EXCERPT: CHAPTER 2
"I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing,
Wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing,
There is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting,
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be light and the stillness the dancing."
— T. S. Elliot
IT IS NOT TRUE THAT PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE.
They do. But never when we ask them or tell them to.
People change when they want to change, and only when they want to change. The more we insist, the more they will resist us every way they can. There is a saying: “What you resist—persists.” I changed it to: “What we insist on—resists us.”
As long as we insist on changing someone—we keep them from changing of their own free will.
Let go of your demands and it is up to them. Now—they will or will not change on their own. By not insisting—we have set them free.
No one has ever changed for somebody else. On the other hand—one person can be someone’s reason to change. There is a profound and fundamental difference.
Let me explain.
Remember Jack Nicholson’s character Mr. Udall in the movie As Good As It Gets? When we first meet Mr. Udall, he is an obnoxious, rude and unbelievably self-centered eccentric, diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He derives perverse pleasure from insulting and shocking people, and he is incredibly good at it. Udall manages to insult and alienate everyone he comes into contact with. He is also very intelligent, remarkably, completely aware of his behavior. But he doesn’t give a damn. The only person important to Mr. Udall is Mr. Udall.
As the movie unfolds, however, we discover, that there is someone else that matters to Mr. Udall. It is the waitress Carol (played by Helen Hunt) who has been serving him breakfast in the restaurant every morning for a very long time. In fact, it is beginning to look more and more like he is falling in love with her. In an unusual twist of events, Udall and Carol find themselves on a dinner date. True to form, though probably unintentionally and due to his nervousness, Udall insults Carol. Instead of an apology, Carol demands a compliment. And is has to be a real one.
The situation is critical and Udall knows it. He is an inch away from having Carol walk out of the restaurant. He concentrates, thinking hard. He knows this is his only chance . . . and then he tells her something unexpected. His doctor has prescribed him a certain medication that he must take every day to help him with his condition.
“I hate pills,” he tells Carol. “Very dangerous thing—pills. Hate. I am using the word hate here. About pills.” He then reminds Carol of a recent encounter they’d had and what she had said to him when she arrived at his door in the middle of the night, soaked with rain, but determined to deliver her message: I will never sleep with you! (making him realize how repulsed she had always been by his obnoxious behavior). He looks straight at her. “My compliment is,” he says, “The next day I started taking the pills.”
But Carol doesn’t understand. What does this have to do with her compliment? Udall pauses . . . and then explains.
“You make me want to be a better man,” he says.
And she melts. “That may be the best compliment of my life,” she says and smiles.
Anyone who remembers the movie and remembers Jack Nicholson’s character knows what an immense effort it was for Udall to begin taking his medication. And, of course, had Carol asked him to do so in order for him to behave in a more acceptable way, he would have absolutely refused.
He did it on his own. He did it because of her. She was his reason to become “a better man,” but it was his choice.
* * *
I WANT TO TELL YOU A STORY of a woman whose husband was an alcoholic. For years she had been fighting with her husband to get him to stop drinking. She had tried everything—from pleading to reasoning to threatening to begging. She cried, she yelled at him, she left him, she came back.
She knew she couldn’t go on like that. And yet she could not leave him either.
Her husband was stubborn, she always thought, but so was she. She was determined to triumph over his drinking, find a way to change him, so that he would wake up one day, hear her, and become the guy she once knew, the one she fell in love with so many years ago. It was unimaginable to her that there was nothing she could do to bring her guy back, nothing she could do to have their old life return. She never stopped loving him. She probably loved him more now than she did when she had married him twenty-five years ago, when they were barely out of college.
He had always had to have his liquor. But it didn’t seem to matter in the past. Over the years, however, what used to make him funny, what seemed cute and adorable had turned into something else, something ugly. It wasn’t funny any more.
Oh, how she fought the very notion. How much she refused to believe he was an alcoholic. How much she tried to reason with him, talk to him. She accepted the truth eventually, unable to find another explanation for his drinking, and it made her fight harder to save him.
And just as hard he fought her back.
As their children were growing up, as they were getting older—he was drinking, and drinking, and drinking more. It was hard to remember him sober—hard to remember when last they had a good time together.
Now they were on their own again, the children gone. A friend suggested a therapist, Brian, who she said could be very helpful. The woman made an appointment hoping for a solution, hoping to learn how to influence her husband, to discover the way to be, so that he would finally understand and take her pain into consideration. Perhaps Brian would teach her how to convince her husband to go to AA?
But instead, the therapist told her to disengage. He had been telling her that at every session. Once he had even refused to see her again. He had nothing else to tell her, he claimed . . . She fought him. That bottomless anger she had been living with all those years, she unleashed onto her shrink instead of to where it belonged.
She apologized later and asked to come back.
He let her come for another session.
“I hide the keys to the car when he drinks,” she said.
“Don’t,” said Brian.
“But he is not just a danger to himself. He can kill somebody else as well.”
“There is nothing you can do to stop him,” Brian said again. “His life is his. You have to decide what you can live with and what you can’t. And you must disengage.
”It was the last session they would have, only she didn’t know this at the time. When she spoke to Brian later, he told her he wasn’t sure whether or not he had been able to reach her. He noticed that she had been quiet, more subdued than usual. She listened, but didn’t say much at all. He said he felt there was something different about this particular session. When she said good bye, she made no other appointment...