lego broom

I mentioned in this space about the Cleaning Piece III exercise I was engaged in, which was simply not to say anything negative about anyone for three straight days.  Like the good alcoholic that I am, I couldn’t leave a simple thing alone, and amped up the challenge (see? it was an exercise at first, then I turned it into a challenge.  Any further, and I would have transformed it into a Death Battle Royale) to include any negative thoughts that I had as well, including self-criticism.

Set myself up to fail, didn’t I?

Well, the whole point of doing this wasn’t so much to stay silent, or to “win” it, or to not say anything negative out of prideful boasting.  For me, the whole point of this was to increase my self awareness, to take stock of how I approached others and myself, and to move the roving camera eye of insight towards that part of my spirit and psyche.  It was like zooming in on a running closed-circuit feed and taking notes.  It was just the simple awareness of watching where my mind went.

In terms of saying anything negative – I think I scored it five times over the three days of actually saying something out loud that wasn’t kind, useful or loving towards someone else.  The comments were on par with my modus operandi  – sarcasm dressed up in pearls to undercut someone, present or not, to deflect from the actual anger and fear underneath, and to bolster my ego.  In other words, I said things to make myself feel better.  It calls to mind what it says in the Big Book:

Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.” (pg. 62)

So I step on the toes of those I deliver my maple syrup soaked darts at, whether they know it or not, and then wonder why later I am disturbed or feeling guilty.  All because I am being selfish. And that is where the awareness comes in…and the desire to change.  All this self-awareness is all nice and Dr. Phil and all, but unless it’s followed up with change, it’s an exercise in futility for me.  During my life, I often knew that what I was doing or saying was not what I should be doing or saying.  I knew when I was turning the screws on someone or when I was being harmful.  To myself especially.  Sometimes, I didn’t know I was hurting someone, but didn’t care to investigate. So to be aware is just the key to open the door of effective change. But I need to go further.

Willingness will actually open that door.


The most surprising thing during these three or four days is that the voice of the inner critic – the voice that has always enjoyed dogging me down, that liked to tell me what a piece of crap I was, the voice that used to lash me with a cat-o-nine tails regularly…was barely there.  It was very surprising – probably the greatest revelation I had in these days.  I almost instinctively turned things around by changing perspective.  If I messed something up (I often do!), I just thought “Oh, well that didn’t work.  Next time I will…X, Y and Z.”  And that was it.  No electric chair, no iron maiden. What a vast and tectonic shift for me.  Hazzah!  That never happened in my old life.  I would have chained myself to the hood of my car (figuratively speaking of course) and whipped myself with snow chains.   Ouch.

Here’s the takeaway on this:  I can’t control my thoughts.  This isn’t a mind control trick.  This isn’t about directing where my thoughts come from, nor is it about attempting to exercise iron clad dominion over my mental life.   If I could have control over every thought I had, I wouldn’t need AA or anything else for that matter.  I would just think “You don’t need to drink today” and I would respond “Alright!” and then go on my way, sip virgin Mint Juleps and build a nice tree fort for the neighbourhood kids.

This ain't IKEA, ya rugrats.
This ain’t IKEA, ya rugrats.

Thoughts will come.  That I have no doubt about.  And they’re not always loving ones. But I have no control over them.  What I do have control over is how I react to them.  I have absolute control over that.  I have power over that.  I can pause, reflect, pray, get counsel…and do or say what I feel is right.  In this particular exercise, when I hear some guys talking about someone who isn’t in the room, what are my thoughts? They could be “Join in!  That guy really is a jerk – tell them the story about him in the elevator…they’ll think you’re funny” or “Jump in – the water’s warm! Say something witty!”.  But I pause.  I ponder if what I am going to say is kind, thoughtful or of use.  Is it?  No?  Then I move on.  Grab some stuff and leave the office.  Or change the topic to make it work related.  That is the challenge for me.  And it continues forever more.

This is where rubber hits the road for this ol’ drunkie.  Time to take out the trash.  And it starts between the ears…and then it comes washed into my heart, flows through my veins and breaks open a grin, a laugh, a spark in the eyes.

I am clean.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. risingwoman says:

    Funny has this ties in to my most recent blog post – about having defeating, scary thoughts and still refusing to drink to anesthetise them. Thoughts are so amazingly powerful: everything we say and do and feel stems from them.

    Great post, Paul! Keep fighting the good fight 😉

    1. Hey Michelle – yeah, sometimes it seems that we get on a roll or a theme and we’re out there connecting and writing and jazzing on the same things…what a groovy thing to see. The inner life is an incredible and complex thing, and I know that I am just trying to simplify it.

      Thanks for being here, as usual…and yes, keeping the boxing gloves on!


  2. What a wonderful read. Planting ideas I’ve disregarded lately. Seriously, a need-to-read for me. I can’t tell you how perfect this fits right now in my journey. Wednesday I went on a trip with a girlfriend of mine. We tend to let out all of our judgement on everyone and everything when we are together. I’m addicted to it. On the way back we started discussing judgement and acceptance and love and tolerance and how we could be better (there was an aura of shame in our convo) What a great concept. I’m always judging. As humans, it’s what we do, in some form or another, evaluating and deciding our own feelings on one idea. As an alcoholic, I abuse this god-given instinct and misuse it for my own pleasure. I like to cloak it and dress it up in fun costumes such as sarcasm, humor, advice, big-book-thumping and the like. My ego is a monster. Sometimes I think my blog reflects that. I use my life or death claim to be rude and intolerant. I have a wonderful person in my life who instead of telling me I’m wrong when I judge others, tells me “It’s what they know.” And I constantly have to remind myself that. I know what I know, they know what they know, and if I have the opportunity I am to share what I know, if it’s welcome, or asked for, with them. I have no business soap-boxing or preaching or believing that I’m better than anyone. Your writing here has hit home with me and I hate it 🙂 But seriously, I have a lot of work to do in this moment and for the rest of the day. beautiful post, and I appreciate it so so much, thank-you for this.

    1. Thank you so much for what you wrote – so honest, insightful and lots to be gained in kicking around the ashes and seeing what there is to work with. I think that is what I often do in my own recovery, after I have burned one thing or another…wait for the flames to die and the embers to cool before sifting through things and finding the lesson. And that is what we do in our little spaces, these blogs we do, methinks. I have seen that in yours, for sure, and in your comments here. And that is such an important thing we must do to continue to grow in understanding and effectiveness.

      I too have done a bit of big-book thumping and it was me ego going on a great stroll, in the name of Life And Death as you put it. Putting importance on me, instead of the message. But that is something I have learned to temper, and speaking to other sponsors about.

      But what you said about “It’s what they know” that rings true for me. That is something that was told to me when I would rail on against someone, and that is what I tell the guys I work with. Hell, I have to tell that to myself just as often, if not more! So I am so glad you brought that up.

      Thanks for being here – welcome 🙂

      Love and light,

  3. sherryd32148 says:

    Love this post. And I also love the silence between my ears. To shut that bitch up that used to torment me and to be able to react differently when she tries to pipe up.


    Great writing.


    1. Ha ha…you tell that voice what to do, Sherry! Show her who’s in charge…

      Thank you so much for being here…giving this space some of your great mojo!


  4. Lisa Neumann says:

    Interesting thoughts. First thought doesn’t equal second thought. First thought just happens. What gets me is when I entertain first thought. I know I am healing when I catch first thought and tell it, “no thanks” … I get this. I think I slipped with a poor second thought about an hour after we got started on this. What I do know is that I forgave myself. It’s still the same process as stopping drinking. Pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue on my way. It’s a good challenge and we “win” because we even tried in the first place. (IMO) I love that you called this. I haven’t been this observant of my thinking in a long while now. Blessing for a beautiful spirit-filled Easter weekend. xox

    1. I think you mention something that I didn’t think of during this process, and that is about forgiveness. Absolutely bang on, Lisa. I think that is the reason I didn’t approach this in a way of either pass or fail – so that I could give that room for error, if and (in this case, when) failure to capture that second thought and action following. And you are also right in that in trying, we have already continued to grow. I never saw it like that – and it took your wisdom and experience to let that shine through, as usual. You rock this space, and any other place your words alight upon.

      Have a wonderful Easter as well,


  5. Al K Hall says:

    i love the Lego picture! Your side of the street looks pretty clean to me, brother!

    1. Yeah, he’s a little righteous dude there sweeping away in all his Lego-ness, isn’t he?

  6. Great topic. Again.
    I don’t know why it’s been easier to be kinder and more patient with others than with myself. Constantly hearing The Tyrant Within bully me around. I do my best to ignore him, but it’s been a process. My sister once asked me, “Do you think being that critical towards a child or even a pet would be good for them?” I said no. It would only create maladjusted monsters. “So why do you think being so self-critical is good for you?” Hmm.
    Because…I’m different. Unlike every other living thing, I thrive when abused. If I just beat myself up hard enough with scorching self-hatred, it’ll motivate me to change for the better. Even though it’s never worked before. And has been proven to be at the root of my self-destructive behavior. And has only helped to propagate the qualities I bludgeon myself over.
    So there.
    She has so much yet to learn. I need to patient with her.
    Love you, brother.

    1. We love giving ourselves the Great Pound Downs, don’t we? There is usually no one who can break us down to the quick better than ourselves…you certainly paint that picture with great Seurat-like points. If we treated others like we treated ourselves, life would take on a whole ugly complexion.

      Thanks for the comments as usual – you give the blogula here movie-star cache. 🙂

      Love back at ya,

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