Six months ago he came in so wired and anxious we needed to walk the neighborhood for forty minutes before he could sit and talk comfortably.
Now he tells me, “I feel better.”
“Good,” I say.
“I sleep better,” he says. “I’m less tired. I worry less. And I stopped snapping at everyone.”
“Yes, but confusing,” he frowns. “Because I don’t know why I feel better.”
“Why do you think?” I ask.
“Well, it has something to do with this,” nodding at the two of us sitting together. “Because nothing else has changed.”
I know what he means. He still hates his job, remains unsure in his marriage, still struggles with the legacy of growing up in an alcoholic home.
“And what about this” — I imitate his nod — “helps you feel better?”
“Well, talking,” he says. “I never knew just talking could help so much. But beyond that,” and he shakes his head. “Do you know?”
“I know how I see it,” I say. “I can tell you that.”
“Therapy’s not mysterious,” I say. “All a therapist has to offer is two things. One’s a safe place to tell the truth — that’s the talking part.”
“The other is a new way of seeing things.”
“Seeing things how?”
“Imagine a small pond with black gravel on the bottom,” I say. “Now imagine that every day you throw a piece of white gravel into that pond. What happens over time?”
“The white gravel collects,” he says.
“And if you do this daily for years?”
“Eventually the white gravel covers the black.”
“That’s just what is happening with you.”
He thinks about it.
“So the pond is me. And the black gravel is…wait, I know. It’s Plan A.“
God bless him, he’s read my book.
“Right. For six months you’ve been replacing the feelings and beliefs you carried out of childhood — many of them unconscious — with stuff that works better. Ideas that allow you to think, feel and function in healthier ways.
“Think about it. What do you believe now that you didn’t six months ago?”
He’s quiet for a while.
“Three things,” he says finally. “Holding in feelings made me sick. That’s the first one. The second is that I didn’t cause dad’s drinking or my parents’ shitty marriage.” He pauses. “And the third is that being anxious and depressed all these years doesn’t mean I’m weak or stupid or a failure. And that there are other people like me out there.”
“Bravo. You’ve changing your gravel.”
“I guess so,” he says thoughtfully. “Changes everything, doesn’t it?”