Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead

“So, Conrad,” Brian Walker said with a smile and welcoming gesture. “What can I do for you?”

Pastor Stan Pear also owned Alliance Counselling. He had arranged an appointment for me at the office in Palmerville (a twenty minute trip by car).

After filling in a few forms, Brian Walker walked me to a small office. We sat in not particularly comfortable chairs with Steve holding my now-official-patient file folder, and me slouching in my chair in an effort to be comfortable.

“So, what can I do for you, Conrad?”

“I’m not sure. That’s a big question, so I’m not sure where to start and, to be honest, I don’t know what you can or can’t do,” I answered bluntly. I was there, and willing to work, but not entirely happy with the situation. Besides, I didn’t know this guy from Adam, and had no idea whether I would like him enough to trust him as a counsellor.

There was a slightly surprised look on his face as he answered “That’s fair.

“Would you like to start by telling me what it is you want to do? Is there something you want to achieve?”

That seemed like a genuine question, so I sat up in my chair. Now that he had my attention, my attitude was significantly more engaged and intense.

“Okay. That I can answer.

“Maria, my wife, has obtained an order of protection and filed for divorce. I don’t really expect we’re going to work things out, but whether we do or not, I need to look at what has happened and the things I did.”

I was already on a roll, and Steve was clearly paying attention, so I kept right on rolling after pausing slightly to give Steve a chance to say something.

“Okay. No relationship is fifty-fifty, and very few things are one hundred to zero either. So I see me needing to do two things: First, I need to figure out what I really am responsible for and how to do better next time around. And second, I need to get clear about the things I’m blaming Maria for - or anyone else in my life, for that matter - and stop blaming them.

“Now, I’m not saying Maria hasn’t done anything wrong. We both made mistakes, and did things wrong. What I’m saying is that I know I can only take responsibility for things I can control; my own behavior. Blaming Maria, or anybody else, doesn’t do me any good. Even if they did something wrong, blaming somebody is like waiting for them to do something about it instead of taking action for myself.

“Does that make sense?”

Steve nodded, saying “Yes. That makes complete sense.” He hadn’t made any notes yet, and he was listening actively, so I kept talking.

“Even if Maria and I never get back together, there’s going to be a relationship with somebody at some point in my life. I want to know how to look at what I’m doing and decide whether it’s right or not.

“And I don’t mean ‘Well, I’m right so you should do what I’m saying’ sort of right. I did a lot of that with Maria, and it just didn’t work. She pretty much always acknowledged that I was right, and even encouraged the kids to follow my example, but it never made any difference to how she behaved.”

By this time I was really involved in hunting for the solution. I was sitting forward in my chair, my hands were gesturing, and I was excited that someone was actually listening to me.

“I know as much as anybody that it doesn’t any good to be right if the other person isn’t listening. That’s my biggest problem: I know the right thing to do, and then expect other people to listen just because I’m right. I don’t make time, or take time, or whatever it is I need to do, to help the other person go through the same learning curve I went through so they can get to the same place as me.

“That’s what I want. I want to know what I’m really responsible for so I can do better, and I want to stop blaming people because that only gives them control over me.

“Does that answer what you were asking?” I asked as I sat back and waited for his reaction. He hardly paused at all before answering.

“Yes. That’s very clear.

“You’ve obviously given this a lot of thought.”

I jumped right in at that point, “You bet I have. Everybody I’ve met in the last few weeks keeps telling me I’m blaming Maria, I’m blaming Maria, I’m blaming Maria. Well, I’m not entirely sure I agree with that.

“You see, I think it’s completely correct to expect other people to step up and acknowledge responsibility just like I’m doing, and just like everybody keeps harping on me to do. But here’s the thing…

“Let’s take my parents as an example. They did lots of things that parents shouldn’t do. Okay?”

I waited to get a nod of understanding from Steve, then continued.

“Okay. So I look back over my childhood and say ‘Alright Mom and Dad. It was wrong for you to ship me off to other people so you could take Faye and Joe - my brother and sister - on the family vacation.’

“Now here’s what I think… It’s fine, good, right, whatever for me to expect my parents to own up to having done something wrong. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to own up to it. That’s the first part.

“The second part is: If I stop learning or developing because I’m waiting for them to take responsibility, then I’m wrong and I’m hurting myself. And if I say ‘Well, I’m doing what I’m doing because my parents did this or that’ then I’m actually giving away control of my life. Now, I don’t want to do that.

“But here’s the thing: I did that all the time with Maria. She would do something, I would choose my response, then I’d say ‘I’m doing this because you did that.’ Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know, but that seems an awful lot like saying I’m doing something today because my parents did a thing to me thirty years ago. Am I on the right track here, or what?”

I must have been talking like a fire hose, because Steve took a few seconds to think before answering.

“Well, I’ll grant that they’re not exactly the same, but yes, I’d say you’re on the right track.”

I nodded with satisfaction, and Steve looked like he was still thinking, so I waited to hear whatever he was thinking.

“Hang on a second. I have something you might want to work on.”

He got up and left the room. I sat and waited. It was encouraging to me that someone was listening and appeared ready to help me take action. I didn’t know this would be the last time Brian Walker and I would ever speak.

He came back into the office with some stapled sheets of paper in his hand.

“This is the Gottman 17 Areas Scale. It’s usually used with couples who want to do what you’re talking about, but I think it’s a good place for you to start. You obviously won’t be able to talk with your wife about the answers, but will you consider walking through the questions and answering them as best you can?” He asked as he handed me the pages.

“This might be a good way to work out what you’re responsible for, and what Maria is responsible for, without getting into the blaming of ‘I did this because she did that.’”

I was looking at the pages and reading the questions. “Okay. That sounds good. Wow, this covers a lot of ground.

“How long does it usually take to work out answers for all this stuff?”

“There’s no time limit, and there’s not really a right or wrong way to answer the questions,” Steve answered as he sat down. “It’s normally used as a discussion tool. In your case, what I suggest is answering what you can and then looking at the answer.

“Wherever you write something that says ‘Maria did this so I did that,’ then you can go back and rewrite it so you’re taking responsibility for your actions.

“Instead of writing ‘Maria did this so I did that,’ you write ‘Maria did this, and I chose to do that.’

“If you think what you did was wrong, or maybe you could have done something different, then you write that in too.”

“Okay. Cool. I’m not sure what I’m doing yet, but I get the idea. I can do this.”

We talked more about answering the questions, and what was happening in my life. We ended up talking for just over an hour until the fellow who had given me a ride knocked on the door and asked how much longer we would be.

As soon as I saw his face, I realised Steve and I must have been talking for quite a while. Steve was surprised by anyone knocking and interrupting, so I chimed in to explain.

“Ah, yes. It must be later than I thought.

“Steve, this is John. He’s a pastor at one of the PADS congregations, and he gave me a ride here tonight.” Then I shifted my attention to John.

“I apologise. I didn’t realise we had been talking so long. We’ll wrap up right now so you and I can get going.”

“Okay. I’ll just wait out here,” John answered as he closed the office door.

“I guess that means we need to wrap up,” Steve said. “Would you like to schedule another appointment?”

“Yes, I would, but getting here is a bit of an issue. I don’t have a car, and the transit service requires me to done by six p.m. for me to get a ride back to Springfield. Do you have daytime appointments?”

“I do have daytime appointments on Saturday, but only evening times during the week. Will that work for you?”

“I’m not sure,” I said while thinking it was not likely to work. “Let me talk with Pastor Cook. I have to take care of the co-pay anyway, so let me talk to him and see what we can work out. If we can arrange the transportation, then I’ll book another appointment. Okay?”

“Works for me. It was good to meet you, Conrad.”

That was the last time I saw, or even spoke to, Brian Walker. Since there was no way for me to keep paying the $20 co-pay for each visit, and I had no way of getting to the appointments, we didn’t see each other again.

But I did keep the pages he had given me. I worked out long, detailed answers that helped me take personal responsibility, and even helped with writing this book.

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