Camp Courage Reflections: Part I
written by: Misti Nicholson, PsyD
My favorite Mother’s Day gift is the ubiquitous “All About My Mom” fill-in-the-blank books that my kids make at school every year. It warms my heart that Liam thinks I’m a great dancer though, truth be told, I have no rhythm, and that Brodie thinks I cook the world’s best lasagna (don’t tell him that the secret to this yummy goodness lies in the freezer section of H-E-B). The tricky thing about these books though is that just as they begin to soothe your self-doubt and convince you that you are killin’ it in your role as a parent, the rug is pulled out from under you. Am I right, mothers of young children? Is it really necessary to include an age and weight section? No, precious child of mine, while I might look like I’m 78 years old after waking up 157 times every night to put you back in bed because you “heard a bird knock on [your] window,” I’m actually not that old. And true, my favorite skinny jeans may never fit the same again after welcoming you and all your greatness into the world, but you overestimated my weight by a mere 337 pounds, but…who’s counting? As cute as these books are, for the past couple of years they have struck the mom guilt cord with a not so subtle theme that I work a lot. To my kids’ credit though, their books are accurate. I really do love my job, and I feel very fortunate to be able to say that “working” truly is one of my favorite things to do.
Weekends like this past weekend are a great example of that and such a powerful reminder of why I do it. This weekend, Samantha Myhre, Mary Katherine Callaway, and I had the honor of walking alongside some genuinely incredible kids and teens as they faced their fears at Camp Courage and…it was magical. The backdrop of our majestic weekend was over 300 beautiful acres tucked quietly away in the Texas Hill Country under a serene canopy of trees.
Our weekend was packed with fun activities like zip lining, rock wall climbing, and hiking. As one of our campers so eloquently said in our closing ceremony today, everyone stepped outside of their comfort zone this weekend. For some stepping outside their comfort zone meant facing a fear of heights by climbing a tall structure positioned on the edge of a cliff and zip lining over a body of water while their peers cheered them on. For others, it was sleeping away from home for the first time, wearing a helmet directly after a sweaty fellow camper took it off, or resisting the urge to confess a perceived mistake. Still, others practiced tolerating the uncertainty that came from not having contact with family during a thunderstorm.
For me, stepping outside of my comfort zone meant being flexible in the face of an ever-changing schedule. Anyone who knows me well knows that I like to have a plan (and a back-up plan and just in case, a back-up, back-up plan). I wanted this weekend to be perfect for our campers, and I agonized over every detail. As Mary Katherine and Samantha will attest, at one point that involved a conversation about shower curtains, which was far from relevant to our goal of the weekend. Suffice it to say, there were few things about this weekend that went according to plan. The weather dictated our schedule. Technology failed us. Supplies didn’t get packed. However, in the midst of all of this, a beautiful story unfolded this weekend; a story about courage, trust, vulnerability, and acceptance.
I learned so much from our campers about enjoying the moment and embracing the story as it unfolds. As our weekend was coming to an end, I asked several campers about their favorite moment. Without hesitation, they all shared the same response, “There is no way I could choose a single favorite moment.” That rings true for me too, but one of my favorite moments was when a camper spontaneously approached Mary Katherine and me and said “This weekend made me actually love my life. I usually don’t because of all of my negative thoughts.” I followed up with him later in the morning about what he meant by that comment, and he said, “My favorite part of the weekend was being around people who helped me understand that something isn’t actually wrong with my brain.”
Our campers faced their fears and developed confidence in a way that will, without doubt, lead to lasting change; however, for me, some of the most magical moments occurred around a campfire eating s’mores with dust-covered hands, watching our campers realize that, despite the way most of them had felt up to this point, they aren’t alone. I lost count of how many times I heard, “Oh my gosh…my brain tells me that too.” Their anxiety shows up in different ways, but the content of the worry is always irrelevant. Our campers learned that we all experience similar intrusive thoughts and when we take a step back and treat those worries as guesses about what could happen rather than facts, by in which, warranting them the response they demand our worries become a lot less threatening and life becomes a lot more fun.
To all of our courageous campers and parents, thank you for the privilege of sharing this weekend with us. See you in October!