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Sand & Grit

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

One Summer day, I came home from my morning teaching summer school classes to find my eleven-year-old daughter in the backyard trying to undo the circumstances of her life one grain of sand at a time. In front of her was a Waialua soda bottle formerly filled with passion fruit soda. In place of the passion fruit was colored sand.

During my wedding ceremony to my second husband, we had opted to add a sand ceremony to symbolize the blending and creation of a new family. There were words about making a commitment to share the rest of our lives and building a new family relationship. Each of us chose a different color sand to represent ourselves and the uniqueness that each of us brought into our promise to co-create a happy home together. The vessel that I had bought for the ceremony was broken during a luggage search, so the soda bottle was the last minute, budget-conscious improvisation. In the end, it seemed like a perfect solution, fitting of our little Hawaiian beach wedding, but it seemed destined not to work out as intended.

The flight home — like our marriage after that point — was an especially turbulent one, and despite my efforts to keep things stable, it was all too much. In the end, the colored grains of sand lost their beautiful layers, and everything was a murky, mixed-up mess. The man that they had asked to call dad because he had won them over as five and six-year-old children is now referred to as jerk-face in our house per their request for reasons I will not disclose here.

So when I saw her there that day, I stood frozen, trying to hold back tears. I immediately realized what it was she was doing. She had taken the bottle of sand and dumped out the peppered mix of black, white, pink, and purple onto a plate and was painstakingly trying to separate and remove every single grain of black sand one at a time. It was an impossible task, but she persisted. So, I sat with her, and instead of attempting to pretend to adult that day, I joined her. At specific points, my son joined in, though he didn’t quite have the same level of patience for the daunting task. When it grew dark, we left all of it out on the patio table, and that night, it rained, washing most of the sand onto the ground. Life is a choose-your-own-adventure novel that we are only allowed to read once through.

The lesson was there. It screamed. No matter how bad we might want to go back and undo something in our lives: Take the love away before we lose it or never give it away in the first place, we can’t live in reverse. We can’t go take things back. Life is a choose-your-own-adventure novel that we are only allowed to read once through. The grains of sand weren’t meant to come apart — we could cut him out of our lives for our safety and well-being, but we couldn’t go back to who we were in our pre-jerk-face existence.

This memory came back to me yesterday, oddly enough, while I was teaching a Sunday School lesson on the theme of “Resilience.” I introduced the unit on resilience by talking about grit. As we explo

red the concept of grit, we held sand and talked about its texture. We decided together that having grit meant having the courage and the drive to keep trying, the sticktoittiveness to stay with our dreams despite challenges and failures along the way.

I feel the need to clarify this experience with my daughter was over four years ago and that “jerk-face” has been out of her life for five years. As I write this, she is a beautiful, intelligent, well-adjusted young lady involved in all kinds of activities at her high school. She is a tremendous helper and has a kind-heart. While I imagine that all experiences we have in this life, particularly those in childhood, impact who we are and how we perceive the world to some extent, I also KNOW that WE ARE MORE THAN WHAT HAPPENS TO US.

I have something that I have to say to the world, so pay attention — mainly if you are someone who works with people who have PTSD (from a single traumatic event) or Complex-PTSD (from multiple traumatic experiences or prolonged traumatic exposure in captive situations). I am TIRED of reading things written by clinicians or researchers who talk about resiliency in terms of who “develops” PTSD and who does not. As if a person living with PTSD is somehow weaker or less resilient than someone who does not develop it. Far be it from me to suggest, but maybe those talking about what it means to be TRAUMA-SENSITIVE these days need to quit with the buzz words and invite some of us who have been facing our PTSD head-on with success into the conversation. Those talking about experiences they haven’t lived themselves or aren’t willing to own in public, professional arenas might need to reexamine what those words, RESILIENCY and GRIT, mean. May I suggest a good look at what someone with living with that kind of mental INJURY is overcoming every day?

The messed marriage that I alluded to above was only one of the experiences wrapped up in my mental make-up. I have flashbacks of all kinds. I am overcome with emotion frequently. On a good day, I am just like I imagine anybody else might be, and on a bad day, I can check off every symptom on a checklist — yet I manage. I survive. I overcome. I make it to the next day. Somedays, I succeed better than others, but I am here, AND I JUST MIGHT BE THE GRITTIEST PERSON I KNOW.

After my second divorce, I did some things that made a difference to me and have helped my resilience tremendously.

Here is my short list of what has helped me: 1. I took a good look at myself and my strengths. I decided that the thing I loved about myself the most was my creativity, so I started doing everything that I could to foster that gift. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time since I was twelve. I renewed my commitment to writing regularly again, and I started sharing what I was creating with other artists and writers. Find your strength.

2. I made my Faith a verb. I had started a journey of religious/spiritual seeking that had been interrupted mainly by my relationships. I revisited that seeking, this time to cultivate a sense of peace in myself and to find a community that challenged me to live my values continually. Whereas before, I might have felt isolated by my constant questioning of authority in my quest for meaning, I now feel surrounded by supportive people who challenge me to be the best version of myself.

3. I made exercise a priority. When I move, I just feel better. That’s all there is to it. My training has taken on different forms at different points in my life. Currently, I am all about barre, yoga, Pilates, kick-boxing, and specific martial arts when I manage to make it to class. I am finding real value in mind-body type disciplines. In the end, the best kind of exercise is the kind you do regularly. I do the bulk of my exercise program at home and love that I can take it on the road with me.

4. Nutrition. No one ever exercised themselves to a healthy weight without eating right, and while “weight” may seem unrelated to mental well-being to some of my friends, I assure you as a 5’4” someone who used to tip the scales at over 210 lbs. weight and mental health are related for many people. In my case, I needed to find a mind-set based nutrition program that helped me break the cycle of emotional eating and to fuel my body with foods that could help me to feel stronger.

5. Meditation/Prayer. I have many different types of meditation and prayer practices that I use in my life. There is real value in employing both stillness and flow to find a renewal of the mind and spirit.

6. Coaching. I started coaching. I wanted to incorporate all of the things that help me cope with my life challenges and empower other people (mainly women) to choose the strategies that work for them to help them meet their goals. Surprisingly, becoming a coach has helped me to become even more resilient because it has strengthened my resolve to apply these core strategies to my life continually. It has also given me great joy to be able to help other people find clarity and work toward their goals.

Now, for clarity’s sake, when I talk about my coaching, I am not talking about therapy or counseling. NOR, would I ever suggest to someone that a life coach/a holistic health and wellness coach could take the place of a therapist in their life. No! You should never skimp/cut corners on your health, and your mental health is no exception. Exercise and nutrition help me to feel great, and they might help you to feel the same, but they don’t take the place of needed medications prescribed by a physician unless that physician thinks it’s appropriate.

I have a therapist. I have a wellness coach. I exercise. I eat right. I take the medicines that I have decided with my physician to use to be at my best. I believe in using all the tools in my toolbox. They have different roles, but both support my mental health and well-being with what they do. They help me leap into my dreams by helping me to be the best version of myself. Now, as a coach, I encourage others to create their toolboxes and find their way to their best life.

Four years ago, I ate junk regularly. I only sometimes worked out. My weight consistently yo-yo’d, and I was frequently unhappy. I struggled with adulting. Basic things like self-care and packing a lunch, making dinner, and even getting the mail out of the box zapped me of all my energy and frequently did not happen. Fast-forward to today: I am up early most days. I make a list every day of the things I am grateful for and the dreams that I have for my life; I work out about five days a week, I cook dinner six days out of the week, I make a healthy shake every day, I pack a lunch for work every day, I drink at least 80 oz of water every day. In 2015, I could not even have envisioned the 2020 me. I am not without my past, but now when it haunts me, I have the tools to fight back.

Being resilient isn’t about not having problems. It’s not about who comes out of an experience with an injury, either. Two kids can fall off the same swing set. One can get up without a scratch, and another can break his arm. The one that bounced off the pavement without a fracture isn’t necessarily a “tougher, more resilient” kid, so why do we talk about mental injuries in a different way than we do physical ones?

Friends who wish to #endthestigma for mental health might seriously consider taking another look at the words resilience and grit and reimagining their conception of trauma by thinking of those who experience it in terms of their strengths rather than their liabilities.

For as much as I once wanted that perfect, pretty vessel of sand in my life — or what it stood for anyway, I have arrived at that place where I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing about how things unfolded. That’s something that I could not have said even a month ago when my mind would still marinate in the Sea of What-ifs on a nightly basis.

I am grateful for the place I am at now, for the primary relationship I have now, and for who my children are turning out to be. For as much as I would have once liked to undo all the hurt, to remove all of those single grains of sand for my daughter’s sake, I have reached a point of accepting that just isn’t the way that it works. Some things we just can’t know in advance. That day, when we sat there and separated the sand, we just needed to try. Even though we knew it wouldn’t work, we needed that time to sit there and hope. Perhaps, it didn’t take away the experience of what he put us through, but it did take away some of the hurt. Maybe, that “Unity” sand did its job and brought us together in a rather unexpected way. In any event, I can say that when it comes to grit, my kids — they take after me. And, when it comes to resilience, there hasn’t been a day when they haven’t seen it modeled.

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