I had to deal with more discussion and exercises here at the hospital yesterday that reminded me of my time in AA (in other words, were PTSD triggers). The topic in the groups was gratitude. While of course most people see this as a healthy topic to explore, for me it can be very triggering because of how much and the way it was emphasized in 12 steps meetings. Basically, it was made out to be that if I stayed grateful and prayed to God, that everything would magically work itself out. What I found, though, is that I can stay grateful all that I want but if I do not work to change myself and leave abusive situations, that underneath all of that gratitude that I will always have some level of misery, even if it shows up in physical health symptoms rather than emotional ones.
Thus, yesterday was a hard day for me. I did share about how gratitude helped me to survive through domestic violence, but that afterwards I am not able to practice it much because it is associated with that time period. When I do try to find things to be grateful for, though, I do it very differently than I did during my time in AA. While I was in AA, especially towards years 7-9, I felt grateful all the time. But, I had a very set list of people/places/things/pets that I was grateful for, along with reasons why, that I developed probably in my first year of sobriety and that I had held on to for all that long and repeated in meetings for many years. Although repeating this did result in more and more gratitude, it also resulted in me detaching from those very things that helped me to be grateful in the first place because they started to become a part of my list, and a part of my story, rather than, for example, living human creatures. I believe that this contributed to my heightening feelings of depersonalization/derealization, which has extended to my cats (feeling like they weren’t real even though I know that they are).
Today I am looking at gratitude in a different way. I don’t need to write out repetitive lists either as a spot check or as part of a daily habit, and, I can really explore why something or someone makes me feel grateful or any other emotions. Also, I don’t need to feel some huge amount of gratitude, feel just a little bit grateful for something, and/or even need to feel gratitude at all for it to be there. For example, there are exercise mats here at the hospital, which for me is a big deal because not only do I love to exercise, but having exercise mats here makes it feel more like home. And, that is something that I absolutely need. I can recognize, then, that this is something that I can feel grateful about, even if I don’t necessarily feel it all the time, or have mixed emotions about how I feel about gratitude in general. Or, I can just recognize that these exercise mats make my stay at a Psychiatric Unit just a bit more bearable if I do not feel like focusing on gratitude at all.
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