The first ten minutes Noland was in my office, he didn’t say a word. He was in distress, quickly wiping aside every tear that dared leak from his eye. So we waited together, in silence. He was every inch the miner, a rough man who lived hard, clearly not someone who made a habit of seeing a counsellor. But in time he pulled himself together, took a big breath and in brief, staccato sentences, he choked back his tears and told me why he had come to my office.
“Me and the old lady drink. Sometimes it goes too far. She’s got a mouth on her and I don’t always handle it so well. The other day things got outta’ hand. Anyway, I was puttin’ the boots to her when I turned and saw my kids watchin’. When I saw the look on their faces I remembered my dad puttin’ the boots to my mom and that’s why I’m here: I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Over the next months we talked and poked at many things: his drinking, his anger, the abuse he endured as a child, the abuse he endured because he was an Indian. Little by little, Noland took responsibility for his behavior and when he no longer needed by assistance, we parted ways.
Years passed and then, out of the blue, he showed up once more. In a few minutes we covered the basics: Yes, he still drank; Yes, he was still married; Yes they still fought; but No, he’d never laid a hand on her since the day he walked into my office. ‘We still drink and all, but it’s better now. When I get angry, I just keep remembering how I wish my dad had treated my mom.”
“And I guess, that’s the reason I’m here,” he continued. “I know I’m never going to hit her again, but every time I look at my kids, I feel so much shame for the way I used to treat her. You helped me get rid of all that other shame I had around where I came from and what happened to me, and now I want you to help me get rid of the shame I feel when I’m around my kids.”
I work in a profession and come from a culture that has a negative view of shame, seeing it as something to be rid of so it wasn’t difficult for me to agree with Roland. I would help him set that shame aside. So we talked of the conflicting truths that shaped his life: the difficulty living with shame; the role shame had reminding him of what he did not want to be; his certainty that he would never hit his wife again; his fear that his drinking and his anger might once more get out of hand.
He didn’t even stay the whole hour. Faced with the conflicting truths of who he was, Roland slammed his hands on the arms of the chair and shouted his resolve: “That’s it,” he cried. “If shame helps even a little bit in making sure I don’t hurt those kids and their mother, then I don’t want to let it go. I’ll keep it. And we’ll all be better off for it.”
An insightful person knows they are a collection of many truths. A wise person knows integrity lies in living those many truths.