Admitting Weakness Can Make You Stronger

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

I’m still finalizing some things as a result of the answers I received in my last post.  When the dust settles, I’ll write about how everything went.

I know this isn’t directly a personal finance subject per say, but I feel the idea is transferable to many areas of life.

I started smoking cigarettes when I was 12. Peer pressure, wanting to create an identity, there are a number of reasons. I knew smoking was bad, but it was still somewhat socially acceptable. Cigarettes in vending machines started disappearing about a year after I started. Everywhere had a non smoking section, but it was smaller than the smoking section. I can remember going to hide in “the smoking room” in the hospital one time when my father had to go in for a surgery that had a month’s recovery time in hospital. By the time I “grew up”, I didn’t know how to be an adult that didn’t smoke. I smoked about a pack a day of one of the strongest filtered cigarette you could buy.

I finally quit when I was 25. I went through a 6 week course and it was hell. So many times, I wanted to start again. I saw other people who went through the course start smoking again after a few weeks or months. They all said the same thing. “I wanted to try it again, I didn’t think the hold on me would be so strong.”  The only thing that kept me from going back? Admitting to myself that cigarettes were stronger than I am.  I accepted the belief that if I tried smoking again, I would be hooked again. I was “a puff away from a pack a day”.

I’ve known a few people that have had the same problem with alcohol.  Some people in my life are alcoholics who no longer drink.  They stay away from alcohol the same way I stay away from tobacco by realizing the life they have now is better than the life they had then, and they don’t want to go back to that.  Standing outside in the rain when it’s cold because I’m a slave to a substance?  No thank you!

I also have people in my life who struggle with their addictions.  They figure they can control it, that one drink, or one drag of smoke isn’t a big deal.  Once they have one, it’s too easy to have another.   I have seen these people quit time and time again,  go back to AA, stay sober for a few months, then start believing they have tamed the beast of their addiction, and start again, because “they can control it now”.

I also know someone who does this with money.  Their marriage almost ended due to money problems.  They almost lost their home.  They ended up handing over the control of their finances to a 3rd party.  Now, their bills are paid, they have an emergency fund, are paying down their debt. They receive a sum of money every week to buy groceries and other personal spending.  Now, if they go out for a coffee, they split an extra large plain coffee instead of each getting a fancy beverage with whipped cream and caramel.  Their marriage is stronger now than it has ever been.

I see nothing wrong with acknowledging and accepting  I cannot control something.  Sometimes it takes me a while to realize how strong something is, and it is a bitter pill to swallow, admitting something is more than I can handle.  Once I recognize I can’t control something, I do my best to find a way for it not to be a challenge anymore.  I know that I cannot control chocolate, so I don’t keep it in the house, but if I want some, I only buy however much I plan to eat, because I will eat all I buy.  A bottle of wine, on the other hand, will usually turn to vinegar in the fridge before I can finish it.

Is there anything you know you cannot control?  Have you found a way to control it?

7 thoughts on “Admitting Weakness Can Make You Stronger”

  1. Sheryl, while being able to admit weakness can make you stronger, I would argue that being able to stand up to peer pressure can make you stronger, too.

    I have never smoked or drank in my life, something I decided more than 30 years ago when I was a teenager. I faced some challenges in college when some friends wanted me to go out drinking with them. But I stood my ground and refused, appealing to their intelligence and their willingness to remain my friend even if I refused to go out drinking with them. My tactic worked, too. That moment only strengthened my resolve to withstand peer pressure.

    Instead of smoking, I was in the early 1980s pestering the manager of my dorm to post no-smoking signs in the elevators and to set up separate smoking areas in the cafeteria. I was also bothering restaurant managers to set up separate smoking areas for diners. In the 1990s I would write my state legislators to pass anti-smoking laws in public places. Withstanding peer pressure as a teenager paid off in a big way!

    Being an outlier all these years has also greatly helped me to become financially independent and an early retiree 4 years at age 45. I have no desire to “keep up with the Joneses” in any way, saving me boatloads of money while being able to enjoy life just the way I want to.

  2. Sheryl,
    thanks for sharing your story(ies). I don’t know what that thing would be in my life. Perhaps it’s anger. Perhaps it’s a thought pattern I revert to when I don’t feel so happy about my life. Instead of doing my best with a situation I tend to throw up my hands.

    For some people of faith (like myself), this is actually a sin, and I get belligerent when it is pointed out to me.

    To cut a long story short, we all have things to work on and darknesses to recognize for what they are.

  3. Sheryl, I really enjoyed reading this post. You were generous to share it. When people find out I don’t drink, I’m surprised that they almost always ask: “Why not?” I’ve struggled with other addictions and I’m not getting sucked into a new one, but I never explain that. Maybe I should try being more courageous.

  4. For over 20 years I struggled with credit card debt, until I finally decided that I just couldn’t handle it and cut them all up, paid off the bills once and for all, and decided not to get another one. I have a big fat emergency fund and don’t plan to ever have another credit card.

  5. Sheryl, I just read your post and I’m relieved when others admit their humanness (sp?)…because we are all wired to have strengths and weaknesses and after many years of therapy I’ve learned they are both sides of the same coin. I believe every time we are brave and as Robert said, generous enough to share or admit our dark sides (amen Diedra), mistakes and or Achilles heals we turn a weakness into a strength by helping others. Mine is Canuckguy’s muffins…when my husband is away they are kept in places I can’t get at and at other times in his car or office. Leave my fave one with me and I will be the Vicar of Dibley and eat until I pass out in a blood sugar crash with wrappers around me feeling sick, and ashamed! My hubby has not had a drink in over 20 yrs and does not miss it. I gave up nicotine far easier than chocolate and certain carbs…God invented banana muffins for sure (to test me ; ) .

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