One of the responsibilities of the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center on Fort Knox is ensuring the delivery of high quality training from local Master Resilience Trainers who are responsible for providing instruction of resilience skills to their units. After her recent observation, Jane, a Level 1 MRT, sat down with a CSF2 Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert to discuss how the training went. Over the course of this discussion, Jane explained how the resilience skills impacted her life. That conversation became the impetus for this article.
When "Jane Doe" landed in a mandatory CSF2 training class, the proverbial light bulbs began popping in her mind. She said she realized with startling clarity that many of the difficult challenges she was facing and had faced throughout her life could be managed with the tools the Army was giving her--for free.
And those challenges were no penny ante fare.
Her father was killed while he was driving under the influence of alcohol.
Before that accident, Jane had been sexually assaulted after someone slipped a roofy into her drink at a party. Her assailants tried to bring her back to consciousness by hosing her down with cold water; when it didn't work, they dumped her body in the woods and left her to nearly freeze before she was found.
After that assault, Jane's mother told her that the attack was her own fault and she never wanted to hear it mentioned again.
After one failed marriage and two children, Jane married a second time after a whirlwind romance and deployed just a few days later. About two weeks into her deployment, she learned her new husband was selling off her clothes and furniture. When she returned on her R&R leave, he served her with divorce papers.
JANE NEEDS A BIGGER BOX
All those factors were churning in her mind, leading her to bring a mounting depression and anxiety along when she moved to Fort Knox. After an embarrassing combination of beer and a sleeping pill, she started a downward spiral of catastrophizing, a term she wasn't familiar with before Master Resilience Training. She was arrested for driving under the influence and threatened with foster care for her children. Referred to the Army Substance Abuse Program, Jane wondered if she was destined to repeat her father's mistakes and her depression deepened.
A suicide attempt followed soon thereafter. She spent a month in a psychiatric facility. Once she was released, she was literally crying on her command sergeant major's shoulder about how embarrassed she was, how horribly she had messed up and how disgraced her chain of command must be. The CSM listened patiently, then asked her to explain how it felt. Puzzled, Jane asked what he meant.
EMPTYING THE BOX
"How does it feel to be human?" the sergeant major asked. "You've been acting like you're superman and you can never make a mistake. Well, you're not superman and you made mistakes. We all do. So, you'll get through this and we'll help you."
"This CSM believed in me; that's what true leaders do, they believe in their Soldiers, even when they can't believe in themselves," Jane said. "He is my mentor, and I owe him my life and my career; he started me on my road to paying it forward and fixing my life."
The sergeant major's support combined with the new tools Jane learned at CSF2 training set her on a new path. She was so excited about the skills she'd learned, Jane went on to take the training and she is now a level 1 Master Resilience Trainer, hoping to advance to level 2 soon.
"I always thought I was resilient because of the challenging childhood I had," she explained. "But I wasn't resilient; I was just stuffing things down and ignoring them. I realized I was doing what so many Soldiers do. We live by the 'suck it up and drive on' philosophy--but that doesn't solve anything. If you keep shoving things down in an imaginary box, eventually that box will overflow.
"I was surviving, I wasn't thriving," she added. "I was just getting by all those years. When you're doing great things, you don't think about resilience. It's those times when the bad stuff creeps in on you and how you handle it--that determines resilience."
Jane is convinced that the night of her arrest was when her challenges finally overflowed the box and flooded her life. But she's learned so much since then.
"I still battle with depression and anxiety occasionally, but I know my triggers and I know that I won't ever go back to being the person who wanted to kill herself," she said. "Now I know there are people who love me, people in my corner. I'm not alone."
Jane's newfound growth spread to other areas and people in her life. She realized how much anger she had toward her mother and reached out to repair the relationship. She was able to step outside herself and see the situation from her mother's point of view. While she didn't agree, she could understand her mother. She was grateful that the relationship was mending.
"Soon after we began talking again, my mom died suddenly from an aneurysm."
When their mother died, Jane's younger sister was only 14. Jane's older brother and Jane decided to leave the younger sister with him so the younger sister wouldn't have to change friends and schools.
"I was talking to my sister on the phone one night and something was just off," she explained. She spoke with her brother, who thought their sister, Janet, was just suffering from normal teen-age angst. Jane didn't agree.
"Something in my heart doesn't feel right," she said.
Sure enough, Janet tried to commit suicide a week later. Jane flew to California.
"I ransacked my sister's room, reading diaries, homework, emails--anything I could find that might explain what had led my sister to that point."
Jane found the underlying problems, which her brother agreed he wasn't equipped to address. Jane is now Janet's legal guardian and she lives with Jane and her two children.
MRT FOR KIDS
The newest member of the household still has adjustments to make; she anticipated the living arrangement would be like sister-roommates. Jane said she knew she would have to be a parent to Janet, make her live with the same rules that apply to her children and that's presented many dilemmas. But MRT is still working for her.
"I have learned to use assertive communication, identify icebergs and hunt for the good stuff and I'm teaching those things to my sister as well as my kids," she said. "We all have to be accountable for our choices."
Jane said she insists on honesty, especially about emotions, which is hard for most
people, who assume they'll be judged harshly for being emotional. She's passionate about the CSF2 and MRT training because it's so helpful and practical.
"So many of us think we're resilient because we've survived something tough, but that isn't resilience," Jane said. "Resilience allows you to ask for help without feeling like you're somehow less of a person because you got help. Resilience lets you talk through the negative stuff, learn to manage it and eventually when you can let it go--you don't need the box anymore."
Editor's Note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the Soldier as well as her under-age sibling.