“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” – Lewis Carroll

pexels-photo-250167Yesterday, I spent 12 hours sitting in my therapy office as I worked with clients who brought with them, a collective steamer trunk of challenges, trauma history, pain, triumphs to celebrate, healing stories, insights, and wisdom. Thank goodness for those last few items, since if all I saw were the first, I’m not sure how I could have continued my career for the 38 years I have logged. If calculated in dog years, that would equal 342 turns of the calendar pages.

Truth be told, sometimes it does feel that way. One of them who was working her way through a familiar pattern of self-deprecation had an aha moment as she became aware of the ways in which she follows roads that are not in her best interest to traverse. Still, they are familiar, so down them she goes.

This young woman is an insightful and gifted writer, although she has not pursued that career path. I have been encouraging her to begin gathering her words in a structured way and get them out there in the world. She peeks out from behind the well-rehearsed internal litany that hammers her with the fear that no one will like what she writes. I assure her that many will benefit from them.

In our session, she speaks of spotting on the street the vehicle of someone from her past whose memory triggers sadness and reminds her of her loss. We sit in silence for a moment to let her feelings rise to the surface with her tears. Then she says something profound. “I need to resurface the road since the one I am on has potholes in it.”

We laugh at the image of her riding over and over in slow motion those same bumps and falling into the fissures in the street. We imagine clearing the rock and rubble and pouring tar on the new road. She knows she needs to avoid driving on it until it dries since if she attempts to do so, she will get stuck in the muck. That too is familiar. Rushing to find a solution is her modus operandi. Patience with herself is not one of her virtues. A learned skill for her. A work in progress.

We muse about the classic definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” I remind her of another reference shared with me a few years ago, by a recovering heroin addict. He wisely offered his own explanation that he knew exactly what was going to happen and did it anyway. She laughs and says she can relate.

Psychotherapy Stories

Creating New References

Working in the recovery field has brought into my life, wisdom from those who have found themselves caught in the swirling whirlpool of addiction. In conversation with someone who was attempting to free himself from the bottle, he shared his dilemma.

I asked him what meaning beer (his drug of choice) held. He smiled ruefully as he said, “I go camping with friends and there’s beer. I help friends move and there’s pizza and beer. I go to a game and there’s beer. At the end of a long work week, there’s beer. I go out with friends…” You get the picture. We needed to reframe the role of this compelling liquid made of barley, hops, yeast and water.

He found himself rewriting the script that told him that it had to be such an integral part of his life. Could he create new associations for the activities he enjoyed? Was it possible for him to socialize sober? In the time we worked together, he happily reported that he could do so.

My female client can relate to that reference, since she too needs to reframe her own beliefs about the man behind the wheel of the truck, who showed up once again last week, as well as the other habitual and self-limiting behaviors that ensue.

I offered her the wisdom of this iconic poem that is part of the recovery path.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Copyright (c) 1993, by Portia Nelson from the book There’s A Hole in My Sidewalk. Reproduced with kind permission from Beyond Words Publishing, Hillsboro, Oregon.