I’ve always liked the word resilience. Maybe it’s how the word sounds or maybe it’s what it means to me, but it’s always held significance in my life. I believe that resilience can be a superpower that shows up after life’s challenges are thrown in your way—sometimes in the form of trauma.
Trauma can be described as follows, “something happens that is too much to process at the time.” As a result, your nervous system cannot integrate the event all at once resulting in nervous system dysregulation such as rage, panic, disconnection, or dissociation.
Resilience is vital for those in recovery because of the dangerous consequences of addictive, compulsive behaviors. I grew up in a bedroom community of Philadelphia where every fourth home was the same model. Back in the 60s and 70s this type of development was the typical design of communities in my hometown. It was relatively safe and affordable by middle class standards. Yet, inside my home, it wasn’t so safe. Although I don’t believe there was malicious intent, my family was emotionally volatile and scary at times. My developing nervous system learned to walk on eggshells, and as a result, I searched for safety and became a heat-seeking missile with neighbors and at school—my version of childhood resilience. I always had a best friend as I grew up and I was adopted by several generous families along the way. My version of resilience resulted in my seeking connection and love.
Resilience sometimes reveals itself in the midst of trauma or from life’s hurts, disappointments, or shame experiences. In other words, resilience is a resource of the human condition and the human spirit. Nowadays I look back on my childhood with bittersweet memories, but I remain grateful that my capacity to bounce back from adversity is actually based on the trauma and dysregulation I experienced as a kid. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Brian finished his third round of rehab and just turned thirty. He had a long-term relationship with alcohol, benzos and depression but never found traction academically, socially, or professionally. Yet, he kept trying. In spite of the revolving door of relapse, he showed up to twelve-step meetings and was now interested in immersing himself in both therapy and coaching. When I asked him what was going to be different now, he shared a common sentiment, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” It appeared that this was yet another window of opportunity for Brian to discover what will make his life worth living and how to build connection in a different way than he had before.
The story of Brian is a typical tale. Will his resilience be strong enough after his latest relapse to help him stay sober and regulated? In early recovery resilience is a daily practice—like going to the local gym, it’s about building muscle for nervous system resiliency. How do you find your way back to a resilient state more efficiently? We will explore these possibilities in Part Two of this article.