I have sat in many sessions with clients at PCS who express their reluctance to step outside their typical zone of comfort. They may even be sitting in the middle of an extensive and extended treatment process (the PCS Intensive) with others and seemingly having strong insights and meaningful awareness as it pertains to their particular addiction or situation.
Yet, these clients are expressly reluctant to plan on staying connected to their peers at the time, with whom they have been open and transparent. The peers, in turn, have been vulnerable and deeply honest about their pasts and painful choices. Equally these clients are adamant that back home they hadn’t been connecting with their peers outside of their regular recovery meetings either. These clients express various ways that they aren’t good at that sort of thing nor are they comfortable with that. Curious, I regularly inquire as to the hesitation to form bonds of support back home or with their peers in their present extended treatment beyond that current week? This is often a recommendation for increased likelihood of recovery and accountability. These clients state things such as they have tried inviting their peers to go out to eat or to hang out after hours. They are even certain that if their peers had gone with them they would be more likely to open up and exchange numbers for continued contact after the extended treatment process they were in. Due to their peers not taking these clients up on their offers, even for legitimate reasons, these clients will express that they had done their part and that was that, and nothing more could be done.
“Oh really?” I say to myself. And in many of those moments I am struck with a memory of an old parable that I feel prompted to recount to them. As best as my memory serves me, the parable goes something like this…
A lighthearted and precocious young man in ancient times desired to learn from a great and revered master guru all that the wise sage knew. So the young man went on a journey to find this respected elder in a distant land. He found the trek exciting and fun and eagerly anticipated his encounter with the wise man known to be a master teacher.
Soon enough he arrived at the peaceful ambiance of the wise man’s home. The young man knocked at the door but received no response. He knocked again and still no response. Frustrated he tried a third time. Again, no response. So, disappointed and annoyed, he turned and began to bemoan his situation. Thinking to himself, “What a waste of effort to come all this way and not be received by the master guru.”
As he sat there grumbling to himself for a spell, in time he was surprised to hear the sound of whistling nearby. He scanned and searched for the origin of this whistle. Soon enough an average looking fellow with a ruffled mane of silver and gray hair and a goofy grin emerged from a nearby grove carrying some wood in his hands. As both men made eye contact, the fellow set down the wood and smiled his goofy grin at the young man, who arose and skeptically approached this unassuming fellow.
The young man asked him if he knew if the master teacher would be home soon, and that he desired to learn everything that the wise guru knew. The fellow was happy to report that he could take him to the wise man if he liked. The young man said he certainly would and so off they went, the fellow leading the way and the young man striding behind him. After a bit the young man inquired if it would be much longer. That he was tired and hungry and didn’t want to keep traveling much more.
The fellow said, “Oh, no worries. Not much longer. But first I need to make a quick stop near here.”
The young man harrumphed his displeasure at the idea of any delay or interference with his desire to meet the master teacher. Just then they arrived at the edge of a glistening lake and the fellow said, “I’ll just be a moment.” And he then proceeded to wade out into the water, thigh deep, without removing a single article of clothing and stood there staring at the water by his legs.
The young man stared, confused and perplexed. After a number of minutes the young man grew impatient and annoyed once again. At that moment the fellow called to the young man and said “Come here, I want you to see this.” The young man, in his increasing cynicism initially refused and insisted that they continue on their way to get to the wise man. The fellow was unfazed and reiterated his request and added that if the young man would come to him to see what he desired to show him then he would take him straightway to the teacher he sought. The young man, though perturbed, agreed and removed his footwear, rolled up his pant leggings, and proceeded into the water, soon joining the fellow.
“So what is it you wanted me to see?” the young man insisted. The fellow pointed to a spot near his leg and said “Look.” The young man leaned down and began to say “I don’t s…” And in that moment the young man was seized by the back of the neck by the fellow plunging the young man’s head under the water, completely submerging it. Stunned and confused the young man attempted to free himself from the grasp of the fellow but found himself virtually helpless to free himself from the surprisingly firm and powerful grip of the fellow. Shocked at his situation and chocking in water due to this ill-prepared for moment of threat, the young man continued to struggle to free himself from below the water line, desperately striving to emerge above it and escape this unforeseen adversity. Yet the fellow didn’t release and his grip maintained its firmness and unrelenting downward force on the young man’s neck. Despite everything he tried the young man was unable to break free.
As his situation grew dire and his strength virtually depleted, the young man lunged back with all his remaining might and broke free of the grip spitting out water and heaving in oxygen almost simultaneously. Both enraged and scared the young man screamed at the fellow to explain himself. The fellow, calm and unaffected, simply stated… “When you want to learn everything from the master guru as much as you wanted to breathe just now… then I will teach you.” With that the master teacher strolled out of the water and back towards his humble abode, leaving the young man drenched, dazed, and deeply affected by his first lesson.
After recounting this parable I will look into these clients’ eyes and say, “When you want your marriage, your integrity, your family, your health, and your recovery as much as that young man wanted to breathe, that’s when you’ll do whatever it takes, no matter the discomfort or unfamiliarity. These clients will typically sit there at that point, quiet and pensive, and eventually say something to the effect of…
“Mark, that’s a hard truth to hear… and even harder to ignore. I know what I need to do. But how do I do it?”
To that I will say, “I’m glad you asked…”
By Mark Bell, LMFT, CSAT
Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.