It’s always tough going back through old photos on my phone. My camera roll is full of emotional triggers, from the head-shaking, facepalming, uncomfortable close-ups of tequilas-on-the-rocks and (dear God!) my face under the influence thereof, to the guilty gut-punch of all those CrossFit gym pics.
You guys, I once won trophies for my fitness! One of them was even made of metal! 💪🏻🏆👸🏼
(I don’t know if you can read the plates in the above image, but that hardware was from a local competition called “Masters of the Universe” that I used to enter every year in my late 30s.)
Sitting here years later, sans six-pack abs, and a good two clothing sizes larger (I would guess…my pandemic wardrobe has been 100% extremely lived-in loungewear), having swapped alcoholism for a sugar addiction, I remind myself for the 10 millionth time that I was not happy as a hard-bodied exercise fiend. Doing muscle-ups and deadlifting 300 pounds and running around in public in a sports bra and booty shorts did not fill the hole inside, just as guzzling booze and buying things and cruising social media and even winning awards at work failed to soothe my restless soul.
(See below snapshot, in which the skinny version of me is holding a Keystone Press Association second place plaque…but drank so much that night she wouldn’t remember much in the morning.)
Right now, I am as far from the “best shape of my life” as I’ve been in the past 10 years. Professionally, I’m in a serious state of flux. And yet, I feel closer than ever to achieving success.
I’m enrolled in Jess Weiner’s online course called “WTF is Success,” which just kicked off March 3, so naturally, this topic is at the forefront of my mind. The registration fee was a gift from my mom, who took one look at the course title and instantly knew what to get her foul-mouthed, self-help-obsessed daughter for birthday #43 (it’s on April 7).
For our first lesson, we’re being encouraged to examine our definition of success and how the people and events in our life have shaped it.
No sweat! I am a first-born child and a lifelong athlete, so clearly, success for me means being the best at everything. It means leading. Achieving. Winning. Being applauded and admired. Making her family proud. Giving her parents something to brag about. Getting her name in the paper.
One scene from my childhood has played on a loop throughout my nearly two-year sobriety journey as I tried to search my past for “what went wrong”: My mom asking me how my day was, and because I hadn’t won any awards or received any accolades, I told her it was bad. 🥺
I’m going to go ahead and yada-yada through my entire 20-year school-of-hard-knocks story and tell you, I’ve learned to throw all that perfectionist, never-enough shit out the window. Decades of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and underemployment — all of which led me to the brink of total destruction in late 2018, right around the time of that aforementioned Keystone Awards ceremony — have taught me that “success” is not about an accomplishment, a possession or an image.
It’s all about inner peace.
A person filled with peace doesn’t waste time always reaching, reaching, reaching for external validation.
A person filled with peace doesn’t feel the need to constantly seek escape/oblivion to avoid dealing with reality.
A person filled with peace is able to get out of their own head and do good out in the world. Help others. Live a purposeful life.
So…all you have to do to be successful is cure the spiritual emptiness issues that have plagued you since birth! Easy peasy! 🤣
This, coming from a girl who drinks 12 cups of coffee and chews 50 pieces of gum in a day and can’t sit in silence for 5 minutes without reaching for the iPad or TV remote or something to shove in her mouth. This, from a girl who has panic attacks every time she has to make a phone call or interact with another human in any way.
WTF is inner peace? That’s the real question I seek to answer.
In addition to starting the Jess Weiner course this week, I also bought and devoured Brene Brown’s celebrated book “Daring Greatly.” This, too, was an invitation to redefine success — the title of the book comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech (see screenshot), which basically preaches that trying is winning — and one particular snippet from Brown’s writing stuck in my head.
Of course, it was a sports anecdote.
Brown’s daughter had to swim an event at a meet that she dreaded because it wasn’t in her wheelhouse and she feared disaster, i.e., finishing dead last. She pleaded with her mom to give her an “out,” to convince the coach to let her off the hook…she even contemplated scratching the event by intentionally missing her heat. But in the end, she dared to swim it, and instead of judging the ordeal a failure, she saw it as a challenge tackled.
“I showed up, and I got wet,” is how I believe Brown’s daughter summarized the experience.
And that, to answer the big question of my Week 1 “WTF” course worksheets, is really how I would like to define my own success.
I kept that quote in mind as I logged on to my weekly recovery meeting Thursday night, heart pounding out of my chest because I was asked to be the guest speaker. I had a reading picked out and a page of notes prepared, the little people-pleasing performer in me all revved up to “do a good job” as my brain, by force of habit, spit out all those old perfectionist messages and panic signals…
What if you fail?!? 😱
“All you have to do is show up and get wet,” I told myself.
And that was the basic gist of the message I tried to impart to the group: that “success” in sobriety — and by extension, in life — means being present, not just in your own life but in your community and in the great big oneness of all living things. It means seeking integration, not validation, focusing not on what sets you apart from others but on all the things you do, and can, share.
Inner peace comes from striving not to be a master of, but an open and willing part of, the ginormous and beautiful universe.
Ok, so I think we’ve got a good working definition here. We understand “what the f*ck” success really means, and my hope is that by continuing to “show up and get wet” in this success course and recovery meetings and everyday life, the “how to get there” part will work itself out.
As for working myself out? Apologies to the old me, but I am exhausted from a week of deep thinking and speaking and writing, and I am going to chalk this one up as a Rest Day. 😴