- Couples Retreat
Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.
Recently I read a book entitled, 53 Grove Rd by Helen Rose. It’s a short memoir written by a woman I know who lives in the Bow Valley. It chronicles her childhood with her adopted parents: a verbally abusive and cold-hearted mother and an alcoholic and disengaged father.
The book vividly outlined Helen’s disturbing memories of trying to navigate childhood in a family where the rules just didn’t make sense. It was at times beautifully written and at others shocking and disturbing. As a parent, I can’t imagine telling my child that I wanted a blue-eyed blonde girl but got a dark-eyed brunette instead as Helen’s mother did. I can’t imagine the impact on a child who heard messages like that repeatedly.
The book renewed my interest in the strength some people possess to move through trauma to create a good life for themselves. How is it that someone can experience so much pain, rejection, and verbal and/or physical abuse, and yet subsequently have loving relationships with partners and children? How do they do that?
Beyond the awe I feel for people such as Helen, part of the reason that these stories interest me so much is that I believe they can serve as inspiration, motivation, and hope for people struggling to move on despite their pasts. These stories can give people hope that things can be very different despite it seeming too difficult or overwhelming at times. These are the stories I like to share with some of the people I work with.
You may have seen in a previous blog I wrote about Viktor Frankl, a World War II prisoner of war who survived concentration camps. Instead of becoming unraveled, bitter, or vengeful, Frankl moved on to live a life of purpose as a psychiatrist. He was able to make meaning of his experiences and those of his fellow inmates by focusing on the power of choice.
Another blog I wrote described the arduous journey a woman had to go through to reclaim her life as a photo-journalist after a horrendous bus accident. Despite many obstacles and setbacks, her tenacity and unwavering belief in herself navigated her down the road to health.
Still another blog described Warren McDonald’s epic becoming a full amputee when a giant boulder fell on him. He eventually went on to conquer several mountains as a climber.
How do people do things such as the people above – i.e. to carry on and thrive despite all the adversity they face?
Psychology Today defines resilience:
“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on.”
Although I believe the definition above can be helpful in terms of making the concept of resilience easily accessible, a word of caution is necessary. There is no definition that will ever be able to fully and completely describe resilience. It’s the details in people’s stories that give us a richer understanding of the strength and resourcefulness people can utilize during hardship.
I would be really interested in hearing your story. What have you experienced in your life that you navigated through and beyond? What were things that you did that helped? What person or people did you know that believed in you or supported you so that you could change course to live the life you are living? What helpful advice would you give to someone who is trying to keep her head above water during challenging experiences, or in the aftermath of them? What helps you to maintain the changes that you have made?