Life Skills In Action

Three weeks ago I called a free gambling help service and asked for a counsellor to help me with my gambling problem.  Yesterday I rejected the counsellor they gave me without even seeing her.  Today she called again and I had my first counselling session with her.  Here is the three part story together with the life skills each part of the story required me to use.

PART ONE – RESPECTING MY OWN BOUNDARIES

I got home from work at 7.30 am after doing the night shift and decided to check my mail.  I don’t get much snail mail so I only check my mailbox every few days.  This time there was a letter from the gambling help organisation I contacted three weeks ago.  The letter was from the counsellor they had assigned me to and she had made an appointment for me to see her that afternoon at 2pm!

I groaned.  I was exhausted from being awake all night and I was due back at work again early that evening so I decided to call the number in the letter and try to reschedule.  I tried for an hour before finally giving up and leaving a message on her answering machine.

In the message I told her I had only just received her letter.  I said I had night shift and would be sleeping at 2pm so could not make the appointment.  I left my home phone number and asked her NOT to call me today as I needed to sleep before going back to work.  I said I was not working tomorrow and she could call me any time then to reschedule.  I apologised for not calling her sooner and thanked her for her time.

I turned off my mobile phone and considered turning off the home phone but I like to be reachable in case of emergency so I decided to leave it on and trust the counsellor not to call and wake me.

The counsellor called at ten past two and woke me.  I told her I had left her a message and she said yes but she wanted to know if I would like to reschedule.

My brain does not function too well first thing on waking but, even through my sleep fog, I recognised her complete lack of interest in my well-being.  She did not apologise for waking me.  She did not explain why she had ignored my explicit request that she NOT call me that day.  She was, in my opinion, disrespectful and rude so I told her I did not wish to reschedule.  I said I asked you not to wake me then I said goodbye and hung up.

The counselling relationship is not like other business relationships.  The service a counsellor is selling is, in part, their ability to make you feel respected and comfortable with them.  There is no way I would feel comfortable with a counsellor who treats me with no respect or consideration so I decided to avoid wasting her time and mine.

If I do not insist on being treated with courtesy and good manners in a situation like this I am breaching my own boundaries and permitting myself to be abused.  No good can come from that and I know it.

I tried to call the organisation to ask for a different counsellor but they also had their answering machine on and the last thing I wanted was for them to call me back and wake me again so I decided to worry about it later.

PART TWO – ACCEPTING HUMAN IMPERFECTIONS

As I wrote that last paragraph my mobile phone rang.

It was the counsellor.  She was calling to apologise for waking me yesterday.  She said she had not been able to access her messages so she did not get my message.

She asked me if I still wanted to see someone and I said yes then I let her know the boundaries she will need to respect if she wants to work with me.  I said in a firm but jokingly friendly tone of voice:

“I do want help I just don’t want it from someone who is rude or disrespectful.”

She laughed and said that was fair enough.  It is too.  I know, and she knows, it is her job to treat me well.  What she did not know, until I made it clear to her, is that I am aware it is her job to treat me with respect and I will not accept her if she does not.

She did not tell me the truth about not getting my message and I know that.  When I gave my details to the organisation I only gave them my mobile number.  The only way she could have gotten my home phone number was if she got the message but it does not matter.

She can help me with the knowledge, information and experience she has in helping people with a gambling problem and that is not affected by her willingness to tell lies to excuse herself.  All that really matters is she has the ability to help me and she has acknowledged she did wrong.  She has given me a sincere apology and an “acceptable” explanation for her behaviour.  She has shown me some respect.

It was rude of me not to let her know I could not make the appointment sooner.  She has no way of knowing if the excuse I gave her was the truth or a lie but she is taking my word and accepting it as the truth so it’s only fair that I do the same with her excuse.

I will be seeing her at 2pm today.  We already know a lot about each other without even having met.  She knows she must be careful not to seem rude or disrespectful to me and I know she is willing to admit fault, and apologise, if she does offend me.  She knows I am not the type to hold a grudge or refuse to accept an apology so we are off to a reasonably good start in our relationship now.

A lot of people would not be able to accept help from someone they have caught in a lie but I have lived a long time and I know this is not a perfect world.  There are no perfect people.  I should not have had to make a counsellor understand she must treat me with respect.  She should not have behaved the way she has but life does not conform to “shoulds” and “musts” and demanding it do so will only harm me.

I have two options here.  I can insist the world, and this counsellor, be the way I think they SHOULD be or I can accept things the way they ARE and make the most of them.  This counsellor is not all good but she is not all bad either and I would be hurting myself to reject her on the grounds she is not perfect.

She has knowledge, information and advice that could help me.  Refusing to accept help from her because she lied would be pointless.  She cannot do anything about having lied.  She could, I suppose, apologise if I pushed the issue but I see no point in making her do that.  I want her help.  If I make her feel bad she is less likely to give me all the help she has the capacity to give.

Rejecting her offer of help because she lied would be, as the old saying goes, like cutting off my nose to spite my face.  In other words – pointless, futile and it will, in the end, hurt nobody but me.

Refusing to accept help from her because she was rude and disrespectful was, on the other hand, good for me.  There was something she could do about that.  It made a difference.  It made her change her attitude and that will make it easier for me to listen to her and accept her help.

Accepting her lie allows her to feel OK about being called to account for her bad behaviour so she is unlikely to feel any need to punish me for making her feel bad.

That is the theory anyway.  Some people hold grudges.  Some disrespectful attitudes persist no matter how often you call the person on them.  I will not know if she is like that until after I have seen her.

She may be one of those people who can’t help believing a gambling addiction is a sign of a poor quality human being.  If she is such a person her lack of respect for me will show no matter how hard she tries to hide it.  If that happens I will respect my own boundaries again.  I will discontinue treatment, write a letter of complaint, and seek help elsewhere.

Gambling is a problem and it is one I have but I am just as entitled to be treated with humanitarian (basic good manners) respect as someone who has a problem telling the truth!

PART THREE – ACCEPTING THE PAIN INVOLVED IN HEALING

I have seen the gambling counsellor.  Sigh.  I went from her office to the nearest gambling venue where I lost a hundred dollars!

Many times I have heard people say they saw a counsellor but it didn’t help or it made things worse.  I felt awful when I left her office and I didn’t expect that.

She is not Australian so I was not sure how things would go because counselling people from another culture can be difficult.  I was not prepared for her to see something in my situation that I have never seen.  Something I suspect she was only able to see BECAUSE she comes from another country.

She had, as most counsellors do, the ability to open me up and get me talking so she found out much more about me than I expected her to.  When she called me a refugee I was dumbfounded but the truth of it made me cry.

I ran away from my home, my business, my status in the town and the life I had built there because I was too afraid to even sleep.  Three of the five youths who attacked me were walking the streets of that town free and unpunished.  I feared another attack every night.

I used my credit card to get away and left everything I could not afford to take, including the house I loved so much, behind.  I lost my life, my dreams, my hopes and goals and ended up on the other side of Australia sleeping on the couch in my children’s living room.  She was right – I ended up a refugee in my own country.

She found out I have rented a place of my own and she said that was good.  She said that’s the first step to regaining your life.  Then she asked me about the things I lost – the hopes, the dreams, the goals and I broke down.

I said they are gone.  I am clinging to my current job despite the fact that I am qualified to do much more and despite the fact they would like to promote me.  I am still too wounded, too frightened, too weak to do more than I am doing now.

I want a home of my own but I am too frightened to ever buy a home again and that means I feel like I have no home, no place to belong, no chance of settling down.

She said hope will return and I will set new goals and dream new dreams in time but the despair I felt when I arrived here was overwhelming me and I went to the one place I knew could help me shake it off.  A gambling venue.

I thought I had dealt with those feelings but I haven’t.  The pain was not quite as bad as when it all happened but bad enough.  I felt like a loser all over again so I went to the slot machines hoping they would make me feel like a winner for just a minute or two.  I knew it was a stupid thing to do but we do stupid things when we are trying to escape pain.

It didn’t help, of course, I lost and continued to feel like a loser but feeling like a loser because I lost money was easier to bear than feeling like a loser because I ran away from everything that mattered to me to escape my fear of a few criminal children.

It’s tempting to say I won’t see this counsellor again because she made me remember things I want to forget.  I would love to be able to blame her for making me feel worse instead of better but I am a psychologist.  I know what happened was a good thing.  It was an excellent result for the session not a bad one.

She found a sore spot.  A psychic “boil” or “infection” if you like and she lanced it.  She opened it up and all the psychic “pus” came spilling out.  It hurt.  It hurt a lot but now I know it’s there so I can try to clean it out and help it heal.

Healing hurts sometimes.  The pain can be almost unbearable but it has to be done if I want to move on and put this behind me for good!

I thought I had adjusted to what happened to me and that I was moving on but I was wrong.  I was like a man with a broken leg who lets the leg heal without getting it straightened.  I was limping along unaware the leg needed to be re-broken and set to make it right again.

I don’t want to limp through life.  I want to be able to run.  If it has to hurt to make it better so be it.  I will grit my teeth, endure the pain, and hope that one day I will be able to run.