First of all you can’t become more resilient unless you go through some heavy stuff. You don’t build resiliency sitting on the couch, wrapped in bubble wrap, playing it safe. So, the first step to become more resilient is to take some risks — with your career, in relationships, at school — obviously not anything life-threatening, but I feel just involving yourself in real human experiences and emotions.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krysty Krywko.
Krysty Krywko (AKA THE WOMAN WHO VIEWS SOBRIETY AS A RADICAL ACT OF SELF-LOVE), is a coach, educator, writer, mixed media creator, and the founder of Purple Dog Sober.
She founded the company during the pandemic when it became obvious how women were struggling with trying to balance home, work, and the schooling of their children. The mission of her work is to provide women with a shame free safe space where they can begin to explore their relationship with alcohol.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I’m 52, so I have a lot of backstory — haha. I’ll give you the condensed version. I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. Moved to NYC in 1998 and have lived on the east coast since then, currently just outside NYC. I’m a former teacher, and have my doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. I’m an indie mom of two awesome teens. I became sober on October 7, 2018, and I continue to grow and challenge myself daily. I’ve taken all my experiences as a coach, educator, writer, mixed media creator, and applied them to the company I founded, Purple Dog Sober.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the most interesting stories from my career happened recently, and I feel it ties into the idea of resiliency. I got into coaching, and initially focused on helping women through divorce. Which was where I thought I wanted to be, but I always had this idea of working with women in their sobriety and I tip-toed around that idea for a few years. This was in the middle of the pandemic and things were so crazy with me trying to pivot and get my services online and figure out Zoom and all that stuff. And I decided that the divorce space was no longer working for me. I didn’t want to be in it. It was really hard to make that decision to burn something down, that I had spent a few years building, but I knew that the sobriety space was calling to me and it was just time. And, things have been so good since I made that change. Big takeaway is that you can start over whenever you want to, and I’ve learned that lesson a few times in my life, but this was letting go of something I created from scratch, and starting to build something new. It was a risk, but it was about me deciding not to play safe and to reach for a new challenge.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that makes my company stand out is the way I approach sobriety. It’s not the old AA approach where you’re supposed to feel ashamed and anonymous and where you have to hide down in a church basement. I also believe that everyone has the right to question their relationship with alcohol and it doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” with you. I think we have such a strange relationship with alcohol as a society. I approach sobriety as a way to bring so much joy into your life, it truly takes away all the walls you were putting up.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
So, four years ago when I started to question my relationship to alcohol, I reached out to a friend, Jean, who has been sober for decades. The way she simply embraced me and made me feel like reaching this point of knowing that alcohol was no longer working for me, was the next step in my evolution. She never questioned my desire to stop drinking, or made me feel any guilt or shame. She took me to my first, and only, AA meeting. We met for coffee dates, and she texted me encouragement, but in such a beautiful, subtle way. I feel that was really the first domino that fell as I moved towards building a life and relationships that sustain and support me.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
There are so many different parts to resilience, at least in my opinion. But, when I first think of resilience, I think about the bounce back. It’s all about dealing with heavy stuff that life throws at you, processing it, and then dusting yourself off and getting back in the game. Some traits/characteristics of resilient people are: they are flexible; they can easily pivot to a plan B or C if needed; they have strategies in place to help them process what they’re going through (meditation, exercise, creative outlets, people/mentors they can talk to); they have a strong sense of purpose and belief in themselves; they most likely have a track record of dealing with hard stuff (or have role models in their lives who have dealt with hard stuff) so they know they can deal with it and keep going; they also know when they need to reach out to others for help.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Hmm, good question. I think they definitely feed off of each other. I think you need courage is about taking action, and taking those steps towards whatever, it is you want to change in your life or about yourself. Resilience is really more about the mental strength needed to keep being courageous. For example, it takes courage to make the decision to question your relationship with alcohol, especially if you don’t have anyone in your life supporting you. Resiliency is something you build as you move into building a sober lifestyle, as you adapt to challenges.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of resilience, I think of my maternal grandmother. Her name was Grace. I choose her because of all that she went through in her life, but she kept her head held high and didn’t let herself get dragged down into the mud. Her only brother was killed during WWII, he was shot done in his last flight before he was due home. Then she went through a divorce in the early 1970’s in Alberta, Canada, where divorce wasn’t a thing, especially for someone of her generation. It was humiliating because way back then, women had very few rights when it came to property, so my grandfather got the house, and my uncle (who was 13) at the time, chose to live with his dad because the house was familiar to him. My grandma found an apartment to rent, went back to work in the provincial government, and just kept her faith in herself as someone who could get through hard things. She had such a strong faith, which I know also helped her get through so much, that belief that there is something bigger out there. She was a really dignified person, who just held her head up high, which I think is part of resilience, holding your head up high.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
So, I’m going to twist this around a little, and while nobody told me it was impossible, nobody believed me when I thought I had a problem with my drinking. And, that is such a knee jerk response when someone reaches out to ask that question. I hear it from almost all the women I work with. So, despite all the assurances, others gave me, that things were okay with my drinking, I decided to get look at my relationship with alcohol anyway. Even though everybody around me was saying you’re fine, you’re not out of control, you’re holding it all together. I decided I wanted to give myself the opportunity, and the permission, to try something different in my life. I knew deep down that alcohol was no longer working for me, and I’m so thankful that I took the time to listen to myself. And it’s easy not to question stuff like that. It’s easy just to stay with the crowd. It’s hard to go against what everybody else is doing and alcohol is so prevalent in our culture. You are going against everything, every book club meeting you go to, every dinner out, every neighborhood get-togethers, you’re constantly defending your decision not to drink. But I really took a flag and stuck in the sand and made a declaration that I was doing this my growth. I wanted to grow, I wanted to challenge myself. I’m worth more than easy. And alcohol is so easy.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of my greatest setbacks was my divorce. I was 48 when it happened. It wasn’t how I wanted my marriage to end. It wasn’t where I thought I would be at that age, and at first, I had no idea what to do. I was doing some freelance writing and editorial work at that time, while I stayed at home with my kids, so I had to pivot really hard to figure out what I was going to do in the future financially. About a year after my divorce, I realized that the bottle of wine I was drinking every night was really messing up my life, slowing me down, eroding my confidence, and making me really sad. Moving into sobriety, while it was hard at first, really opened up so much in my life. I really have a hard time putting it all into words, but that has allowed me the space to be who I am, to rebuild myself, to experience life in real-color and not numb all the emotions that you need to be a functioning human.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I haven’t made it a point to cultivate resilience in my life, you don’t have the chance to become resilient unless you go through some serious stuff, where you have to make the choice to either rise up, or stay down. So, besides the resiliency I’ve cultivated from my sobriety and my divorce, I think the period of time I grew up in you had to learn how to be resilient by yourself. I’m Gen X. I grew up in the 70s and 80s. If you made it out alive, and mostly in one piece you pretty much were doing okay. That was really the generation where we were given the keys to our houses to let ourselves in afterschool and look after ourselves. I always think about Ada Calhoun’s book,” Why We Can’t Sleep”, where she talks about when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, where we followed the adventure of this teacher, Christa McAuliffe, and how she was just a regular person who got to go to space. And, we watched the liftoff live in our classrooms, and it blew up, and they all died right in front of us. And, our teachers calmly reached over and turned the TV off and said, “okay class, open your math books to page 70,” or whatever it was. There was no counselling. There was nothing. Maybe you might have talked about it and dinner. But really you just had to find a way to be optimistic and work through your own stuff, because there really wasn’t a lot of support out there to deal with all the heaviness.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Well, first of all you can’t become more resilient unless you go through some heavy stuff. You don’t build resiliency sitting on the couch, wrapped in bubble wrap, playing it safe. So, the first step to become more resilient is to take some risks — with your career, in relationships, at school — obviously not anything life-threatening, but I feel just involving yourself in real human experiences and emotions. The second step is to really begin to acknowledge and sit with your feelings. The more you’re aware that your feelings are not static, that dealing with unpleasant feelings are part of being human, then you can begin to weather those storms. Also, being aware that a feeling only last for about 90 seconds, so instead of dragging your experience out, if you sit with it and process that feeling, you’re going to bounce back much quicker. The third step in becoming more resilient is to recognize mistakes as something you can grow and learn from, instead of letting them derail you. Knowing that everyone makes mistakes, and if you don’t make mistakes, I would argue you aren’t really challenging yourself. The fourth step is keeping yourself grounded in the present as much as you can. I think when you start to obsess about the past, or worry about the future, then you can really get wrapped up in feeling like you’re not doing enough, or you’re holding onto past regrets. Acknowledging who you are right now, the hard things you’ve already been through, and giving yourself the credit for overcoming those obstacles, all goes towards building that resiliency muscle. And, finally the fifth step is reaching out for help when you need it, and building connection with others who are in similar situations, or have gone through similar experiences can be a way for you to begin to develop your resiliency story. Where you get the chance to support and encourage others who are going through the same thing. Never underestimate the power of human connection.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
So, the movement I’m working on creating is all about bringing sobriety, and the right to question your relationship with alcohol, out of church basements and into the mainstream. Where sobriety really becomes an act of radical self-acceptance, and where I get to challenge the stigma of questioning your use of alcohol. I feel it’s a conversation we’re not really having in the mainstream, the idea of women, alcohol use, sobriety, mental health and the pandemic. As a society we really saw women reach their breaking point during the pandemic as they tried to juggle everything (work, home, kids, education) and we sort of just stood around and watched as alcohol use slowly began to creep up. All those jokes, and memes and displays where alcohol was talked about as a “back to school supply” I mean all that stuff gets under your skin and wears you down and you get lost in it. I feel so many women are working hard on keeping it all together and using alcohol as a band-aid. I used to be one of those women. And, if you want to tie it back to resiliency, alcohol does not build your resiliency, it keeps you stuck, it makes you feel like stuff, it does things on a chemical level in your brain and body. It keeps you in victim mode and resiliency is the opposite of victim mode. Resiliency is like oh crap, something bad happened to me. I’m going to sit here, breathe, whatever I need to do, and I’m going to get up and figure out the next step. Being stuck in victim mode is really easy, if you’re sitting on your couch drinking a bottle of wine every night.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Without a doubt that would have to be Venus Williams. I’ve followed her career from afar and I’ve seen how she has continuously carried herself as a true champion. Living most of your life in the spotlight cannot be easy, but she is an absolute class act and she’s bounced back again and again.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m in the process of redesigning my website, so for now the best place to follow me is on IG @purpledogsober. I have a link in my bio there that can take you to my YouTube channel and my Medium articles if you’re looking for some bingeworthy content.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!