Confessions of a Recovering Force-a-holic
Hello, my name is Deb...and I am a recovering force-a-holic. A pusher. Not like a drug pusher. No, I am a "I will push, pull, or drag this ______ until it goes my way" pusher. A force, shall we say. Not to be reckoned with, reasoned with, or otherwise deterred. And while determination can certainly be a powerful attribute, my use of force has a history of going beyond the positive. Where some is good, more is not always better. My insistence on pushing was a kind of addiction, and like any addiction, it was a farce, a misguided coping mechanism that was not serving me or this world. That's why I'm quitting. Again.
It has been approximately 69 hours since I last unwittingly tried to force something. It was a conversation with my husband. It didn't go well. It rarely does (the pushing, not the conversations). I tried to control both sides of the conversation. He, understandably, got frustrated. We fought. I tried to control the fight. This is a common expression of force in my world.
About a week prior to that I caught myself forcing my thoughts into the future, furiously planning what comes next, after the women's retreat I am hosting on the 30th. Pushing past what is happening, robbing myself of the experience of this moment, looking for the next hit--the next goal, the next accomplishment, the next high. This is the most insidious way that I abuse this attribute, by always pushing--my feelings, my focus, my power--into the future.
This is my denial, a classic hallmark of addiction. This is the place where I tell myself that my need for force is healthy. I am determined, goal-oriented; I am getting shit done! And so I am. But is it the right shit? Am I doing the things that will actually move me towards my goals, making the choices that are most aligned with my values? When I am engaged in force, I can't answer that, because I have pushed away the space where answers are to be found. Instead of slowing down and asking these questions, I push through to the next item on the list, the next goal, the next experience, the next step in the plan.
Denial whispers in my ear, seductive, saying this behavior is strong, a sign of success. But I know the truth. Force applied in this way is less resolution and more relentless, less determined and more demented.
In this way, by always forcing my way forward and refusing to be present in the moment, I also avoid feeling. That includes things we might all prefer to feel less of: anxiety, self-judgement, guilt. But it also includes feeling pride, joy, contentment. The proper application of force will simply move those feelings aside, allowing me to continue ever onward and upward. Or so denial breathes in my ear from the darkness.
This, too, is a lie. The feelings don't get moved aside, they get buried inside. Unprocessed emotions are to the energy body what undigested food is to the physical body--a putrefying mass that festers in the dark, growing larger and more toxic with time. In my misguided pushing, I not only steal joy and other pleasant emotions from myself. I also bury the rest, leaving them to suppurate until they make me energetically, mentally, spiritually, and physically ill.
How did I end up here, working to recover from such an imbalance? The drive to force is a life-long habit for me, one that I believe I brought into this lifetime from the past. My pusher roots run deep, the draw towards this behavior is generations strong. My own past lives, perhaps those of my ancestors, instilled in me the belief that hard work was the only way to receive, that to rest meant danger, even death. For me, force is more than success--it is survival. And in a most ironic twist, my soul's history includes many lifetimes in which I've worked myself to death. I have pushed to, and through, the ultimate limit before. I was in danger of doing it again.
In this life I am once again suffering the physical consequences of my addiction--a sluggish thyroid, malfunctioning adrenal glands, hair loss, fatigue, seemingly chimerical pelvic dysfunction. I was, for many years, the picture of outward health and success. Athletic body, the energy to "do it all," successful business. Pushing was paying off! Until it wasn't.
Until the year that my hair started falling out by the handful, for no apparent reason. And I pushed on. Until the year after that, when I started needing supplements to enhance my physical energy. And I forced through. Until the year after that, when I saw the third doctor about the unrelenting hair loss and she asked me if I suffered from fatigue. My reply? I am tired, but that's to be expected. I am a busy woman! I have a full schedule, I exercise hard. That's not fatigue, is it? That's the just desserts of hard work! Like my health, and my success. I sleep well at night, as I should. That's the story I was pushing then.
Until I found out my physical body couldn't push any more. My adrenal glands can't produce cortisol properly now. I make some, but not enough. That has affected my thyroid. Together with the other hormone imbalances I unwittingly forced on myself, these cause my hair loss. And the fatigue I finally admitted that I have. Who knows what's amiss in my hips and sacrum? Something else that I forced into existence, I am sure.
All of this work, all of this energy, directed at forcing the outcomes that I wanted in my life. And, along with some modest professional and financial success, this is what I created. I haven't done an unmodified workout in more than 18 months. Thankfully I no longer have daily pain, but most days there is still physical discomfort. I spend countless dollars and hours on doctors, PTs, chiropractic care, medications, supplements. All in an attempt to undo what never had to be done, to correct the reality that I forced into existence with my relentless, demented pushing.
It's a miracle my physical symptoms don't include arthritis in my hands, caused by how tightly I was holding to everything. People, ideas, money, habits...fear. That's what forcing is, at its core: holding on to fear. Fear that there is not enough. Fear that I was not safe. Fear of what will happen if I let go. Fear of people, fear of risk. Fear of my own power. Pushing FEELS like an outward action, like moving the pieces of life's chess board into the perfect alignment for a big win. But it's actually a collapsing inward, a grasping and clawing at all of the details, the building of a tremendous hoard of fear. A great, teetering pile of terror, under which I was eventually buried.
Many people refer to addicts like me as "control freaks." I never thought I fit that description. Denial was always there, sibilant, suggesting words with a much more positive spin: forceful, goal-oriented, precise. I chose to believe this was my truth. But what I really wanted wasn't precision, or even success. It WAS control. To control the fear. To force a path away from it, out from under it. And it did make me a freak.
I was intensely uncomfortable in any situation that was outside of my control, to the extent that I used to have panic attacks if I got lost while driving. I needed a rigorously detailed schedule, with nearly all of my time outlined (and bulleted...and highlighted) and accounted for. If something should cause a shift in the schedule, I experienced extreme stress. I went along with denial's labeling of my habits as "successful," while even a slight change in my plans could ruin an entire day, week, or vacation for me. If I couldn't force my desired outcome, I simply wasn't OK.
And I wanted to exercise this control not only over my own life and time, but that of others, as well. When my husband and I started dating, we lived nearly 400 miles apart and would often travel together. I used to feel sick before every trip, because my fellow is never early. The plan is to leave at 8:00 am to catch a flight; I'm packed three weeks ahead of time. My stress starts building the night before departure, when he has yet to take a single step towards getting ready. In the morning, I'm up before 6:00, loading my bag into the car, eating breakfast, and double-checking the contents of the carry-on. He gets up at 7:00 and STARTS packing while I finish falling to pieces. By the time we left, I'd have a splitting headache and be sick to my stomach. I often caught an actual illness while we were away, no doubt owing to the stress I'd placed on my immune system by freaking out.
I grasped money the same way I grasped time, always counting every penny, wondering where I would get more, worrying over every dime I spent. In my life I've lived so close to the bone that I had to bring a calculator to the grocery store and so flush that I could pay my bills without glancing at my bank account, but I experienced the same level of stress in both situations. When I had to pay my bills, my hands would shake. After it was over, I'd feel exhausted, like I'd just completed a CrossFit WOD from hell, regardless of whether there was $2 or $2000 left in the account.
I would agonize over any purchase not related to bills or costs of living--should I buy that shirt? Maybe I could find something like it on sale somewhere else? What if I buy it and then I have some kind of financial emergency? THEN what?! After this dependably furious debate with myself, I might buy the item, or I might not. Either way--more stress. Maybe I should have bought it. I definitely shouldn't have bought it. Every purchase of my life for decades was like this.
And my favorite thing to push? ME. Myself, my definition of success, my abilities and edges. Now, this could be a good thing. It was...almost. I've always seen myself as a work in progress and am eternally seeking the next best iteration of me. I am a personal development junkie in the best of ways. The issue wasn't my desire to be better, it was HOW I tried to get there. With force, desperation, grasping. And completely without celebration for anything I accomplished. Always the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. Never resting in a new space and taking in the scenery, always rushing off to the next place.
I lived this way for more than 40 years. I accomplished some modest success as a force-a-holic. I created a business, moved it to another state and grew it to the point that I had a waiting list for clients. I expanded my business to include direct sales of products I truly believe in. When COVID hit (well into my recovery, thankfully!) I was able to pivot the focus of my business entirely and have created an expanded following and powerful growth. I checked boxes off of the "financially stable adult" checklist.
But I did all of this largely without joy, trapped in an unrelenting need to constantly force the next step, to keep a compulsive hold on what I had, to remain ever wary that of losing it all. Four decades of fight-or-flight living. Four decades of mounting consequences that I pushed through. Four decades of pushing to create, getting only mediocre results, and never suspecting that the answer was to STOP. Stop looking, stop hustling, stop reaching, stop f***ing forcing.
I'm still learning this lesson. You might recall my recent post about surrender. This is part of what I surrender, this obsession with pushing. I find it hiding in the most obvious and obscure places, my force addiction. I find it, and I quit. Again. I'm learning that I don't have to try to CREATE results. I can ALLOW them. I can relax, slow down, even stop entirely, and things can still happen for me, to me, with me.
That's because I'm not creating things alone. There is a beatific, bountiful, benevolent Universe around me that's just waiting to give me things. But here's the rub--you can't receive anything with a closed fist. As long as my dukes are up, my hands clenched around everything I'm trying to hold on to, there's nowhere for the Universe to place its bounty.
I'm also acknowledging that forcing causes spiritual blindness. In my fervor to force, I was always looking where I thought I should be going. It was impossible to see opportunities that were being given to me, because I was too busy to look. It was like I was trying to walk on a deer path through a magical forest wearing KISS boots and ultra-dark sunglasses. I might look like I'm keeping up with the Kardashians, but I'm actually stomping like a mad woman on a mission, utterly unable to see where I'm truly supposed to be going.
Even though I am actively in recovery, in spite of the fact that pushing still happens within me, I can already see what it means to quit. These days I pay my bills with zero anxiety, whether there's $2 or $2000 left in the account when I'm done. If I want something, I buy it. If I don't, I don't. I don't feel compelled either way, and I don't (usually!) experience any mind drama after. I peacefully read a book while the hubs scrambles around packing before trips, and I am at ease and healthy while we travel.
And because my mind is quiet, I can hear the suggestions the Universe is offering me. When it says things like "call Amy and talk to her about her clients," I can listen. And that phone call can result in planning a retreat for women attended by ladies from as far away as North Carolina. When I hear "write," can sit down and let a blog post or a book chapter flow through me, without worrying about what I'll write next, or whether or not THIS is the message I should be sharing right now.
The changes are subtle, but consistent and increasing. There are some very positive shifts--I make more money in fewer hours. I have fewer arguments with my spouse. I am a better friend. But mostly, I'm living the same life. What's changed is how it feels to live it. Instead of feeling anxious all of the time, full of the threat of what happens if I stop, I feel full of peace, curious about what I'm experiencing in the moment. I'm able to look forward to what might be next without any need to know the specifics of what that might be. I can take the step in front of me with ease, free from attachment to what that action does, or doesn't, create. When I am not forcing, I find myself allowing, and allowing lets in the beautiful, bountiful light the Universe has been shining for me all these years.
I still find myself forcing. It's a deep groove I'm erasing from my brain. But even the experience of pushing has changed. Forcing used to make me feel in control, like I could "make it happen" for myself (and everyone else). Now it makes me feel out of alignment, uncomfortable, like wearing a porcupine skin inside out. I know I'm doing it because my peace slips, my anxiety starts to rise, and I feel drained.
When this happens I know I need to stop looking outside of myself, for the things I feel compelled to control, and look inward. I need to find the fear and address it. I need to remind myself that I am safe, that everything I need is already within me and can only be found with relaxed and open hands, heart, mind. I need to quit, again.
And I do. And I will. Again, and again, and again, until I've quit for the last time. Until forcing, like plastic barrettes and pipe cleaner dolls, teenaged crushes and corporate jobs, becomes a part of who I used to be. Until there is nothing left to control, because everything is as it should be. Until the fear is gone, the faith is strong, and my open hands are so full of blessings that I have neither the time nor the desire to wonder what I could create with force. Until I am not recovering, but recovered. Until then, I quit.