It’s only one of the reasons he’s driving with his wife to a charity event when he’d rather be doing something else.
I still haven’t spent a summer backpacking through the Rockies, living on trout from alpine ponds and whatever else I can scavenge.
I never got back to that manuscript I started in 1988 about a counter-intuitive approach to conducting psychotherapy with actively using alcoholics where the therapy is designed to orchestrate a failure because that is what the alcoholic needs to hit bottom (an Emily Dickenson “heavenly hurt”) and a therapeutic failure is better than the more naturally occurring failures where people lose body parts in table saw accidents or die in car crashes on the way home from the off track betting parlor.
And I’ve made a good start on the memoir detailing my recovery from LSD induced psychosis, a recovery that today seems even more improbable given the prevalence in my immediate and extended family of the gene for manic depression. In it I explain how ultimately liberating it is to accept the things that can’t be controlled.
To the uninitiated it seems a failure of character to not have control and certainly I experienced profound shame over the violation of the implicit covenant the gift of a sound mind imposed on me. Acceptance is what finally helped me to stop wanting to kill myself, but ever since then I feel like I’m running out of time—which accounts for my peevishness about attending yet another charity event while my life’s work lays dormant in the document files on my computer.
That I just spent the last three hours watching the Stanley Cup playoffs and the five hours before that playing golf is irrelevant. To maintain some semblance of balance I can’t spend all my time pondering the great existential mysteries. What kind of example to my patients would I be if I didn’t enjoy my life?
It’s like when people ask me about child rearing. For some reason people assume that just because I’m a psychologist, I’m an expert on child rearing. A better person would admit they had no idea but I can never resist the opportunity to expound on something. Sounding right is almost as much fun as being right and a good deal less work. My wife claims my epistemology could be summed up by the notion that the truth is whatever seems plausible to me at the moment.
Anyway, when asked about child rearing, I always say I think it’s a good idea to raise children so they look forward to becoming adults. When I was a kid adulthood looked pretty unappealing, what with my mother hurling the top tray of the dishwasher across the kitchen and my father hunkering down with a dime-store Western in his striped upholstered chair for the siege that was my mother’s temper. I wanted to be an adult not because it looked enjoyable, but because I was pretty sure I could do better if I got a crack at it.
Everybody in psychology is always focusing on childhood, but in a normal life span it’s relatively short. Real important but short! To raise children so they look forward to becoming adults legitimizes a whole host of indulgences like golf and watching sports on TV when a better father might be doing something meaningful with his children.
The problem with shame is once you’ve learned it, it’s pretty hard to shake. It’s like a weed growing in your over-watered garden. The truth is I’m rarely a hundred percent sure I’m doing the right thing, especially if I am doing what I want. This is one of the reasons I’m driving to this charity event even though I’d rather be backpacking in the Rockies and fly fishing for trout. The other thing is it’s a good cause, I love my wife, and I’m trying hard not to be like my parents.