One of the copouts of having gone through trauma is that you often hear that adage about what doesn’t kill you… makes you stronger. And then there’s all this belief that trauma causes resilience, that it teaches resilience, that it is somehow a positive thing in our life to have to be resilient.
I think it’s also a large burden. Dealing with trauma and healing from it is exhausting enough. Many of us don’t feel particularly resilient, and many of us are unable to recover. I was lucky to recover from drugs and alcohol, but I know there were times where I was exhausted, not resilient. Some days my resilience was all about stopping myself from screaming. Please know that if anyone in your life tells you that you are resilient or that you must be resilient because of negative things that happened to you—that is none of their business. Your healing and what it takes to do it properly is entirely private. And if resilience does come, that’s great. And if it doesn’t, if you feel weakened and in need of support, that’s fine too.
Children of people with substance use disorder are often said to be resilient. They are because they have to be. They have to protect themselves in situations that are dangerous and not conducive to their development. The children who suffer and aren’t “resilient”—they ran away, they try to take their own life—are in no way worse than the ones who manage to survive. The narrative that it takes guts and some kind of special bravery to get over your trauma has to stop. Gentleness, support, kindness from strangers and family, and having a good community—those are just some of the pillars of recovery. It does take a community to support a human being (not just a child). And we’re all in the same community just trying to do the best we can.
As a young person who was grappling with his identity, I didn’t particularly see myself as strong. I saw that I had challenges and that I needed to learn to overcome them, but I was overwhelmed by the idea of having to stop doing what I was doing to make myself feel better. Quitting drinking would mean having to face the reality, having to deal with all the demons from my past, having to find out if I was indeed resilient enough to withstand it all.
It took a long time for me to fully recover. And it took friends and family and a community to help me with my recovery. My particular strength lies in checking in with my reality, making sure I was no longer a slave to delusions that told me alcohol or tobacco would fix me feeling uncomfortable. I had to face the reality of having been adopted and the fact that I suffered trauma as a very young child (a baby), and chronic stress from not connecting with family and others as a result. I had to reframe what happened to me in order to give language to the event—I decided that “relinquished” sounded most true. I was (and am) a relinquishee, not an adoptee. What happened to me had nothing to do with me, there was nothing wrong with me; other people were deciding my fate. Was I a resilient baby? I suppose I had to be. My adopted mother says I was happy and had a happy childhood. I know that I wasn’t always happy and that I didn’t feel particularly strong or brave or even able to go on some of the darker days. But I kept living, unable to let go of the beauty and the potential I sensed around me. And once I got sober, once I got back into reality, I started living fully. I don’t know that resilience had a lot to do with it. Perseverance, perhaps, and a lot of love and support. I wish you the same.
The author as a young boy struggling with … identity? Life? Connection?
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