I’ve been feeling like a grizzled vet lately.
Not sure why, but it’s perhaps the ever growing grays and the unruly beard, the persuasive yet gentle “I’ve-had-it-ness”, and the general malaise of “meh” that seems to cloud my approaches to things. The grizzled vet is an archetype in many ways – films, video games, sports teams, books of certain genres, etc. all have their version of the “been there, done that” guy. He’s the guy that’s seen it all, shakes off what others may cower or fret over, and tends to take things in a methodical and not so emotional way. He’s the “Christ’s Sake, not again,” dude, while finishing off an alien with a semi-automatic laser-powered weapon and lighting a smoke at the same time. He’s the captain of the team who bunks with the rookie, or just gets the rare privilege of bunking solo while the team is on the road. He’s the one who covers the rear of the pack or doesn’t wear a life jacket just because. He’s intolerant of being tolerant. Calls it like it is, and cares not for the swooning of the womanly wiles that may swarm around him.
Not to say that I am all those things – far from. But I have this low level being done with a lot of stuff. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps a forensic psychic autopsy in an Area 51 stainless steel table will illuminate things at a later date. Until then, I am here. I actually joked with my wife the other day that when the boys are 18, I am just going to leave this planet. I will officially be done with things. She then mused aloud about starting a Lavalife profile for herself. I said go for it – activate it sooner than later, just in case she has to do a lot of filtering for stalkers and trolls. She also joked that on my tombstone she will only have one thing written on it: DONE. I like the ring of that. It’s a nice way to finish things. Clean. Final. No room for discussion. But then she had to bring up grandchildren. So I decided to hold off until the grandkids are old enough to play lawn darts and Parcheesi on their own before clamming up for good, washed upon the shores of good tidings.
I feel this at work as well. I like to remind the new employees, usually out of college, that I have shoes older than them, and that they weren’t a twinkle in their daddy’s eye (or twitch in their daddy’s pants…for the cruder set) when I was already married. It sets the tone for them…and me. I say it with a smile, a pat on the back, and then a smear across my psyche as I realize that I truly am forging ahead in this so-called life. The other day, my two sons, 5 and 3, were playing with pillows, and some white fluff came out. The oldest put the fluff on the youngest one’s head and said “Now you look like Papi [Daddy]!” I thought that was the funniest thing he’s said until yesterday afternoon when taking the kids back from swim camp. They requested the sun roof be opened and we obliged, which often prompts my wife loves to tell people about the time a bird pooped on my head when we had the sunroof open (true story) and told it to the boys. My oldest then asked if that’s why I have so much gray in my hair.
I also feel this sense of having already stood up around the corpses in recovery, to some extent. And it’s affecting how I approach others, and it has me wondering at times. When I first started doing the sober thing, I was very, very patient and understanding of those who were new to it. Comrades-in-arms. In real life and on recovery forums, I was very genteel and all Doc Holliday meets Doc Joyce with everyone. If I could stroke someone’s hand or put a gentle grip on their shoulder to let them know it was going to be OK, I would have. I really took the time to extend myself and wrap my words in authentic empathy and really focus on what their needs were. I would give as much as I could before spinning around the room like a deflated balloon, spent, bereft of anything else. Needless to say, it was tiring at times, even though a part of me was sparked, rejuvenated.
But it feels that these days, I cut to the chase quicker. I don’t lollygag. I don’t hold court the way I would try to in the past. I don’t sweeten things up too much. I call it as it is. Especially at work (I was called “blunt” the other day by one of my staff. Me? Blunt? I used to dance around stuff in a way that would make Baryshnikov blush). It seems that my workplace for is a training ground for me. Work is where I test the ideas of boundaries (what a concept!) and setting limits. It ‘s safe to do, as at work, I know what I am doing, for the most part. I have plenty of experience, and there are no emotions (or very little) involved. I am management, so I have leeway with certain things. I can call the shots and let the repercussions, if any, fall on me. I can be firm, but fair. These are the things I learned to do in recovery – stand up, have the courage to change the things I can, and overcome fears. I am certainly not perfect in that regard, but I have gotten much better. I am not Eastwood in my demeanour, but I share that grizzled outlook at times. Make my day, punks…indeed.
In recovery now, I feel that I am getting to that point where I too am starting to call it like I see it a bit. I am not the hard-nosed old timer at the back of the room (yet), but I am inching towards his no-nonsense and bristled approach. A little Brillo pad love, some firm thorns in the Aloe Vera, a touch of sandpaper and grit in the washbasin. The BS detector is dusted off, hums at full capacity and like to spit out fortune cookie quips that are short and sweet and sour. Perhaps it’s because I have already seen so many people come and go, so many people get sick, so many people fumble their back into blackness and pain, so many pick up a drink and never been seen or heard from again. And that hurts to see.
I ran into a counselor (and now friend) from my old treatment center. I am a contact there, which means that when a man leaves the house, he is given the phone number of someone who lives in their area and can help transition them to other meetings, introduce them to other, take them under their wing, etc. I am usually told ahead of time when I am going to be contacted by a new guy. So my friend and I were talking and told him that I was lucky to be called one out of every ten times. “That’s pretty good odds,” he said, taking a drag from his cigarette. And he’s right – a small percentage of us alcoholics / addicts don’t make it out, let alone make it out for good and all. Grim prospects. And perhaps that is why I feel the need to tell it like it is, because I don’t want to be guilty of coddling or hugging someone to death. And it happens. And yet, compassion and tolerance and empathy and love is also called upon. Balance and fair play come to mind as well.
So just because I have been there and done it, doesn’t mean that I always have to act like I have been there and done it. But that’s where I am right now, correct or not. I have had to shore up my shares of being green / raw and saddle up to the healthier side of things, where hurt feelings can sometimes save lives. I care for the person, not for the illness. And those two being intertwined, what I say sometimes comes across as not-so-Disney. Or Disney, but on ice – a little cool and designed to have one sit up and take notice – but it comes from that place of looking out, of having been in that place. I speak from a place of experience, not opinion. I come from the understanding of how powerful denial, rage and apathy can be. It come from knowing that this illness kills.
As I sit and write this, I check my twitter and read people’s struggles, I read blog posts where people are unsure of where they’re at in their struggle, I get a call from a guy who is giving me an excuse as to why he can’t meet this weekend to discuss doing work on the steps…and all these things give me pause in how I come to these people, these situations. This grizzled feeling isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t mean I am not open to new experiences, or shutting the door on the past. It’s precisely because of my past that I have been able to grow another layer of skin, another ring in the trunk, another perspective on this disease and life in general. It’s just that the tint of my glasses have changed. The prescription is different – far sighted rather than short sighted. And they will change again, no doubt.
When someone calls me out on my BS, when I am called out on ego, when people point out something that is keeping me from growing…that to me is love. That is the pointing-to-the-spinach-in-my-teeth love. That’s the “Papi, you need to shower” from the kids love (I just rode my bike, gimme a break!) There is of course the thought that different approaches work for different people. Agreed. I like to think that there is a compassionate undercurrent in my ways, and there is a part of me that just screams and hopes and wishes and prays that someone else would just get it – but that’s not my job. My job is to just carry the message. Carry the message of hope. That’s all I can do. And whether hope is enrobed in Hershey’s Kisses or barbed wire, or a bit of both, it is still hope…and hope that the person can get well.
I wish you all well, wherever you’re at in your journey.
The Grizzled Vet
P.S now get off your ass and get to work 😉