So he talks to me for forty minutes, explaining his family history and all the stresses in his life and why his use of alcohol is both justified and manageable. Then he asks the question.
“Do you think I’m alcoholic?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. “I don’t know you well enough yet. But whether you are or not, I don’t think you’re ready for therapy.”
His eyes widen. Not what he expected.
“Why not?” he asks.
I tell him one of my favorite Zen stories.
A college professor visits a Zen master. “I’ve come for your teaching,” he says. He then proceeds to tell the master everything he knows — all the books he’s read, all the books he’s written, the lectures he’s delivered, the theories he’s developed over many years. Finally he pauses for breath, and the master says, “Let’s have tea.” He fills the professor’s cup, then keeps pouring so the tea runs over the brim and onto the table. “Stop!” says the professor, “It’s already full!” “So are you,” replies the master. “And until you empty yourself you’re not ready for my teaching.”
See, we spend much of our lives in pain. And we spend a good deal of time explaining our pain to ourselves.
It’s inevitable that we do this.
Why? Because it gives us a sense of control over our emotional lives.
And, of course, there’s no shortage of explanations. You’ll find them here and on a zillion other blogs and websites. Then there’s books, and Oprah, and Dr. Phil, and pop culture, and cable news, and advertisers, and (god help us) politicians, and your bf, and Mom, and maybe your therapist. All happy to offer their two cents.
And we can’t help but absorb much of it, and over time piece together a sort of explanatory patchwork that explains nothing but helps us feel like we know what the hell’s going on.
And we often cling to this patchwork, even after all evidence suggests that it’s inadequate and the pain it’s meant to manage persists.
Hey, we’re human beings. We’re the monkeys that control. And we’d rather trust lies than feel helpless.
My new client left looking puzzled. Don’t know if he’ll be back.
I’m glad I met him, though, because he reminded me of the question we each need to ask and keep asking:
Would I rather be right, or healthy?