Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs

Michaela Hass

Most of us have heard of post-traumatic stress, but few of us are aware that there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth. Survivors and experts have increasingly begun to explore how we can use both the experience of descent and the lessons we learn after trauma to provide not only greater good in our own lives, but in the larger world. 

Highlighting strategies that trauma survivors have used to benefit from pain and adversity, Malibu-based author Michaela Hass shows in her latest book, “Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs,” how those who have experienced severe loss, illness or violence not only rose to those challenges, but emerged stronger, more spiritual and wiser. 

Hass revealed that as many as 90 percent of survivors report at least one aspect of post-traumatic growth, such as a renewed appreciation for life or a deeper connection to their heart’s purpose.

She opens readers’ eyes to surprising possibilities and offers perspectives on pain and a renewed sense of optimism. According to Hass, a resilient mindset not only fortifies us in challenging times, but also keeps us afloat in our everyday lives. Ideally, Hass says, if we cultivate resilience while the proverbial waters are smooth, it can save us when the seas get rough.

This book isn’t just for people who have experienced great trauma. Hass’ aim is to also help people going through divorce, job loss or bereavement, which can be devastating for those experiencing it.

The people Hass interviewed in her book include one of the last interviews with the late Dr. Maya Angelou, as well as Temple Grandin, Jazz legend Coco Schumann (who played for his life in Auschwitz) and Malibu’s paraplegic surfer Jesse Billauer.

While Hass was looking for trauma survivors to interview for her book, she read about Billauer in The Malibu Times. 

In 1996 at 17 years old, Billauer was surfing on Zuma Beach at sunrise with friends. The crest of a wave hit Billauer in the back and smashed him headfirst into a shallow sandbar.

Hass explained, “I was so impressed with Jesse. When such an accident happens at 17, people think their life is over. There was nothing Jesse could do to change his physical handicap but there’s so much he does with it. He has a gorgeous wife and they are trying for a baby. He still surfs and skates.”

Billauer advises anyone going through a difficult time, “Volunteer for people who are less fortunate than you. There is always someone who has something worse than you.”

German-born Hass has lived in Malibu for 10 years with her wife, Gayle, and their two dogs. Hass applied her experience as a journalist to research for the book.

While 30 percent of people are naturally resilient, as a practicing Buddhist herself, she says, wasn’t surprised to find that mindfulness meditation is also recommended for dealing with trauma. Even soldiers are being taught to meditate.

Hass learned at an army boot camp that the army has changed its rhetoric from soldiers being invincible to accepting that soldiers can only heal emotionally when they acknowledge pain and express it to at least one other person, which applies to everyone. 

“In the army, it’s no longer the invincible Rambo hero,” Hass shared. “It’s OK to say I am afraid and I am depressed. Now soldiers are meditating in boot camp. That surprised me the most while writing the book — to witness mindfulness and compassion being taught in the army.”

Hass also discovered that sometimes it’s the least resilient people who grow the most. There’s a great message of hope in the book, that even if you’re not genetically resilient and didn’t grow up with the best parenting, there are things you can do to grow from a setback. 

“Everyone I spoke to thought their life was over, that they could never be happy again but there are things we can do,” Hass said. “It depends on our mindset. If we think it’s the end of the world, it will be the end of the world. It’s been proven that if we believe we can create a new life after trauma, we can.”

“Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs” by Hass will be released Oct. 13, 2015 by Atria Books. For more information, visit