Battling for Balance

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When I left the Marine Corps, I had a hard time carving a new identity for myself. I was terribly invested in what others thought of me. My public story was of crisp uniforms, physical fitness metrics, and successes. I always looked good on paper. My private story involved destructive choices, broken doors and holes in the walls, hiding weapons in the house, and getting dragged across the living room floor by my hair.[/caption]

I had no words to explain the disaster that had become my personal life and felt crippling shame about being one of “those people” with disordered drinking behavior going through a violent divorce.

I would have fit right in on the Jerry Springer show.

Right now we are losing more veterans to suicide than to combat. I’m a pretty decisive person with limited ability to ask for help and zero trouble taking risks; there was a time I could have become one of those statistics.

I stumbled quite by accident into three things that helped me regain my footing and become more resilient. I’m grateful for that stumble and always will be. Later, I learned that the research supports mental fitness training in the pre-incident space. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn until I was decidedly in the “post” camp.

First, I started treating myself in a healthy way again. I ate a little cleaner and made time for physical movement.

Not my typical physical movement, the kind where I used throwing up or a stress fracture as evidence that I was working hard enough – REAL, wellness-building movement that strengthened my body rather than punished it. I found myself on a yoga mat and never wanted to leave. In truth, I came to yoga as an athlete looking for something challenging, a fitness fad to master, and something to help me bend my unyielding muscles a bit more easily. What I found on the mat changed my life entirely. I found a practice that was about more than my body.

Be still and know that I am God –Psalm 46:10

For me, a huge part of self-care involved slowing down enough to listen. I spent a little less time talking and a lot more observing. That made space for faith and for a focus on other people. All of a sudden, my energy was redirected. I could be generous with myself and with the people I cared about. I found a new tribe of healthy people who shared those service ethic values.

And that was my beginning.

We can weather storms much better than I did – we don’t have to wind up tearful and alone with only a six-pack of beer to help us mourn. Resilience can be taught. Self-care modalities, social support cultivation, and spiritual practices are the components upon which we must rely to build our foundation in advance of the storm.

So if you’re left asking what it means to practice wellness?

Spoiler alert – it ain’t about your biceps’ size.

Coping with Adversity

 

Humpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

It takes a nursery rhyme to tell us that not all tragedies can be repaired. Relationships go afoul, jobs are lost, illness encumbers, lives being lost are all part of the human condition.

No one can escapes the vagaries of life, and dealing with adversity is a skill we must acquire in order to thrive. At some point, we all must face a seemingly insurmountable loss with some more than others. What then does one do when things cannot go back to as they were before?

The concept is resilience which is the capacity to cope with life’s challenges. It is the capacity to manage in the face of adversity the ability to survive and thrive. Several key ingredients play into one’s resiliency which include:

An appreciation that hardships, loss and indeed trauma are all factors in life.

The value of this appreciation is that when faced with a hardship and although reasonably affected, we understand that such makes up the fabric of the human condition. We are humbled by life as opposed to being simply overwhelmed and believing we are either above it or not subject to it. Thus we cope with difficulties beyond our control realizing that the bad is just as much a part of life as the good. There is no wallowing in pity although to grieve from loss would be normal.

We do not have control of everything, we maintain a sense of control over ourselves and our response to adversity.

Thus with things seemingly out of control, we take responsibility for ourselves, our role in life and our reactions to it. We are still active participants where at times, we must show flexibility to adapt and ability to change course in view of matters outside of ourselves that otherwise alter our plans or trajectories. We chose how we adapt and therein we can gain some sense of control in a world over which we have limited influence.

An understanding that we are social creatures, dependent, and interdependent on one another for survival.

If left truly to our own devices, few amongst us would ever have all the necessary skills for survival. We need each other be it for the most concrete of things such as food, water, shelter and clothing; to more abstract needs such as comfort, care and belonging. The degree to which we can avail ourselves of the support of others, the greater the likelihood we can adapt and survive. Thus resilience is as much a social construct as emotional and cognitive.

If you are having difficulty coping with a life event consider using these strategies to increase your resiliency:

  • Ask for help. No one person can shoulder the weight of every burden. Sharing the weight makes the burden lighter;
  • Put your event into a larger perspective even if it is seemingly a meaningless incident. Sadly, bad things do happen to good people. That too is a fact of life;
  • Take whatever small steps you can to manage in the situation.Something as seemingly trivial as self-care when overwhelmed can be a hardship. Do something, anything for yourself. Start where you can to bring some sense of control to yourself in a world that may otherwise seem chaotic.

These are only a few aspects of resilience, but they are the key ingredients for coping or overcoming adversity. Practice these, but if you need more help, consult a therapist.

Photo Credit: Original Posted on Flickr

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