Courage: Recovery Skill #2

  • I've decided to focus on the seven skills that will aid in recovery, jumping off from resilience. Here now I'll talk about courage. The others are patience, a self-reliant nature, adaptability, persistence, and a sense of being invested in your recovery.

    Courage isn't easy to come by. That's partly because stigma is alive and well. You wouldn't want to accept you have SZ if you fear others will stereotype you. The diagnosis conjures up total disability as well. Try as I might, what I do to educate others won't always open minds. So this is something we face: the tendency to internalize the stigma.

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    Courage is not the same as being fearless. It's accepting that you have fears, needs, feelings and beliefs surrounding your illness. You can be quaking in your boots and still take action. Day-by-day the action you take cures your fear. Susan Jeffers, who wrote Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, suggests that every day people give speeches, presentations at work-do the things they fear-and after repeated attempts, survive.


    Courage is possibly the hardest skill to master. It could be easier to self-medicate with street drugs, fall into feel-good relationships that aren't healthy, or otherwise resist looking the truth squarely in the eye. Recovery is for the long-term and short-term "solutions" won't make the SZ go away.

    How did I come by the courage to be honest and open and live an authentic life? My drug holiday failed, a friendship crumbled, and I realized the "normalcy" I had spent so much energy to maintain was an illusion. I was lucky it took only one relapse for me to get the message. How can you get to the point where you can be alone with your feelings and not run away or bury them or deny them? Taking the SZ meds balances out your moods so that you're not trampled on by your feelings. There's a mood component to the SZ. Attending a mood disorders support group could help, or individual one-on-one therapy sessions.

    Another thing is to be in weekly contact with friends, even if that's on the telephone.

    Years ago I developed a tool to help me see things clearly and have the courage to take a risk or do something new. I call it the "emotional undercurrent/reality check" balance sheet. On a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle. On the left, list each feeling or belief you have surrounding an action to take; on the right, write down the facts. It is a way of reconciling how you feel with what is actually going on.

    I used this tool four years ago to motivate myself to join a gym. I wrote down such things as "I'm out of shape" and "It's been so long since I exercised," and countered that with "Throughout my life, I've consistently engaged in some kind of physical activity" and "I can start slowly and work my way up." A week later I went to the gym and signed up.

    Like I said, sometimes when life hands you a challenge, you have no option but to be courageous. It's hard to walk on when the temptation is to do things the same way you've done them and expect a different result. That's why adaptability is one of the skills I'll talk about. Sometimes, you will have to stand alone, or it will seem like you're alone in what you're going through. This is where doing things that reinforce self-mastery can give you confidence, like singing in a choir if you love to sing, or baking, or whatever you do that emanates from a life force.

  • It isn't easy, and I know that. In the early years of your recovery, you will be focusing day-by-day on getting well. The concept of woodshedding, where a jazz musician goes off alone to practice his music before performing in public, has been applied to recovery from a mental illness. At times you will focus all your energy on getting out of bed. The next day you will take a shower. The day after that you will walk across the street to a store.

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    Every simple act you take requires courage, and it's my belief there should be some kind of recognition given to everyone who begins the journey of recovery. Would it help to tell you that when I was young I rarely took showers and wore garish theater makeup and dressed in weird clothes? So one goal I had early on was to take showers. That was the only thing I focused on, until I was able to that, and then I moved on to another goal.

    The pace could seem slow, and that is why patience is a skill as well.

    For some of us, having faith in God or a higher power helps. Accepting that I was powerless over the SZ was my first step in admitting I had a problem that wouldn't go away on its own. "Twelve step" type of guidelines could help anyone, not just those recovering from alcohol or drug abuse.

    The next recovery skill I'll talk about will be adaptability.

Published On: February 04, 2009