My counselor fought through my subterfuge and attempted sabotage to help me. The biggest hurdle to clear in my recovery was me.
Help me… help you. Help me, help you. — Jerry Maguire
The farther I travel from alcoholic darkness, the clearer I see the detrimental role I played in my recovery. Desperate and pleading for help, I fought against accepting it.
“I’m drowning! Throw me a life preserver, so I can throw it back and ask for a different color.”
If I could gather the multitude of professionals who tried to save me, I would bend a knee and apologize for making their jobs impossible.
I was awful, but learned, and a better person has emerged.
Authors note: I share my own experiences, and what helped me go from chronic alcoholic with untreated trauma, to a person in solid recovery. The counselor I refer to is Jennifer. I first met her 6 months before my last hospital stay. We worked together for more than a year after my release.
I’ll share some cringe-worthy lowlights of how I tried to get nothing from counseling, what I learned, and what it taught me about relationships.
. . .
It’s a relationship, and it takes 2
I was terrible at relationships my entire life. At least those requiring trust, honesty, commitment, and accountability. Just those.
That public admission makes me queasy, but this is a confessional, cautionary tale.
A healthy clinician-client relationship develops in time, and my eventual counseling relationship was life-altering once becoming an active participant.
Patience, expectations, honesty, ego, baggage, and respect were personal short-comings I needed to address.
Do bad professionals exist? Of course, but a vast majority care and want to help. By being a good client, open-minded and willing, we give them a fighting chance. It is worth a try.
I went a different way.
. . .
Hi, I’m Dave, and these are my expectations, All and Nothing
There was no middle ground for my expectations. Either she could fix everything or nothing.
I was sick, delusional, and needed immediate relief from long-term pain. Broken and hurting, I was desperate for escape. Vodka once did this, and I was an addict searching for instant gratification, a non-existent oasis in recovery.
My all-or-nothing attitude was in direct conflict with what I needed: Long-term relief.
She wasn’t a Genie I’d summoned by rubbing an empty liquor bottle.
Counseling provides an opportunity for life altering healing and growth, but requires time and effort. My time and effort being the key element.
Her magic became clear later, after intensive work together, but it was magic just the same.
I found a purposeful work ethic, dropped expectations, and celebrated signs of progress when noticed, motivated to dig deeper and learn more.
Effort without expectation.
. . .
What’s in the bags? Just years of resentment and shame.
Before meeting Jennifer, I talked to dozens of counselors, nurses, doctors, and other professionals over 15 years without experiencing meaningful success.
This fortified the false belief I was beyond help. I didn’t recognize the common denominator in my failed relationships, thus hauling a perceived victimhood behind me.
I was my perpetrator and victim.
To drop a lifetime of baggage at her feet, with a pouty prove me wrong attitude, wasn’t fair.
I wasted hours seeking red flags to validate my belief in the expected hopelessness of it all. She wasted hours trying to find me through an entire cargo hold of tattered suitcases stacked between us.
Why not hope for a positive outcome, when improving our mental health is a something worth fighting for?
She had the fortitude to work through it, and I remain grateful.
I try not to bring negative experiences into new relationships today, regardless of how benign or important they may be.
. . .
Do you mind if I tell you how brilliant I am?
I was the worst kind of annoying.
With enough lingo and dime-store self-help to be dangerous, and believing in my terminal uniqueness, I had all the answers.
I was a bloviating fool, lecturing her on why nothing worked before. I heard zero over the nauseating sound of my baseless bullshit.
She was a professional practitioner, but the hopeless drunk and chronic relapse king, unable to make the day without doing a face plant, knew best.
What a peach.
Humility arrived with paramedics, emergency care, and a lengthy hospital stay.
When she still believed in me once discharged, I waved the white flag and listened. Few believers remained.
Today, I try not to ask for help unless I’m willing to listen.
. . .
BTW, I’m a compulsive liar, so please, ask me anything
Dishonesty is a real relationship killer. Shocking, I know.
My truth allergy destroyed most of my important relationships. It shames me, but I better understand why today. Lies hurt loved ones and make them leave.
In counseling, if you lie, they keep trying, because they are at least getting paid, and don’t have to go home with you.
The things we lie about, or hold as deep dark secrets, are often the very things requiring attention. Continued dishonesty and selective omission in counseling prevented healing, prolonging the painful cycle I lived in.
Trust takes time, but I gave a little, and in my first move toward trust, I admitted holding back.
“I have things I’m not comfortable sharing.”
We talked about why, worked on my trust issues, and I opened up.
I had trusted no one since childhood, and finding someone to discuss the messy pieces with, lifted a gigantic burden.
If we can’t be honest, at least be honest about not being honest.
It’s a beginning.
. . .
I wasted many years trying it my way. It didn’t work, and I remained trapped in a downward spiral, ending in a near-death experience. I was fortunate to find a counselor willing to stick with me.
However, reflecting on many other professionals who also tried, I see how hard I worked against them.
Try these strategies instead when starting out in counseling
- Keep expectations in check. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Pack light. Leave negative experiences behind.
- Park your ego. You want help, try accepting it.
- Be honest. Try some trust.
. . .
When I write pieces like this, I often feel twinges of shame as I come face-to-face with a person I despised. However, it also allows me to acknowledge my transformation into a person I’m learning to love.
My counselor helped me get here, and what I learned about a healthy clinical relationship has improved my personal relationships too.
Effective counseling, therapy, or coaching can achieve lasting change, but like any important relationship, what we get out depends on what we put in.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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