I was in an elevator at work recently, chatting away with a few of my staff, when it slipped. It was nothing special, nothing groundbreaking. It was about as generic and mindless as any other word goes, but it made an impression. I had sworn. Lightly. I didn’t get into conjugated verbs or hyphenated nouns. Just a pixie dusting of profanity. A small “C” cuss. A hiccup of hubristic ha ha. A “whatever” with zing, really. But the shock wasn’t in the word, but in the carrier. Me.
“Paul – I’ve never heard you swear,” one of the ladies decreed, wide-eyed, “you’re on of us!” Two days later I let another easy-off-the-lips word escape me and yet another one of my staff dropped what she was doing and gazed back at me, unsure of what to make of this now sullied air. “Paul! I have never heard you say that word before! You sound like we do!” she said, beaming and dancing a little jig.
Really? Over a poorly chosen word?
I guess I had to look at it from their point-of-view: I am a fairly straightforward guy (I’ve been told) and sounding like a trucker isn’t one of the things I am know for. I am certainly more Bill Cosby or Jerry Seinfeld to everyone else’s Dennis Leary or Redd Foxx there. I am the straight man to their comic slantings and raunchy rantings. I am the Stepford Dude to their sizzling barbs.
But I laughed to myself because if they knew the old me, the old alcoholic me, the old alcoholic life unmanageable me…they wouldn’t be so surprised at my occasional bon mots. They would actually be surprised at my extreme measure of appropriate language, considering how I used to be. I was a Vulgarian. F-bombs and other wonderful words spilled out of me like coins on a winning slot machine. At one place I worked, my boss had to tell me and another co-worker to cut out the bad language – people were afraid to come into our work space when we were bombarding each other with vile turns of phrases and filthy, personal “yo mamma” jokes. People didn’t like having me around. I didn’t blame them.
What people never saw was that I spewed most of my vitriolic verbiage towards myself. Cursing myself out was the only way I could express my self-loathing, my self-hatred, my absolute disgust in myself. I so did not like myself that I thought that if I swatted me away by telling myself what a piece of crap I was, maybe I would go away. It never worked, but boy did I try. I called myself every name in the book (and even made a few up for fun) and beat myself down with those tire irons for years. I couldn’t find the right, perfect name to express how much I just hated being me. It was much more fulfilling to just drink at me.
When I got sober and started to recover, there were a lot of things about me I still loathed about myself. Just because the booze was gone, didn’t mean things were perfect. Far from it. I had to face a lot of facts about myself that I didn’t appreciate looking at. There were a lot of activities and ways of thinking and acting that I wasn’t proud of. But I had no choice to look at these things, because the fear of drinking myself into an alcoholic death outweighed the fear of living life without alcohol. And so the journey began. And as the journey progressed, it was clear that it wasn’t just about not drinking any more – I started to find a new way of life, a design for living that fitted me more like a glove than the handcuff of the bottle.
So as I started to grow into this new skin, this new approach and outlook on life, this brand new way of seeing myself and others in the world, things slowly started to change. Many of the things I used to do, think and say started to dissolve and dissipate into the Nothingness. Many of my old perceptions and prejudices melted away. Slowly. Without me noticing. I never got the memo on me. Maybe my inbox was already full.
So it wasn’t until my staff mentioned to me about the swearing did I realize that I don’t swear very often. In two years at this job, no one has really heard me cussin’ and a feudin’. How strange that is for me, because I never swore off on anything, including swearing. I never woke up one day and stared at the mirror and made a declaration that I would never do X or Y again. I never held force to myself in making an oath that I wouldn’t swear ever again. It just happened as a result of my new life, my new psychic change, my fresh outlook on my inner world. It just happened.
I never had to think about not using foul language. Because for this alcoholic, it was about building people up, and not tearing them down – something that was foreign to me. It was about finding a new language for loving others, in finding compassion and empathy, in being of service, of being a real man and child of the Creator. So in doing this, many of those words that I so used to slice at and slay others, removed themselves from my vocabulary. I had taken on a new index and directory. I was rewriting the appendices of my life. I continue in trying to dig deep and find ways of expressing myself through words that don’t cling and sting, but float and emote. A way of being kind.
And it’s just the tip of what is something greater.
You see, I never did say that I will never drink again either. Not once. Not in recovery, at least. I said it countless times when I was hungover or feeling ill, hunched over the toilet, or when I did or said something that invited in guilt, shame and remorse… but never in recovery. Because I never needed to. The obsession lifted at some point – just the magnificent and miraculous manifestation of doing the work I needed to do (and continue to do). I don’t have the willpower to not do something – it’s not in me. But I find that when I work on my spiritual life, on my connection with the Creator, on helping others…good things happen. And that whole drinking thing, that whole swearing thing, that whole lying thing, that whole whatever thing which would get me in trouble or keep me up at night…goes away, little by slowly. I’m not perfect by any stretch, and I struggle and life happens…but I know that I don’t have to go back to my old ways. There is no need for it.
I am not the old me any more and I don’t see the changes in me until others point them out to me.
And how fucking cool is that?