Why We Need to Talk About Resilience in Recovery
When I was growing up, I, like many other young women I knew, struggled with questioning many aspects of my identity:
- Was I “good enough”?
- Was I likeable and funny enough?
- Was I smart enough?
- Did my body match the cultural ideal of what a women’s body should look like?
- Was I tough enough?
Throughout my adolescence, I struggled with these issues. However, thanks to the support and guidance of family, friends and professionals, I learned how to grow through these challenges.
As I struggled, the wisdom of those supporting me was inspiring and empowering, and also a little mysterious. I always wondered: how did my amazing mentors learn to manage life’s challenges with such wisdom and grace?
This led me to a journey to try to understand how one learns to embrace life — rather than succumb to it. Without knowing it, I set out to learn about resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience — having the capacity to prepare for disruptions, recover from shocks and stresses, and adapt and grow from a disruptive experience.
I believe that the term resilience just doesn’t get discussed enough. But it’s important! When we are resilient, we are better equipped to:
- Set achievable goals
- Accept help
- Understand our emotions
- Be more effective
- Lean on hope and optimism
- Learn from our mistakes
- Build our self-esteem
- Face, rather than avoid, difficulties
- Solve problems more effectively
We all have the option to grow and learn. But, it takes courage to open ourselves up to being vulnerable as we get older. Seeing the value in this vulnerability led me to the art of psychology, which offers us the tools and insight to bloom and find resilience.
Resilience and suffering
After high school, I attended Oberlin College and, later, Loyola University. In school, I dove into classes about the mind, soaking up everything I could to better understand why we are the way we are. In my studies, I was amazed by the neuropsychological and biological explanations for different mental health disorders.
It is said that 50 percent of one’s disorder is due to genetic makeup, while the other 50 percent is learned or conditioned. If that is the case, what control do we have over this 50 percent that is learned or conditioned?
Can we manage, reduce or even extinguish our own emotional suffering?
I believe that, yes, we can manage and reduce our suffering! The components of resilience that I listed above are the keys to helping us manage this suffering. The cultivation of resilience is challenging, but once developed, it becomes a reliable and even magical source of power to take on anything life may throw at you.
I decided to become a therapist because I believe in the power of resilience.
Resilience in therapy
My first clinical internship was in a residential treatment center for substance abuse and eating disorders. I was amazed by the courage and vulnerability of the people in treatment. Even on the hardest of days, they would still find inner strength within to problem solve, keep trying, and ask for help. After that first internship, I knew I wanted to work with those who are courageous enough to face their deepest challenges. I wanted to support them and I also wanted to learn from their resilience.
When I think of my clients who have achieved the life they want, if I were to ask them the secret to their success, they would tell me, there is no secret, rather it is the willingness to start, to not give up, and to learn from our mistakes. This is resilience.
Success or peace of mind does not often come easily or quickly. It is built on mistakes, perseverance, and the willingness to keep trying.
My mission as a therapist is to also take this same approach with my patients. I want to help build safety by being present, understanding, and accepting. I do what I do because I’m amazed by my patients and co-workers. They are incredibly strong and inspiring. I am grateful to be a witness of their learning and growth. I am thankful for all that they have taught me and will continue to bring to the world.
It is a gift to be a part of someone’s journey. I am still amazed by each and every one of my clients and the people who choose to come to ERC. The courage, willingness, and vulnerability of those who enter our doors are demonstrating the most beautiful parts of humanity.
How to develop resilience
In my own life, I have fallen down many times. On the difficult days, a voice in me may still say, “Stay down. This is just not meant for you.” But, that voice lacks the wisdom I learned from my own journey with suffering and from all of the clients I have had the blessing to work with over the last 17 years.
We will ALL face significant challenges at some point in our lives, be it divorce, anxiety, depression, violence, anger, substance abuse, a natural disaster or something else.
We can recover from our challenges if we choose to do the work and cultivate resilience.
Recovery is about learning how to get back up when you fall down.
Recovery is continuing to put one foot in front of the other, each and every day.
We are all doing the best that we can, trying to learn how to improve. We all have the inherent worth to keep building a life worth living for ourselves and those we love.
Lara Schuster Effland, LCSW is Executive Clinical Director of Washington and Senior Director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at Insight Behavioral Health Center with locations in Illinois and Austin, in partnership with Eating Recovery Center.
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