touched on in past therapy sessions), and the power of spirituality in healing. There was also some talk about meditation and deep breathing, but not much. Mostly centered on mindfulness or visualizations and how to combine affirmations with deep breathing & meditation practices. But this was a big turning point in my life. For the first time, I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t different from anyone else. These people cared a lot. And they tried hard to help us in many ways (including by example) learn the lessons in our groups – especially about boundaries. I soaked up the information like a sponge and came out with a newer, more positive perspective on everything.
Round 3 of Therapy
I was working with this therapist, a trauma specialist, when I started this website and blog. She taught me about self-acceptance, the power of gratitude in all of its forms, and how to safely express gratitude so that I welcome the positive energy, influences, and opportunities available just by “saying thank you” and “asking for guidance” by example too. While this therapist uses all of the strategies and techniques listed above, she also uses EMDR, Hypnosis, other trauma-specific types of strategies, and meditation. But her meditation styles and practices are rooted in Buddhism, and she was able to share resources like Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Han, and the Dalai Lama for me to explore on my own time. Through her, I discovered compassion meditation, gratitude meditation, ways to breathe so that I can make friends with my fear and be objective as I reflect on my past. This is when my alters and I acknowledged each other; and we opened ourselves up to the world together for the first time.
Round 2 of Partial In-patient programs
Let’s just say that the break from work gave me the time and space I needed to make some important decisions about family relationships and my personal life. The people running the program this time were new and completely different. Their approach was more clinical and detached; they didn’t care the same way as the last group of people who ran the program. I didn’t learn as much or find their lessons or mentoring as useful as last time. But then, I was also a different person and my alter personalities were emerging and causing all kinds of interesting experiences in the outside world then too. But I am grateful for the experience because being there, around so many different women with similar challenges and alternative approaches, gave me the strength and resolve to break from my toxic family situation.
I practice gratitude multiple times a day – always in the morning and before bed – because the reminders and affirmations help me stay grounded in the present. Sometimes I pray, sometimes I use an affirmation, sometimes a compassion meditation, sometimes positive self-talk as I breathe deep for a few minutes. Either way, it connects me to the life energy found in nature and the universe; and then I feel less alone, less scared, and less stuck in one place.
***I might have mentioned this before, but I will mention it again because this is important***
I do not believe in organized religion – that comes from being raised in a cult – but I do believe in God in all of his/her/their/its many forms. Each of my alters and have an inclusive attitude towards religion and spirituality.
It’s hard not to when some of the most positive and life sustaining influences were and are: Jewish, Christian (Protestant, Methodist, etc.), Catholic, or agnostic.
Also when some of the most negative influences were and are: Jewish, Christian (see above), Catholic, agnostic, Mormon, Pagan, Satanic, or Greek Orthodox.
So while I do believe in God, I do not assign a specific gender, religion, or form to this higher, universal power. And I separate my gratitude practices from religion and focus on spiritual connections with nature. All of us in the system believe that nature in all of its forms are God’s every day miracles. By connecting with them and sharing thankfulness, compassion, acceptance, and respect we open ourselves to so an amazing support network. And find answers to questions or directions at a crossroads.
Thanks for reading.