Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Year Maine Burned: Resilience

The summer of 1947 was one of the driest in Maine history. Water supplies dwindled, but the people of Maine did not worry. Rain always came in the fall. But by October, there had been little rain. The fires that devastated Maine in October of 1947 began on the 17th. Although in the first three days relatively small areas were burned, the blaze intensified. A number of fires were burning in different areas of the state. In the Bar Harbor-Acadia National Park area, 2,300 acres were burned on October 22nd. Bar Harbor residents not actively engaged in firefighting tried to find safety. At one point, all roads from the town were blocked by flames. People took refuge on the beach and then waded into the ocean to avoid being burned alive. Fishermen from nearby coastal communities began to evacuate the residents of Bar Harbor. Nearly 400 people left by sea.
To the south, things were no better. Parts of the towns of Biddeford, Saco and Scarborough were destroyed by the flames. Area fire departments finally decided to make a final stand against the flames at the top of a hill overlooking Kennebunkport. Through their efforts and a list-minute shift in the wind, the town was spared. Property damage was extensive throughout the state, exceeding $23 million. But thanks to the efforts of the fire crew and area residents, the loss of human life was minimal.
I am currently involved with a project, Maine Resilience, that is working with local fire departments, Scarborough being one of these, in developing public education seminars in resilience. The skills and the attitudes that we will be teaching are the same ones that were used by the firefighters and people of Maine who survived the worst series of wildfires the state had ever seen: teamwork, flexibility, effective communication and optimism, to name just a few. These are some of the skills and attitudes that build and maintain resilience, the ability to bounce back, to manage adversity.

To learn more about “The Year Maine Burned” go to To learn more about Maine Resilience and our training program, “Duct Tape Isn’t Enough,” go to

Monday, February 7, 2011

Resilience and Self-Regulation

To be in control of our lives, we must be in control of our bodies. To do this, we must be aware of what our body is doing. When we are stressed to the point where our nervous system is overwhelmed, our body becomes disregulated. Our blood pressure, instead of coming down as it should after the stressor has passed, stays up, as does our heart rate and respiration. We may continue to sweat, our pupils may remain dilated, and we still feel like eating nothing, since digestion remains stopped. The sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system, continues to be in control. Our muscles remain tight and we remain hypervigilant. To calm down, we must put the parasympathetic system back in control.
To do this, we must first of all be aware of our body enough to realize what is happening to us and what we need to do to calm ourselves. To ground ourselves again.
Our connection with others can help us to do this by helping us to normalize our experience. To realize that other people – indeed, all human beings – react this way when stress comes on too fast and there is too much of it. To realize that our nervous system has been overwhelmed and become deregulated and that we must regain control quickly if we are not to be traumatized.
As Genie Everett, Ph.D., RN, points out in her trauma first-aid program, stress does not equal trauma. We can learn to ground ourselves and to put the rational mind back in control, but we need to have learned how to do this long before the potentially traumatic stressors occur. We need to be aware enough of our bodies and our reaction to stress to realize what we can do to calm ourselves and ground ourselves, and we need to practice these calming responses before we need them so that they are put into muscle memory and are there for us when the car accident occurs, when the boss tells us we’re fired, when the terrorist attack occurs. One size does not fit all. For some of us, this may mean taking control of our breathing so that we slow it consciously and make it deeper. For some of us it may be rocking or shaking, or crying, or yawning, or focusing our mind’s eye on a color or a scene. Or putting our hands together or touching our heart. Whatever it is, we need to know it before we need it, and we need to have practiced using it. Resilience means that we need to be in control and that unless we are attempting to escape from the jaws of a saber-toothed tiger, it is usually better if our rational mind rather than our reptilian brain is in control.

40% Sale

This winter we will be devoting much of our attention to the development and expansion of the Maine Resilience Program. We will be offering few trainings this winter. Since the materials lend themselves well to self-study, we will be offering a 40% discount on the materials, a discount that we have offered in the past only to workshop participators.

40% Off All Training Materials

Be a Survivor, not a Victim.

When tragedy strikes your life, be a survivor, not a victim.

Don’t be a victim, build your resilience.

Reaching Home Reading and Discussion Group
Maine Department of Corrections
Probation and Parole
Winter 2010/2011

Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
Author, Duct Tape Isn’t Enough