I visited a therapist five days before I walked into my first AA meeting. I had been to this lady a few months earlier for help to quit smoking. I thought smoking was my problem. I hated myself for smoking. I was able to quit with her help and an addiction to Nicorette gum. But my life didn’t improve. I continued to wake up every morning with an ache of fear in my gut. I had no interest, energy or enthusiasm for looking for work or much of anything else.
I had just finished a book about men my age undergoing mid-life crises. I figured this was my problem. This must be the reason I wasn’t looking for work; this must be the reason I had no interest, energy or enthusiasm for much of anything; this must be the reason my life felt so heavy. I fully expected the therapist to confirm my diagnosis, comfort me and give me a new coping strategy.
She let me whine about my life for a good thirty minutes, then she said something that shocked me. She said, “I don’t think I can help you, Jeff.” She said, “from what I know about you, I don’t think you have an ounce of humility in your whole body; your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking you can’t get any clarity on your life; and you seem to have the emotional maturity of a thirteen-year-old. I don’t think I can help you but maybe the treatment center up the street can.”
The voice inside my head was screaming, “you can’t let this bitch talk to you like this, Jeff.” But somehow, I was able to keep my mouth shut. Then she looked directly into my eyes, like she was looking at my soul and said, “you’re in trouble, aren’t you, Jeff?” The voice told me not to admit anything to this woman. I looked down at my shoes for a long moment. Finally, I whispered, “maybe.” It was the first time in my forty-seven-year-old life I admitted there was something I couldn’t handle. Apparently, my half-assed admission of powerlessness cracked the thick wall of denial just enough to let the light shine in.