Can GRATITUDE and Chronic Pain Coexist?
The primary “work” that I do (and I have “work” in quotes because it is more of a passion than anything else) is in helping others who live with chronic conditions to incorporate GRATITUDE into their lives in order to heal from the emotional debilitation that comes along with long-term pain. I have a community on Facebook called “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” that is devoted to this exact purpose. We currently have over 7,500 members which absolutely blows my mind due to the fact that we have a few unique guidelines that are a bit of a stumbling block for many who live with chronic pain:
No talking about the specifics of your conditions
Say wha?!!! Seriously?
Yes….and here’s why:
I firmly believe that in order to move forward to a life of joy and purpose we need to face our challenges head-on. We need to deal with our struggles by walking right through them and sharing with others who gift us with their time, trust, and by holding space for us.
So why on earth would I create a rule that says you cannot complain or talk about your specifics? Isn’t that just toxic positivity?
No. And here’s why:
The reason I created this space almost 8 years ago is there are literally THOUSANDS of other pain groups on Facebook where you are free to openly discuss your conditions, compare symptoms and treatments, and complain if you need to vent. I used to belong to many of them, and they serve a very real need for many who live with chronic conditions. Today about 1 in 5 people in the world live with some kind of chronic pain, so having these connections and resources available can be an important tool for those needing support, guidance, and advice.
But after hitting a deep, dark rock bottom almost 9 years ago and after being fortunate enough to attend a 30-day inpatient program for those living with chronic pain, I learned that I needed to change EVERYTHING in my life. This program focused on living in the solution rather than stewing and rolling around in the problem. I had previously found myself being paralyzed by my struggles, and I now yearned for a space to find some inspiration and motivation to help me to keep putting one foot in front of the other each day. It’s not an easy thing to do when you live with chronic pain.
I could not find ONE SINGLE GROUP that had a positive aspect to it. Not one. In these communities, 99% of the time I would leave feeling worse and even more broken than when I went in! Not only did I have my own struggles, but because I’m an empath, I took on everyone else’s problems too! I recognized that I needed something additional, an oasis of sorts, to offset the negativity that those other communities often left me with.
And the reason why we don’t mention the specifics about our conditions even if we aren’t complaining?
This guideline evolved over time after recognizing the natural human response to sharing our specifics. We compare our conditions to each others’. This can be problematic in a solution-based group as it can either leave us feeling that we have no right to complain about our own situations (“because ‘so and so’ has it so much worse”) or on the flip side (“I have it so much worse than ‘so and so’"). We just cannot help but compare our situations to each other’s and with the purpose of this group that I created, it is not helpful and is counterproductive. We ALL have a reason to feel the way we do! Pain is subjective, and it isn’t fair to compare our personal pain to anyone else’s! As Teddy Roosevelt once famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
By not allowing any discussion of our particular conditions, we shut down any opportunity for comparison. We serve under the umbrella message that every single one of us lives with pain (emotional and/or physical) with nobody being any worse or better off than anyone else. This takes that need to compare and tosses it out the window which then leaves us to focus on the very things that “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” strives to provide: the ability to free ourselves from the bondage of self, to come to a place of acceptance of our conditions as they are at any given moment, and to move forward with joy and hope in order to live our best lives.
Because we recognize the importance of being able to share freely and openly about our struggles in order to heal and grow, we do offer live chats on Zoom twice a week where members are allowed to share ANYTHING they want, including specifics and even complaining if they need to vent. However, on the page and in the group itself, we do not.
Our primary purpose is to provide inspiration and motivation 24/7…to help our members to find purpose and hope despite their conditions and to know that each of the 7,500 other members can relate to our struggles and “gets it.” By being strict about these rules, it creates a very powerful and beautiful space. We offer a reprieve from the often depressing world of living with a chronic condition, and whether we serve as someone’s sole support group or whether we are simply a welcome addition to the others they belong to, I hear the same thing over and over: “This group has changed the way I live my life.”
Actually, the best comment I hear is “My family has noticed a difference in me since joining AoG!” Living with a chronic condition is not exclusive to the person living with it, it is a family “disease” as it affects everyone in our lives. For years, my husband, kids, and parents were casualties of my condition due to the fact that I’d basically given up on even trying to live happily. I found myself sitting on the couch and doing nothing day after day, not showering, not eating, not talking to anyone, and drinking heavily. I was a once-social butterfly who had ripped off her own wings and dug her way back into her cocoon….just barely breathing. I had no quality of life whatsoever, and my family suffered right along with me. Perhaps even more so.
It took that rock bottom which I mentioned briefly in my last post to turn things around for me. I mentioned that I will do a separate piece on that (and I will because it deserves one!) but for the sake of understanding this piece, I will simply tell you that this dark day found me waking up in a hospital bed after driving drunk, having no idea how I got there.
It was my darkest day and one that left me in misery, despair, confusion, and humiliation. To this day I do not even remember going out that day….I remember NOTHING.
But what this day gifted me with was the ability to find GRATITUDE in just about any situation. I did not kill anyone on that day, and I am still alive to tell the tale, to share my message of hope with others, and to live a life beyond my wildest dreams today in spite of still living with chronic pain.
This is the underlying message of “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain.” If all we do is continuously complain about our problems, we don’t stand a chance to ever be free of them….they will continue to hold us hostage and have enormous power over us. I did that for a long time, and I don’t want to ever go back there. I want to live while I am still breathing in this glorious life!
Yes, I was dealt a lousy hand of cards in being stricken with a chronic illness 21 years ago, but does that mean that I can’t still live a joyful life? No. No, it does not. But I have to work at it, and that includes a healthy dose of GRATITUDE each day. It is a practice that requires regular upkeep, but it is an exercise that brings me joy and a sense of purpose that I never dreamt was possible.
You see, my friends, it is when we focus on what isn’t hurting where the healing occurs. We cannot possibly move forward towards a life of happiness if we are hyper-focused on what does hurt. Yes, venting to others is important for our healing, however, if that is all we do, we cannot possibly heal from our own emotional debilitation.
Our brains are naturally wired to default to the negative-this goes back to our inborn fight or flight response, and is well-studied and documented. Therefore, it is up to us to embrace a life of abundance and to practice it if we want to move forward with infinite joy and wholehearted happiness. We can rewire our brains to be more GRATEFUL, but it requires being willing to practice it daily.
This is easier said than done, of course. After all, we still live with pain and/or struggles, and that is no cakewalk at all. We can’t just decide we want to be GRATEFUL and expect it all to fall into place.
In the group, we provide this space for others to work on this daily practice. Not only do we offer a place to share your GRATITUDE each day, but we offer various tools and posts to help foster these feelings of purpose and joy. Each morning, we offer a DAILY INTENTION post for our members that helps them set a loose roadmap for their day in order to gain a sense of purpose. I post BREATH BREAKS each afternoon which are short (5 minutes or less) guided meditations. We have a DAILY QUESTION that is always positive-based and helps us to recognize what we do have that is good in our lives. At the end of each day, we have a 3 THINGS I DID WELL TODAY post where members are free to share their personal “wins” (and these can be small things like taking a shower or returning a phone call).
We also have six different sister groups that offer other tools for our members to use such as AFFIRMATIONS, JOURNALING, DAILY READINGS, CREATIVE WRITING, a BOOK CLUB, and even a club for COOKING, CRAFTING, and GARDENING!
In addition, I host a weekly live broadcast on YouTube and FB Live called “Gratefully Living the Chronic Life” where every Thursday night at 8pm EST I chat with an expert guest who can offer my audience helpful suggestions and advice for dealing with life’s curveballs in order to assist them with joyfully surfing the waves of life. I learn so much from these authors, experts, doctors, therapists, and general badasses, and I love passing on their message of hope to anyone willing to grab onto it!
So, my loves, I am here to tell you that embracing an attitude of GRATITUDE even while living with struggles such as chronic pain is NOT toxic positivity, that these two things can co-exist, and this practice serves as an essential lifeline for me as well as the thousands of others who are willing to put in the work.
Accepting things as they are does not mean that we have to like it…not at all. I will never lose hope that one day there will be a cure for what I have and I am always willing to listen and learn about new treatments that can make my life easier. But if I cannot accept my reality as it is RIGHT NOW, there is no possibility of me being able to emotionally heal and live a joyful and wholehearted life. Without acceptance, I stay stuck in my problem and can’t walk forward towards joy and fulfillment.
GRATITUDE is free, it is always accessible, and it is by far the most effective “treatment” I have ever encountered for enabling me to no longer suffer from the reality of my circumstances. GRATITUDE has enabled me to find my smile again, and I know it can do the same for you.
If you’re looking for a community to help you develop a practice of GRATITUDE, join ours! Despite the name, we welcome anyone who struggles with any pain in life, not just physical conditions. We welcome you with open arms, an open heart, and a whole lot of GRATITUDE!
“Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” on Facebook