You know how the stuff that most irritates you about people is the stuff that you most dislike about yourself? If you didn’t know this, there you go – if someone is pissing you off because of their arrogance, incompetence, impatience, immaturity, self-absorption, laziness, lack of focus, greed, etc – there is a very good chance that on some level, you suffer from these same character defects; and the reality is, it’s much easier and even satisfying, to point them out about someone else than about ourselves.
A couple of weeks ago, my company had a huge event to announce its official entry into the US market (it’s a Latin American company). The three-day conference consisted of a lot of training, about the products and business-building techniques, taught by masters in the industry and top company leaders. The success lesson that resonated with me the most, was when one of the top earners in the company said, “I didn’t want to achieve a certain rank – I wanted to become the person who earned that rank.”
When I first started in the industry, I had zero aspirations of being a leader. I knew nothing about this type of work (network marketing), I just became a distributor because I absolutely loved the products so much that I wanted everyone to be taking them, and I may as well get some commission from my referrals, maybe it would at least cover the cost of my personal consumption. Suddenly, I found myself leading a team. And this made me very uncomfortable. See, I love being alone. I love avoiding people’s drama. I love being self-reliant and I love self-reliant people who don’t bug me (you see why motherhood, and to some extent marriage, has posed such a challenge for me). I love individual sports – running, triathlon, anything where there may be people around me but their outcome and my outcome are not interdependent.
The thing is, as I realized during the company conference, as I pondered my leader’s words, I cannot grow into the best version of myself on my own. My entry into leadership may have been accidental, but I am a leader now in a few arenas. In fact, we are all leaders – we lead our children, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our Facebook followers… We may not have applied for or aspired to the leadership job, but we are each making choices every day that are being watched, that are setting examples, and that are impacting everyone around us.
Today I sat in a AA meeting that had a guest speaker and he ended his incredible story with, “when I put everything I have learned, from the decades of sobriety, all the books I have read on recovery and spirituality, when I put it all through a funnel, two things emerge: awareness and responsibility.” He then asked that we go round the room and share what “inflated ego” means to us.
I quit drinking on Dec. 6, 2015, and did it alone (remember, I can do anything, I don’t need anyone!) for about 3 weeks. Out of curiosity, I went to a few AA meetings. I thought, hmmm, what interesting people and stories, and gosh, I’m glad I was nowhere near that bad! If I spoke up in a meeting I would say, “Hi, I’m Susanne, and I’m an alcoholic” and I wasn’t saying it honestly, I was lying. I was only saying it because that’s what you’re supposed to say. The kids’ schedules changed, things got busy with my company’s impending launch, and I decided, going to meetings is just another thing I need to put into my day, they’re not really doing much for me because they are sort of depressing, and I have zero desire to drink, so I guess I don’t really need this after all. I carried on like this for about 3 weeks.
It was when driving, and listening to a newly discovered podcast, the Bubble Hour, that it hit me: I DO need a tribe in this. I DO need to be proactive and start going to AA and working the steps with my sponsor. It was like a huge lightbulb when off in my head when a neuroscientist explained how alcoholism is a progressive disease, and just because you catch yourself and get off on the 10th floor, it doesn’t mean that the elevator isn’t waiting for you to get back on and crash hard – which it will. He pointed out that the number one symptom of alcoholism is denial. He said, if you aren’t doing the work you need to do, while you are dry, your disease is doing push-ups – so if you pick up a drink again, you will have a much quicker downward spiral. A couple of the women on the podcast described their descent – how they were totally functional, “normal” social drinkers like most people, but then in the space of 2-3 weeks their disease kicked in big time and their lives became horrific. That scared the shit out of me and I got my ass back into meetings.
Awareness. Responsibility. Ego. I go around every day bemoaning the fact that people in real life and on Facebook completely lack self-awareness. Humility pill: the realization that I was the queen of that! Now, back in the rooms, soaking in everything everyone has to say, it’s like something completely switched in my brain. I no longer see it as a depressing, desperate group who are still revisiting shit they did 25 or more years ago. I see everyone in these rooms as a walking, breathing, yes, often quirky, inspiring miracle. I don’t know a single person outside of the rooms and in the rooms, who doesn’t have something they are suffering with in some way. And yet, most of us figure, “I can handle this; I can’t share this, it’s too shameful; no one would ever understand; everyone thinks I’m perfect and I can’t disappoint them or I’ll lose their love…” etc. In these rooms, everything we are all dealing with or have experienced – pain, disappointment, isolation, misunderstanding, underappreciation, physical distress, grief, guilt, shame, self-hatred, helplessness, hopelessness, stress, anxiety, depression, etc. – all of this shows up in these rooms, and the people in there are sharing this. And feeling heard. And accepted. And loved. In our admission of powerlessness, we are actually becoming empowered. I look around the room now and am amazed that people who at one point were probably considered, or considered themselves, perhaps still do, complete failures - they are actually more personally evolved that most people outside of the 12 step programs, because they are actively working on these principles every single day:
What a gift!
Every morning now, I wake up, and I lie in bed and pray to God, to please help me today, to do His work. I ask for help. I may be an accidental leader, but with the grace of God, I will grow into the leader I really want to be – not because of ego, but in spite of it.
This morning I competed in a duathlon (3.1 mile run/15 mile bike/3.1 mile run) and at some point during the brutal (hilly & driving rain) bike portion, my mind went to the subject of how we feel we deserve stuff. I definitely felt like my friend, Ian, whose race this was, deserved a big kick in his British arse for designing this punishing course, where a couple of times I wondered if I would tip over, the hill was so steep that my bike was barely inching forward. Perhaps even more painful, though, was the acknowledgement that much of my suffering in life has occurred because I felt like I deserved something.
On the way to the race I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Bubble Hour. One of the women was admitting that back when she used to drink (she is now in recovery), her drinking rituals often revolved around times of the day, or situations, where she felt that she deserved a glass of wine (which then, as her alcoholism progressed, which it almost always does, led to another and another and another…). It was 5 o’clock, which meant now she had to deal with making dinner and bathing the kids, during their “witching hour” so she deserved a glass of wine. Or, her husband was being an unempathic clod, so screw him, she deserved a comforting cocktail. Or, she was so damn bored of the menial domestic tasks, she deserved a drink that would make her life seem more interesting.
I’m guessing by all of the drinking mama paraphernalia available at our local TJ Maxx and gift shops, I’m not the only mom that would relate to this entitled buzz.
The women on the podcast started to discuss how self-absorbed and misdirected this type of attitude and behavior had been. One of them pointed out that she hates noise, particularly of the kind that happens when her kids, toddlers at the time, were fighting. Alcohol would help her numb out her feelings, which once sober she realized were not as she had believed (“I hate noise”) as much as, “I feel like a terrible mom.”
I thought about all of this when I wasn’t cursing out Ian (race director), or wondering how I was going to dislodge my very uncomfortable wedgie without falling off my bike, or wishing I could stop and pet the baby sheep I rode by. I thought about this sense of entitlement, this “I deserve to indulge in my misery” and how habitual of a practice this can become. And how harmful it is.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. This has been a challenging day for me to some extent for the past 12 years. My mom died 12 years ago, a month after I had my second child. So, I miss my mom, especially on Mother’s Day. And I have had some really tough times navigating being the mother of two (no one told me having a second child is exponentially harder than one, especially during those first few years!). Quite frankly, some of my favorite Mother’s Days the last few years were the ones spent at the Ragnar relay race (200 miles of running a relay with your 12-person team), knowing my kids were happily home with their dad or grandparents and I could be carefree, running, laughing with other moms. No laundry, sibling fights, cooking, letting the dog in and out, in and out… A couple of days where I could just be Me. I deserved this treat, especially on Mother’s Day!
Individually, and as a society, we hold dear to and promote the right to abuse ourselves because we deserve it. You run a 5k, you earned (deserve) that muffin. You had a long day at work, you earned (deserve) the beer and pizza and mind-numbing TV show. The occasional soothing is fine, but at some point it can become a habit, and lead to progressive dis-ease.
The thing is, aside from piling on pounds and other yucky stuff like debt, inflammation, stress, diseased organs... this is rarely a helpful way to go through life. I could be a mom with a higher degree, fluent in several languages, at one point making a small fortune, and now resentful because my day is full of diapers and kitchen duty. I could be someone who has experienced the inevitable pain that comes with being human, and I now choose to live life in a way that is a self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction. Either way, I am making a choice, today, to live in this negativity out of a sense of entitlement. Do these situations suck? Yes. Is life unfair? Yes. Is this mindset of deserving helpful? NO.
When I was almost done with the bike ride and was mentally back on good terms with race director Ian, I had the thought that all of this entitlement and “I deserve this drink/ cookie/ pity party/ chip on shoulder/etc” was not something Brene Brown would include in her definition of wholehearted living:
I am worthy of love and belonging.
If I truly believe this, which I now do, and perhaps haven’t always, then I can let go of the “I deserve this” mindset. Whether I am choosing an unhealthy drink, food, reaction to a person or situation – am I choosing this because I truly enjoy it and desire it, or am I motivated by a sense that I have somehow been wronged and this is how I can balance out the unfairness? And on the flip side - when I am choosing to practice self-care by "indulging" in a Ragnar weekend or a FuXion event or an evening out with friends, am I doing it because I "deserve" it for all of the crap I put up with or am I doing it because it gives me joy?
During my five months now of clear-headed sobriety, of listening, reading, connecting, feeling, this is one of the most profound realizations I have had. I am worthy, because God loves me unconditionally. So when I feel frustrated, bored, angry, jealous, under-appreciated, misunderstood, lonely, out-of-place – or happy, accomplished, celebratory – I do not need to numb those feelings, or to drink “at” them or eat “at” them because I deserve the comfort, reward, revenge, or other momentary satisfaction I get from the choice or behavior. I do not "deserve" to identify as a victim, because of xyz situation in my life. Once I fully understand that I am worthy, all justifications of “deserving” something sound immature and bring to mind the image of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka. YUCK.
So, I think of this now each morning, one morning at a time: I am worthy. I am enough. I don't need to deserve anything. God is love and joy and I am here to be a conduit of those feelings.
On the other hand, I totally deserved the generous prize I got for placing 2nd overall female in the fabulous, punishing Wingathlon Duathlon.
I used to believe that “everything in moderation” was the key to success in health and happiness. Now, however, I actually believe that while the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, it is also full of people hogging the middle, as they take ten steps forward, only to fall twelve steps backward.
As I ran my favorite local route this morning, I passed this road sign that over the last few months has triggered my thought process that I’m going to try to lay out coherently in this blog post.
My first reaction to seeing the sign is to think of all the animals I run by, who are smushed into roadkill because they stayed in or near the middle too long. My next thought immediately goes to our current political environment. If you want to be a successful presidential candidate, hogging the middle makes you likeable and boring, therefore a loser.
My maternal grandfather used to say, in Swedish, “everything in moderation” and he led a long, healthy life. My mom echoed his wisdom, as I remember her preaching the same motto. And yet, ever since I started to really examine my own behaviors, attitudes, and habits, I have questioned this recommendation, which I still hear people uttering pretty much daily. When I really think about it, my grandfather wasn’t exactly your Moderation King. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, until he quit cold turkey at age 50 (he lived till age 90). He was also a gifted painter, a published author, a decorated member of the Swedish military, he exercised daily - truly a Renaissance man. Same with my mom. She exercised every day, I never saw her eat any junk food, she kept house meticulously, had her own business, moved house at least 17 times with my dad across several countries. Not exactly moderation role models.
May is Brain Health Month, and as we see PSA’s and links on Facebook and items in the media about related topics, I want to ask you to consider a few things in terms of moderation. When I first decided to abstain from alcohol five months ago, my “everything in moderation!” side was scared and rebellious, so I appeased her by saying, “just take a break for now – take a few weeks off and we’ll go from there.” After the weeks were up, I extended the carrot with, “You’re doing so well, feeling great, but I understand that you’re intimidated by absolutes, so for now, let’s just keep going until someone opens a $1,000 bottle of wine and then if you really want to you can have a glass.” (NOTE: I don’t think anyone has ever offered me a glass of $1,000/bottle wine).
Knowing that I wasn’t “condemned” to being a freak who has to follow boring rules for the rest of my life made abstention much less depressing. But then I heard this awesome podcast yesterday and I completely saw things differently. It turns out that when we take a break, in this case from alcohol, and our brain is healed from the damage and all is great, there’s a part of our brain that will always remember. So, when you hear of people who are sober for years and years, and then they for whatever reason pick up a drink, this part of the brain (hippocampus and amygdala) suddenly takes you back to that time of your life before you got sober, and it takes over. We all hear of the people who went to rehab, detoxed from drugs etc, and then a few months later picked up the substance and went on a bender. This is why you will hear an alcoholic say, “I am one drink away from a bender.” It’s not because they are weak or lack willpower, it truly is because of their brain’s wiring.
As I ran and thought about the Middle Ground, about moderation, I thought about all of this and how surely it must apply to other aspects of our lives. When was the last time you had just one Girl Scout cookie? Or you just skipped one workout? Or you had just one date with the loser guy you kicked out? Perhaps you may consider, that the fact you become powerless and wishy-washy and go back on all of those promises you made to yourself, and you restart the old vicious cycle of self-destruction and abuse – that this is all because your brain is not designed to understand moderation (aside from your rational pre-frontal cortex).
This is not to give you full license to indulge in binge self-destructiveness while singing “Blame it on a-a-a-a-a-amydala.” Rather, I’m hoping that seeing things this way spurs you on to 1) practice self-awareness by asking youself, “am I really being moderate?” and 2) set yourself up for success by creating guidelines for yourself so you don’t trigger the brain memory. Yes, this may mean that certain behaviors may need to become off-limits. But hopefully your inner petulant child that hates rules, authority, extremes, etc, will calm down now you know it’s a brain thing, not a poor reflection on your character. Don’t be that squashed squirrel I ran by yesterday a few feet from the safety of the side of the road.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.