Humble - adjective - having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance.
Humility - noun - the feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others; a lack of pride.
I work as a fashion photographer, a profession where humility will get you nowhere...fast. I need to hustle. I need to sell myself, to make prospective clients think I am simply the cat's meow. The greatest thing since sliced bread. And that they simply must hire me for their next campaign or they will have missed their opportunity to work with the talented Mrs. Moi. But I'm terrible at that. It embarrasses me to try to sell myself. While I’m pretty good at what I do, I often think that you could most likely find someone else to do my job better than I would, and for a better price, if you were to look hard enough. So, like most other fashion photographers that I know, I leave the promoting of myself up to an agent. And my agents through the years have done a fabulous job of selling my services - much better than I could ever hope to do myself.
My world is an odd one. It's a mix of rejects from the island of misfit toys (myself included) fluttering around, primping, and taking pictures of the most freakishly gorgeous people on the planet Earth. It's an actual job to scour the globe - from Timbuktu to Tajikistan - looking for these extremely rare and awe-inspiring genetically perfect human specimens that we commonly call models.
Over the years I have had my model muses: Svetlana from Siberia, Nykhor from the Sudan, Timoxa from Ukraine, Andressa from Brazil, and my lovely Michelle from somewhere up in (slightly less exotic) Canada. I love Michelle, she's sweet, gorgeous, and very easy to work with. My first shoot with Michelle occurred when she was just a sapling, still in high school, maybe 14 or 15 years old. She would come down to Manhattan for shoots when her school schedule allowed. I'll continue to work with Michelle for as long as she is a model, which we have both decided has to be forever. I imagine us in the future, in a nursing home with connecting rooms still trying to do photo shoots. Me in my wheelchair shouting "no, no, Michelle over there. Move to the left. No. Not that left, the other left. Just scoot your walker over there, by the window where the light is. And for God's sake put your teeth in!"
One day I was shooting Michelle for an Italian glossy magazine. I don't remember what the shoot's storyline was about (fashion editorials almost always have a story line), I just remember the radiant vision of Michelle descending the steps from the motorhome. It was a hot and hazy evening in July, the twilight's purpley glow was gentle and warm, and she was wearing the most fabulous item of clothing I thought I had ever seen. I just had to have it! The magazine editor told me unequivocally that I certainly did not "have to have it". That I only loved it because I was seeing it on a 20 year old genetically flawless Michelle. But that on me “it would look totally ridiculous, Amore". But I'm a stubborn old cow. And I wanted that piece. And after several hours I finally ground down the editor into allowing me to buy the cloak, which is the only way to describe it, right then and there.
On our first outing together (me and my new designer masterpiece) I wore it to a photo shoot. I knew my fashion colleagues would be impressed, even though the civilians probably wouldn't get it. It was that fabulous, Darlings. I arrived at the studio and flung open the door. Everyone was eating breakfast at a long communal table and they all looked up as posed, arms up on the doorframe, one leg slightly extended forward, with the toe pointing towards the floor, making what I hoped was a memorably dramatic entrance.
There was quiet a pause before Kevin, the stylist, whistled and said "Well well well. Just look what the cat dragged in. If it isn't Gossamer".
I did a little twirl for my imagined fans, and stopped in front of Kevin. "Gossamer? Is that someone I must know?” I inquired innocently, assuming she was yet another mononymous supermodel.
Kevin looked me up and down slowly before saying "No, you idiot. Gossamer is the monster from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. You look just like him in that get-up". And then, as if on cue, everyone just started howling with laughter. Laughing at my expense. I flushed scarlet with shame and then scurried over to the full length mirror to examine my "get-up" and to see if there was any resemblance. And there it was. Kevin was right! I looked just like Gossamer. Gossamer, that crazy gigantic furry monster who I think smoked opium or huffed ether with Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny in one particularly disturbing episode of The Bugs Bunny Show that I had seen as a child.
So...I was embarrassed. Really embarrassed. Humiliated, honestly. I felt like a fool. But then I laughed too. I looked ridiculous! I just couldn't see it. Now I bring the piece out on Halloween and wear it as a costume to scare the neighborhood kids. Because honestly, that's what it looks like. A shockingly overpriced and well made Halloween costume of Gossamer, the Bugs Bunny monster.
And so I was humbled a bit. Knocked off my perch. Taken down a peg. I got my comeuppance. And I deserved it. We all deserve a little takedown once in a while. Something to keep us in our place. Something to prevent us from getting too full of ourselves, too big for our britches. Something to keep our pride in check. Something to humble us.
But why all this in a blog about addiction? Because addiction humbled me in a different way. A much deeper way than my stupid Gossamer get-up did. It really brought me down. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, but more than anything it took me down mentally. I was convinced that I was turning the corner into insanity. A corner from which I might never emerge. Alcoholism forced me, quite literally, to my knees. It showed me, aggressively that I didn't know what to do. How to do it. Who to do it with. And by "it" I mean Life. I couldn't handle Life. I didn't have a playbook. I was afraid. But I wanted to seem like I knew it all. And so I drank. The drinking made life more bearable for several years. But I drank and drank and drank. And I drank myself into addiction. And being addicted to anything is a humbling experience indeed.
I need to be humble in the rooms of A.A. I've been in meetings sitting side by side with movie stars and homeless people but in those rooms we are all exactly the same. We are all battling the same deadly foe, addiction, and we do it together. My pride and sense of being better than or smarter than or more sober than anyone will get me nowhere except maybe to the closest liquor store or drug dealer. I needed to be humbled to break free from the prison of addiction.
And what could be more humbling…or more miraculous? I walked alone into a room full of absolute strangers in midtown Manhattan and started crying. Then I said "I don't know what to do. I cannot stop drinking. Can you help me?" That is how I learned what humility is. What being truly humbled feels like. And I learned that the love and support and compassion that I was given from a Joseph, a captain of industry, and from Joe, a man who had lived under the 59th Street bridge in a refrigerator box, were exactly the same. Exactly what I needed to get better. I'm grateful to have learned these lessons with my fellow travelers. People who also, like me, at one point walked into a room full of strangers and said "I need help”.
I still get my daily helping of humble pie at work, at home, and in life. But I welcome those experiences now. I was humbled in my Gossamer get-up. But I was much more deeply humbled by my addiction . Either way, I’ve learned that being humbled can often be a blessing dressed up like a curse.