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.

darkness helping

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.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. What’s the deal, dude? How are you banging out all this good stuff? Soaking Benedrix inhalers in your coffee like Kerouac? Ha. I know. You’ve cleared your receiver. You’re dialed in. Connected to something…but what? If not Benedrix, what???
    Anyway, you speak/write Language of the Heart very fluently. If you have to pick any tongue to be conversant in, that seems like a good one.
    I salute your sobriety.
    Quiero morime joven, para ser un cadaver quapo,

    1. I told you not to tell everyone about the Benedrix. Ixnay on the Enedrixbay.

      Not sure if it’s always good stuff, but it’s stuff. There will be rust sometimes when cleaning out a line, and that’s what I feel like I am doing when I type away on my little laptop…and sometimes rusty ones come out. Glad you felt this wasn’t one of them. Thanks for the kind words, as usual. You make this corner of the world a better place.


  2. runningonsober says:

    “I speak recovery.”
    Amen to that!

    What a great realization you had. I think we’re all addicted to Something at some points in our lives. Television, food, a person, sleep, pain, delusion… We’re all more similar than not. And I think we all feel that desire to belong, even if we say otherwise.

    Powerful message!

    1. You’re absolutely right – I think that we do dip into the addiction pool throughout our lives. Add online / social media stuff to that (in all forms) and we’ve really taken on something big, haven’t we? You’re on that one…and I like the addition of “a person” in your list. We see that happen in early relationships, and we see that in co-dependency. Just wanting to belong is about as base a need or desire as we can imagine, isn’t it?

      Thanks Christy – loved the comments 🙂


  3. And you speaka da language beddy well. The beauty of the language of recovery, is that no matter how halting, or stumbling the attempt of a novice to speak it, we can understand exactly what they’re trying to say. Sometimes they don’t even have to speak.
    Thank you for teaching me and others.

    1. Ha ha, thank you KM. The idea that we can speak it without speaking it is one of the things that makes this community strong. We just *get* it. And we don’t even have to say much before the other person knows what we are talking about. I love that moment when their eyes light up as if to say “Yes! You understand me!”. I get that every time I read your work and the work of others in this beautiful community.

      Thank YOU for teaching me.


  4. Lisa Neumann says:

    Yes, yes, yes, there is always a pay-off. Noticed yesterday a little “habit” I have and it got me thinking, “what’s the pay-off Lisa?” I didn’t like what I saw. Not because it was malicious, but because it was so “auto-pilot.” This post crosses into many areas of life for me. Thank you for the reminder. Excellent writing. (Well, they are all excellent to me.) Angels all over your day my friend, Lisa

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Always love your insightful comments…always the groovy and better-behaved addendum to my scratchy stuff. But the idea of “what’s the payoff” is something that creeps up on me as well. I actually thought that the other day about a behaviour of mine (not a biggie thing, but something I would like to see removed from me)…what is it that I am getting out of this??? Hmmmm….

      Love it. Love what you bring to the table…even angels. 🙂


  5. SAM says:

    Wow! I read this on my vacation and thought, “Good play!” because I have watched that show in absolute superior disgust, “Well thank God that’s not me. Who gets to that place?”

    Well who gets to the place whey they store old bandaids of resentment, dirty cans of guilt, rotting mounds of blame, carcasses of misdeeds and misspoken words? I did. And like the lady that trips over her newspapers, her calcified cat and cannot sleep on her bed because of the pile of junk on it, I’ve tripped over my words, my broken promises, my calcified self-esteem and could not sleep becase of the pile of remorse and shame.

    So again, Paul, fabulous analogy and got me thinking about how badly I need to really clean up my house, literally and figuratively.

    Best, Shell

    1. Thanks Shell – I re-read your reply, as it was a lot to take in there. You certainly understood where I was going with this, and had some fabulous insight on this. Resentments, guilt, shame, remorse, dishonesty, etc…they pile up, don’t they? They circulate and collect until they can’t move any more…and we’re stuck in a rut. But then we just add onto it. No matter we seek relief somewhere else. yikes.

      Awesome stuff, my friend 🙂


  6. risingwoman says:

    For so many years, I spoke the ‘language of alcoholism’; I had people around me who spoke the same language, an we all hung out in our bars and jabbered away together. Anyone who drank moderately or in control or not at all was excluded, they did not have a passport to our country.

    When I stopped drinking, I stopped speaking the language aloud, but God knows, it was active in my head. Also, I recognised when others were speaking it: I overheard it everywhere. I could sit in a restaurant and look across the room and I knew what those people were saying. I saw the pain, the desperation to obliterate themselves, to escape.

    At some point – I’m not sure when – I learned, like you, the language of recovery. Again, it’s a ‘closed group’ (in that, you have to have been through it to really ‘get it’), but it’s a language that I like much better than my first ‘exclusive’ language. It’s an open language, honest and clean, with lots of rounded vowels and warm tones. It is silent as much as it speaks; it listens and feels and considers.

    I’m glad to speak it with you, Paul 😉

    1. Oh man, I loved, loved this response – because you flip it over and get to the other juicy stuff we all enjoyed at some point (and later loathed) – the language of alcoholism…especially when it keeps chattering at us after putting down the drink! You nailed it big time…we can see and identify our suffering and pains from the past in them now. We see it as if they were on fire or something. The rounded vowels and warm tones…awesome. You should get published or something…oh, wait….lol.

      Glad to speak the language with you too!


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