Resiliency is a buzzword skill that has gained popularity recently, especially in the military community. Some call it bounce back. Some call it rising above. And others call it getting through the shit but no matter how it is said the implication is the same: You are going through something, or have gone through something, terrible. The only choice is to overcome because the other options make you a tragic statistic. Rebekah Gregory is a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Back then she was not a runner. She was one of thousands of by standers there to bare witness to the accomplishment of someone they knew...then...boom...
The decision of a then faceless stranger changed her world forever. One moment she was clapping and yelling for those who had just physically pushed their bodies to a limit and the next moment she was on the ground mutely yelling for her son as she struggled to absorb the scene around her from her new, unexpected vantage point. Her book, Taking My Life Back, is her story on how she overcame the odds, refused to become a statistic, and is thriving despite the intentions of terrorist cowards. She whole heartedly admits that her network of dedicated supporters and her faith played major roles in her recovery. For those in the crowd who are not strong believers, do not let the God talk dissuade you. Definitely still read this book because Rebekah highlights some key steps to resiliency beyond faith and support networks.
There are five key resiliency steps Rebekah uses to rise above the hand she was dealt. First, she got determined and found motivation. Secondly, she set small manageable goals for each phase - essentially every day of her recovery. Thirdly, she faced her demons in the court room. Fourthly, she found ways (sometimes they found her) to give back to others. Finally, throughout the process she maintained a healthy level of humor about her circumstances. This last one is tough, and maybe some of you gasped a little that I would suggest it as a key step to resiliency, but I believe there is a lot to be said for the healing power of laughter. If you cannot laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at? Let us dive deeper into the book and how she employs each of these steps.
1) Get determined / Find Motivation
What do you live for? What gives your life bone-deep meaning, purpose, reason, joy, or fulfillment? I am not talking about money, vacationing, promotions, or other such material things. I am talking about your drive to get out of bed everyday, your why (Simon Sinek fans anyone?), the stuff about you that would be missed in this world if you were not here tomorrow. For Rebekah, it was her son, Noah. "Surviving became my goal... Who will take care of my child if I'm not here?...Unless I could somehow rally, my son would have been spared from the explosion only to watch me die on that pavement" pg. 21. I am sure many parents reading this can relate. She could not imagine a world for her son where she did not exist in it. She had to be there for him and it could not be in years, it had to be soon. She rooted her efforts at every turn in that determination and moved forward one day at a time by...
2) Setting small, manageable goals
If I had a dime for every time someone told me "Rome wasn't built in a day..." or "How do you eat an elephant..." at different stages of my life, y'all I would be Oprah rich! It can sound trite but it is the most tried and true method for success at any level especially when hardship is involved. Looking at her body casted, bandaged, gooped up, and connected to numerous tubes and wires, Rebekah knew her ultimate goal of being back to full-time-Noah-mom was not going to be achieved quickly. I can bet that in that first moment of realization, her internal monolog was silenced from competing emotions: loss, self-pity, rage, confusion, doubt. She decided to keep the long range goal in mind but to zoom the daily focus down to bite sized goals - literally. Goal number one was to eat the hospital Jell-O Noah was attempting to feed her despite her having zero appetite from all of the trauma and meds. "Noah overheard the staff members talking about how much weight I'd already lost...he grabbed my untouched meal tray and insisted on spoon-feeding me the dish of Jell-O...[He was] helping his mom get better" pg. 37. Everyday was a different goal - eat, move toes, use left hand, walk - that led ultimately to the huge goal of getting back to being mom.
3) Face your demons
Here is another one you will probably recognize: "If you fall off the horse..." My riding instructor can attest to you that I did plenty of that growing up. If I had never gotten back on after the first time a horse bucked me, I would never have known the amazing, exhilarating feel of riding a horse at an all out run through a freshly mowed pasture. I had to face it, face my fear and self-doubt and pain, to get back up on that horse and confidently show him that he could not scare me or defeat me. I am not comparing my bruised backside and ego to Rebekah's journey and injuries in the least. I am merely presenting a perhaps more relatable-to-your-life moment that you can leverage. Rebekah bravely chose to face her living demon on a much grander scale that I am still trying to determine if I would have the same bravery if I were ever in her shoes. She faced the Boston Marathon bomber in court...twice! The person who had tried to instill lasting fear in everyone affected by his cowardly, anonymous (attempted so) actions had underestimated Americans and she was sure to tell him: "While your intention was to destroy America, what you have really accomplished is actually quite the opposite. You've unified us...We are Boston strong. We are America Strong. And choosing to mess with us was a terrible idea. How's that for your 'victim' impact statement?" pg. 191. No, my horse story does not hold a candle to this display of bravery but everyday resiliency can, and more often than not, come in smaller moments. "We each have our own story. We can choose our reactions to daily challenges, but they will never stop coming" pg. 224.
4) Give back
Rebekah truly believes that giving back to others is her greatest purpose. Her story has touched the lives of countless trauma survivors world wide who reach out to her constantly. The story she shares in the book about the young soccer player struggling with a similar decision over trying to heal her leg or amputating it is one of many noteworthy examples she included in the book. "I believe there are few things that will speed your healing like helping someone else to heal...Even though you are still recovering, you are in a state of abundance sufficient to help others and...you will heal too" pg. 136. There have been many encounters similar to that since I am sure. No matter what the situation you rise up from, there are sure to be others out there who are going through (or have gone through) something similar who could benefit from connecting with you.
The science is undeniable. Laughter heals. You are inevitably going to be handed some crap circumstances along your journey in this world and if you cannot find a way to laugh at yourself during, or after, it you are highly likely to get stuck in it. Laughter helps us push through. While I was in the Navy, we would joke that we were all fluent in at least two languages - English and Sarcasm. We had to use that humor to over come numerous situations that otherwise would have been a downward spiral of group depression. Rebekah jokes that her shredded left leg was like a bad boyfriend that needed dumping and ultimately named her prosthetic leg Felicia. If that is not humor used to rise above, I do not know what is. "We certainly can't always control our lives, but we can control how we meet the challenges" pg. 144. Rebekah, if you are reading, you can ride with me any day because I am certain we will laugh it all off.
I hope the next time you come up against any hardship, you recall these five steps of resiliency and that they help you rise above. "I believe the more you know about the ways others handle their difficulties, the better prepared you can be to carry your own" pg. 103. I totally agree and think that self-reflection is a key to the process of knowing how you handle circumstances. That is going to be the topic of the next post on Nov. 8th using Rebekah's book, again. to support our discussion. Come on back then and join in! I love hearing from you so please leave comments below, shoot me an email, or connect on my social spaces. Until next time, happy reading.