Brené Brown expresses resilience as: “I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again.” ibid p 65
When I first read it I thought “That’s not me. I don’t know how to get there, how to prove that I deserve to live, that I’m not defective, how to change myself so someone will love me… I’m not persistent, I’ve quit over and over again… After a disappointment I often stop dead, don’t send out the brochures or put up the flyers…” As Dr. Rankin said to me long ago “When something goes wrong, you conclude you can’t do it.” Then I look back only to last Saturday, when I was cast into complete despair by the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis, and the realization that I had to start all over with another healing process. But this time I knew, from so many times in the past, yes I quit completely, but after a day or two something in me picks herself up and keeps going. It’s not something I did by will power or decided on the conscious level, it’s something that happens, something deeper in me that keeps going. On the conscious level I’ve completely collapsed. My persistence comes from a deeper level. And who can that be but the real me? The collapse is to some extent conditioned behavior, but the persistence is not. It’s different from pushing myself. Pushing myself is conditioned.
When I was a teenager, I was devastated by being rejected by a boy who, I was told, was interested in me, and then fell in love with a friend instead. But I did not blame them, and I did not close my heart and decide that I would never love again. I think now that this is a characteristic of the real me.
Imagining that I hadn’t persisted, I saw that in the one thing that mattered, I persisted and persisted, and never quit. What I was trying to get to, though I had no name for it or understanding what it was, was my true self or the truth about me. For a lot of my life, until I was 42 in fact, I thought I was defective. In 1984 the information about the effect of parents’ alcoholism on their children became public and I understood that all the “defective” stuff about me was what I had learned from alcoholic parents, not who I was.
If I had learned it, I could unlearn it. I went to COA groups, got into therapy, worked on alcoholism and the 12 steps. At the same time I was diagnosed with systemic yeast. This was in 1984, while the doctors were still saying there was no such thing. Eating a strict diet and taking yeast-killing medication, made me feel considerably better. I felt like I came out of about 4 layers of fog, but my intuition said there were more layers to go. My conditioned self said I wasn’t working hard enough, but another part of me knew that what I needed was some new theory or technique or method. So I went to different alternative practitioners, and sought out different therapies. I tried out a lot of things, even continued doing them for several years before I realized they weren’t working. I got better at deciding something wasn’t working sooner.
Finally I understood that I had been traumatized, after a friend had tried to tell me this repeatedly — but my parents were never violent, how could I have been traumatized? — I read in Peter Levine that an infant can be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room. The helplessness of a baby is extreme, so it’s more vulnerable to being traumatized by things that wouldn’t faze an adult. I began to see myself as wounded, not defective, it totally changed how I worked on myself. I kept trying to get to the bottom of the wound, the truth of how it affected my life, but still had the sense that I wasn’t getting there.
When I finally got to Erica, I got to the bottom. Understanding how serious it is to be traumatized as a baby, and have your brain and nervous system develop under the influence of trauma, really helped me understand why I had had to work so hard for so long to get better.
As my therapist Karen has often pointed out, when I can do something, I don’t value it, thinking that everyone else can do it too. For the first time, I’m wondering why I think that. I’m guessing that it was because my parents criticized me whenever I got it wrong, but didn’t praise me when I got it right. So I learned that when I got it right, it was just what was expected, not anything special.
When Erica says something like “I’m so impressed with how you handled that,” I’m surprised. It’s taken me a long time to see that I am, in truth, a hard worker who has learned a lot of valuable things. I look back to the time I was at a retreat on the issue of peace. I got talking to a participant, who happened to be a therapist. I told her how, before my work in Somatic Experiencing, I used to be disabled by my anger. My knees would literally get weak. After I had worked with S.E. for some years, I got angry one day about something the government was doing and I went straight to the phone and called my congressperson to register my displeasure. I was surprised and delighted with myself. The therapist said “What you have done is HUGE.” Later, I gave a talk, at my friend Beverly’s UU Church, on Journey into Courage. While I was talking, I could see a woman in the front row wiggling with excitement. When I was finished and available for questions, she said she was a therapist and what I had done was HUGE. Those experiences planted a seed of the idea that I had worked harder and more persistently than I thought.