I’m not saying Popeye is wise because he is a Coastie *cough I was a Coastie cough* but it certainly was a smart move. I’m guessing he was a Boatswain’s Mate. I’ve known a few and he seems the type. Despite choosing a great service (they are all great and deserving of praise) he had little insight on life.
“I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam!”
There is a lot in that statement. Let’s see if I can make some sense of it by breaking it down a bit.
“I yam what I yam…”
This is about self knowledge (not vegetables). Knowing who and what you are, what you are capable of (good and bad) is incredibly powerful and critically important in affecting change in your life. However in my experience, and I think this is what Popeye is getting at, you not only have to know who you are, but accept yourself and own who you are.
This is hard.
I could not accept myself as I was. I didn’t like what had happened to me. My parents divorced, I had been abducted (twice) and fought over and in front of. More that I don’t know about I’m sure (I have no memories before age 7). I didn’t like all the horrible shit that I had done or said or thought. I have lied. I have cheated. I have stolen and coveted and manipulated and been an all-around shitty fucking being, sometimes wandering into sub-human territory.
I have spent a great deal of my life in deception. I have lied to my wife, my children, my mother, my father, my sisters and my friends. If I knew you I had lied to you somehow and someway, big or small.
I am (not) what I say I am
I was able to do this because I did not follow Popeye’s example. I did not want this to be true about me. I did not want to believe this negative self talk, to believe that I was worthless and unlovable. Who would?
So I lied. I pretended to be what I was not. I was lonely and awkward so I made friends, not real friends but superficial ones that made it appear as if I were popular. I was uncomfortable with people and I became witty and kind to get their attention. I became really good at reading people and I could become what I needed to be, say what I needed to say in order to manipulate others into spending time with me or thinking we had something in common.
I believe that is part of the reason I started drinking. I wanted to socialize, to be accepted, part of. I didn’t start until well after age 18, later than most of my friends. Hell that’s later than most Americans and later than most people world-wide. I believe now that I stayed away so long because I knew, deep down I knew it was not for me after all I had seen with my parents. As scared of drinking as I was I was more terrified of who I really was so anything I could get my hands on to not be that person, to not feel the way I felt…yeah I’d use it.
A friend of mine in AA talks about not knowing how to live and drinking and drugging was the solution and then side-effect of that. It fits for me too.
Acceptance is found throughout the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, probably everywhere. I should do a comparison and see how it fits into all twelve steps. Here I am thinking of The Fourth Step: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This is what our Sailor Man is talking about.
If we are able to go through our lives, to wade through the shit and the joy, the sorrow and pain and love and accept it all as a part of who we are without defining us we can move forward into healing. These things happened to us or we did them and that just is. It doesn’t have to lock us into conceptual prisons. Liars do not always lie. Cheaters will not always cheat. Alcoholics (God willing) will not always drink.
“…And that’s all that I yam.”
This is not referring to those conceptual prisons where we trap ourselves by believing that we are what we have been and always will be. I believe this is about awareness, about knowing who you are and what you are in this moment. AA and Al-Anon refer to it as “One Day at a Time” “24 hours” or “Just for today”. Meditative practices use the term “mindfulness”. Accepting the knowledge that this is me right now and me now is not static. I am dynamic, I am changed and changing. This is some enlightened shit right here.
All those awful things I said I did before? I did them. I did worse. I used to let that separate me from the entire world. I lied and would always be seen as a liar, could never be anything more than a cheater and would always be suspect. I would never stop drinking.
I also believed I could never run 3 miles straight and if you told me I’d be running ultras I have laughed in your face. I am running ultras and setting my sights on 100 miles. I am a homeowner and happy to be settling. I can’t fucking believe it. I am a father and a husband and a coworker and boss. I have a faith in, and my relationship with God is growing and deepening. I pray every day. UN-fucking-believable to me for so many years.
It takes a lot of work and mindfulness and willingness and humility. Taking an inventory, practicing rigorous honesty and making amends, these Steps along with the others are why people drop out of the program, but they are also why people succeed. My Sponsor tells me “You got to eat a mile of shit for all the things you did.” I have miles to go. 24 hours at a time.
I don’t let my past define me. I am what I am and I will always have done the things I have done. I am not destined to stay there. I am learning and growing and changing and who I am in this moment is different from who I am in the very next moment:
I round that corner on the trail and see something I have never seen before and I am changed.
I am angry and frustrated and instead of lashing out I take a deep breath and explore why I am angry and I am changed.
I think about taking a drink, I think I can handle just one and I reach out to a friend or to my wife and I am changed.
I know it is hard. It is still hard and will always be at times. It won’t always be. Reach out. Ask for help. Share your story. Know your own story and celebrate everything that you are. That’s how you got here after all. And I am so grateful you are here with me.
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82
(Not Popeye but I think he’d approve).
Q: How have you changed in a way you never expected? Celebrate your success!