A New Definition of Resilience
This week has felt like a decade.
Josh ended up at the emergency room again last Wednesday and is still in the hospital. He’s doing okay but it’s hard for him. It’s hard to be unwell. It’s hard to rely on people you don’t know in an institution. It’s hard to be surrounded by sick people.
For me, each day has felt like a marathon. The kids are remarkably resilient. I know that I am remarkably resilient. And I have asked for help from family and friends. I have cancelled calls with clients. I have made sure to do what I need to take care of myself and my family.
I have felt the waves of sadness and anger wash over me. As a result, I feel remarkably clear.
We often think of resilience as the ability to get through no matter what. The Oxford dictionary definition is: the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.
How that often manifests is that people ignore their own needs and just keep pushing through, even when they need to stop. I know that's how I used to operate. No time for feelings! Just keep going!
I am practicing a new definition of resilience: to hold everything that comes my way and process all of the feelings, ask for help if I need it, and stay fully present with everything that happens, rather than numbing myself, or ejecting from the moment.
One of the ways I used to eject, was by reading stories or watching movies. Rather than being in my own life, I could experience someone else’s. I think that’s why so many people read tabloids: you can feel better about your own life by reading about the train wrecks of others. Rather than actually recognizing that there is so much to be grateful for, you criticize yourself and others and keep that loop of need and dissatisfaction going — completely unaware that you're doing it.
For me, stories were always a way of connecting with hope. I didn't realize that I was looking for an imaginary future in which things would be better. I didn't know how to be present with myself, with gratitude. I experienced short bursts of awe and wonder, but then my mind would take over and I'd get pulled back into the anxiety of what I wanted or my need to be appreciated or rich or famous or understood — and the feelings would be so big that I'd want them to go away.
So I would numb myself. Often with cannabis. Sometimes with alcohol. More often with reading or watching movies or exercising... and the feelings would maybe lighten a bit as I focused on something else, but then they'd be back and then I would try to "fix" them again, frustrated that I didn't feel happy, or that the anxiety was still sitting in my chest.
I'm sober now. I have learned that substances actually kept the anxiety going rather than helping. By making the conscious decision to be present, to choose to be here in my life through the ups and downs, I have found that I can simply sit with the feelings. As long as I don't get frustrated with myself for having the feelings, they dissipate in time. I get to learn from them. I get to fully experience my life.
Now that I am really HERE, I can navigate my life with clarity and heart. I have spent the past five years learning to trust myself, to set boundaries, to know and respect my own limits, to recognize that I'm part of a system, that I can ask for help and trust that there are people in my life who are there for me no matter what.
That's what's missing from so many of our lives: the trust that we don't have to do this alone. We are not made to be alone, to figure it all out on our own. Resilience is aided by reciprocity. It's so much easier to bounce back when you can trust that there are others supporting you.