At work I am in charge of recruiting in my department.
That means I sift through hundreds of resumes, make calls, set up interviews, interview folks and do all the paperwork. I am also in constant communication with HR and am also in charge of getting them on the schedule and general hand holding until the new hires are up and running. I also do the firing – not a pleasant task.
The one thing in being the “go to” guy in this regards is that it paints a target on my back when the new hires don’t rise to people’s expectations. I get to hear the complaints and the general moaning that comes under the guise of “feedback”. A typical conversation would go something like this:
Worker / Proletariat: Hey that new guy isn’t very fast. I don’t know if he’ll make it.
Me / Bourgeoisie: He’s only been here two hours.
W/P: I know, but he also goes to the washroom a lot.
M/B: I guess you’re not the busy if you’re counting how many times he is going to the loo.
W/P: And the other thing is-
M/B: It’s his first day. Don’t you remember what it was like on your first day? Or have you forgotten?
[M/B leaves and gets a delicious coffee and muffin]
The point being is that there is quickness to judge and to categorize. The “slow one”. The “loud one”. The “quirky one”. The “lazy one”. Judgement by people who have been at the same place of work for 20 or 30 weary years. Years in which they have seen more people come and go than they can even bother to recollect. Years in which have eroded any passion or self-motivation. Years which cloud that idea of what it’s like to walk through the doors and quell fear, see potential and ride forth into a new way of being and doing things.
I mention all this because there are times where I am that judgemental or impatient one. I am sometimes the one who forgets what it’s like to be new to sobriety, to have that fear in the belly sitting like a lead weight. To be on the verge of crying or vomiting or wanting to throw oneself off a building. To sit in the unknown and have it stick to the skin like a toxic film of sweat.
There’s a phrase that is sometimes used in recovery – “Keep it green”. It means to not forget what it’s like to still be suffering from alcoholism. While I am not one to sit in the problem (I prefer talking about the solution), there are times I really need to keep it green. There are times when I forget what it’s like to be a newcomer, or when I get frustrated with someone who just doesn’t seem to “get it”. There are times when I pass the wand of judgement over someone and get a buzz from being self-righteous or feeling superior to someone who is ill and suffering gravely.
I was riding my bike the other day and saw someone from the 12- step fellowship riding his bike ahead of me. I saw him stop in front of a not-so-reputable tavern and lock his bike up. I too had stopped, and kept a distance behind him. I watched as he walked in and bellied up to the bar. I don’t imagine it was a Coke that he ordered (or maybe he did – I don’t know). This was an older gent who I have seen in many meetings. I have also spoken at a meeting at a detox and saw him there, coming off a bender. He relapses often. I have seen many guys from the program coming out of liquor stores with bags, or stumbling out of a bar late at night. Breaks my heart every time.
So it was a quick lesson for me, this “coincidence” of me running into this rapidly degrading gentleman who I know to be very intelligent and having a powerful aura. Intelligent men and women die from alcoholism daily. It’s not about IQ. We’re often too smart for our own good, don’t you know. To see this man walk into the bar was a great reminder for me. A reminder that I could easily be that man. That I have no place to judge this man. My only job is to love that man. And to carry the message of hope to him. To love him for the alcoholic he is. For the alcoholic that I am. A reflection of where I have come and where I could easily land. We are the same. Except I am not walking shamefully, yet with defeated purpose, into oblivion. I watch, hopefully, from a place of empathy, not finger pointing or tsk tsk’ing.
It is said that our past is a place of reference, not a place of residence. I remember (most of) the crappy things I have done in my past – drunk, hungover or in the midst of insanity. I know that what I have done was not done out of anything else other than just being sick…and selfish. I am not proud of what I have done. I have forgiven myself for what I have done, where I was back then, and how I came to do what I did. I didn’t even have to fully understand to forgive myself. I just knew that I was an ill man, and I am in a different place these days. But I don’t shut the door on it. I don’t regret my experience, as painful and humiliating and damaging it may have been, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without those rich experiences. So I don’t put it in a black velvet satchel, weighted with the stones of remorse and shame, to be sunk into the recesses of my soul. No. I keep them in the corner, under glass – where I can see them and gain access to them when I need it.
And when do I need to pull on that reflective dome to open up those ugly experiences? Why do I need to hold them up to the light of scrutiny and sharing?
When dealing with another alcoholic in distress , is when. When they don’t know if they are in the right place, or if they are reading the right blogs, or when they don’t know why they are even standing in front of me. Reaching back into my past and offering it up is all I can do to show them that I too used to be in pain, that my world too escaped through my trembling, dirt-crusted fingers. That I drank like they did. That I drank for the reasons they did. That while the circumstances were different, there is no ownership or monopoly when it comes to being hurt or being in despair.
This is what I need to remember when I run into someone who isn’t adhering to my timetable about how and when they should get well. This is what needs to be front and center when I work with someone who is back and forth to the bottle and doesn’t seem to “want” it enough. Keeping it green allows me to shift from a judgemental stance to an empathetic pose, to see things through their weary, glossy eyes. It keeps me grounded spiritually and gives me a dose of gratitude that might be missing in my mental and emotional space. It shows me just how far I have come, and yet, how much further there is to go. I am a lamplighter for the guys and gals behind me, as I too seek the coveted light of kindness glaring up ahead of me.
I am sure that I had eyes rolling at some point in my tirades and escapades in early recovery. I am sure that there were many men in the fellowship who heard my garbage and strong viewpoints and inconsiderate rantings and just let me, knowing what they knew about serenity and spiritual growth. There were so many folks out there and here who have seen me at low points and just let me run them through without pontificating or grandstanding. Not speaking at me from a spiritual pulpit or hilltop. Just letting me be, so that I could learn and experience things first hand. And that has been my lesson – something I still need to learn more of – to just be there sometimes, to just listen, to just understand and nothing else. To guide and mentor when needed, of course, but to just allow someone that breathing space so that they can find the cracks to fill.
But I can’t live in perpetual chaos, mine or someone else’s. I can only be immersed in the drama for so long. I can only visit those places that I crawled out of for so long before I lose sight of the real goal – recovery of mind, body and spirit. To continually live in the solution, and not the problem. I won’t get all ethereal and rhetorical – the spiritual life is one of action. It’s not something that is merely discussed – it is lived. So helping another man or woman understand this means taking actions and it also means coming to terms with the past…as I had to. Keeping it green is about acknowledging the past, touching upon it when needed, and respecting it. But it’s not about bronzing it or worshipping it or staying stuck in the feelings surrounded it. My eyes need to rove the fertile ground ahead of me. That is the only way I grow.
Ultimately, to be of any use or service, I have to put myself in the shoes of that frightened, wounded person who just walked through the door. Who is fearful. In pain. Not sure what they want, but knowing that they see the potential in the room, through the laughs and smiles of those who welcome them. I have to remember that before I did all this internal work, before I did the external stuff, before I got a blog and spoke to groups and did work with treatment center alumni, before I sponsored other men, before I putt 100% into my own recovery…before all that, I was green. Bile green. And if it weren’t for the men and women who saw in me what they used to be, I would be dead.
I welcome my past. I welcome you to use my past as needed. And then we get passed it all and look ahead. The future looks pretty bright out there. Get your sunglasses.