Throughout my recovery, many people praised or derided me for my resiliency. I thought I knew what they meant about being a resilient person. But I didn’t. In my mind, resilience was just a word people used to describe how flexible and malleable I was. Flexible meaning I was easily manipulated. Malleable as in I was a doormat without my own thoughts who could be taken advantage of and treated carelessly and used. They compared me to a rubber chicken, Gumby, a rubber ball who always bounced back, a puppy with too much energy – that was resilience.
And resilient meant weak, not strong, in my family.
But resilience is not weak. Flexibility does not equal doormat. Malleable does not mean easily taken advantage of or manipulated. And bouncing back is not an indication of stupidity.
So what is Resilience? And why is it so important to recovery?
Resilience is a mix of characteristics and values that allow a person to learn from experiences and move forward with knowledge and perspective. Resilience means learning:
- When to keep going
- When to stop and think (reflection and perspective)
- When to change one’s mind and try something else (not failure, making choices)
- When to make the mistake and use the experience to try from a different angle
- When to say no in spite of pressure to say yes
- When to say yes in spite of pressure to say no
- When to hold on
- When to let go
- How to accomplish all of this when drowning shame, guilt, fear, doubt, or negativity get in the way
Recovery is like growing pains. It hurts a lot, feels overwhelming, and trips you up when everything finally seems to be going right.
Two steps forward; one step to the right; three steps left, two steps backward; five steps forward…who knows what will happen next or how to make progress?
Every survivor is resilient because:
- He is still alive
- She fell and got up again
- He stopped counseling; got into a bad place; started counseling again
- She is still alive
- He tried to reconcile with his family and had to walk away again
- She relapsed; reached out for help; and accepted it
- He failed a class in spite of hours with the tutor and extra help sessions; took the class with a different teacher and different set of people; passed; and didn’t have to take the final
- She said no and fought back long enough to escape and get help; then took martial arts and self-defense classes only to become an expert trainer who volunteers at shelter for trauma survivors
- Two friends walked away from each other after a surviving a car wreck that almost killed them and did permanently injure 4 others. Years later, one reaches out to the other, and they start a respectful dialogue; their friendship blossoms and stays strong
What resilience means to me
I make mistakes. I learn from my mistakes.
I can be flexible like steel and break under too much pressure. Or I can be flexible like grass and bend one way or the other until the pressure passes.
I can let fear win and be a medicated vegetable. Or I can get up every time I fall and try another way to keep on going.
- Every experience has value and can teach me a lesson that will help in the future
- Failure means I got stuck and need to rethink the solution
- Regrets mean I still have something to learn from the experience
- I forgive, but never forget
- My past comes back to remind me of lessons learned so I can make better informed choices now
- A flexible mind helps me understand someone else’s perspective and be a more thoughtful person
- Malleable means I can set safe boundaries and change them to suit who I am now
- I shape the world around me instead of letting the world shape me
- When no one listened to me talk, I started writing and didn’t stop
If you’re reading this, you are resilient too.
And thanks for reading.