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Resilience in Recovery: 7 Steps to Strengthening Your Struggle

Updated: Mar 28, 2020


/ri-zil-ee-uh ns/

the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

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

I’ve been told by various people in my life that I’m a really resilient person. I don’t disagree. Over the years and largely out of necessity, I have developed a solid set of resiliency tools that I put to use as needed.

While I’m grateful that I’ve honed (and continue to hone) my resilience, I used to experience resentment when people commented on it. I resented the fact that I had to become resilient in response to the things that were happening in my life that were largely out of my control. I can recognize now that it was a choice I made (I don’t believe we can be forced into developing our resiliency skills), likely out of self-preservation and a subconscious distrust for people in my life (at the time) and that everything that I’ve experienced in my life has unfolded perfectly, giving me exactly what I need to thrive moving forward. I can also recognize and practice gratitude for the fact that #resiliency is now second-nature in my life and that I’m able to handle whatever adversity that may come up in my life without it causing me to crumble.

In case you’re wondering what makes me qualified to talk about resiliency, in the last five years, I have experienced some of the most significant stressful and adverse life events including: the death of a parent, the unforeseen loss of my job and the abrupt ending of a long-term partnership. I also got through 2 out of 3 sober (I got sober 3 years ago). Needless to say, s#it has come up in my life and I’ve used my resiliency tools to support my growth and wellness through them.

I am especially grateful for my resilient nature in the context of my sobriety journey. While not always gracefully or successfully, I was and am able to tap into some of my resiliency tools to support myself during stressful and adverse times which meant that I didn’t have to look to the bottle to “cope” (aka numb/distract/blackout/disconnect). This feels exceptionally poignant so I’m going to pause for a second here to say: resiliency is essential in recovery and life. Once we build our resiliency muscles, we can look inward instead of outward for solutions, while simultaneously teaching ourselves to trust that we can handle the challenges that come our way. If that’s not an incredibly powerful realization, I don’t know what is.

Resiliency is not something that some of us have and others don’t; like any muscle, resiliency can be strengthened, regardless of the age or stage you’re at in your life. Even for those who consider themselves especially skilled when it comes to being resilient, there is always space to increase your capacity. Resiliency is not reserved for an elite few but instead, can be accessed and honed by all, if you so choose.

Within the realm of addiction, we know that folks arrive at addictive behaviours in a multitude of ways but that trauma, lack of community/connection/support, poor coping skills and various mental illnesses increase vulnerability to addiction. We also know that resiliency is one’s capacity to cope with life’s stressors therefore, developing and strengthening one’s resiliency directly impacts their vulnerability to addiction and their dexterity to overcome it. In the context of relapse involving alcohol, one of two main predictors of relapse is a lack of coping skills, which is why strengthening your resiliency is an essential tool in supporting your recovery.

Like many, I used to believe that resiliency was simply a uniform, singular tool that you can increase should you wish to but I didn’t fully understand the nuances and separate components that come together to create a resilient person. It was only after I started researching resiliency and incorporating resilience building into my coaching practice did I learn that resiliency is broken down into 7 unique elements and that it’s possible for an individual to be strong in specific areas of resiliency and less proficient in others.

While I’ve read numerous books on resiliency, the book I learned the most from was The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Karen Reivich, PhD and Andrew Shatte, PhD. I loved this book so much, in fact, that I’m going to borrow the authors’ expertise and years of knowledge and experience in the field to outline the 7 key components of resilience that you can strengthen in your life.

If you’re someone who’s looking to become more resilient, keep reading as I’m going to outline the areas that you can bring your attention to as you build and increase your resilience. To provide a better understanding of where you’re starting from, click here to complete a quiz which will break down your resiliency by category and shed some light on where you might want to focus your work. I would also recommend reading The Resilience Factor for specific tips on how to bolster your resilience in each area.

Below are the 7 key areas which, if strengthened, will increase your resilience:

1) Emotion Regulation: your ability to stay calm under pressure and to control emotions, attention and behaviour. When adversity strikes, do you spiral out of control emotionally or are you able to keep your cool?

2) Impulse Control: your ability to control/resist urges, temptations or impulses to say and do things that can be construed as inappropriate, excessive or in violation of societal norms. Impulse control and emotion regulation are intricately linked; typically those who struggle with emotion regulation also struggle with impulse control. Impulsivity is a characteristic often found in those who struggle with addiction, therefore, being able to recognize this trait in yourself and learn to manage it is important not only in increasing your resilience but also curbing addictive behaviours.

3) Empathy: your ability to share and understand the feelings of another; in the context of resilience, empathy is key in order to create connection with others. Empathy is important in creating authentic connection, which we know is essential not only to resiliency but also to recovery.

4) Optimism: the belief that things can change for the better, having hope for the future and a belief that we can control the direction of our lives. Implicit in optimism is the belief that we have the ability to handle adversity that will inevitably arise in the future. When something bad happens, are you able to recognize that the situation is temporary and that things will improve?

5) Causal Analysis: your ability to accurately identify the causes of your problems; if you aren’t able to identify where something went wrong, you are likely to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

6) Self-Efficacy: your sense of how effective you are in the world, your belief in your capacity to solve problems that you’ll face and your ability to succeed in this problem solving. Do you trust yourself to manage what comes your way?

7) Reaching Out: your capacity and willingness to reach out and ask for support from others. When you're in a stressful situation, do you stew in it solo or ask a friend for help?

While we don’t have the capacity to change our history, we do have the capacity to change our beliefs, our emotions and our experiences of past, present and future events. We significantly increase our chances of processing adverse events in healthier ways by putting the work into developing our resiliency skills.

Take some time to reflect on each of these 7 areas and what each looks like in your life when adversity strikes. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, most of which are hard to predict and often out of our control. Instead of fearing or worrying what may arise next, why not focus on what is within your control: your ability to strengthen your resiliency so that you are more equipped to manage challenging events as they arise (and they will).

It’s worth mentioning again that resiliency is something we can all develop and increase with awareness, consistency and time, regardless of our starting point and current life circumstances. Increasing our resilience serves to instill trust, create and enforce connections with others, develop self-efficacy and ultimately, boost our confidence in our capacity to effectively manage the inevitable struggles and challenges that come up as part of the human experience.

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