I haven’t always coped as well as I thought I “should.”
I haven’t even coped as well as I THOUGHT I coped.
When you survive a rough childhood, you tend to get a lot of pats on the back for your “resilience.” So much so that many trauma survivors I know are sick to DEATH of being told how “resilient” they are.
But there’s also this temptation t think that surviving a traumatic early life (or surviving ANY traumatic time of your life) means that you’ve successfully coped— and that’s true, in a way.
Yes, the things we did to survive DID help us survive.
The fact that you’re reading this and I’m writing this means we BOTH survived.
But a lot of us are now faced with the work of undoing not only the damage done by whatever we went through— but how we “coped.”
Our coping “skills” deserve all the credit tin the universe for keeping us alive— but we need to be realistic about the toll some of them took on us.
Some people “coped” with overwhelming situations by completely shutting down their emotional lives. And that “skill” did help them survive.
Some people “coped” by completely isolating themselves socially, completely rejecting any attempts to connect— and that “skill” may have helped them survive, too.
Some people “coped” with the support of substances that soothed and numbed them— and, make no mistake, substance use under certain circumstances can absolutely help someone survive, depending on the alternatives.
I don’t think anybody reading this needs to apologize for doing what they needed to do to survive once upon a time.
But we need to be real about the costs.
The coping “skills” that got us by once upon a time may not be the skills we need to build a life in the here and now.
We may think we have all the coping skills we need, because we survived something horrific.
But it’s not that simple.
The skills that got us through what we went through deserve our gratitude.
But we don’t need to hang on to them just for the sake of hanging on to them.
We don’t want to have survived the past just to ruin our lives in the present by doubling down on old coping tools that don’t serve us anymore.
I didn’t survive abuse and neglect in the past, only to have my future destroyed by addiction.
Developing and using coping skills is the least interesting, most frustrating part of recovery. I remember visibly recoiling when a therapist uttered the word “cope” to me for the first time.
But it turns out coping skills aren’t optional if our goal is to meaningfully heal.
I thought I was too smart and too tough to need coping skills. I thought the fact that I had survived what I’d survived was proof enough I knew how to “cope.”
My addictive patterns— which blossomed into problems related to, but quite separate from, the pain of my past— proved how full of sh*t I was on that one.
Yes, how I handled feelings and stress allowed me to survive my past. But I had to re-learn lots of skills so that I didn’t sacrifice my present and my future.
44 year old me needs different tools and skills than 22 year old me did.
I know, I know. Just the phrase “coping skills” is irritating. And recovery is ABSOLUTELY about more than just learning how to “cope.”
But the basics are the basics for a reason.
Once upon a time I thought I could skip the basics.
But that’s just not how meaningful, reliable recovery— recovery you can trust, recovery that creates a base to build a new life— is built.
One thought on “Our old skills helped us survive. But recovery is about more than survival.”
I don’t even know what skills I need or how to find them. Each new thing I try seems to have either no effect or a negative effect.