Changing What We Believe (about Ourselves, Life & Love)

Once there was a boy named Theodore, which is horrible in and of itself because he never got to be “Ted” or “Theo” or even “Teddy” he was just always Theodore. It seems his parents were stupidly unaware that what a child’s name is has everything to do with how he will be received on a playground. For the remainder of this blog, I will call him Ted because typing “Theodore” makes my soul hurt.

Ted was an only child and a lonely child. He was born to older parents who had a child much later in life in what must have been a “Well, either now or never” mindset. Ted didn’t ask to be born and he sometimes wished that he hadn’t been. Ted’s father was a successful businessman who was obsessed with making money. Ted’s mother took great care of his father which meant there wasn’t much left over for Ted. Ted’s father hid at work and Ted’s mother hid in a bottle.

Ted was the kid who got a wedgie in front of the whole junior high gym class. He was the kid that bullies easily picked on. He was very bright and very artistic and yet he’d have traded everything to be cool. Every teacher loved him and every nice girl felt sorry for him.

In the summer before high school, Ted decided that things had to change. He wrote out a very impressive master plan that was an unwitting mix of the American Dream and bad 80’s films. In Ted’s favorite movies the underdog got to punch the football captain in the face and steal his girlfriend. This resulted in living Happily Ever After ™ and driving off in a red sports car.

Ted’s plan was not very successful. He did graduate at the top of his class but he didn’t get to punch the football captain and he didn’t get The Girl. Ted persevered and followed the master plan through college. Some parts of the plan worked quite well. Ted got two degrees and he even got to date pretty young women. Ted liked college much better than high school in part because in college, Ted discovered drinking.

Ted discovered that drinking made him very much cooler than he had ever been. He was braver and more confident in talking with people of all types. He found he could relax more and make friends easily. He gravitated towards people that were cool in high school and he tried very hard to be like them.

Ted left graduate school with hesitation. He worried about the “real world” and what it might hold in store for him. He took a job that made his parents proud and he worked very hard to make his way up the company ladder. Ted found that working hard was not enough to get promoted. He learned to socialize with important people outside of work and this most often involved drinking.

Ted experienced some success – mostly because he was very smart but also because he drank with The Right People. Strangely, no matter how much success he experienced, he felt like something was missing. Ted decided that what he needed to do was fall in love and get married and live Happily Ever After ™. Ted had a very selective type of woman in mind. She had to be sufficiently beautiful so as to make his friends incredibly envious. She had to be smart, funny, loyal, and she needed to adore him. There was one fatal flaw in his plan – whoever this woman might be she had to be dating a football captain.

Ted met lots of women who dated lots of football captain type jerk offs. They all liked Ted when he befriended them. They found him easy to talk to and very aware of what they liked and how they felt. Each time, Ted would hint about his availability and then get mad that it never dawned on any of these women to leave their stupid football captains and run away with him.

Ted complained to his friends about continuously being stuck in the “friend zone.” Unfortunately, Ted had surrounded himself with football captains as friends. They would tell him that he could do better and then laugh behind his back when he tried to.

Things went from bad to worse. Ted’s hairline began to recede and it seemed he would grow old without ever punching anyone in the face. Ted found himself depressed and drinking more. One of Ted’s few real friends suggested that he try therapy. Ted’s therapist was very direct and he told Ted a lot of things that were difficult to hear. Ted complained to his counselor that he couldn’t meet the woman of his dreams despite being in bars 3-4 nights a week. The therapist explained that people don’t usually go to bars seeking a spouse.

They talked about how drinking and depression often go hand in hand. They talked about how Ted hated his job and hated his friends and hated his life. Ted realized that the master plan was the best a 14 year old boy could do, but that at 46 it was nothing more than a set of false beliefs.

Ted realized he was very frustrated with himself. He knew that his therapist was right and yet he could not bring himself to accept that the master plan would never work. Ted’s therapist argued that what Ted really wanted was to be loved by others while disliking himself. Ted wondered why had he always struggled to believe in himself? Perhaps because no one made him feel special or loved. It’s very hard to believe in yourself before someone else does.

Ted realized that for as unhappy as he was, the idea of changing anything made him very uncomfortable. Ted found more and more ways to distract himself from his unhappy life and this worked out ok for a while. What got to Ted was the Sunday nights. Every time he looked toward the week ahead he felt despair. Ted struggled with every suggestion his therapist gave. Ted didn’t like journaling because this put his feelings and problems in perspective and made him feel compelled to make changes. Ted didn’t like reading about people who changed their lives and he hated the idea that he might be an alcoholic.

Ted’s therapist was trying valiantly to put himself out of a job and so he continuously urged Ted to be completely and rigorously honest with himself. He suggested to Ted that each morning as he got into his car he could say the following: “Today I am going on a long commute that I hate to go to a job that I hate to work for a boss that I hate and be surrounded by coworkers I hate. Then I will drive home to hang out with friends I outgrew ten years ago. I will continue to live in an area I hate and I will not face any of my fears today.” Ted didn’t last long at this. He complained that it made him more depressed. His therapist disagreed and pointed out that it simply made him aware of how he already felt.

Ted realized that drinking used to take away the awareness of things that felt bad but that it no longer worked. Ted did discover that the less he drank, the better he felt. He realized that not being hungover in the morning made him more productive.

Ted began eating healthier and working out for half an hour a night. He made new friends. He started expressing his Real Feelings and changed the Master Plan because it was based on False Beliefs (primarily that he was not Good Enough) and he became far happier by 47. His therapist pointed out that an awful lot of people go their whole lives without making such changes.

Eventually Ted decided that doing work he hated was no longer an option. He quit his job and instead of agonizing over what to do for the rest of his life he took a job that he thought would be fun. Ted spent a summer on the coast of Maine cooking lobsters for tourists. The strangest thing happened – he met a woman who hated football captain types. They fell in love. The therapist is not sure if they lived Happily Ever After ™ but he does know that Ted’s depression got its ass kicked the moment he let go of the Master Plan and instead accepted Life on Life’s Terms.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.