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Still in the Game
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

A client I treated many years ago recently came in to see me for a "tune-up." Bill*, who's been in recovery for eighteen years, has had a great deal of therapy. He goes to Alcoholic's Anonymous meetings, eats well, and exercises. He works hard to keep his sobriety, marriage, work life and emotional in harmony with one another.

But lately, Bill has been struggling with a number of stressful external events. The private school he taught at closed unexpectedly. His wife's brother is dying of cancer, his sister is in a mental hospital and he and his wife moved to a new apartment.

As Bill's therapy session drew to a close, he asked me, "How am I doing, Mark?" I thought for a moment and responded: "Bill, you're still in the game and that's as good as it gets." He laughed and felt relieved because he knew what I meant. When a person is fighting, actively working on their mental health, their recovery, their close relationships, their spirituality, then that person is doing as well as a person can do.

Many people who begin therapy believe that when they solve a problem in therapy, they will forever be "cured" of conflicting feelings and stress.

It's only when I explain that the purpose of therapy is to learn how to struggle, manage oneself, and fight with oneself to keep working that they begin to understand that there is no such thing as a problem-free life. None of us can predict which curve balls will be thrown our way in life, and none of us can anticipate our reactions to life's different stressors as we move on.

People are surprised when I confide that I still struggle every day of my life. People find it hard to believe that I often feel like Sisyphus, pushing that rock up the hill, struggling and sweating to keep it from rolling toward the bottom of the hill.

One of the reasons I remain so excited at all times about the idea of Psybersquare is that it has afforded me the opportunity to share the tools and strategies that have worked so well for me.

Among the tools I used today:

1. The Serenity Prayer - to contend with people and events in my life over which I have no control.

2. The Ten Commandments of Family Harmony - to contend with my family of origin.

3. You're Your Own Best Medicine - to remind myself of ways in which I've been able to overcome my resistance to writing. While I enjoy writing enormously, it's often a fight to sit and sweat it out while I try to get it right. I'm a firm subscriber to Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) theory that writing is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.

4. The Psybersquare Junkyard - which helped me overcome when I had a moment of bitter resentment toward a host of people in my brain.

5. A Gratitude List - to help me deal with struggles with my children. I remember how fortunate I am to have children who -- even if they don't clean their rooms -- are healthy, smart and kind.

6. The Psybersquare Gym - helps me build frustration tolerance and my ability to delay gratification in order to control what I eat so that I don't gain weight

7. An Appreciation List - helps me to value my wife, even when she doesn't always do and say exactly what I want her to.

Every day there's a mountain, or four, to climb. A thing or two to sweat over, a few impulses we need to fight within ourselves, and a thousand temptations to forget about our gratitude and sink into self-pity. But at the end of the day I remind myself, "I'm still in the game."

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.

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