Addicted to Winning?

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Lance Armstrong came clean on Oprah last week, or at least as clean as his ego would allow him. Listening to the interview, one can’t help but hear a subtext of rationalization, ranging from his hope that his lifetime ban will be lifted to his claim that doping was necessary to win. And those things sound eerily familiar to those in addiction treatment, a kind of fog that addicts live in.

The key feature that stands out is how the events are focused on the addict themselves instead of the people around them who were hurt. As much as they may make nice noises when they apologize, it really seems like they can’t get past their own needs. For example, one transcript of the interview has this gem:

"You asked me the cost," Lance says about the day the sponsors left him, and the wistfulness in his voice makes you think he's about to talk about the human and emotional toll. "That was a $75 million day," he continues.”

And the commentary in USA Today goes on, “Does he hope USADA will lift the lifetime ban after this interview? "Selfishly, yes." Lance, bubby, you don't need to qualify sentences with "selfishly." We assume that every answer you give begins with that adverb.”

That’s something addicts have a hard time understanding too. They don’t get how the message they send is tainted with the historical facts. Trust is gone. Lie long enough and no one can tell when or if you are finally telling the truth.

Can winning be an addiction? Well, it certainly feels great, comes with gobs of money and tempts athletes and others to operate outside legal and ethical boundaries. In Armstrong’s case, the desire to win came at a great cost, not just to him, but to his LiveStrong charity and those he sued to conceal his behavior. And there is a high that comes with winning and the celebrity status. Winning on your own merits deserves the accolades, and it’s easy for an athlete to think of doping as just one more sacrifice they make for their sport. In a culture where everyone is striving to do their very best and stretch just a little farther than the next guy, it becomes an odd parallel to the drug culture where shunned behaviors become the norm, a toxic peer pressure that simultaneously insulates and infects.

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