Monday, May 1, 2017

Cultivating Resiliency part 2

How can we cultivate resiliency? What is resiliency and is it a muscle we can strengthen? How does being resilient change our lives and the ways we cope with crisis?

Resilience is defined by the ability to bounce back after trauma, to cope with or to heal after a crisis. Resilience is not only coping or bouncing back or healing but change, growth, and transformation. 

The love of my life, Michael, was wild—gregarious, funny, warm-hearted, affectionate, honest—and he lived his life in a creative fury. But when his mood changed to unrelenting depression, he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The next eight years were a roller-coaster of manic highs where he stayed up all night, disappeared out of state, and spent recklessly, and lows that sucked the air out of the room, when he spent all day in bed, unable to change clothes. I lived in constant fear after he told me he wanted to die. During this time I joined two writing groups, one a women’s poetry group and the other Write Action, a writing support group led by poet Joan Logghe. These would cushion my grief when he took his life.
     Michael’s death released me from the weight of care-giving and my own depression. A burst of creative inspiration uplifted me. My poetry group held our first public reading during Day of the Dead to honor those we had lost. I wanted to share a poem about Michael but felt too emotional to read it off the page. I needed the audience to support me, so I memorized it. The connection was gratifying as I shared my grief honestly in public. I opened hearts, and mine was comforted.
         I decided to memorize all of my poems. I self-produced a poetry CD, had a launch party, traveled to promote it, and honed my performance style, creating a career as a performance poet.
But tragedy struck, one I was not anticipating. When my younger son died, also by suicide, my life shattered. I was filled with anger--at myself, at him, at God, and a burden of guilt—that I hadn’t seen it coming, that I hadn’t tried to stop it. My voice was strangled. I was unable to pray or write. The spiritual practices that had guided me through mourning Michael were now silenced. At the memorial services, one in Minneapolis where he lived, and one in Santa Fe where friends gathered, I fell into dark despair.
As Thanksgiving approached, I wanted quiet—I didn’t think I could put on a fa├žade for friends. However, I didn’t want to be alone and I decided to go to Christ in the Desert Monastery. The monastery is thirteen miles up a dirt road by the Chama River. I didn’t have a car, I don’t drive, and I didn’t have money for a retreat, but I contacted the guest master and asked for prayer. He replied that the monks would pray for me.
            Then, a small miracle happened. A friend had gone back to Mexico but slipped over the border and drove me out to the monastery. (Little did I know that here Thanksgiving was celebrated with a turkey feast with wine and the vows of silence lifted for the evening meal!)
            The next day the Abbot read the preface from the book The Thorn Birds: “There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life …it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale…For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain. …Or so says the legend.”
                As a poet without words, this seemed hand-picked for me.
                 I walked to the river where we scattered Sam’s ashes. I had chosen this spot because we camped here when I was pregnant with him and when he was a teen.  I hiked back through autumn leaves to the beach. At Earthwalks for Health retreats, we learned from the indigenous people how to listen to the river, the rocks, and the drum. I thought, The river wants to give me a gift, and walked to the water’s edge. Was it a special rock, a feather? Then I heard a voice saying, “You have all the pieces of the puzzle. Take all the pieces of your life and put them together. You must sing again.”
This visit to the monastery was a turning point. I came home to write on my own for the first time, recording my experiences of the week-end.

We live in a culture that demands we be strong and self-sufficient. Asking for help is a seen as a sign of weakness; asking for charity makes us dependent on others. But what I learned is that to ask for help is being resilient. After I learned of Sam’s death, I asked friends to make phone calls so I wouldn’t have to. I remembered from Michael’s transition how draining that had been. My friends threw fund-raisers. I asked for rides to the grief counselor, to pick up groceries, to the writing group. I asked the monks to pray for me. I had support from professional counseling, a grief support group, and a women’s group. People helped move possessions to second hand stores or storage. A friend took me camping. Another friend cooked meals. Alejandro escorted me on the plane from Minneapolis back to Santa Fe, I felt incapable of doing it alone. People gave me places to land, kept me connected.

Question to ask yourself: Where can you go for help? Is it professional: a therapist, counselor, or coach? Physical therapist, yoga class,  hot tub? Is it a support group or workshop or spiritual community? Is it family and friends: a listening ear or just company; an invitation to dinner; transportation: errands, to the doctor, to support group; a walk in nature together; help with de-cluttering or getting rid of things; or prayers, healing energy, and positive affirmation?  

     Sam's altar at the Santa Fe memorial gathering.

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