I’m spending Thanksgiving in New York for the first time since 2006. There are many reasons for the long stretch of Thanksgivings elsewhere. But suffice it to say, I’ve not regretted a year away.
But now, as my father continues to struggle with his health, I am working to be present with all that is—the gifts, the challenges, and the triggers that come from being in a place where major traumas have happened. That requires an act of radical gratitude.
This is the work I’m currently called to do. If I could’ve chosen what this fall looked like, this wouldn’t have been on my list. But like the writing life, we get what we are given, whether that’s access to flow states or the grind of showing up uninspired.
Our job is to accept and then roll with what’s presented. Tough times requires radical self-care, tons of support, and permission to feel exactly how I feel at any given moment.
Has it been beautiful? Yes.
Has it been ugly? Absolutely.
But I am grateful for every story stitching itself into my bones, and for seeing each day that while I am still a trauma survivor who has vulnerabilities, I am no longer the helpless little girl without choices. I am strong. I am capable. I am compassionate toward myself.
Every morning, I go for a walk as soon as I get out of bed. I spend a lot of time thinking about gratitude on these walks—not the “let’s see the world in rainbow colors” kind of gratitude. I mean the gritty kind that looks at a pile of shit, embraces its stink, and sees the trees that will one day bloom from this fertilizer.
It’s the kind of radical gratitude I’m bringing into this Thanksgiving season.
It’s also the kind of gratitude I hope you bring to your writing practice.
There are three reasons a gritty I-will-see-light-no-matter-what kind of gratitude is essential for every writer, and especially for trauma survivors.
Radical gratitude gives you choices regarding where you place your focus. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can control. But when you take that small step, you become more expansive. This fills you with light, lifts your mood, and empowers you.
An empowered you arrives at your writing desk open to possibilities and filled with ease. This makes room for so many incredible things to happen.
Radical gratitude counteracts the angst you’ll feel when drafts go wonky, you’ve lost your way, someone gets the award you were hoping for, or you’re working hard and waiting desperately for the success you’ve dreamed of and wondering if it will ever happen. This starts with gratitude for the time you have to write, whether it’s five minutes or five seconds to think about a plot point that’s giving you trouble.
Radical gratitude helps you see the light in dark times.
Training your mind in this way will make it easier to identify the light moments in your story, something that can be challenging when you’re writing the tough stuff. This is not to be done to the exclusion of painful feelings (you should feel them), but in addition to them.
Seeing both will help you wisely choose what you have the capacity to write at any given moment, and it will help you create an authentic balance in your work without forcing yourself to find the moment when someone who harmed you saved the cat.
Might you still have to do that?
Sure. That’s part of creating balanced characters—something I explored with Ronit Plank, author of When She Comes Back and host of the Let’s Talk Memoir Podcast when I interviewed her for the Writing Your Resilience Podcast.
I can’t wait to share that with you. But while you’re waiting, I challenge you to use gratitude to see all of your options.
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