It was 8:00 pm on a Friday, and Tony was just leaving the office. He climbed into his Cadillac and took a moment to reflect on the day. Much of the afternoon was spent with his boss, Mike, crunching numbers. Sales were down and Mike wanted answers. Needless to say, Tony was stressed to the max! Mike, who had a reputation as a man you didn’t want to cross, had been especially confrontational today. Because of past interactions with Mike, Tony had made a silent vow to try and avoid him as much as possible and to keep things as light as possible the times where Mike couldn’t be avoided. However, today couldn’t be avoided, and Tony knew it by the constant churning he had felt in his stomach and the intense headaches he had. He had wrestled with thoughts all day about how he could go home sick to avoid any conflict. However, he knew that doing this would only delay the inevitable, so he had chosen to stay.
At 2:00 pm, Mike marched promptly into Tony’s office and, without waiting to hear from Tony, lit into him about how Tony wasn’t doing enough. Mike was never one to mince words and he, very forcefully, made it clear to Tony that the reason that business was going so poorly was that Tony wasn’t working hard enough or long enough. This was not the first time Tony had heard this Mike use this line of reasoning. In fact, over the last year, Tony’s weekly hours had gradually crept up from 40 to 50 and now to over 60. As a result of the anxiety at work, other aspects of his life had been affected. He found that he was often instigating conflicts with his wife. He was distant from his kids, often feeling unable to leave the office to go to their activities and be an active part of their lives. He would place blame on Mike and work for distancing himself from his family.
When he was at home, he would often leave a mess all over the house. He would go home and essentially become a log on the couch justifying it as “relaxing” while expecting his wife and kids to shoulder the burden of responsibility for what he wouldn’t do. He would then blame them when things didn’t get done. He recognized his faults, but often felt at loss for words to seek to deal with the mess he found himself in. He became very dissatisfied and depressed with his quality of life. Part of him wanted to fix this but he wasn’t sure how to deal with the events that seemed to be inevitable in his life along with the fact that it simply felt less exhausting to just blame others.
As he pulled his car onto the road, he felt his phone buzzing in his coat pocket. He reluctantly pulled it out to answer the call. He heard the automated voice say “Call from Mike.” He wanted to throw his phone down, but suddenly he felt a gentle urge from within to answer the call. In a slightly annoyed voice , he said, “Hi, Mike. What’s up?”
Mike replied, “I wanted you to know that I am sorry for the mess I created between us tonight and I would like to clean it up with you right now. I’d like to be frank with you. I have had a lot on my plate recently. My wife and I are in the midst of a divorce and messy custody battle and it was easy to blame her. I recently found out I have cancer and it was easy to blame it on bad luck. You know things haven’t been going well with our company and it was easy to blame you. I realized tonight that I have a problem placing blame on other people when I am feeling anxious. It took lashing out at you again today for me to realize that there is one thing in common in all the messes I am facing in my life: me. However, I have decided to make it a goal to try a stay connected to people around me and to first check what my responsibility is in situations when I am feeling anxious.”
Tony was stunned as he struggled to respond. Finally, he uttered the words, “Mike, thank you for your openness and honesty. I, too, deal with many of those same issues. Sometimes, when I feel anxious, I try to over function by taking on the responsibility of others just to try and make things ‘feel right’. Instead of going to you when I felt a rift between us, I chose instead to try and avoid you. I think your willingness to be authentic with me has allowed me to see how I played a role in allowing this mess between us to grow. Let’s meet on Monday and talk through how we might be able to try and deal with the issues our company is facing together as a team.”
As Tony got off the phone, tears trickled down his eyes. He pulled onto the shoulder of the road to reflect on what had just happened. Mike’s call had awoken something inside of him. He realized that in many aspects of his life, he had been responsible for creating messes. He considered his relationship with his wife for a moment. He began to see how some of the things he had said and done had fostered an environment that had caused those messes to grow. He also began to see more clearly things that circumstances had occurred in those messes that were not his fault that he took responsibility for just to “smooth things over.” He also saw instances where he intentionally pushed his wife’s buttons just to get a response. However, it wasn’t until this moment, that Mike’s call had born witness to a new way…a new life.
A few minutes later, Tony pulled into his driveway and walked in and kissed his wife. He spent the rest of the evening sharing with her what had happened and how the events of the evening had caused him to better understand his role in their marital discord. Some of the barriers that they had consciously, and subconsciously, built began to come down. Reconciliation had begun.
Thanks to Mike, Tony was able to be present to the reality that was his life. He began to understand that when he felt burning in his chest or he began to have a bad headache, they were often symptoms of anxiety. He was anxious at work, anxious in play, and anxious at home. He also began to recognize some of his responses when he felt anxious. He sought to blame others, was quick to get others not directly involved to “see his side”, and his responses were often made quicker than normal and with less thought when he felt anxious. He knew that this change would require practice…and lots of it! Mike’s story reminded him that there is so much going on in the lives of those he came into contact with that he wasn’t even aware of. He realized that other’s experiences have helped shape them just as his experiences shaped him. He was beginning a journey towards trying to take ownership of that which was his responsibility and to let others be responsible for theirs. It was a journey of faith trusting that God would lead him into a new way of being.
Just as Tony set out in faith that he would show up differently the next time chronic anxiety showed up in his life, so to do we have times where we haven’t responded the way we wish we would have. We all have stories we could, and should be, telling as an encouragement to others as well as a reminder that we all have “blind spots” in our lives that cause us to respond in a way we wish we hadn’t.
(Preview: In my next blog, we will learn about how the current reality that Tonya felt herself in led her to realize that change was crucial.)