Men: Consider Changing the Course of Your Life

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By UB therapist Bob Ryan, LCPC, ATR

Why do I volunteer as a Victories staff person?

Twenty-one years ago a good friend of mine, my therapist at the time, suggested I take a chance on making a change in my life. I was less than fulfilled in my career and was ready for something, but I didn’t know what. His suggestion was that I participate in a Victories weekend. Referred to as the Breakthrough Weekend, staffed and run totally by volunteers, it was to be an engaging undertaking with 18 other men sharing their stories and I sharing mine. I was skeptical but open for something new. In the 20 plus years since that time I have returned several times as a lay volunteer and now as a professional therapist. In all that time I have witnessed the incredible transformative power these weekends have on men’s lives.

As a group, we volunteers sign up for a weekend away from our families in order to witness and be part of the incredible changes men are capable of making. We learn how to connect without the sports talk, the posturing, and the competitiveness of everyday life, and in the process we learn more about ourselves. We watch as they begin to share with others who they are, what they dream or hope to be. We witness the gradual shift within men from closed and suspicious, through cautious acceptance, to full engagement.

Who comes to Victories? 

Men of all stripes sign up for weekends: those actively seeking more from their lives who come willingly, those with traumatic pasts that need a new model for coping, and those for whom this is a last chance to save a marriage or break a cycle of failed relationships. Whatever their reason, each man brings himself and what he has not been able to share with the world. Slowly, through trust and by example from both staff and other participants, an opportunity to grow or unburden oneself is presented and when each man feels he is ready he shares only what he wants. Often it will be the man most resistant to the process that makes the biggest gain. And it is often this man who will raise his hand to volunteer to help guide other men down the path to openness and acceptance that he has just traveled.

What is a Victories weekend like?

A weekend is a bit like that time in high school, maybe college, when all the stars aligned and you sat for an hour, maybe more, having a heart to heart talk with a friend. Together you shared the pain or heartache of losing a lover, a friend or the big game. Or maybe you were that super-successful student that all the square pegs loved to hate and in your persona as the king of the prom you found yourself alone at the top. No one understood you. If you’re like most men, you might think back and wonder if those kinds of talks ever happen in the adult world, or you find yourself fearing ever having to have that talk with another person ever again.

Victories has the ability to open the heavens once more, to align the stars and enable you to feel heard, listened to and understood. Just as you will hear, listen to, and understand a group of men that will forever change who you are. In all truth the entire “magic” of a Victories weekend is contained in the previous two sentences. The power of encountering other men on a level deeper than “sports talk” is a far more impactful teaching tool than sitting in a therapist’s office one hour a week.

How does Victories accomplish change in men’s lives?

As a psychotherapist I make my living having individuals sit in my office one hour a week and talk. It can be time very well spent. However, I am also an art therapist and as such I am trained in knowing the value experience has over talk. The Victories program is build on an experiential model. Through common shared involvement each man comes to see how any man’s story can and could be everyman’s story.

On every weekend I’ve staffed I’ve watched as a man, who has been isolating himself from the group and not connecting, sits up and pays rapt attention as another man speaks to exactly to what he has been living. It is in this way that participants become a unit, a whole, and the telling of one’s own story becomes easier when accomplished in the safety of the unit.

The successful and the not-so successful come together in one room and begin to understand what it is to be part of something bigger then oneself. In telling their stories men take chances and make changes. They allow each other to forgive themselves for their failures, for their insulting behaviors and learn how to let go of the hurts others have placed on them.

The purpose of Victories is helping men become more authentic, more empathic, and lead more satisfying and optimistic lives. Learning that what it means to be a man is to be able to build strong relationships, communicate needs and wants and in so doing be able to make a small part of the world more forgiving and more compassionate. At Victories we are convinced that true manhood lies in recognizing that there are times when these behaviors can enrich our lives and our relationships. This is something we help other men discover through weekend and group programs where they can explore being more authentic men.

Find out more about the Victories’ programs and weekends from your Urban Balance therapist or visit their website.