He’s tied up in knots physically and figuratively. His stomach and teeth are clenched. He’s sitting cross legged, his arms are folded tightly across his chest, and his eyes appear ready to leave their sockets. He’s both pleading and demanding, “I can’t live like this anymore!”
These are words I love to hear. I meet his frantic gaze and ask, “What are you willing to do?” Predictably he begins to list everything he’s NOT willing to do. “Don’t talk to me about AA. It doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to hear about other people’s problems. I just want to get better without having to go join a cult or go through a whole bunch of shit.” He appears to be having an aneurism, but that’s all he has to say about that.
Sure sign that you’re talking to an addict or alcoholic: When you ask what it is, they tell you what it’s not. He has a serious problem. I tried to send him to the experts. He’s scared and so staying in the problem is far more comfortable than getting into the solution.
I explain, “Ok, that’s what you’re not willing to do. Now tell me what you are willing to do.”
He rolls his eyes at me. “I’ll… take meds… I’ll go to therapy… I’ll…join a gym!” Fantastic. “Then you’ll be professionally medicated and not just self medicating. You’re already in therapy, you just don’t like looking at your own truth. You can join a gym and potentially have a great physique but you’ll still be miserable.” He groans loudly. “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
I refuse this question every time. We always know what we’re supposed to do because it’s based on what other people or society’s expectations and definitions of success are. “Screw what you’re supposed to do and even what you want to do. I’m asking what do you need and what are you willing to do to get it?”
The two things I’m most likely to hear from an addict: “I don’t know!” and “I know, I know, I know! He chooses the former. I remind him that at some point, not knowing is a choice.
Would you be willing to stop drinking? “I just can’t see going forever without drinking.” Okay, not forever. How about a month? “What will that accomplish?” It will give your body a chance to detox itself. Your liver could use a month of no booze. He shrugs and explains that it’s not that bad. I remind him that at the start of our session his life was intolerable and as we look at each option he is steadily declaring himself to be okay. Minimizing is easy.
I try one more time, “Well, 30 days sober will give you far greater clarity, far less depression and make a lot of things better.” He shrugs.
The problem with better is that it’s undervalued. People don’t want better. They want All Better and ideally, they’d like it yesterday. We who have f@cked our lives up for decades still want instantaneous relief.
He reverts to self pity, “I just want to be happy.”
Oh, is that all? Ok. What do you need to be happy? “I don’t know.”
Alright, maybe a big part of happiness is knowing what you don’t want and knowing what doesn’t work. Does alcohol make you happy? Do you enjoy the company you keep? What’s the last investment you made in yourself?
“You ask a lot of tough questions.”
Yes, yes I do. I invite you to become an active participant in your own life and answer them. Happiness is not so much an emotion as it is a choice. You choose to cope with your emotions and unsatisfying life by ingesting copious amounts of toxins into your body in the form of a known depressant (alcohol) and you wonder why you’re depressed.
You can continue to pay me in your quest for answers that do not exist, or you can face your fears and make some tough choices. There is no softer, gentler way. Getting sober sucks. It’s scary and it hurts and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. It’s also the only way out of hell and into a better life.
He keeps making appointments. He knows he’s an alcoholic. Knowledge creates responsibility – you can’t unknow something. I know he will hit a new low and at each juncture I’ll check his willingness.
There is only one real answer to the question, “What are you willing to do?” It’s three words beautiful words, “Whatever. It. Takes.”