Forty-year-old Linda Pruce confesses that her problem started in September 1998. “I was sitting on my bed, breastfeeding my newborn, and wondering whether it would be wrong to smoke a cigarette while nursing,” she writes in a new book. “As I was figuring out the logistics of this dilemma—could I reach my cigarettes without breaking the baby’s seal on my breast? Could I blow the smoke toward the window rather than up the nostrils of my daughter?—I caught the start of Oprah’s fall season.”
Oprah “was speaking to me,” writes the Maryland holistic healer in Confessions of a Self-Help Junkie. “I was a fat, tired, chain-smoking mother of two with a travelling, ‘I’m only home on weekends’ husband.” Pruce wanted change, and the plan at the time seemed simple. She’d watch Oprah every afternoon and the “experts and published authors would tell me exactly what I needed to do.”
First up was John Gray with his bestseller How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have. She followed Gray’s advice and sent “feeling letters to those who had created any chaos in my life, forgiving anyone I had unfinished business with. By the time I closed the back cover, I was still smoking, fat and unhappy, but at least I despised everyone else in my life as much as I despised myself.”
Gray was just the beginning. Pruce hired a cleaning lady in order to spend more time reading self-help books and focusing on her issues. She bought frozen dinners for her toddler. She spent all her spare time at Borders bookstore. “My children didn’t get it,” she writes. “They wanted to be fed and nurtured. I needed to break through my blocks so I could be a better mom!”
At home, she reasoned, “since it would be wrong to blow tobacco toxins around my kids, I excused myself regularly and hid upstairs in my office where I could surf self-help sites online and smoke my brains out.”
The day Gary Zukav appeared on Oprah, Pruce yelled down to her daughter, “There’s a sippy cup in the fridge.” When her daughter asked, “Can we go outside?” she replied, “In a minute.” “How long is a minute?” her daughter asked. “ ‘When Oprah is over,’ I lied.”
But then Pruce began noticing something. Each day on Oprah “someone would have the ever-so-popular ‘A-ha!’ moment right on national television. Why wasn’t I getting the same Oprah show results at home?” she asked herself. Pruce says an ugly truth hit her the day she transferred all her books from one shelf to another. She had 50 self-help titles.
Among them was Christine Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom ($17.95), “a must-have for anyone who menstruates,” she notes helpfully for readers in her book. She’d also bought Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause ($18.95) while still in her thirties, explaining, “If I like an author, I automatically buy the follow-up book.” Then there was Iyanla Vanzant’s One Day My Soul Just Opened Up ($13): “One day my wallet just opened up,” Pruce explains.
“Self-help junkies prefer to read about topics instead of learning by trial and error,” the now-wiser Pruce advises her readers. “Your procrastination is disguised by research. By reading books and surfing the Internet, you give the impression you are being proactive. In actuality, you’re delaying doing much of anything.”
Pruce’s own freedom from self-help addiction came when she started to tell the truth about herself in her online newsletter. Initially, it counselled readers how to eat and be healthy. “Then I started slipping in these idiotic stories about myself. I found I got a much better response when I just told the truth. When I gave people some great piece of information about their chakra system, I wouldn’t get anything back,” she said in a phone interview. “But if I said, ‘My husband’s pissing me off,’ they’d all go, ‘Yeah!’ ”
Tips from Confessions include, “Have the courage to talk to one or two women and find out if they’re as thrilled with their life as you think.” “Share your insecurities and see if others relate to your struggles.” “Consider being more open with good friends and close family members. By telling the truth, you have more opportunities to receive insight from others.” Adds Pruce, “It’s nice when someone rolls their eyes and says, ‘I’m having the worst day’ or ‘My husband’s driving me nuts.’ You can relate for a few moments. You don’t feel so much pressure to be perfect.”
Confessions of a Self-Help Junkie (US$9.95) is available online through Pruce’s blog “Enter the Circle.”