Change: be a supporter

A few weeks ago, I met one of my heroes. A week before, my hero was on TV, on the verge of ruining his life, and the lives of those around him because of his addiction to alcohol. But this isn’t about alcoholism – it’s about change.

I had to watch Jeremy Kyle. It’s not my normal viewing, but it featured one of my childhood heroes – footballer Kenny Sansom – being put through a celebrity intervention. After Jeremy had done his usual comforting/shouting/supporting/shouting routine, they brought round a car and told Kenny that his life was about to change and he was off to rehab. Everyone thought this was a brilliant idea – except for Kenny. We watched as he struggled, as he wept and as he refused, telling anyone who would listen that he didn’t need it, he wasn’t ready, he was getting better, he was controlling his habit. Kenny didn’t get in the car. But a few days later, with relentless support from the show’s psychotherapist, Kenny checked into rehab and had been in recovery for three months when the show aired. A week after watching, by total coincidence, I met Kenny in person – sober, funny, bright … and I hugged him as he told me then he had been ‘alcohol-free’ for 15 weeks.

Since then, I have been thinking a lot about that ‘get in the car’ moment. I have wondered what might have been going on for Kenny in that moment – facing that great opportunity alongside the fear that if he were to get in the car, life would change. The fear that if he gets in the car, all the things that he has relied on as coping mechanisms, for support or as a day to day ‘normal’, would have to change. And when you have relied on them for so long, that’s a very scary moment. When things go well, you have a drink. When things go wrong, you have a drink. What happens without that drink? You have to rely on something else. And you only have everyone else’s word that it will be “better”. So for sure that car is going to be a scary intervention, because if you get in things may never be the same again.

You see, it’s all about change. And it could be the same issues with any type of change. Changing your lifestyle. Changing an aspect of your life – at home or at work. Or, more worryingly, having something changed for you without any control, influence or involvement – someone organising the car and pushing you through the door.  And so I begin to wonder how we can help – at home or at work. How can we encourage someone to “get in the car”.

Recognise the past: There will be reasons for the choices made, why habits form or why behaviours are demonstrated, and although understanding those factors should be left to qualified psychotherapists, what should be recognised is that when a change happens, there is a loss. Something familiar and comfortable will end and be replaced by something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Recognise that, talk about it openly, embrace it, but don’t dismiss it – it might provide the platform for the discussion to move towards the future.

Walk in their shoes: In the words of the late, great Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” It’s important to understand their perspective, not to judge, and not to pass on your own personal and unsubstantiated view to others. It’s dangerous to assume that everyone should deal with things in the same way that you would. Instead, encourage diversity of thinking, allow them to be different and most importantly LISTEN to what they have to tell you about walking in their shoes.

Look forward: Starting to envisage how things might be can be a powerful process. Helping someone to consider what they want their life or their work to be like, and what they want their experience to look, feel and sound like, can really help them to commit to new habits or behaviours. Allow them to use their own language – don’t use yours or try to translate theirs into your own. Allow them to consider their future, rather than enforcing yours. Simply wanting it for Kenny was not enough for Kenny: he needed to want it for himself to make it happen.

Give it Time: The show’s counsellor didn’t give up and walk away from Kenny. He maintained regular contact, and he continued to address concerns, answer questions, and offer support and encouragement to help Kenny to make the right decision for himself, by himself. By continuing the conversation, the opportunity was left open, and ultimately it was taken. Patience is important – not everyone will react in the way that you expect them to, and certainly not in the same way as you do. Allowing space for someone to react and adjust in their own way will be key to encouraging them “into the car”.

Provide support: Kenny talks of the great support he had – and still has – from family and from the professionals and fellow addicts who he met whilst in rehab. But he also says he gets great comfort and motivation from the support of former clubs and team-mates, and from the fans, people he doesn’t know, Twitter followers etc.. Kenny’s preference seems to be to talk about his addiction and his recovery: he makes jokes about it, but at the same time he is seen sometimes being vulnerable about it. The lesson is to recognise the need for ongoing support – even after ‘rehab’ – and to respect the preference an individual has about how that support can most effectively be offered. Don’t switch it off at the point of a change, but ask what support is needed, and do what you can to provide it.

Change for the better can happen. Kenny is still sober, and living life a day at a time.

debbie and kenny

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