Understanding Your Own Responses
Ep. 291
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In this episode, I dive into understanding our trauma responses, shedding light on how our brains instinctively react to keep us alive. From fight-or-flight to freeze or fawn states, our nervous system is hardwired for survival. I explore why we react differently and the beauty in recognizing our responses as survival mechanisms, not character flaws. By embracing curiosity and understanding, we can shift from self-criticism to self-love, navigating our responses with compassion. It’s about honoring our past selves, appreciating our coping mechanisms, and gently evolving towards healthier patterns. So, let’s slow down, explore our stories, and embrace the journey of understanding ourselves.

Show Transcript
Hey! Welcome to Lessons from a Quitter where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you've spent getting to where you are. If ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams. Hello my friends. How are you guys doing? Welcome to another episode. I'm so excited to have you here. How are we doing? I'm doing great. I sound a little extra nasally. I think I'm always nasally, but I've been having some allergy stuff that doesn't seem to be going away, so we're just gonna have to endure this voice. I apologize until it gets a little bit better. How are you all? How's everyone feeling? As we're kind of going into the second month of the year? Time flies. The club has been amazing. If you aren't in my membership, you should be. We're jumping into perfectionism, we're doing 90 day goals. We have accountability pods. It is just the place to be to kind of create a life that you want. And yeah, that's about it on my end. I think all things are going pretty pretty well.
I love hearing from you guys. A lot of you have been reaching out and telling me what's been helping you. I really appreciate that. I love that the podcast is helping you. I love that the club is helping you. I love seeing all the things you're doing and if you aren't making big strides, that's okay too. We're all in different seasons and hopefully maybe there's something in this podcast that will resonate and help shift things for you. That's what I'm hoping. If it is helping you, one way you can help me is sharing the podcast with other people. I know there's a lot of people that are unhappy in their lives and their careers and we all have the same brains. So this stuff really helps anyone. So it's just the gift that keeps on giving. They'll be indebted to you 'cause you're gonna help change their life. And I'll be indebted to you because you'll help me get the word out more. So share this episode with somebody that you think might benefit from it. Okay.
All right. I wanna do, I, I've realized I have to probably split this up into two parts. It's gonna be a two part series and it has to do with understanding yourself so that you can stop being at war with your own brain and your own past and your own story. One of the things that I've noticed as I coach people, and I know for a lot of us have talked about like one of the biggest struggles that we all have is this idea that we're not good enough. And that comes from deep seated issues from our childhood. Most of us where we learned that we weren't like other people or we should be like other people or there's some right way to be and we're not that way. And so we create these stories about how what the way we react, the way we do things is not the right way and that there is some right, perfect way and we just have to learn how to be that.
And then we spend our lives trying to change ourselves in order to be something that we're not. And a lot of what I realized, a lot of this work, a lot of healing work, a lot of therapy, a lot of coaching. I think for people that find self-help, they come with this idea of like, well, this will help me change. It's the old bait and switch . I feel like the thing that self-help does, that coaching does, that therapy does is not that it helps you change. I mean it does in certain ways, but it just helps you realize that that lie that you are believing from the beginning there's something wrong with you, is just not true. And that there is nothing wrong with you and it allows for a lot of self-acceptance, which then allows you to change some things that you don't want, but not from a place of shame.
And one of the things that I've noticed in order to really get into that self-acceptance or increase that self-love or whatever you wanna call it, is just understanding your own brain better, understanding yourself better. And if you've been around here for any period of time, you know that's a lot of what I do is try to put things into context for you. Try to make help you understand how everything around us is made up. And if you're not living up to some idea that was created for capitalism, that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you. 'cause that's not how the human brain is supposed to work. And so we talk a lot about that and we talk a lot about how, how to normalize the way that your brain reacts to things. And this is one of the topics that I think comes up a lot when I coach, especially my one-on-one clients.
And so I wanna talk about it today. I wanna talk about like really understanding your own responses. And then next week we're gonna talk about how you can use that understanding to then change your own past, which is really fundamental in being able to let go of a lot of the baggage that so many of us carry around for so long. So today I really wanna talk about understanding your own responses. Now you might call them trauma responses. I know that word trauma has been used a lot. It's like a buzzword now. It's sort of lost all meaning, but the way you could call it trauma or not, it's simply the way that your brain has learned to react to its environment, to the circumstances in its life, right? Every one of us had to learn very quickly from when we were babies how to interact with our environment.
Now there's tons of studies done where it's like literally babies are wired to like coup and kind of do the baby talk and smile because that initiates or or garners a reaction from their caretaker. They will get more love, they will get food, they will get taken care of. And so these are like evolutionary responses that we have been wired with to learn how to survive, right? We've all learned very quickly that if I'm going to be taken care of, if I'm gonna have my needs met, if I'm going to be able to survive, I have to act in a certain way. Sometimes I have to act out in a certain way in order to get that. Now a lot of this obviously is created when your brain isn't fully formed. Some of it is just like neurological wiring is just wired within you to react a certain way.
And some of it is learned based on your environment, right? If you have like, there's now tons of psychology on these topics like attachment theory and all these things of like if you were, if you had parents that were this way, then you likely learned to become this way. And if you had parents that were that way, then you learned to become this way because we learned this give and take with our environment, right? The thing I want you to understand from like just baseline foundational level is that your brain's only job is to keep you alive. That's it. Your brain doesn't care if you're happy. It's like end all, all be all is not. Can I make sure we have the most magical, simple life possible? Like, can I think about all of the wonderful things we can experience? Of course, consciously we can think those thoughts, but your brain and your body have been evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to keep you alive.
And so that is all it's doing. And so it has created certain systems, certain processes that do that better, that are more efficient at that. Even if it's not the best reaction, it's the one that's most likely to keep you alive, right? This is why, let's say like as a very general one, we all have a negativity bias, which means that we tend to remember the negative more than the positive, right? If you get criticized one time by someone, you'll remember that criticism. You can get a hundred compliments, you will never remember them. They'll go in one year out the other. But if someone says something cutting about you that will live rent free in your head for the rest of your life, why is that? Like, it's simply because evolutionarily it made more sense for you to remember the bad stuff because if you ate a berry that made you sick, it was really important for you to remember what berry that was.
If you ate a lot of berries that were delicious, great, it's more important for you not to get sick and die, right? So back in the day when we didn't have our made up civilization that we have now, where we didn't have jobs like this where we were in constant danger of maybe dying or have needing to like collect enough food and find safety and all that stuff, it was a very useful thing to be able to remember the bat. Remember, you know, to scan your surroundings for danger. We don't need that as much because we don't live in constant threat of dying right now, which is, you know, a blessing and a curse I guess because now we have, we take those same systems and then we use them for things that are not actually life threatening, right? It's like when my boss says something that's not favorable or is not a hundred percent praise, I'm just gonna ruminate over that and have anxiety for the next three weeks, right?
Because my brain is just latching on to anything negative, like, Hey, this might hurt us, this might not be, you know, I, this might lead to some danger. Maybe if my boss says that, that means I might get fired, which means I'll be out of a job, which means I can't pay my bills, right? Your brain's already there. Like it's already like how can this potentially cause me harm? And so I'm gonna zero in on that. So just understanding that like that's what your brain's doing. Like constantly scanning, constantly being like, what could be a problem here? And now this is like your primitive brain, right? This is where what has been wired into and like we do have a more advanced brain, we have our prefrontal cortex where this is where we get to do thought work. This is where we get to do a lot of therapy.
This is where we get to do the healing work, where we get to calm our own brain down and say, Hey, I'm not gonna die if my boss gives me a bad review. I'm not gonna die even if I get fired, if I get laid off, that's not gonna lead to my death. It's not gonna lead me to become homeless. Like I have other options. There's other things I can do. So we can sort of talk ourselves off the ledge and change rewire our brain and rewire our thinking so that we're not so focused on like anxiety inducing thoughts. I just want you to know that oftentimes when we haven't learned how to do that, this is what's happening in your brain, right? And so you understand that this is at a primitive level. All of our brains are doing this.
Yet all of us, for whatever reason, and I'm gonna talk about some of these for whatever reason, we react differently to those outside stimuli in, in, you know, minor and big ways. So you have your brain, you also have your nervous system. And your nervous system is also tasked with simply keeping you alive. That is why we have fight or flight, right? When you see a tiger, you don't have time to sit with your prefrontal cortex and come up with some grand plan about how you should get away from this tiger. Your body is gonna pump you full of adrenaline and cortisol and whatever else it needs to get you to be wired to run or to fight whatever it's gonna be, right? That's where your nervous system, like without you being able to consciously process like this, the amount of time it would take to consciously process you'd be dead.
So it's, you know, not even a split second, it's like before a split second, your brain is already like, Hey, this is danger. We're gonna die. We need to go into this state that is going to keep us alive. It's gonna give us a better chance of keeping alive, right? This can be when you're being attacked. It can also be like where your body goes into like dissociative states. Let's say if you get hurt, your body starts, like your body literally knows how to react in order to numb you from some of the pains so that you don't feel it. That's why like a lot of people that are in really perfect accidents, like at that moment you have so much adrenaline in your body that you don't feel the pain until later, right? There. That's by design. It's a way to keep you alive to so that you aren't succumbing to that pain right then, right?
So that there's a way to get help. So when you start understanding this, that's like you have this primitive side of your brain. And just as a quick example, so you can understand like when I say like it's before you can even think, let's say you put your hand, you're not paying attention and you put your hand on a hot stove. I want you to think about how quickly like it just to really like it's, I'm in so like such awe of our human brains. I want you to think about how that has to go from the touch on your finger. It has to travel the message from that heat of the stove to your brain and your brain has to process it and be able to reflexively pull your hand back, right? You're not sitting there thinking like, huh, this feels hot. I should probably move my hand before you can even know what's happening.
Your arm is put pulling back. Like this is how incredible your brain is. So I want you to like truly be in awe of that because as we talk about, like most of us are usually just mad at our brains for acting the way they are. And when you realize like your brain is all of these these systems that have been created evolutionarily for you are meant to just keep you alive because you, it's not about like sitting and thinking about what is in my best interest. It's like, hey, this is danger. How do I change this? And what, what do I have to, you know, what does my body have to do in order to keep me alive, to regenerate, to keep me sane or whatnot? And so we have our nervous system who go, that goes into when there is a threat into fight, flight, freeze or fawn states.
Okay, now this isn't gonna be an episode where like I I teach you about that. I'm not a an expert on that. I'm not. But there's tons of information now that you can learn more and I highly suggest you do learn more. 'cause I think it's another really good tool in your tool belt to understand like, hey, my nervous system right now is in this state, is in this free state. It's in this fond state. Of course, when I feel threatened, this is what I do. Here are some tools that I can get myself back online the way I, I like to think about, it's like when your brain goes like into kind of this fight or flight state, your prefrontal cor cortex goes offline. Like you can't think at that moment. There's not that, that connection between your amygdala and your prefrontal cortex because you, you just need to act.
And so part of when you get stuck in a, a state like that, you can be in a state like that for a while, is learning how to get that prefrontal cortex back online. And there's tons of like somatic practices. There are tons of different ways that you can do that to like calm your nervous system back to a place of like equilibrium back out of that really heightened fight or flight free state so that you can start like making better decisions. And so this is where I think for a lot of us, we have to sort of learn like where do these responses, really benefit me and where is it maybe that my brain is not understanding that there isn't as big of a problem as it thinks it is and that I can maybe work on it? Okay? That's what our job is, is to figure out between those two because it's a really beautiful thing that we have these responses and we don't wanna get rid of them.
Like a lot of people ask me like, how do you get rid of fear? You don't get rid of fear. Fear is a really important emotion to have. It's a really important like evolutionary like necessary state of being because it keeps you from just walking into the street and getting hit by a car. It keeps you from like making really stupid decisions. We don't wanna get rid of fear. We just wanna know like, where is it where my brain thinks I'm gonna die and I'm not really gonna die? And I have to learn how to calm myself enough to be able to do that, to like make the decision I wanna make. But this is the, the point of today's episode is not even that. What I want us to see is that like every one of us has been given these beautiful gifts of like how to deal with all of the scary circumstances in our lives.
And every one of us, like your brain, everything it does is for a reason. Everything it does is to keep you alive, is to keep you safe. And for a lot of us, we're constantly fighting with our brain because we think like we should just be different. I shouldn't react like this. And one of the things I see over and over again in coaching is thinking that the way that you react is bad, but someone else like, I should react like this. I don't know, maybe you don't think it consciously, but if I reacted this other way, it would be better, right? And what's fascinating is that everyone thinks that about themselves regardless of what your reaction is. It's just that like the way I do it is not right. I should, I wish I did it this way. So for instance, let's say you are somebody that goes into freeze states very easily.
That's me. Like the minute I'm stressed my body, I become catatonic. I just shut down completely, right? My number one response is a free state. Like I don't fight, I don't run away, I just shut down. Okay? I've learned that about myself because I've gotten curious about how my body reacts to things. And I started realizing like, oh, that's why whenever I'm stressed I wanna take a nap. My body literally, my brain is like, this is too much. I'm gonna slow it down. We're gonna shut everything off. We need to get under a blanket. Okay? That's the way my body reacts. Now, for a long time I hated that about myself and I kept thinking like, I just have no energy. Why don't other people have energy? Why do other people have more energy? And I used to even, like, I used to think, well, I should, I wish I would fight more.
I wish I would stand up for myself more. Like when this really, let's say traumatic thing happens or when there's this, when there's confrontation, I tend to shut down. And I would think like it would be better if I could fight. I didn't think those words, but I always think like, what? Why couldn't I stand up for myself? Or why couldn't I think of this thing to say at that moment? Right now, you are, if you are someone that tends to fight, if you were raised in a household where you had to learn how to fight for yourself and that's the way that your brain reacted, you might have the opposite thought. Thought. It's like, why can't I just take a beat before I lash out at people? Why can't I just calm the F down for a second before I'm flying off the handle?
Right? And I think a lot of us get really frustrated because we think there's some like character flaw in us that we at react this way. And just in understanding like, okay, this was the way that my brain developed my little itty bitty brain when I was a child that wasn't formed yet and had to learn how to survive, thought that this was the way to survive. Okay? Like decided that the best chance at survival was to fight our way through this, or was to run away and not make any attachment to people, right? Never get close to people or to completely shut down or to be a people pleaser and fawn and just do everything to make everybody else happy. My little brain was beautifully smart and amazing that it figure out a way to keep me alive. And I truly want you to think about it in that way, like how empowering and amazing it can be and how much gratitude you can have for your past self.
Whether it was a he quote unquote healthy response. No, it likely wasn't fine, but it was all you had back then, right? It was all you had as a child in the environment that you grew up with, the DNA that you have. And this is what I want you to really understand. Like as I've learned about this more, it makes so much more sense to me. What's so funny is like not only did I not like the way that I reacted, I didn't like my free state. I also didn't like the way other people in my family reacted. I didn't like that they fought, I didn't like that they had certain reactions. And when I realize now as I've gotten older and I've realized like more about my brain and I've done other episodes on like the fact that I think I have a DHD and one of that, that journey of really like accepting that my brain might not be neurotypical was so validating for me because it really taught me like, what is this idea that I think I should be?
What if my brain just doesn't work that way? What if my brain just does not work in this linear fashion fashion that other people's does? And what if the only problem is that I keep telling myself there's something wrong with my brain, but like my brain's beautifully fine the way that it is and this is the way that it is and I can work with it and I can figure out how my focus, you know, how long I can focus and I can partner with my brain and I can stop beating myself up and I can figure out like the way that I function and I can work towards that. I did the same thing with my nervous system. I started realizing like I get mad at myself for acting a certain way and then I get mad at other people too. And we're all just playing out these trauma responses.
We're all just playing out. Like, this is what my nervous system learned. For whatever reason, maybe it was just wired that way. Maybe my nervous system was just wired in a way that re like genetically it shuts down. I have no other not no other option, but like that's what I was always going to do, right? It became so much easier for me to accept that and to be grateful for that and to really see the beauty in that and to see like, okay, this is what happens to my body when I'm under a lot of stress. My body needs to shut down and that is my body keeping me alive. That is my body protecting me. Now. It's not opportune. There's a lot of times where I'm like, Hey, it's not great that I'm tired and I wanna get in bed. I wanna have energy and I wanna push through.
And especially in our culture and in our society where we're taught to push through at all costs and there's no time to stop and everything has to be productive and you don't get your time to just like deal with your pesky little emotions and what your nervous system is doing. Like, it becomes really difficult because for a lot of us, it's like we wanna sort of suppress and ignore what's happening in our body in order to get, you know, done with the project or whatnot. Like I think, I think for a lot of us, like we have, you know, our prefrontal cortex is like, Hey, nothing is happening. I'm, I just have to do this presentation. Why am I freaking out? Why am I having heart palpitations? Why am I shutting down? But to your brain it doesn't understand 'cause there's just, you are super stressed and your brain is like, Hey, this is danger, this is dangerous.
We might die if we have to do this presentation. If we get up in front of these people, we're gonna embarrass ourselves and we're gonna get kicked outta the tribe and we're gonna end up being alone forever. And so it's trying to protect you. So it starts like pumping you up with whatever hormones you need, whether that's adrenaline or cortisol or dopamine or whatever it is to try to protect you. And so I say all this, it's long-winded rant because I want you to start looking at your reactions instead of for so many of us thinking that we should just be different. That you just shouldn't do this. You shouldn't react like this. You shouldn't be so hotheaded, you shouldn't shut down and cry. You shouldn't, like what if you should? What if that's exactly what you're supposed to do? What if that's exactly what your body was created to do in order to protect you?
And I want you to think back about in how you've reacted. 'cause a lot of us tend to have similar reactions to a lot of different things. And even if it's not something that you are proud of, or even if it's not something that you want to continue, that's fine. We can work on changing these things. But can you be grateful or proud of the fact that that was the way that your body and your brain had figured out when you were taught no other way in order to keep you alive, in order to keep you surviving? Can you see how maybe doing that protected you from doing it another way? Like this is what I was saying, thinking is like I have someone in my family who tends to fight a lot and I tend to freeze. And I would always think about like, not only would I get mad at myself for freezing, I would get mad at them for fighting.
And it's both one and the same. Neither one is right or wrong. Now I realize this, but I realized like I used to get mad that like, it, it was just so nonsensical. I would get mad at myself for not fighting. I wish I could fight more and then I would get mad at them for fighting and wish they could freeze more. It's like there's, there's no winning because all of these are obviously reactionary states and so you're not doing your best work from there. But when I started realizing like that person, for whatever reason, whatever their circumstances were, whatever their life traumas were or whatever they learned from when they were a baby, they learned to fight. And that is them doing their best. That is them really trying their best. All of us are trying our best just to survive. We're not thinking about it consciously, but we're trying to like think about like, what do I need to get through this day?
And when I realize, even for me, like I don't need to be any different, I don't need to have more energy. I don't need to not have free states. I don't need to fight more. I don't need to flee more. I don't need to do any of that. I need to understand how my body works. I need to partner with my own body and my own responses to get a better understanding of why am I doing this instead of just wishing I was different instead of just forcing myself to be different instead of just like pushing myself to somehow become someone I'm not and I'm never gonna be. Can I appreciate what this has done for me first so I can stop hating myself?
Can I do that first and then start thinking about like, okay, maybe I don't need this response anymore as much now that I'm really understanding where this came from, maybe I can push through this. Maybe I can calm, like now that I have other tools to maybe calm down my own nervous system response, maybe I can get myself to be like, Hey, we don't need to get an under the covers and go to sleep today. I know we're tired. I know you think we're gonna die. We're not gonna die. We just have to do this presentation. We're gonna be okay. We can feel these feelings. We can get, get through it. We can do this like physical activity to kind of calm ourselves down. Then it becomes so much easier for me to ma manage, right? I start realizing like, hey, maybe defensiveness and self-criticism were something that kept me safe growing up. Maybe those were my maladaptive kind of defense mechanisms. I would get super defensive and then I would beat myself up and I would, you know, whatever I did that in order to protect myself. I did that because when I was being criticized, I thought that that meant love was gonna be taken away from me. And so I learned that as soon as somebody criticizes me, you have to defend yourself. And so I jumped into that, let's say, or maybe it was yelling or maybe it was you know, whatever, whatever your
Response was, what if that was the response that kept?
What if that was the d response that kept you safe and you no longer need that response? And it will take time to outgrow it. It doesn't mean it's ever gonna go away. Maybe it won't. Maybe it will. It simply means that instead of doing it from a place of like, oh, why am I like this? I need to just be different. I'm gonna push through, you know, like I'm gonna try to create these rigid rules where I can never get mad or I can never need a nap or I can never shut down. Instead of that I can understand like, hey, what's going on with me? Why is this my response? Why did I get like this as soon as this situation happened? What was going on in my body that made me panicked because this person said this.
I see that, you know, maybe perfectionism or self-criticism or fighting or whatever. I see how that kept me alive and how, how that kept me safe and I'm ready to try something different. I'm working through trying something different. I'm in the process of learning. I'm still gonna revert to that. Of course I'm gonna revert to that because that is what's kept me safe for decades. Even if it caused other problems, even if it maybe tainted some relationships or whatnot. That was all my brain knew how to do to protect me. And I'm so proud of myself for protecting me in that way. I'm so proud of myself for keeping me alive, but now I'm ready to try a different thing from that place. It becomes so much easier to change your brain, your nervous system, how you respond, all of that stuff in a, from a loving, curious way where you don't need perfection.
Where you don't have to all of a sudden cut out something that you've been doing for decades and decades where there isn't this need to all of a sudden be a different person, but rather from a place of curiosity of like, Hey, what's going on? Why do I keep reacting like this? Right? When it comes from a place of love and understanding that it's totally normal and it's not shameful. And that's how we've all kind of survived and we weren't taught any of this stuff. And now we're learning and now we're trying to be better and now we're trying to get more tools and like be proud of ourselves for doing that. Like it's such a different energy and place to come from than from I suck. I shouldn't react like this. I have to change everything I am or I'm, no one's gonna love me and I'm gonna end up alone.
Like obviously it's gonna be so much more painful to try to change yourself from that place and it likely won't work because shame feels terrible. And so we just procrastinate and go try to seek some dopamine somewhere else. So my friends, I want you to just slow down and really try to learn what your trauma response is, what your responses are. You can do this by writing out your story, right? Your story out from your past, how you reacted to things, right? How you were as a child, right? Like what you think your story of your childhood was. And start looking for those through lines, those commonalities. Like what would happen every time I felt really unsafe or really stressed or overwhelmed or unloved or whatever. Well, how would I react? What were the things I was doing for attention? What were the things I was doing to just try to get by?
A lot of those are typically my own just responses, my nervous system response of keeping me safe. And next week we're gonna talk about how do you change that story. And part of it is comes from coming from this like empathetic understanding way of really understanding why you responded the way that you did so that you can change how you look at that. And so I'm gonna talk to you more about my story and some of my one-on-one clients that I've helped kind of change their stories and how powerful this work can be. But the first instance is really understanding yourself better from a place of compassion. 'cause I promise you, anything you did was simply to survive was simply the best that you could do at the time with what you have. And now you have different tools and you can do better. And that's fine.
And we can be so, so grateful to our past self for doing the best that he or she could. And now we can try to do different. And if you want help with this work, I want you to get coaching. I want you to join the club. 'cause this stuff is not easy. It's intellectually it's understandable, but when you come to apply it, when your brain starts going into these like reactionary modes, it's easy to fall back into this shame spiral. It's easy to think that it's too hard for you, and I promise you it's not. You have a human brain and you just need to train it a little bit. And that comes through practice and that comes through repetition and that comes through hearing other people be coached. And that comes through you talking through your situation. If you can't like kind of go through it on your own, when I talk about this stuff, the stuff that I've done with my own past, I didn't do it alone. I got coaching, I got help. And it has fundamentally shifted how I think about myself and my life and how I approach my life. And I can't recommend it enough. So if you want help changing that story for yourself join us at the club, go to lessonsfromaquitter.com/quitterclub and join the wait list for when we open doors. All right, my friends, I'll see you guys next week for part two.
Hey, if you are looking for more in-depth help with your career, whether that's dealing with all of the stress, worry, and anxiety that's leading to burnout in your current career or figuring out what your dream career is and actually going after it, I want you to join me in the Quitter Club. It is where we quit what is no longer working. Like perfectionism, people pleasing imposter syndrome… and we start working on what does, and we start taking action towards the career and the life that you actually want. We will take the concepts that we talk about on the podcast and apply them to your life and you will get the coaching, tools, and support that you need to actually make some real change. So go to lessonsfromaquitter.com/quitter club and get on the waitlist. Doors are closed right now, but they will be open soon.