There I sat, in a room of about fifty or so people from all avenues of life. To my side a half dozen adolescents wishing they were somewhere else. I was responsible for these kids and besides, they should be grateful, sitting in a 12 Step meeting had to be better than sitting in their rooms back at the youth treatment center they came from. I listened intently to the accounts of attempted sobriety and successful moments of a few brave souls who dared enough, or cared enough to share, when an older gentleman raised his arm to the sky, an indication that he was next to speak.
With a worn voice he identified himself with a conviction of divinity, he testified to his eleven years of sobriety and that despite this
particular night being his son’s birthday he chose to attend this meeting instead of appearing at the birthday celebration because
well…his recovery comes before all else.
When you limit your choices only to what seems feasible or self-fulfilling, you detach yourself from responsibility and attempt to create a compromise. Compromise…A scary word when you really think about it. In the classic John Wayne movie Operation Pacific, the submarine he captains is hit by an enemy’s torpedo when a frantic officer rushes to his post and reports, “Captain, the ships hull has been compromised, abandon ship!” I see it as a “surrender” of principles, values and hopes.
In a session I recently had, a client asked, ”Does my recovery, my new way of living have to come with great sacrifice? I’m personally trying to figure out how to arrange my family time, my job, personal recovery, workouts and racing while identifying and pursuing my specific goals in Addict II Athlete.” “Well,” I responded, “you have a choice to make but I’ll tell you it sounds a lot like an overachiever to me and with no balance you’re on a path to burnout. How can we tell, look at the choices you’ve made thus far and how you came to them?”
Dig back a few layers, and uncover what’s really at the root of most overachievers. It’s an addiction to accomplishment, material
achievements, and ultimately to self. I think most overachievers do love their families and I believe that most understand that
involvement with their family is a necessary extension of this love. Yet, ultimately the tension leads to inevitable guilt and the justifications that they try to pull off are just attempts at reducing that guilt. Convincing themselves that their efforts are actually for their family, instead of against them, and allows them to continue on with as little guilt as possible.
Take a moment to consider the nature of the emotional cost. An emotional cost is the value of emotion that has been used up to
produce something. An emotional cost occurs when there are two options that both really seem attractive. One option is noble but incredibly painful, the other, usually more personally gratifying but not as generous. Emotional cost is choosing the nobler option. Reading Lance Armstrong’s books and following him closely over the years I realize that in order to be at that kind of athletic level, you must choose sport or family, you can not have both. I mean look what happened when we chose to use substances. That became our driving force for all choices that followed. To be the best, to be the strongest or even the someone, everyone aspires to, you must give up something of greater value, just like an addiction. But hey, me training and participating in races is good right? Until the balance is tossed off kilter and something very familiar begins to happen. Start with a 5k, 10k then half and full Marathons, dare we say ultra racing then back-to-back ultras…bigger, faster, stronger…stupid? Indeed, but also a cross addiction, same principles, different substance used.
Overachievers have a unique ability to phrase their addiction as the nobler option. Through some mental or relationship gymnastics, they depict spending time with family as the self-indulgent thing to do. Long hours at the office are the sacrifice they make for more income for the family. A belief that the sacrifice is something they feel they should be commended for.
Look in the Mirror
It’s easy to point a condemning finger at overachievers. But all they’re really doing is choosing the wrong option when faced with a tough decision and then justifying their choice. If you think about it, doesn’t that really describe us all in a sense? How many times do we take the easy way out, and then justify.
Athletes, be very aware of the choices you are making. Sacrificing family, time, love, respect, money, compassion or humility for self-gratifying experience is not a goal, its self-centered stupidity. The things that are not measurable are more important than those that are. The real key to long term sobriety is balance. In 10 years no body will care what time you got on your Marathon, but your child, spouse or loved one will forever remember that they came second, third or even abandoned.