Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love and the way we make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Trauma cannot always be conquered, fixed, or resolved, but it can be heard, held and loved.Gabor Maté, The Wisdom of Trauma
My road to resilience has been a long one, and still going. At times the smell of burnt rubber from my spinning wheels made me wonder if I had ever gained any ground, or if I dared hope I would one day arrive at wholeness. In those times it helped me to remember that the universe moves in circular motion – that our very hearts beat to the rhythm of daily, monthly, and yearly seasons and cycles. A deepening spiral into the depths of ourselves more accurately reflects life on earth than the idea of a direct route to any sort of destination or end point, and the process of awakening inside 3-D reality has convinced me that growing into the fullness of our humanity may in fact take several lifetimes – both collectively and individually.
Looking back at my movement towards resilience, I would have to say that (in this lifetime, at least) my journey began at age 13 – the year I started thinking seriously about ending my life. This suicidal ideation continued throughout my teens and into my mid-twenties, until I finally decided that I really wanted to see how the mess that was my life would ever be sufficiently worked out.
So What is Resilience?
- the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
- the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
It used to astound me how two people could have virtually the same experience and come away with completely different reactions. My family of origin illustrates this well, actually. Four children raised by the same parents, with each assigning their own personal meaning to their childhood. This phenomena makes sense when you understand that the nature of an event itself neither supports nor negates the definition of trauma; rather the subjective experience of the one affected by the event defines that event as traumatic or not.
Perception really is everything.
In college, one particular friendship made all the difference in my perception of the world and my place in it. A late-night conversation in her car stands out in my mind to this day, and while it may not have meant that much to her, I believe that it literally saved my life at the time. My friend’s willingness to not only see through my meticulously crafted walls, but also dare to find a way inside them introduced me to a new resource: vulnerability. To this day I do not do vulnerability particularly well, but she showed me that as painful as it can be to reveal the darkness inside to another, vulnerability also has the power to connect, strengthen, and even liberate.
To me, resilience means having access to an abundance of resources (inside and out) that can aid in navigating the difficult storms of life, but despite the lesson(s) my college friend taught me, I still managed to recreate the pain of my childhood in my marriage. When you are at the
mercy whim of a person with narcissistic tendencies, vulnerability seems like an UNuseful tool, so out the window that went.
I remember in my thirties coming to the stunning realization that amidst the vast number of emotional tools available, I had truly developed only one: anger. For most of my life, anger was my go-to problem solver. Anger helped me survive. At first I kept it in the dark. My childhood had taught me in thousands of ways that to reveal a negative feeling about anything led to vilification, guilt and shame. Happy was the order of the day. Every. Single. Damn. Day. Whether I felt happy or not. I learned to build thick walls, and at the same time, stuff my anger deeper and deeper down, making the eventual explosions that much more painful for me and those around me. Much later I learned that anger turned inward often manifests as depression. Despite my moody-broody Pisces nature, I never did depression any better than I had vulnerability.
Instead, my body manifested an autoimmune disease.
In 2004, during a routine physical, my doctor discovered nodules in the right side of my thyroid. An ultrasound and eventual lab work dismissed cancer but revealed extremely high numbers of antibodies. My anger-turned-inward had literally caused my body to begin attacking itself. Considering how much difficulty I had in expressing my feelings (remember, crap at vulnerability?), it is no wonder that my immune disorder of ‘choice’ targeted my throat, my voice, the avenue of self-expression. When the body begins to manifest disease, it is time to face the hard truths about the source(s) of chronic illness.
Owning up to trauma and its devastating effects does not necessitate blame. Trauma is my response to an event, so facing it makes me response-able, as Gabor Maté puts it. Understanding my response to my childhood gave me a new tool: the ability to respond differently.
Taking responsibility requires self-awareness and a willingness to either walk away from toxic relationships or develop the self-care tools necessary to diligently acknowledge, own, and heal our own trigger points (inner emotional wounds). Today my toolbox holds way more than anger, although I came to understand that anger properly expressed proves quite useful at times. When we allow our emotions to teach and inform rather than control and own us, true healing and incredible growth can occur, but –
So many events in my life contributed to the building of my resilience toolbox that it would take a memoir or three to adequately talk about them all. Some that stand out in my memory:
- A school bus nightmare come true.
- Homeschooling my kids only to find that they had more to teach me than I ever could have taught them (and still learning).
- My sister’s death.
- A life-altering vision of my inner child.
- Publishing my first novel.
- Marriage … and then divorce.
- A trip to Ireland.
- Teaching pickleball.
- Reading Tarot cards.
I daresay that every experience in life potentially adds to our resiliency toolbox, depending on our perception and level of awareness. The big ones stand out, but the little ones carry weight too. And my teachers – WOW!! Dr. Joe Dispenza, Abraham Hicks, Alan Watts, Bruce Lipton, Michelle D’Avella, Niraj Naik, Marshall Rosenberg, Daniel Quinn, Patrick McKeown, Gabor Maté, Peter Levine, and so many more have expanded my toolbox in ways that I find hard to express. These days Byron Katie’s idea of approaching thoughts with curiosity has become a helpful point of focus for me.
What about you?
- What life experiences have helped build your resiliency toolbox?
- What teachers/ideas influence and inform your growth towards resiliency?
- What does your practice of self-care look like and what place does it have in your toolbox?
For me, resilience must offer more than the ability to recover from trauma – it also must give me the strength to walk in love day-to-day through a world that at times feels like a mass of painful meaningless chaos.
May you develop within yourself a resilience powerful enough to shine the light of joy into every moment, every trauma, every sorrow, every fear, and become a beacon of gratitude strong enough to anchor you into an inner knowing that the source of this universe truly is pure positive energy love.
Thanks so much for reading!