I just celebrated a milestone birthday, and it’s making me reflect on my life so far. This month’s topic is resilience, and looking back on my life, I can see moments that I now know demonstrated resilience although at the time I probably would have said I was just doing what I had to do to survive or get through a situation–without any awareness that the “how” I did that would make a difference. I can think of a few of these.
Did you know that I stuttered for many, many years? Yes, my grade school and high-school years were fraught with embarrassment and fear of speaking in public, yet, somewhere deep within me, I always believed that I could overcome my stuttering. And that I did. My healing was accelerated by my 9th grade choral teacher who saw beyond my physical handicap and gave me a solo to sing for a Christmas concert. He noticed that when I sang, I didn’t stutter. As I sang more in public, my confidence grew, and I stuttered less. Now I can see resilience looked like courage, yet felt more like sheer terror to be overcome.
Four years after our first child was born, I was unable to get pregnant again. The doctors did some surgery to remove adhesions and then said all would be good. Three years later my husband and I were exhausted trying all the things they tell you to do to get pregnant. One day my husband called and asked, “Would you like a baby boy?” to which I said, “Yes.” An 18-year old high school senior had delivered a baby, and her father contacted my husband’s law partner and asked if he knew of anyone who wanted a child. My husband’s law partner knew Kevin and I wanted another child, so he asked Kevin. Within 5 days we brought home a 5-day old baby boy. Within 5 days, our world was turned upside down–in a wonderful way but nonetheless one that required a huge shift in a very short period of time. Resilience looked like persistence (because I so wanted another child) but was really a gut feeling about what was right in that moment. There was not one moment of doubt in me that he was meant to be our son. [P.S., 4 months later I was pregnant with our 3rd child.]
The last example is when our marriage ended after 27 years. We grew in different directions, and after many years of trying to make it work, we agreed to go our separate ways. Even though I had lived on my own right after college and, thus, knew I could make it on my own, I went to my therapist 18 months before we separated and said to her, “You have to help me through this.” I wavered daily, and being an Enneagram Type 9, I could convince myself that we could work it out or that it wasn’t that bad and I could live with the way things were. In the end, the decision was made, yet the process of breaking up a household and marriage after all those years was still very difficult. What supported me through it all was the belief that I was going to be okay and that I knew in every cell of my body that it was the right thing to do. In this case, resilience looked like right action but felt like a roller coaster ride of emotions.
What strikes me about resilience as I look back is that it can look one way yet feel another. The inner experience during tough situations is a mixed bag of thoughts and emotions that can be overwhelming and shut you down. It was no different for me, but as I reflect back, I now see that I was able to tap into my inner and outer resources to get me through these situations without getting flattened or derailed: I had deep beliefs about my situation that were supported by a gut instinct that I would be okay; I had supportive thoughts that quieted the fearful thoughts and emotional waves that would overwhelm me; I could get into action and “fake it till I made it” because I learned that very early in my life; and lastly, I reached out for help from others – perhaps not soon enough – but I did reach a point where I just couldn’t do it on my own and I knew I needed help.
What does resilience look like in you? I encourage you to name it. Once you name it, you’ll see it and tap into it more often!
By Theresa Gale
PRINCIPAL, TRANSFORM, INC.