A Painful Truth about Self-Talk
I want to tell you a twenty-year-old story.
It’s not one that I’m proud of, but it’s true and still relevant today, so I’ll tell it.
In my late teens and early twenties, I was a pretty good mountain biker. I would race in some of the larger races within a few hours of home and do okay. I’d really just started but, even at the time, I knew that I could have been good. With the right training, I could have been really good.
But one day, I quit.
Right after the second lap of a three lap race, I stopped and went to the showers.
I was, actually, in third place in my division when I put my bike in the car and got ready to leave. I wasn’t injured or too exhausted to go on.
I stopped because of the whisperers, as my wonderful church lady calls them.
We’re all familiar with the whisperers, to some degree. They’re those voices that tell us that we don’t measure up, that we aren’t enough, that we aren’t worthy.
That day, in the beautiful woods of southern Ontario, my whisperers sounded more like a rock concert with three storey speakers and a full light show following me around.
In my memory, I can still hear it as if it were just yesterday. The sound of another cyclist coming up behind me followed by the whisperers.
“See? You’re no good. You shouldn’t even be here. This is one of your competitors coming to show you just how much you suck.”
Pushing even harder to not let the approaching rider pass, I could barely see the trail ahead for the tears in my eyes. It’s a wonder that I didn’t hit a tree. Then, an opening presented itself and the words, “On your left!”, told me the rider was going to pass.
Turns out, though, it wasn’t one of my competitors. It was the number one 13 year old male rider who had just qualified for the provincial team. I was still in third place in my division; two riders ahead of me and forty seven behind.
It could have been a relief. There was no logical reason to think that I would keep a faster pace than that boy. He wasn’t even a part of my race. We were just sharing the trail. I could have felt relief but, in reality, it only provided another line of attack.
The whisperers didn’t let the opportunity pass.
“How stupid are you? Letting yourself get all upset for nothing. How dumb to just assume that every rider behind you is going to put you down in the standings. Look at all the energy you wasted that you could have put into riding faster.”
In hindsight, that race wasn’t any different than any others. It wasn’t any different than casual rides with my friends or days at work. The whisperers were my constant companions, quieter or louder, depending on the day.
And that’s just how that race went.
At some point in lap two, I decided that whatever good I was accomplishing by racing, it wasn’t worth the cost of having to take the abuse that the whisperers were dishing out. I decided that the hurt I was heaping on myself had to stop before I could do this racing thing and actually enjoy myself.
I was convinced that even if I ended that race on the podium, I was going to feel like a failure.
So I decided to stop the activity that was, in my mind, bringing on the whisperers and devote my energy to getting rid of them once and for all before coming anywhere near a challenge like racing again.
With that, my racing career ended. Ended before it even began.
I tell this story now because, today I think I finally learned something useful from it.
Today, and all this week, I have been thrown back two decades. My whisperer rock concert is back in fine form. And, as I sat today, with more maturity in a quiet moment to ponder what happened all those years ago, I realized this:
Nothing had changed.
Rather, the only thing that changed was my mountain biking career ended prematurely. The whisperers didn’t stop. They still show up regularly; louder when I am ‘in danger’ of achieving something worthwhile.
Quitting the activity didn’t make the barrage of abuse in my head go away. All it did was cut off an avenue to achievement in my life. Quitting the activity that brought on the loudest whisperers didn’t take their power away, it took mine.
As I listen to them now, quieter when I write, but still there, I realize that I have to keep going with whatever I’m doing. There is another way to quiet them. After twenty years, I still don’t know quite what it is, but I’m sure there is a way that doesn’t involve giving up on something that I want.
When life starts to settle and joy starts to inject hope in the future, that’s when you pull out the demons to protect you. The drinks, the sounds, and the memories all serve to remind you of who you believe you are and keep you from believing that you can be anything more.
– Outgrowing Your Demons, Serena Woods
If the whisperers are my own personal demons that Serena Woods is referring to, then I am experiencing just how much they don’t actually protect me. Further on in the same article, she refers to what I did in that race as finding my comfort in not trying.
It was definitely more comfortable not to keep trying that day because, for the moment, the voices were quiet. But they’re still here after twenty years. That is not comfort. That is bondage.
How to do life without the whisperers? Not sure. But I’m going to start by hearing what they say, however nasty. After I get good at hearing them, not mentally covering my ears and cowering in the corner, after that, I’m going to compare them with what I know to be true.
I’m pretty sure, what the whisperers tell me will not stand up to what Jesus would say about me.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
– Romans 12:2 NIV