I am not a fighter. I am not a go-getter. I am not a gardener. I am not a good singer. I am not a dancer. I am not good at debating. I am not gregarious. I am not a good dresser. I am not a beach person. I am not good with money. I am not a runner.
I can go on and on and clog the interweb with the things I am not. It’s an old habit, of course. Trying to define myself by what I am not. It doesn’t work really, but I still try to remove the pieces of stone that aren’t me and try to see what carving is left over. It’s addition by subtraction, but it still doesn’t add up. Zero plus zero still doesn’t equal the One that I look to be and seek it thus. I use the Abacus of the Absurd to tally and balance the ledger that is my life. A Fisher-Price (TM) “My First Calculator” that only has one button, and it’s a minus sign. Not the most useful tool, and yet I sometimes go back to it and wonder why I am not seeing anything register in the register.
Announcing all the things I am not just precludes anything from my life that may add value. I mean, I can say that I am not a handyman, and just leave it at that. Sure, I can screw in a light bulb with the best of them, but outside of that, I am a prime candidate for those Time Life Home Repair Books. But I realize that in making a bold declaration of what I am not, or what I can’t do, I put in my mind that I will never do it. That’s it not on the horizon for me to approach. If I reinforce the fact that I am useless with a wrench or hammer, by the Sword of Odin, I will certainly fine a way to fail with a faulty faucet. I recall my brother-in-law being in the same boat as I am (a leaking boat, neither of us unable to repair, no doubt) and he took the steps of taking a series of classes at the local big box hardware store. Now, he didn’t go forth and build an ark in a fortnight, or remodel the balusters at the Grand Duke of Luxembourg’s summer house, but he instilled himself a little confidence and skill set for whenever the time comes to rummage through the toolkit when something is leaky or broken.
This limiting of myself was as much conscious for me as it was unconscious in doing. By detaching myself from the possibilities of growth and inclusion, I set off to prove that I was of no worth to others and myself. I made it a self-fulfilling prophecy to announce and stamp my ineptitudes onto my consciousness. I ensured that I pulled up the drawbridge and allowed the flaming moat to stop any sort of invitation to exploration and investigation. By showing my cards and saying, “Well, that’s pretty much it”, I made sure that I left the poker table with a pocket empty of chips and a spirit that was lightly crushed around the edges. Crunchy edges. The smell of burnt offerings often pulled me more into myself and away from the flame of life and all it’s wonders. I was the referee of the game and put myself in the penalty box for no other reason than wanting to step on the ice. Not exactly a winning game plan. By listing the things that I wasn’t, I was limiting my potential without knowing it. I simply thought I was whittling down was wasn’t me, but in fact was whittling down what could have been me.
It’s a human condition, I realize, this self-defeatist attitude. It’s not the sole propriety of alcoholics or addicts. But for our peeps, this, like any other emotional or mental roadblock, bores down further and faster and harder into us, and affects us much more. We strike the oil of self-pity and demoralization a lot more often in the sandy shale of our spirits. I realize that I have to be careful when I compose an ad hoc compendium of the things that Paul Sucks At. It can easy pull me into the eddy of immobilization, into the undercurrent of not-good-enough-ism. I have seen that when I start to flail there, I get sucked in more and more. And for an alcoholic like me, navigating these murky waters is dangerous stuff. It may sound a bit silly, this thing about naming off things we might not be great at, or being honest with ourselves concerning certain things, but I know that when I start to get like that, I am sitting on the blurred lines (sorry Robin) of healthy introspection and unhealthy self-limiting.
This sort of ne’er-do-well thinking also seeped into my language and in my interactions with others. I often had this Orwellian doublespeak / doublethink happening, where I disguised the nature of my truth, using euphemisms and Morrissey-like phrases to hide my true feelings (“I am not unwell”, “You said I was ill and you were not wrong”, etc). It was easier to tell you what I wasn’t or what I wasn’t feeling or doing than tell you what I was feeling or doing. It took the sting away from possible rejection. It put distance between you and I, for how dare I get close to someone. It gave me that vagueness that allowed me to slip away from your radar. Telling you something that you couldn’t grasp onto or take on let me let you go…and then blame you for walking away. Huh? That’s just how I rolled. Away, usually.
This is sort of like painting with white oils on a white canvas. Sure there are some brush strokes, but they aren’t adding up to anything other than gloppy clumps of unviewable work. Perhaps looking at it in a contorted way would allow a small shadow to form, but it was dubious stuff at best. And that is how I lived – fading away, not true colours showing, because I was too busy trying to recede rather than proceed. I saw others come to life in bold, bright swipes and dashes, a study of contrasts, complementary hues and dabs of shades. I was jealous of these portraits, of these almost fully conceived and executed works of art that breathed life into themselves. Brave and striking vermilion. Cool and stark tints and tones. Blushing and violent violet. And I would sit and watch and say “I am not those”. Back to the canvas I would go, pale palette in hand.
You see, it’s was all about hiding behind labels that didn’t apply. If I wasn’t X, then you couldn’t expect me to be Y, because being Y was too much an expectation for me. Just because I am not tall, doesn’t make me short. I am just not tall. Or not not short (see doublethink, above). Complicating something that doesn’t need complicating. Lacking in clarity and definition. A walking Gumby, a Playdoh figure…no real structure, prepared to be flatten and reshaped as needed. To not be something meant I could walk away not being anything. And that’s what a shell of a person lives. A ghostly figure passing through people, but not meeting them head one. Not meeting myself head on.
And that is what this process, this journey is for me right now. An uncovering and discovering. A gradual shift from “I am not this” to “I am this” and let it be. To attach and tether myself to something that is undeniably me. To feel comfortable in the coats that I put on – moth holes, glittery stuff and all. To look in the mirror and not say “I am not that person”, but to state loudly and clearly “This is me”. I had a hard time looking in the mirror. I would turn the other way when passing by any reflection. I am learning to see myself for who I am, and not for who I am not. Because comparing myself to those things that I am not is folly. The only comparison I can make it to myself, and how much further I am in my personal path. I cannot afford the luxury of allowing my ego to build the scaffolding of a new façade, a new panic room, a new shelter. I have spent time to dismantle the old ones, and will continue to do so. I cannot hid in what I am not.
This process is gradual. I am still apt to present myself as something that I am not, to scurry into the shadows of no judgement, or perception of judgement (false). But the more I do that, the more inauthentic I feel. It’s a sort of disloyalty, if you will, to the Creator who created me in a unique way. To deny myself who I am, to speak to the authentic me, is to deny the glory of my own self. Standing up and taking count of my blessings and talents and skills is not this vainglorious ego trip, but a shining of inner light, a cracking of the darkness of denial. Playing small does me no service, and it cuts myself off from others. I fear not who I am, but perhaps what I can be. And that can be frightening. When you’re used to donning on the cloak on invisibility, it’s difficult to shed it and put on something that brings forth a shining of who I am meant to be. Not shirking or scraping, but standing tall, humble yet comfortable,
I am not a good singer, but it doesn’t stop me from singing on the shower or in the kitchen. It doesn’t stop me from listening to the music, from humming along, from sharing it with others, from blasting it in the car. The things that I am not don’t imprison me, but open the door to the things that I am, and give me a shot at learning some new things, to opening up myself to new experiences. I can take the path of claiming myself and staying true to myself, or run away and make claims on others, counting other people’s blessings.
I’m not what I am not, I’m what I am as I am.
And for that, I am thankful.