Is Self-Help for Broken People?

UPDATED: March 29, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 10, 2020

I drank a handle of vodka. In a day and a half.

By myself.

While I was supposed to be watching my kids.

I know what you’re thinking. What’s a “handle” of vodka? It’s that pitcher they sell at Costco—59.2 fluid ounces, or roughly 40 shots. I drank all of it. Dad of the year.

After working in entertainment for the last two decades in stints that saw me as a tour manager for Beyoncé when she was still a Destiny’s Child, launching TV shows for Fox, managing celebrity talent at an agency, and, most recently, working a 17-year gig at Disney as the head of sales for the film studio, I hit bottom. Despite being married to my best friend and having four healthy kids, the nice house and the fast car, I found myself feeling stuck. Struggling.

Reaching the low point all started when we decided to go on our most ambitious vacation ever. (Yes, I’m going to be that guy who complains about a vacation.) We rented a house for longer than we ever had before—12 days in Hawaii—grabbed our four kids ages 9, 8, 4, and 4 months (we are idiots), and took off for paradise.

On the flight over, I was given the near-final Word-doc version of my wife’s new book Girl, Wash Your Face, getting my first glimpse into just how transparent and vulnerable Rachel had decided to be—and, in a vanity-alarm-bells kind of way, just how many of my deepest insecurities would be exposed and how much of this everything’s-great-trust-me veneer I’d worked so hard to maintain would be challenged by her work.

Also on that first day of our trip, Rachel got sick—and by that I mean demons-have-inhabited-her-body, should-we-go-to-the-ER, let’s-set-up-the-quarantine-from-E.T. kind of sick. So I did what any good dad and husband would do. I left her to rest, called for a sitter to come take care of the baby, grabbed this book of hers, and made a drink to enjoy by the pool while the boys played. My plan seemed so good.

In a way that I now see as divine, this was a combo platter for the ages: a personal funk running into its second year, me being in my early days of therapy (more on that in a second as well), the decision to read a book that would trigger many of the insecurities that lived and breathed in the funk and the therapy, all while having a few drinks—my issue-avoidance specialty at this point.

It was a perfect storm.

I got to Chapter 5, the one that paints a less-than-ideal picture of our early years and casts me in a light I’m not proud of, and I poured less soda with the vodka when I made the next drink. By the time I got to the chapter about how much we struggled in our sex life, I stopped pouring soda at all.

We were at the beginning of a 12-day vacation, and though Rachel got better on Day 3, I never recovered. I withdrew even more than I had already withdrawn. I got up in the morning, put on headphones, and went on a long run. When I came back from that run, I kept those headphones on, and, against the picturesque backdrop of Hawaiian perfection, I turned on the baseball video game I’d brought on the trip and shut myself inside with another drink while my family enjoyed the beachfront view.

I showed up like an ass for the entirety of that vacation, spiraling to the lowest point of the valley I’d been heading down for quite sometime.

Rachel loves to explore a new place, and one morning, when she suggested she was excited to explore the island and hit the farmer’s market, I told her I was going to “just chill at the house.” That look on her face haunts my dreams. I want to make a joke about it here, but, honestly, I’m sad for that dude not showing up for something so simple. It’s embarrassing. It sucked. I knew it in the midst of it, knew it on the flight home, and really knew it when we got back to our house and had the talk.

* * *

There will be a handful of moments you look back on that fundamentally changed your life—when you met your partner, your decision to take a job that ended up propelling you forward, things like that. This talk, this decision we made—that my wife made—to wade into and have a hard, hard conversation about the trajectory of our lives, was one of those moments for me.

The day after Hawaii, we sat on our bed and Rachel worked against every ounce of muscle memory in her being. We’re both recovering codependents and confrontation on this scale isn’t something either of us had mastered, but the stakes were too high to worry about that. This was going down. She laid it out in such simple terms, but those terms rocked me to my core.

“I’m going to reach for a better version of myself every day. I’m going to do it whether you decide to do it or not. Personal growth is one of the most important values in my life, so I’m going to pursue it every single day. Are you going to choose to grow every day, or are you going to tread water? If you aren’t growing and I am, in three months, will we have as much to talk about on date night? In a year, will we still be going on dates? In three years, will we still be married?”

Dagger. To. The. Heart.

Someone should have yelled “clear” before she hit me with the paddles to the chest, it was that fast. Through a pool of I’m-embarrassed-I’m-sobbing-this-much tears, I realized it was up to me to make a choice. Did I want to grow, or did I want to wither? Did I want to rise to the level of who I knew I could be? Who God made me to be? Did I want to have an exceptional marriage, be a present father?

Of course I did. I always had. I’d lost my way, but now I knew it more clearly than ever. I knew it because, for the first time, I’d been forced to visualize the possible future that would result from my inaction. The future that sat in front of me even if I didn’t take this seriously, even if I didn’t take massive action to change what I was doing—or not doing. I needed the leverage of visualizing the most brutal things I could think of to get my ass off the mat.

It made me sad. It made me angry. I felt shame and disappointment. It was just the thing I needed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d been a good husband and father, but I’d careened into a slump that threatened everything I’d built, everything we’d built. The things that had worked (at least in my mind) in the past would not work in the future. To put a finer point on it, I’d been “good,” but my family deserved “great.” I’d been “good,” and they deserved “exceptional.” That vision of my future where I’m not as close to my wife and kids—that created urgency.

It forced hard conversations with my wife.

It required some difficult looks in the mirror. Desperate-times-desperate-measures kind of stuff.

And it opened me up to “personal development” as a thing I might need to get out of that rut. I could’ve puked just thinking about it.

* * *

Before I tell you what happened next, let’s rewind a few months before Hawaii, when Rachel took her entire team to a four-day personal-development conference—a full-on immersion with all the music and fanfare. She’d been spending more and more time reading books about personal growth and was excited for what the opportunity to grow her team might look like at an event like this. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the books she’d been reading or the impulse to attend a conference, so I eye-rolled behind her back and left her to live her best life (while I continued the descent into my worst).

My wife came back on fire. She wanted to jump around and do all these things that only people who’d been kidnapped for four days knew about, and this thing I didn’t understand turned into this thing I didn’t like. I didn’t like that she was on fire. It’s a terrible thing to think, but I didn’t. Not because I didn’t want her to be her very best self, but because it exaggerated the distance between her now new-and-better self and where I was. That contrast felt worse than it ever had.

She started waking up at 5 a.m. to get a jump-start on the day, write her books, get her exercise in, and do all the things before the kids were awake. Every morning.

What was in that Kool-Aid? I figured it would wear off, but it didn’t. In a move I give her credit for now, even though it really frustrated me (which I expressed with my exaggerated grunts when I’d roll over as she got up), she never stopped. She made a decision to keep doing what she knew was going to make her a better person tomorrow, and she did it even though it was bugging the crap out of me.

That choice—the decision to unapologetically reach for a better version of herself—had an effect on me over time. What started as anger (obviously, in hindsight, fueled by my insecurity that she might outgrow me if she continued to evolve) slowly gave way to curiosity.

How can she keep doing so much better when I seem to be doing so much worse?

I was finally willing to address this space between who I was and who I wanted to be—this space between Rachel growing and me dying. It was a catalyst for me to take a first step toward therapy. “The best way out, is always through.” Poet Robert Frost is one of few influences from college that I’ll still quote today.

As it turned out, I had to get into it and work through it if I was going to be able to get out of it. Dang it, Robert Frost.

* * *

Therapy softened the soil. It took a thing that was taboo, turned it on its head, and opened me up to considering that there could be something for me in this personal-development space.

Rachel wanted to take me a personal-growth conference, so I said yes to a thing that I knew had worked well for her but that I was still unbelievably skeptical could work for me. I did it to make her happy.

Yes, in the end, there were parts that were cheesy and, yes, I jumped up and down a lot and, yes, it was uncomfortable and, yes, it absolutely changed my life. There were plenty of things that weren’t for me, but I have to give credit where credit is due—that conference fundamentally changed how I think about self-help. It offered tools that allowed me to better understand why I do and feel the things that I do, it shone a light on the lies I was believing that were holding me back, and it gave clarity on the roadmap I could follow if I wanted to take control of my life.

I came back on fire. The same kind of fire Rachel had come back with the first time around. I started getting up at 5 a.m. so I could get a jump-start on my day, develop an exercise routine, and focus on some of my personal goals before the day began. I started thinking differently about what I wanted in my life, how I was going to get there, and whose permission I needed to chase after it. I started asking questions about where else I might find fuel like the fuel I’d just received and, in doing so, started a journey that would introduce me to other people focused on growth—authors and podcasts and coaches that would change my thinking about what I could or couldn’t be and how much was possible.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned during my immersion in self-help is the tie between growth and fulfillment. You can find things short-term to make you happy—video games, headphones, vodka—but if you want to truly be fulfilled, you need to be growing. And in order to grow, you need to put in the time, do the work, and learn to kick the lies putting limits on who and what you can be.

* * *

Now here’s the thing: If you’re already super into personal development—you’re up early working on mindset, writing in a gratitude journal, listening to every growth podcast, searching for meaning—then you may not be surprised to read my story.

But if you’ve ever been skeptical of these tools or these teachers, I get you. I used to be you.

In doing the hard work of embracing growth and examining what lies I believed and why I believed them, I’ve become better for me, and for the relationships that mean the most to me in life.

You can too. Or you can keep doing the things the way you always have. But it may not work in the future.

Taken from Get Out of Your Own Way by Dave Hollis. Copyright ©2020 by Dave Hollis. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership, an imprint of HarperCollins Focus.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photos by ©Alexa Sorensen C/O The Hollis Company

Dave Hollis is one half of the dynamic, powerhouse duo that is Rachel and Dave Hollis. The Former Disney film distribution chief is now the CEO of The Hollis Company, a company that exists to help people build better lives, and co-host of the podcast Rise Together, the #1 health podcast on iTunes.