Friday, June 19, 2009


I learned to use humour to defuse hostility, to disarm those who might otherwise disapprove of me, and to keep people at a firm distance, while giving the illusion of closeness. (That last adaptation is the most destructive of my recovery, because it keeps me isolated, in my own cocoon of co-dependency. More on that later.)

Humour can moderate animosity; it can be almost impossible to regain one's initial level of exasperation, with someone who has just made you burst out laughing. This opens the door to compromise, more easily than almost any other approach.
Levity can be a stealthy method in which to sidestep social defenses which might otherwise be erected against us, through fear, or ignorance.
Humour, when there is no specific target, but rather a general commentary on the wonderful silliness of human behavior, gives us a sense of shared humanity.

Joking, and laughter, can be a balm, a tonic, a soothing release. It can also be an impenetrable defense. I discovered, somewhere along the way, that making people laugh made them feel closer to me, and I could use it as a way to give that illusion, while actually keeping them from knowing much of anything about my internal, private, life.
When I did my first Step Four, I had listed humour under the "positive character traits" heading. My sponsor suggested it be put under the "negative character traits" heading, as well. I argued against this, how could humour be a negative character trait? We then had a long and to me, excruciating discussion on the ways I used humour to keep people at arm's length. My sponsor mentioned the most recent encounters she had witnessed, in which someone would share with me, then ask a question which was an invitation for me to share, in turn, how I was doing. In every case, I had neatly sidestepped that invitation by adroitly shifting the conversation's topic sharply away from me, through the use of humour.
My sponsor said she'd watched as the other Al-Anon members appeared to feel as if they'd had a warm encounter with me, but in truth, the sharing and openness had been strictly one-sided. I had cushioned my rejection of their invitation with sufficient humour that they'd seemed unaware. She suggested that I go to one or two or three of them, and ask them about this.

I was appalled. She was suggesting that I reveal myself, to an extent I found utterly terrifying. We went back and forth about this over the next few months, slowly evolving that idea from a complete impossibility, to a vaguely likely happening, to a compelling necessity.

When I did get my nerve up to do this, I found that in every instance, the person to whom I spoke, hadn't really ever considered whether their sharing was returned, because my use of humour, gave that sense of connection which fostered the illusion of closeness. But once we began to discuss it, they'd look at me with a dawning realisation, and say any number of versions of: "I've told you things I've never told anyone else, ever, and you've never really told me much of anything, now that I think about it."

I'd agreed with my sponsor before each of these discussions, just what I was comfortable revealing, how far I was willing to go, what I could do if I began to feel anxious or threatened.

Each time, I'd dredge up a piece of information about myself, (the revealing of which felt as though it should be accompanied by thunderous musical chords to mark the momentous nature of this self-revelation; I've written elsewhere on this blog about my tendency to take myself too seriously,) only to be met with warmth and encouragement and validation. Each time, I'd feel the hot sting of tears in my eyes, at this response.

That was one of the most challenging pieces of Fourth Step work I've ever done. It's gotten much easier over the years, because part of not being able to take myself so seriously, has come a sense of humour about my own frailties. Now I can use them to make us both laugh, when I'm talking to a program friend.


  1. Humor is something that can be used to keep people away as you wrote. I've noticed it with a friend of mine who doesn't like to answer questions. He keeps people from getting too close with his use of humor. I am more serious and not very beguiling. I guess that can also be a positive or negative trait.

  2. ....Step Four is the BEST... to just get rid of all that weight on my shoulders..

    And remember NO ONE IS PERFECT..that helps me not be embarrassed to look my flaws directly and it is a relieve.

    (HUGS)You have a wonderful blog.. so honest..