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Building Resilience and DEMON COPPERHEAD by Barbara Kingsolver

Cover of the book Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver used as a teaching example for the skill of building resilience.

As a teen, Demon Copperhead thought, “The wonder is that you could start life with nothing, end with nothing, and lose so much in between.”


Demon was the only child of a single teen mom. His early childhood was marked by her insufficient love, abusive partners, rehab stints, and death by overdose. With no family able to take him in, Demon entered the foster care system, where he endured hard labor, sustained hunger, and a total lack of care. He finally found some long-lost family and briefly had stable housing with the school football coach. But, this security was predicated on his football performance, and an injury left Demon injured and addicted to painkillers – therefore unable to play. Demon, like many in his Appalachian community, battled an opioid addiction that left him a shell of himself.


And then, despite all the setbacks, Demon turned his life around. He entered treatment and sustained recovery, reconnected with old friends, created a popular comic strip, and found love.


The secret to Demon’s hard-fought happy (ish) ending is his resilience.


Resilience is the learned process of healthily adapting when faced with adversity. Resilient people experience traumatic and stressful life events but come out the other side having productively learned, grown, and changed.   


Most people aren’t born resilient. Instead, it is a skill honed over time and continued practice. Resilient people are given lots of lemons, and they make lemonade.


Here are some tips to build resilience:


Make Meaning: Use your challenging experiences as motivation to help, advocate, and bring good into the world.


Navigate, Don’t Numb: Negative feelings are normal. Avoid numbing them with drugs or alcohol. Remember: feelings pass, and substances make things worse.


Maintain Hope: Life has ups and downs; it’s possible to be happy in times of sadness and forgive (a highly resilient quality) significantly flawed individuals. Seek and hold on to positive people, moments of calm, and grounding experiences.



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