Option B. When Option A Goes Up in Flames Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg - A Review

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This book was recommended to me and it turned out to be quite the page turner.  Sheryl Sandberg was noticed by the world when she became COO of Facebook and then went onto be the first woman on the board at FB.  The topic of female empowerment was covered in detail in her book Lean In.

However, this book is about something entirely different.  Whilst vacationing in Mexico with her husband, he suddenly died of a cardiac event.  This book is about how she dealt with and recovered and is still recovering from this trauma in her and her children’s lives (who were aged 7 and 10 when Dave died).

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It’s about facing head on the elephant in the room, how do you talk to someone who has had a sudden trauma, do you ignore it, do you say something akin to a platitude or do you educate yourself to say something healing and comforting?  It’s for people who have been victims of abuse, have a mental illness, have gone through a messy divorce, have a difficult and combative relationship with family members and any number of yucky things that happen.  And which one of us have not been through these difficult times at some time in our lives? I know I have, and some of it is still unresolved so I was interested to hear what Sheryl had to say on the topic.

Sheryl talks about resilience which has been a topic I have been interested in for many years after working as a Community Nurse in inner city Philadelphia.  Why do two adolescents both exposed to poverty, lack of education, and access to firearms have a different outcome? One becomes a drug dealer and one goes onto university and breaks the mold of dysfunctional living.  If experts knew how to replicate resilience then many of those in at risk situations would have a very different outcome.

However, I digress, back to the book and how resilience is described.  It can work for you or work against you in a grief situation.

  • Personalization, a way of identifying this huge event, affects you and those near you OR a belief that the event is your fault, what could you have done to prevent it?
  • Pervasiveness, a knowing that an event is so huge you will always be affected by it OR a belief you will never be happy again because this trauma will remain incredibly disabling for all area of your life.
  • Permanence, the belief that you must always keep your loved one who has died or whatever the trauma is alive so you may learn from it OR a belief that this level of pain will last forever, till the end of your days and how can you possible function in that level of devastation?I

What a juxtaposition of ways of coping and ways of being crippled by an event. It involves blame, survivors guilt and a hope and wish that with time you will become functional again, one day.

When family, friends and the victim of an event stay silent there is a risk of isolation.  It takes a whole village of people to support a family in a difficult time and if we disconnect from that community it can seriously inhibit healing.  Being alone with your thoughts is a necessary solitude but not a long-term solution.

Anna Quindlen puts it well when she says:

“Grief is a whisper in the world and a clamor within.”

The fear of recovering from the acute grief seems like a betrayal of the person you have lost or the event that has happened.  But knowing one day the pain can stop may give a person permission to be in deep pain because one day you will have the tools to deal with it.

When my mother died in 2015 and we were estranged because of a history of abuse and lack of healthy communication, I felt so deeply depressed by her death knowing that there would no longer be a chance of reconciliation. I fully welcomed the 3 P’s into my life in the negative sense. But slowly with a lot of time (and that process is still ongoing) and a lot of help I began to embrace the 3 P’s in a non-dysfunctional way.

The quote from Sheryl is "don’t die while you are still alive."  Firstly, what a waste of a life and what a disservice to the one you have lost or giving more energy than it deserves from that traumatic event. 

And self-compassion, wow that’s a big one, whether you are going through a tough time or not.  I used to say to myself:

“Suck it up buttercup."

Now I say:

“You are doing the best you can right here, right now.”

It makes a huge difference to the perception of tough times if there is a non-blaming discernment.  There is absolutely no point in finding guilt and shame in your situation, what a useless waste of time.

Soren Kierkegaard (a well-known philosopher, wish I was as smart as him) said:

“Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forward.”

That makes a lot of sense to me, but can be hard to put into practice.

Sheryl also refuses to talk of Post-Traumatic Stress but rather Post Traumatic Growth. That is a mind-blowing concept.  How encouraging it is to think, to know that eventually lemons can be turned into lemonade.

This review is just a small part of the book, there are so many more nuggets of wisdom.  Those that not only spoke to me but yelled at me from the pages.

If you happen to read the book I hope it has the same enlightenment on you.

Have. Be a good day.