True Story: I’m A Recovering Asshole

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is the story my friend Jina and how she went from an angry, self-medicating asshole to a happy, centered human. 

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

My name is Jina. I’m 34 and I’m a recovering asshole. This is an anonymous meeting… right? No? Okay, double-knot those laces, I’m going for it anyway.
I’m originally from a really small town (population 700) in central Minnesota. Currently I live in Minneapolis with my forever guy and my sassy wiener dog. For fun I like to go out on dates, eat tasty food, listen to music, watch soap operas, and wander around my neighborhood as my wiener dog sniffs everything at a snail’s pace.
For work I write on my blog The Happy Healthy Truth, publicly speak on getting happier and healthier, hold Lifestyle Design Camps with my biz BFF Katie Lee, and I have online programs for meditation and creating intuition about food choices and motivation.
I’m sure we’ve all got our own definition of ‘asshole.’ What’s yours?
An asshole is someone who brings down the crowd with their words (complaints, judging, shit-talking, blaming), with their actions (throwing a beer bottle across the bar) or just their energetic vibration (you know those people who just walk into a room and bring down the mood).
What were some of your more asshole-y behaviors?
Growing up, if I saw someone picking on another person, I would go after the person doing the picking. In elementary school, I would organize a small group of friends to hold down a bully and I’d punch them over and over. As I grew older I would confront people (usually the initiator in typical mean girl stuff) and I would rip into them with my words.
If we had a substitute teacher in junior high or high school, it was my goal to see if I could break them into tears by the end of the class time. Insults, pranks, lipping off… anything to get under their skin. I was usually successful.
I’d bust the chops of the high school principal if I felt like anyone was preferential treatment. I’d call him out in front of a crowd of people whenever I could to make a bigger impact.
On graduation day that principal came up to me to me and said, “Change your attitude or you’ll never go anywhere in life.” I was speechless – probably for the first time in my life.
In college, I did all the cliche things like lying, cheating, stealing, and then I’d drink beer and laugh it off.
Why did you do these things or behave this way?
Like years of therapy will tell anyone, I did all of these things because I was unhappy.
I grew up in an abusive home. My dad beat up mom and us kids learned that wild form of communication well. That minor issue (sarcasm), along with other family issues that my parents were dealing with, trickled down and gave me quite the asshole complex.
Deep down, I never felt good enough or wanted. As you can imagine, truly feeling this way causes heavy sadness. I’ve learned along my journey that anger is the mask for sadness. I completely agree and see it in my own past.
Of course, back then I never thought I was sad. I only felt angry.


When you were in the thick of it, did you realize that you were acting like a jerk?
There were a few times where I felt like I had gone too far, but I would justify it away with all the reasons why acting like an asshole was okay in that moment. At that time it was everybody’s fault but my own!
After I started working to get happier and healthier, I would see myself acting like an asshole and that helped me check in and think about what I could do differently to deal with this difficult person or situation the next time I ran into it.
How did your behavior affect the rest of your life?
Like I said, at the root I was really sad. However, because I didn’t know or believe that, I was focused on external things to give me hits of happiness. Actually, I say “hits” of happiness now, but back then I thought they were the key to my happiness. You know, it’s the, “I’ll be happy when…”
When I get that new job, find a better place to live, move to another state, buy that shirt or those jeans, get that cute SUV, find someone better to date, or change the colors of my walls or rearrange my furniture to make me feel better at home.
All of these things cost a lot of money. And the happiness they give is temporary. Sadness and blame are expensive habits!
Not to mention the energy that goes into finding the next guy to date, interviewing for the next job, test driving cars, shopping for jeans (ugh), painting, rearranging… Phew!
When did you realize that you didn’t want to be an asshole anymore? 
It was definitely a gradual dawning. I started to see a common theme to my job switching, car buying, dating, and time in the dressing room. I was the common denominator in everything in my life that I didn’t like.
Around that time I had also read somewhere that if you want to change your life you need to take ownership over everything in your life – the good and the bad. Taking ownership means no longer blaming anyone for anything.
So I took ownership and started researching how to become happier and more peaceful.
Once you decided to change, what changes did you make? Where there any tools/books/epiphanies that really helped you in your process?
The biggest change for me was studying yoga. Yoga wasn’t my complete answer, but it opened many doors alone my journey. In 2005, I started training to be a yoga teacher. A suggested reading of one of the courses I took was Growing the Positive Mind by William Kent Larkin. It taught me the science behind feeling happiness and gave me specific exercises to increase the happiness I felt on a regular basis.
I kept reading on happiness, spirituality, and anything else that could change my perception to become more joyful and peaceful. I learned how to eat to balance brain chemistry for better emotional health. I started meditating. I saw a therapist (a few of them). I had neurological chiropractic work done. I recited affirmations. I journaled. I did chakra work and Reiki. I cleansed my aura and kept healing crystals close. Most recently I’ve done hypnosis and past life regression. Some of these practices worked better than others. Some I still use today.
How did the people in your life react to the changes you made?
There are some people who naturally faded away as I become happier and less destructive. Some people were interested in trying the methods I used to create positive changes. And, of course, there have been some tough conversations with people that go something like, “You’re gonna have to clean up your shit. I can’t deal with it anymore.” Like that, but a little more loving or laughable depending on who is on the receiving end.
What’s your life like now? What do you think your 20-year-old self would say if she could see you now?
My life is f*cking amazing. Really. I’ve worked hard to get here and I’ll never be done with the effort to grow and have a positive outlook. Which is just fine, because the work pays off 100 fold.
Having a solid relationship rooted in love and compassion, a job with killer returns in money and joy, a great place to live, and supportive and fun friends is not an accident. I am the other half of every good thing in my life. If I get lazy, stop being mindful, avoid tough conversations and don’t put in the work, the entire thing would fall apart.
Sure, it takes effort, but it feels better to act like the person who deserves this life.
The old me? Outwardly she’d act like she didn’t care. Secretly she’d be a little intimidated. Overall she’d be really proud.Thanks so much for sharing your story, Jina. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you moved past self-destructive, asshole-y behaviors? 

P.S. Why you should hang out with + date people you admire and How to get over your mistakes

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  1. Mary Byrd

    This is an awesome post very courageous to put your life out there like that!


  2. katielookingforward

    Love it! While people might not have guessed it at the time, I really hated middle school and high school, and its only now that I'm 5 years out of college that I can say that "school life" in general was not my place. I'm so much happier now, even when things are hard.

    • Jina

      Completely agree Katie!! 🙂

  3. Angie Green

    Thank you, Jina. I could have written this story. It's comforting to hear the story of another converted-asshole.

    It's unbelievable how angry, bitter, and MEAN I used to be. I look at that past version of myself, and all I feel is compassion now. Life is better when you are happy & grateful & kind.

    • Jina

      Well said! I feel such compassion toward her and anyone still in the asshole spin.

  4. Vanessa

    Jina, thank you so much for sharing your story. I am still currently a recovering asshole myself. I, too, had I complicated childhood. Later compounded by the tragic loss of a good friend at 13, a traumatic event at 14 (the beginning of high school), and then another at 18. Oh, and I started abusing drugs & alcohol at that tender age of 13.

    I was a sweet child, but the onset of puberty brought on more than just bra shopping & exploring my sexuality. I became what both my parents & I now refer to as "a demon child". I was bitter, anger, and downright hateful. All these events mentioned before boiled down to what you so perfectly articulated – sadness. I was angry because I felt alone, isolated, sad, blame, & shame.

    Thankfully, 3 years of therapy & treatment for my mental illness + nearly 4 years sober, have launched me onto the right path. I tried to change my hateful ways before, unsuccessfully, but the seed was planted by wonderful women like yourself & Sarah. My life is incredibly better than it was 4 years ago, but I know I still have what seems like a ton of work to do to rid myself of this assholery.

    I meant for this comment to be short & sweet (just as I strive to be), so I apologize for the rambling. Basically, thank you. You have given me a tremendous amount of hope that I can recover from this, & go on to live a joyful life full of positivity & love. <3

    • Jina

      Vanessa! The internal work is the most difficult – but as you know totally worth it! Keep it up 🙂 Hugs!

  5. Sarah

    Great article, while I havent been an 'asshole' as such i can identify with wanting to change your atitude and outlook in life from a negative/sad/depressed/angry one to a more positive, happy and fulfilled one, I am always on the journey to be the best version of myself 🙂

    • Jina

      Yes – the best version of yourself. Always worth the effort!

  6. Carla Golden

    Oh my sweet Jina. So glad I met you in 2012 and not 1999!!! Gurl, I would have been scared of you! Hard for me to even imagine you that way knowing you as such a centered, kind, and thoughtful person now. Great post!

    • Jina

      Haha in 1999 we wouldn't have even been in each others orbit. Such different energies. So much love for you!!

  7. The Divine Miss Em

    I wouldn't go so far as to call myself an asshole, but I definitely relate with the attitude adjustment part of it. I've gotten called out several times at work because someone thought I came across as rude, then I get defensive when I'm confronted with it. I know I need to change to be successful, but I'm having trouble with where to start. I bought the book you suggested & it should arrive by the end of the month. 😀

    I share the common thread of having a lot of pain in my past. I'm a rape survivor, I've had depression since I was 12, and have a physical neurological disorder (epilepsy) to join the party. That's a lot of stuff to be working against even with 4+ years of therapy. Our worst enemies can be between our own ears.

    Thanks for the post and the book suggestion!

  8. nonnuclearmaven

    This resonates so much with me. I am a recovering asshole. I had to hit rock bottom to get the help I really needed. I've gone from thinking I was shit and not worth loving to being able to love myself, feel worthy and to accept the love of others, thank you for sharing beautiful girl.

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