“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo—far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance” – Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
Resilience is the capacity that a person has to adapt and readily recover from adversity. It is evidenced in the picture that contrasts the mighty oak that fought the wind and was broken and the willow which bent with the wind and survived. Recovery from addiction requires resilience. There are many up-and-down experiences. Addicts must develop the capacity to adapt in order to do recovery on life’s terms. As life unfolds, plans are foiled and people disappoint. Flexibility is necessary in order to maintain long-term sobriety. Chaos gives way to calm in recovery when an addict practices resilience.
Resilience is a recovery quality that increases when exercised and practiced. The following suggestions will help you strengthen the practice of resilience in your recovery.
- Stay positively connected to at least one other person in recovery. Resilience tends to wilt in isolation. Recovery requires connection to others. When a sense of community wanes, addicts withdraw and close their heart where they need to be open. Twelve-step meetings are designed to accelerate connection and openness. However, large meetings make it difficult to be open. They trigger isolation for some in recovery. Building resilience in a large meeting requires the same commitment to connecting with others that is necessary in a small meeting. Go out of your way to have coffee and conversation with at least one person. It will greatly increase your capacity for resilience.
- Make meaning from mangled moments. These are moments in life where nothing goes right. Thank God this doesn’t happen all the time! Yet, when they do occur, it seems like they always occur. During these times you can get caught up in moaning and groaning. Long-term complaining will snap serenity and threaten sobriety. Take a deep breath and then let go. It’s just one of those days! Step back and learn from these mangled moments. There are priceless lessons you can gain when things go wrong. Practicing gratitude will help you open your heart and make meaning out of mangled moments.
- Help someone else when you are in the midst of your own trials and trauma. I learned this from my mom. There were always trials for her in raising 12 kids. There would be one crisis after another. What kept my mother sane was that she always had her eye on others whose struggles were greater than hers. In our community, there was the Fryman family who had 22 children. My mom was forever gathering clothing and food for this family whose trials were greater than hers. There was a poor woman in our community known as Sister Harris. My mom would have her iron our clothes for 50 cents a basket because she needed the money. When the clothing came back with a musty smell my mom made us put up with it because Sister Harris needed the money. My mom seemed to gain inspiration for her own trials by helping someone else. Try this in your recovery. It will inspire you while you increase your resilience.
- Imagine a positive future. My mom used to imagine what it would be like to take a vacation to St. Louis, only 2 hours away from where we lived in East Central Illinois. I sat with her at the picnic table in our backyard listening to her daydream about a trip to this favorite city. I developed deep satisfaction saving money from my paper route and mowing yards to make this trip possible for my mom. It was a future vision that propelled me through my childhood trials and tribulations. Creating a vision for the future will help you stay the course in your recovery life of sobriety. When times get tough, maintaining an unspeakable imagination for the future will sustain you and create a way through the agony of craving. Keep your eye on the prize of a positive future. It will strengthen resilience in your recovery.
- Simply forgive! In the aftermath of addiction carnage, resilience increases when you simply forgive. Forgiveness means to let go and not hold against. You must first forgive yourself before you will effectively forgive others. You forgive yourself for doing the same thing in principle as that which was done to you. Though you didn’t commit the same behavior in like kind, you did so in principle when you consider times when you did what you wanted, when you wanted it, regardless of its impact on others. This is a universal principle of offending that all humanity has engaged in at some time in their existence. When you forgive yourself, you create the necessary resilience to forgive someone else. This is the secret to getting out of your own emotional prison from a hurt perpetrated by another. Forgiveness requires that you believe in your capacity to forgive. The word “believe” is an Anglo-Saxon word that means to live in accordance with. Therefore, you must live out forgiveness of self and others daily. Seldom is forgiveness a one-and-done experience. Most often, it requires a daily practice of letting go and not holding a grudge against yourself or others. This practice increases resilience.
A 12-step community is a place to practice collective resilience. Every person within the community struggles with the same issues of craving and need for sobriety. The power of resilience can deepen in a collective way. Collective resilience encourages collective courage. In a 12-step community, everyone is invited to deepen the practice of resilience while facing the adversities that are inevitable in the recovery journey.