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How I Became More Resilient

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Introduction

Upon reflecting on the different stages of the life cycle, I found that adolescence was a crucial time in terms of what I endured that made me more resilient today. I experienced my parent’s divorce, emerging into a young adult through the process of becoming a bat mitzvah, and the death of my grandmother. My parent’s divorce had both positive and negative affects on me. I was able to feel less anxiety due to parental conflict, yet I retreated to unhealthy relationships to fill the void. The process of becoming a bat mitzvah was a proud moment for myself, and after a lot of hard work I felt ready to enter the world as a young adult. My bat mitzvah was a turning point in my life because I went from feeling embarrassed about my religion to a sense of pride. The death of my grandmother was a hardship I had not prepared myself for at such a young age. It then introduced me to deviant behaviors in order to grieve without proper guidance. As a young adolescent with many life events and little resources I went through phases of acting out behaviors, which led me to become more resilient, thanks to the influence of family, therapy, and religion.

My Parent’s Divorce

The divorce of my parent’s at age thirteen had a positive and negative impact as it resulted in many changes both physically and emotionally. According to Richardson and McCabe, research on divorce in the families has an overall detrimental effect on adolescents; however, investigations show that the impact of divorce is not inevitably negative. From a family systems perspective, examining the role of parental conflict is particularly important. It was reported that individuals from a family with low levels of conflict reported better adjustment than those from high-conflict intact families (Richardson and McCabe). I found that the divorce itself was healing in many ways, the constant fighting between my parents deceased and instead a friendship formed. My parents made sure that my sisters and I had a long talk about the divorce before hand where we could get all our questions answered, and they made sure to make it a point that we would still gather together often as a family rather than splitting our time.

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Getting involved in unhealthy relationships was a negative impact the divorce had on me. In adolescence and young adulthood Cummings and Davies denotes “parental divorce and related discord may impinge on abilities to engage in relationships in a confident and effective way” (Cummings & Davies, 1994). Furthermore, Wallerstrein and Corbin (1989) found that adolescent girls were more likely to encounter problems in relationships. I find that the research relates to my own experience in adolescence because I was always going from one relationship to the next, and the boyfriends I chose seemed to have problems of their own. Looking back I realize I had little confidence when it came to relationships and I strongly feel it is because my father cheated on my mother. Even to this day I sometimes have to stop myself from feeling jealous over petty things.

Reorganizing the family structure was a change I didn’t really have much time to mentally prepare for. Ahrons denotes reorganization of the family is “crucial to the health and well-being of the members” (Ahrons, 2004). Shortly before the divorce finalized my father’s company went bankrupt which forced my mother, sisters, and I to move from a rather large house to a small condominium in the same city. What I am extremely grateful for is my father only moving a couple blocks away, and still being present in my life. Even with the change of socioeconomic status, my parents made the divorce process easy on us girls by working together through all the transitions. My parents wanted to make sure the splitting of two households was a family decision so they sought professional help, and met with a therapist to decide what would be better for the family as a whole. We decided we would rather stay with our mother during the week, and our father on the weekends. It was especially nice to have the option of seeing my dad during the week even if only for a short hello. Although I was unprepared for many of the changes that took place, the way my parents worked together helped ease the process.

My Bat Mitzvah

At the young age of thirteen I took the steps needed within the temple to become an emerging young adult. Originating in 19th century Europe, the bat mitzvah “is a ceremony marking a girl’s coming of age in the Jewish community” (Vinick, p.416). My Bat mitzvah was an extremely important event in my life, being the youngest of three sisters I finally felt accepted as a young adult. The experience of becoming a Bat mitzvah was not always positive however, I was one of six people in my middle school to have one and felt nervous to speak in front of my peers. At an age where peer acceptance is so critical, I felt uneasy about speaking a different language in front of people I was trying to fit in with. The educational process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah includes learning Hebrew for the first time, and increased identity and participation in Jewish religious life, along with greater spirituality (Vinick, 2004). My days leading to the event consisted of school followed by 1:1 tutoring to learn my torah portion. I felt overwhelmed with anxiety, and felt that the process would go smoother if I spoke to no one about what my Bat Mitzvah was, and just got through the day as quick as possible. My mindset as a young teenager thankfully changed.

It wasn’t until the day of my Bat Mitzvah, August 19th, 2000, that I changed my demeanor and accepted the day as an important milestone event that will change my life for the better. I wanted to showcase my potential toward growth and maturity, and without my family and rabbi’s support I would not have reached this meaningful moment. I took pictures prior to the event and everyone had positive, uplifting things to say that forced me to realize the importance of meaning this day has to offer. I was surprised to hear my peers during the reception make comments about wishing they were Jewish, and I felt an abundance of pride about my religion. My Bat Mitzvah came at such a crucial time in my life. I had just went through the transition of my parents divorce, and this was the first event I realized we were still a family.

My Grandmother’s Death

When I was fifteen years old my grandmother on my mother’s side passed away, a day I will never forget. Zilberfein makes the point that no matter what the circumstances of death are, “most people are never prepared to lose a loved one. Death almost always comes unexpectedly.” (Zilberfein, year). The death of my grandmother was unexpected; she went in for a routine colonoscopy, and a mistake made by the doctor cost her life. As John Bolwby found, (1961) I experienced a distinct sequence after the death of my grandmother which consisted of numbing, distress and anger, yearning and searching, disorganization and despair, and then, optimally, reorganization” (317-40). Following my grandmothers death, my initial reaction was numbing, anger and guilt. I was taking care of her the day before the procedure and she was having a lot of trouble with the preparation, I then called her doctor and they said to keep going with it. It was less than 24 hours later that my grandmother passed away, and as a teenager I felt if I had only tried harder she would still be with us.

My grandmother’s death had a dramatic impact on my life, and without knowledge of coping strategies I resorted to deviant behaviors. Research shows that a loss at this phase of life becomes complicated with peer pressure and acting out to escape pain (McGoldrick & Walsh, 2011). I changed my group of friends and found that alcohol and marijuana were a great escape from grief. I found that my mind would go blank after self-medicating myself, and it was something I was starting to become dependent on. I wanted so badly to fit in, even if it meant stealing clothes for my new friends during a class trip to New York City. It wasn’t long before my parents took notice of the sudden change in my behaviors, and sought help for their troubled teenager.

My guidance counselor at my school became a primary resource I turned to. Within the public schools, the person well versed in counseling skills and techniques best trained to help children combat their problems while continuing their healthy development is the school counselor (Crutchfield, 1997). My counselor starting seeing me whenever I requested her, starting at one time a week and quickly shifting to four to five sessions a week. She was able to provide me with individual guidance lessons for a variety of issues I brought up. After each session I remember feeling a little more comfortable with bringing up some of the pressure I was feeling, and after my comfort level settled I began bringing up more personal problems and seeking my counselors guidance. Had it not been for my counselor I know I would have struggled with my unhealthy coping strategies for an extended duration of time. She is someone I have kept in touch with to this day, who now is more of a family friend than a therapist.

Summary

Looking back to the three main events I took note of during my adolescence, I found that each event helped me grow as a person and gain better coping strategies. My parent’s divorce showed me that not all bad things have to end bad, instead we can work together and ask for help in times of need. I changed my unhealthy ideal of what relationships should look like, and although it was not always a positive journey I am lucky to have the supportive family I do to help make this transition smoother. My Bat Mitzvah is a day I will never forget, and it really empowered me to accept my uniqueness rather than dwell on the differences. I felt closer to the temple and find that to this day the temple has been a healthy support system I often turn to during times of need. The final even that really changed me, as a person was the death of my grandmother whom I was extremely close with. It was a period where I rebelled, but more importantly sought guidance and support from someone outside of my family.

Conclusion

The three events I chose to write about really captures why I am the person I am today. Upon reflecting o my adolescence I realize why I have chosen to study marriage and family therapy. All three-milestone events, whether positive or negative, impacted me by showing me the importance seeking help can have during a time of hopelessness. I had to endure hardships before I could become the resilient adult I am today, and I am eager to help people accept the difficulties in their life as a stepping-stone toward change. I want to work with parents who have children with autism, and I know they too will have both positive and negative events in their life. My hope is to work with parents and show them the resources available to them, and make what can be a hard situation into something positive. I would not be where I am today had I not sought help during times of need, and I now want to be that help for others.

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