It’s not what you think.
Or more accurately, it is sort of is what you think, but it’s not why you think it is.
Let me back up.
I have this thing I do at work. Well, work is mainly the one thing I do at work (okay, I might hang out on the computer a bit much, but that’s another post). But I since I manage a lot of folks, I have manager-y type of ways of connecting and encouraging staff. I am not an iron fist, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am timely in my demonstrations of assertiveness and boundary declarations. I have my Falkland Islands moment, dispatched with Thatcher-like efficiency, but without the Labour party backlash. At the same time, I am pretty much a hands-off kind of dude. People are touchy about other people being touchy. “Hands are for loving, not shoving” is a motto they use at schools, but in the work place, hands are for typing out emails on keyboards, lifting boxes or holding cigarettes on breaks. No loving, baby…save that for the barracks and break room.
(Speaking of assertive, this old commercial came to mind which I had to share):
Anyway, the thing I do at work is a simple motion, a minor gesture, a wee act. I touch shoulders. Not often. Usually when I want to thank someone, or to show my appreciation or just as a greeting. Nothing creepish. I work mostly with gents, so the ick factor is even lessened. And it’s a once in a while thing. I don’t have a genetic predisposition for it – unlike vampirism or having a club foot. It’s a chummy thing, if anything. And used in the right context, at the right times, it’s a human thing to do. Something to remind me that we’re not robots, that we have hearts and minds and spirits that enjoy camaraderie and a sense of belonging.
This motion has never gone wrong for me. Until a couple of weeks ago. I had a gesture malfunction.
I was speaking to a female worker while I was waiting for the elevator to go to my office. She and I had a bit of a misunderstanding earlier, nothing big, and we were talking it out. So, as a deed of goodwill, I went with my patented shoulder touch. Now, as I was moving in towards the edge of the clavicle, near the bursa, my elevator showed up, and started to make my way to it. At the same time, she figured we were done with our conversation and started to turn. With a wonderful display of dual pirouetting that would impress Sale and Pelletier, my hand ended up on her boob. Not like a swooping eagle on a trout, but it may as well have been. Flesh meets Cross Your Heart.
Needless to say, I was shocked and so was she. I let the elevator pass, felt my face go crimson and other hues of red I have never heard of, and began to apologize profusely. I had a grab of mam, and it wasn’t the second base type. I might as well have brushed another gent’s junk. (Well, I wouldn’t go that far). She laughed it off, joking that she liked it, etc. Hearty woman, of urban outlet mall stock. Not the kind of action to phase her, thank God.
Now, here’s the thing. This innocent incident started to gnaw at me a bit. Then a lot. Although it made for a good laugh, I felt uneasy inside. This was the kind of thing I would have brushed off in the past, just adding it to the other things that I would bother me and just eventually drink the uncomfortable-ness away. More grist for the gin mill. I couldn’t identify what it was – was it guilt? Shame? Remorse? These were companions of mine for a long time, so it could have been. But whatever it was, I knew deep down I have to ‘fess up. To my wife, at the very least and the very most.
I was anxious, nervous. How would I approach this delicate matter? Would I bring it up at Target, mulling over juicers in the appliance section? Segue it into a discussion on what to make the kids for school lunch? Draw it out and leave it as a clue, the way serial killers would do as some sort of strange penitence for their crimes? I thought about what I would say, when I would say it, how I would say it. Would it come off as an offhand comment like “Oh dear, did you hear about my latest zinger, oh it’s madcap delightful, pull up a bean bag and a cup of Diet Shasta!” Or would it be a lavish mea culpa, full of gothic gravitas and a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack?
Typical me, going to either extremes. Igloo or lava pit. So as we lay in bed that night, I start my story. As I did here. Joking a bit, concerned next, and before I can even get to the punchline, the one that had been eating my lunch all day, she blurts out “You touched a woman’s boob, didn’t you?”. In the most non-plussed yet amused manner possible. “Um, yes. Yes I did”. Nervous giggle. That was it. End of story. No denouement. She went back to her ipad. My internal psi deflated at an alarming rate. That was it. But it was more than that, methinks.
This brushing off of my brushing up showed me something – that my capacity to hold things in, to try to avoid something, to move through the day with some sort of dishonesty in my heart…doesn’t work any more. My ability to lie, even a little – through omission or commission – roughs me up now. Whereas in the past dishonesty was yet another tool for my alcoholism to live another day, an easy breezy skill (albeit guilt-laden) meant to enable my selfishness and self-centeredness to carry forth and crown itself champ again. But now…I can barely tell a white lie without the shadow of the Hounds of Baskerville on my tail.
I don’t know exactly when this shift occurred. Perhaps in the recovery work I did, or just cutting the crap and getting to life on life’s terms. Blame it on the rain or the man in the moon. Who knows, but all I know is that one day my wife and I were talking and I ‘fessed up again about some tiny thing that was stoking my fire and she said “How were you able to lie about your drinking all that time? You can’t even lie about this little thing.” She wasn’t upset – just genuinely curious as to how I could lead a secret drinking life and not crack (well, that would come later), and yet, I crumple into a used-Kleenex type ball when I lie about not finding her favourite croutons at the store (I forgot). That’s how it goes, this shift, this change, this transformation. Going from Olympic champ bullshitter to bantam level fib failure.
Marius, at Trudging Through The Fire blog, wrote an awesome post about lying and he hit me in the solar plexus when he spoke about the white lies. The little things. The ones that barely make you blink. And that struck me, as I got it. I understand how getting comfortable with the one or two little lies begets the bigger ones. And believe me, the largest con and lie I pulled over my own eyes almost left me dead. So if I can’t handle that one, then why start with the bambinos? Better leave them at the IKEA ball yard to collect germs. I don’t want to be in that vicinity any more.
For those who don’t struggle with addiction or alcoholism, this all might sound quite silly. And it does, to some extent. But for those of us whose stinkin’ thinkin’ was the source of our despair and reaching for self-medication, keeping on top of the lies and the reasons behind them is nothing to take lightly. Getting half-a-handful of size whatever cup that woman carries (believe, me I have no clue) and having a laugh about it is nothing compared to the crash landing I can expect when I let things slide.
And that’s the truth.
Hey – while you’re checking out Marius’ fantastic writing (he is no doubt one of the best I have seen out here in WP land – no need to be one of us alkies to appreciate his fab, macho libre, boot-to-the-sternum type scribbles), wish him a happy tenth birthday. Ten years of continuous sobriety. That’s a frickin’ miracle. You won’t Beliebe it! He also serves the best nachos this side of San Marcos de La Fuente Snack and Hack near Los Tanos. Tell him I sent you. You’ll get a free lemon-scented sani-wipe.