“It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t kill the cow”
I suppose of all the lessons I have to deal with in life, getting over what I cannot control has been one of the toughest. It’s true whether it is something I have misplaced and lost and cannot find, or if it’s a behavior I wish I had never done.
Athletes and addicts have many things in common. Cravings for athletes parallel the cravings that grip the psyche of addicts. The intensity of wanting something so bad ‘I can taste it’ is true of both. It drives both to want what you want when you want it no matter what it takes. For both, it’s usually the ‘no matter what’ part that gets them in trouble. Most common it can involve breaking the rules followed by breaking someone’s heart with disappointing behavior.
To be a good athlete or a recovering addict, you have to address the familiar emotional swings that come from winning and losing- success and failure. No matter how low you feel because of abject failure or how high you rise because of incredible success, it is important to remember that “yesterday ended last night”.
Athletes and recovering addicts must condition themselves to be hungry to do the next right thing and to prepare for the next experience with the attitude and spirit of a beginner. This is so hard for both to embrace. The reason this is true is because feelings swing so far from one extreme to the other. Yet veteran champions of all types learn to pace themselves so that they know how to bring themselves back from extremes to a centered place of workable perspective. Life is a series of ups and downs, a combination of bitter and sweet— success and failure. No one has ever achieved perfection in sport and no one will ever recover perfectly. It is imperative that we learn to manage winning and losing. Saying it is easier than doing it. The athlete or team that gives away victory because of mental collapse and careless mistake or the recovering addict who stumbles and falls into relapse knows how difficult it is to remember that “yesterday ended last night”.
Spirituality is a great resource both to the athlete and the addict. However you choose to identify what it is, it helps to foster the kind of perspective needed to manage life’s adversity because it presents itself through paradox. It says that in order to ‘win’ you must ‘lose’. In order to be in control you must let go.
Losing has the apparent impact of failure. The notion of winning by losing something is a difficult concept to grasp for all. What can you possibly win by not being #1? For those driven by wanting what they want when they want it, this suggestion is inconceivable. Howbeit, every person must work with losing and winning throughout the course of living.
Letting go is about not controlling the results. It has been said that in order to be in control, I must let go. This oxymoron is baffling. Most people struggle to embrace this possibility. Like the guy who supposedly fell over the edge Grand Canyon but grabbed a lone tree branch protruding from the rocks, while dangling 500 feet above the ground. He cried out in desperation for God to help him. He hears this still calm voice respond “Let go” to which he cries out “is there anyone else up there”! Most of us would be like the unfortunate wretch praying for dear life. It’s contradictory to let go in order to have control.
These are two sensitive nerve endings that are tough for both the athlete and the addict. Yet, without this perspective, the athlete becomes more of a “flash in the pan” and the recovering addict will flame out quickly and fail to maintain sobriety. It is not the success or the failure but the disciplined mindset that forges centeredness that will stand the test of time both for the athlete and the addict.
The wheels have come off for countless star studded athletes who on the heels of smashing success have followed up with complacency and over confidence. They forgot so quickly that “yesterday ended last night”. The pink cloud of recovery success and ecstatic bliss experienced by recovering addicts who encounter breakthrough achievement in sobriety have sabotaged the journey into serenity for more than one addict. Those who have forgotten to fasten their focus to the here and now and who have taken their eyes off the prize of continued serenity have allowed addictive urge to pull the rug out from under them more times than any of us can count. It is important to remember whoever we are and whatever we are trying to accomplish that “Yesterday ended last night”. Today is a new day whether we have succeeded the day before or experienced the bitter ashen taste of defeat.
To celebrate the triumph and to enjoy the fruit of hard won victory is critical and necessary. Moreover, it takes a mature athlete and a seasoned recovering addict to quietly anchor with balanced intensity the focus on doing the next right thing.
Most of us hate to lose. But we have to learn how. Wallowing in the mud of failure never helped an addict clean up his act or an athlete get over a defeat or error. Mistakes and failure are a part of every day life. Sometimes with addiction, the results of failure can be devastating. Yet, through the years it is my experience that the folk who establish long term sobriety are the ones who can bounce back from failure and remain centered and focused on sobriety. The same is true of athletic endeavor. The athletes that are most impressive are the ones who get knocked down but bounce back and are never knocked out. They are the ones who condition themselves with a mental toughness that each day is a new day and that “yesterday ended last night“.
Knowing how to succeed in the face of failure and being able to gain control by letting go is a life skill for all of us to work with, not just the addict or athlete. In the presence of failure, the painful experience lures one to wallow in mud puddle of defeat with self pity, martyrdom and woe is me. It takes conscious concerted effort to ignore the trash talk of failure and to force yourself to get up and do the next right thing. The stories are replete in all walks of life of those who rise like the phoenix to a better place. They always get up, regardless of the emotional pain of discouragement and despair and do whatever is the next right thing. There isn’t anything glorious or inspirational about it. They simply focus on what is next and hold on to the reality that “yesterday ended last night”.
By Ken Wells, MA, LPC, CSAT-S, LISAC
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