I’m Not What I Am Not


First they didn't have my favourite low-fat, zesty zucchini muffin at the caf, then this.  I hate mornings like that.
First they didn’t have my favourite low-fat, zest-a-liscious zucchini loaf at the staff caf, then this. No Chew chew indeed. What a sad morning.

I am not a fighter.  I am not a go-getter.  I am not a gardener.  I am not a good singer.  I am not a dancer.  I am not good at debating.  I am not gregarious.  I am not a good dresser.  I am not a beach person.  I am not good with money.  I am not a runner.

I can go on and on and clog the interweb with the things I am not.  It’s an old habit, of course.  Trying to define myself by what I am not.  It doesn’t work really, but I still try to remove the pieces of stone that aren’t me and try to see what carving is left over.  It’s addition by subtraction, but it still doesn’t add up.  Zero plus zero still doesn’t equal the One that I look to be and seek it thus.  I use the Abacus of the Absurd to tally and balance the ledger that is my life.  A Fisher-Price (TM) “My First Calculator” that only has one button, and it’s a minus sign.  Not the most useful tool, and yet I sometimes go back to it and wonder why I am not seeing anything register in the register.

Announcing all the things I am not just precludes anything from my life that may add value.  I mean, I can say that I am not a handyman, and just leave it at that.  Sure, I can screw in a light bulb with the best of them, but outside of that, I am a prime candidate for those Time Life Home Repair Books.  But I realize that in making a bold declaration of what I am not, or what I can’t do, I put in my mind that I will never do it.  That’s it not on the horizon for me to approach.  If I reinforce the fact that I am useless with a wrench or hammer,  by the Sword of Odin, I will certainly fine a way to fail with a faulty faucet.  I recall my brother-in-law being in the same boat as I am (a leaking boat, neither of us unable to repair, no doubt) and he took the steps of taking a series of classes at the local big box hardware store.   Now, he didn’t go forth and build an ark in a fortnight, or remodel the balusters at the Grand Duke of Luxembourg’s summer house, but he instilled himself a little confidence and skill set for whenever the time comes to rummage through the toolkit when something is leaky or broken.

Stout yeoman, I don't like the help fondling my collection of inbred llamas or candelabras.   Off the to a soothery.
You! Stout yeoman, I don’t like the help inebriated and fondling my collection of inbred llamas and candelabras. Off the to a vomitorium!

This limiting of myself was as much conscious for me as it was unconscious in doing.  By detaching myself from the possibilities of growth and inclusion, I set off to prove that I was of no worth to others and myself.  I made it a self-fulfilling prophecy to announce and stamp my ineptitudes onto my consciousness.  I ensured that I pulled up the drawbridge and allowed the flaming moat to stop any sort of invitation to exploration and investigation.  By showing my cards and saying, “Well, that’s pretty much it”, I made sure that I left the poker table with a pocket empty of chips and a spirit that was lightly crushed around the edges.  Crunchy edges.  The smell of burnt offerings often pulled me more into myself and away from the flame of life and all it’s wonders. I was the referee of the game and put myself in the penalty box for no other reason than wanting to step on the ice.  Not exactly a winning game plan.  By listing the things that I wasn’t, I was limiting my potential without knowing it.  I simply thought I was whittling down was wasn’t me, but in fact was whittling down what could have been me.

It’s a human condition, I realize, this self-defeatist attitude.  It’s not the sole propriety of alcoholics or addicts.  But for our peeps, this, like any other emotional or mental roadblock, bores down further and faster and harder into us, and affects us much more.  We strike the oil of self-pity and demoralization a lot more often in the sandy shale of our spirits.  I realize that I have to be careful when I compose an ad hoc compendium of the things that Paul Sucks At.  It can easy pull me into the eddy of immobilization, into the undercurrent of not-good-enough-ism.   I have seen that when I start to flail there, I get sucked in more and more.  And for an alcoholic like me, navigating these murky waters is dangerous stuff.  It may sound a bit silly, this thing about naming off things we might not be great at, or being honest with ourselves concerning certain things, but I know that when I start to get like that, I am sitting on the blurred lines (sorry Robin) of healthy introspection and unhealthy self-limiting.

One thing I can say for sure is that we were a family of trendsetters.  I was cock of the walk back then.  I am on the right, eyes shiny with potential and harsh front lighting.
One thing I can say for sure is that we were a family of trend setters back in the day. I am on the right, eyes shiny with potential and harsh Sears portrait front lighting.

This sort of ne’er-do-well thinking also seeped into my language and in my interactions with others.  I often had this Orwellian doublespeak / doublethink happening, where I disguised the nature of my truth, using euphemisms and Morrissey-like phrases to hide my true feelings (“I am not unwell”, “You said I was ill and you were not wrong”, etc).  It was easier to tell you what I wasn’t or what I wasn’t feeling or doing than tell you what I was feeling or doing. It took the sting away from possible rejection.  It put distance between you and I, for how dare I get close to someone.  It gave me that vagueness that allowed me to slip away from your radar.  Telling you something that you couldn’t grasp onto or take on let me let you go…and then blame you for walking away.  Huh?  That’s just how I rolled.  Away, usually.

This is sort of like painting with white oils on a white canvas.  Sure there are some brush strokes, but they aren’t adding up to anything other than gloppy clumps of unviewable work.  Perhaps looking at it in a contorted way would allow a small shadow to form, but it was dubious stuff at best.  And that is how I lived – fading away, not true colours showing, because I was too busy trying to recede rather than proceed.  I saw others come to life in bold, bright swipes and dashes, a study of contrasts, complementary hues and dabs of shades.  I was jealous of these portraits, of these almost fully conceived and executed works of art that breathed life into themselves.  Brave and striking vermilion.  Cool and stark tints and tones. Blushing and violent violet.  And I would sit and watch and say “I am not those”.  Back to the canvas I would go, pale palette in hand.

I am certainly not He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken. Denim speaks it's own language.
I am certainly not He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken. Denim speaks it’s own language.

You see, it’s was all about hiding behind labels that didn’t apply.  If I wasn’t X, then you couldn’t expect me to be Y, because being Y was too much an expectation for me.  Just because I am not tall, doesn’t make me short.  I am just not tall.  Or not not short (see doublethink, above).  Complicating something that doesn’t need complicating.  Lacking in clarity and definition.  A walking Gumby, a Playdoh figure…no real structure, prepared to be flatten and reshaped as needed.  To not be something meant I could walk away not being anything.  And that’s what a shell of a person lives.  A ghostly figure passing through people, but not meeting them head one.  Not meeting myself head on.

And that is what this process, this journey is for me right now.  An uncovering and discovering.  A gradual shift from “I am not this” to “I am this” and let it be.  To attach and tether myself to something that is undeniably me.  To feel comfortable in the coats that I put on – moth holes, glittery stuff and all.  To look in the mirror and not say “I am not that person”, but to state loudly and clearly “This is me”.  I had a hard time looking in the mirror.  I would turn the other way when passing by any reflection.  I am learning to see myself for who I am, and not for who I am not.  Because comparing myself to those things that I am not is folly.  The only comparison I can make it to myself, and how much further I am in my personal path.  I cannot afford the luxury of allowing my ego to build the scaffolding of a new façade, a new panic room, a new shelter.  I have spent time to dismantle the old ones, and will continue to do so.  I cannot hid in what I am not.

Remind me to make a doctor's appointment on Monday.
I could make some lame analogy about how the Doctor and Davros remind me of the old and new me, but really, I just see the worst attempt at paper, rock, scissors ever here.

This process is gradual.  I am still apt to present myself as something that I am not, to scurry into the shadows of no judgement, or perception of judgement (false).  But the more I do that, the more inauthentic I feel.  It’s a sort of disloyalty, if you will, to the Creator who created me in a unique way.  To deny myself who I am, to speak to the authentic me, is to deny the glory of my own self.  Standing up and taking count of my blessings and talents and skills is not this vainglorious ego trip, but a shining of inner light, a cracking of the darkness of denial.  Playing small does me no service, and it cuts myself off from others.  I fear not who I am, but perhaps what I can be.  And that can be frightening.  When you’re used to donning on the cloak on invisibility, it’s difficult to shed it and put on something that brings forth a shining of who I am meant to be.  Not shirking or scraping, but standing tall, humble yet comfortable,

I am not a good singer, but it doesn’t stop me from singing on the shower or in the kitchen.    It doesn’t stop me from listening to the music, from humming along, from sharing it with others, from blasting it in the car.  The things that I am not don’t imprison me, but open the door to the things that I am, and give me a shot at learning some new things, to opening up myself to new experiences.  I can take the path of claiming myself and staying true to myself, or run away and make claims on others, counting other people’s blessings.

I’m not what I am not, I’m what I am as I am.

And for that, I am thankful.

30 Comments Add yours

  1. Balvah says:

    I am not either. I’m lucky today though because I am comfortable with and not try and be what I’m not. Just me.

    1. Good stuff there…said with such determination and acceptance and love! I wish I had learned this a long time ago like you…lol. But better late than never.

      Thank you for the comments and stopping in.


  2. REDdog says:

    Someone not so famous once said: a man is defined not his beliefs but by his faith, not by his words but by his actions. Sometimes it helps to ask those we love for their definitions of who we are, they are so often much more generous than we are with ourselves. Love yer work bro, cheers REDdog

    1. I think you speak the truth there, kind sir. We are much harsher on ourselves than others are on us. And actions…yeah, I had to learn that the hard way…still need reminding myself of that. The road to hell is paved with…well, we know. And hell was where we were, yes?

      Glad you’re here…means a lot.


      1. REDdog says:

        Oh I remember Hell alright, they asked me if I wouldn’t mind moving on haaa! Good to be here too mate. Keep on encouraging your crew man. Cheers REDdog

  3. I like to think of it (and will often describe myself) as being self-deprecating, that seems a lot softer than denying the glory that is me. This is one of those “I know you are right Paul, BUT…” moments. I do all the things that you are describing, but I don’t feel equipped to deal with that particular change. Maybe because you’ve got six months on me? 🙂

    1. I had the same struggle too, Josie – the whole self-deprecating vs playing small thing. I can’t say it’s perfected, but what is? This is where steps 6 and 7 come into play for me. Steps 6 asks that I be entirely willing to have my char defects removed (in this case, playing small, deflecting, etc) and then humbly asking Him to remove them. Sometimes I want to clutch onto these things without knowing (or knowing), and then I just ask for the willingness to be willing. I also dig into why I am holding onto something – what am I getting out of it? What satisfaction (ego) am I wresting from this? Sometimes these questions don’t get answered, and frankly, it’s none of my business what gets relieved from me! Sometimes what I think is a char defect (for me, let’s say it’s being introverted) is actually something the Creator perhaps uses to reach certain people. Again, I don’t know, I am not running the show (Step 3). But as for dealing with it and the time of recovery…ha ha, that’s your call. I don’t think you and I are much different, and six months at this point really doesn’t make much difference. It’s a bigger difference at the beginning, but now…not so much. And it’s not the time, as you know, it’s the quality.

      And you have some devilishly great sobriety going on there, Josie 🙂


  4. Henk says:

    That thing about ego and letting your inner light shine. Man, that muddles me. Thanks for sharing on it. I wonder if the authentic me gets to be known. Great grist.

    1. I think knowing that the authentic us is in there is a great headstart to opening up that part. I know that I have something in there…and am I willing, though, to seek it? And it does come through spiritual work and just plain getting out of my own comfort zone and opening myself up to new experiences. Sometimes it’s something that speaks to me right away, sometimes it’s process of elimination. But I know we all have that wonderful US implanted in there, and the more we share of it, the greater the light becomes.

      Thanks for the comments, Henk…wonderful.


  5. byebyebeer says:

    I say these things too. Especially the part about not being a gardener. I do believe I could become a gardener if I wanted to. I mean, I am capable of reading up on it and starting small with something hardy and easy to grow. My confidence would rise and maybe I would stick with it and try something harder next season and eventually be a bonafide green thumb. That could happen.

    Gardening doesn’t really interest me at the moment, so instead I focus on things that excite me and sometimes try small steps in that direction, which feels right. Sometimes I take too big steps and fail or burn out and put that thing back away for a little while (maybe forever). This doesn’t feel right, but hit happens.

    I know one thing without a doubt and that is that I have much more time and energy for hobbies and interests and learning to be good at things. I am much kinder and gentler on myself too. So grateful.

    Great post, Paul.

    1. You know, BBB, I am with you this, and the example of the gardener is perfect. I was going to write what you wrote, (but forgot!), so I am so glad you mentioned this. Yes! I can if I want, look stuff up online, or pick up a book or go to a class. But like you said, it doesn’t interest me right this moment. I like the IDEA of gardening. I like the IDEA of going to the store and picking up certain plants and certain gear and certain soil, etc. and making a day or two out of planting and sculpting and landscaping. Maybe even wear fancy gloves and those kneepads. lol.

      I am probably not at the point you are at with having the time and energy for finding outside interests (I have been thinking about posting something about that, actually, for some time), but I know that I do have the resolve and fire in there somewhere. i just have to figure out what captures my imagination. I’ll get there 🙂

      I am glad you are kinder and gentler to yourself. A great lesson for all of us 🙂

      Thanks for the awesome comments, as usual.

      Love and light,

  6. Erika says:

    Wow, powerful words, Paul, relatable words. And so true. Whenever I get into what I’m not, I deny what I am, or something like that.

    1. Thanks Erika…we certainly deny a lot of things about ourselves…especially the good stuff, eh? Why is that?

      Gotta think upon it some more 🙂

      Blessings – thank you for being here!


  7. furtheron says:

    there is a quote in the big book about being judged by actions not intentions and therefore the thing is your actions must mirror you intentions then the judging by others will be at least based on the correct evidence.

    1. You know, Graham, you’re the second one to mention the actions vs intentions thing and it’s really got me scratching my melon here…I never really thought about it while writing this, but it certainly bears examination. Hmmmmm….

      Thank you for sharing this – intentions. Intentions. Intentions.

      Let me get my BB… 🙂


  8. Robert says:

    It’s undeniably true that whenever you think of what you’re not, and believe me, I’m a huge perpetrator here, you just automatically sink into this foul, negative mood. It’s so easy to say what you’re not, because like you said, then there are no expectations, you don’t have to try to be it, because you already said you’re not IT. It’s a hard habit to change, but I’m working on it too. Keep it up!

    1. Thank you Robert for being here – so wonderful to hear from such experience. And yeah, it’s a tough one to change (among the many!) I usually find myself mired in it when its already too late. But of course I am able to get out of it, but takes me some time. The good thing is that it takes me less and less time to get out of the funk, and hence easier to change my perspective. Progress, etc.

      Great comments!


  9. Kate says:

    Profound as always. Your introspection challenges the rest of us to be as honest and real. This reminded me of two things- the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by TS Eliot and this quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
    You are a child of God.
    Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
    There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
    We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone, and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (From Mandela? I think).

    You have a lot of wisdom and insight. Keep it up… For all our sake!

    1. runningonsober says:

      That’s a Marianne Williamson quote (one of my favorites) from her book “Return to Love.” It’s often misattributed to Mandela; Williamson has said she is actually flattered though and is glad it has touched so many lives.

      1. Kate says:

        That was who I first had seen it attributed to. I had read it in a book years ago. But when I googled it, it came up Mandela. I thought that was wrong, but I went with it anyway~ 😦 Thanks for letting me know. I would like the author to get proper credit! I ‘ve used it in my classroom a few times as well. Thanks again~!

        1. runningonsober says:

          You’re very welcome! Don’t frown… 🙂 I only answered because I saw your “?” beside Mandela. I think it’s wonderful you use it in class–what a powerful lesson for our children. It was used very well in the movie “Akeelah and the Bee”–excellent if you’ve not seen it.

          (Hi Paul! Don’t mind us, LOL)

          1. Not minding at all…go ahead. lol I am learning 🙂

    2. thanks Katie for the beautiful and very apt quote, and for your wonderful and kind comments. I actually thought of this quote when writing this, but couldn’t remember who it was from…so thank you for adding this! Playing small…yep, that is what I have done a lot, and still do at times. There is a difference between an “aw shucks ma’am” kind of thing and just playing invisible.

      Thank you for being here and sharing your light too 🙂


  10. lifecorked says:

    Okay, is that really a pic of you and your family? Those are some serious mullets! I’m a little speechless right now (: Okay, focus Chenoa. Anyway…wonderful post! I think it’s pretty ironic that after starting and quitting a number of blogs, I finally stuck with one only AFTER I got sober! I love writing. I got my degree in English. But, I could NEVER say I was a writer. I simply wasn’t good enough to be a self-described writer. Now, who the hell cares! I love writing and screw it – I’m a writer. There, I said it! Great post, Paul!

  11. Love this one. Love. Seriously, i’m sharing it on Facebook because it is so accurate a portrayal of how I am when I get off the Beam. I don’t want to face who I really am because what if who I am is not enough? I may have to acknowledge the fact that I am imperfect or that I have something worthwhile. Why can’t I just live life in the shadows of others instead of standing in the bright sunshine? Definitely something I needed to hear today.

    1. Thanks for this – made my day. I love what you said about living life in the shadows of others…that pretty much says it all for me. I still find I do that at times – play small, avoid my own brightness, etc.

      Wonderful comments – I really appreciate them!


  12. Having been on that journey of denying who I was for a very long time I can relate so much to your post Paul. The stupid thing about alcohol in my life though was that I used it because I didn’t like who I thought I was but the alcohol definately turned me into something I wasn’t. Yet the longer I have been sober, the more I have learned to like myself for what I am and to stop beating myself up for not being something I was never going to be anyway.
    I’m glad to be me. And I’m glad you’re you!

    1. I am very glad that you are you too…amazing what is revealed when we not only stay away from the thing that is destroying us, but when we have the faith to have things revealed to us, regardless how much we don’t understand at that moment.

      Thank you for the wise and wonderful comments…


  13. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    I love your insights, thoughts, Paul, your self-searching. Solid words indeed. A really good post.

    1. Thanks Noeleen…great compliment coming from someone like yourself who pulls insight out of them like handkerchiefs from a magician’s fist.


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