I truly believe that we all have a reserve of resilience, a deep well of strength and creativity that is accessible even in the darkest times.
Life has the ability to serve us some pretty harsh circumstances.
Is one person better equipped to navigate a windfall of pain or adversity than another?
I can only speak for myself and my personal experience, but I can tell you that I have seen so many thrive after the most devastating circumstances.
Post-traumatic growth is a phrase that was coined in the mid-1990s by two psychologists, Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD. Their theory was that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.
Tedeschi and Calhoun created a “Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory” (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996) that looks for positive responses in the following areas:
>> Appreciation of life
>> Relationships with others
>> New possibilities in life
>> Personal strength
>> Spiritual change
Before I self-evaluate on each of these, let me take you to to the beginning, which was ironically also a bitter end.
My life before looked amazing from the outside. I was a successful R.N. who was married to a firefighter and the mama to three amazing sons. But it was truly a facade.
My marriage was riddled with infidelity, codependency, and vicarious trauma. I was overwhelmed, burned out, and suffering from compassion fatigue. My identity was wrapped up in my career and motherhood, and I had lost any semblance of individuality.
After a bitter divorce in 2010, I began to decompensate. I was emotionally distraught and spiritually dead (as I am able to recognize in hindsight). I was going through the events of my life on autopilot. Until I found my ill-fated friend alcohol…
The darkness that I had stuffed so deeply inside began to bubble to the surface as soon as I added that liquid beast to the mix. All the unresolved emotional traumas that I had stuffed down were like kindling under a fire. Within a year’s time, I brought pain pills into my cyclone of addiction.
“High-functioning” could define me from the outside, as I was an incredible overachiever and presented well to the outside world. But inside, I was a disaster.
A near-death experience on Easter of 2015 pulled me from the depths of darkness, and I felt the smallest shred of courage to change my life. I called the nursing board and self-reported my addiction and subsequent diversion of narcotics and began the road to healing.
Admitting to my addiction was the easy part. What followed was devastation to every area of my life. Guilt that was tangible. I had lied to and let down every person in my life. I’d lost my home, my freedom, and every material possession that I owned. I faced 28 felony charges for diverting narcotics. In essence, my life as I had known it was over and I had to begin again.
I believe we all have pivotal moments in our lives. Moments when there are several paths laid out before us, and we have the ability to choose.
Looking back, I had many of those moments, and yet, I continued to choose the path of least resistance.
This time, there was only one path and it was one of brutal honesty and complete accountability for exactly where I had ended up. It was a rocky road to say the least.
I began to unravel the essence of who I had become and take a hard look at myself. Emotionally destitute, I began at square one and started to rebuild my life.
A spiritual connection was a foreign concept to me as I had always sought a higher power that was far away from me. A daily meditation practice helped me connect to the inherent power within, and that feeling of love and connection to something greater than me helped move me through the trials ahead. I began a forgiveness practice and made amends to those I had harmed. I practiced honesty in every area of my life and sought therapy for deep inner healing work.
I learned about self-awareness and self-care and began setting healthy boundaries. I sorted through my codependency issues and workaholism. I brought my shadow into the light with understanding and acceptance.
All the things had to change. Literally every area of my life got a total do-over. I wasn’t about to continue on the road that I had been on for the previous 39 years.
So here I am now, four years later, and I can confidently assess these areas of post-traumatic growth in my life:
Appreciation of life: I practice gratitude as an active appreciation for my life today. Not every day is great, but there is always something to be grateful for. I am lucky to be alive and to have lived through the hardships. I am grateful for each and every piece of devastation that became the foundation for my new life. Being present and practicing mindfulness keeps me in a place of centered awareness of the beauty of my life today.
Relationships with others: My relationships before were all based on the surface. Connections made in relation to having common wounds or based on senseless gossip. Now I have true connections based on honesty and vulnerability. I am able to set healthy boundaries and say no with grace. I respect myself and my own personal time and that allows me to respect the same in others as well. I believe that I attracted the current people in my life by how I decided to show up for the world, from a place of love, humility, and commonality.
New possibilities in life: At the end of my addiction, I was in a place of defeat. I wasn’t trying to die, but I certainly did not want to live. I felt as though there was nothing left for me. I’d had a good life, a great career, and wonderful kids. I had already been married and failed at that. Everything felt hopeless, and I had no foresight into future possibilities.
Today I am excited for the future! I love the idea of endless possibilities. Each day offers a chance for something new. The relationships in my life are deep and loving. I am a present and attentive mom, a good friend, and a pretty awesome girlfriend to an amazing man. I am in the first healthy romantic relationship of my life, and it feels great to be an emotionally available and connected partner. I have healed the relationship with my sons’ father, and we co-parent our boys with love and understanding. I even have a loving friendship with his wife. I was able to complete the nursing board requirements and also walk through all the stages of legal ramifications of my past choices. I did so with grace and have since moved on.
Consistently taking small right actions leads to big results. I am living proof of that.
Personal strength: I have always considered myself to be a strong person, but I used to base that strength on tolerance. I was willing to tolerate things that were unacceptable. Once I took my power back, my strength became based on how I showed up for my life. My perception in the face of adversity, the ability to be loving and understanding instead of angry and judgmental, and the willingness to be in a space of forgiveness and not dragging resentments around with me. One of my daily intentions is to remain teachable. I strive to be open-minded and know that I always have room for growth.
Spiritual change: This feels like the biggest area of growth for me. As I explained before, I felt I had reached a point of spiritual death (what I define as the inability to feel joy). More than anything, I feel inherently spiritually connected. My daily meditation practice strengthens that connection for me. It is a non-negotiable in my life. I honor the beliefs of others, but stand firm in what is true for my life.
I realize that in comparison, my story may include much less trauma than others, or, in some cases, so much more. I truly believe each one of us is equipped with the ability to access our inner resilience and strength. The circumstances are different for everyone, but we all have potential for growth.
There have been so many amazing changes in my life over the last four years. I love Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and can relate his template to my experience. The best part for me has been what he would call “the gift.” That gift for me is the myriad of skills and lessons: self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-love, honesty, integrity, boundaries, connection, creativity, vulnerability, and forgiveness (to name a few). I have set out on a new path and it includes sharing those gifts with others.
I am honored to share my journey, and I continue to live in gratitude for the wreckage and the rubble that I sprouted through to shine as the woman I am today.