Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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Nihilism and the search for identity

I wrote yesterday about the cave, and the experience of trying to give names to the shadows we cast.

I have fulfilled many roles in my life. Some of them are consequences of my relationships. I am dad, and son, and friend, and lover. I have been shop steward, advocate, friend and supporter. I have also been bastard, scum, and ‘him’. Part of being me is about embracing the fact that some people chose not to live with me, after choosing to live with me, and saw me as the problem. Part of being me is knowing that my mirror does not always show the person others see.

I’m still me. Carter. Understanding why I might be the way I am is a complex and often enlightening experience. As I write I’m joking with a Twitter acquaintance about my previous incarnation as the man in a black bomber jacket on the door of various pubs and clubs. One of the reasons why I stopped doing that is because I tired of not being me; I was the bouncer, the point man, the front guy. I was never Carter, I was boss, or guvnor, or the gaffer. I was defined by what I was willing to do; all doormen are willing to stop you coming in, if you consent to them stopping you. I was willing to stop you coming in, irrespective of that consent, and have the stab wounds to prove my point.

One bleak night I was getting a taxi back to a house party in Lower Broughton with three lasses, two of whom may have given me reason to believe I was on a promise, and one of whom thought I was the kind of thing social workers like her scraped off the sole of their shoe. The driver told his control he had the bashmerchant from <insertname of club here> on board and could we put the taxi on the account. All three women thought I was the bash merchant, and two of them fancied me for it. The third despised and desired me, and was amazed to know I could quote Donne and Milton, Wordsworth and Abse, like a performing monkey you might use to startle your friends.

Dear reader, I’d like to claim that like Paul on the road to Damascus, I had an epiphanic moment on the road to Lower Broughton. I didn’t. That bleak, wonderful night I had a threesome that was better than a wank, which I suspect none of us regret,  and someone made me breakfast. Only years later did I wonder about the harm it might do to an individual if they become only the things that they do, not the person they are.

The link between this and my post about the cave might seem tenuous. Let me explain. There was a time when the way I behaved, when unhappy, was congruent with the behaviour of an alcoholic, as defined by some of those who believe they know how to address alcoholism. I was never an alcoholic. I was always Carter, acting out his complex difficult history through the chemical nihilism of the temporary amnesia that alcohol brings.

I have worked with alcoholics. I have watched them, and sold them drinks, and defended their employment rights at hearings up to the level just short of a tribunal. (I also appear at tribunals, but I’ve never had a client who is an alcoholic where it has been relevant). I was shaken by my reaction most recently, when I wondered about the risk that the declaration that one is dependent, an alcoholic or a gambler or an addict, might be the rejection of the individual for a label, an input to a process.

I can’t put it more simply than this. We all cast shadows and at certain times, they look like this, or that, or something else. We never vanish, and we never become the shadows. We are always us, and the shadows are just the gaps in the light that our behaviour creates.

Mistaking the shapes our shadows create for the real us is a hugely dangerous error. If we decide we are an alcoholic, when it’s just the way our shadow looks at that moment, we might change how we behave for a while, but never address what it was we actually did that made out shadows look that way, or why.

That man, in that taxi, on the road to Lower Broughton, never found what he was looking for, even if others liked the shadows he cast. It took time, experience, and a desire to love the world rather than himself to be only who he wanted to be, not who others wanted to see.

It’s usually considered trite to quote song lyrics as if they have deeper meanings than just the desire to sell a few discs, but Jackson Browne helped a lot;

You never knew what I loved in you
I don’t know what you loved in me
Maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be

I survived by deciding to be who I wanted to be, a man who loved the world, as an alternative to being a man who only existed as a shadow defined by others.

If you stand up in front of a meeting and saying, I am dependent on this or that, or I am this body type or that, you are destroying yourself in favour of someone else’s stereotype. The risk is that the wind will shift, the flame will gutter, and your shadow will resemble something else. In that moment, the risk that you will have lost yourself to the shadows is a risk I could not bear.




One comment on “Nihilism and the search for identity

  1. Pingback: Life at the double meat palace | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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