Published on Huffington Post
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pullman
Shopping lists, to-do lists, , packing lists – lists are an easy way for busy people to retain information. Of all places, I found myself making the most lists in the hospital. And of all kinds of lists – after a surgery that went terribly wrong – I found myself creating a gratitude list.
This was one of many lists I created every night in the hospital. I’d make myself think of something I was grateful for from A to Z, even when I hated my circumstances. By rummaging through my angry and frustrated thoughts, eventually, some positivity submerged. By the time I reached “Z”, my life had not changed dramatically, but my thoughts had.
You don’t need a set of fancy paints to create art, you don’t need a picture-perfect life to find every day gratitude, and you certainly don’t need a fancy hardcover journal to start a grateful list. Take a blank page, letter it A to Z from beginning to end, and just start. It doesn’t have to make sense. Some words can be a bit of a stretch. It’s even okay to get away with “x-citement” or “quanberry juice.” It’s just to get your head in a different place.
And sometimes, when your head’s in a different place…
Your body will be too.
Where’s the most outlandish place you can find gratitude today?
In the hospital, I made daily gratitude lists when there wasn’t much to immediately be grateful for. But finding gratitude was a way to make “sense” of my story. If I were grateful for things happening, it could fit into my life. I could own what happened to me and make something from it. These grateful lists were my life story being spelled out night after night.
This taught me a valuable lesson: Stories make us stronger. Stories make us think differently. And there is strength in thinking, seeing and doing things differently.
Everyone loves a good story. Is there a book or poem you’ve read that has always stuck with you? A certain metaphor from a whimsical children’s story that resonated with you as a child? I remember always loving the book Harold and the Purple Crayon. I loved the idea of a little child being able to create his own world. It made me feel like I could too.
That’s the beauty of a metaphor: through a larger vision, we can relate with our own unique stories.
That is also the power of storytelling. Everyone’s story is different. But we all can relate to emotions. If you’re human, you’ve felt sadness. You’ve felt hunger, pain, joy, loss, .
If you’re a human on this earth, you’ve felt life. Look all around you, and you’ll see life growing, dying, changing and regenerating daily.
And THAT is something we can all be grateful for, right? That even though we’re dealing with difficult times, we are not alone. We never have been.
Then I think about some of my favorite movies.
Disney movies – I’m not a lion, or king, I don’t live under the sea, transport myself in a magic pumpkin, or have 101 dalmations.
But I’ve felt betrayal.
I’ve looked for hope in the oddest of places.
I’ve lost hope.
I’ve been so angry I haven’t even known what to do with myself.
I’ve felt love when I thought I couldn’t feel at all.
I’ve felt fear.
I’ve felt bravery.
I’ve felt life.
I can’t really compare my life to a Disney movie, but I can say this: We all have ebbs and flows in our lives – our peaks and valleys. My story, your story, our stories – they’re all the same. The specifics are not the importance in the end. What’s important is that we keep telling them.
Just hearing someone else’s story makes us feel the same pain or joy that they have experience. It’s sharing them that makes us stronger.
That’s how we know we’re not alone.
You have a story too.
Our stories make us stronger. So today – tell yours.
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking. As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer’s Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual. To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. “Detourism” is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017. As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. Learn more: amyoes.com and support her work at patreon.com./amyo.