The Expectation to Be Perfect
I always look back at my story and think of ways that I may have changed it in some way or form. Do I tell Mom and Dad when I start to feel different than the other kids my age because of how I’m being treated for being good at sports? Do I tell my coaches, my friends? Wait, I don’t have any friends really!! I can never remember seeing the star athlete, the class president, or the valedictorian stand in front of a group of his or her peers and ask for help.
Once you find any success, or are expected by others to perform exceptionally in some way, you almost always find shame in admitting that you’re feeling insecure. That maybe you can’t do this alone. The feeling that you got yourself to this place on your own and can deal with anything that may come your way, is empowering yet very misguided. I never really looked at how I was helped along the way early in my life. I was nurtured by an amazing family and community that allowed me to perform at a very high level. I accepted help in ways that I didn’t simply view as help.
Once I was placed on a pedestal for my athletic ability, throwing a football, my narcissistic personality ran rampant. I struggled greatly in High School because I wasn’t like the others my age. Knowing now that I was going to be part of something that only 1% of the top 1% ever get a chance to do makes it more understanding, but at the time I didn’t know how to cope. I am the only person ever from the State of Montana to be drafted into the NFL. I found myself in a position that no one in my community had experienced before, so by default, I had nobody to relate to in that regard and always felt out of place to a degree.
I reacted with profound judgment and fear when I was treated differently, and the only way I knew how to protect myself was through negative coping mechanisms. I pushed people away, isolated, and acted out behaviorally to make myself even more of an outcast. Looking back, I was an ego maniac with a self-esteem problem.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. They provide awareness, support, and education to those affected by mental illness.
Letting Go of Ego
My parents tried to do what they could. They took me to a therapist, but I simply manipulated him to get my way. I told him what he wanted to hear. I portrayed a life that was all put together and that it wasn’t me, but other people who were the problem. I always played the victim because I never wanted to truly confront the real issue – I was the problem, not someone else. The elimination of these behaviors may have been accomplished if I didn’t feel that asking for help was a sign of weakness. I now know that reaching out would have been a sign of strength. Being vulnerable is a way of finding humility; it’s also a way of being accountable to yourself and to someone else. The way I have reacted to, and dealt with, my life experiences are just like practicing a craft.
For almost 37 years, I managed to practice the wrong ways to live my life. Those learned behaviors do not change overnight. Life is best lived when we focus on progress rather than perfection. The belief that I was perfect at any time in my life is absurd. The idea that I had to portray strength and perfection at all times set an unachievable bar to reach. I tried so hard to conceal every unmet expectation from the world because I was terrified of letting others down and being viewed as a failure. Living with this sort of secret, shame only resulted in deep resentment that I carried for many years. My biggest mistake was that I did not admit I needed help.
I had a belief that the ideals I needed to live up to and achieve were: 1. Money, 2. Power, & 3. Prestige. It’s all I saw. This belief system developed from the lifestyle I believed would get me the most respect, and part of that meant I could not show any bit of vulnerability. I have a crazy but true story about a time when I was offered an opportunity to spend the weekend on the private island of world renowned motivational and inspirational speaker, Tony Robbins. The intent of this invitation was to help me better myself. I was in a tough place mentally and emotionally during that time, but because I could not let myself be vulnerable, I was immediately defensive. Aggression was my reflexive reaction, and I think my exact words were, “Fuck Tony Robbins.”
Looking back, I realize what a valuable opportunity that was to understand myself and my feelings, and to learn how I could become a better person. Until you are ready and willing to make the decision to do the self-work, such opportunities are useless.
Step 1 – Ask for Help, Step 2 – Accept It
I would look in the mirror during my darkest days and simply ask for help from someone, anyone. I knew I needed and wanted it, I just did not know how to ask for it because I had never done so before. My help came in the form of the Cascade County’s Sheriff Department. It wasn’t how I wanted it, but it was what I needed. I often wondered what might have been if I had asked for, and received, the support I needed before all the consequences. Focusing on the past for which I cannot change is not helpful though. I have gratitude for the life I lived and the person I am now, but the hope is that someone out there who is in a place of hopelessness and misery, may hear my story and reach out for support before they hit their rock bottom.
I choose to continuously share my journey of recovery so that the listener may use my experiences as inspiration to find the strength that is already inside themselves. It takes courage to ask someone for help, and it takes practice and time to fully understand that the vulnerability you show will be the strongest thing you do in this life. Part of that strength is surrender and acceptance of the help you receive. It may not look like, or come in the form, that you thought. Taking suggestion is an action of asking for the help. You can’t, and don’t, have to do this alone. This is simply about living life, about another human being choosing to live their best life, and you being a part of that solution together.
For treatment resources and directories, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website. Here you can look up local resources for substance abuse support and treatment near you.