“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Dr. Steven Covey
A 13-year old boy, starved for love and affection, grew up to become a successful business man and a recovering addict. From the moment he took his first drink, he says his “development was stunted” as he set out on a path that would take way more from him than it gave, no matter how hard he tried to get a payoff from drinking and drugs.
If Lewis Finch would have understood and embraced the famous Covey principle “Start with the End in Mind” he might be telling you a different story about his life right now. However, trapped in the grip of addiction and blinded by his insatiable ego, he had no way to fully and truthfully process what the end might be to his actions. In fact, he didn’t do a good job at processing the beginning or the middle of his journey. His ego driven addiction blocked his clarity; it skewed his perception of what was really happening and left him unable to recognize that he was not in control.
Ego – Friend or Foe?
Lewis Finch is the Founder of Welwynn Outpatient center (welwynn.com) in Raleigh, North Carolina.
He was addicted to drugs and alcohol. And, for years, he honed a skill that helped him move through the life he chose from himself. That skill was not business – it was becoming really good at supporting his habit and fooling or seeming to fool those around him. He will tell you of the deeply destructive nature of the drugs and drinking and how he used one substance to support the other. As I listened to him tell me his story, there was a little (or not so little) word flashing in my consciousness…ego. I saw EGO – Edging God Out – as the lead destroyer. Egocentric means the state of being self-centered; greater concern about the self than others to an excessive degree. In egocentrism, you’re unable to see someone else’s point of view; but in narcissism, you may see that view but not care about it. Going even one step further, people high in narcissism become annoyed or even enraged when others fail to see things their way. This inflated, broken and false egocentricity or “big EGO” working through addiction told him that he could lie, deflect, and neglect his family because, after all, he was the most important person in the equation. Often, underneath heightened pride, arrogance and EGO is actually immense guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment – an insidious prison that can entrap people into hiding addictions at all costs. The addiction lie is you cannot live without it, but actually it is really killing you. Whereas a healthy or healed ego learns how to integrate love of self and love of others.
EGO stoked by stress is deeply misleading for the leader and can take one down a phantom path of “managing” by speed boxing the air that ends in destruction. That path looks even more inviting when you are trying to balance success, family, power, goals and making money. You may be tricked into thinking that you can do it all, if you just stay strong. Attempts to manage stress can make you vulnerable to addictions causing one to be driven instead of led by grounded clear choices, wise implementation and consistent positive action. There are certain behaviors that C-level leaders may default under unmanaged stress, which is the antithesis to grounded leadership.
What Addictions Call Your Name?
For Lewis, the addictions or compulsive behaviors that made his life unmanageable, were drugs and alcohol. Addiction can be described as a physical and mental dependency on a particular substance with an inability to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects. What addictions or addictive behavior might be driving you beyond substance abuse? Ask yourself, if you or someone you know, may:
What are your tendencies toward excessiveness?
It is human nature to develop survival skills so you can live through trauma, dysfunctional families, abuse, or difficult situations, although those coping mechanisms that also helped you build success, in part, can morph into something darker and drive you right off the road. Are you paying attention? How are you managing the ever-persistent EGO with its deceptive message that you are the center of the world? You might say, “come on Cheryl my EGO is not driving me or being destructive.”
Consider these thoughts – have you ever had them before?
· I Work 15 hours a day to take care of the cost of putting kids through college.
· I obsess over every detail of the company and micro-manage because I want things done right. I trust my team, but I can’t depend on them to do things a well as I would do them.
· I put my wife/husband second or third because she wants to be supportive of me, and I certainly only snap at her or the kids because I’m blowing off steam…they understand.
· I only drink a couple of glasses of wine after work to relax. After all, I work hard. I deserve it.
· I don’t need to watch my spending. We are making so much money right now that I know it will all even out down the road.
· I hang out with people from work after hours so I can get more business done.
· Overeating makes me feel numb and helps me turn it all off. I will be okay.
· I like to see my bank account go up. I take a little time away from the family. I will make it up to them one day.
· Having power is important to me. Having money and power is even better.
· I hate to break my promises to my family, but I’m a busy person.
If any of these statements sound familiar, you may be drunk or high on BIG EGO and heading toward a crash that will take you over the edge, not just to the brink of it. Denial – declaring something to be untrue – can be a survival mechanism as well. However, are you ready to become willing to be honest with yourself in this moment? Addiction is a progressive illness that can subtly build over time. How do you handle the EGO addiction? The same way you handle addiction to a controlled substance – you have to get sober. Getting sober doesn’t mean stopping the behavior for a short time. It means making a life-time change so the thing or things that hold you captive are realized and identified as destructive. This work is best done one day at a time and some days, moment by moment, with others on the same journey.
What is the Cure?
Addiction is “cunning, baffling and powerful” (https://www.aa.org/). A helpful reminder for those of you who know someone in the throes of addiction is, “you did not cause it, you cannot cure it, and you cannot control it” (https://al-anon.org/). Whether the problem is addiction or co-addiction (codependency), the struggle is real and prevalent in our society. You are not alone in the struggle and you don’t have to be alone in the recovery.
Lewis says: “People who are addicts are experts at these three things: lying, minimizing, and manipulating. They lose empathy for those they hurt or put in jeopardy. While they think they are fooling others, they are mostly fooling themselves.”
How do you know if you are falling into addiction driven by EGO? Here are a few things to look for:
· Irritability – easily frustrated with others.
· Impatience – blaming, attacking others when they are not doing exactly what you want them to do when you want them to do it.
· Picking fights, arguing having a short fuse.
· Isolation – feeling it is just better to be alone than to try to cope with people. The danger of this behavior is it can lead to suicide from the deep despair addiction and isolation brings.
· Excessive behaviors you cannot stop.
· Hiding, lying and manipulating people, places and things to get the next fix.
There is no cure for the out of control EGO.
In the place of a cure, you make a recovery plan and you work your plan for the rest of your life. Many addicts have tried to quit by will power or “white knuckling it,” but will power cannot hold steady under the pressure of a habit that wants you back. A plan for sobriety that you work consistently with others can be powerful and effective. When you are working your plan, the EGO will scream at you because it does not want to be humble or honest. I will give you an out or cause you to make an exception. It will tell you to give in: drink just one more time, explode in anger one more time, break your promise one more time…then you will feel better. Can you recognize the lie in that?
Lewis had an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Your addiction might be something less obvious and be more socially accepted, such as working late, anger, stress or even being extra busy. The root of addiction is the same – the out of control EGO. The sooner you realize the world is not just about you, the sooner you can take steps to get the help, support and freedom that you need. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to end up like Lewis did. These are trying times to say the least and EGO addiction is tricky. If you think you may be struggling with drugs or alcohol you may want to reach out to a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist or to someone who can help you make the necessary steps toward recovery. Keep in mind, addiction is about more than drinking and drugs. It’s about anything that gives you a false perception that you – your EGO – is the center of the universe and that your destructive behavior won’t really impact those around you.
Lewis runs Welwynn Outpatient Center, a successful business helping others recover from addiction. However, if you asked him, he would tell you that every person who reaches out to Welwynn actually helps him continue his walk of sobriety. Lewis is living in chapter 5 and the people around him help him to continue to choose to live in chapter 5 – what about you? What chapter do you see yourself in?
Chapter 1 of My Life
I walk down the street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It still takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place! But it isn’t my fault. And it still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit! My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down a different street.
― Portia Nelson, author
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