I am 45 years old. For most people in my age range, the words, purple passion, conjure memories (or blacked-out-lack-of memories) of the two-liter bottles of everclear mixed with sugar, purple food coloring and artificial grape flavor we drank in high school. Even for those who had yet to acquire a taste for alcohol, it went down as easily as grape soda. And when it came up – at a party full of teenagers it almost always came up – it left a nasty purple carpet stain that was pretty hard to explain to our moms.
But for me, purple passion is not about those glory days. I coach high school soccer, and our primary team color is purple. A couple of weeks ago, I told our girl’s team that if they kept their focus and didn’t lose during a certain stretch of very winnable games, I would let them dye my hair purple.They were more than enthusiastic about the idea. In fact, they immediately started talking about braids and man buns and even cornrows. After negotiating the wager (I told them to back it down or the deal was off), we came to agreement on dying the last three or so inches of my hair a subtle shade called poppin’ purple.
The girls held up their end of the bargain navigating the aforementioned series of games without a slip-up. At a team dinner last week, we broke out the hair dye and I sat calmly still while a team full of teenagers with little or no hair coloring experience brushed and squished and slopped and squeezed my dark brown hair into a sticky-wet purple mash.
At training the next day, several of the girls were admiring their ombre. They scoffed knowingly at my pitiful question when I asked what ombre meant. They were pleased, but they said it would look better in a braid.
I am ecstatic. Not because my hair is purple (although when it catches the sunlight just right, it does look pretty 80’s-hair-band rocked out). I am ecstatic because I am 45 years old, I am an upstanding citizen of my community, I have three jobs which require a great deal of responsibility, I am a husband and father of four young kids, I am a respected member of my church and I have purple hair and I don’t care even a little tiny bit what anyone thinks about it.
My ambivalence regarding the opinions of others about my poppin’ purple hair is a direct result of being sober and unashamed. That ambivalence is one the best feelings I have ever experienced.
As an active drinker, I had a secret. I drank more than many of my friends and neighbors. I went to great lengths to hide my addiction and told innocent little lies to cover the frequency and volume of my consumption. Even when I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about alcohol. Sometimes I was planning my next drinking session. Other times I was consumed with shame from my inability to control that which was for me uncontrollable. Still other times I was mired in debilitating alcohol-induced depression.
Years of grabbing another beer when no one was looking and berating myself after another night of over consumption depleted my self esteem. I might have seemed confident, even arrogant at times. It was all part of the web of lies and secrets I constructed to protect my hidden shameful truth. I traded a sliver of pride for every drink.
What a sad irony. I believe this fact applies to alcoholics and social drinkers alike. We think alcohol gives us confidence and frees us from social insecurities. In reality, each beer or glass of wine steals a little chunk of who we really are and replaces it with a facade behind which we can hide our truth. This fact might be hard to swallow. Everything in our personal history and social present denies this reality. We have been raised and nurtured in a culture that promotes booze. Our society glorifies alcohol from media and advertising to almost every social event to the plaques we hang in our kitchens about how it is always wine-o’clock. Our worlds are working overtime to keep us from realizing the drink doesn’t give us pride and confidence, it plucks away at our self esteem and our truth in imperceivably small chunks in the name of social acceptance and false fellowship so we will keep coming back for more.
“Don’t look behind that curtain!” says the wizard. And we almost never do.
But when we pull back the curtain and see alcohol for the brain-warping poison – consumed in any quantity – it really is, we start to understand the truth. Our truth. We see that if we are not consumed with lies and shame and depression and controlling the uncontrollable, we can fill the void with pride and confidence and the power of ambivalence.
When we have nothing to hide, we don’t care what anyone thinks about us. Not anyone. When our lives are honest and genuine – when we live our truth whatever that might be – we render the opinions of others powerless.
There is a lot of talk in addiction recovery about the void that is left when the abused substance is gone, and I can verify that the void is a real and scary and dangerous thing. But when we reach the point in our human growth when our real, authentic truth replaces fear and danger, the void can be filled with the best, unintoxicated things in life.
I choose to fill my void, at least in part, with purple passion. I let a bunch of human works-in-progress challenge themselves to achieve a goal and pay it off not by killing brain cells the way our society teaches us to celebrate, but rather by helping their 45 year old life navigator prove to myself that it doesn’t matter what the outside world thinks.
Today we play our crosstown rival in our biggest game of the year. I don’t know who will win or lose, but I know I will give coaching my all because I have all of me to give. This purple passion feels indescribably good. And there is almost no chance it will stain the carpet.