May Answers of Varying Length to Short Questions: Part 2 of 2

Continued from the previous post to give me more time to think and help you rest your scrolling fingers. Click below the jump for: Not automatically taking on new volunteer responsibilities when others pile them on, talking to kids about fatphobia and disordered eating, supporting a friend with an alcohol addiction, and bouncing back when you fail at what other people think is your dream job by finding a better way to tell the story.

Additional content note: I mention pet death (RIP Beadie) in the last answer, because she’s part of my story about leaving a job.

Q9: I’m so frequently voluntold to take on projects or to go way beyond the scope of what I’ve agreed to do that I’ve noticed that I’ve started to avoid or almost resent potential volunteer projects I actually might want to do. How would you suggest I approach this so I can still enjoy “my” time/energy/contributions to “my” projects? Thanks! (she/her/hers)

Overall, it sounds time to review all your volunteer projects and rethink how and where you spend your time. What if you did zero volunteering during the month of June or the whole month of July (keeping in mind that an organization that depends utterly on a single unpaid person to do its work has a management-problem, not a you-problem, and if they can’t hear “I need to take some time off from a volunteer position” without panicking or pressuring you, that’s not something you caused. Volunteers come and go.

Consider also that an organization that can’t process “No, I can’t take that on just now, so sorry!” without pressuring a volunteer has some downright toxic management practices and that it’s your duty to push back on those. “No, I’m at capacity, you’ll have to find another way” isn’t “letting people down,” it’s being smart and intentional and considerate about whether you can or want to honor your commitments. If you burn out and have to drop everything, who does that help? I’m sure what you do is amazing, but someone else CAN handle it, and if they can’t, that’s another management-problem, a “Hey, amazing volunteer, would you work with one of our staff to document your processes so we can train other people?” problem/opportunity.

You do not seem like a person who says “No!” easily, so a good approach to stemming this tendency is to build up your “No” muscles, in general.

One simple (not easy, but simple, direct, achievable, practicable) way to start to change this is to delay saying yes to any assignment or invitation for at least 24 hours. A script could be “Thanks for asking, but before I say yes I need to check my schedule/I need to think about it. When do you need an answer?” Tell this to everyone who invites you to a thing or assigns you to a volunteer project for the rest of 2019. Do this even if you want to say yes, trust that your “yes” will still be good tomorrow and you need to give yourself the gift of time to stop and think about it.

If someone’s voluntelling you (such a great word, that) to do work, they are assuming you’ll say yes, probably based on the evidence they have that you always say yes, but they can’t MAKE you say yes. You can absolutely say “Oh, before I take that on I need to take a look at my schedule and other commitments. Why don’t I let you know this time next week, and in the meantime you can brainstorm a Plan B in case it won’t work for me.” Their assumptions aren’t your obligations.

Start there. A break from volunteering + a blanket “Oh, thanks, that sounds wonderful but I need to check my schedule before I commit” script + a cooling-off period of at least 24 hours before any decision.

Q10: A friend of mine is an alcoholic, and I’m struggling to figure out how to both support her and protect myself from her alcohol-fueled issues. She swings from being my close trusted friend to saying “I don’t know you, everything you say is in bad faith,” depending on how much alcohol she’s had. She also drinks while on prescription meds, and makes herself incredibly sick, which makes me panic. How do I support her here? (ny/nym/nyr)

This is so hard. I’m not an addiction expert by a long shot, I’m sorry I can’t offer you a comprehensive or well-researched solution, esp. in this format, so I’m not going to suggest specific treatment avenues, but here’s a few things I do know:

You can encourage her to get help. “I really want you to get some help with your drinking, friend. I’m really worried about you.” + ask her to talk to doctors, counselors, etc. about a sustainable, ethical recovery program.

You can ask her what she’d like you to do to support her. “When you tell me you’re mixing booze and prescription meds, what is it you’re hoping I’ll do or say?” “When you call me up, clearly shitfaced, what is it you’re looking for?” Does she want you to come to the rescue, boss her around, listen without judging, pass the time, enable her, remind her you love her no matter what? If you’ve never asked her this, try it. (Emphasize agency. Remove shame.)

“I can’t hang out with this friend when she’s drunk, even if that means I see her a whole lot less” is an okay boundary to have. That can be a spoken, explicit boundary with your friend (“Friend, you’re drunk, I can’t hang out with you when you’re like this, let’s cut this short and I’ll call you tomorrow”) or a boundary with yourself about what you’ll do if this friend shows up or calls you when she’s drunk (“Sounds like friend is drunk tonight, for my own peace of mind once I’m sure she’s not in immediate danger, I’m going to cut this phone call short before we get into regrettable territory and text her in the morning.”) You can also set limits about how many times you’ll revisit a certain conversation or negotiation. “We already talked about this.” “You already know what I think.” You can refuse to go places with your friend or spend time with her around consuming alcohol, “Sorry, I’m your pancakes friend, not your booze friend.”

You can also widen your support system, so you’re not alone with this, so you have friends you can count on, and so other mutual friends of this friend can share in the task of being the safety net.

We are very limited in what we can do about another person’s addiction. You can’t make someone get help or change, but when someone is having trouble with boundaries, sometimes having good ones yourself is the kindest thing you can do.

Q11:Any advice for answering my 11yo daughter when she expresses concerns about being fat? Background that makes this tricky: She, her dad, and I are all fat. I got over binge eating disorder and diet culture and am happy where I am. Husband is losing weight due to a medicine he’s on, and he’s happy with that outcome. Meanwhile my (slim) 15yo is in therapy for being at-risk for anorexia. Yikes!

Ask her what’s bothering her about it? She’ll tell you and pretty soon you’ll have a frame for what’s going on [media stuff][bullying][health “concern” manufactured in school by anti-obsesity initiatives][stuff trickling down from you and/or sibling or grandma or someone else in the family]. You have a difficult tightrope to walk, teaching your children that all bodies are good bodies, bodies come in lots of sizes and shapes and that it’s important to be accepting and loving of ourselves and each other, while also being honest about the prevalence of fat hatred, discrimination against fat people including medical discrimination, and a culture that worships a narrow beauty standard and punishes everyone who doesn’t conform. Pretending those pressures don’t exist is going to feel like gaslighting. So bravo to you for being a parent who wants to get this right!

Fortunately the inimitable Scarleteen has a lot of amazing resources about size acceptance and body diversity, here’s a piece they wrote specifically for parents.

You say you’ve made peace with your body, what are the things that helped you overcome disordered eatings? Concrete things that helped me achieve greater health, happiness, and peace with my fat body:

  • Retraining my eye and frame of reference: Collecting/curating/viewing lots of images of fat women and fat people in general, being around fat people in community spaces (clothing swaps and fashion social media groups, attending pool parties/beach days/dance parties), celebrating and seeking out good media representation of people who look like me. (Booksmart opens this weekend, it’s not appropriate for an 11-year-old but if an older teen needs to see a movie with a fat lead who has not one single ounce of fatphobia directed her way + the “budding sexuality” story is focused on a gay girl getting her first makeout on, I can say for sure that I, personally, liked it a lot and the trailer will tell you accurately if it’s for you).
  • Separating exercise and pleasure in moving my body from the goal of looking a certain way – a Health At Every Size (HAES) pillar. Hanne Blank’s book about exercise is good, I keep meaning to hit up a Dance Dance Party Party session, I try to get into a park district pool 3-4 times/week. There are ways to move that aren’t joyless or goal-oriented.
  • Cultivating eating competence and intuitive eating: Food is just food, it’s not “sinful” or shameful, it can be pleasurable but doesn’t have to be some amazing gourmet thing to nourish us. This book came up several times in the quick-and-dirty research I did just now, haven’t read it but it comes with some trusted recs and uses the right lingo.
  • Developing boundaries about how I and others are allowed to talk about my body and rethinking the language I use to comment about other people’s bodies. It’s not that I always FEEL awesome about my body (Lenée and I once came up with a whole bunch of terms human parts that were poorly designed: knees = failure pulleys, sinuses = spite caves, teeth = anxiety bones, uterus = tote bag of betrayal), but I don’t do the automatic apology and shame dance I was raised with or reward it in others, I don’t comment on people’s weight.
  • Pushing back hard on assumptions about fatness and health, esp. with medical practitioners, like, “Can you explain exactly how losing weight – a years-long process, assuming it’s possible at all which given the lack of peer-reviewed studies showing success at this I do not assume – will cure this sinus infection so I can go back to work this week?” and “You say ‘eat less’ but I just met you for the first time 2 minutes ago and you have no idea how much or what I eat, kindly explain” and “My knee only hurts on the side I fell really hard on and not on the other side, I am symmetrically fat but not symmetrically in pain, so, what would you do for a thin person with exactly one injured knee, great can we do that?” (heyyyyyyy torn meniscus tendon) and “So do thin people not ever get asthma/dizzy spells/heavy periods/anemia/acne/strep throat/insomnia/anxiety/depression, how does that work?” and “I’ve been fat for decades but this change in my body is brand new, weird, is fat like a 3-D printer?” and “Can you make a note in a chart that you are refusing to screen me or treat me for [x symptom] because I am fat? Thanks.”  I struggled with this for so long, but I’ve made agreements with my last few (excellent) primary care physicians along the lines of “I follow a HAES approach to nutrition and exercise, let me know if you want info on what that is, additionally I’ve recovered from a ton of anxiety and unhealthy behaviors around dieting and part of that recovery is choosing not to prioritize weight loss at the expense of other health outcomes, so if we’re going to work together I’d like you to focus on other kinds of medical interventions and let me be the one to bring up weight loss as a strategy if I think it’s important.” 

I try to use humor and gentleness and educate as I go b/c I have resources and emotional reserves and experience speaking up that not everyone has but I push back, and as a mom you’re probably going to have to do a bunch of this pushing back for your kids until they can do it themselves, and you’re going to have to model it if doctors get overly fixated on weight. Example script: “Hey, appreciate the concern but I’m trying to teach my daughter to not locate all of her health or body concerns in the number on the scale, we can work on ways at home to increase her activity and confidence, but no, given the history of eating disorders in our family, I’m not putting my eleven year old on a diet, there is no evidence that diets actually work and a lot of evidence that restricted eating harms kids, please find another approach.”

Dear Questioner #11, in your own recovery process, I’m betting you learned so many things about how to have a good relationship with your body, so teach your kids about what you learned. What helped you? What did you wish someone had told you when you were small? What helps you now? Kid and teen-friendly versions of those things are profoundly valuable because they come out of your own experience. ❤

Q12: So, I crashed and burned with my high-prestige “big job” and now need to find something more…low-key, I think – I am apparently a bad fit for a senior management role. My family, friends and colleagues are terribly disappointed in me as an employee and human being. I didn’t do anything unethical/illegal or any single terrible thing, I was just lousy at the job. How do I recover and rebuild from here? (she/her/hers)

Oh, I am so sorry. I think this happens all the time, lots of people get promoted into managerial roles that are a bad fit for them because being a subject matter expert or an incredibly skilled technologist or designer or analyst or creative director (or whatever made you and your work stand out to your former company) doesn’t automatically translate to being a great manager of humans and processes and budgets in your department or make you the right diplomatic strategist or advocate who can navigate all the politics and egos and shifting priorities at a company’s highest levels of decision-making. What makes it all worse is that when you are very gifted at something, people assume you either already know how to do everything else or that you’ll magically pick it up on the fly, so they skip over the coaching, training, and preparation that they might give to someone else, and because of, say, misogyny and “look, it’s a competitive industry, if you aren’t willing to work yourself to death while staying incredibly positive the whole time, maybe you don’t deserve to be here” culture, there are costs and risks in admitting that you don’t know something or need help.

I spent enough years in the early 2000s as a temp and contractor working for a bunch of senior executive types in big companies, and between the extremely bright and hardworking ones who’d been promoted away from the things they actually liked doing and were now Don Draper-ing along in self-medicated, workaholic misery and the affable but useless Dunning-Kruger fellas who just cheerfully failed upward until they ran out of up, I’m incredibly comfortable suggesting that many, many people should leave roles like this much sooner. It still sucks when it’s you, and it sucks when it’s not your choice or timeline, and I have all the sympathy, though I truly think in time that you’ll experience not being stuck in that job at that company anymore as a gift.

Bouncing back is going to be a combination of investing in self-care, revisiting all the networking and career stuff you already know how to do, and finding a way to tell a cohesive story about what happened. Do you need me to remind you to sleep and eat and exercise and go to the doctor and update your LinkedIn and call your best old mentors and coworkers and the friends who are encouraging and supportive and avoid the draining ones? Or can we skip to the story part?

The story is that you tried something incredibly challenging and failed. You tried something incredibly challenging and found out it wasn’t the right fit for you. You’ve got a resume and salary history that tells a story called “Hi, I’m impressively experienced, knowledgeable, and expensive!” right? (Please do NOT flinch at charging lots of money for the things you know going forward, if you ever feel doubtful about this send me a message and I’ll message you back with the name of a total dipshit I’ve worked with and exactly how much he got paid to be wrong), plus you have a story that very few people could tell, a story that many people would be interested to know. It’s about being at the highest levels of your field in a respected company, what it’s like to be in The Room Where It Happens.

It’s dramatic and compelling and chock full of lessons. Nobody really cares about a story where everything went perfectly and nothing was at risk, and most people are totally bullshitting the “tell us about at a mistake you made at work” or “what is your greatest weakness” interview questions, but not you! Your story knows stuff, like what would success have looked like? What would have made a difference? Was this organization the right fit for what you want to do in your career? Was it the right fit for what you want to contribute to the world, to where you want to go with your life? What kind of roles make you happiest, what parts of this career do you love, and what tasks would you be happy to never do again? What training and knowledge and experience do you need to be successful?

This is meaningful, useful material that nobody else has, where mistakes were made, not all of them by you, and you won’t make the same ones twice. That’s good shit!

One story. Different audiences, different versions.

  • Story #1 is for yourself. An honest reckoning, a period of grieving, a kind and compassionate reimagining, a practical refocusing. Journals & therapists are good outlets for this story.
  • Story #2 is for the people you know. Here’s what happened. Here’s where I am with that. Here’s what I need from you. It can be detailed and vulnerable or vague and professional depending on the level of trust in the relationship, not everyone gets to see your scars.
  • Story #3 is for professional circles. It’s polished, it’s confident, it takes responsibility, it converts mistakes into lessons, it’s done apologizing, it’s ready to roll up its sleeves and do the damn thing.

Would you like an example? I have at least three stories about leaving adjunct teaching. One of them is called “I decided to take a long break from teaching to focus on writing full-time, let me tell you about all the exciting projects I’m working on! 😀 😀 :-D” (THANK YOU, CAPTAIN AWKWARD READERS AND PATRONS).

Another version covers 12 years of hope and excitement and false starts and grievances and self-recriminations and second-guessing before culminating in the Winter-Spring terms of 2017/2018, which I spent drowning inside my own lungs from persistent bronchitis, under doctor’s orders to minimize speaking or physical activity due to pleurisy and torn cartilage in my ribcage, and yet teaching seven intense production classes across two institutions anyway because I had exactly 1 paid sick day, no paid disability leave or medical leave, and not enough savings to safely forgo the income. In this version, I could tell you all about the day last March where I had to run the numbers to see if I could financially withstand canceling class 1 additional time because my cat Beadie was dying and I’d already used up my sick day, singular on urgent care for myself. (I took the loss and got one last day with my friend, Skyping each of my students to check on their projects while she reeked and leaked all over my lap, the very last hours she knew me and wanted to be awake and loved, hours beyond price while I waited for the vet to call and tell me if there was any hope). This tale has lines like “I am fleeing an ouroboros of sunk costs, exploitation, and debt while I still have life inside my body to run, because while I love teaching, it profoundly does not love me back” and “I’ve started shaking and crying anytime I know I have to go to that place, is today the day I just can’t make myself go in?”

These are both true stories about the same events. Which one goes on my LinkedIn? I was a good teacher and I loved it so much. I am happier to be free, happier to be writing, happier to be here with you. But the grief and regret and “what ifs?” didn’t just go *poof* when I left. It’s all still being written. Integrating them into a whole is part of the healing.

My dear querent, I’m meeting you today while you’re still sunk in the stink of your own failure, but let’s imagine this is a meeting a few months down the road. You’ve applied for a new job, and the company, intrigued by your resume and happy to soak up any juicy tidbits about your departure from their competition, has brought you in for a chat. You’re in your best interview outfit, your hair looks great, your shoes are perfect, you’ve got your lucky earrings on, you’ve got your favorite, perfect pen and crisp new notepad, you’re sitting in a conference room with a glass of water on a coaster in front of you, doing the interview thing that you’ve done many times before, and it’s time. You’ve been conversational and thoughtful in your discussions, asked great questions, provided detailed insights about the position, but it can’t be avoided any longer, it’s time for the part where your interviewer says, “So, I guess we should talk about this. Can you tell us why you left your last job?” 

For a moment, the question hangs out there in the air like a fart in a car. And you panic, just for a second, because, who wouldn’t?

But you’re ready for this. You smile ruefully,  you laugh and acknowledge how awkward it is for the interviewer to have to ask this and for you to answer, like “Haha yes, I was wondering when we’d get to that, let’s do this.” You take a sip of water, think before you speak, and then you tell your story.

“You probably know this already, but I was let go.

When [Company] asked me to step into the role, I obviously jumped at it, since I like challenges and I was hungry to learn this aspect of the business and reward their confidence in me. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of [cool, high profile exciting things] at that level?

What we quickly learned is that x, y, and z aspects of the role were not the best fit for me, I needed [What is it that you can truthfully say that isn’t about blame, avoiding responsibility, or badmouthing the place to outsiders, and shows off how knowledgeable and diplomatic you are] to truly meet the exact challenges that Company was facing at that moment.]

They really needed a [specific attribute]-person and I am more of a [incredibly positive, useful, but obviously different attribute]-person so parting ways was the right decision for everyone.

It’s obviously uncomfortable to talk about failure, I was incredibly embarrassed at the time and I so wish things had worked out differently, but I can’t regret the attempt. Thanks to that experience, I learned so much about our industry and all the ways I can contribute in this field in my future career, and I also know so much more about where I can really fit in and thrive.

A role like this  [the one I am applying for right now, here, with your extremely valuable and important company, you attractive, sympathetic and brilliant people!] is a chance to return to my wheelhouse, and I hope the perspective I gained from my time in the C-suite will help me appreciate, do, and contribute [even MORE extremely cool, useful, impressive, highly-relevant-to-your-exact-needs kind of shit, be strategic and specific about the details you share] even better than I did before.

Adapt to your needs, break it up to be conversational, fill in the mad libs, be specific, but tell the story like only someone who experienced what you did can tell it: with straightforward honesty, courage, regret where its applicable but not too much, insight, evidence that you learned things, and evidence that you are ready to apply those lessons constructively in the future. Don’t forget the killer last question: “Before I go, are there any concerns you have about my fit for the role or past experience that I can clear up for you?”

Interviewers will take their cue from you about how to respond to and feel about mistakes and failures. They know nobody’s perfect, to the point that you would look like an asshole if you tried to pretend everything was perfect, that you were perfect. If they don’t want you, they don’t want you, there isn’t anything you can do to convince them they do. If they do want you, they’ll talk themselves into hiring you, and they’ll use your story to help them do it. Sure, you’ve made mistakes, but what an amazing experience and insight you have, and look how clearsighted and straightforward you are about it! You’re not living in the past or mired in regret or shame or covering anything up or blaming everyone but you.

The positive-corporate-acceptable spin story isn’t the most important story or the only important story, the story about how this all sucks and you hate it and you feel grief and shame and despair, that’s your story, too, you have to take some time to honor that one, and you have to learn the ones that say, “Hey, family, that’s not helpful, what I really need is you to just tell me you’re proud of me” and “Hey Colleague, I know I let everyone down, but you know what a great team we can be for x kind of work, can I count on you as a reference for my new job or to spot me any good leads?” I wouldn’t even necessarily accept the story that says you are inherently bad at senior management roles. If you want those kinds of roles, there are ways you can learn the pieces you didn’t know before. One story, many versions, don’t skip the hard ones, they’ll teach you how to tell the next chapter.

I believe that you can do this, even if you don’t. Everything that got you where you were when your family was bragging about you nonstop, when everyone was convinced of your bright and unassailable future, everything that made you valuable to your employers and marked you as someone to bet on is still within you. Your story carried you this far and the ending is still unwritten.

Since we’re on a poetry kick this week, here’s one about regret: Antilamentation, by Dorianne Laux. I’m wishing you every good thing.

Comments are open, please re-read the commenting policies and be reminded that diet talk, mentions of specific weights, body shaming, or promotion of diets or weight loss are not allowed at CaptainAwkward.com enterprises. Thank you for your questions and support of the site.

 

 

88 comments
  1. A Silver Spork said:

    Q10, former addict here. I can give you a very, very long list of things my loved ones tried that DIDN’T work: shame, gossiping about me with other people, condescendingly telling me I had a problem, trying to keep me away from my drugs of choice (surprise, I got them from other people even when it was illegal), pointing out examples of other people who had drug issues and/or had gotten sober, appealing to my better nature, straight-up comparing me to my grandfather who drank himself into an early grave, tearful interventions, ignoring the problem… I’m sure I’ve forgotten quite a few.

    No one ever calmly sat down with me to say “hey, your drug use is a problem, here’s the number for a doctor who can help you out with that” and honestly, I’m not sure if it would have helped. But I’ve heard from other people that it helped them, so, I think it’s worth a shot.

    In the end, I stopped using drugs when the cost of doing so (a new mental illness symptom that was extremely horrible) outweighed the benefit (distracting me from my horrible life, part of which was my fault but most of which was due to my abusive family). Once I quit using I was able to focus on rebuilding my life. I’ve been sober for three and a half years now and things are pretty awesome for me now, although I can *tell* that my brain doesn’t function as well as it did before all the drugs. Be prepared that if she does eventually get sober, she might have memory problems or some social difficulty.

  2. The Captain’s advice to the former upper-management employee is so absolutely spot on!

    • JayNay said:

      yes, Captain, I’m so so happy to read your advice about the different narratives. I am currently in a similar situation to the LW – completely burned out in my last job, coupled with past trauma & depression, and I’m struggling imagining the path forward for myself. Not health wise, I’m doing so much better there, but job wise – how do i get back into anything and what’s even the thing I want considering how awful the last one was? Thanks for the framing of this to the Captain, and to the LW for question 12, I’m sending you all the jedi hugs and support. You are not alone.

      • Ainuvande said:

        Oh goodness yes. I cycled through this a bunch of times before I changed entire career paths. I was great on a retail management team. I was horrible at running it. So I would get internally promoted to Store Manager, recognize my own failure, and flee to an assistant manager type position elsewhere just before burning bridges. Repeat until I finally said “you know what? Let’s have less responsibility and customers. And nights and weekends, I’d like those. In fact, lets just play with Excel, Word, and Outlook, and smile good day at people. Admin assistant. That’s what I’ll do next.”

        Of course now they’re all like “you’re so organized and forward thinking! Let’s give you direct reports! Manage a department, or be a project manager!” and I’m just internally groaning because but my happy spreadsheets and calendars! I *like* my spreadsheets and calendars. I don’t actually enjoy managing people – I miss it not at all. They aren’t remotely the same skill set.

        If only admins got paid like bosses 😉

        • I am pals with an anarchist lawyer (a public defender, it makes sense) who snapped my own feelings into shape by saying something like “I don’t want career success to mean I have to be other people’s boss, and have that be my job. I want it to mean I’m recognized by peers for my skills, that I get paid better and have more leeway over my own work life”

          I’m in the sciences and I FEEL that, there’s an clear upper limit at my job to how far you can advance while still getting to do the fun lab and field stuff we all got into it for. There’s an open all-paperwork department head position above *that* that’s been siting empty for a while, management has resorted to drafting people in 3 month stints to be the Boss, but they all step down ASAP to go back to their preferred line of work. We could probably use someone who actually wants to keep the job and do some long-term planning, but otoh, so far so good.

          For LW 12, if you haven’t already, think about whether you actually want to do that type of management again (in a better environment, with the lessons you learned this time, etc) or whether you really kinda hate it & want to dig your feet into being a skilled professional, and find a place that gives you as much respect, money and personal freedom you can find while you do it.

      • JayNay, I’m starting to arrive on the other side of where you are now. I was at an “it’s only a placeholder” job for 11.5 years. I left in March. I hadn’t realized how much I hated it, how badly it was affecting my mental health, until I had the opportunity to leave.

        I’m lucky in that I could take a full, solid month off to regroup. And that month was not “happy fun time off!”, oddly enough. I was lost and kind of floundering and struggling to imagine what was next. But I figured out, a little, what I did and did not want from my work life. And I’m starting to piece together the work life I want. It’s amazing, and overwhelming, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to get audited next year (yay freelance!), and I’m so much…not even happier, necessarily, but at ease in my own life.

        I don’t know what type of job you left, but if it was a more typical desk job, can you do something opposite for awhile? Animal handler at a doggy daycare, or summer landscape worker with the local park department, or a boring data entry job where you can listen to podcasts and type and let the rest of your mind just breathe for a bit?

        And if you didn’t burn bridges, maybe someone at your old job or in your network can help you out? The two projects I’m most excited to work on are the direct result of a former colleague’s connection, and letting people I volunteer with know what I was looking for.

        Cheering for you!

    • It is excellent. I read a lot of Ask A Manager and she also says that managing is a skill that needs to be trained, but some people are just thrown into it on the basis of doing excellent work/having the knowledge elsewhere, without being trained for it. And also that there are people who don’t like managing/don’t want to be good at it/have skills better used elsewhere and there’s no shame in that. (She doesn’t go into the emotional part of it so much, but that’s why I read both her and the good Captain… it’s similar in that they’re both good at different things and that’s ok.)

  3. Nelalvai said:

    @10, you might look around for a local Al-Anon chapter. It’s for anyone affected by an alcoholic, and they have excellent resources on caring for alcoholic loved ones while still caring for/protecting yourself. They know where you’re coming from, what you’re dealing with, cause they are/were there too.
    The meetings I went to were lightly Christian-y, which was weird cause I’m extremely atheist, but everyone was very friendly. You may be able to find a secular group depending on your location.
    Sending you good vibes!

    • nyltiak said:

      The degree of christian-ness varies greatly from meeting to meeting with all of the Al-anon, AA, etc. groups. Some of it is built into the program, because it was written by religious people, but they do *theoretically* strive to be non-religious, but semi-spiritual. If you live in an area with a lot of such groups, try a few out before you decide if its right for you. Where I live there are some groups that skew very religious/conservative, and others that are very secular and open. No two groups are the same.

  4. ladyvorkosigan said:

    Q 11. As a fat person with a history of disordered eating, I’ve also had success asking doctors not to weigh me or, if necessary (for medication dosage or some other reason), not to tell me my weight. This has gotten annoying a couple of times – one doctor felt the need to lecture me about getting therapy (which I’d prefer to a lecture about my weight, but still), but by and large has worked remarkably well.

    I’m not a parent yet (I am pregnant so looking forward to dealing with this at my first midwife appointment next week!) but I wonder if one strategy with doctors would be to tell the doctor that you want your daughter weighed backwards on the scale, you don’t want her weight discussed with her, and that discussions with you need to be within [X] parameters. I wasn’t even fat as a kid and I experienced INCREDIBLE anxiety about being weighed at the doctors which led me to avoid doctors for like a decade and a half as an adult.

    • AnotherSarah said:

      I think this is a great idea. I’ve just learned (at 37) that I can request not to be weighed. It’s amazing. I WANT to know my blood pressure and some other numbers, and not my weight. Some folks will push back on this but I’ve had decent luck refusing to be weighed. I think being weighed backwards is a good idea as well, although maybe the daughter doesn’t need to be weighed at all?

      • board certified pediatrician said:

        unfortunately, children do need to be weighed. If they would need a medication (either at that visit or based on a phone call later) it HAS to be dosed by weight. I worry weighing backwards would still make it too important. Get a good pediatrician and tell them about the family history, explain what you need – make sure that weight is just another piece of info they need to care for your child and isn’t LOADED

        • Vicki said:

          At what age, or body size, does that stop being necessary? As an adult, I’ve been given a lot of prescription and OTC medication where the dose has nothing to do with my body weight, from over-the-counter antihistamines, to antibiotic Z-packs, to MS drugs where every patient is supposed to inject the same dosage of the medication on the same schedule for months or years.

          Unless the drug company or the doctor is using an arbitrary “18 means you’re an adult for voting and signing contracts, so we’ll dose people by weight until their 18th birthdays,” the OP’s daughter may be close to the age when they stop dosing by weight. She’s 11, and a lot of over-the-counter meds have one set of instructions for “adults and children over 12,” and different ones for younger children.

          • Spicy Onion said:

            As an adult, it still can be necessary for dosage. Also, if you are on medications, weight changes that are drastic can be a big sign. There are a lot of real medical reasons the doc will need to know your weight that have nothing to do with being too fat or not. I will not visit a doctor again who recommends losing weight as a viable option to fix anything.

            With that said, I have kids. I have an 11 year old and a 7 year old – and my people? The struggle is real. I have seen my daughter struggle at even her young age with ideas like what it means to be a “girl” and a shirt showing her midrift makes her “look cute”. I see all that toxicity there. You cannot escape it simply due to one simple thing – kids can think. They have great cognitive abilities. They see what gets reacts and they pick up on those off-handed remarks. Most of us are shaped by off-handed remarks.

            The good news is that kids HAVE GREAT COGNITIVE abilities. They can relate something that may seem unrelated to them initially and create a new concept they never would have considered. And we all can help that. And how we help that is by talking to kids like they are people.

            Now I come from poor. Now I know y’all are like “oh yeeeeaaaaah I was so poor in college”. No. I was POOR. I am talking rat infested, bare minimum, no telephone, no TV, shared an actual bed with my sister poor – well, a “bed”. What tends to happen when you are that poor (and I learned this as an adult), is that you develop food insecurities.I also learned that you can pass this mindset on to your kids. I THINK about food constantly. And my well-meaning depression era grandparents did mean well when they would say “You will regret not eating that later” and “What will you think when your tummy is empty later on”. They said this sort of beguiling, but it was so true – because they didn’t know!!! So, I don’t say those things to my kids. I also don’t structure them so heavily with “times”. We eat when we are hungry. You aren’t hungry now? Then still sit with us, and you can eat your food later. I don’t want my kids to obsess over food.

          • Lily said:

            I think it’s puberty but not totally sure about this.

        • Janie said:

          But that doesn’t mean you have to do it by rote. That means, if they’re prescribed a medication, you weigh them to give it to them. (Going by the old record by phone seems like a terrible idea. What if they grew between visits?)

          • JenniferP said:

            My (adult) doctors have a great practice: “Any changes in your body recently we should know about – sleep, appetite, weight, mood?” for regular checkups and “We need to dose this medication by weight so can you climb on the scale for us” when it’s important. It works well to keep weight as just one factor in a person’s body.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        The last time I was in for a checkup I was dreading being weighed, but when I stepped on the scale? Instead of the readout, there was a sign that read “Hey, your weight may be a medical number, but it’s got nothing to do with your self worth or how you feel.”

        I can’t express how much better I felt. I think I grew three inches just standing on the scale.

        • policychick said:

          My awesome doctor has a simple solution: the scale read-out is in kilos, and it’s displayed for for only a moment (the scale ‘talks’ to the computer chart). Even if I glimpse the kilo number, I can never remember it long enough to do the pound-conversion arithmetic (nor do I want to).

      • Rae said:

        What? Seriously? I can’t even express how much I am looking forward to saying, “no thanks” the next time the nurse asks me to step on the scale. You’ve just made my day!

    • ElkenS said:

      I don’t mind getting on the scale or them knowing, because I am on a few maintenance meds and I don’t want them under-dosing me if I need more!

      But I usually don’t want to know, so I just shut my eyes and say, “don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

      My doc’s office does vitals and weight in an alcove in the hallway, and I would feel conspicuous trying to go backwards.

    • Yes! I do this as an adult—I step on the scale backwards and tell the nurses and doctors that I don’t want to know the number. During pregnancy, I asked that they not say anything more detailed than “your weight gain is good” unless there was a specific problem.

    • Working Hypothesis said:

      Lady Vorkosigan, thank you; this really affected me for a reason that wasn’t the one I was expecting.

      As with many people, I suspect, it really never occurred to me that it was possible to ask not to be weighed at the doctor’s office. The first thing that hit me when you mentioned it as an option was elation. Wow, this is possible? NEAT!

      The second thing that hit me was that my doctor has never actually used the number on the scale for any purpose other than to note it in my chart. He’s never mentioned it to me, never said a word about the supposed effects of my weight on my health, and never once tried to even discuss my fatness, let alone pressure me to do anything about it. This was a really good thing to know about a doctor I already trusted pretty thoroughly. I’d thought so little about the whole thing that I hadn’t even realized how much I could trust him to be sensible about this… because he was being sensible about it, to the point where I had never had to think about the whole subject since I began seeing him.

      I think I’m going to choose not to look at the scale when they weigh me — they don’t tell me my weight there; I can look or not, as I please — because my ability to blithely regard my weight as a number that says nothing about my value is, while better than it used to be, still a work in progress. I don’t really need to be thinking about it in detail if there’s nothing useful to do with the information. So that’s a useful outcome of thinking this whole thing through. But an even more useful outcome was the understanding of how much I can trust my doctor. I really like knowing that part.

    • Thistledown said:

      My doctor’s scale is set to kilograms, and then they ask if you want to see your weight in pounds. I think it’s a really good system.

      • Part-Time Jedi said:

        Seconding this. My home scale is also set to kilograms, since I’m on some meds that can make my weight fluctuate in unsafe ways, and have to check it more regularly than I go to the doctor. I’ve found that it dramatically reduces my internalized body shame, while still letting me gather data that I legitimately need for health reasons.

    • LizEnFrance said:

      Yes! This! I went in for a physical a few months ago and finally just told everyone I interacted with, from front desk to doctor, that going forward I would like them to note in my chart that they should not tell me my weight unless I specifically ask them to do so. I let them weigh me but I don’t look. I wish I’d done that years ago. I’m sure some docs will hassle patients who request this, but luckily mine isn’t one of them, and now I don’t have the “oh god they’re going to weigh me and even though that number isn’t a measure of my overall health or my value as a person it’s going to mess with my head whether it’s up or down” factor making me hesitate to get medical care when I need it. I don’t mind if THEY know, but it’s unhealthy for ME to know. Only took me 15 years to figure that out, but better late than never.

  5. CynicMom said:

    Q11: One thing that helped for me is to drastically cut down on the visual media I consume. TV and movies have a very standard way of portaying people, and a few months after I’d stopped watching everything I noticed I felt great about myself again. Why? Because I was only comparing myself to actual people I saw around me. Average people! Who come in all body types! It turns out I’m pretty average!

    This might be hard if your 11-year old loves watching things already. But you may try cutting down on suggesting movies or tv shows and see if that helps.

    • I agree. Another big culprit is image-heavy social media sites, like Instagram, or anything celebrity-related.

  6. LG said:

    @Q10, I have read the Intuitive Eating book by the same author as the teen book the Captain recommends, and found it to be wonderful. I also have the workbook for grown-ups, which is also good. I’ve personally found it helpful to look at parts of the workbook with a nutritionist, just because I have so many issues with anxiety, eating, and feeling overwhelmed all tied together, but that probably isn’t the case for everyone. Basically I just wanted to chime in to say that I have had a good experience with the co-authors who wrote the materials for adults (compassionate, kind, and evidence-based, both from studies and from their own experiences in their practices) so I think the teen workbook is probably equally good. I’ll be thinking of you and your family!

  7. wolfdog said:

    @Q12: I’ve been where you are. I was such a great department supervisor that I was promoted to be a store manager! A job at which I proceeded to suck out loud until I was let go.

    I know this feels absolutely horrible. It’s like all the pride and praise and celebration and validation you were showered with when you got the big job has been retroactively revoked and now you’re not worthy. You’re not alone in feeling that pain; I’ve felt it and others have too.

    What helped me to move on emotionally (besides just time) was to take a step back and think about what being worthy really means and where my self-worth was coming from. Having a prestigious job may feel like it gives you worth, but… there are people with prestigious jobs who are complete jerks. I think many of us have difficulty separating ourselves from external measures of success like career or education, and when the people around you are actively reinforcing that, it makes it even harder. But you are not your job, and failing at a job doesn’t mean you’re failing at life. You have so much more value than that.

  8. TZ said:

    Q12 — I crashed and burned on my high-flying prestigious job. I ended up having to take close to an entire year off to recover from burnout and an injury from overwork. It was not great.

    I am now great!

    A different take than the Captain:
    -If you can afford to take time off to truly recover, do it. Hopefully soul and self destroying job paid off in savings??? Take a long break.
    -Do some soul-searching about what led you to get into that position in the first place. For me, it was trouble saying no, liking the prestige, and former poor anxiety. And behind that, some big emotional turmoil. Spend some time unpacking that Your Worth Is Your Job bullshit capitalism and your friends/family/collegues are projecting on you.
    -Get out of town for a while. Go sit next to the ocean, lay in a forest, watch the stars. Feel small in the best, cosmic way.
    -Make some new friends. I’m sure yours will come around when the dust settles, but go find other crash-and-burners finding their way back to health and happiness. Or just the never-strivers. They’ve been lifesavers for me.
    -Do you want to go back to the same industry or try something new? This is a chance to reinvent yourself. If you want. Or just do something else for a while. I got offered a job in a funeral home. No one there cared about my failed consultant career. No one in my current sector does either. Every now and again it comes up as an aside and usually people treat it as a cheerful, neat fact about me (“oh, what an interesting journey!”)
    -Is this a good time to work part-time? I know that’s harder in the US than my country because health care but man, this changed my life.
    -I do agree with the Captain though, finding a cohesive narrative for yourself and others helps a lot.

    • TZ said:

      Oh, man, this is dumb but, another thing that helped was watching iZombie. It is a great show for many reasons but the first season is all about her abruptly leaving her prestigious medical career to eek by with a job in a morgue while utterly unable to explain to her family why in a way they understand. She lands on her feet in an entirely new career and a few seasons in, you forget she was ever even almost a doctor. Her boss was fired from a prestigious CDC career for reasons that make him especially suited to his current circumstances. It’s real good.

      • Britpoptarts said:

        Can vouch for this show. It’s quirky and cheers me up, despite the subject matter.
        The villains aren’t all one-note, either. It’s like a cross between Quantum Leap and BVTS with a sprinkle of Walking Dead.

        • Britpoptarts said:

          BVTS should have been BTVS, short for Buffy. Sorry.

  9. Clorinda said:

    Yikes, Q11, there’s a lot going on with you and your girls. I have no advice but just want to offer sympathy in your effort to provide a same alternative to our society’s strange, sick obsession with thinness. The specifics of what you do don’t matter as much as the fact that your girls know that you love them and want them to be healthy and at peace with themselves. You’re a good mom.

  10. lowbudgetcyborg said:

    Captain, I honestly LOL’ed at “uterus = tote bag of betrayal.”

    And here’s a song rec about moving on to the next chapter in unexpected ways, “My Story is not Done,” by Seanan McGuire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAzxYuaok00

    • Thistledown said:

      I found out that your appendix can actually burst twice, and now fully expect mine to burst a second time. (Trust me, this is exactly the sort of thing it would do.) Glad to know other people think their organs are trying to betray them as well

      • Britpoptarts said:

        OMG. I have something new to add to my free-floating anxiety list. I worked as a medical librarian and never heard this before.

  11. Semi Chellas said:

    Last poster should immediately start listening to Gimlet podcast Without Fail which is basically successful people talking about their horrible times and how it got them where they are. Actually inspiring and bravery creating (for me at least).

  12. EllenS said:

    LW 12, I vividly recall being in a cab from the airport on my way to try the Big Career Thing. The cabbie made chitchat, and I excitedly told him my plans.

    He was a jerk. He condescendingly told me to go home, it would never work out, I would fail.

    Thank goodness for my blurting thing, because I snapped back: “I’d rather try and fail than wind up old and bitter and wondering what could have happened.”

    And you know what? I tried for a long time, and it didn’t go the way I hoped. It sort-of worked, but not well enough to be worth it anymore. I don’t have much to show for it. I’m sure that by that cabbie’s standards, I failed.

    And now I am getting old, and doing something else. But I have nothing to be bitter about. I’m so glad I tried. I’m so grateful for how trying changed me and changed my life.

    I’m proud of you for trying something really hard.

    Don’t live by the standards of some condescending doomsaying jerk. People who have never failed will never do all that they are capable of. They will never do anything really new. And they will not grow.

    Take care. I hope you get through the sad part quickly and get to the proud part soon. You deserve to.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      Not to diss cabbies AT ALL, but I’m guessing that a taxicab driver wasn’t the job title he grew up dreaming he’d have one day, so he was probably working out some old bitterness of his own. Not cool to dump it on you, though.

      If I liked driving more, I’d probably like being a cabbie, at least until someone barfed in my back seat area or tried to rob me. It’s not an easy job.

  13. callioscopic said:

    I’m sitting on my bed weeping over CA’s response to Q12. I’m a week out of a breakup that makes me feel like I failed at a relationship and the parts about integrating grief being a part of healing, and about how all the good qualities that got me into the (relationship instead of job, in my case) are still true are things I deeply needed to hear. Thank you.

  14. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    The last question was one I didn’t know I needed, but I did. Especially the Captain’s “personal story” about everything falling apart while adjunct teaching. I’m working part time to ease back after a disability leave earlier in the year and one thing I’ve been reckoning with lately is how starting about 6 months before I went on leave, I started having weird health problems, pain and nausea and muscle tension and injuries from the muscle tension, and my doctors told me it was because I was too stressed out, and I cried because the only way I could see to make things better was to work harder and be better and my body kept inconveniently insisting on having needs instead. There are all kinds of reasons why it got that bad, and splitting it into “story I tell myself/stories I tell friends and family/story I tell at work” is a really useful framing in trying to understand and bounce back from something I still feel shaken and ashamed of and am still not sure how to talk about. (If anyone knows of more resources on how to tel this kind of story i would love to see them!)

  15. Madam said:

    I crashed and burned in a big prestigious job once. It was embarrassing and bad. I felt like my head was on spike on London Bridge, as a sign I was a traitor. So I did a very low stress job for a while. I eventually bounced back and am now in a career that fits me like a glove. I would not give up that experience of failure for anything, though, because it taught me so much about some of my dysfunctional patterns (the place was also a cluster fuck too). Be exquisitely kind to oneself. You will survive this.

  16. Fellow academic? here said:

    I really feel you on Q12, captain. I was an academic, and absolutely brilliant at it, but had to put up with raft after raft of sexism and eventually the stress took a massive toll on my health. The final nail in the coffin was a longtime mentor ghosting me after I pointed out that he was running his program in a discriminatory way. As you said, I loved academia but it profoundly did not love me back.

  17. I never knew I wanted a pancake friend until today

  18. lisakoby said:

    For LW Q10 – I’m in the middle of Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything and in part of it she speaks directly about her friendship with a person that has relapsed into alcoholism and how she navigated that with grace and compassion for herself and her friend – it was lovely. It’s about halfway through the book. She’s a practicing Christian and that comes through but as an agnostic I still found the book moving. Hope it helps if you choose to pick it up.

  19. Kit-Kat said:

    #12, just sympathy. I don’t know what your situation is but as part of my training program (think like an internship) we are supposed to have graduated responsibility yet received little training for said responsibility. So yeah, I failed at it and nobody thought it proper to tell me until formal evaluations. *insert eye roll emoji* Luckily (?) I was able to salvage things by directly asking for specific coaching as it’s a training program but… that should be there in the first place!! I agree with the captain, it’s necessary to grieve but also that this doesn’t define you and can be a way to start over. Ugh. I’m sorry.

  20. Emily said:

    As someone who has been the interviewer- there are definitely things I find attractive about a candidate who has “failed” before. People who have been managers tend to be better at seeing the metaphorical forest beyond the individual tree of their specific job. They tend to be much more forgiving on their managers and are more adept at anticipating the needs of the group. And they tend to be happier at their jobs because they know the grass isn’t always greener on the management side. Honestly I don’t really care if you’ve been fired for something that’s not a red flag about your character if you’re the best person for the job. Don’t let capitalism tell you your worth. Good luck!

    • Emma9 said:

      This comment makes me think about something I read recently about preferring to buy clothes/shoes at thrift stores, because you never know when new stuff is going to fall apart at the seams on the first wearing, while secondhand clothes have already been around the block, and even if they weren’t the best fit for the person who donated them, they’re still holding up strong. I found it kind of inspiring!

  21. mh said:

    LW 11, as a mom, I’d treat this like I would if, say, you had a family history of skin cancer and your 11 year old had a new freckle. That is, you have a very strong family history of eating disorders, and your 11 year old may or may not be showing early symptoms. I’d start with her pediatrician (as long as the pediatrician is not someone who is likely to body shame her – and if they are I’d find another ped regardless) and also ask the therapist who sees your 15 year old for a referral. Could be nothing but normal, age appropriate comments. Could be something – and if it is, you want to know sooner rather than later. I love the advice to talk to her about your experience, and in your shoes I’d use a very light touch and try not to make it An Important Conversation. Best of luck.

  22. Jaybeetee said:

    Q11: A big thing to impress upon your daughter is, realistically, how *little* being fat actually holds your life back. Of course there are certain things. But I think when you’re young and fat in our society, you can really end up catastrophizing certain ideas. For example, I spent most of my 20s in awful relationships because I was fundamentally certain that no decent guy would date a fattie (and I defined myself as “fatty” even when I was at most 10-20 pounds overweight), that I’d have to settle for whoever was willing to “look past” my appearance. Show her your happy marriage. Show her the happy, full life you live even though you live with what many parts of society consider to be the biggest and worst blight a woman can have. Show her plus-size models, show her fat women who have good lives.

    Q12: I am now years out from my own dramatic, epic career failure. You’d be surprised how much it… stops mattering, and sooner than you’d think. What I have learned in my life is that it’s actually quite difficult to ruin your life. I have yet to hit a point where I’ve actually run out of chances to turn it around, in any part of life (mostly, stay out of jail and try not to get pregnancy involved). I had my career flameout… and got a lower-paying but far more suitable job 6 weeks later. 6 months later, I got the job offer that has lead to the career I have now (a couple of promotions later). And my current job is actually a tier higher than the job I flamed out of.

    This will pass. You will recover. It does get better. And the people chattering about you now will get bored and find other things to chatter about. It’s going to be okay.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      Here’s a gorgeous lady to start with: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tess_Holliday
      FWIW, If my skin looked as glowingly luminous as hers, I’d be arrested for being naked every day in every place because I wouldn’t want to hide an inch of it.

  23. peeta8 said:

    LW 10 — I am a recovering alcoholic, and one of the big moments for me was a very kind, long email from a caring friend who had seen my drinking get worse and uglier over a period of time and was worried about me. I still needed a lot of support (in my case, individual therapy, not AA) but knowing she had seen that I was not ok was very helpful.

  24. Black Lab said:

    @Q10: You said you’re struggling to figure out how to both support your alcoholic friend and protect yourself from her alcohol-fueled issues. I don’t have any answers for how to support your friend. I do have some feedback on protecting yourself. This feedback is based on my experience with a mother and brother who abuse alcohol while taking prescription meds. (Off and on they abuse prescription meds too.)

    I’ve found it helpful to attend support group meetings. The two I’ve attended the most are Al-Anon Family Groups and SMART Recovery Family & Friends. Overall it’s helpful to hear the stories of other attendees and their loved ones who struggle with addiction. I feel not so alone, and every now and then their stories relate to mine in a way that produces little insights and understandings.

    Something that is said at SMART Recovery Family & Friends has become my mantra: “I didn’t cause it [the substance abuse], I can’t cure it, I can’t control it, I can only cope with it.” I repeat this mantra when dealing with the alcohol-related issues of my family. It doesn’t protect me, but it does help minimize the damage done to me.

    One of the effects of the alcohol abuse of my family is that guilt and fear hijack my brain. I wonder if I’m doing enough to support them. I wonder if I could have/should have prevented a problem caused by their alcohol abuse. I’m afraid they’ll hurt someone when they drink and drive. The mantra does tone down the guilt and fear somewhat.

  25. Q10 Writer – I also recommend finding a support group like Al-Anon. We say to try six meetings to see if it works for you. That means you can try different groups to find the best fit for you. I grew up with addicts, and if it weren’t for 12 step groups, I can’t even imagine what a wreck I would be.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      I went to Al-Anon to support a friend many moons ago, and I am very much an atheist, albeit one that’s not dismissive of whatever works for other people. It not only helped me avoid “Halpiness” and sliding into codependent (and thus UNHELPFUL) behaviors, it also helped me feel compassion for my friend and to understand addictive behaviors.

      I also had to unlearn a lot of messages society ingrains about what healthy friendship looks like. Often, it expects a boundariless relationship, because our media examples are scripted, and they are scripted by fallible people, at that. Example: Friends on TV shows just barge into each other’s homes and apartments without calling first or knocking. (My mom does this in real life when she gets a key, so she gets NO KEYS.) No one cares! No one gets caught naked (unless the storyline calls for it)! No one’s burglar alarms go off and bring the cops running. There is no boundary!
      Al-Anon explains that short-term kindness that would be OK for a well friend with no addiction issues is often unkind in the long-run for an addict friend, and you aren’t a bad person to say no to rescuing an addict from their own mistakes, or soothing their feelings after their addiction causes them to act badly and it catches up to them and they feel sad. It’s OK to set boundaries, to say no, and to refuse to get hooked in to addiction-adjacent behaviors, too.

      Honestly, it wouldn’t have been a bad place to visit even if I didn’t have a recovering alcoholic for a friend. I had no good model re: what was being a good friend and what was being a codependent mark or Halper.

  26. BigDogLittleCat said:

    LW10, I feel your pain. BT;DT.

    In addition to the Captain’s excellent advice, I suggest you reconsider the way you think about the situation. Rather than seek “to both support her and protect myself,” make it 1. protect yourself and 2. support her.

    Yep, your friend is flailing and in danger and I’m recommending you prioritize yourself.
    In addition to the secure-your-own-oxygen-mask-first practicalities, there is the hard truth that in a battle between you and her addiction, her addiction will *always* win. You can help her, but unless she is fighting her addiction, there’s not a damn thing you can do and staying engaged will only pull you down with her. It’s not your battle to win. It’s already lost if she’s not even trying.

    The most important help my therapist gave me was to make me understand that:
    1 – They are broken.
    2 – You can’t fix them.
    3 – You are not obligated to sacrifice yourself trying.

    You need to be aware of how her behavior and situation are affecting you and when you need to pull back so you don’t suffer too. I would go so far as to say if she’s not at least trying to deal with her alcoholism, if it ever comes to her well being or yours, cut her loose, because if she’s not at least trying, the only thing you’re doing is allowing yourself to be harmed. And you don’t have to do that and it doesn’t help her if you do.

    Aside from the fact that you are entitled to take care of yourself and under no obligation to let her drag you down too, by saving yourself you are able to help her if she resurfaces.
    If she resurfaces and blames you for “abandoning” her, I’d say she hasn’t really resurfaced because she’s trying to hold you accountable for her life.

    As the Captain said, figure out boundaries that work for you and keep to them. You are not selfish or a bad person if you don’t “support” her “100%.” You won’t shame her for her problem. Don’t shame yourself for not doing more than you can.

    This is on her.

    If I sound like a cold-hearted bitch, it’s because I am never again popping Valium before 8AM for someone who still hadn’t accepted any responsibility.

    Best of luck, to you and your friend.

    • MuddieMae said:

      ” I am never again popping Valium before 8AM for someone who still hadn’t accepted any responsibility.”

      Huh, ironic.

    • Black Lab said:

      @BigDogLittleCat: Your post was helpful. Thank you. I like this: “… there is the hard truth that in a battle between you and her addiction, her addiction will *always* win.” So true.

  27. Amy said:

    Q11: I relate to this so strongly–not as a parent necessarily, because I’m not one, but I’m watching my baby cousin go through exactly these kinds of concerns, and as her much-older cousin-who’s-probably-more-like-an-aunt, I’m having a lot of the same questions that you’re having on how to support and guide her in this fatphobic world.

    Thinking back to when I was a kid…I definitely had the message by preteen years that we were Supposed To Worry About Our Weight and Fat Is Bad. Mine wasn’t even from the doctor–it was mostly from peers, teachers, TV and other media, books, etc. But it was reinforced by my mom’s tendency to say “Do you really want to eat that?” when I went for a cookie (pretty sure she meant the lack of vitamins/nutrients more than the potential fat, but that’s not how I heard it), and my doctors’ tendencies to mention my weight when I went to appointments (pretty sure they did this for everyone, but once again, that’s not how I heard it), and a range of other things that were individually no big deal but collectively strongly reinforcing. And also just by the fact that no one told me “Hey, look, you do not need to lose weight, you do not need to be thin to be beautiful and strong and smart and worthy, you are good as you are.”

    With that in mind, I’ve been trying to give that latter message when I’m hanging out with my cousin. And I talk about the exciting, fun, active, good parts of my own life–I’m hoping she notices that I’m fat, and I can do all these things, so fat people can do all these things. Since I’m not her parent, I don’t have any say in her doctors or how her mom talks about food or any of that…but at least she has one person in her life who’s telling her that fat isn’t the end of the world, and that she specifically is great as she is. It’s probably not enough to counter everything, but it’s more than I had; from there, maybe I have to trust her to be smart and strong and find her way forward.

  28. Elder Dog said:

    Q #12 There’s a book. It’s called the Peter Principle and it’s by Laurence J. Peter.

  29. Elektra said:

    Q11 – it’s interesting to me that the LW formerly had a binge eating disorder and LW’s other daughter is at risk of anorexia. It’s impossible to say from the letter, but I wonder if this history is also something that is playing into the daughter’s concerns about her body. Perhaps it is not easy to be approaching puberty as the fat younger sister of a more slender teenage girl who is at risk of anorexia.

    In this context, I’d also be keeping an eye out for any eating disorder red flags, and also considering whether the daughter would benefit from processing her feelings with a professional outside the family structure.

  30. ThatHat said:

    Q11 I don’t have any good advice, but I would like to recommend Steven Universe and (to a lesser extent for this purpose) She-Ra if she hasn’t already seen them. Steven Universe especially features a wide variety of body types and never really makes an issue out of it. Rose Quartz, the legendary leader and hero, is fat. Amethyst, who’s fun and punky, is short and stout. Steven himself is not a small kid. It just shows them all as heroes and people without any of the implicit fat jokes that are sadly still so common in kids media (I love the new DuckTales and Star vs the Forces of Evil, but in the latter, fat characters are almost always bad guys, and in the former, they’re jokes. And it’s so frustrating).

    She-Ra doesn’t have quite the variety of body types, but there’s still Spinnerella.

    I know tv shows aren’t going to fix anything, but it might make her feel better about herself to see cool heroes with superpowers whose bodies look more like hers.

    (If she likes comics, Squirrel Girl isn’t fat, but she is a bit more curvy than the average superhero. And she’s got a squirrel tail. She eats nuts and kicks butts!)

  31. CommanderBanana said:

    I feel you, #1. I do a LOT of volunteering, and often what happens is that the more you give, the more they ask for. I volunteer in a shelter and it can often be depressing and soul-sucking (and yet so, so necessary) and it was getting to the point where it was my second unpaid job, and I was just getting asked to take on more and more shifts and more and more projects, with no end time to these projects.

    I took a step back and stopped volunteering for about a month, then began picking up shifts again, but instead of scheduling my life around my volunteer shifts, I filled my calendar with all the stuff I wanted to do, INCLUDING unscheduled “free time” and then built the shifts around those.

    A lot of volunteers were burning out around the same time, so the shelter was finally prompted to make some changes, like recruiting volunteers specifically for overnight shifts, working out smaller shift schedules, and being more cognizant of how many of the same people were taking shifts. I don’t know that they would have changed anything had they not been like, crap, the same 5-7 people that always did everything are now not signing up.

    Part of a bigger problem is that it’s a 24-7 shelter – but only funded for M-F 9-5 paid workers. As the meme says, the math ain’t mathing. Ideally our city would fund it as a 24/7 shelter and volunteers would be a backstop, not relying entirely on volunteers for every weekend and holiday.

    But as the captain said, that’s a city priority / management issue, not a me issue.

    • Jitz Girl said:

      Yeah, sometimes that is what you have to do. Management doesn’t think they have a problem until they can’t open the doors because they don’t have staffing.

    • FarmerStina said:

      I am on the board of a non-profit that has open-to-the-public hours, and only two paid staff who can’t work every shift. A few times we’ve been closed during normal open times, because we didn’t have any volunteers available. We put up a sign saying, “closed due to lack of volunteers.” The last time that happened, one of the people who was so annoyed that we were closed showed up to volunteer the next week. And now he’s helping two days a week, because we basically announced to our community that they needed to step up or we couldn’t be open as much. Plus, he’s really good at nagging our other regulars to either volunteer or contribute financially so we can afford to pay our staff for more hours.

  32. Gail Davidson-Durst said:

    Hi All, Q11 poster here! First thank you everyone – this has made me feel more confident that I’m already doing a lot of good things for my daughter, as well as giving me some great ideas for more strategies. Luckily all the females of my household are in therapy with good practitioners who fit our needs, so that helps a lot – I’ll also make sure to chat with 11yo’s therapist specifically about the 15yo’s situation and family history.

    I really love the idea of sharing my own story more with them. For what it’s worth:

    What helped you?
    — Doing so many yo-yo cycles with dieting that I finally gave up, even before I learned that Diets Don’t Work, HAES is a thing, etc.
    — Reading the entire back catalog of Shapely Prose in one week
    — The Dances with Fat blog
    — Losing significant weight during chemo (I’m fine now thanks!) and seeing up close how fucked up our ideas about weight are – so many people congratulating me and expressing envy (!!!) that I was getting smaller
    — Discovering my local belly dance school, which is totally accepting of all bodies and abilities and is incredibly fun – this fully severed exercise from weight loss/punishment to me!

    What did you wish someone had told you when you were small?
    — Food is fuel and a social event and pleasure, but it’s not a useful medication for anxiety and depression – those things deserve proper treatment
    — Some people are thinner, some fatter, our control over it is limited, and it’s not remotely a moral issue
    — Society’s focus on thinness is tied up with a BUNCH of sexist, racist, ableist garbage that you can reject

    What helps you now?
    — Avoiding diet talk and body shaming talk, even to the point of telling my doctor/boss/coworkers/husband when I need them to stop or avoid certain subjects
    — Finding a doctor I can focus on my behaviors and medical outcomes, rather than weight as a proxy for health
    — Never withholding fun or pleasurable activities on the basis of my weight – I dance, I play with fashion, I cosplay, etc.

  33. StarGazer said:

    #11: Fantastic answer, especially on the doctor part. I’ve had to deal with the U.S Healthcare system extensively for the past 25 years- since I was 9- and weight gain was the central part of what turned out being. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 17, and only then because my MOM figured it out and found a specialist halfway across the country. And she figured out when it recurred, as well as multiple other issues. One thing I recommend is frequently requesting and reading your doctors notes, even if your relationship seems great, ESPECIALLY before changing doctors or going to a new one. You will want to know what’s been said, because other doctors will trust what another doctor writes above what a patient tells them. And your doctor may be nice to your face… but they may be quite the opposite in your records, especially if you’re fat. They may well even lie in them, which is dangerous, and nearly got me killed more than once (there also may be information that was just entered incorrectly, which is why everyone should check their records. Most are just mistakes, and it’s usually easy to tell which is which).

    On a personal note, I’m very frustrated with the body-positivity movements. Very nearly all of it has you focus on “what your body can do for you”, which may be great for a lot of people but not so much for those of us whose bodies cannot do anything for us. Whose bodies, in fact, are actually attacking us. I can do even less than before, after having my pain medication dosage cut to a third of what it was (even then, I couldn’t do much) after the “war on opioids” has turned into “war on pain patients”. Getting to the bathroom or getting a drink is a challenge. Exercise, any exercise? Not happening. It feels to me like those of us who are disabled are being left out of this conversation, just like we are with most things. It just… really, really sucks.

    • WanderingUndine said:

      I hear you on the second part. I have chronic arm/hand/leg/foot pain, among other disabilities, so shict focus from appearance to ability doesn’t help me much. I’ve beed frustrated at a female-sexuality-class meeting with projects about one’s own body image when people largely said things like “My legs don’t look like a model’s, but they carry me over mountains” and “My strong arms do whatever I want them to.” Those women weren’t wrong to be grateful and proud of these things they love about their bodies, but I wondered if there could be a place for me and my faulty body in this line of thinking which we we’re encouraged to pursue.

      • WanderingUndine said:

        *shifting, not shict

  34. Jackalope said:

    Q11: This plays off of what the Captain said. Try to separate food and exercise from losing weight. First of all, as she alluded to, triple fudge brownies aren’t sinful or immoral any more than broccoli and kale are virtuous. Eat food because you like it, or want to try it, or whatever, without focusing on whether it will help lose weight. Just because you aren’t thin doesn’t mean you don’t get to enjoy dessert! Eat broccoli and kale if you like them, *because you like them*, or if you dislike them then don’t, and eat something else instead. This is hard to learn, but it can help. And make exercise about moving and feeling good in your body. I have a friend who briefly tried a gym when she couldn’t do her regular exercise because of an injury/schedule change/I forgot what, and she told me how frustrated she was that all of the gyms she looked at focused on losing weight rather than learning something fun and new. Don’t listen to them! Whether your daughter gets exercise by joining a sports team at school, or martial arts through the local park & rec, or occasional nature walks, or volunteering in an active position (I once volunteered at an aquarium and had to lug around huge buckets of fish all the time; lots of fun AND good exercise!). I find exercise a great help for me since it allows me to enjoy my body without worrying what it looks like (except for a sport like dancing, but even then I’m focused on things I can control, like my head position, not my weight), but YMMV.

    (Also, Captain, I had the chance to share some of your resources on how to deal with doctor visits when fat with a friend who was very thankful; thank you so much for sharing!!)

    Q12: You touched on one of the things that most annoys me about career advancement. There’s this idea that has endured for ages that the only proper way to advance is to go through management. First of all this sets up many people for failure and disappointment since you can have only so many leaders, and secondly it misses the fact that as has been pointed out, not everyone has that skill set. A few years ago I visited a “flash mentor” event where bigwigs from my agency met with 5-8 employees to talk about career advancement. I asked one of them how to advance without becoming a supervisor. To his credit, after a bit of sputtering, he managed to come up with a few options; however, after outlining a possible non-management career ladder he jumped back onto the tired bandwagon of, “You should just try it, you might be surprised how much you like it!” as if the fact that I’m a smart, promising employee means automatically that I *must* be supervisor material. I love my job, and would love to stay for a long time, possibly the rest of my career. At the same time, the parts that I love are things like direct interaction with clients, and solving their direct needs. I am not at all interested in hiring, firing, dealing with the cranky enraged customers who *demand* a supervisor, etc. As someone else pointed out, these are NOT the same skill set! Not to say that I couldn’t manage it if I became a supervisor, but I would probably be merely competent, whereas now I am outstanding and enthusiastic. (Also, our supervisors don’t get that much more pay than someone my level, since I’ve nearly plateau-ed in the non-supervisor positions I can attain, and they have to work a lot of overtime, weekends, etc., whereas I’m not required to do any of those things. Sooo…. why?)

  35. Clarry said:

    Q12. Something else I’ve noticed about promoting people to management jobs. There’s generally no training. Take a new job in a restaurant, and they’ll show you how to work the coffee machine, maybe even stay with you a minute to make sure you’ve got it right. Take a new job in an office, and you’ll be given a manual on the software. Take a job where you’re expected to teach, motivate, give feedback to, and be responsible for human beings in a hierarchical system, and you get nothing. Also it’s not even a one size fits all system. It’s hit or miss on one of the hardest things to do.

    This is a little unrelated, but I got a lot out of reading basic management books. I got a lot out of reading reading books on how to bring up children (I don’t have any) because it was eye opening to see what my parents got wrong (everything). It was a step towards healing. It was even better when I read up on management. All sorts of things fell into place that made me feel better about the job I was doing and whatever bits of management there was in it.

  36. viva said:

    Thank you to the Captain and everyone else who shared their ‘failure’ stories.

    I’m still trying to emotionally and financially recover after an embarrassing career failure, and it’s been years. Looking back that ‘failure’ (it was a poor fit that coincided with chronic pain issues and resulting poor mental health) should have been a blip on my resume…but I took it so personally and felt like it proved I’m a piece of shit imposter. I wasn’t able to just bounce back and get back out there. I fell apart completely and am just now starting to come out of the fog.

    Reading your stories about re-framing helped me tremendously today.

  37. Camille said:

    LW with the alcoholic friend, join Al-Anon. Most of the advice will be very similar to what the Captain has told you, but you will be surrounded by people in similar situations who can provide tremendous support.

  38. KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

    I really appreciate the failure stories. I am at the other end of the spectrum, close to retirement, but it would be helpful to make it long enough for one more bonus – except I have two chronic illnesses and am no longer able to work at the top of my game. In fact, I struggle significantly. My family does not understand and keeps pushing, saying that it is only a few months. I, on the other hand, expect that I could be fired any day. This does not make for a comfortable situation. I keep reminding myself that I am doing my best. (Well, on a good day, that’s what happens. On a bad day I lie awake and cry after everyone else goes to sleep.) That what happens, happens. The world will go on.

    • Eli said:

      I’m really sorry to hear about your situation – that sounds hideous. If it weren’t for your family pushing you, would your choice be to take early retirement, or are there reasons (bonus aside) why that’s not an option? It sounds as if you think you might not get the bonus anyway because you’re at risk of getting fired. The way you describe things, I get the impression you’re only struggling on because of your family – but they don’t understand what it’s like for you. Maybe it’s finally time to give yourself what you need and not put your family’s wishes first? Assuming early retirement is a realistic option, that is.

      • Patricia Scanlan said:

        Some days I would. Other days I think that this job pushes me to think and that part is good for me, so I keep at it. But the doctor thinks the stress is really awful for me and making one of my chronic illnesses much worse. Since we only have what I’ve saved for retirement, yes the extra money would help immensely, but it is likely I won’t get it anyway. By the way, I’m already above the average age for retirement, just trying to eke out the last bit to get enough to feel we might be not totally watching every penny trying to survive. So I understand their concern. And, of course, every week I do work, is a week that there is pay coming in instead of just money going out. So even without the bonus, keeping going makes financial (if not physical) sense.

        • FarmerStina said:

          I feel for you. I run my own business and my doctor wanted me to try a new anti-depressant which did not work at all, and I’m slowing tapering back on the one that works 75%. Some days, eating, personal hygiene and feeding the dogs are monumental tasks that I struggle to conquer and very little work gets done. And then I enter this shame spiral because I am a complete failure of an adult and my mom has to come over and do my laundry… And that shame spiral makes it so much harder to function the next day.

          I’m trying so hard to be gentle to myself, and accepting that most days I’m going to eat frozen food nuked in the microwave or cereal for dinner. And I’m trying to give myself realistic goals so I don’t feel like I’ve failed at everything come the end of the day. I guess I just wanted to share that you’re not alone and I hope you are able to find some compassion for your new reality and are able to be gentle with yourself when you can’t do what used to be so easy.

  39. WanderingUndine said:

    Thank you for indicating that it’s sometimes possible to form “agreements” with doctors who have expressed concern about weight. At my last checkup, I mentioned that I had gained some weight and the doctor said I “shouldn’t gain more,” sending me into a panic of terror that she would henceforth withhold all medical care in favor of just telling me to lose weight. I snarled that I wouldn’t change my diet, and afterward went home weeping and mentally screaming. My next physical is next week and I’ve gained a little more weight, so I’m scared of what could happen. I would like to sttaight-out ask if my fears about her are grounded, and try to see if we can agree to not focus on my weight, before I decide whether to go looking for a new doctor.

    FA and HAES messaging about the harmfulness of dieting and diet/body talk has combined with my catastrophizing mind to leave me feeling fragile and frightened. I’ve come to believe that I’m required to angrily shut any such talk down and run away or it will destroy my mental health and make me destroy my body, even if it’s not directed at me. Sometimes I can’t do so, like in a gym locker room or when my mom and I are visiting a cousin and the two of them have been enjoying the same weight-loss/maintenance diet for years so I can’t force them to *never* discuss it. I’m having to teach myself that while I should try not to internalize the messaging in such talk or apply it to myself, hearing it once in a while doesn’t need to put *me* in terrified mortal peril. So I think it’s a very good thing if a person going through this learning process has someone supportive to talk about it with, instead of just reading internet posts all alone, and I hope this mother will provide that for her daughter.

    • Erin W said:

      I would actually quit mentioning your weight at all. Pounds lost or gained are a problematic, imperfect indicator of whether something is wrong. My health insurance provides me a free biometric screening every year, and I keep an eye on my cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. I tell them I have no interest in knowing my weight or my BMI. I don’t weigh myself at home. My advice would be, focus on those other readings and ask your doctor to do the same.

      • WanderingUndine said:

        I track my own weight and am fine with my doctor doing so. I don’t want to feel that I should be terrified of that as well. I worry that the doctor might use it to withhold medical care in favor of simply telling me to lose weight, but maybe she won’t. At my physical today, I didn’t mention my weight — which has been pretty stable — or what I eat, and neither did she. So perhaps she just felt obligated to offer guidance when *I* brought up the subject last time, though I had hoped she wouldn’t. (I know other people who are like that — I mention some minor concern and they think it’s a problem *they* need to fix.) I don’t know that she won’t start threatening to withhold medical care if I gain much more weight, but it’s good to know that if she does, I have recourse to address my concerns about her approach and can leave her practice if I absolutely need to.

        But I hate feeling that I’m required to flee in terror whenever anyone makes any suggestion about what I eat or talk about what they eat. When a pharmacy cashier once commented that her diet wouldn’t let her eat the calorie-dense food I was buying, I snarled at her to mind her own business and then felt awful for being rude to a service worker. I’d like to think that I can consider what people say about food and try or reject things as I feel inclined, but I’ve been taught that following anyone else’s diet will destroy me, especially if any thought of potential effect on weight ever crosses my mind in the process. This endless fear doesn’t feel like a healthy mindset, but anything else would allegedly be worse.

  40. WanderingUndine said:

    Thank you also for your reply to Q12. Four years ago, I got my first permanent full-time job — and resigned from it less rhan six months later because that area proved unsustainable for my disabled self to work in and isolation on and off the job had driven my depression deep into dangerous despair. (I felt liek a dementor inhabited my cubicle). I felt like a failure, having let down the people who had helped me get and do the job. I was told that the job I was leaving was a foot in the door to a great career, when in fact my foot was figuratively *stuck* in that particular door and all I wanted was to yank it free and slam the door. I still haven’t found full-time permanent work again, but I live and work in a wonderful community that takes care of me as I take care of it, and every day I have reason to feel grateful I made that choice. Your advice for getting through that process rings true.

  41. Marg said:

    LW 12, you’re not alone. My “dream job” in senior leadership turned into a very public, heartbreaking disaster. Since then, I took an individual contributor role and have also gone back to school at age 40 for a career change to nursing. Leaving the Big Job was scary, hard and embarrassing, but getting out of that stress-failure-misery cycle also saved my marriage, improved my health and freed me up to pursue a new dream.
    Captain, your response was so perfect and helped me more than I can put into words. Thank you.

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