“I help them to see they can have a dream…”
Stephania Ward is a recovery and mentorship rock star. As our Women’s Program Mentor, she meets with each of the students once a week and goes over their goals with them.
“It’s such an amazing thing,” Stephania says, because almost everyone comes in to the Big Fish Ministries (BFM) program “broken and hopeless with no dreams or anything. I help them to see they can have a dream and they can achieve the things that they never thought they could before.”
Some of those goals and dreams are things that most of us would take for granted: attaining a GED, getting a driver’s license, obtaining a replacement social security card, and establishing visitation with their children.
When asked about why so many students enter BFM with no dreams or goals, she says, “Because they don’t have any hope. They’ve lived this lifestyle of addiction for so long, and a lot of them believe that they don’t deserve to have better. They don’t think they’ll ever be anything other than what they’ve always been. They’ve been labeled — most of them, their whole lives. Helping them to realize that there is hope outside of that… that’s the beautiful thing.”
Being in recovery herself, Stephania remembers when she came into her program and they asked her, “Who are you?”, she had no idea. In the same way, she says, most of the women don’t know who they are.
“Oh, I really can do this…”
To begin finding their dreams and goals, Stephania partners with the students to look for little things they can accomplish. She says, “Once you get some wins under your belt, you begin to think, ‘Oh, I really can do this.'”
Also very helpful, she professes, is the ladies’ weekly Celebrate Recovery (CR) small group. By graduation, most of them have gone through its curriculum at least once. The principles are very helpful, she says: denial, acceptance and learning to make amends.
“Amends is a huge thing and we walk alongside them very closely when they’re doing their moral inventory. Because looking back over your past, accepting personal responsibility for your mistakes, and not putting the blame on other people is one of the biggest things that helps during recovery.”
She admits that the healing process can get really intense. “It’s never a goal of mine to make them cry, but it is a goal of mine for them to really look at themselves, to accept their mistakes and find healing from that.”
When it comes to healing, Stephania believes that forgiving yourself is huge. “There’s nothing you can do to go back and change what you did, but what you can do is start today and make a difference. You can be different.”
“They show people that change is possible…”
Stephania mentions that she encourages her students to set new examples for your family members — even when it takes a long time for family members to believe that they’ve changed. Families need time to set boundaries, express their past hurts, and rebuild.
Ultimately, though, Stephania believes that the most important lesson former addicts can teach society is that change is possible.
“A lot of people have no idea what being in addiction is like,” she says. “They say, ‘Why can’t you just quit? Why can’t you just stop destroying your life and the lives of those around you?’ But it’s not that easy. Addiction is really the symptom of a deeper problem. There’s something going on inside that person.” For example, criminal behavior may be rooted in rejection or self-hatred. Yet when these women graduate… “They show people that change is possible. We can become trustworthy. We are honest.”
One of Stephania’s core verses is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” — Ephesians 4:28
“I was a thief and I was a liar,” Stephania remembers. “Now, it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to work hard with my hands so I can give back to those in need. Teaching these women to do that — gives them a light and a purpose.”