Your Tool Box

When I ran Intensive Outpatient Programs for substance abuse, I used to hold an Orientation Group for those just coming into the program. During this group, I set the boundaries:  I explained what would be expected of the clients and what they could expect of me and of the program.

One of the images I used to help them understand my hope for them was to ask each of them to imagine a tool box sitting beside their chair. That tool box may have a couple of tools in it, and some might continue to be useful, but some were probably old & worn out – no longer helpful. By the time they finished the program, I hoped they would have to drag that toolbox out the door with them, because it would be so full of new tools they would learn about – and begin to use.

This same concept works for those in any therapy – or anyone who just wants to make positive changes in their lives. Yet, many of us have trouble accepting that we need tools to repair the  damages we’ve allowed to happen to ourselves. Who would try to nail boards together without a hammer or change a flat tire without a jack?  To reject our need for tools to perform these tasks would be ridiculous.

One tool that is available is therapy, itself.  I know people who think going to therapy is, in itself, a sign of weakness and only for those who can’t “figure things out” for themselves. To me, that sounds like the person who always needs to feel in control. I can relate to that. I’m a huge control freak. But over the years, I have learned that I’m often better-served by letting things go and allowing them to work themselves out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to maneuver things so they’d turn out the way I thought they should. And you know what? Almost every time I was successful at changing things to “my way,” they ended up more screwed up that they would have if I’d left them alone and just let them fall into place. One of the places I learned how to do that was in therapy.

Sheer force won’t lift a car so we can replace that tire, and it won’t lift a heavy heart. Reading a book, and understanding how to nail those boards won’t guarantee that they’ll look like a table the first time we try it. Insight and knowledge can possibly help us see why we behave the way we do, or how we’d like to change.  But it takes consistent use of support groups or learning appropriate ways to open up to (or set boundaries with) family members, gratitude lists, stress management or communication techniques, restructuring our thoughts – or in some cases, even medication  – to actually repair that battered ego. Usually just one tool won’t do the trick, but each of us has to find the combination that works for us.

If we can’t acknowledge the problem exists and then be willing to let it go or change it, we won’t make much progress.  It isn’t weak or shameful to admit that we may not be able to accomplish something alone – without the help of others or of tools. If we need to lay a new foundation, we need to dig a big hole. And if we need to dig a hole, we’d better be willing to use a shovel (and maybe ask a couple of friends to bring theirs, too). That foundation is our willingness to do whatever it takes.