Both professionally and personally I have witnessed the most deeply traumatized people find their inner strength-their resiliency, to recover.
So what is resiliency? It is described as the ability to over come challenges and to bounce back stronger and wiser.
I have had thirty years to gain some self awareness around how and why I survived.
At age 22 after spending eight years in the grips of addiction, I lay on the floor —a toxic mess, vulnerable, full of self hatred. A physical body harbouring an overwhelming amount of abuse and trauma and the anguish of withdrawal. In the background the lyrics repeated, ‘You better run to the light, all things will be fine, still would stand all time.’ Prince’s voice, the soundtrack to my life was supporting me in what could have been my final moments.
I had many of these moments in the previous years, on the brink of giving up. This moment was different. It was my rock bottom when I had an epiphany. A voice from somewhere inside posed the question Are you going to chose life or death? I chose life and the rest is my herstory.
But where did I find this strength, this clarity and why me?
In that moment I saw a greater purpose, a glimmer of hope. I called it my spiritual re-connection. (Previous to this moment I had no spiritual context)
As the seconds-turned into minutes and the minutes to hours-I gave into the willingness to feel the pain. The paranoia, the hallucinations and nightmares, my body was crawling from the inside out. I rocked myself back and forth praying that I would stop trembling. In each moment I could have give in —but I hung onto the commitment I made to my self-I would be survive!
Weeks turned into months and months to years. The physical withdrawal ended but the trauma had only begun to heal. The relapses that followed took me deeper into the hell that I had experienced during addiciton. But I was able to bounce back faster and more resilient than ever before. In those relapses, I was able to remember the skills and strategies I used to cope in previous moments of despair. I had a blue print for survival that I knew would work.
Where ever you are in life you can strengthen your resiliency and teach skills to build resilient children who can thrive through adversity.
I often meditate using nature as metaphor to ground my resilient state of being. I think of a tree. Her strong roots spreading deep into the rich soil, a solid trunk that out of it grows branches that reach toward the sun.
She changes through the seasons; her branches laboured with the heaviness of the snow only to lighten and bloom colourful in the spring. If a storm passes she has bound in her trunk, rings that mark her years of wisdom. She stands tall. She survives.
Gillian Meghan Walters is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with a Master of Arts Degree in Counselling Psychology and over a decade of post graduate studies in trauma informed Expressive Arts Therapy. She is a PhD student and an international speaker and author of two children’s books. She writes about social justice issues including collective liberation and antiracism.