Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Problem With Being A Liar

According to several news sources, in a recent meeting with Travis Tygart, CEO of the USADA (US Anti-Doping Association), Lance Armstrong said, as he was storming out of the meeting, "You don't hold the keys to my redemption.  I do."

Timothy A. Clary /AFP/Getty Images
The thing is, Tygart does hold the keys to Armstrong's redemption, if there is to be one. We all do. You don't get to pick how people respond to you - whether you are lying or telling the truth.  

Having lived on both sides of the truth (my version and the real version), I know.  I spent a too much of my adult life as a professional liar - as an alcoholic so wrapped up in her addiction I would do and say anything to protect it, especially towards the end, when I was desperate.

I see Lance Armstrong as a desperate man. He spent years basking in adoration, which is an intoxicating feeling, and he got hooked on it.  I see someone so addicted to the version of himself he constructed over the years, that he likely believes his own lies.  That's probably why he was good at lying for a long time; the best liars believe their own stories.  It's the infrastructure of denial: when the lies you tell outwardly  become something you believe inwardly.

One problem with being a liar is that you are faced with two options: tell the truth, after which everyone in your life will know you lied (either outwardly or by omission - both are lies).  Alternatively, you can keep on weaving your web and hope you don't end up entangled in it yourself.  The latter is much easier, until it isn't, because you get to manipulate people's response to you, at least in theory.

Once you 'come clean', confess and tell your truth, you give up that control, which leaves you exposed and vulnerable. It feels like handing the keys to your life to other people, if you're doing it right. If you're telling your truth from the deepest part of you, because you can't live with yourself for one more second.  If you are confessing without any ulterior motive then you're truly surrendering.

If you're confessing with the hopes that you can direct people's response to your confession, you will be sorely disappointed.

Another problem with being a liar and is that once you reveal the truth (or it is revealed for you), nothing that comes out of your mouth means anything.

Any addict or alcoholic who has come clean, told their truth, and surrendered to their disease - and all the wreckage it caused - knows this.  I know this from personal experience.  Words are meaningless; the only thing that matters is your actions.  

You hand your redemption, if there is to be one, over to the people you hurt the most.  For regular people, this is usually family and close friends.

For celebrities of international status, like Armstrong, the circle of people you have hurt - duped, manipulated, lied to - is much wider.  We all feel the sting of what we believed that person to represent (remember Tiger Woods?). In Armstrong's case his reputation, at its height, reached saint-like status.  We put him there, and he let us.  

Dangerous territory indeed, because it took him, somehow, out of the realm of human failure, where we all live ... whether we like it or not.

None of us is an angel or a devil. We are all complicated blends of both.  Armstrong is as human as the rest of us, so I'm not pointing fingers at him, thinking that somehow vilifying him makes me a better person. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think he's just like me, and anyone else who has lived in the prison of their own creation.  

We are a society that likes to build people up to god-like status, and then rub our hands gleefully when they fall. We also like to believe in redemption.  I don't think we can change this mob mentality; it comes with any form of celebrity.  

He was no more deserving of the adoration, when it comes down to it, than he is of vilification.  But we're human, too, so we'll keep doing it.

I believe he became drunk on public admiration, even while doing incredible philanthropic work through LiveStrong, and would do - and say - anything to hang onto it.

I understand this. I have lived there - more than once - in my life. Each time, the keys to freedom from my lies lay not in my words, but in my actions. I don't get to control people's reaction to anything I do, in particular when it comes to hurting them, lying, pretty-ing up, covering up or otherwise presenting a less-than-truthful version of myself.  

Redemption comes, if it is to be, when you throw up your hands and give up what will happen to you.  

Otherwise known as surrender.

Being contrite is nice, flowery confessions are lovely, but the real proof is in actions.  

Lance Armstrong thinking he controls his own redemption doesn't bode well, in my opinion, for the version of his future that he wants so badly.  To me his behavior, so far, is the opposite of surrendered; he still thinks he controls the outcome.

Truth with contingencies (like love me because I told the truth!) rarely works.  I'm sorry doesn't even work; not for liars, but it's a good start.  

I'll be curious to hear what he says to Oprah. He wants to get back into elite sports again - to compete in elite triathlons. If he's confessing to get something in return, I hope he doesn't get it, because he won't learn a thing.  He needs to fall farther, until the only motive for truth telling is to relieve himself of the burden of lying.

I say all this because I am a liar.  And a truth teller. We are all both.  

I have experienced the freedom of surrender,  taken my will back, and then surrendered it again. And again. And again. It's constant work, and nobody does it perfectly.  Each time I choke out my truths without wishing for any certain outcome, I feel freer, lighter.  

I'm not rubbing my hands hoping he falls; to do so would be astonishingly hypocritical.  He doesn't owe me anything, not really, but I still feel duped on some visceral level.   What I wish for him is freedom from the burden of control, of self-centered protestations and lies.  


  1. I remember when Sheryl Crow was asked what she thought once the story came out. Did she believe he was lying? She was very circumspect and I thought, "She must know."

    I feel bad for Lance. Because he actually believed he could get away with it. And that means he's far removed from who he's meant to be in this lifetime. And that's a long road back...

  2. I have to say I pondered your FB question all day today...the one that asked which bothered me more, that he did the drugs or lied about it. As a recovering alcoholic and a Christian woman, I felt like he needed mercy on both counts, so I really didn't know how to answer the question. But I love how you put it that if you are surrendering to get something out of it, you aren't really surrendering. And also that you can't control your own redemption. So, I'm glad I didn't answer your survey, because I like your answers better. :-)

  3. Beautiful and insightful - thanks for posting this.

  4. If only he would read your words here and take your advice. Then, he may have a chance of being the person he is supposed to be, as you said.

    Great perspective on what I think is a very complicated topic. Thank you.

  5. Loved your post. You are kinder than I. I've always considered him an arrogant a*hole.

    "To me his behavior, so far, is the opposite of surrendered; he still thinks he controls the outcome." Depicts the Armstrong I've seen (so far) perfectly. Truth is, I'm really not interested in seeing anymore.

  6. He doesn't get it. Confessing on Oprah still feeds his huge ego.

    When he confesses under oath and then holds a press conference and faces what he has done he will begin to enter the arena of truth and facing what he has done (redemption).

    great post!

  7. I didn't respond to your facebook post because I didn't really have words for my opinion. Reading your words though....they are perfect. You are so in touch with who you are, and it really does help you to understand others. This in turn helps us. Thanks for your thoughts. I hope he does get to that place where he truly surrenders....that is something we all need. Addict or not.

  8. What a great great post. Spell binding. You are dead on when you say Lance is still trying to control his situation. He has a long way to go before the public will believe that he is actually sorry about all of the hurt he caused so many young riders that just wanted to ride for the love of the sport. His good works which were really the result of alot of very committed people are offset by the harm he has caused to people that we will never hear about. Keep up the wonderful writing as you are blessed with a great gift.
    Maple Leaf