Courage and Recovery

recovery Jan 10, 2011

When I talk about my recovery, people sometimes tell me I must have a lot of courage. However, if I am honest, I would have to say I never felt particularly courageous during my recovery. Mostly I felt determined, afraid and uncertain. I felt determined to get well, afraid I couldn’t do it and uncertain about how to get the life I wanted for myself. I was not a courageous hero. I was scared and vulnerable, but I continued (on most days) to put one foot in front of the other on the long walk of my recovery.

It seems to me that courage is an attribute we ascribe or assign to a person who remains determined in the face of fear, uncertainty and adversity. For instance, when we watch news footage of a pilot landing a plane safely in the icy Hudson River, we say the pilot is courageous. When we see a firefighter scaling a ladder to rescue a person from a burning building we say, “Isn’t she courageous”. But is courage really what the pilot or firefighter experiences? The pilot is in a cold sweat, hands trembling and fear gripping his throat as he lands the plane in the water. The firefighter climbs the ladder despite her trembling knees, pounding heart and uncertainty as to whether she will survive the ordeal. And that is my point: What outsiders call “courage”, is experienced as determined effort in the face of fear and uncertainty by the person living the experience.

On a practical level, this means we don’t need to feel like a hero with lots of “courage” in order to recover. If we are fearful and uncertain, if we sometimes doubt we can achieve our goals as expressed in our Power Statement, it’s okay. The pilot and the firefighter feel afraid and uncertain, too. What we really need to walk our journey of recovery is determined effort, despite the fear and uncertainty. We need to put one foot in front of the other, even if we are afraid. Over time, those trembling steps add up to the life we want for ourselves. The goals expressed in our Power Statements may seem far off and hard to reach. But our goals are the stars that guide us. They work like a beacon, calling us forward, past our fear, past our uncertainty and toward the life we want.