Resilience: The Essential Quality Born Within Us All

By Ken Wells - 05/11/2021


Series Two: Blog Twenty-Seven

Fear is a five-lane highway in the brain, while. Resilience a foot path through the woods. We can make that dirt path wider by walking it, over and over again.” – Andrew Huberman

Today I would like to talk further about resilience. I just spent time reading, sifting, and sorting through Staci Haines’ book the Politics of Trauma. Her chapter on embodied resilience struck a chord with me that I think can be helpful to recovery in addiction. Staci is a practitioner in somatics, which she describes as a holistic way to transform. It engages our thinking, feeling, sensing, and actions. According to Haines, transformation means that the way we are, relate, and act become aligned with our visions and values.

In her chapter on embodied resilience she works with understanding the nature of resilience and how to practice it. It sounds so evident, but life is so daily. The every-day experiences in life are so commonplace. It is particularly true about addiction recovery. Those who are successful in recovery have come to terms with the day-in and day-out recovery tasks and practices of recovery. Recovery includes the success and failure, the ups and downs, and the bitter and sweet. These patterns become a tapestry in the recovery life of an addict. A significant piece of the fabric in recovery is resilience.

I believe that addicts are familiar with trauma. The trauma focus often gets lost in the exhilaration and egregious part of acting out. Yet, I am reminded of the reality in which addicts literally scares the hell out of themselves in their addiction. The stakes are so high with every acting out. Every person has within the capacity to utilize resilience. We have an inborn ability to grow and evolve from our destructive behaviors and mistakes made throughout life. This is the essence of resilience. An addict can renew herself during and after oppressive, damaging, and traumatic experiences.

Working with 12-steps in addiction recovery, I recognize the importance of day counts. The term relates to the number of days accumulated in sobriety. Addicts in recovery cherish lengthening the number of days they can say they are sober. There are 24 hours, monthly, quarterly, annual, 5 yr, 10 yr etc chips that are awarded during 12-step meetings noticing these milestone achievements in addict recovery. Throughout my years in recovery and now working with addicts for 28 years, I believe that what is more important than day count is ability to bring myself back to the center of my values. I believe in recovery this is resilience. No one I know has ever recovered perfectly. Most addicts struggle with relapse early in recovery. All addicts experience lapses — which is defined as engaging old pattern behaviors short of acting out against bottom lines.

Long-term recovery underscores the importance of maturing in the practice of resilience and returning to the center of values. Resilience is about cultivating the art of grounding yourself when faced with unsettled crisis and events that would unnerve you and your commitment to recovery. It is more important than day count. It is the ability to shift from instability, physically and psychologically, to a state of cohesiveness and calm. This requires training and conditioning in your recovery practice.

Without resilience, an addict tends to hover in a state of mistrust, hypervigilance and mobilization to fight, flight, freeze, or dissociate. There is often the need to control or appease others. In these states we tend to feel less of ourselves. With resilience we are more likely to feel connected and more open to give and receive. Resilience cultivates open heartedness with deeper commitment to compassion. It aerates the heart with fresh enthusiasm to do the next right thing in recovery.

Here are some considerations for promoting resilience in your recovery life:

  1. Take time to identify what brings resilience to your life. It can be almost anything. It is an experience that helps you sense and feel more of yourself. It can be a connection to nature or animals. It might be a deepened sense of being spiritual. It can include artistic, creative, or music. It can even include play, imagination, or loving life experiences. Helping others and learning new things is often grounding in resilience. Take time to notice what you feel and sense as you increase or decrease your experience in resilience.
  2. Practice resilience purposefully on a regular basis.  Create a time and space in your life that you slow life in order to purposefully practice the art of resilience. If it is music, notice its meaning and what you feel in your body and spirit while talking or listening. It can be a ritual walk in the woods or around the block. See if you can do your ritual of resilience daily or weekly. Make it a part of your lifestyle. Take time to regularly sit with yourself, allowing the practice of resilience to permeate your body and spirit.
  3. As you go through your life, underscore experiences which give resilience to you.  In recovery we often get caught up in the day-to-day skirmish of survival. Many experiences can connect you to resilience. Examples can be: seeing the same folks at a 12-step meeting, social connections afterwards, the sun shining through the clouds in a special way, or listening to a child’s laughter. It can be an endless number of different experiences. Practice noticing moments of resilience on a regular basis.
  4. In the presence of crisis and trauma, sit with the experience to find its meaningfulness.  Research has shown that resilience deepens when you find a way to extract meaningfulness from your addiction crisis and consequences. There are three important considerations: (1) reaching out to help someone else during and after the traumatic crisis; (2) seeking meaning from your addiction and focusing on imagining a positive future; (3) staying positively connected to another person or a group. Practicing these important principles will foster your capacity toward resilience, so necessary to bring you back to a grounded center.

Surviving the many crisis points in addiction recovery requires accessing the power of resilience within. We tend to pull away when faced with a crisis and isolate. Resilience helps to insulate with support from environment and supportive friends. In the presence of struggle, it helps to feel more connected, more open, and with a greater sense of safety.

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