“Mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs.” M. Scott Peck
“We make ourselves real by telling the truth.” Thomas Merton
“The truth will set you free.” Jesus
Well, well, Old Lance Armstrong did it after all. He doped. We suspected all along, but we held out in good faith. Everyone wants a hero, an inspiring super human. We want to think someone is just that good and succeeded by sheer hard work. But like going to momma and finally coming clean, he confessed the whole mess to Oprah.
No one is all that surprised that he lied. We’re disappointed, yes, but people lie. We accepted this on the playground back in elementary school. People with lots to lose lie even more. We certainly hate deception and get angry about it and need to. But lying happens.
What shocks us most about Lance is his tenacious commitment to the lie. We all stand aghast at how someone could be so willing to lie for so long. He lied under oath. He sued anyone who ratted him out. My goodness, the man even made a Nike commercial to perpetuate the lie (watch it here). He threw the same effort into deception as he did his training. As he said, “I went on the attack to protect my territory.”
We’re left to wonder how in the world someone becomes this brazen, cold, and conscience less? Is Lance a monster? Or is Lance anyone of us? Just how does one become so willing to do this?
You do it by believing your own bullshit.
His first task was to convince himself so thoroughly that he actually believed his own lie. He had to deceive himself the most to get us to believe his acting. Lance admitted that he literally took out a dictionary to look up the definition of cheating. And since it said gaining an unfair advantage, he justified his innocence in that everyone else was doing it too so it wasn’t unfair.
Lance maintained composure most of his interview with Oprah, keeping his answers tightly restricted, his emotions metered, and only responding when questioned. But this moment, of admitting how sincerely he believed his own lie, stopped him. “Scary!” he exclaimed with wide eyes.
And this is the danger of lying for all of us. When anyone of us lies long enough we actually believe our own bullshit. The mental gymnastics begin to make sense. Its why propaganda is so effective. The more you tell your brain something, the more you believe it. You can actually become a sincere liar, so divided inside that you’re left truly self deceived.
Its a form of losing your mind.
Sometimes people choose to go crazy because their reality is too hard to handle and they want to escape it. Yes, people also go crazy because of mental illness inherent in their genes – something which they have no control over. But not all versions of crazy are driven by mental illness. A lot of crazy is chosen.
We all do it. Its why I often ignore my bank account balance. Its why some people refuse to go to the doctor or the mechanic or put off doing their taxes. Its why others never talk about their sexual abuse or miscarriage or divorce. We would rather have our peaceful bliss than face reality.
And for Lance it meant giving up a story that is so utterly irresistible. “The story was so perfect for so long. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean it’s just this mythic perfect story and it wasn’t true. I tried to control the narrative, perpetuate the story and hide the truth.”
No one sets out to lose their minds like this. We end up there without intending to. Its the consequence of a thousand moments of lying. It got out of hand for Lance but he just kept going. As he admitted, “It was one big lie that I repeated a lot of times… I lost myself to it.”
And that’s the work Lance is undoing, starting with this interview. Our sanity requires that we live in reality. My counselor once said, “We have to start with the truth and build from there.” That is the first and most fundamental task of counseling (or any endeavor of growing): inviting people to be honest about their reality. It requires a tenacious commitment to knowing and facing the truth as best we can and living in it.
I respect Lance for telling the truth, even if it is a half truth. He’s clawing himself back to sanity. And if nothing else, he just might get it back. That would be worth it all.