When We Are Lance

By Sam Jolman | January 19, 2013

“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.


  • And the truth shall set you free…he has to feel better today than he did a week ago.

    What are the areas I’m like Lance, believing my own delusion? Something I’ll be taking to God this week.

    • Jon, yeah, I have to believe he does. I think Lance even said something about that day of the interview he was happier. Where even the day before he was not. Wild.

      And a brave prayer! Show me where I am self deceived.

  • thank you for an even assessment that also happens to be spot on in my opinion. The majority of the coverage trash him as if there is no way the person writing the storyline could ever have done something like that. The reality is just like you said, In the ignored Dr.’s warning, or taxes, or bank statement, etc…. None of us are any better than he

  • I love Lance. And I love him even more now. He is a complex creature and everything you say is true-that video is so great especially in light of the latest Oprah interview. From my view of the world he now has the opportunity for the first time (maybe in his life) to find real Life. In the despair of this story he will have two choices-continue the “everything is fine” persona or become a repentant broken man so that he can experience new life. I hope for the later. I am him. He is me.

    • I love that thought: this may be the first time he has a chance to taste real life. As you point out, its such a wild upside down journey. Be broken and you can get life. Lets hope he chooses. Lets hope we choose too as you rightly say.

  • Good words Sam. I raced in the pro ranks from 1990 to 2002, during much of Lance’s reign. What I saw then during the ‘Livestrong’ and Lance tidal wave was people’s dire desire for a hero. Though it’s not a viable excuse for what he did, it would be a relevant reason for him to simply state, “Hey, I’m a performer. I simply gave people what they wanted.” Sure, he wanted it for himself, but so did the audience. The truth is messy. Everyone in cycling was suspicious for most of his era…it was just too good to be true. But the crowd wanted the show and the myth. Now they have to take their disappointment back to the superhero movies where it still feeds the need, but they must admit it’s pretend.

    On the upside, as he’s been stripped of all his titles and they’ve searched below him for clean riders to award them too…it’s come all the way down to me. I’m now a 7 time Tour winner, Olympic bronze medalist…

    • Ok, since you’re a ‘counselor’ and all that, I must disclose…I understand the desire to be the hero. I’m coming to grips lately with many of my failings that I’d just as soon ignore. What lies do I tell myself?

      • I appreciate your honesty Kevin. Its the temptation we all face as men: To hide our wounds, our weaknesses, our needs, the little boy inside us all, and live in the fame worship.

    • Congrats on your wins! That’s so great… Way to stay clean in a sport that rewarded the cheaters.

      Yes, I totally agree with you. Fame is a cheap substitute for the affirmation we all long for from our fathers. I think it was too tempting for Lance to try and heal his wound with the world’s hero worship. Much easier than admitting the wounded boy inside. And in a sense the little boy inside of him became a victim to our need for a hero. I’ve heard it said that behind every narcissist is a very scared little boy. The boy inside of them suffers immensely and never gets healed because they project a bullet proof super human image.

  • I’m curious as to how people define “hero.” In any great story, fiction and nonfiction alike, heroes have flaws (with the exception of Jesus, of course). Sometimes their flaws are what draw us to them. Lance let people down, yes, but the fact that he went public with his screw-up is, in my opinion, admirable. Not every celebrity is brave enough to do so, to admit to the world that he has problems just like the rest of us. It’s good that he’s suffering the consequences of his bad choices–suffering is a great teacher sometimes–but his story isn’t over yet. Like Aaron said, this is his chance to find real Life. God, I hope he finds it.

    • Elizabeth, you make a great point. And you got me reflecting on hero stories. I agree the flaw is what draws us to heroes. Interestingly, it seems most heroes try to hide it. I identify with this in Lance. Yes, oh, yes, lets hope he finds Life. That would be amazing.

  • Great take. I moved to Austin in 2000 and have had a front row seat to the rise and fall of the “Lance phenomenon”. What impresses me the most is the stark contrast to the ultimate hero to ultimate villain extremes I’ve now experienced. Wonder what it is in me that so enthusiastically elevates people who do great things and also so passionately vilify people who do really bad things…either way, all things I as a human being am capable of doing myself. Wonder if I did neither I’d be less dislusioned about the subpar parts of myself I’ve settled on.

    • Charlie, I bet you have felt a lot more than most having been that close to the story. I’d say the best way to deal with the subpar parts of yourself is actually by daring greatly. Its only when more is on the line that we tend to deal with our junk the best. So go big and let that grow your character.


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