Sandy* is a lifetime member of the local rod and gun club. She comes from a long line of lifetime members and described herself as being born with a silver shotgun instead of the typical silver spoon. She is very pragmatic, means what she says and says what she means type of gal. She has no time for fancy things, unless it is a new Ford pickup. When you first meet her you see a well built, rugged middle aged woman who obviously works outside for a living; her skin can be described as leather like and wind worn. She holds herself much like a cowboy and most folks who like that sort of style would likely describe her as attractive.
Sandy came into the office complaining of unhappiness with life in general. She spoke of a “typical” upbringing, denied substance abuse though she liked to “down a tall boy once in a while.” She was “happily” married and the owner of a small but successful business. Though far from rich she denied financial issues and made a point to tell me that she “can buy what I want when I need it; I just make sure that what I need is what I can afford to pay for.”
She loved her husband even though he was not the outdoorsy type; instead of manual labor he preferred typing into his computer for a living. She had a child who was reportedly doing well in all areas. Still she felt stuck. “I thought life was for living but all I seem to do it work…” she said clearly at first but the sentence started to fade as she spoke. “I’ve been working since I was 13, typically from sun up to sun down; I have always done but I’ve never been.” She continued to speak of her accomplishments and what she once thought they would mean but how they now felt empty. They were simply a means to an end, an end that appeared to be getting closer every day. “I always thought I would be drinking wine on the back porch of my ranch by this age but instead I am still working until the point of exhaustion…”
Working with Sandy could be difficult at times. At times she was very talkative and I could hardly get a word in; at others she would stare at the walls almost mute, a tear slowly running down her sun darkened cheek. She dreamt of walking away from everything and starting over but she was afraid of stepping outside her normal routine. Though it was an unhappy life she was living, she felt at home in it and she was afraid of change even if it was positive.
I helped Sandy explore what she liked in her life and what she liked about other lifestyles as well. As we explored I came to see that everything she seemed to like about other lifestyles really were mirror images of her life. She really did not want her life to change; but she wanted it to be very different. It became clear that she was simply tired. She was tired of working for the future, she was tired of always planning ahead, preparing, storing but rarely using her time for things she enjoyed.
One day during a lull in the session I wondered aloud, sharing an observation that I thought she could relate to. “You know Sandy, I’ve been thinking about what you’ve shared with me about your current situation and it reminded me of some training I had when I was a boy. I was at the state police rifle range taking a gun course. Part of the course included skeet shooting (something Sandy is an expert at). Many of us were not very good at it until the instructor told us that we needed to take note of where the skeet was but to take more stock into where it was going to be 1 to 1.5 seconds after we fired. Once we did that our success rate went through the roof. While our target hits increased, we no longer got to enjoy the free flight of the skeet as it soared through the air. We no longer saw the skeet as anything more than something to have in our peripheral vision and instead our goal was to hit an invisible target. While most of us need to be reminded to look forward to see where we are going, I can’t help but notice that you appear to always be looking forward but rarely if ever spending time to enjoy where you are now. At the training I found myself losing interest in the shooting and focusing more about the flight of the skeets themselves. I enjoyed the natural arc and even their eventual fall to the field. I noticed that many of them landed on the ground unbroken from the flight or the landing. Though my scores decreased dramatically as I had not hit anything, I found that my joy found a new level. I wonder if now is the time that you look at the skeet for a while?”
She looked at me with a confused but contemplative expression. Another tear followed by others. Soon she appeared to feel more relieved as she began to explore ways that she could change her perception about life and how she was living hers. Though there continued to be much work to be done, she showed much progress in the coming sessions. She expressed that she had become “a human being instead of a human doing.”
Years have passed since she has been in my office. I believe she has retired, possibly moved to the deep country and purchased that ranch with the back porch on which she will sip her wine. I really do not know. She did email me a few years after her discharge; she said she just wanted to show me something. There was a picture attached of unbroken skeets piled into a cairn at a trail head…
Sometimes we lose sight of our travels due to the obsession of reaching our destinations. I can’t help but wonder how much is missed because of it.
(*Composite case study compiled from years of providing treatment.)
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).