Minimizing & Manipuating Language

There are countless ways to hide. Doing it behind words is the quickest and easiest. Those of us in early Recovery (whether from addiction, family of origin, abuse, or trauma) are the very best at using language to avoid our real feelings.

“A little bit” means a lot. “Sometimes” means all the time. Understanding the language of a person in Recovery can be tricky because it often requires translating to the opposite of what’s being said. For as much as we have our share of drama, folks in early Recovery are generally fonder of understatement than exaggeration.

Minimizing means trying to make something seem smaller than it is. Alcoholics are brilliant in their ability to make things that are perfectly dreadful sound like they’re quite tolerable. We water down the truth until it feels okay. This ensures that change will not occur. We stay with the familiar because it’s kinda scary (terrifying) outside of our comfort zones.

Saying what we mean feels mean. Walking on eggshells means we can’t come right out and say anything. Tip toe through the tulips if you like, but most folks are wishing we’d get to the f@cking point.

Meaning what we say requires being on the same page with ourselves. “I don’t know”, means” I don’t want to say”, “I don’t want to look at it”, or “I don’t want to choose. “ We delude ourselves by believing that as long as we don’t say it; it’s not really real.

“I’m confused”, means I know the truth and I hate it. “I’m not sure”, means I’m wrestling with self doubt. “I need time to think” means I’ve already analyzed it to death and I’m going to procrastinate further because I’m afraid to take what I know and act on it.

“I’m fine” means I’m a mess. F.I.N.E. is a great acronym. It stands for F@cked up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Evasive.

“Slipping” means I got drunk/used drugs/went back to old behavior. As does, “I screwed up”, “f@cked up”, and “messed up.” Everything we do “up” brings us down. We struggle to say what it is because we’re ashamed/embarrassed/have decided we’ve let everyone down.

We can be very childish in our speech. I’d love to have a dollar for every time a person has yelled at me, I’m not angry!” To which I reply, “Obviously.” They recant a bit and explain, “Well, ok…I’m a little (lot) angry…but I’m not ANGRY, angry. “ Most of us fear anger so much that we fail to recognize it as a healthy normal emotion and instead we repress it.

“Depression is anger without enthusiasm.” – Stephen Wright

Women tell me they’re “pissy” (best example of watered down language ever), “bitching” (not “venting”, “expressing “or “sharing”) or “PMSing” (self deprecatingly explaining emotions by menstrual cycle alone).” Never being taken seriously results in not taking ourselves seriously.

Men tell me they’re “pissed off” (why does anger involve urine?) (not “hurt”, “disappointed” or “sad”), “being stupid” (self deprecatingly equating emotions with intelligence), or “fucked up” (scared).

Through the course of Recovery we learn a new language. “Recovery” is awareness of the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that block change. Acceptance leads to change. We learn to communicate with integrity because we become responsible for ourselves.

This changes everything.

We stop using elusive words like: probably, possibly, maybe, and would.

“I’d like to” becomes “I will.”

We allow others to hold us Accountable. We learn to be specific about Who What Where When and How.

We learn that using “should” and “shouldn’t” means that we’re making a judgment (usually toward ourselves) and that this is not healthy for us. We change from “should” to “could.”

We learn that hiding our fears allows them to run us and that exposing our fears reduces the power they hold over us. We learn that we are not alone – that others think and feel and act as we do.

We learn that we have a right to our feelings.  We learn that actions can be healthy or unhealthy but that we don’t need to be ashamed of our thoughts and emotions. We can voice them without being seen as “crazy.”

Mostly, we learn how to get out of our own way by allowing others to share their truth, experience, strength, and hope with us.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.