It’s The One’s We Reach

By Mark E. Smith

No reputable drug and alcohol recovery program will publish its success rate, namely because industry wide, success rates are disturbingly low – in the 5% range. That is, approximately 95% of in-patients eventually relapse.

With such a low success rate, one might conclude that recovery programs don’t work. But, they do – for those who make an effort to change their own lives. Recovery programs are a tool for those who are dedicated to the process, where people who help themselves will succeed, and those who continue poor behaviors, fail.

One has to admire recovery counselors. I mean, imagine investing your heart and soul in striving to help many, where 95% of your efforts fail. At what point do you simply give up, noting that if people won’t help themselves, why should you strive to help them?

The answer is simple – if you can positively change the lives of only 5% of those you interact with, that’s a profound impact on others. However, accepting the realization that 95% of your efforts won’t succeed takes some understanding, the understanding that you can’t help everyone, but you can make an admirable attempt and help some. Your true success is in your making the effort, regardless of the outcome.

Most of us have friends, acquaintances, and family members who are living troubled lives on some level, where a simple change in behavior could dramatically improve their lives. And, when we’re at our best, we step in, striving to offer words of wisdom and encouragement. No, we don’t preach or lecture, but simply share that life doesn’t have to be so hard.

I had the privilege of sitting down with a young woman in her 20s, whose life is a mess – severe abandonment issues from a troubled family, engaging in promiscuity, alcoholic, and an overall emotional train wreck. But, as I explained to her, none of it has to be. By investing in herself, as with entering counseling and truly putting effort into addressing the negatives in her life, she could see real changes in real time.

I asked her if anyone had ever had such a conversation with her, and she said, no. And, I explained to her that I’ve overcome challenges in my own life, many with the help of others, and I’d be willing to assist in her getting her life on track if she felt that I could help in some way.

Unfortunately, not only didn’t she take me up on my offer to support her move toward positive efforts, but her life continues escalating in very troubling directions. She has every capacity to change – with effort, of course – but no seeming will to do so. In all fairness, though, when all one’s ever known is dysfunctional behavior, getting off of that path takes a monumental shift in mindset, often with a Herculean effort behind it. Yet, it is possible – and vital if one’s going to redirect one’s life.

In my several-hour conversation with her, I believe that she was extremely candid with me, but has no wish to get out of the rough waters she’s in – it’s the behavior she knows, her strikingly uncomfortable “comfort zone,” and she’s not changing it. So, considering her outlook, did I waste my time in reaching out to her?

Not at all. Again, when we strive to help others, our success is in the effort, not the outcome. We can be voices of reason and make sincere attempts to connect with others, but if they’re not receptive or willing to help themselves, at least we made the attempt.

In the disability realm, this subject constantly comes up, where family members ask, How can I help my loved one not be defeated by disability?

The fact is, some are defeated by disability, giving up on life, where their families want to help. Still, the process goes back to the adage that you can only help one who wishes to help oneself. You can offer all of the support in the world, but if one refuses change, there’s nothing you can do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make an attempt to help, but don’t feel like you’ve failed if the individual doesn’t respond. You can wish with all your might that your loved one with a disability gets his or her life on track; however, if he or she refuses to take the lead in the process, you should have a clear conscience, where your effort was commendable regardless of the outcome. If you want to enroll in community college, we’ll gladly pay the tuition. However, if you chose to spend the rest of your life uneducated, unemployed, and living in public housing, with a victim mentality toward your disability, we’ll be greatly disappointed, but your failure won’t be our responsibility in any way. …It’s this matter-of-fact approach that families must take.

Of course, reaching out to others is a risk, where the outcome most often isn’t what we wish – few people are willing to leave their comfort zones (again, as inherently dysfunctional as their “comfort zones” can be), and move their lives in healthier directions. And, for those of us who have striven to face challenges, and see the amazing potential in each individual’s life, it can be heart wrenching when we reach out to others in support, only to have them reject their own potentials. There’s a sense of loss when we know someone who could transform his or her life in a seeming instant – and is presented with the opportunity! – but he or she chooses to stay on a bleak course.

Still, we must recognize the 5% rule, that even if 95% of our efforts inspire no change in others, our consistent efforts to put ourselves on the line by reaching out to others will impact someone, somewhere, sometime – and that’s where the value resides in our efforts. Let us strive to reach out to everyone, don’t be discouraged when our efforts aren’t valued by others, and let us feel privileged to witness the positive changes and growth in the 5% of of sincere individuals bettering themselves.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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