Take your ordinary life...

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
Romans 12:1 The Message

The sacred is made real in the mundane.  I do not have to be a Super Hero of the faith; I do not have to go to some far off land as a missionary or spend all my time at church in order to be a faithful person.  

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you (this is a sacred dance, there is stuff I am to do but it is with the awareness that God is always helping me do it).  Your sleeping, eating (good self-care), going-to-work (not some special kind of work in some mystical quest for spiritual significance whatever the work I am doing is the work I am doing), walk-around life (no compartmentalizing - I am not one person at church, another in the stands at my kids’ ball games).  Place it before God as an offering (just living life is an offering).


You’ll be changed from the inside out. (There will be some internal shifting that may precede my ability to express this in my daily living.  Patience!)


Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (I need to understand how God wants me to be in the world so that I can respond accordingly but most important I need to understand that God is my biggest advocate, my greatest supporter, he’s crazy about me and wants to support my maturation.  He’s in this out of love for me, not in an attempt to get something from me.)


In the next few days we will talk about the ways that healthy families validate, support and nurture one another.  But what helped me the most was first seeing how God went first and did these very things for us long before I was aware of his presence and provision.

Hope for Change

Somewhere in my late 20’s, early 30’s, I was sitting in a classroom and my instructor was talking about the biblical concept of love.  I turned to my friend Sandy and said, “I have never loved like this; I have never been loved like this - and if I am wrong about that it means I cannot recognize love if it smacks me on the head.”

Turns out I was wrong.  I had been loved just like the bible talks about but I had not realized it.  

Up until this time I operated under the assumption that love was conditional and that some relationships are unconditional (some relationships we are just stuck with for one reason or another) - again, wrong on both counts.  There are a million reasons for this but I won’t bore you with the details.

Here’s what emerged out of this existential crisis of faith.  I found a passage of scripture that pretty much gave me hope for the future even as I was dismantling the assumptions and firmly held beliefs of my past.  I am convinced that this biblical framework for seeing how God relates to me began a journey that continues to this day.  This journey is one that helps me become more resilient.

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.  
Romans 12:1-3 The Message

What do you notice in these words?  I’ll unpack my perspective tomorrow.

Listening and Being Heard

There are some particular ways that children can become stuck in patterns of thinking, feeling and acting as a result of growing up in an unhealthy family system.  This is predictable.  

#1. NEEDS AND DREAMS are for someone else.  I have two grandchildren at the moment and my intention is to listen to their needs and dreams, not constantly correct how they communicate them.  I am loving this job of Meme!!  There is a fine line between training a child to not be obnoxious and teaching a child that their needs are not a problem.  When an adult is insecure they want control and this often means caring more about what others are thinking about their child’s behavior than they are studying what their children need at each developmental stage.  The terrible two’s, in my opinion, are only terrible if a parent wants a baby that acts more like a doll than a son or daughter.  Sure, the loudly voiced “NO’S!!!” and frustrations that come from not being able to communicate what their little brains are already capable of processing is tough - but it is developmentally appropriate.  

In unhealthy families, parents are stressed out about other things.  They often are inattentive, do not have time to to do the hard and patient work of listening and providing.  This creates an early memory of feeling unheard.

One of my brothers tells a story of wanting to play football when he was a kid; instead, he was allowed to sign up for basketball because he could walk to the sign up station.  The coaches provided him with a practice basketball because my mom sent him with a kickball or some such non-regulation ball.  My mother probably didn’t know the difference.  

She meant no harm; but my brother has vivid memories about this story, including his gratitude for a coach who was kind.  I think it is no mistake that my brother is the guy who shows up for all his kids events; he supports their dreams.  But that is also not a particularly predictable response.  He is one of those wonderful men who learned from the past without getting stuck in the spin cycle of his memories.

My niece Kaitlin, my birthday twin, was a preschooler when she announced she wanted to be a Veterinarian.  My brother made her a vet clinic.  Last spring he pulled that 20 plus year plywood clinic out, repainted it and used it as a photo booth - AT HER GRADUATION FROM VET SCHOOL!!!

So here’s the deal - we can learn from the mistakes of others, even the unintentional ones.  But this requires us to “get unstuck”!!  For the next few days I’m going to take a timeout from talking about getting unstuck and provide some biblical context.  Stay tuned!

On Being Stuck

Today I had lunch with a woman who asked the most heartbreaking, utterly sincere question:  “Why am I stuck?”

I probed, asking what she meant by “stuck” and she pretty much meant what it sounds like.  In spite of years and years of earnestly seeking answers and possessing the uncanny ability to criticize herself mercilessly, she continues to make choices that her intellect disagrees with on a regular basis.

I can relate.  How about you?

Lunch with her was like eating with a tape recorder stuck on “play fast”.  She reeled off stories and incidents and insults and abuses from her past that sounded like well-rehearsed lines rather than a vulnerable conversation.

Eventually I had to ask her to just sit in stillness for a minute.  She couldn’t do it.  I asked her a question.  She couldn’t answer it. The best she could manage was to pause for a second, grab a deep breath and continue with her story.  

I can relate.  How about you?

We were not connecting.  She was not present.  Her eyes were not tracking with mine.  It was like she was reading out of a well-worn book that she never enjoyed.  She is stuck in the story she has been telling herself for ages. 

How about you?  Do you have any stories that you tell and retell about things that you did, were done to you, past offenses and so on?  If these stories do not change, or if the details just get exacerbated in the retelling, this might be contributing to your sense of stuck.

Finally, I interrupted AGAIN and asked a ANOTHER question:  how long has it been since these stories have provided you with insights that helped you change your own thinking, feeling and doing?

She was flummoxed.   But she is also a woman who grew up in a very sick family and she is stuck in a very familiar, particular way.  We’re going to explore this particularity for a while - see if you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions.

Take care of yourself

I gaze at my grandchildren and desperately wish I could provide them the perfect cover and protection for a life without trials and tribulations.  This is my sincere desire even though I understand that this will not happen and even if I could manage to muster up such a massive amount of control and domination against living life on life’s terms it would be terrible for them.  They would grow up weak and not well.


Still, I dare to dream.


Fortunately for them I am obsessed with this study of trauma, conflict and resiliency.  I’ve learned that the elimination of conflict is not only impossible it is bad for our health.  What is GOOD for us is the capacity to take care of self and others.


Here is a suggested list of how we manage that:  diet, exercise, fiscal responsibility, wellness check-ups, asking for help, and commitment to taking care of others when they cannot care for themselves.  Volunteers build resiliency even as they serve others.


So take care my friend!  Let’s be good to one another!

Humor and Resiliency?

Yesterday I claimed that resilient people have a funny bone and I shared a joke as illustration, one that Pete’s grandmother loved.   If you didn’t read the blog yesterday, you might want to. If not, this post won’t make much sense.


When my husband’s grandmother died, his mother was in the hospital.  He knew he had to go up to her hospital room and tell her of her mother’s passing.  He did not feel up to the task.


As we walked through the long corridors at St. Mary’s Hospital he stewed over how he would break the news.  His anxiety was through the roof. He felt the weight of handling this situation well.


Nothing I said seemed to help, in fact, I think I was making matters worth with my endless suggestions.  Until I had a thought.


“Ok, I’ve got something, I think this will work.”  He looked skeptical but agreed to hear me out.


“Tell your mom that Gram is on the roof and she won’t come down.”


I am not naturally a funny person; I am far more likely to make someone cry then laugh.  But Pete stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me. He allowed the line to sink in and he realized that I was quoting one of his grandmother’s old and oft repeated jokes.  And he completely lost it. We started laughing and could NOT stop.


Neither one of us can remember how we handled the situation with his mom.  But both of us have relied heavily on that shared moment when we were able to unite and laugh together before we had to do a really, really hard thing.


Are you laughing enough?  Do you have people you can share a laugh with in good and bad times?

A Joke...because why not?

Resilient people have a funny bone; here is a test of yours.


Cat On The Roof


A man left his cat with his brother while he went on vacation for a week.  When he came back, he called his brother to see when he could pick the cat up.  The brother hesitated, then said, I’m so sorry, but while you were away, the cat died.”


The man was very upset and yelled, “You know, you could have broken the news to me better than that.  When I called today, you could have said he was on the roof and wouldn’t come down. Then when I called the next day, you could have said that he had fallen off and the vet was working on patching him up.  Then when I called the third day, you could have said he had passed away.”


The brother thought about that and saw his point.  He apologized.


“So how’s Mom?” asked the man who had been on vacation.


Another pause.


“She’s on the roof and won’t come down.”  


Funny?  Well, whether you think so or not, Pete’s grandmother LOVED it.  Tomorrow, I will tell you why it matters. But for today - keep in mind that having a sense of humor is good for you!

See the Big Picture

Do you struggle with getting caught up in the weeds and details of life?  I certainly do. That’s not good for us. It turns out that “big picture people” are not only resilient but optimistic about life too!  What is the difference between a big picture person and a person who is great with the details? Well, for one thing, the detailed people make sure we have maps and bottled water and a first aid kit when we go camping.  So let’s celebrate the details! Big picture people also are helpful, if not quite as tangibly helpful in terms of gathering supplies.


A big picture person sees both good and bad events that occur in their life as temporary rather than permanent.  Nothing is FOREVER good or FOREVER bad. This is why they rarely use words like “disaster” to describe the normal upheavals of life.  They refrain from putting too much stock in the big wins of life because they understand that this too shall pass. BPP are less likely to live in the highs and lows of emotional reaction to current events.


BPP are also able to see events having a specific impact on certain areas of their life rather than having a pervasive impact on their entire life or their future.  When my mom passed away, I felt her devastating loss. But my grandson was born at the exact same time and this forced me to think big picture. One life was going and another was coming and although it was all an emotional roller coaster, it certainly provided perspective.  


As my mom was dying, I asked my husband, “Will I ever feel joy again?”  He didn’t answer but life responded with this little bundle of pure joy that reminded me that life was a grand both/and, not an either/or.  I understood that two extreme experiences could happen simultaneously and this reminded me that life was not ever defined by one event.


Finally, BPP do not play the blame game because they are more likely to be looking for meaning and purpose in events rather than people to prosecute.  This has the added benefit of allowing BPP to learn from events (accountability) without the emotional trauma of blaming (self or others).


Be a BPP!  How could you develop that skill in the days ahead?

How hard is too hard?

For years I resisted the idea of adding a Saturday night large group experience to our NSC calendar.  It felt TOO HARD for me to think about speaking both times. It seemed to me that my weekend would be totally taken over by the relentless consistency of attending Saturday night and Sunday morning meetings.  But there were compelling reasons to do so and I believed that I could, even wanted to, do hard things for the cause that NSC fights to support. It was an adjustment. Sometimes it is hard. But it is so worth it.  In the summer, with vacations and all, our attendance fluctuates wildly and sometimes our team is tempted to go to one service. But we look around and realize that if we did that someone would be left out. And we notice that some people come every single stinking week and that means that they are doing a hard thing.  WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.


After we wrap our mind around and accept the belief that when the purpose matters even if the action is hard, we do it anyway, an interesting thing happens.  Suddenly, what I feared would be hard doesn’t feel hard at all. AA talks about this effect in its 12 promises. In that document, AAers are promised things like:  amazement in the process, new freedom, new happiness, no regrets, serenity and peace, loss of self-pity, self-seeking and selfishness, fear and insecurity will slip away.  All these beautiful gifts are the by-product of doing the next right thing, day after day after day. It isn’t so much a big grand gesture as it is having the grit to stay present to the work in a relentlessly consistent manner.


Resilient people learn how to get clear about the definition of HARD. You know what is really hard?  Losing your kid to an overdose. Being homeless. Finding out your spouse has been cheating on you. Discovering that your best friend embezzled from your business and you are going to lose everything. Jail time.  DUI’s. Divorce. That stuff is hard.


People going through extremely hard times deserve to have a place to come to for solace.  Ultimately, what I learned is that having two meetings every weekend is more about privilege and purpose and meaning than it is about convenience.  


What conveniences are you holding onto that are actually holding your back?

Re-establishing a sense of purpose

Complaining is a way we discharge our anxiety - and I am really, really good at it.  But it is NOT a key component for building a decent life. One common complaint I hear comes from parents who report to me about how often their children complain about their NA or AA meetings.  I understand that there is plenty to complain about in almost every area of recovery work. But much of it misses the point.


Where else can someone go who has totally wrecked their life and find a whole room full of people who have wrecked their lives in pretty much the exact same way?  Where else are substance use disorder sufferers provided an opportunity to serve? Make coffee. Throw a dollar in a basket. Participate in a meeting. Go on a twelve step call.  Go out to eat afterwards with a group of fellow attendees. Give someone a ride. Ask for a ride and be given one without feeling like a burden? Be able to tell the truth about your life and have everyone nod in understanding and agreement?


Mutual aid societies and other organizations can serve as venues for helping others find purpose and meaning in their lives.  People who believe they have purpose and meaning in their daily living turn out to be amazingly resilient. This resiliency allows people to experience trauma without being wrecked by it.


Many people who struggle with stress-related diseases, depression, anxiety, substance use disorder and more...are folks who have experienced trauma!  In fact, we all experience trauma to one degree or another, don’t we?


Why is it that some of us can be traumatized and recover, even find meaning in it and eventually thrive after it while others cannot?  It is not the degree of the trauma, or even the frequency that determines our reaction. It is all about the resiliency.


Want to help people learn how to do hard things?  Support the tribes and causes that allow others to find meaning and purpose in their lives.  Even when it is hard.

Learning to do hard things

Most days if you ask me the root of my anxiety I will give you a ridiculously wrong response.  I will tell you that it is a function of my awareness of a world fraught with danger and my concern about others not paying attention and planning accordingly.


But what I have learned from my work with the Enneagram (it’s a tool for self-awareness) is that a more accurate way to explain my anxiety is to say that it stems from a profound lack of trust….in myself.


This is super interesting to me because it turns out that resilient people tend to have both a humble spirit and a high amount of self-confidence.  They imagine themselves to be capable of doing hard things.


Obvious right?  If we believe that we are competent, what do we have to fear?  We can handle what comes up in life.


My grandson has recently graduated to the steep steps and the big slide at the playground.  He doesn’t want to go up the gently sloping ramp anymore. That’s too easy. One particularly hot summer morning he was making his umpteenth trip up the steep steps and he said, “Meme, hard.”


I replied, “Are the steps hard to climb?”


“Uh huh,” he grunts.


And, because I am studying the skill of building resilience I knew how to respond.  I said, “These steps are hard; together, we can do hard things. You can do hard things buddy!”


He kept climbing.  He repeated in his baby language the phrase “Do hard things Meme.”


And I was so grateful that I knew to not insist he take the easy way up.  Are you encouraging yourself or someone you love to go easy? Maybe rethink that position.  WE can do hard things. As long as we realize that we are not alone, that it is a team effort, this is a message of resilience.  It is also great anti-anxiety medicine.

Fear and anxiety: The Usual Suspects

We all wrestle with fear and anxiety but not all of us realize the devastating effect chronic anxiety has on us.  My family of origin is a highly anxious system. But I didn’t realize that until I was in my forties. I thought I came from a family who was angry and irritable!  My lack of awareness in this area was a big problem for me and the family Pete and I built. This is the opposite of resilient because it indicates that I was (and can be) emotionally unaware.  This decreases problem solving, interferes with relationships, increases conflict and confusion, on and on the list goes of the ways I misidentified a problem in my family that resulted in me making poor attempts to resolve the issue.  


One summer I was in Atlanta visiting my folks while my kids and husband were on a mission trip in the inner city of Atlanta.  Part of the trip included a concert put on by our youth group at a large baptist church in the area of their ministry site. All were invited and I was so excited that my folks could come to an event where they could see my kids sing, meet people I cared about, and have exposure to the awesome work my church was doing through the youth group.


In case you are unaware, Atlanta has a lot of traffic and we chose to leave early to head across town.  As the natives can attest to, this is a long and arduous trek. KInd of like a safari without decent guides.  My folks sat in the front of the Suburban and I sat in the back in a way that was eerily reminiscent of my childhood.  Both of my parents began to talk about the traffic and express the likelihood that we were going to be a statistic on the mean streets of Atlanta before nightfall.  And in that moment I got it.


My folks weren’t angry they were anxious.  They weren’t a little anxious they were a LOT anxious.  Was traffic bad? Yes. Did my dad navigate it every single day without losing life or limb?  Yes. Did this chatter seem like an over-reaction? Yes. In the past, I would have gone to my mind palace and thought they were fussing at me or each other.  In that particular moment I realized that this is how they sound but not how they felt. Instead of getting irritated myself, I realized I was asking too much of them.  No one should be put in this position. I suggested that maybe it would be a better idea if they didn’t go. They could stay home (we were still in the driveway) and I would take my car.  I admitted that I didn’t realize how much this drive would make them feel so anxious and told them that I wasn’t feeling anxious about driving, so I could go and they could stay home. Dead silence.


We all went and lived to tell about it.  My mom thoroughly enjoyed the program and my dad enjoyed meeting all the people and charming them with his witty repartee.  Rarely did anxious moments like this go well between us even after this revelation on my part. I struggled to manage my own anxiety in situations like this and they did too.  But here’s the thing I took away from that encounter: as we increase our ability to identify and handle our strong emotions, sometimes conversations can be more meaningful than mean.

Find a place that supports your healing

Resilient people are more likely to become sturdy when their environment supports their developmental stage AND helps provide coping skills that foster health.  Mutual aid societies and many long term treatment facilities often serve to help participants not only get sober but grow up. Here are a few common phrases that AA uses to reinforce new ways of being in the world.  Notice how all of them support the work of resiliency training: First things first (responsibility), this too shall pass (patience), live and let live (boundaries), let go and let God (humility), time takes time (gentleness and grace), one day at a time (take care of yourself today), principles before personalities (big picture), cultivate an attitude of gratitude (find meaning), God doesn’t make junk (big picture), misery is optional (emotional regulation), etc.  


They use hokey slogans because in some intuitive way the early adopters knew that folks early in recovery needed a hook, a learning tool they could hold onto while they healed.  They didn’t have the science that we do today to teach them the extent of injury to the brain substance abuse causes, but they found a way to support healing nonetheless.


Are you getting the support you need to strengthen your areas of weakness as it relates to resiliency?  If not, what could you do differently? Who could you ask for help?


My grandson has a vast array of strong feelings with virtually no capacity to manage them.  He’s 18 months old so this is not only perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate, it is pretty darn cute.


Since infancy he has had an obsession with vacuuming.  My floors have never been this clean. But he has no LIMITS on how long he is willing to vacuum.  Inevitably, Pops and Meme wear out before he is ready to move on to another fun adventure. Like leaf blowing.


When we need to redirect him to another task, he learned very early how to dramatically present his dissenting viewpoint.  These responses are typically referred to as temper tantrums. I’ve never heard a kid yell “No!” with such conviction! Eventually our family strategized about our response and he gave up the ineffective foot stomping, vehement use of the word NO and the wild swinging of arms that looked suspiciously like a sucker punch.  But the kid still has strong feelings he needs to express. Lately he has picked up the most adorable response of growling! He growls.


My grandson, whether he realizes it or not, is developing the skill set of resiliency.  Resilient people know how to recognize and own strong feelings without being impulsive and out of control.  They know how to use their thinking to manage their feelings. For now, growling without temper tantrums seems acceptable emotional expression for an 18 month old.  If he’s still doing this when he is 40 years old, that problem will need to be addressed!


How are you doing with your own emotional regulation?  Do you react or respond when triggered? Do you have some developmentally appropriate physiological self-soothing techniques that are not illegal, immoral or fattening? A sign of maturity is the ability to respond, learn when to take a break, and how to self-soothe when we are emotionally wound up.

Learning and Listening

Resilient people are lifelong learners in some specific, measurable ways.  It turns out that as we continue to work hard to improve our communication and problem-solving skills, we are creating a deep reservoir of resiliency.  Who knew? Recently, I realized that I needed to redouble my own efforts at the communication skill of listening.


I never had a huge ego or even a modicum of confidence about my own parenting skills so I’ve been open to learning from my adult children (who are now parents) about child rearing. I believe that part of my responsibility as a grandparent is to respect my children’s parenting preferences.  Some of my friends find this offensive and this conflict has resulted in more than a few spirited conversations. They have reported to me that they managed to raise their own children, why should they need to bow to the whims of their adult children? My response was to counter argue that the parental units of these precious grandchildren will rightfully develop a deep and abiding suspicion that we may not be a safe person to babysit if we don’t respect their wishes.  In reply my friend said - “Exactly!!”


I was missing her point.  I was a poor listener the first 20 times we had this conversation.  I was wrong in believing the issue was that my friend was confused, ill-informed, and missing key information about grandparenting etiquette. Eventually I heard her - she doesn’t want unsupervised visitations!  She is perfectly ok with her children’s skepticism. She does NOT want to be left alone with her little ninja grandchildren.


Not only do resilient people continue to work on their relationship skills, they also figure out that we humans are all different AND THAT’S OK.  I’ve stopped suggesting to my friend that she perhaps consider the latest research on how to position a baby when they are asleep. She doesn’t need the information.  I was probably annoying her with my grandmother chit chat.


Resilient people, by virtue of their commitment to a particular set of skill work related to communication and conflict resolution end up with skills that are helpful and can be adapted to a wide variety of situations. Hooray for learning!  


Are there any repetitive frustrating conversations that you are having that might be eliminated by more careful listening on your part?

Be Reasonable

Resilient people are those who are able to see the world as it is, not as they wish it to be.  Looking through this lens, these realistic folks are able to make plans that are reasonable AND they carry these plans through to completion.  


Although flexibility is important, it is balanced with an ability to stay focused.  If we are going to follow through on our realistic goals, we need to learn how to be proactive, not reactive.


I realized at one point that I was feeling scattered (as opposed to flexible).  I might get to the end of a long day and have failed to accomplish even a modest task.  I, in an effort to be flexible and present for others, was constantly interrupting myself to answer emails and return phone calls.  This constant hopping from one technology to another left me drained.


I have strategies today to compensate for my tendency to flit from one crisis to the next.  Am I still flexible? I think so. But I’ve balanced that with a plan that includes the capacity to attend to and complete necessary tasks.  I’ve had to change the way I work in order to make this happen, which is also an example of being flexible and realistic!


How about you?  What do you need to reconsider in order to find balance and improve your resiliency?


Another component of resilience is the capacity to be flexible.  This is also key for emotional adjustment and maturity. Rigidity is not good for us.  I understand this because I read a lot of true crime books and of course, binge watch Criminal Minds like it is a part time job.  The really psychopathic demons on those shows inevitably are compulsive neat freaks. I am not suggesting that excessively neat people are serial killers but extreme rigidity is problematic!  The capacity to be flexible in terms of how we think, what we do, and even our core beliefs create the strength within us to have more resilience than the guy who demands precision and a rigid routine as a lifestyle choice.


Don’t buy the serial killer idea?  Ok, I can be FLEXIBLE.


Did you know that research indicates that folks who have messy offices tend to be more creative and better problem solvers than someone whose desk is arranged with military precision?


The promises of AA and the program itself asks participants to dare to believe that their whole attitude and outlook on life will change.  They expect and validate the concept of service to others. They talk about giving away what you have in order to keep what you received (meaning the gift of sobriety) through sharing experiences, strength and hope. This is often in the form of “12 stepping” and it involves going to help fellow sufferers in their time of need.  This is difficult and usually inconvenient work. I have found that overdoses and rough landings on “bottoms” rarely occur during office hours. This requires massive amounts of flexibility but lest we forget, it holds the promise of a better life for those who practice this service work.


How is your flexibility?  Are you able to bend your preferences to a higher power?  Can you go with the flow? Or do others find you difficult?

Belonging leads to resilience

If you participate at NSC this first point is going to feel sooo boring, but it is further confirmation that we are onto something when we nag, cajole, and entice our tribe to show up for one another!


It turns out that relationships are a key factor in whether or not a person has the capacity for resilience.  Resilient people have relationships (in and outside of the family) that offer love, encouragement, reassurance, acceptance, validation and the occasional dollop of accountability.  Being connected to others helps us practice skills necessary for sturdiness in the face of suffering and provide soft places to land when we trip and fall.


This is absolutely an essential thing to add to a life plan for those seeking a better life.  Because this is true, I continue my faithful support of the mutual aid societies as a viable element of any treatment plan.


Why?  Glad you asked!!


First, notice the language of AA, etc.  It’s “WE” this and “WE” that. They even have a saying, “Keep coming back; it works if you work it!”  Which is catchy and makes for a nice little chant at the end of a meeting - but here’s the rest of the story.


The mutual aid societies never ask us to get well in order to belong.  The only requirement for joining is the DESIRE to get sober. This is a beautiful way for desperate people to find a sense of belonging and connection and even shared purpose (get sober).  It turns out all of these elements help build...what? Yes! Resilience! Go team!


Are you taking the 12 steps for granted?  Do you long for something newer, shinier, perkier?  Maybe rethink that position!

Resilience Revisited


What is resilience?  Here’s one DEFINITION -




noun: resiliency

1.   the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

"the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions"

… 2.  the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

"nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience"

Current theorists suggest that this capacity to be resilient is a big deal and is an essential skill set that folks interested in recovery need in order to find their way back to a healthier, happier and more authentically ‘them’ way of life.  


Personally, I think we all need it.  I particularly love this idea of “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape”.  This concept has amazing applications for not only the world of recovery but for anyone interested in building a life worth living.


In the olden days when I was learning such things, my professors taught me that the brain was NOT particularly resilient.  Their theory was that it didn’t regenerate. They were wrong.


Today we know better so we can do better.  We know that a messed up brain can heal.  New pathways can be formed. This is good news for folks who struggle with addiction because it is fundamentally an organic brain disease.  But all of us can benefit from learning about how to maintain brain health and repair it when necessary!


So here’s the good news - through resiliency work, we are exercising our bodies and our brains in ways that repair the damage done to our noggins by trauma, substance abuse and other brain damaging conditions.  Want to know how? Stay tuned!

New things can be "good" without being "better"

People like shiny new things.  I know that I do! I get tired of sofas, slacks and even cars.  I enjoy throwing out the old in anticipation of something new. I wonder if folks are tempted to feel this way about the 12 steps.  12 step meetings show up in Disney movies for goodness sake! Doesn’t that say something about our cultural awareness of AA and the other mutual aid groups?


Sometimes I worry that we have gotten so accustomed to the concept of the 12 steps that we perhaps have not fully evaluated - or taken advantage of - or appreciated - the gift of actually working them.  And they are in every sense of the word meant to be worked!


I had a friend tell me one time that he just got tired of being associated with “the program.”  He lamented, “How many times do I need to go over these damn steps?” I totally understand his perspective.  And to be fair, I know folks who got sober at AA, eventually stopped attending AA and as far as I know are still sober.  (However research indicates that going to AA for 14 years, averaging 3 meetings a week is a best practice.)


The other factor is access and availability.  These mutual aid societies are so accessible, have free access and offer tons of meetings per week.  Is it easy to take them for granted? I dunno. Maybe.


New research related to the association of trauma and the addictive process is challenging all of us to take a good hard look at how we can offer resilience training to those who suffer from substance use disorder.  And I’ve heard people say - “If it’s all about the trauma, what good is AA?” To that I would suggest we actually investigate that excellent question rather than assume that the answer is “Nothing!” Let me issue my own personal spoiler alert and say this - I think that to the extent that mutual aid societies have been a helpful tool in recovery, in part it is because, hidden within the archaic language and repetitive structure, we discover some of the key elements that support and build resilience (antidote to trauma) in those who work the steps!


My thought is that these “new things” (alternative approaches to recovery) are super important AND we should take care and avoid taking a dismissive tone as it relates to AA and other groups.  I am convinced that AA, NA and the rest have some old and hard earned wisdom about recovery that fits nicely with our new-fangled ideas about trauma and resilience. If you are willing, I’d like to explore these concepts for a few days AND challenge us to consider how we might take these findings and use them to guide us in our own recovery journey.  With or without the 12 steps, building resilience is a recovery essential!


How are you doing in the area of trauma, healing and resiliency?