Traumatizing Transitions—Meet Gratitude Notes.

I’ve gone through a lot of transitions in my life, and most of them hit me like a brick.

Moving to college, my first break-up (and second, and third…), studying abroad, my first full-time job, losing my home, etc. And then there’s moving, moving, and moving. Often moving is wrapped up in another transition, like a career change, or sometimes simply the lease is up and my dear housemates are moving on.

I remember a lot of crying and depressive feelings. Regret and doubt come easily to me, so I often tried to create a new, desirable environment while holding on to my old one. Doubting that I was moving in the best direction for myself made the effort half-hearted, and I would float in a disorganized haze of highs and lows during the weeks following the transition.

Deepak Chopra said, “Every great change is preceded by chaos” but I’m pretty sure it was the other way around for me—great change preceding chaos.

So, before I left my coastal home in Chile to move back to my childhood home in Massachusetts, I was determined to avoid the self-sabotaging chaos of transition. Returning home was something I wanted and had planned for, but leaving Chile was not. Hence the root of all my issues with change.

Despite feeling relatively calm leading up to the departure date, I reflected on how to have a peaceful transition.

First, I looked at the potential sources of negativity: I worried that I’d regret not making more of my experience in Chile and wish I’d stayed longer. And I was anxious about not having a ‘plan’ (read: job or studies) upon my return. Would I feel directionless and confused? Sensitive?

I chose to add a little activity to my daily routine starting the final month in Chile. My focus was on the first concern (regrets), but this trick managed to address both my fears around leaving and returning.

Each evening, I would write a small note about something I was grateful for in Chile. Each day naturally, no matter how mundane, sparked a new reason to feel grateful, but sometimes I’d write about the larger picture.

For me, a small rectangle of space (a quarter of a blank page) was enough to go deeply into the aspects of the one thing I was grateful for.

I didn’t only write what I was grateful for, but also why. How did it make me feel? How many different ways had I been able to enjoy it? What are the specific details that I appreciate?

I noticed the gratitude notes sparked feelings of love, compassion, awe, admiration, and plain old happiness. They helped me see how much I had been fortunate to experience in Chile, which was much more than I had realized initially. The small details of my time showed to be what I was most often grateful for—time spent alone, daily exploration, the land, and the sea.

July 4

Today I am grateful for the sea. It’s still intimidating, but I’ve grown to love it in all it’s forms–fiery, crashing, overflowing, the way it blends with the sky or carves the longest horizon I’ve ever seen from the shore, and the way–and this I love the most–it gives itself to the colors of the sky. I’m grateful for the peace it brings me and how its familiar mystery cracks open my heart each time I see its bubbly waves. I’m grateful that it’s become my compass and what home means to me. Living here, sand is an unshakeable part of my socks. I’m grateful for how the earth interacts with the sea– solid, looming, grounded but the sea returns again and again. I’m grateful for being next to such a giant almost everyday. It bears countless gifts and is constantly near. My body is nurtured here.


July 16

I’m grateful for exploring this little city I live in. For the hill where I’ve spent about a year of my time here. The sunsets have been a daily blessing, even when I cannot see them. I love the view from my current house, how the sky looks when the clouds are recovering after a storm, how the sun can drop into the sea in a million different ways. I’m grateful for being curious and unafraid of the aggressive house dogs. For turning new corners, and running up and up as the view gets better and better, knowing that the way home is simply down. I’m grateful for biking along the coast, especially when I’m alone. For stopping when I want to, being equally in awe of the hills and the sea. What a beautiful and honest place this is.

Additionally, the notes helped me realize how I had in fact done personal work toward finding a next step post-Chile. Although there was more than one possible path I was taking home with me, each excited me thoroughly.

Upon leaving, I let the tears fall. Yet they weren’t desperate tears, but tears of love and gratitude. And since my return, I’ve felt peaceful and grateful for this place and its people. I’m being kind to myself and appreciating these moments of being in a between place.

What I’ve known since my first big life change is that the mind and body adjust—eventually. But I learned now that it’s not about pacifying my regrets (in an attempt to avoid transition trauma), but rather embracing my choice and recognizing that some loss is necessary to gain what I’m reaching for. It’s not a mistake to choose change, it’s the essence of life. And what helped me accept loss was knowing I had appreciated and loved the experience fully.

Looking back, in times of great change and transition, gratitude saved me from the deepest sadness. Save may not be the right word—rather, it is the light that stays bright as the sun sets.

Gratitude is a companion, a ray of light that reminds us of the flow of things. Trying to escape our current state of unease in change is a helpless cause, but recognizing that emotions flow in and out helps to buoy ourselves in a restless sea. After all, the waves give us both fear and excitement in the same crash.

The beauty lies in recognizing the unique details within the vastness of experience, and being grateful that they have once come and then may go.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~ Melody Beattie