How Gratitude Can Save Your Life


Bessel van der Kolk is known as THE trauma expert throughout the world. I have read his famous book, The Body Keeps the Score, and attended several of his trainings. This past weekend, I had the privilege of spending two full days with him, cementing his teaching and wisdom, in my brain. I now see clearly how I survived a painful life. It has to do with how I experience joy, too, throughout it all. I am grateful.

I wake up every morning to the sounds of classical music, and I am thankful for another day of living.
Whenever something not so good – or awful happens, I reach for something to remind me, all is not bad.

I fell; my legs went out from under me, on my way to see van der Kolk. I hollered, “Please help me.” and a few young men gathered to see how they could help. I refused to go to the hospital because I am thrilled, as a trauma specialist, to hear Bessel van der Kolk validate what I already integrate, and to learn more about the brain. I couldn’t miss hearing all that he had to say.

Happily, one young man walked with me to the course. There you have it, while I have some pains and concerns, because of the kindness of this man; I was able to finish the course. I am grateful too, for the colleagues who knew what happened, and helped.

One great message my mother taught us is “always be grateful.” That helped me thrive through growing up with a woman I loved deeply. She was cold and critical. I kept loving and found refuge in the books I read, and the music that filled my soul. Someday, someone will know the depths of who I am. My mother didn’t have the capacity to do so.

So, as I pass through each day, I do notice the colors of the trees and flowers. I do notice the sky and the formation of clouds. I love the sunsets and their beauty. I do not like the cold, although snow makes the world look beautiful. And, as a woman, I do like the winter clothes.

I listen to the cello and I am deeply moved. Music has been my companion. People – all of them – are interesting. However they present themselves to me, I know there are reasons they are who they are.

It does originate with our beginnings. The pain, the pleasures live within us and form who we are, and what and how we will respond to life.

Van der Kolk says that gratitude is what will make the difference. It will keep our hearts from hardening, and we will present ourselves to the world with hope and faith.

With every breath I am grateful. I have not only survived, I have thrived and continue to live with gratitude for the opportunity to create my days with love.

Thanksgiving is not the one day of the year to be thankful. Every day is.

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About Paula Susan

Paula Susan, MSW, LCSW, Masters in Clinical Social Work & Psychology; specialist in Trauma and Relationships since 1982. In 1991, I integrated the powerfully transformative process of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Research demonstrates that it facilitates life-altering changes more efficiently and effectively than talk therapy alone. I teach skills such as communication and anxiety relief to improve connection with others. Over the decades, I’ve come to respect how much damage even small traumatic experiences inflict on our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. I consider it a privilege to help my clients understand and change what has undermined their happiness and their relationships. I do it with warmth, integrity, humor, and profound respect for those who care about the quality of this small piece of time we have on

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