The Courage To Change
By Dave Ketter
This summer, while on vacation at a lake in Wisconsin, my lovely young niece had her first successful water-skiing
experience. It was very thrilling for all of us spectators, like having your favorite football player score
the winning touchdown. Last year she tried several times to “get up” on the skis but never made it. It was
pretty discouraging, so this year she was tentative and unsure about whether or not she would succeed. She
had to call upon considerable resources of courage and resolve to succeed, and succeed she did. On her
first attempt this year.
This incident reminded me of one of the things that makes our work at
Valley Hope so rewarding.
requires not just acts of courage, but repeated acts of courage. As staff members we are
ongoing witnesses to our patient’s bravery as they confront their addictions.
Seeking alcoholism treatment, or, however reluctantly, agreeing to
go to treatment
in the first place is very often an
act of courage. Is no easy thing to acknowledge powerlessness or an inability to manage our own life. Just about
nobody likes the idea of putting oneself in the hands of others.
Early on in alcoholism treatment patients are, in
asked to “Make a decision…” This decision-making is rather
different from acts of bravery that occur on impulse in response to some crisis situation. People who are brave on
impulse frequently do not feel heroic because they had acted on impulse, without taking the time to think through
a decision. Step 3 is a very thoughtful and deliberate decision to surrender one’s will, a step that is very
frightening for most of us.
Presenting a patient hour talk is a rather unnatural act for many. I read once that speaking in public is the
number one fear that people reported in a survey about scary things. More than one shy
patient has left treatment on the day before their patient hour in order to avoid taking the risk of speaking about
themselves in front of others. Many more, though, have found the strength to give their patient hour talk
with dry mouths, wet hands and shaky knees. As they say, “courage is fear that has said it’s prayers”.
I was particularly touched by the courage and integrity of a woman in a lecture recently as she related how her
teen-aged children rolled their eyes with skepticism when she told them she was returning to alcoholism treatment
after a relapse subsequent to her first treatment experience. They told her to “have a good time” or something along
those sarcastic lines. Her willingness to confront the pain and shame of this rejection by her children as well
as her setting aside her ego to share this with the lecture group was very moving.
It is not a stretch to consider this woman’s action as “bravery in the face of enemy fire”. She did not get a medal
or recognition from a general or a political leader, but in my mind she was as deserving of such recognition as
any soldier. Many a soldier has observed that their post-war battles in the heart are much more frightening and
difficult to face than were the battles in combat.
Fear is a natural enough response when we face the unknown and when we try something new. With patients at Valley
Hope this something new can be telling the truth, facing one’s disappointments, getting through the day without
alcohol or drugs, sharing personal experiences with others or taking a searching moral inventory.
Like water skiing, recovery and alcoholism treatment are not easy and it is the rare individual
that succeeds with a single try. While some patients refuse to even strap on the recovery skis or don the life-vest,
most will suit up, jump into the water
and grab onto the rope. First efforts usually end up with folks being pulled over on their face or twisted around
to the side or getting partially up only to tumble off in awkward ways that leave their swimsuits in places where
you wouldn’t expect them to fit. It is after such failures that each of us is called upon to decide whether to give
up or to find the courage to proceed in our endeavor.
Today at Valley Hope facilities
some 600 patients and their loved ones are facing their hurts and fears and
disappointments and losses in their journey to recovery. The courage displayed on these journeys is an inspiration
to those of us who work at Valley Hope, making each day a celebration as we witness people going to sometimes
great risk to do the next right thing.
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