I awoke at 3:30 A.M. this morning in a panic.
This wasn’t the addict panic, the one the brings doom and dread crashing down through my brain. The kind of panic that follows around every addict as a routine part of the day . While I don’t love that feeling, I’ve carried it with me long enough that I’ve learned how to manage those episodes: meetings, meditation, exercise, and generally just calming the hell down.
This morning’s panic was something more deeply ingrained in my psyche that I’m not entirely sure how to extract, and yet something that I know needs to be pulled out.
The reason I suspect this is a deeper problem than I’d acknowledged is because friend, after friend, after friend has approached me and said — in the course of the last three weeks — that they too saw this as a problem. (And, for what it’s worth, my new therapist identified it thirty minutes into our first session.)
“Cut yourself some slack.”
“You’ve got to give yourself a break.”
“You can’t beat yourself up over everything.
“You’ve got to let yourself know that you’re worth this.”
I used to carry a notebook with me at all times so that I could capture the world as I experience it: with words. I used to make it a point to carve out time in my life to be still so that I could see the world as something other than the thing that I moved through. I used to force myself to see the world less through how I wanted it to be, and more how it actually was.
I would take my little notebook, and sit in public places and listen to conversations between people I don’t know. I would sit on benches and observe the world happening around me. I would read books, and magazines, and newspapers from places I would never visit. And when I was struck, I would scribble those notes to remind me to listen, and observe, and read, and feel.
From time to time, I would dig out those notebooks and flip back through them. Sometimes I remembered where the note came from, but many times I didn’t. No matter. When I’d lost the original intent, I didn’t worry about such things. These were not historical recordings, but emotional ones meant to kickstart the fires inside me.
I can’t tell you why these things mattered to me. I can only tell you that when I stopped doing them, something changed inside me.
I do not feel happiness. Or joy. Not in the way that I’ve heard other people describe it, and certainly not in the way that I’ve seen people celebrate it.
I should back up for a moment because there is some context to that statement. I feel those things for other people. I feel a great swell of emotion when I see my dog’s tail wagging when I return home, or when my godchildren tell share parts of their lives with me. These things fill me we a depth of love, and happiness, and joy that I can’t explain.
What I don’t feel — and what I have never felt in my adult life — is the happiness that comes with accomplishment, or the celebrations that come with achievements.
There are only two things: the winner, and everyone else.
And the only way to win is to relentlessly pursue, with reckless abandon, your goal. Anything that requires you to stop that pursuit — happiness, joy, celebrations — creates a weakness, a fault-line that wasn’t there before. Success is far more dangerous than failure, and winning saps that relentless drive from you.
Failure, though, provides fuel to push you forward. There is no joy in losing. There is no happiness in losing. You are a loser, and so there is no time — nor reason — to celebrate.
There is another thing that failure allows you to do. You can justifiably build up the walls around you. You can keep out the light, and the joy, and the happiness. You can because you must. There can be no distractions and you push forward, relentlessly and with no concern for anything that might get in the way.
“Alcohol whooped me fair and square.”
The last few weeks have been filled with a great deal of losing.
When I returned to the program, I had to admit that I’d lost, and that despite my best efforts I couldn’t outrun the alcohol. That began to knock down the dominos in my life. Everywhere I turned — work, personal life, me — I was faced with the realities of my failures. Around every turn for the last three weeks — and many more turns in the coming weeks — I came face-to-face with the result of my actions.
I can handle losses. I can handle failure. I’ve been around long enough to know that nobody wins without losing a great deal.
But as the losses mounted, I found myself kicking the shit out of myself for every action I’ve taken. And with that, I found myself retreating ever deeper into the dark recesses of my mind, growing angry at…everything.
Which, of course, was easier than accepting that while failure happens, it doesn’t define. This is a moment, but not the final story. Whatever comes down the path is just part of the longer story.
Yet I find myself fighting natural defense mechanisms that tell me to push aside anything in my way — happiness, joy, love — and build more of that darkness-fueled energy.
That is how I’ve lived my life. That’s how I’ve taken each next step.
“I’ve come to realize that I’d rather die than ask for help. But I’ve also realized that sometimes asking for help is the only you can win.”
This week I’ve been thinking a great deal about the meetings I attend as I try to pull my life together and make sense of the forces that are swirling around in my head.
Each day, I’ve taken a long, slow breath and reminded myself how grateful I was to have the chance to sit in a room full of men who have decided to willingly and happily share their emotional lives with each other. I had forgotten how much those stories moved me. There is an intimacy that comes from hearing stories from the darkness. There is a comfort in knowing that my broken is not unique in the universe, like a valve letting out steam so the pipes don’t explode.
And yet I’ve never found a way to allow myself to bring the intimacy, and happiness, and joy in those rooms into the daily movements of my life. Maybe because in those rooms we are all broken and humbled and at the last rung. There are no winners in those places, only survivors struggling for today. And so there is no room for ego, and other silly man-made things.
There is only the moment.
But maybe I’ve not found a way to bring that into my life because it’s the most terrifying thing you can do. Opening your mind, and our body, and your soul requires a bravery — and a risk of failure, a risk of losing — that I haven’t found in myself yet.
And so this is the work that has been laid out before me.
Yesterday was the Broad Ripple Lift Off, the annual olympic lifting competition that hosted by our gym, Broad Ripple Fit Club. I’ve been training for this meet for the last seven months. And I was excited for it.
Then three weeks ago happened, which has wrecked me emotionally. I’ve spent the better part of three weeks sequestered from the world and trying to get my footing back. Between meetings and therapy, I haven’t done much around other people because I’ve not really been in control of my emotions.
This, I thought, would be good for me. I would be around my friends and in a supportive environment. And for much of the day, the environment was just that. The most joyous part of my day was acting at the head referee in two different flights. I found a great joy in watching others as they fought to push through their personal limits.
But that is not the feeling that followed me home. From the moment I left the gym, I fell into a deep despair. And I awoke this morning in a panic, angry and humiliated by how I performed. I hadn’t reached the goals I set out all those months ago.
Never mind the cold I was battling. Never mind the emotional turmoil I’m sifting through. Never mind it all.
And I hadn’t. I’d finished last in my flight (for the second year in a row), and managed to nearly bomb out of the competition on my opening clean & jerk, a weight that I never miss in training.
Nevermind that I managed to set a meet personal best in the snatch (81 kg, +6), the clean & jerk (95 kg, +5), and for my meet total (176 kg, +11). You don’t celebrate false victories. You don’t enjoy small milestones.
You use that dark energy for fuel. And so I awoke this morning, restless and anxious.
Worried about a thing that exists only — and entirely — in my head.
And knowing that the next fight is about something more than just lifting more weight.
*The featured photo is licensed from paojus alquiza under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Original image can be found here: https://flic.kr/p/52HC2H.