For a writer, I don't read a lot - book-wise, anyway. I'm pretty sure I have some sort of combination of ADD and OCD when it comes to reading. I can't seem to pay attention to a story long enough and I'm constantly thinking of every little thing that remains undone while I sit there turning pages.
But I read a lot of articles and blogs. I'm not a fan of videos; I'm a speed reader and I prefer to skim an article, go back and re-read a paragraph I really want to digest and not be distracted by pictures or audio. But one video headline caught my eye, and I labored through an unnecessary film montage with voiceover that I wished was in print so I could refer back to it later - like now. Regardless, it was worth it.
The topic was self-sabotage, and it caught my eye because as a self-professed realist bordering on pessimist, I struggle with why I find it so hard to appreciate when things are going well to the point of subconsciously throwing a wrench in them because I'm convinced that they're going to turn sour anyway.
Sounds effed up, doesn't it?
I guess I never realized I did this. But after listening to just a few minutes of this video, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. A real, Dr. Phil "aha" moment. And I couldn't believe it had taken 49 years for me to discover this about myself.
The most poignant thought in the video was this: "Though happiness is of course what we all fundamentally want, for many of us, it isn’t really what we know...it isn’t what we’ve come to expect. It doesn’t feel like home. Getting what we want can make us feel unbearably risky. Self-sabotage may leave us sad, but at least safely, blessedly, in control."
I'm a self-professed (and others-professed) control freak. I've been on my own for the bulk of my life, and consider myself inordinately independent. The reason I'm able to be this way, which is the best way, I surmise, is that I tell myself that I am in charge. I am in control of what happens to me, as well as how I react to things that happen to people around me. I know what to expect, I know how things roll, and I make sure I don't deter from the game plan if I can help it. When I am blindsided by something new, I panic, which is a feeling I can't stand, then I go into "take charge" mode, studying my options to regain that control at least in my own brain.
Where this seemingly foolproof plan goes awry, however, is when something comes along that I've secretly longed for, dreamed about or thought, "someday, maybe...". All of a sudden, that whole "careful what you wished for" is staring me in the face, and I am utterly frozen with fear, apprehension, and trepidation.
I have a great job. I mean, when I was in my 20s, this is the kind of company I thought I'd work for, and the kind of work I thought I'd do. After a series of OK-but-not-quite-there jobs, a stint as a stay-at-home-mom (which kind of sucks if you're a control freak), and a continually lengthening resume, I was finally offered the opportunity to have a career at this great organization. Want to know my first thought when I got the call offering me the position? "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.........."
Why? Because as soon as I was bestowed the gift of something I (thought) I wanted, I freaked out. I remember telling the HR guy that I'd think about it over the weekend and get back to him on Monday. He seemed surprised. Why? Because he knew I'd be an IDIOT not to take it.
Deep down, I did too. But self-sabotage kicked in. I wondered if I had what it took to do the job, and to work for such a professional organization. I wondered if wishing for a job like this at all was silly. I wondered if I had somehow bluffed the people who offered to hire me into thinking I was the most qualified person for the job. And because of that, I almost didn't take it.
If it weren't for so many people - namely my dad - who would have been completely dumfounded and probably incredibly disappointed in me as a person if I DIDN'T take it, I may NOT have taken it. And I'm sure I would have regretted it, even not knowing what I know now about it. I've never been happier with what I do. I've never felt more optimistic (hell, optimistic at all) about my career future. But self-sabotage almost did me in. A great job at a great company wasn't my norm. Dressing up every day after wearing jeans and sweatshirts and being uber-professional after a very, very lax work environment was out of my comfort zone, or so I thought. And diving into an industry I knew very little about and realizing my learning curve was more than daunting.
Another self-sabotage was with my own physical self-esteem. Over the past few years, a series of life-changing events put my fitness and healthy eating regimen on the back burner. I was stressed out, exhausted and depressed. The more weight I gained, the more I told myself I was fat, ugly, and worthless. I stopped going out, hid myself under big sweaters and sweatshirts and avoided people because I knew they'd be whispering, "Goodness, she's gained some weight!" I even covered up mirrors. Seriously. I'd made some lame attempts to lose a few but after not seeing any results, I told myself that I was never going to beat the combination of age, lack of willpower and stressful living.
I never thought I'd be able to get back to where I felt good and was at least somewhat comfortable with how I looked. I had convinced myself that this was as good as it was gonna get. But somehow, with the support of a few key people, namely a physician, a counselor and a personal trainer, I was able to squelch that self-sabotage and embrace something I hadn't thought I could ever again expect - to be strong, healthy and actually a little proud of myself when I look in the mirror.
My latest self-sabotage is ironically simultaneous with finding the video on self-sabotage, and when I finally figured out what I've been doing pretty much all my life.
For as long as I can remember, I've gazed longingly at those seemingly blissfully happy couples who obviously just adore each other. I've seen my parents' 50+ year love affair, knowing I never had that kind of love in any relationship I've ever had - in great part, I'm sure, to my dating and marriage self-sabotages that are becoming the stuff of legends.
But still I wish, and hope, that someday, I can find someone who will treat me with respect and love, who isn't afraid to tell me or show me that respect and love, who is a good person, who likes my friends and whom my friends like, who has similar interests and values as I do, and most importantly, who "gets" me. Oh, and in this pipe dream, I am able to actually ACCEPT this respect and love, and return those qualities in kind.
Tall fucking order.
But you know what? I think it's out there. It could be close. Really, really close. And I. Am. Freaking. Out. I mean, I can potentially reach out and TOUCH happiness - it is fluttering around my head like a beautiful butterfly - ok, sorry - that's not me - I mean, like a pesky gnat. And I'm swatting at it like it's a giant, fucking hornet because I'm just SO SURE that if it lands on me, it's gonna sting me, and not only is it going to hurt like hell, I'm going to break out in hives and PROBABLY DIE.
And now I'm mad. Because I know what I'm doing. And I don't know how to just stop and let go. Let go of being in control of everything. Let go of that fierce independence that I wear like a suit of armor. Let go of all the what ifs, like, "What if he's only kidding?" "What if he gets to know me and finally realizes I'm a giant train wreck?" "What if I can't live up to what he thinks of me?" "What if I lose myself?" "What if I become 'that girl' who can't wait to share stuff with somebody when for so, so long I've shared it with no one?"
Self-sabotage and baggage from my last toxic relationship makes me want to say, "Look, Mr. Seemingly-Right. You're adorable, but really, RUN. RUN AWAY. YOU DO NOT WANT TO TAP THIS HOT MESS." Because just because HE thinks I'm awesome doesn't make me awesome - it makes me DECEIVING. A deceptive, self-sabotaging, controlling, independent MAYHEM.
Happiness, in my definition, does not feel like home. Happiness is that elusive feeling that when you have it, it's fleeting. We're always searching for it, but when we find it, it's like staying at a really, really nice hotel for a weekend. It's awesome and you appreciate it, but eventually you know you have to go back home. So we sabotage ourselves, because getting what we want makes us a little crazy, like, "Uh, oh. Happiness. This can't be good." Because if you're like me, you're waiting for life to come pull the rug out from under you. Because you're used to that. That's how life goes. That's the "happy" you know.
I don't have the answer, other than knowing that the first step is admitting I have a problem. Hi, My name's Amy - and I'm a self-saboteur. I wonder if there's a 12 Step program for that?