I knew I had to do something, I couldn’t go on like that any longer, so I asked my trusty doctor. Christopher Allen. He’s a treasure. Everything a doctor should be: up to date and informed, doesn’t whip out the prescription pad at the drop of a symptom, makes the patient feel cared about, listened to, and respected. He recommended a counseling practice, so I gritted my teeth and looked into it.
They didn’t make it easy, of course. I had to call and I got an answering service, who connected me with an automated system where I was to leave a message. They called back, and I missed the call, so I had to call them again, and got the answering service which sent me to the place to leave a message. Complicating this procedure was a glitch in their message recorder, which cut me off after about seven seconds, leaving me with a bewildering choice of numbers to press, none of which included “Talk to a Human.” I hate phones anyway. I nearly gave up.
Finally we connected, and I was asked a bunch of questions, which I answered badly because I was nervous and I hate phones. Plus they were awkward questions about why I was seeking help, the answers to which were complicated and difficult. And did I mention I hate talking on the phone?
At last I was able to set up an appointment with an actual counselor. I warned her I was a hard case, had had bad experiences with counselors in the past, and had serious trust issues. She took it in stride, briskly confident, and got down to business. I knew there was hope when she countered my ramblings about mindfulness and CBT with responses that assured me she knew her stuff. She was focused, listened, took copious notes, and actually offered some insights, instead of just letting me prattle on aimlessly while the clock ticked down.
I’ve been three times, and I’m cautiously optimistic. At the last session, she suggested I join AA. She was concerned that I didn’t seem to have a good support system. She had that right. I’ve got an unhealthy tendency to shut down when I’m under stress. I isolate myself, and don’t even recognize that I’m doing it. It’s like leaving a party to run up to your room, slamming the door behind you, and then weeping miserably because you’re all alone.
So, yeah, I need to deal with certain problems regarding alcohol, but the problem isn’t really my own drinking. That’s a symptom. Still, AA might be a good choice except for all that Higher Power stuff. I mean, the whole Twelve Step thing is all about turning our lives over to God because we admit we’re powerless to help ourselves. That just isn’t going to work for me.
“You don’t need to call it ‘God’,” my counselor said. “I don’t believe in any bearded guy in the sky, myself.”
“I could call it ‘Fred’,” I replied, “It still wouldn’t help. I just don’t believe there’s anything out there to surrender to. God, as I understand Him, doesn’t exist. It’s all up to me. I’m the only one who can save myself.”
“And how has that worked for you so far?” she said.
And yet, what is my alternative? I just don’t have a sense of any sort of “higher power”. I can admit that I have a problem and that I can’t seem to find a solution, but if I just throw up my hands and admit defeat, there’s nobody else to take control and “remove all these defects of character”, “remove my shortcomings”, and “restore myself to sanity”, all stuff the 12 Step Al-Anon program says I got to pray to God to do. Just isn’t going to happen.
If I turned my will and my life over to some unseen, ineffable, Something, all I’d do is fall. I’d be battered by my inner turmoil, terrorized by fear and crippled by unceasing rumination. I’d be back to hiding under the covers whimpering and, yes, self-medicating. I just don’t have that God-shaped place in my soul that theists talk about. I can imagine what it might be like to believe in the supernatural; in fact, when I was younger, I did believe in all sorts of magical thinking. Then I began to realize it wasn’t getting me anywhere, magical thinking didn’t work, and I was far better off using common sense, compassion and science as my guides.
Let me add that I don’t deny it works for some folks and that’s fine. It’s a little like an opera enthusiast dragging me to a performance and then gushing, “Wasn’t that amazing? How can you not be moved by that?” All I can do is shrug apologetically. He can keep his opera and more power to him. It just doesn’t do anything for me.
So, it’s back to I am the only one who can save me. But I know I can’t do it alone.
Surprise! I don’t have to. And it doesn’t have to be an invisible Power getting my back. My counselor was right about one thing: I need a support system. But why go looking for one? Why reinvent the wheel? As I realized in my previous blog, I’ve got friends.
That’s my Greater Power — visible and tangible.