Last night during the wrap up of Traditions in Relationships I read a snippet that talked about knowing my partner’s achilles heels and using them to intentionally hurt them. It dawned on me that not only do I know what they are but the very idea of using them against her was abhorrent to me.
This is sort of big news.
I’ve long stated that I have the reasoning skill set of a woman more than a man and people just as often get mad at me when I say that women are clever and manipulative as a matter of historical survival. In a world dominated by slower thinking and physically superior men, these were the tools they developed to get their needs met. I grew up as a little man with a big brain in some very tough circles once I left the nest of my neighborhood. The odds were very good that I could neither out-fight (though I was pretty good in the confines of a vehicle) nor outrun you, so I had to outthink you.
Reading people; studying body language, vocal inflections, collecting pieces of their histories, inclinations, what they react to and comparing that to my own versions of the same, as well as learning to trust my intuition gave me razor sharp survival skills. And I used the shit out of them. Looking back at some of the situations I got myself into it’s boggling to me that I didn’t end up as a cautionary line in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.
Yet, here i am.
That skill set meant that I had the ability to decimate your ego or psyche in 15 words or less or dance between raindrops to escape. It also has proven to be a brutal waste of time in my recovery. What i keep finding as I keep growing up spiritually, emotionally and mentally is that the tools I used to keep me alive and safe “out there” only stunt me from growing in here. In fact they can kill me because they require me to reject the principles of the program in order to use them.
I don’t live “out there” anymore. In fact my life is really pretty gentle. It is only my psychic ptsd that thinks I need the old ways in my hip pocket to feel safe. But like a feral animal, cautiously, warily stepping out – practicing one principle at a time, then scurrying back to my cave only to realize that doing so didn’t kill me did I slowly grow more courageous in trusting these new principles and tools. To practice these principles in all my affairs.
Today I use those skills I honed for survival so many years ago to help me read and understand people to help heal them. And if I can’t do that to at least feel nonthreatening to them. That my presence is somewhere they can exhale.
So… what old, treasured piece of weaponry is it finally time to let go of?
A friend who I really only know through Facebook posted a few pics of the “new” her that were so striking that I felt compelled to encourage her with a comment. What I said was “You look great! I hope your mind has followed.” She’s someone who I know has struggled because she’s been pretty honest and open about how she feels. Some of it is easily just the rites of passage that all of us go through in our twenties. But some of it is that extra tweak of damage I recognize because it reminds me of me. So naturally I root for her from afar.
I grew up a pretty ugly kid. Nerdy on top of that. And an introvert. With a big brain and an uncool depth of feeling. In short, I was fucked. When I turned 18 and got clean I miraculously went from ugly duckling to stoner punk rock swan. Only I had no idea that I had. I saw myself through the same filter I always had, only now girls started to pay attention to me. Which I thought was weird, but I sure wasn’t going to ignore my good fortune. Unfortunately my mind didn’t keep up with my improved outer appearance and I played from the perspective that I still suck but I’m smart and charming and as long as I’m good in bed you’ll hang out for awhile.
For the next 30 years.
I made a LOT of messes. Aimed for women who I had no business falling for. Managed to never get shot. (and I don’t make that statement for dramatic color) Pushed away lovers who were probably actually great, loving, loyal people for the very reason that they were just those things. And handed my heart on a platter to lovers who were no more capable of receiving it responsibly than I was at staying.
I finally broke at just under 40 years old.
I spent the next two years doing absolutely nothing romantically inclined and sought outside help. I’d dug as far as I could with the steps. They weren’t designed for this shit. But they DID give me the basic honesty and self awareness to be able to flip all my cards face up with a professional so *they* could put them in an order that made sense and receive new tools to heal my psyche. Learning to apply those ideas and skills was sometimes graceless. But it was exciting and it required me to step radically outside my comfort zone. Frankly I was all for it.
My 40’s became bar none, the best decade of my life by a long stretch. At 43 I was brushing my teeth one morning when it dawned on me that I was a pretty good looking guy. It was quite literally the first time I’d had that thought. My mind caught up to my outsides – just in time to get deathly ill for about 4 straight years, culminating in the loss of my leg. During that stretch of repeated tastes of “almost dead” fear drove me back to all my old ways in spades. But I wasn’t that ugly, introverted, awkward kid anymore. My mind actually had caught up, though at the expense of another relationship and long friendship.
It’s funny, having a fake leg hasn’t rendered me ugly. If anything it’s emboldened me. It no longer matters to me whether I’m attractive or not. Because I am clearly not my body. I am the thoughts I act on. I am the kindness I show others that no one knows about. I am a kid blowing raspberries in my wife’s belly while she squeals in equally childlike laughter and redoubles her feisty efforts to pin me. She thinks I’m hot and it makes me smile because it just isn’t important anymore. Staying and appreciating a fellow good, kind, loyal soul as my partner is what matters.
So I have great hopes for my Facebook friend. Because it took that guy to become this guy. I’m rooting for her.
When I had a few years clean and had already worked the steps a couple of times, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount had become all the rage around the rooms. As it turns out, that book was an integral influence on the original writing of the Big Book and after reading it I could see it’s stamp all over Bill’s words. But that’s an interesting side note. What’s in my head this morning is the profound effect Fox’s book had on me as an Atheist. (which is only to say it could probably have a profound effect on *anyone*!)
You see, studying Sermon on the Mount changed the way I saw recovery in AA in a most fundamental way. Fox talks about principles in terms of absolutes. That Honesty, Humility, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Brotherly Love are perfect ideals. At the time I was a very angry young man, though my two runs through the steps had provided me some relief from that particular bondage of self. Just enough relief that reading Fox’s ideas on practicing principles in all my affairs struck me as something I needed to pay attention to; it mattered not that when I threw a rock [principle] at the east foothills [ideal] that I didn’t hit the east foothills [ideal]. What mattered was that by trying as hard as I could in the moment – I made progress.
What I read in that book was that being human meant that I could never achieve perfection regarding these principles but that every bit of suffering in my life was directly connected to the degree by which I worship my exceptions to practicing them in each affair of my life. My serenity is inversely proportional to my “yeah but’s…”.
On a very core level I thought to myself, “fuck.” because I knew it was absolutely true even as my mind came up with several favorite, well polished, lifelong trophies of justified rage that I loved (in a Stockholm Syndrome sort of way) to hold up regularly as my righteous burden qualifying me to treat you badly.
Thus began my going on 25 year snipe hunt to eradicate my “yeah but’s” regarding practicing principles. Not because I’m a saint (as all of you who know me know for damn sure!) but because I’m practically Don Quixote when it comes to trapping my own hypocrisies and hoisting them up to be mocked! Sometimes they’re vanquished. Sometimes they’re accepted as being a quirky part of me that I may not be ready to let go of yet. A catch and release program of sorts. But acknowledging my “yeah but’s” means they no longer scurry around ruining my happiness without my permission. Which starts making them look and feel kind of silly.
“12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” never looked the same to me again after that.
An image that keeps playing back over in my mind since I’ve been here happened the first night we tried to hit a meeting. There were a couple listed as close to us so we ventured forth in search of bad coffee and like minds. Our first choice was several blocks up from our house and though I’d been warned that it’s not adviseable to be anywhere along I-10 if I wasnt in a car I figured what the hell. Up the road we went, lovely tree lined streets and restored buildings cheering us along.
The further out we went though, the less care seemed to be taken in their upkeep. Boarded windows, tall grass, abandoned cars and trash encrouched on the less frequently lovely old homes. We finally came up on the church where the meeting was listed at and were confronted with a long sign across the side of its entrance. There it listed some 200 names subheading the years 2007 & 2008. Next to each name was the person’s demise. And no meeting. I checked my gps and found another meeting a little back the way we came and several blocks up, running the perimeter of what is considered the good and bad side of town.
Off we went, recalculated and further determined, marching turf I hadnt cruised since the bad old days of making drops. It’s funny how all of it comes back to you; how you carry yourself, move your arms, enough eye contact to claim your business without unnecessarily challenging, who to nod at and who not. All the while keeping in mind my girl’s protection whilst not reading like I thought I needed to as eyes followed us.
And then it happened.
Along the very wide grassy and tree filled corridor separating east and westbound traffic was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen, like Oliver Stone hallucination scene stunning; a black kid, maybe 12 years old trotting along the grass atop a gorgeous horse, bareback. And I mean this steed was majestic. Like those spanish show horses I’ve seen on tv. Big, flowing tan mane and tail, prancing, toned physique. Juxtaposed against a bustling road. Staged behind working class, abject poverty. It stopped me in my tracks. And i smiled. Ackowledging it changed everything. They were off about their business, just as we were. Just as everyone else was. Only now I saw the laughter as we made our way up the road to a new meeting where they didnt do it right. And I didnt mind one bit.
For those of you who used to read my blog posts here is God’s Country the original story, regarding steps, perception and having a servant’s heart. Enjoy!