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Anatomy of a Survivor

Building Resilience, Grit, and Growth After Trauma

Foreword by Dave McGillivray
Published by Post Hill Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

Anatomy of a Survivor examines in inspiring detail how survivors used their inner strengths to build resilience, navigate through, and ultimately grow from traumas and major life challenges.

In 1990, after a sudden cardiac event, Joyce Mikal-Flynn was dead for twenty-two minutes. While CPR and determined doctors returned her to life, she came to find that this new life wasn’t her life at all. Faced with depression, personal and professional setbacks, she ultimately recognized that this was not an end point—but a beginning. Over time, she understood that taking control begins with the essential choice to move forward. Her struggles fueled her. You got this, she told herself with every obstacle, failure, and misstep.

Trauma and crisis are inescapable aspects of life. Framed, at times, as something to get over, trauma never fully leaves those who experience it. For over two decades, Dr. Mikal-Flynn has worked with and studied issues faced by survivors. She understands and recognizes their desire to move forward, identifying specific mindsets and behaviors that encourage progress. Making the choice to move forward, fierce determination, and well-researched actions are key for survival and growth.

Interlacing stories with research on genetics, posttraumatic growth, and the neuroscience of resilience and happiness, this book outlines how survivors of trauma structure a positive and productive response. An ingenious strengths-based rehabilitation system—metahabilitation—engages them by uncovering and developing their resilience, grit, and capacity for growth after trauma. This book shows you how survivors are built and presents a unique system guiding them forward.

Dr. Mikal-Flynn received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of San Francisco, a Nurse Practitioner Certificate from the University of California, Davis, and her Master’s of Science in Nursing at Sacramento State University, publishing the thesis: “A Phenomenological Investigation of Near-Death Event Survivors.” She completed her Doctor of Education with a dissertation entitled: “Transforming Life Crisis: Stories of Metahabilitation After Catastrophic Life Events.”

A marathoner and triathlete, in 1990 she survived a sudden-death event requiring twenty-two minutes of CPR to return to life. Already a nurse practitioner and dismayed at the focus of her recovery and what was presented in the aftermath of her trauma, her mind emphasized the negative, painting a bleak future. However, her master’s and doctoral research focused on posttraumatic growth (PTG) and she created a strength-based clinical pathway guiding survivors toward a productive recovery and PTG. Her first book was Turning Tragedy Into Triumph: Metahabilitation: A Contemporary Model of Rehabilitation, which profiled survivors and detailed a pathway toward PTG. Her work and research continue involving how trauma affects families and communities and recognizing how they experience PTG. A Professor at CSUS, she speaks nationally and internationally on trauma, focusing on resilience and PTG. With multiple publications, her work and research continue to provide strength and hope for those who suffer in the aftermath of trauma.

Anatomy of a Survivor will immediately inform my work with military veterans. Joyce and I met (by chance or fate) in 2015 and have become both friends and colleagues. I have leaned on her many times since, incorporating her insights on recovery and posttraumatic growth in my work with military veterans at the Sierra Club and elsewhere. This book clearly articulates that when faced with trauma, the scariest and biggest challenges in life are the unknowns but we can take control and use this as an opportunity to grow from the experience and return to a life with a greater sense of purpose and belonging. Expertly supported using peer-reviewed research, decades of client observations, and stories of trauma survivors, her descriptive writing style allows the reader to experience a survival journey that culminates in a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the metahabilitated survivor and posttraumatic growth. Anatomy of a Survivor should be a primary source for anyone working with trauma survivors and their families.” —Lt. Col. Aaron M. Leonard USA (Ret), Sierra Club Military Outdoors

“My working relationship with Dr. Mikal-Flynn began over five years ago, through a collaboration with University of California, Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her MetaHab course for clinicians was an eye opener and proved to be the catalyst for me personally as a former cancer researcher, cancer caregiver, cancer survivor and in my work in cancer support with the American Cancer Society.  Joyce is able to articulate the deep emotions and affects that trauma drags along with it. She understands through her own story, but better yet, she understands the ways in which the person feeling damaged can look at the scars in a different way, find meaning and gratitude, and access the illusive resilience that often feels just out of reach. While each of us feel our personal trauma solely; there are common tools that, when consistently used, can break us free to find our strength and grow healthier, steadier. It is my absolute pleasure to recommend, Anatomy of a Survivor to everyone who continues to find meaning and perseverance through trauma.” —Treasa McPherson, Cancer Control Strategic Partnerships Manager, American Cancer Society

“This book is essential for anyone working in trauma recovery. In partnership with other noted experts in the field, Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn weaves her own personal story of survival, and the inspiring stories of many others, with the latest neuroscience on post-traumatic growth. She explores the process of healing from trauma in a way that is non-prescriptive, yet still provides a meaningful, evidence-based roadmap to recovery. As a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, I will definitely be adding this to my resource list for both clients and professionals in order to help create a context of hope on their journey towards resilience and growth.” —Dr. Christine Lynn Norton, LCSW, CCTP, CCAT, CET, Professor, Texas State University, Founder: Foster Care Adventure Therapy Network

“Since Dr. Mikal-Flynn’s first book in 2012, Turning Tragedy Into Triumph, I’ve experienced two traumatic events: the sudden brain surgery for my wife and the cardiac arrest of my father as we sat across from each other eating lunch. My wife and father survived their life-altering events and were greatly aided by her book. With these experiences, I also felt like a survivor. In her latest book, Anatomy of a Survivor, Dr. Mikal-Flynn refers to people like me as vicarious and secondary trauma survivors. In simple terms and with the latest research, she explains not just how victims of trauma can survive and thrive from their experience but how family members and friends can too.” —Rich Hanna, Owner Capital Road Race Management, Sacramento Running Association Hall of Fame Member, Race Director Run to Feed the Hungry

“A leading expert on surviving adversity, challenges and troubling experiences Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn shows you how to use major traumatic events to survive, but more importantly, to thrive—changing your life and choosing the way you want it to be shaped through the experience. Her words aren’t just to ‘tell you’ but rather to show you how to effectively take on hardships and employ them as powerful growth experiences. This is the book for you to regain the inner belief and self-confidence needed to survive, adapt, and grow from adversity, challenges and trauma. She explains, in understandable terms, the natural abilities that support your capacity for resilience and growth after survival. Here’s your guidebook. After reading Anatomy of a Survivor, share the stories, what you learned, applying her ideas first to yourself and then to your loved ones.” —Sally Edwards, Author, Elite Athlete, Founder of FLEET FEET Sports, CEO, Owner: Hear Zones USA, Triathlon Hall of Fame

“Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn has turned a life experience into her passion and has changed how we as recreational therapists now approach tragic life experiences with our clients. She has captured the human experience and translated it to science so that we as health care professionals can improve the overall quality of life for individuals living with disabling conditions. As her former running partner and colleague at Sacramento State I am in constant awe of the impact Dr. Mikal-Flynn has had on students, faculty, and the health care profession. I am excited to include this as a required textbook for my graduate students.” —Jennifer Piatt PhD, CTRS, FDRT, Associate Professor, Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health

“When thinking about my own challenges and reading Anatomy of a Survivor, I was so impressed with how Dr. Joyce skillfully covered all the issues survivors and their families go through with tough, traumatic life events. She addressed the problems clearly and honestly, offering encouragement and great solutions regarding what brings people forward. The stories she provides are awesome, the advice, from my perspective, is perfect and she does it in such an easy to read manner. Thanks, Dr. Joyce, for giving us such an important book—so necessary at this time! —Damon West, Keynote Speaker, Professor of Criminal Justice, and Bestselling Coauthor of The Coffee Bean and The Change Agent

“With great courage and resilience, Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn triumphantly forged a path out of darkness and explains in compelling detail how she found opportunity in adversity. She shares her hard-earned lessons with grace and offers data and guidance to help others navigate their own path forward. Wherever you are on your personal journey and whatever challenges you may be facing, Dr. Mikal-Flynn offers insightful ideas and practical tools to progress mentally, emotionally,  and physically to achieve a life rich in purpose and meaning.” —Kitty O’Neal, News Anchor, Newsradio KFBK, Sacramento Northern California, iHeartMedia Markets Group

“Understandably, you probably spend a great deal of effort trying to avoid pain, struggle and trauma. It makes sense. Unfortunately, no matter your best efforts, you won’t be successful. Trauma and tragedy will strike. But it doesn’t have to define you. In fact, in her wonderfully readable and well-researched book, Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn explains how trauma can be your greatest teacher, leading you toward a life of purpose and meaning. Let this book be your companion as you discover how to turn your trauma into triumph.” —Joe Sikorra, Marriage and Family Therapist and Author of Defying Gravity

“Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn’s story of overcoming personal tragedy is riveting. But what makes her book, Anatomy of a Survivor, a must-read is how she takes the lessons she learned and turns them into deep and meaningful help for others who have faced similar trauma. ‘First and foremost,’ she writes, ‘this book emphasizes our strengths and capabilities for surviving trauma and mounting a positive productive response in the aftermath. You will learn and fully understand how to use your challenges and trauma to build resilience, grit, and growth.’ On that simple, yet profound promise, Dr. Mikal-Flynn fully delivers. I highly recommend this book.” —Bob Dunning, Daily Columnist, The Davis Enterprise, Host, The Bishop's Radio Hour