One of the greatest struggles I have had in my recovery so far is the question of who am I? Or namely, who am I meant to be? And that is really what it comes down to. Who am I meant to be, rather than who do I think I should be? I lived a life thinking I was something that I wasn’t. I lived a life acting as if I were someone else. I staged myself like a house on the market – to look good for others, when in the end, the only buyer was me. No takers. And why would someone else want to take it?
My alcoholic life started out as window dressing. When I started to feel uncomfortable, a nice coat of paint (or a bottle of wine) would dress things up nicely. A dab of Pinot could easily spot weld all the little leaks in the house. A dram of whisky would board up the unsightly fractures in the walls. A mickey of vodka could effortlessly shore up any foundation cracks. The place was falling apart, and yet I still wanted you to stop by for warm chocolate chip cookies and a friendly chat to keep up appearances. But in the end, it was a façade. As fragile as wet tissue paper and as fraudulent as a three-dollar bill. I was a slum lord and the tenant as well.
As practising alcoholics, we were masters of concealing. We concealed the amounts we drank, we concealed the aftermath, we concealed our feelings, we concealed the shame and guilt, we concealed our fears and pain. We concealed the truth. We concealed our Authentic Self. We concealed the very thing that would have brought us closer to the Creator.
I have wrestled with this whole Authentic Self my whole life. It would seem that whenever I felt the yearnings of me to be me, I would self-medicate. Push that bastard down (because he was a bastard. How did I know? I just thought that he was – that’s the power of the mind). Get into a new mindset. Be witty, colourful, happy, joyous, sexy, taller. The real me couldn’t be any of that, so let’s get the Synthetica Replicant to take its place. Whenever a whisper of the real deal would try and bubble up, whenever my conscious would tickle at me, whenever that true sense of self would dare to rise up, I would drown it in self-loathing and copious amount of booze. Take that, shithead.
There is something pristine and hopeful about the idea that within us all is our Authentic Self itching to come out. That its intention is to emerge and burst forth through the cling film wrap that we apply to ourselves to ensure that we don’t shine as much as we should. There is a sense that this Authentic Self has always held sway at a low level even throughout our alcoholic careers. That friction, that dissonance that I felt while I was drinking and being my False Self was really my Authentic Self rubbing up against the fractured me.
Guilt, shame and remorse not only emerged from the cesspool of my manner of living, but knowing that deep down I wasn’t living up to who I was really meant to be. And I hated it, and yet I craved it. I felt that my disingenuous alcoholic me was a slap in the face to who I was really meant to be. A carnival act trying to distract from the fact that I was burning my life down to ground once again, fuelled by booze, selfishness and the manipulation of others. A nefarious triple threat.
So what does this all have to do with anything? What does this say about alcoholism or the recovered life? What does this pseudo-spiritual claptrap have to do with me today? What does it have to do with the fact that perhaps someone out there is dying to have a drink. Anything. Beer, rum, mouthwash, hand sanitizer?
Not sure. Hope, perhaps? The knowledge or inner tingling in understanding that there is something within us all that is hoping to live. To be worn like a loose garment. To be held up to the light of truth and have it shine. To have our real and true selves out for all to see. Without shame or judgement. Without suffocating it in the name of progress, pride or fear. Without self-sabotaging or retribution. Just the real deal. You. Me. Us.
This very thing is discussed in 12-step literature. They talk about removing all the things that block us from the sunlight of the spirit – our self-seeking ways, dishonesty, ego, pride, fears, etc. and then our immediate concern being – what’s left of me? I’d be the hole in the doughnut, they proclaim. What now? Oh what will come out on the other side of all this?
And that’s very much what we pass through as we get closer to our Authentic Self. It’s just self-centered fear. Because the reality is quite clear – nature abhors a vacuum. So in place of these things that clog us up is something new – the hope that things will turn out better. New ways of dealing with life. A shimmering light of life that allows us to heal, to be with others, to be with ourselves. We get closer to who we were created to be. And that can be frightening. It can look like darkness, in fact. But with dark comes light. And light fills that void where destructive thinking used to be. We start to become a little bit more whole.
Day by day.
For this cat, I don’t necessarily struggle with the capital gains of this process, nor with the investment, but of the time of maturation. My impatience and my fears grip me. I start to wonder if there truly is a pay off. I start to wander and wonder where else I can invest my time and energy. Is it to the popular crowd so that I can feel approval of some kind? Is it to something easy and shiny so that I can get the buzz of instant gratification? Is it towards the ease and comfort of putting myself down yet again so that I get an ego boost of self-pity? Is it about playing small so that I don’t have to face that darkness? Guilty on all counts.
So what’s the deal then?
I know that real happiness and contentment comes from staying true to myself, and that my serenity soars when I don’t seek approval from the external. And yet, I will sabotage myself. Over and over again. It’s like I don’t trust myself, or trust giving it up. Of letting go. Insanity, isn’t it? But that is my path right here, right now. It’s something that I revelled in as an active alcoholic. I sought validation from all points. Because inner validation seemed impossible. There was no self-love, so how could I find what was obfuscated by my alcoholism?
It’s only now that I catch glimpses of it. I see the sparks coming from the shine of the light hitting it. I catch the buzz of embracing the perfection of my imperfection once in a while. I get it. And then it flits away, and I find myself prodding and poking the wrong hornets nests to get a reaction, to feel like I count, like I exist.
Who I think I am and who I need to be and who I really am are all different, and it’s not up to me any more. It’s the Creator’s, and I have to trust in where I am nudged is just part of the plan. I may not like it, nor approve, but that’s where it is, y’all. Move to the rhythm, even if it’s not my usual beat.
We have a saying in recovery – “attraction, not promotion”. I live my life in a way that attracts others to find out what it is I do. I live in a manner that brings positivity and light to my soul. I live in a way that detracts from the shiny and contours to the ordained. My job is to promote less, and attract more. Nothing more, nothing less.
Easier said than done. But what choice do I have?
As newly sober alcoholics can attest to, living a life almost contrary to our old ways is disarming and jarring. It gets better – believe me. It gets better. The things that we used to do with impunity (lying, for example) becomes very difficult to pull of when on a spiritual path. The things that used to serve us, like manipulation, no longer do. We just move past it.
So – who do you think you are? I know that who I think I am isn’t necessarily who I am meant to be.
I sit with this today, and do my best to move through it. Look at others who have what I want, who exude a gentle and quite confidence, who shine a little brighter, who truly feed from the light within and don’t seek from externals. Those who can look back at yesterday and say, with ease, “that is no longer me. I have grown and today I have more clarity”. That is where I look to next. You are all out there, and I see you. I see you there. You all help me with this. Whether you have two days or two decades under your belt, you’re there.
Let me see you a bit more. Come to the light here…come. You’re a beautiful person.
Let’s have warm cookies now.
Thanks for being here.
(Edit – I will be away on vacation starting April 3, so forgive me if I don’t respond to your comments right away. – I will be internet “dry”. I will gladly read any comments on my return. Have a blessed week, y’all. Paul)
(I wanted to share this video from Future Islands, who recently performed on Letterman. First of all, it’s called Seasons (Waiting on You) – and anyone who reads this space knows my love of things cyclical, as are seasons. Also, I love the fact that the singer, Sam Herring, just does his thing. His authenticity is captivating and powerful and just damn fine. I admire his ability to express himself and that he just puts himself out there, not worrying about how he might be looked at. And the result – I can’t stop taking my eyes of him. It’s actually gone viral, this video, so I am not the only one to feel it. Anyway, he attracts. And it’s a groovy song, to boot. Enjoy)