Set Ups & Self Sabotage

People often describe to me an emptiness they can’t fill. They’ve been trying to earn love, approval, and acceptance and no matter how much they give they cannot get what they crave in return. They were denied their birthright and consequently stayed stuck emotionally at a young age.

They come to see me because what used to work (fleetingly) no longer does. Money, careers, alcohol, sex, codependency, drugs, all the usual suspects give a measure of comfort but leave us feeling hollow. We pursue illusions because our reality is disappointing. The real challenge for many of us is to accept that what we held out for will never be. The hardest part about making a Plan B is accepting that we got screwed on Plan A.

I have great empathy for people who really are alone in the world. There’s a breaking point for each of us. When we tire of self destruction we are faced with the choice to change everything or stay stuck. Sometimes when you’re up to your ass in alligators it’s time to clean out the swamp and sometimes it’s better to just to accept that this is a goddamned swamp and these alligators are inner demons and no matter how much I thrash around in here it doesn’t change anything.

She’s endlessly disgusted by the cliché her life has become. “I have daddy issues”, she tells me. I hate that term. It reduces and cheapens an important need: the approval of our fathers. She’s read too many self help books, “I only date men who are emotionally unavailable.” Right. I suggest to her that knowledge creates responsibility. She’s failing herself via the laypersons definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result).

She’s a sad little six year old girl in a grown woman’s body. I ask her if she’s every stood in a shower for hours and still felt dirty. She studies my floor. Simple, brutal truth – the man you have sex with will not fulfill the needs a dad should have met cuz that’s creepy. You can have father figures in your life and you can have lovers, but they better be two different guys. Her sadness is knowing that she sets herself up. Her shame is knowing that she’ll do it again.

He’s a great kid but he is very much alone in the world. He’s playing on the train tracks of self sabotage and he’s desperately wanting someone to care enough to push him off. I can tell him everything he needs to hear but I don’t share his DNA and so I can’t force him off the tracks. Trying to hold him accountable just pushes him away and so I explain that I will stay with him, but that I’ll be talking to him from the train station cuz I know about trains.

The truth is this kid is screwed six ways to Sunday and he can’t accept it. I quote Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean, “There are only two things: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.” He can come through for himself but to do so is to acknowledge that he has no one. Life has been cruel to him and his one potential salvation is the thing he’s undermining. Cue Courtney Love screaming in my head, “Go on take everything. Take everything. I want you to.”

We pursue the unattainable. All we want is the thing that we cannot have. We refuse to be powerless. We refuse to accept that we are the only ones who can change the course of our lives and so we do more and more of what doesn’t work. We tell ourselves that as long as we’re the only ones getting hurt that it’s ok. This is bullshit. It’s not okay to hurt you and the Truth is you want someone to stop you. It’s unfair that we have to come through for ourselves in ways in which our families should have. This is the most powerful and painful part of Growing Up.

Willingness is hard. We will only change when we have suffered sufficiently. There are millions of us drifting and wishing for what will never be. We need each other. Nobody loves like we do, believes like we do, supports and encourages like we do. F’ed up people like us are legion. You can find us in the halls of self help groups, in the rooms of group therapy, and in volunteer efforts everywhere because we want to Belong. We’re the only ones who can change the Plan but we don’t have to carry it out alone – in fact, we can’t. Connection is everything.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.