The Importance of Resilience on the Road to Recovery

By Ken Wells - 06/20/2020


“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.” ― J.K. Rowling

Most of us in recovery have our own description of “rock bottom”.

Some have lost everything while others experience of failure led them to a place of spiritual bankruptcy and despair without losing it all. In recovery, without resilience, every lapse or relapse becomes a “rock bottom” experience. Like a helicopter that loses its ability to sit in midair and drops from the sky with a thud, an addict can do the same, Triggered by failure to maintain sobriety, an addict can cyclically wallow with despair and anxiety. This pattern is unsustainable for long term sobriety, the standard course correction requires an infusion of resilience. The capacity of resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulty. It is the elasticity to bounce back from the adversity of failure. Without resilience, long term recovery is impossible.

During my time in recovery, folks who do not learn to bounce back when they have screwed up, usually wallow with shame in defeat and failure. What usually happens is that they become swamped with shame in their failure which typically adds fuel to the flame of further relapse. To complicate matters, when the addict’s support system observes the chronic relapse, they may become discouraged and doubt that the addict is taking recovery seriously and think the recovery plan is ineffective. This response has a boomerang impact to the addict who might descend into deeper despair believing that recovery and sobriety is unattainable. Addicts who get caught in this downward spiral can be swept away and quickly re-engage an old mindset of acting out patterns that have often permanently derail attempts at recovery. This fragile house of cards of support in recovery can collapse and the chances of bouncing back, getting traction and moving forward is jeopardized or destroyed.

There is no addict who is not vulnerable to the possibility of relapse. Regarding sexual addiction, it is common for an addict to relapse. A key question is will an addict recognize the dynamic, address it and purposefully bring himself back to the center of his recovery.

To do this an addict will need to establish a strong position in keeping the shame of the act out on the behavior and off his personhood. Acting out is about behavior and not about who you are as a person. As a person, you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. The acting out behavior is an aberration to who you are — not who you are. When this perspective can be maintained, it positions the addict to be able to protect his own personhood with healthy emotional self-care. It helps the addict to transform the shame of the behavior into compassion and care for the one who was injured as a result of the acting out. This balanced focus can only occur through conditioned training of heart and mind. However, when this skill set is cultivated it empowers a shift from wallowing in despair to solid grounding skills that will help to bring an addict back to center and create long term recovery.

Recovering addicts who have established long term recovery have learned to bring themselves back to center no matter how much they want to lament or engage in self-criticism. Rather than to beat themselves up they decidedly move back to center and adopt self-care. This is the difference that I notice between those who have long term sobriety and those who suffer chronic relapse.

Resilience is commonly mentioned as a positive characteristic about recovery but often overlooked as critical to the development of long term sobriety in recovery.

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