Category Archives: tools of recovery

Bert on surrender

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

For this post,  Steve interviewed Bert.)

Steve:  So I’ve been writing about peace of mind and how control addiction makes it impossible, and how practicing alternatives to control make it easier to find.  And I wanted to ask you about surrender.

Bert:  What about surrender?

Steve:  How you practice it, mainly.

Bert:  Oh.  Sure this is a good idea?

Steve:  Why not?

Bert:   People will know how lousy I am at it.

Steve:  That’s okay.  They know it isn’t easy.

Bert:  I never use that word, by the way.

Steve:  No?

Bert:  No, that’s one of your writer’s words.

Steve:  You don’t like it.

Bert:  Not really.  Sounds too much like helplessness.

Steve:  That’s not what it means.  It….

Bert:  I know, I know.  Surrender means winning, not losing.  Letting go of what you can’t control represents the victory of awareness over denial, growth over habit, and faith over fear.  Right?

Steve:  Something like that.  What word do you prefer?

Bert:   Depends.  Sometimes I think of surrender as detaching.  

Steve:  Meaning?

Bert:  Taking a step back emotionally.  Like when that client cursed at us in session yesterday.

Steve:  And I told you to not take it personally. 

Bert:  Right.  That it was just transference.  And then other times I think of surrender as accepting. 

Steve:  “It is what it is.”

Bert:  Yes.  Though I hate that expression.

Steve:  Why?

Bert:  It’s like Have a nice day.  Everyone says it, then go right back to being raging control freaks. 

Steve:  Any other words for surrender?

Bert:  Let’s see.  Sometimes I do it by consciously reframing a situation instead of trying to control it.  Remember how mad I used to get at little old lady drivers?

Steve:  Anyone driving at the speed limit, you mean.   

Bert:  Right.  Well, now when I find myself behind one I just tell myself This is God reminding you to slow the fuck down.  And I slow down, and I’m okay with it.

Steve:  Very spiritual of you.

Bert:  I think so.  I use slogans too.

Steve:  Which slogans?

Bert:  Well, there’s the one you wrote on a Post-it and taped to your PC monitor:

99% of what we worry about never happens. 

That got us through some rough times.

Steve:  It did.

Bert:  And the one you kept in the little plastic frame in your office.  The one that made clients think you’re a little nuts: 

Everything’s perfect.

Steve:  I can’t count the times I tried to explain that.

Bert:  Anyone ever buy it?

Steve:  No.  Easier to sell Everything happens for a reason.

But back to you.  It sounds like you do a lot of surrendering, in one way or another.  Why do you say you’re lousy at it?

Bert:  Because of all the times I can’t.

Steve:  Explain.

Bert:  You know how we live.  Rushing from chore to chore, worry to worry.  Working down the To Do list with no end in sight.  Feeling like everything is urgent.  Lying in bed at night and trying to decide if you got enough stuff done to feel okay about yourself.

Then there’s the problem of people.  All the times I just can’t be myself. 

Steve:  Can’t tell the truth, you mean?

Bert:  Yes, but more than that.  All the times I can’t just relax and stop worrying about how someone’s going to react to me.   

But it’s more than that, too. 

It’s all the times I can’t just relax.  Can’t take, even, a really deep breath.  

You know?

Steve:  I know.  Can’t relax if you can’t surrender.  It’s a stubborn addiction. 

Bert:  Sometimes I’m sorry you told me I’m addicted.

Steve:  Do you mean that?

Bert:  No.  No, I guess not.

Steve:  What’s good about knowing?

Bert:  Well, it does clarify things.  When I feel angry or frustrated or crazy it’s usually because I’m trying to control something I shouldn’t.  Calms me down, just seeing that. 

Steve:  Another surrender?

Bert:  I suppose it is.  And then, remembering I’m addicted gives me more choices than I used to have. 

Steve:  More choices?

Bert:  Sure.  Before I knew, I never even thought of surrender as an option.  Now I know, even when I can’t do it.  It’s something to work towards.  Something to practice and get better at.  And that gives me hope.    

Steve:  Hope’s good.

Bert:  It is.  It even lets you breathe a little bit deeper.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 


Session 17: Guilty

Bad day at work.

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What happened?

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Boss yelled at me.

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And how do you feel?

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Guilty.

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Why’d the boss yell?

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Having a bad day, I guess.  He’s like that.

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So why do you feel guilty?

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I don’t know.

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That’s not guilt you’re feeling.   

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It’s not?

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No.  It’s anger.  Internalized anger often feels like guilt.

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It does?

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Sure.  Anger’s like poison.  If you don’t spit it out at the person who hurt you, it eats away at you and feels like guilt.

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I don’t know about that.  I’ve always been a pretty guilty person.

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4I see.  Tell me, what’s your boss like?

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He’s an asshole.

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How big an asshole?

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Big.

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Big?

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Enormous.

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And how’s it feel, working for an enormous asshole?

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I hate it.  I hate him.  I hate my job.

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th12

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Hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate.

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therapist (13)

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bert (14)

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How you feeling now?

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Better.  Much better.  Not guilty at all.

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th

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Does that always work?

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When the guilt comes from internalized anger, pretty much.

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bert (17)

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By the way, how’s your marriage going?

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bert (18)

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* * *

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The illusion of control

The heat’s back today, and it’s too hot to walk. 

But there’s good news too. The aging AC in my building finally expired, transforming my office into a sauna with sofas.  So I had to stay home. 

Like a snow day, but with sweat.

Anyway, I’m sitting here at my desk with a fan at my elbow, reading chirpy blogs filled with excellent advice about how to transform my neuroses and finances, when I hear footsteps. 

Guess who? Bert growls.

***

Oh, please.  Take the day off, can’t you?

I want to chat. 

What about?

 About the other day.  After we talked I felt better.

Great.  You’re welcome.  Go take a nap.

Planning on it.  First I have a question.

Of course you do.

Patience, please.  Your monkey’s your monkey.

(Sigh.)  What’s your question?

Why did I feel better?

Come again?

Nothing changed.  All the stuff I was complaining about stayed exactly the same.  I felt better anyway.  Why?  What did you do?

I helped you detach from the illusion of control.

Oh.  (Pause.)  What the hell does that mean?

You were attached to an idea that was making you unhappy.  I just helped you move your attention elsewhere.

What idea was I attached to?

That you had to solve your problems.

But I did have to.  I still do.

Not in order to feel better.   For that you had to detach. 

“Detach,” meaning…

Let go of. 

How does that help?

How does it help to put down any load you’re carrying?

Oh.  Okay.  But the problems are still there.

Right.  So?

I still have to solve them.

Let’s say you do that.  What then?

I don’t follow.

You’ve solved all your problems.  What do you do now?

That’s silly.  Nobody can solve all their problems.

Exactly.  At best we exchange old ones for new ones.  And to believe anything else is an illusion.

The illusion of control. 

Right.   

And you believe that?  Control is an illusion?

Most of the time, yes.

But wait.  Some problems are solvable, right?

Sure.

So we can have some control. 

I’d say it differently.  I’d say there are times when we’re able to stop chasing control.  That’s not the same as actually having it. 

You lost me.

Yes, that happens.

(Pause.)  Let me ask it another way.  Why do you believe control is an illusion? 

Why do you think?

I don’t know.  Anyway, I’m not convinced it is.

Oh?  Have enough control, do you?

No.  Of course not.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Right.  You just have to try a bit harder.

Right.

Do you know anybody who has enough control?

I’ve never asked.  But I doubt it.

Me too.  So why assume control is possible?

Well, it must be. 

Because?

(Silence.)

Look.  The idea of control is what might be called a necessary fiction.  It’s a myth, a story we tell ourselves in order to go on. 

Go on living.

Yes.  It gives us a sense of security and a sense of direction.  And it really is necessary, because facing our lack of control is terrifying for most people.  But it really is a fiction too. 

But why?  Why can’t I ever have control? 

Do you remember the four laws?

Yes and no.   I mean I do, but I keep forgetting them.

Yes, that’s normal.  The third law is

3. Behind all controlling is the wish to control feelings.

Yes, I remember now.

And that’s why control is mostly an illusion. 

Why?

Because feelings are mostly uncontrollable. 

Wait.   That’s not true.  If it were, we’d all run amuck.   I’d punch out everyone that makes me angry, or seduce every woman I find attractive, or…

You’re confusing feelings with behavior.  

Sure, behavior is controllable.  Sure, we can choose to express our feelings or hold them in.  We can split ourselves into controller and controlled. 

What I’m saying is, ultimately feelings are stronger.  Ultimately emotional life is beyond our control.  No one stays in control of their emotional life. 

But you know this.  You sit with me in that consulting room every day.  You know what happens to people who rely on control. 

They get sick.

Right.  Anxious, depressed, addicted. 

Divorced.

That too.

So what’s the alternative?  

To controlling your emotional life?

Yes.

You know that too.

Remind me.

Can you control the weather?

Of course not.

Is that a problem?

No.  

Why not?

Because I can handle the weather.  I know how to respond to it.  It rains, I wear a raincoat.  It snows, I wear galoshes.  It’s hot and the office AC crashes, I stay home with a fan in my face. 

Exactly.  Feelings are like weather.  Not a problem when you learn how to respond to them.

Respond to.  Not control.

Right.  

Which means…

Well, it starts with listening to them.  Listening for instructions, I call it.   Which I’m about to do.

How?

By ending this conversation.   We just passed 800 words. 

Oh.  Crap.   Lost some readers, I imagine.

That’s okay.  The ones who are interested will come back. 

Can I come back?

I expect you will, whether or not I give you permission.

(To be continued.)

 

 

 

 


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