Yesterday I got the opportunity to hang out in one of my favorite stores, Barnes and Noble. I was slowly browsing through the bargain book section, when I saw a book that caught my eye. It was by Jacee Dugard, and the book jacket declared that it was her second book.
I didn’t even know she had a first book out. If I had, I would certainly have already attempted to read a copy. I’ve always loved stories about the resilience of the human spirit in situations of diversity and hardship. I loved the story of Corrie Ten Boom, reading her books over and over again. I read “A Child Called It“, horrified at his situation, but then read the sequels as well, as the story of his recovery was told. I read a historical fiction book titled “The Book Thief“, about a girl who stole books at book burnings during World War II; and another title called “The Architect“, from the same era, about a man who designed hidden rooms to help those hiding from the persecution.
For some reason, I’ve always been attracted to stories about how the human spirit refuses to be crushed by oppressors.
I think it is very likely that my interest in the topic was somehow subconsciously part of my own resilience in a world that did not make sense for much of my life. Not to over dramatize–for I certainly was never made to drink bleach, live behind the house in a tent, or hide in a crawlspace for fear of going to a concentration camp–but in a lesser sense, the world I lived in did not make logical sense, and I learned to cope with the dissonance.
Growing up, I was probably one of the most compliant children you could imagine. I cried easily, and I wanted to please. Mostly, I wanted to be at peace. So, I learned to do what was expected and to stay under the radar at all times, in order to remain somewhat invisible. Still, there are pros and cons to such existence. I remember once writing about myself and a friend, in a comparison of her more flamboyant rebellious nature and my mousy one. I had my peace, but I did not feel visible or unique. There was a cost to pay for compliance–and I paid it.
In a previous article, I wrote about human development and how it is the work of the teen years to figure out one’s identity. I pointed out then that the cult environment is hardly a place to be formulating an identity–where all are expected to conform, and uniformity is considered “submissive” and “holy”. Of course I would have felt mousy in such an environment, with a very compliant nature.
So the question remains, were we resilient? Was I resilient?
My identity was never fully formed until I was in my thirties and had stepped out of the cult. As a result, I have often felt depressed and hopeless as an adult. I often felt useless and completely emotionally malformed. Feeling like an emotional misfit was part of trying to find my way out. I did not rebel while I was in. I complied. I obeyed. I did my best to fit down in that jar. However, my brain continued to fight against that dissonance–and that, my friends, is where the resilience comes in.
Resilience is a matter of perspective. Jaycee Dugard, you may remember, was the female who was kidnapped around ten years old, and found as an adult, living in a tent behind the kidnapper’s house. She lived there with her two daughters, which had been born to her in captivity, as products of the sexual abuse she endured for years. Her resilience was not in mounting any resistance. In fact, when they found her, she had an affection for her captor and was not fully aware that his behaviors were harmful. Her first book was about those years of her life. The second book, titled “Freedom“, was about her recovery once she was released from the situation.
Bob Pelzer was the “child called It“. He survived through the abuse. Once he was safely removed, years of dysfunctional behaviors and thinking continued. He finally became able to live somewhat normally as an adult, albeit with scars that are unlikely to ever be completely erased.
Resilience means that elasticity that allows a person to “spring back into shape” (Dictionary.com). It means that certain inner toughness that continues the recovery process even when things look bleak and hopeless.
Any kind of abuse can affect a person’s mental capacity. Certain damage is done inside the human brain when abuse is experienced as a child (or maybe even as an adult). There are certain brain paths that may never recover to the point of being the same as that of a child who never suffered abuse. However, resilience is the fact that the child keeps on going even through the pain. He or she keeps getting up each time they are knocked down. They don’t give up, but they keep making a way and developing new coping skills to survive the difficult circumstance.
There is always dissonance. There is always sorrow, pain, and a certain depression. Sometimes people form permanent mental illness, such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, or other diagnoses that may not be reversible. Yet, the fact that they keep trying is where the resilience comes in. They may not “spring back” to a perfect shape, but they slowly start recovering that design of a healthy human being.
When I left an abusive husband years ago, a woman’s advocate used an analogy that I will never forget. She described resilience as being like a coil (or spring). If you wrap a wire around a pencil, it forms a coil. Remove the pencil, and that shape is maintained. It keeps the shape it had from being tightly wound.
You can think of that pencil as the abusive situation. When the person (wire) no longer has the pressure of that pencil, it maintains the shape for awhile. However, over time, one can continue to straighten out that wire slowly, bit by bit. Although it is hardly likely it will ever be arrow straight without any curves at all, over time it begins to get straighter and straighter as you work with it, until someday it can look pretty darn straight to the naked eye.
The same is true for human resilience. You may not feel resilient in this moment. Maybe you still have a lot of twists and turns in your emotions and your life–a lot of curvature that came from being twisted up in an abusive environment. However, you are completely capable of slowly regaining a different form over time. The resilience comes in the form of not breaking in two, even though at times the pain may feel that breaking is eminent.
You are resilient. You are capable. You survived the abusive environment and you CAME OUT! That is the first step to recovery, and if you are strong enough to come this far, you will make it. So will I.