Roots of Resilience

I just returned from a long, luxurious walk. The sky was crystal blue, the air crisp and clean, the landscape speckled with fresh green buds sprouting from the limbs of young and old trees. No matter the age of the maple, oak, or birch, all were springing amazing new life. They had weathered the cold winter, bare naked, together. And today, their remarkable resilience was bringing them back to a state of glorious renewal. I was in awe.

Yesterday I witnessed a different sort of mother nature–the natural beautiful of a young mother, a former drug addict, who was clean and sober for 126 days. She was beaming, proud of her progress in treatment and enthralled with the reunification with her child. She was ready to create a vision of renewed life, for in her mind, spring had sprung. But had it, really? Could the resilience she mustered in one blush of spring ensure that she would never use drugs again?

Unlike seedlings that take root in solid ground, many addicts grow up in family systems where the ground is not secure. Emotional growth is hindered by the lack of a secure attachment to a primary caregiver. Research has shown that this lack can lead to maladaptive patterns of social and emotional regulation, and in certain individuals, to the use of drugs and alcohol as a buffer for psychological distress.

I share this information, not to discount this young woman’s progress or motivation for fulfilling her dreams, but as a commentary to the importance of diving deep beneath the surface of our addictions to the roots of our emotional disconnections.  Despite the thousands of people who participate in alcohol and drug treatment programs annually, success rates continue to be low. Research is still unclear about the reason for this, but based on my knowledge and experience in the field, I believe that there isn’t enough time, or more importantly, enough trust, to delve deeper into our roots and heal them.

This beautiful young mother had the courage to face winter’s harsh reality with people who truly cared for her, and as a result, she grew resilient–at least for one season. But there is much more growth to come for her, that is, if she chooses it. Winters will come and winters will go, unless of course you live in Tahiti:-) There are people on the planet who had the good fortune to grow up in parental paradise, individuals who are emotionally secure. But for many of us, addicts and non-addicts alike, we need to continually cycle through seasons of growth to strengthen the ground of our being.

Growth is hard, and growing alone is unnatural. We need to be nurtured, again and again, over the course of many seasons, especially if our emotional growth was stilted in childhood. Courageously, we’ll need to plant ourselves in relationships with others who know how to care for us in winter. When we do, spring will come, and in time, it will do so with greater ease. Our roots will deepen, our relationships will flourish, and just like the budding trees in spring, our resilience will strengthen and give way to renewed life.

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