Bouncing Back:  Building Resilience in Addiction Recovery ll Martha Fletcher

Bouncing Back:  Building Resilience in Addiction Recovery

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.  – Nelson Mandela

     In August 2012, I discovered something called my five-year plan.  I was amid my struggle with substance abuse and thought if I could have the life I wanted, surely giving up alcohol would be worth the benefits of having that life.  I created a timeline of what I would accomplish and by when.  I finished college, got my certifications, moved to Colorado, started my coaching practice, dated a wonderful person, and had plans to be married in 2017.  However, my five-year plan fell apart just short of having it all.  The path of least resistance would have been to return to drinking to cope with my loss and disappointment with the thought, “What’s the point, I have nothing left to lose but this pain?” 

     When the reasons that motivate us to change who we are and how we live are not realized, we can become disappointed, depressed, and angry which can lead to relapse.  Does this mean lower our expectations so low that we can guarantee a certain outcome?  Does it mean to set small goals to avoid feeling disappointed?  Small goals are not motivating and lowering our expectations is comparable to saying, “I’ll give it a shot, but I don’t expect much.”  How long are we going to sustain any real effort with that mindset?  These are not solutions, but ways to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable to failure and disappointment.  When failure is not an option, we can forget about sustaining any long-term motivation in recovery because learning, growing, and change require risk.   

     Fear of being vulnerable keeps us stuck in our comfort zone when we aren’t given effective ways to manage living outside of it.  The solution is not to avoid being vulnerable to disappointment and failure, but to learn to experience it without the need to escape it.  It is hard to tolerate these experiences when we tell ourselves it is unbearable, we can’t stand it, and brand ourselves failures or life as unfair.  By doing so we actual turn something manageable into hopelessness and powerlessness.  The truth is it is uncomfortable to fail and be disappointment, but we can bounce back from hardships by cultivating the ability to overcome these adversities.  That is the meaning of resilience.    

     When faced with adversity, resilience is like two hands pulling us through the darkness towards the light.  Those hands are hope and faith.  Hope is not something we have or don’t have, but something we cultivate in our thinking and actions.  Hope is defined as a desire for things to be the way we want them to be.  It is synonymous with ambition, goal, plan, and design.  Hope is a personal power to effect change.  We can do this through goal-setting, problem-solving, and action-planning.  It also requires flexibility, perseverance, and believing in our own abilities, along with the courage to reach out for help and support.   For example, if we are faced with a health crisis, do we turn it over to the hands of God alone or do we actively participate in our recovery?  We do both. 

     Faith is the other hand.  The Serenity Prayer reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”  In some situations, hope alone can only take us so far and the hand of faith will need to carry us the rest of the way.  The definition of faith is complete trust or confidence in someone or something.  Does confidence equate to certainty or guarantee of a desired outcome?  According to Anne Lamott’s book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.”  Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection defines faith as “a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” 

     To truly live is to experience disappointment, failure, and loss, along with joy, happiness, and success.  At the heart of all these feelings and experiences is vulnerability.  When we avoid showing up for our own lives in fear of feeling exposed and vulnerable to failure and disappointment, we will be observing life in a dark room through a small window, never experiencing what it means to be alive.  Those in recovery deserve to feel joy, happiness, and success.  However, we have to being willing to walk through the door of vulnerability and have the tools to manage the emotions we experience when we do.  By cultivating a resilient spirit, we can fully experience life despite uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

     Hope and faith have helped me choose the path of courage when facing disappointment and failure in recovery.  I am uncertain about the future, but I cultivate hope by setting realistic goals, believing in myself, and trusting faith.  Faith is not my golden ticket.  It does not guarantee me anything, but I am confident that I am being held in the gentle hands of something greater than myself and that, despite success and failure, and there will be both, there will be joy because joy springs from the heart of vulnerability.


Martha Fletcher is a visiting practitioner at People House, and is owner and private practitioner at MRW Recovery Coaching.  Martha graduated summa cum laude with a BA in psychology from Hunter College, City University of New York and is a certified addiction recovery and life coach through New York University, New York State OASAS and Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery.  She is also a trained SMART Recovery facilitator and founder of Books4Recovery. She recently received her certification in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy through the Albert Ellis Institute and Illinois Certification Board.

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