Monday, February 22, 2010

Is That Lipstick On That Pig?

People fascinate me.    Whether you are a good friend or the guy who works at the post office, I'm always wondering: what makes you tick

I want to know all about you - what are your dreams, your fears, your idiosyncracies?   What keeps you up at night?   What do you love about yourself?  What do you hate?   I feel other peoples' feelings like they are my own.   If you're sad, I'll cry for you.   If you're jubilant, my heart soars.

 I have a harder time drumming up this kind of curiosity about myself, though.

I just finished a book by Christopher Kennedy Lawford called Moments of Clarity.   Lawford, who is a recovering alcoholic and addict, interviewed dozens of celebrites, politicians - people in the public eye - about the moment they knew they had a problem with addiction.   This is not the same thing as rock bottom, mind you.    A few of the people he interviewed had a moment of clarity about their addiction and proceeded to continue drinking or using for some time.    What Lawford was exploring was the moment they knew, with frightening lucidity, that substance abuse had taken the reins; that they were powerless over alcohol, drugs, or both.

This got me thinking about how difficult it can be to really know yourself.    We all experience those moments where we really see ourselves, stripped of pretense or showmanship.    Sometimes, for me, it's something small.  I get dressed up for a night out, and leave the house thinking I look really put together.   Later I'll catch a glimpse of myself reflected in a window, or a mirror, and think: what was I thinking, wearing this?    I will see how I was trying to project some image of myself that doesn't quite work.   That isn't me.

I do this with bigger things, too, like addiction and recovery.    I remember my own moment of clarity, the moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had a problem with alcohol.  It happened in a flash.   Some lucid part of my brain broke through and shouted:  what are you doing?   This is no way to live!   It felt it like a punch in the gut.   As quickly as it came, it was gone, replaced by my carefully constructed justifications and rationales.   By my denial.   I continued drinking for two more years.

Oddly, in recovery it feels like the stakes are higher.   I feel, on some days, like the only thing between me and the web of addiction is my ability to try to be truthful with myself.    This can be exhausting.   Who wants to spend much time peeking into the darker corners of their psyche?   The temptation to overlook reality, to gloss over the parts that make me uncomfortable, is huge.  

I realize, now, that I can't always trust what I think.   Maybe I can't even usually trust what I think.  

In recovery, unanesthetized, the little bells that ring in my head that say something's off here, are harder to ignore.    I know that left to my own resources I can dress up any problem until it feels comfortable. Until it fits with my perception of myself, or how I'd like to be.   Until it makes me stop squirming.    All I can do to protect myself is open my mouth.   Rat myself out.    Turn to a trusted friend and say does this make sense to you?   

I believe a big part of my recovery, my healing, is finding my voice again, learning to trusting my intuition.  Taking some calculated risks, exploring new, exciting and sometimes uncomfortable things.   But not alone.  

No, never alone.


  1. You know, this very thing is what makes attitude studies and opinion polls so unreliable. How to weed out the answers people thought they "should" give, the ones they swear by but don't live by, the ones prompted by contrariness...and this is over stuff like "which burger tastes better"! So I think it's an astounding amount of effort to be looking at yourself on such a complicated issue as alcoholism. I wish you all the true friends you need, whenever you need them.

  2. I find the very same thing is also true with AA meetings. Every meeting I go to, I have AHA moments listening to everyone else's stories. I walk out of there with more clarity because people at different levels of recovery say things that I either haven't thought of yet or just did and am glad I'm not the only one. It helps me to go home and think deeper within myself.

  3. I read Lawford's book! I am absolutely sure I would have read it very differently last year. Or the one before that. I struggle with: how do I get to know myself better AND wrench my head out of my own navel?

  4. "I feel, on some days, like the only thing between me and the web of addiction is my ability to try to be truthful with myself."

    This. And you're right, it's exhausting. That's been the hardest part for me. Being honest with myself, reminding myself that there was/is a problem... keeping tabs on myself. It's a huge pain in the ass. But it's worth it.

    Will have to look into that book :)

  5. One of my blogger friends is in that book. You can find his blog on my blogroll - Last Chance Texaco blog.

    My moment of clarity was like a punch in the gut, too.

    I remind myself often not to believe everything I think. My sponsor is great at helping me sort through. I spent way too many years in sobriety solo, not needing anyone. It was a very long dry drunk.