I got an email this week from someone asking about self-sabotage. The person wrote that she has a pattern of getting to a certain point in her vision for herself, when things are going well, and she’ll find a way to mess it up.There are so many levels to the idea of sabotage that it can be a challenge to see it clearly. On the one level, I totally get the idea of messing things up, right when they’re going well. I get that this happens because of how scared you can feel when things are looking like they might just be working. And I get that being scared can make some people go unconscious just to escape the uncomfortable feeling of fear. (Going unconscious meaning anything from eating five pieces of cheesecake to watching re-run after re-run of Friends to impulsively heading to the beach with an ex-lover — name your vice.)
Then, once you’re deep into the unconscious state — BAM! — you do something dumb. Or you do something mean. Or you continue to do dumb and mean things for an entire year until you’ve succeeded in beating the living crap out of all that was good in the first place. And then, you find yourself back where you’re comfortable — in the land of Things-are-Awful-and-I’m-to-Blame.
You’re Never Done
Okay, but here’s the thing: The minute you realize that you’ve gone unconscious, or when you catch yourself in the midst of it, what stops you from picking yourself up, looking around at what’s gone on, dusting off, cleaning up, and starting again? (Step AWAY from the cheesecake!) That is the issue here. Not the sabotage thing. Because nothing is ever done until you decide it’s done. As one of the retreat participants said to another last weekend, “Of course you’re not done! You’re not a roast, you know.”
The question becomes this: How do you know it’s messed up? When exactly is the point your vision is really wrecked? The first problem with even the idea of sabotage is that it requires that you give in to the belief that “all is lost.” Only you can be the one to translate that your vision is actually wrecked. It’s like you have your very own Entertainment Industry Executive in your head who says, “You’ll never work in this town again!” And the problem is not that he’s there. The problem is you believe him.
Many of people I know, including me, have been through recovery of some sort. I’ve seen this pattern where people come so far and become so empowered, and they’ve learned how not to blame other people. And they’re so accustomed to being someone’s victim, so they become their own victim. The voice might go: “Okay, I’ve been through all this twelve-step stuff, let go of blame, dealt with forgiveness, I’m clean, everything’s great…I’m actually pretty empowered, and so, who’s gonna be my next perpetrator??” And the answer is quite convenient. “Well, I could certainly be my next perpetrator! I’ll screw me up next! And then I’ll blame myself! Excellent!”
What I’ve noticed is that when the drama and intensity of the first part of recovery is gone, then you’re left with emptiness. The drama and the intensity part are hard, but when they’re no longer what’s propelling you (out of sheer necessity) to heal, then you move into quite a different stage of the process. In some ways, you’re left with who you were before you developed the addiction. And the choice is to become crazy nervous and start up some other distraction (that maybe won’t kill you but will sabotage you), or to face the emptiness and begin from there. And you have to figure out who you are from that place. That requires BIG kindness and patience.
Sabotage As a Teacher
If you have a knack for sabotage, then sabotage is going to be your great teacher. And what it might be there to teach you is persistence. Persistence is key here. You can either sit back and say, “Look how awful I am. I’ve done it again.” Or you can say, “I’m learning to let go of the need to do this. So, today is another day. And with eyes wide open, I begin again.” It can be painful. It can be uncomfortable. It can piss you off. And it will grow you in ways you can’t imagine.
I know from my own experience, it’s quite challenging to have an emotional temperament and go for my dreams. It’s so much easier to sit back and say that it’s all too hard, and I’m not cut out for this. That’s why on my Reading List I have an extensive group of business authors. Reading about persistence and intent and taking action has helped me find my way out of the muck of the voices that have said things like, “You blew it!” or “This song sucks!” I also seek people out who are encouraging and don’t let me stay stuck. Hire a coach. Start a support group for forward motion and baby steps. Get one of the books on the Reading List. Keep moving in spite of yourself.
Be Unbelievably Kind to Yourself
The opposite of the voices that say “All is lost!” is reminding yourself that all has never been lost. And remembering how far you’ve come in your process. Begin to monitor how you talk to yourself. Stop and correct any negativity right now. It only serves to keep the pattern of sabotage going.
I’m going to end this post with a story about my dog. (Insert rolled eyes here.)
My dog was violently abused when I found her. She had burns from a lighter all over her body. She had been dumped near my house. She was skinny and she was terrified of everyone. With tons of love, a great diet, flower essences (which I recommend highly), more love, homeopathy, and happy hikes, she has become a crazy happy dog who loves everyone, except men with walking sticks. (You get the idea.)
Anyway, I’d say she’s healed. But every now and then, she has an episode. She goes completely unconscious. In her unconsciousness, she forgets everything about who she is now, and becomes that terrified dog from the past.
One day a worker was at the house across the street. He had an old pickup truck that backfired. Loudly. My dog was on the front porch. As soon as I heard the noise, I ran out to check on her because she’s terrified of guns or any explosive sound. I couldn’t find her anywhere. I ran from my street through my neighborhood. I finally found her about a mile from my house running in a hard frenzied run. She was running for her life without any regard for anything around her.
I called her name. It was as if a switch got hit. She stopped. She looked at me, panting and terrified. As I ran to her, I could see her come back into herself. She fell into my arms shaking. I held her close to me until she seemed okay to walk back to the house.
I didn’t say, “Aw come on! We’ve come so far! And you keep on screwing up! What’s up with that head of yours?” With my arms tight around her, I said, “You’re totally fine. And you’re totally safe. Let’s go home. And you’ll remember exactly how great you are, and how great your life is now, and how much you are loved.”
In your own story, you have the opportunity to be the one who is kind and the one who persists in knowing that you’re never going to give up on yourself or your life. Whenever you shift into that unconscious mode, just gently walk yourself back home and start from there. Do that for yourself constantly.