Winners Sometimes Quit

There’s a myth in inspirational circles that success comes through determination to never give up.

“The night is always darkest before the dawn.”

“It’s the last key on the ring that opens the door.”

“Winners never quit.”

We’ve all seen the posters and memes. And I’m sure that we can all think of moments when they were true—when tying that knot at the end of our rope was the best thing we could do, when trying just one more time allowed us to make a breakthrough.

But I think it’s also important to recognize that quitting is not a bad thing. Giving up doesn’t show weakness or lack of dedication.

Every success is accompanied not only by failure and mistakes but also by the discernment of learning when to walk away.

If I never learned how to quit the projects that weren’t going to succeed or walk away from the situations in which I couldn’t thrive, no amount of inspirational posters with little kittens dangling from a branch would be able to help me.

Give Up poster from Despair.com

Give Up poster from Despair.com

True success isn’t about those who gave up and those who kept going. It’s about those who had the wisdom of knowing which projects were worth trying harder for and which ones were worth forsaking.

Ultimately, the mindset that giving up is never an option is a mindset of fear—the fear of having to admit that you were wrong or made a mistake and the fear of having to start over. And living in fear is not a success.

We don’t celebrate the courage it takes to quit as a society. We assume that anyone who quits was just too weak to stick it out, but quitting takes strength. It takes confidence and self-respect. It takes hope that something better will come along. It takes bravery to face the unknown.

Quitting can be a fucking powerful, radical act in authentic living.

I want to see us own that!

I invite all of my readers to post their “success” stories of quitting in the comments.

 

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The Angst of Freedom

Pause: If you haven’t read my post about The Point of No Return, maybe hop over and do so now because it ties heavily into this post.

It’s the paradox of existential philosophy: No one can take away the freedom you have within yourself. But you are not necessarily free. People can and do exert a tremendous amount of influence and sometimes direct control over your decisions, consciously and unconsciously.

Those who have been at the point of no return know that there is a place in your soul that you can reach where you will do what your heart tells you to do, regardless of the consequences. In my case, it was breaking free of a cult. I was free and not free to do so in many different ways. It was only when I decided that the reasons that made me not free weren’t strong enough to prevent me from exercising my freedom that I was able to shake off the invisible binds that tied me down.

I’m well familiar with that place of desperation. It’s terrifying, but on some levels exhilarating because I’ve found there is more freedom in a moment of desperation than in maintaining balance.

It’s as much the problem as it is the solution.

I’m not of the Buddhist opinion that attachment is bad. I think attachment can be a beautiful motivator and protector. Attachment drives us to make something work. Within a relationship, attachment makes two people try to work through the difference of their first fight rather than walking away from each other. It’s worth it to sit through that discomfort and do that messy work because of the attachment.

Attachment becomes unhealthy, though, when it detaches us from ourselves—when we become powerless to our own attachment and thus powerless to the one to whom we are attached.

In relationship this might look like suppressing one’s own needs in pursuit of making someone else happy or (hear me out on this) submitting to abusive behavior.

I am not trying to say that those who are survivors or victims of abuse have allowed that to happen to themselves or that they have knowingly or willingly given up their power.

I am trying to say that attachment is often what keeps people in toxic situations, hoping beyond hope that things will get better. The fear of losing that attachment can be as strong as an iron cage, and toxic people exploit that attachment to undermine an individual’s autonomy.

The oft asked question, “Why didn’t she just leave?” has a complicated answer, but part of the answer, I think, comes down to “She didn’t feel free to.”

The same is true on a larger scale for groups. The process of leaving a cultic or toxic group often involves a process of recognizing that things aren’t well, trying to ignore that things aren’t well, attempting to influence change from within, experiencing the backlash of trying to change things from within, and exiting–not always in a linear order, and sometimes often repeated because leaving isn’t easy. Toxic or abusive relationships or environments hook themselves into your soul—into your hopes and dreams and ideals. That’s how they keep you there. Leaving ends up feeling like leaving yourself.

Physical restraint is certainly one way of removing someone’s freedom, but there are other ways, more subtle and more insidious. The only thing necessary to capture someone is to convince them they are captive–or worse yet, to convince them they aren’t captive but “loved.”

On the flip side, even in the most captive spaces, no one can forcefully capture a person’s mind.

And that is where the truth of the opening paradox lies.

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I don’t think she was talking about conscious consent. Few of us who have ever been insulted have sat down and thought, “Gee, I think I will consent to this barb, but next time I won’t.”

What she was talking about was the power that comes with being grounded in who you are and in owning your freedoms (which comes hand in hand with owning your limitations). When you know that your mind is your own, no one can infiltrate it no matter what they might be able to do outside your body.

Freedom is not always about being able to do whatever you want. Although ideally we should all be free to conduct our lives how we see fit, even when that is not the reality—when the reality is that there are limitations on our choices—we can still have freedom in making the choice from the options before us in full clarity and autonomy.

At my point of no return, my choices were severely limited. I could stay, try to force myself to submit to more abuse. I could kill myself and exit the scene entirely. Or I could escape and try to rebuild a new life. All three were a death on one level or another.

I won’t rehash the ways in which facing suicide helped me make the hardest decision of my life. You can read about that in the other post. But I will say that owning the power I had to leave was directly tied to realizing that the things that held me back weren’t worth the price I was paying in sacrificing myself—my freedom.

I’ve learned since that the world is hard to navigate when every decision isn’t as catastrophically big, but the process repeats itself on smaller levels. I find myself going through cycles where I get attached to something—a relationship, a dream, an ideal. I throw myself into it. I either find a way of being authentic within it or I find myself becoming increasingly disempowered and controlled by it. I struggle with how to regain my power.

At some point, I realize that my power and freedom are just waiting for me to step back into myself again, which often involves letting go of my attachment, which in turn involves grieving my own hopes as much as the attachment object itself.

I don’t go all the way to the point of confronting death each time…but I think because I’ve been there, I can recognize the confrontation with symbolic death in each cycle. In a metaphorical sense, attachment is life; freedom is death. The existential concept that we are free but not free isn’t actually a paradox—it’s the life-death-life cycle. It is the cosmic balance.

 

A Sex-Positive Reading List

I’ve been on a quest to reclaim my sexuality over the last several years, which has been a beautiful and wonderful journey. That journey has required a lot of education and re-education, both about the physical basics of “doing the deed” and about the attitudes I was taught to hold towards sex and my body. There have been a number of books that have been particularly influential in that quest, which I list below. I highly recommend them to anyone else on a similar quest to positive and celebratory sexuality.

The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

This is, hands-down, the absolute best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read. While the majority of relationship advice in other books is formulaic (do this and you’ll be a strong couple and have great sex; don’t do that or you’ll end up divorced, alone, and very sad), this book recognizes that everyone is different and has different needs, desires, and goals in relationships. Despite being a “guide to polyamory”…or maybe because of being a guide to polyamory…The Ethical Slut offers great tips on boundaries, honesty, working through and owning your own emotions, working through differences with your partner/s, exploring your sexuality, and so much more. Whether you’re single, monogamous, polyamorous, or just plain promiscuous, this is a great book to read to gain a fantastically positive attitude towards sex. Show that judgmental, puritanical voice in your head the way out with a book that celebrates all consensual relationship styles and sexual desires.

Vagina by Naomi Wolf

A little heterosexist, but overall a really great way to start to get to know the female body and introduce yourself to the ways in which others, past and present, have found to honor and love female sexuality. It touches on anatomy and history enough to give you some really interesting information without making you feel like you’re reading a textbook. This is the book that introduced me to the possibility that the physical trauma of my sexual abuse could be treated, and it is thanks to this book (as well as gynecologist who was up on the latest developments) that I was able to seek physical therapy to treat my injured pelvic floor.

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman

This is a really great book that touches on a lot of the stuff that I loved so much in The Ethical Slut but in a way that is less overtly trying to reclaim the idea of “slut.” Each chapter has exercises and journaling prompts to explore your sexuality as well as references to great resources. It has one of the most in-depth guides to talking about sexual safety and sexually transmitted diseases that I’ve come across, which is great if, like me, you were basically led to believe your body would mimic pregnancy if you masturbated and that you could get an sti by holding someone’s hand.

What I love most about this book is that she doesn’t just expect readers to know how to have the conversations necessary with their partners. She infuses the book with excellent information but also incorporates advice on how to have those conversation with partner/s and suggestions of how you can practice them in advance. So, instead of just telling you to tell your partner what you want to do with him/her or if you want to stop at any point, she actually guides you through ways of communicating your needs and desires…which is also really important if, like me, you were basically taught that you didn’t have a right to have your own desires and that sex was something you endured because God expected you to fulfill your wifely duties. Friedman is also wonderfully inclusive of all genders and sexualities.

Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston

If The Ethical Slut is the best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read, this is the best body and sex book I’ve ever read. Written with incredible beauty and wit (and illustrated with some of the best erotic art in history), this anatomy book is hardly the stuff you’d find in a textbook…yet surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) it covers far more information on the structure and function of a woman’s arousal and reproductive system than I’ve seen anywhere else. This book goes into depth on what Naomi Wolf only touched on and explains in mesmerizing detail how arousal works. Throughout the book, exercises are given to help you learn about and explore your own body and arousal network. Although this book is more about solo learning and play, tips are given for partners to learn how to navigate this amazingly complex system as well.

Succulent Sexcraft by Sheri Winston

I just started reading Sheri’s second book. Although I haven’t finished it yet, I feel pretty confident in recommending it to those on their own sexual journey. The same beauty and wit are present in the writing, but rather than being solely focused on women and women’s anatomy, this book is for anyone, partnered or solo, who is interested in expanding their sexuality in a more positive way. I can’t say yet what will stand out the most to me about this book, but so far it accompanies all of the others beautifully and is inspiring me with yet more reasons to love and honor my sexuality.

To the Rest of Us on Mother’s Day

I was walking through the grocery store the other day, passing through the produce section which also happens to be the flower section, when I got this overwhelming urge to buy a bouquet of carnations.

I don’t normally even like carnations that much, but I was practically giddy at picking out a bouquet of purple carnations.

And then I remembered, oh yeah, it’s Mother’s Day.

My church used to hand out a carnation to every mother on Mother’s Day, and one of my longest standing though really-not-that-serious wounds was wanting one of those flowers soooooooooo badly as a little girl but not being allowed to have one because I wasn’t a mother.

I’ve tried my best to forget Mother’s Day in the past several years. As so many of us know, it can be the most bitterly painful holiday–whether it’s because we wanted children and couldn’t have them, lost a child of our own, lost a mom too young, never knew our moms, or had moms that we probably would have been better off not knowing. It’s a pain that can’t be expressed in words, and we’re assaulted with our pain for weeks leading up to this day.

This isn’t one of those “It hurts, I know. Let’s sit around and cry together” kind of posts. I’ve read my fair share of those and drunkenly sobbed my way through The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (which is just unrealistic enough to make it all the more appealing when it comes to mother-daughter relationships).

But I’m really not feeling that today.

I don’t think the pain is inconsequential, but I also don’t feel like it’s fair that the whole world gets so focused on this overly idealized archetype of a perfect mother while all the rest of us have to sit in dark rooms trying to avoid reminders of how our lives failed to bring us that ideal in various ways.

So, I’m declaring a new holiday to cover Mother’s Day, and I’m calling it Radical Self-Indulgence Day.

Man or woman, parent or not…

Go out and buy that fucking bouquet of carnations.

Make yourself a card or a nice dinner.

Take a luxurious bubble bath and declare a strike on chores for the weekend.

Go out and take a hike—celebrate Mother Nature.

Have a Harry Potter marathon. He probably hates Mother’s Day too, fyi.

But get away from the fucking hype and do something awesome for yourself—with yourself.

It won’t fix whatever it is that makes Mother’s Day suck, but we all need a little extra love this weekend…if only because of that. So find some way this Sunday to let yourself know that you are loved and worthy of good things.