I am not a fighter. I don’t know the sensation of what it is like to hit another person in an angry fashion. I don’t know how it is to knock a tooth out , or the feeling of someone’s jawbone crack underneath my knuckles. I have never had to roundhouse kick my way out of a predicament nor have I had the experience of body slamming someone over a parking spot. It’s just not in me. I’m too much of a delicate flower (and coward) for that sort of donnybrook action. I also don’t think violence solves anything – at least that is what the after school TV specials told me when I was growing up. But other than turtling when fists flew my way, I did had one weapon that I was able to use effectively. I had one thing I could wield with sufficient force and precise motion. I had one thing that no one would wrestle out of my hands or force me to lay down. And that was my words.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “sarcasm” derives from ancient Greek for “to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.” Its first definition is “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt.” My first foray into the dark arts of sarcasm was rough – I had no real mentor or master to help me along, so I figured it out on my own. Through inflection and body language, tone and delivery, I was able to do what they call “unplain speaking” – saying something in which I mean something entirely different. As a raw rookie, I botched up a few times, and was a little too obvious in my attacks. I started to see that a less obvious approach lessened the chance of the victim to know that they were being attacked. In my twisted little way of thinking, I wanted to hurt them, but not have them know I was doing it. How sick is that? The sharpest blades rarely hurt when they cut. A dull knife hurts when raking against flesh. And like honing a machete against a mill file, my tongue got sharpened on the abrasions of my anger. I learned to cut deep while not seeming to leave a mark. It was ninja-like stuff, and the more flesh I tore, the better I felt about myself. There was something to this, after all.
What made me think of all this is the Cleaning Piece I am doing right now. It’s in keeping a check on myself that I am able to see my old patterns oh so well and alive even today, even after the work I have been doing and in the asking of the Creator to remove these kind of things from me. You see, I was always a wordsmith, a magician of form and syntax, a stealth bomber of insights, my words all wrapped up in delicious fatty layers of sarcasm. I was great at it. Almost too good. I would cut you down without leaving a mark. I would say something that seemed like I was building you up, but really, I was tearing you down. It came off as me being very polite and caring, and yet, I was peeling strips of skin off of you. Raw. And all of that with a glad and earnest look on my face, my intonation high and full of mock enthusiasm.
Disservice with a smile.
I learned early on in my sobriety that sarcasm was a form of anger. I was thrown off by that and had a hard time reconciling the emotion and the action. I mean, I wasn’t that angry of a guy. I’d never been in a tussle of any kind, and I was only trying to be funny when I was sarcastic, wasn’t I? Didn’t people laugh when I would unleash my honey-coated barbs and rapier-like witticisms towards a
target friend? Didn’t I get attention and hold court through my dry-as-a-martini humour and wickedly astute observations of others? Isn’t laughter the universal leveler – the healer of all hurts, the medicine for the terminally stuck up and gormless? So why didn’t it feel like anger? Why now was I looking to put away the one thing that made me feel like I had some voice, some shield, some semblance of power in a world that I felt utterly useless and helpless in? How could I defend myself or strike out? The idea was that I didn’t need a weapon anymore, as that I was not at war anymore – I needed to cease fighting.
What I have learned about myself and my old ways of thinking is that my pain and hurt and suffering germinated in how I felt others treated me. My ego told me that I was better than everyone, and at the same time, I was less than everyone. So in the friction of those states was the ripe, heated growing grounds for anger and resentment. And then add in all my fears I had – the dozens, if not hundreds of them, and I could really get upset and full of absolute rage. So rage away I did, and through my passive-aggressive ways, I got part of it out. The rest got drunk. So now having gone through the steps of AA, helping others, trying to be the man I was created to be, and being of service, much of that anger has dissipated. So why is it, while I observe my thoughts of negativity towards others, watching my tongue, do I still have the need to lob little bombs here and there? Why is it that I will watch myself say something that serves no one or no thing, except my ego? Except perhaps to bridle up against nuggets of discontent, of bubbles of disdain. Why do I feel the need to tear down still?
Clearly I still have some work to do.
But this is not about being perfect. This is about moving to a healthier place, of shifting perspective, of growing spiritually, of being of service to my fellow human. I am still learning, I am still trying to foster a teachable mind. My actions follow my thoughts and my thoughts follow my spirit. But there are gaps in there, and my recovery is about closing those gaps, cleaning myself up and strengthening my spirit. I try to lay down the weapon of words of tearing others down, and pick up the instrument of building people up. I have ceased fighting any more.
15 Comments Add yours
Yes, this is also familiar to me… I well recall that bubbling, corrosive anger. The sarcasm. The ‘hurt them before they hurt me, the bastards.’
Paul, I so often feel like you speak from inside my head, I ‘feel’ your posts in my bones.
I am coming back to Toronto in May, to visit my family and look for a job. Do you want to meet up for coffee??
I also find myself guilty of sarcasm. Like you, I’ve come to see that it’s not funny if my words cut down another person. Great post!
And of course I can so relate! I was thinking the other day that this, for me maybe in part due to my own insecurity. I know that when I am ok with me, I have no need for the “character assasinations” on others. So I belive that this all seems to stem from how I view myself in the world. Fortunately I can work on that view by practicing self love and self acceptance. Thanks Paul! I think I just had a light bulb moment!
Once again, you have written something that hits home. Have been dealing with curing back in my sarcasm. It is not easy. But the change is needed and necessary. I love the post. Thanks.
Sarcasm was a way of live for me (and still can be today!) my sponsor read that definition to me and I was appalled! I have asked God to remove this defect from me and like you I have seen progress. But the noise in my head has not changed a bit… The filter just kicked in for my mouth! I trust that it will be removed when the time is right… I just have to remember I am not perfect, I am human! Thanks for the post!
And the worst part of my sarcastic nature is that it keeps me from really listening to what others are saying. I’m too busy planning my witty rejoinder, my nettling barb. My own sarcasm was developed as a form of self-defense against my own family members and friends who fancy themselves just a notch above in the intelligence department.
Funny how we believe that sarcasm is an attribute of intelligence, more likely that it is an attempt to cover up our own lacking self-esteem.