Ones and Zeros


There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't.  Get it?  I didn't.
There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t. Get it? Nerd.

Binary code.

What does that have to do with your latte?

Nothing, except that the barista ringing in your order used a computer register, and computer registers, like all other computers, uses binary code.  (Unless you go to a shop that embraces the abacus still and employs a posse of Howler monkeys in the back to smash coffee beans against rocks. Giddy up then.)

For those who are unfamiliar with binary code, it’s a system of 1’s and 0’s.  Every computer language and instruction boils down to binary code.  It’s all that computer processors understand.  1 or 0.  On of off.  String a few of those bad boys together in the right order and you are on the road to either programming the next Halo sequel, teaching a robot to weld bolts to an aircraft carrier, or instructing a phone to dial mom the day after mother’s day (oops, my bad).  It’s the basic, basic code for all machines.

I demand union representation!
I demand union representation!

I’m no computer (yet – the Borg are still a possible threat), but I identify with the 1’s and 0’s in a way.  There is that old tale of going to a party or large gathering and being told by 99 people that you’re great, you’re wonderful, you’re a pleasure to be around.  But there is that one person who doesn’t care much for you.  You know that one?  The person who, for what ever reason, just dislikes you or doesn’t make you feel welcome?  Guess who I would take home with me in my head when I left the building?  The One.  And in my drinking days, I collected Ones like I would collect empties.

So throughout my whole life, I stored these Ones like a memory card or computer chip.  I let them embed themselves into my conscious.  They became a part of me, and they never got dusty because I constantly pulled them out for inspection and polishing.  Holding those Ones in me became automatic.  I resented these people, I worried about what I had done to have them not like me, I tried to figure out what I had done wrong.  I wanted them all to just love and adore me.  But it wasn’t to be.  So I hated them.  I called them names, whistled the Kill Bill whistle while I did atrocious stuff to them in my mind. Most of all, I cherished them because without those Ones, I was nothing.  I was a zero.

hey - my eyes are up here, Arnold.  I may be a robot, but I still have feeling...perv.
Hey!  My eyes are up here, Arnold. I may be a robot, but my Creep-O-Meter still functions, perv.

This collection of mine was borne out of a million fears and resentments.  It was the Mylar that kept those Ones fresh and away from the daylight of rational thought and emotional maturity.  That cherishment held me back from developing an emotional and spiritual level.  It cut any progress I may have had at the knees and still asked me to get up and dance.    I despised this collection and yet I clutched onto it and let it absorb into my cellular structure.  And the more places I went, the more I ventured out, the more of these Ones I picked up.

And I found more and more of these Ones the sicker I got in my alcoholism.  Work, public transit, neighbours, store clerks, imaginary beings…more foot soldiers to add to the battalion that hacked at me all day and night.  I fed them with my sick thoughts, my unwavering attention, my obsessing over them.  I brought them to life every time I put them on trial, when I kicked up the emotions behind the resentments, when I played the tape over and over and over and over again.  I cradled them like delicate eggs in a nest.

I know which one I want!
I know which one I want!

And the zeros?  Well, speak to an alcoholic of my type and the zeros are easy to peg.  Start at self-esteem, self-worth, self-value.  Continue down the aisle and experience the vacancy on the shelves of self-love, compassion and empathy towards others.  Circle around and comb deep to find empty vats of serenity, contentedness and peace.  Zeros abound, and we get used to them.  It’s par for course.

So I hunted and gathered these Ones, I nestled them amongst the Zeros, I arranged them like notes on a newly composed sonata.   I designed a new code every time I got out there and threw myself under life’s wheels.  I programmed myself to feel and to not feel.  I programmed myself to stay chained to a bottle that I didn’t want and yet craved.  I programmed myself to be less than and yet greater than, to stay self-contained and yet wanting out.  Algorithms that even the most basic Atari would crash with.  

The funny thing with having such an non-auspicious and dangerous collection such as I did was just how much capacity I had for the Ones and Zeros in my life.  It felt that it was boundless in terms of how much I could endure.  The resentments and fears buoyed my illness and kept everything negative and harmful afloat, while sinking what few positive  and dear things that may have made the mistake of coming up for air.  There was no plan of action when it all started, but like the mythical and theoretical perpetual motion machine, it seemed to put out more energy than I was putting into it.  And it spun out of control, eventually.

The right way to use those ones and zeros.  Swoon away, John.  Swoon away.
The right way to use those ones and zeros. Swoon away, John. Swoon away.

And frankly, I might as well have been a machine.  I felt empty inside…not even a fan to cool things down.  Booze tried to cool things down, but got into the gunk and jammed it up more.  Another set of Ones and Zeros processed and caked onto the motherboard.  More pain, more ouch.  No IT dudes to fix things up.  At least I didn’t have a clue about what could help reset my system.

You see, in the end, there truly was only one One which I need with me at all time.  As it says in the Big Book – “Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power – that One is God. May you find Him now!”  And it wasn’t until my system burned out and crashed that I was able to see this.  My Ones were just garbage, clutter.  They kept me focused on the wrong things, and drove me deeper into self and self-absorption, selfishness and anger.  And in turn helped to create new code for my alcoholism to read off like old punch cards.  Archaic.  Dodo-like stuff. Unnecessary. Defrag material.

Today I get to shake those Ones out before they accumulate.  I learn to let go, to detach, to not take things personally, to show compassion and love, to have tolerance, to help others, to have communion with the Creator, to gain my strength and power from Him, to share my pain, to set boundaries and limits.  And when I do get a stowaway in the old cranium and ticker, I have ways of extracting it – I delve deeper through inventory, or talk it out with someone or meditate upon it until the answer comes.  It’s usually about asking that the thought / resentment / fear be removed and turn to help someone else.

I have a new hard drive.  I have soft heart.  I have a new One.  I have new Zeros.  The Creator has hit the big Reset button on me.  And I am ever so grateful for it.



8 Comments Add yours

  1. AAmy says:

    Wow Paul, fantastic post; I’m in the middle of my fourth step and I can TOTALLY identify with everything you wrote. Thank you!

    1. thanks Amy!! Love the viking hat – very tough and yet approachable.

      Good luck with your fourth! I actually liked doing it (believe it or not). Let me know if ya need any help in any way regarding it. Good luck:)


  2. SAM says:

    I have heard of this phenomenon where people don’t take things personally, let go, detach, refocus and move on. For me, still, its like hearing of the Galapagos. I appreciate the inspiration, Paul. I love reading where you’ve been and that at some point, through time in sobriety, that this will and does occur. It gives hope that someday that compulsion to beat myself up over what I said, did or am that made him, her and that guy over there not like me will too, someday, cease. Thanks for the nuggets of insight.


  3. Hey Shell – I am still going to be at that point of trying to not take things personally, letting go, etc. for the rest of my life. I don’t see myself in any way getting it down pat. But I will try my best, and that’s all I can do. I mean, it’s much better than it was when I first started working the program and starting on my spiritual journey. I am still a zygote in development in that department. But it does move forward, very slowly. I have my days where I can’t let things go, I can’t just detach…but like I said, I have ways around that, to tackle that head on, to learn. And mostly is just talking to someone about it. 100% of the time I realize that I have taken too much on emotionally, or that I am taking something on that is not mine to take. I get too caught up in stuff I don’t need to. And that is the best part – that I am free NOT to engage. And that is a huge relief!

    No need for us to beat ourselves up over this stuff. The way I look at it, that person isn’t going home thinking about how much we may suck or lose sleep over us. So why should I do the same?

    Thank you for your comments – meant a lot that you swung by to do so. 🙂

    Love and light,

  4. furtheron says:

    So relate to the binary thinking – it was either great or rubbish, very little living with any form of shade of grey – that is not a reference to well known BDSM chicklit btw!

    Maybe that was why my chosen career was in IT from my teenage years I could probably relate to it so well maybe.

    However back in my assembler coding days where I was litterally looking at the bits directly in the computer or on the disc most people used a shorthand of hexadecimal – this was a way of looking at binary digits in a short hand. Bascially it looked at a “nibble” – half a byte… gettit! Funny guys IT folk! So four bits can have 16 values – 0 – 15. So A – F represented 10 – 15. This led to one of the best comments in a section of code I ever had to debug. Inside reams of computer instructions the one and only comment was “Yippee! the Shakespear loop”. When I finally decoded what was going on there was a loop that the program repeatedly went through until a certain register set by outside sensors to the system were set to… wait for it… drum roll…. 2B in hex. Indeed 2B or not 2B was indeed the question.

    Oh – see and people think we’re all humourless nerds in software engineering…

    1. Very funny! I like the Shakespeare loop there. I did some assembly language (amateur stuff) – and I remember the hex counting. Wow – long time ago.

      Thanks for the comments !


  5. Al K Hall says:

    Like you, i’m so grateful to recovery helping me get over the pettiness of others. i’m not a robot, i still feel pain and sadness when i find out someone doesn’t like me or has been talking crap about me, but i’m better about not letting their issues become my issues. Thanks to the program, i’m learning to be right-sized.

    1. Yup – getting right sized is something that I still haven’t mastered…nor will I perhaps master, but at least get better and better at. There is that detachment I have that you spoke of there that gives me buffer between what is mine to take on and what isn’t mine to take on.

      Great stuff Al – thank you.


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