How To Ruin Your Life in Less Than a Year – A Confession
This post started out as an email to my subscribers. As I began to write, I realized this needed to go to a much wider audience.
In short, this is a confession of the struggle I’ve been dealing with over the last 9 months. A stunning spiral downward that I’ve hidden from the world.
I’m tired of hiding my pain and my struggle. While I’m not going to go into all the details, you’ll get the idea. And by not being explicit, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks with your own story.
My purpose is three-fold:
One – to let you know that you are not alone if you are struggling.
Two – to actually get this out of the dark and into the light so that I can move on and overcome the shame and fear and whatever else is holding me back.
THREE – to write this out for myself because I think best when I write. And, like Eminem in the final rap battle of 8 Mile, it’s just something I need to get out there so it can’t hurt me anymore.
You’re welcome to look over my shoulder and see what you see and hear what you hear.
You see, I’ve been struggling and beating myself up over the last 9 months or so (February 2016-October 2016).
I had some huge successes over the last few years. Since 2008 it’s been a pretty good ride in every area of my life.
I went from $26 in my checking account to earning more than anyone in my family ever had while doing something I enjoyed… I’m in the best physical shape of my life… I have great kids and an amazing wife… and I was active in my spiritual life. In January of 2016, I earned more in one month than many folks make in a year. And it was about double what I’d ever earned in my previous biggest month… which was double what I’d gotten used to making over the last few years… which was more than I made in a year when my wife and I first got married.
But starting in February of this year, the wheels started to come off.
The truth is… well… I think the good just got too good. I know it sounds crazy. I’d heard stories like this but never believed it would happen to me either. And yet, at the same time, I could see it coming.
Basically, over the last 9 months, I sabotaged the very enterprises that provided for myself and my family.
It’s affected my fitness as I begin to think maybe I’m not worth the hassle of working out so I’ve slacked off at the gym and in my nutrition.
It’s affected my identity… it’s caused me to question who I am and why I’m here.
It’s even started to affect my relationship with myself, my wife, my clients, and even my God.
As I’ve shared with you over and over in these pages, every area of your life affects every other area of your life. When
you let the FIRE (Fitness, Identity, Relationships, and Enterprises) go out in one area, the FIRE will, eventually, go out in every area unless you Rise Up and throw some fuel on the fire.
So what’s going on? Why did I do this to myself and my family?
There are a few reasons I see. I’ll name them first, then I’ll go back and flesh them out.
One – I grew up in financial dysfunction (as a need for excitement) so I’m simply living out the dysfunction I was infected with as a child. An “infection” that affects me to this day. As you’ll see, this is not an excuse but a realization – a very empowering one at that.
Two – As I move closer to the true calling of why I’m on this planet, the stakes for impact go way up — impact beyond me or my family. And, I believe, there are spiritual forces that do not want me to be all I was created to be. I simply was not prepared for the battle this kind of potential impact creates.
Three – I just got scared and it showed up as retreat instead of fighting – a result of how I showed up in the two items above.
Any of these hit a nerve for you? They don’t have to… this post is not about you… and yet, I do think these three things are far more common than any of us dare to admit.
So, let’s work through them together, ok?
ONE – Financial (and other) Dysfunction
About 4 weeks ago, at the urging of a great friend, I started attending a group called ACA. ACA stands for Adult Children of Alcoholics. And, it’s also for anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional family.
In the group, modeled after AA, they have a text they use as you move through the program. It’s referred to as the ACA Handbook. However, at over 600 pages, it occurs to me as more like an encyclopedia of the effects of dysfunction.
To say it’s eye-opening is an understatement. Much of what I considered just part of who I am and “wrong” with me is actually a normal result of having grown up in a dysfunctional home. Like water to a fish, I could not see it.
And let me just say right now, this is not a blaming of my parents. They were infected and affected by dysfunction too. And from what I can tell, this is all part of the fall… of sin entering the picture thousands of years ago in the Garden.
There was no substance abuse in my home growing up. There was no outward abuse. In fact, growing up in my home seemed to be quite normal. A fact that actually makes the dysfunction even harder to spot.
In ACA, they have what’s called “The Laundry List”. When I first read through this “Laundry List”… well… it blew my mind. How did these people get into my life!? How long had they been watching me?
Then the denial kicked in. Then the rational mind, the ego, and certainly whispers of the enemy, began to take over. I said to myself, “These are just Barnum statements. They’re like horoscopes, just specific enough to make me think they are about me but vague enough to apply to everyone.”
Classic denial. But instead of me telling you about these, let me just write them out for you here:
The Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic
- We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
- We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
- We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
- We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
- We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- We became addicted to excitement.
- We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
- We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
- Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
~ Tony A., 1978
The ones that really jumped out from the page and grabbed me were 1,2,3,5,7,8,10, and 11. As I work through the course, I have a feeling that more will become apparent or come to the surface.
I’m still learning and am brand new to ACA. I can tell you that I still have a massive amount of judgment around the fact that I need to be there. And yet, being there helps me see so much about why I behave the way I have, and do, in my life.
One of the outcomes of working the steps in ACA is: “you will move from shame to self-worth, from secrecy to honesty, loneliness to connection with self and others, and from silence to having a voice.”
That’s a pretty big outcome and one I believe is worth fighting for.
So how does this show up financially in my year of ruin?
Laundry List item number 8 – We become addicted to excitement.
Growing up, finances were feast or famine in our home. We were either doing really well financially or struggling. I didn’t know it then but my dad was creating excitement for himself. Why? I’m guessing because in his home growing up they moved every two years because my grandfather was in the Air Force. They moved all over the country and all over the world. That’s exciting! And it gets addicting.
My dad needed to recreate that in various ways. For him, it seems to be financial and entrepreneurial. Always starting over in careers.
Something I picked up and still model to this day. See how this plays out?
This is not me blaming my dad or his dad.
This is more like finally realizing that I’ve been driving with a parking brake on… and I didn’t know the parking brake was a thing… I just thought that’s the way the car drove. And when the brakes got hot and overheated and I couldn’t stop… I figured I did something wrong or that’s just what happens if you drive long enough.
And though I’m still learning about this idea of dysfunction as a disease, or virus, we catch that infects us, I’m beginning to see that it makes a lot of sense.
There’s no reason to blame anyone when you catch a cold. You simply were around people who had a cold. The tools I’m learning in ACA are allowing me to vaccinate myself and build up my immune system.
So that’s one area I’m learning to reverse this “year of ruin.”
I’ll tie all these together in a moment.
But first, let’s look at the second item…
TWO – Opposition to The Purpose for my Life
It is a core belief of mine that we were put here for a purpose…. that we were created to do good works… that there is a plan for our lives… a plan that is bigger than any of us individually.
It is also a core belief of mine that there is opposition, an enemy, who is out to stop us from being all that we were created to be. An enemy that is out to kill and destroy our unique and valuable impact on the world.
I know many people don’t believe in such things and that’s ok. I get it.
Still, I do believe it. And I understand that because I believe it, it’s real even if it’s not real. I get it.
Thing is, I’ve seen some crazy stuff happens in the lives of those men and women who are up to stuff. No matter how well they prepare, stuff happens – crazy, unexplainable stuff. Crisis, setbacks, heartaches… it comes out of nowhere.
And I do not believe it’s all “created” by our own doing.
Actually, that’s not true. I think we DO create this opposition… just not for the reason many believe.
In battle, if you lay low, hide in your foxhole, and never fire a shot, chances are you’ll never get fired at… or even discovered.
However, if you are engaged in the fight… if you are taking enemy ground… then you are a threat. And threats will always become targets in battle. So in a sense, when we step out and create impact… when we start to become the men and women we were created to become… then the enemy gets upset.
Because we’re changing lives – for the better.
Make no mistake about it, we are in a battle. But the battle is not like the fighting going on in Syria or Afghanistan. It’s much more subtle. The battle we engage in when we begin to step into our purpose is a spiritual battle.
We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12 The Voice™ Translation
And the more you and I step into our God-ordained purpose… our calling… the more “attention” we attract.
Now, that’s one side of this coin.
The other side of this coin is the side I neglected. And it’s this neglect, or lack of believing, that contributed to the spiral downward over the course of 2016.
What I’ve neglected to claim is the Truth that, “… the one who lives in me is greater than the one in this world.”
You see, if I buy into the belief that I am the be-all, end-all of my results here on earth, then when things go sideways I begin to blame myself for not being strong enough… get down on myself for not being tough enough… or not pushing hard enough. All lies.
That’s like going into a war zone and thinking that just because I drove over an IED and got blown up that I did something wrong. Nonsense. The enemy put that there. And the enemy is very good at what the enemy does.
Part of my ruin this year was forgetting where my greatest power comes from and forgetting to use that in conjunction with my gifts and abilities and the tools of battle I’ve been given. Again, imagine going to battle with no protection and no weapon… highly ineffective and very dangerous.
Let’s look at the third point…
THREE – Fight or Flight
Some folks bow up and fight. Others take flight. I tend to take flight or look way into the future and take evasive action to avoid the fight altogether. There’s nothing wrong with fighting or fleeing. It’s when one becomes your answer to every situation that problems start to magnify.
For me, my default and primary tool became flight. It’s what I came to believe worked best as a child so, as an adult, I continued using it even though it’s not always the best option.
Sometimes, I need to fight. And by fight I mean do what’s tough… work harder, work longer, have the tough conversation, build the website, make the phone call, go to the gym, put down the Oreo cookie (or four), etc.
You see, the fight… that is, what we need to conquer today… is not a saber-tooth tiger; it’s daily tasks as they relate to our major definite purpose in life. It’s not the big things; it’s the little things. And it’s the little things left undone that make a big mess.
What does all this mean to you, dear reader?
Well… actually… I have no idea what it means to you and I’m certainly not going to tell you what it “should” mean to you.
How about instead I simply share with you what I’ve been learning as I talk to myself? And maybe, as you listen in, you can pick something out that saves you a little heartache or trouble…
- No one is coming to save you. Even the most kind-hearted people with the best of intentions are not going to save you. Yes, there will be that time… or two… that someone really does save you in some area of life. But for the day to day work that needs to be done, it’s on us as individuals. That doesn’t mean you don’t get help or seek out help. It means don’t wait around in your life boat waiting for a rescue… row and fish… stay alive long en0ugh for the currents to take you to land. Then, continue on your journey.
- No one else hears your call or sees your vision. Chances are that the call you hear for your life sounds like a pack of screaming monkeys to anyone else – irrational nonsense and likely irritating. You can hire the best mentors, coaches, and muses in the world but they can’t see and hear what you see and hear… and certainly not the way you see and hear it. That’s why it’s your calling, not theirs.
- No one actually cares if you fail or succeed. This one is tough to swallow. Other people might say they care… they may act like they care… they might even believe they care and at the end of the day they only care to the extent that it affects their personal well-being. In other words, they care that your failure affects THEM. It’s not their fault. It’s not even wrong. It just is.
I could go on but you get the point, right?
Here’s what I’ve discovered… the more I expect people to save me, expect people to see and hear my vision, or expect others to care about my success… the more I start to not do what is required to make my life work. When I expect or want others to take care of me… to have the answers… to reassure me… to hold me and tell me it’s all going to be all right… I am acting like a child.
And guess what? That works really well for a child that needs all those things.
It just doesn’t work as an adult.
So how do you ruin your life in a year?
Simple. You revert back to acting like a child when things get tough.
Act like a child long enough (when you are actually an adult) and you’ll soon discover what it’s like to be an orphan on the street.
In your corner,