Pearls Of Wisdom On Clamming Up

A regular Chatty Cathy...
A regular Chatty Cathy…

When I was in my teens and early 20’s, I had a small group of guys that I hung out with.  Friends, if you will. We were primarily drinking buddies, but since we had gone to high school together there was that little something that held us together.  When we weren’t hitting it hard at the bar, or hitting on the ladies, we were at least hitting the books together (note: we succeeded at the first, failed miserably at the second, and survived the third).  We were together because frankly, no one else would have us.

We were the school’s lower caste, the Untouchables, Drifters of the Hallways without the cool factor to anchor us socially.  We were misfits who shared misery with a pint of ale and a cup of moaning. Although our Gang of Losers badge kept us connected, there was also an unwritten code that pervaded our little Shire and kept us sickly sticky with one another.  It was silent code, but absolutely saturated with quiet rage.  It was a virus that was always active in our collective psyche, and ready to strike with viciousness that left its victim paralyzed.  It was deadly stuff.

Just on quick noogie...that's all I want. Come to daddy!
Just a quick noogie…that’s all I want. Come to daddy!

Growing up, I had always been good at school.  Loved it.  Loved writing essays, taking tests, studying, answering questions…it spoke to me at a deeper level than just trying to look good or getting attention.  In fact, I didn’t like too much attention, so I was rather quiet about my above average marks.  When I moved to a new school in Grade 7, things changed dramatically.  The kids in that school didn’t appreciate a new smart kid entering their midst, it would seem.  These kids were almost twice my size and anything outside cars, rock’n’roll and pounding one another was seen with equal parts confusion and disdain.  I saw all fists and no handshakes that year.  Teachers got into the fray as well, berating me in front of the class for my advanced status in the school system.  They too were unprepared for someone like me. But there was something I learned there. 

You see, I was good at equations, and did well in adding things up. And here was an equation I learned that year…possibly the only thing I was able to retain that year, and it didn’t come from a textbook:

Being yourself = pain.

And there were some variations, of course:

Showing your hand = pain.

Opening your heart = pain.

Living to your potential = pain.

Math hurt.

So it was in my best interest to go underground, to shield myself, to turtle and live in a den safe from the predators.  I was, for the first time, wounded deeply.  And when I tried to address it to adults, it got worse.  So I hid.  I kept replaying the new equations in my head, just in case I dared venture into trying something new, or opening my beaten down clam shell to let someone in.  You can keep knocking, but you’re not getting in.  Ever.

I can't be thin-skinned when dealing with core issues.
I can’t be thin-skinned when dealing with core issues.

So years later, when I was hanging out with my pals, it was this dangerous game all about who could get something on who.  It was the unwritten code that you could not make mistakes, open up, or show any kind of vulnerability at all.   You know what I mean?  If one of us messed up in any fashion at all, big or small, and it was witnessed by one of our roving Eyes of Judgement, then that transgression was immediately banked and used against the person for life.  We never let up or let you forget what you did.  If anything, we turned the tourniquet even tighter if the person bemoaned being reminded about whatever happened. There was no need to have resentments, because there was always someone there to relive your painful and embarrassing moments to you all day and night.

So if I showed a tear or if I was upset, or if I verbalized that I was lonely or anything like that, it was insta-torture by the boyz.  We stunted each other’s growth with inhuman welts of the cat-o-nine-tails tethered to us at all times.  We couldn’t show each other the slightest tinge of humanity, lest it be beat out of us.  And these were my friends, for goodness sake. At least that is who I thought they were.  But I was no victim – I was just as ruthless, if not the most vengeful of the pack.  My way with words ensured that I could flail you with flowery prose and let you still feel the sting.  If I could make you cry, even better.  Way to go, ol’ buddy ol’ pal of mine.

Deep down, I pined for the relationships the other people around me had – supportive, enjoyable, relaxing, brotherly.  The only time I felt arms around me was when someone was giving me  a Wrestlemania-like take down on the concrete during recess.  So it was be tough, be a little shit, or get hurt.

Remember the equations.  Stay clammed up or get shut up.

bottled up

So drinking entered the picture and I realized that I didn’t need those guys any more.  I didn’t need them to beat me up and tell me what a rotten deal I was for being human…because I could do that on my own.  And I was better at it than they ever could be. I become jailer, inmate, warden and in-house torturer.  The executioner came to play every day.  And we know the ending to this story…alcoholism thrashed me around until I cried “Uncle,” and couldn’t imagine life with drink and couldn’t imagine live life without drink.

Fast forward to my recovery.  Among the many things I have learned is that I am actually alright the way I was made.  I have a lot of work to do still to get to my true core, but that’s with the Creator now in my life, running the show and me doing what I need to do to help myself and more importantly, to help others.  I have learned to show and express that little boy who just wanted to be who he was meant to be, who wanted to play, who wanted to be seen.  I have learned new equations and have met some wonderful new teachers and guides and mentors in my life.  I am back in school and loving it.


But the one issue I have had lately is that I have been getting slowly back into my old ways of protecting myself, of not making myself vulnerable, of not letting others in.  I am closing the clam shell a bit.  I am trying to look like I have all the answers when I don’t.  I am still a child in recovery, and while I am teachable and honest, I still feel that I can do more.

So here’s my homework (ooh! I love homework) for this week: Write a post every day.  But not just a regular post – one where I have put a lot of thought and effort into it, where I have spent time coming up with the topic and focusing on the delivery and syntax and all the writer-y things that I am used to doing.  But rawer stuff, showing that I too am vulnerable to fears, and hurts and uncertainty.  That I am not so composed all the time.  I am taking off the power suit and putting on my yoga sweats.  I am cracking open the clam shell and letting everyone see that amongst the pearls are sand and pebbles…lots and lots of pebbles.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Lilly says:

    As always, this is wonderful, articulate, thoughtful, beautifully composed. E.g. All the things your posts always are. But I for one will welcome seeing your new, rawer posts in all their bravery and beautiful imperfection.

    Know that you can let it all out here and still be admired and supported.


    1. Thank you Lilly – I don’t know if I am still able to get that much rawer, to be honest. I was looking over my little homework thing and reading all your comments and I wonder if I have those kind of raw moments every single day. I don’t. I get them in bursts. Like most people…or when we are early on in recovery. I think that if I were blogging from Day 1, I think I would certainly be raw and affected. But we’ll see. I think what you say is beautiful and so supportive – that I would still be admired and supported. Just reading that gladdens my heart and let’s me know I have a net out there. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.


  2. fern says:

    The men that touch me deepest at AA meetings are the guys who cry because they aren’t afraid to share their pain. Yesterday a middle-aged guy spoke at a meeting and described his journey with such raw emotion that I knew he was sharing something deep. He started by stating, “I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic.” After laying out his path to sobriety and his new found respect from his mother he proved to me he had found the answer, which is within all of us if we look. This guy empathetically said, “I like me. I LIKE ME.”

    It’s okay to share your emotions — the sand and pebbles — that’s how we can relate on a deeper level. I look forward to reading your blog and being on this journey with you.


    1. I have had my fill of crying shares at meetings, especially early on. Well, hell, I still get one now and then – and it’s usually out of left field. I never expect it. But I know what you mean – I get affected by a strong and emotional share. Like I just mentioned to Lilly, I think that this homework thing about getting deeper is something that might permeate over time rather than plunged into so quickly. This is upon further reflection and reading everyone’s comments! But I certainly promise to myself and to everyone that the pebbles and sand get washed out, and would love to have others bear witness to it.

      Love and light,

  3. You have such amazing insight into your personal truths and it takes courage to share as openly as you do. We all have the sand and pebbles, but many of us just try to cover them up or ignore them. I’m pretty sure that once you shake away those gritty bits, you will discover a pearl to be proud of!

    1. I love when you visit my corner of the blogosphere, Carolyn. I think this whole process is just that – a process, and it’s one of those things that gets more clear over time rather than in short bursts. Or not…what do I know…lol. The funny thing is that I don’t feel that I am courageous…it doesn’t feel like it…not like putting my head in a lion’s mouth, etc. But I take your word on it, considering seeing the courage *I* think you have in how you share on your wonderful blog.

      Thanks again for being here.


  4. Kayko says:

    I’m pretty confident you’re too accomplished as a writer to get sloppy with the delivery and syntax. You don’t need to anyway. I’m betting your efforts at “getting raw” and “keeping it real” will be all the more genuinely enhanced by your facility with the English language. Let it roll …

    1. For some reason Kayko, you made me tear up with your response. I think it’s because what you said sounds like something my sponsor or one of my dear long-timers in AA would say, and I know that it comes out of love, and I still get affected when I feel that love. You really made me re-think my little challenge here – that I shouldn’t hide or shrink from myself. I think what I had originally meant was that I wasn’t going to edit so much, or worry so much about crafting rather than conveying. And perhaps they can live together. You have given me much to think about.


  5. Lisa Neumann says:

    Smiling to your lovely post. As a reader I see none of this in you. I see an incredibly open being shining love and light on blogs all over the place. Interesting how we see our self. I prefer your writing to many that open up all over the place. I think you focus on the reader and that is a beautiful quality. But you also shine light on your rougher sides. I am excited to see where the blog goes this upcoming week. You are without a doubt one of my favorites. xox lisa

  6. furtheron says:

    Great writing. Somewhere I learned not to be me too I think it was a bad year when at school I told the teachers who was carrying the knives. So no body spoke to me for about 18 months again I thought I needed to not be me anymore. Same result 25 years in a bottle.

    1. I hear you about the not being me any more. I too had 25 years in the bottle, and boy, I can say it brought me a lot more pain than I ever bargained for. You and I are kindred spirits, methinks. Thank you for being here.


  7. Paul, respectfully, you are not giving yourself enough credit! Your candor, and your willingness to self-disclose, is absolutely inspiring, and I know I am not alone in this opinion! That said, I CANNOT WAIT to read this week’s posts, I know they are going to be breath taking! As always, you are amazing!

    1. Yikes…breathtaking is not normally something I am known for…except when I am doing breathtakingly boneheaded things! But your kindness knows no bounds, my friend. I am not sure I can live up to that generous billing, but I certainly appreciate the support. I guess this idea of “telling on myself” isn’t as daunting as it used to be. Maybe I got used to it in the rooms. There are some things I still hear today that I think “there is NO way I would have told that!” I guess it’s all about degrees…

      Thank you SO much for your supportive comments…blush 🙂


  8. Erika says:

    I am not surprised that you were amongst the brightest in your class !!! Your blog displays your brilliance in writing. I wish I could write as articulately as you and express myself as thoroughly. I am so glad you are going through recovery and documenting it on this blog because we get to know you and learn from you. I’m amazed of how well you have come to know yourself! I’m glad you are no longer willing to hide your greatness.

    1. Hi Erika – you are much too kind in your words. I read your blog and you do more than a fine job in conveying your thoughts and feelings. We all come about it in our own way and in our own mannerisms. I don’t think there is any wrong way, is there? Only you know about you, so I hear your message, regardless of the vehicle it’s packaged in. So I learn from you as well, I learn from everyone I come in contact here in blogland, recovery land or just every day land. That is where I have learned how to share and communicate…because believe me, I was as closed off as you could find a person.

      So thank YOU for all you’ve done for me.


  9. “Being yourself = pain.

    And there were some variations, of course:

    Showing your hand = pain.

    Opening your heart = pain.

    Living to your potential = pain.”

    Painful mathematics, well put. 🙂

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