I have always been envious of those who could speak different languages.
Watching James Bond sweet talk his way into the arms of a dangerous Albanian female double agent or escape immanent doom with silky Slavic words was something that had a mystic allure, a certain panache to it. Listening to him, or any other person for that matter, speak a different language can be compared to the intrigue of watching someone diffuse a bomb or fly a fighter jet – it holds a fascination to me that goes beyond simple syntax and proper verb conjugation. There is an energy, a connection, an indelible link between the two individuals who are talking. There is an automatic citizenship or Star Chamber inner circle kind of thing that surrounds the parties when they converse. They might as well have a secret tree house handshake too, while they’re at it.
Alas, I can only speak English. Not the Queen’s English per se, but just English. I have been known to butcher Spanish – an affront to my parents’ South American heritage and culture. But I have always fantasized about being multi-lingual. Where I work, there are many tourists that pass through. And sometimes, we are asked if there is anyone in our department who can translate for them. I can easily dispatch almost any one of my staff to deal with one or more of the major languages and dialects spoken on this planet. I just sometimes wish I could be of service sometimes too.
I was discussing this kind of thing recently with some of my staff, and found out that one of our Eritrean woman is fluent in Italian. Fascinating. And she mentioned that she also spoke Arabic, English and Eritrean. A Vietnamese worker also revealed being fluent in French, English, Chinese and Vietnamese. The new guy opened up to speaking Tibetan, but also knew Hindi and German. It was an incredible thing to grasp – that these seemingly “average” people had such compelling backgrounds. I wished I could just sit and listen to them speak those languages for hours on end.
Now, this morning I saw something rather unique. After dropping the kids off to school in the early morning, my wife and I decided to drive to the mall to pick up a few things. On the way, I spied a kid – about 13 years old – walking to school. He had his backpack on and was bouncing away. I noticed he was drinking from a water bottle every few steps. As I got closer I realized it wasn’t a water bottle. It was whipped cream. In an aerosol can. This boy was bounding down the street shotgunning Reddi Whip on his tongue. He stopped at once point to spit up his last shot of sweet foam, perhaps having squeezed too much in his mouth. His mouth never shut, except to swallow his latest huff. “He’s a sick boy,” my wife said as we drove off. She knows about sick people, having been married to one for a long time.
Listen, I am an alcoholic. Drugs and other things like aerosol whipped cream, really aren’t part of my story. I never had real issues with gambling, drugs, working, sex, debting, hoarding, etc. and I am not a part of anything other than AA. So my experience is strictly about alcohol. I don’t know the physical symptoms of drug cravings, nor do I know what a bottom would look like to a sexaholic. I don’t have personal knowledge of what it’s like to gamble the house and car away at the casino nor do I know what it’s like to cut myself with a razor.
But there was something about that kid that I could identify with. No one takes shots of whipped cream at 9 am without having something going on inside of them. It could be mental health issues, but certainly this kid was in some kind of pain. And pain I understand. Pain and suffering I get. There was much I got about this boy – I recognized his purposeful walk, I understood his need to be going somewhere other than where he was standing. I knew that intensity and ferocity of his shotgunning the cream, I sensed the panic and urgency, I identified with that wild-eyed look he had about him. I sensed the hurt in his soul.
I was the same way, except with alcohol.
And as I thought about this kid throughout the today, for some reason I then remembered that thing about the languages. Something just clicked, I guess. You see, there I was all these years wishing I could speak in another language, wishing I could be part of something that I felt excluded from, wishing I could be of service to others. And I realize now that I do have the ability to talk to someone in ways that others can’t. I can reach certain people in ways that few can. I have the ability to connect with someone even without words.
I speak recovery.
And recovery is the language of the heart. It’s the language of shared and understood pain and hurt and healing and forgiveness. It’s a language that is active in voice, never passive. It’s borne of all mother tongues and is inborn to those who suffer from alcoholism and other addictions. It a language of the plural – “we” and “us” and “others” crops up a lot in its speech. It’s a language that can be silent and quietly comprehended as much as it is one that can be shouted out or whispered at meetings and coffee shops and kitchen tables. And while alcoholism is my main dialect, I can understand much about drugs, overeating, al-anon, co-dependency, etc. even though I didn’t learn my mother tongue from those areas. Like traditional languages, there is often a common root stock to it. And in the language of recovery, that root is pain. And from that, everything else flourishes or fades.
Nothing is lost in translation.
I stand before my brothers and sisters in the fellowship of addiction and am able to take in their love, laughter and hurts because we share a common bond. I look in their eyes, straight and clean, and motion to them to sit with me, to talk, to share, to connect. I teach them and they teach me. The language grows.
It’s a language of love.