Thanks for Letting Me Cher

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One night in 2009, when I had like 6 months sober, I was leaving a meeting in Santa Monica and I heard it coming from a SUV. It was a familiar, campy jingle jangle intro of a seventies song I had heard about 4,000 times since childhood. “I was born in a wagon of a travelling show. My mama used to dance for the money they’d throw,” she sang. Of course I was leaving a gay meeting that night and of course it was a Cher song. I had to laugh out loud the minute I heard it. “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” Perfect. Like that title pretty much describes all of the attendees of every 12 Step meeting I’ve ever been to. Clearly, I was in the right place.
Having grown up in more of the Madonna generation than the Cher-Barbra-Bette era of young gay men, the diva was already on her 750th comeback by the time she won her Oscar when I was a teenager. But it was hard not to love Cher, even though I was more of a goth- new wave kid and she was recording Bon Jovi in fishnets music at the time. Cher was an outsider, a rebel and she didn’t care. Those were all things I aspired to be so she was added to the lengthy list of celebrities I was obsessed with in about 1989. As I got older and into my mid-twenties, Cher had her 751st comeback with “Believe” and I was fully out of the closet both as a gay man and Cher obsessive. The closest I ever got to the Cher-o-sphere in person was when I was 28 and working at a clothing company. Per the request of her stylist, I sent Cher some samples of the arm bands and gloves that we made. She sent me back a signed cd which meant we were basically best friends.
I also saw her in concert as art of her farewell tour that wasn’t really a farewell tour in 2005. This concert is harder to remember. Hard to remember because I was wasted drunk during that concert so every detail is fuzzy. Also hard to remember as in difficult. The whole memory because it still kind of stings. Here was this diva I loved for years and I barely remember a thing about that concert. I blacked out somewhere after “Take Me Home” and before “Heart of Stone.” I was sloppy drunk and it was an evening I regretted even before it was over. I do remember we had drinks before the concert we met a couple who was excited that The Village People were opening for Cher. “I can’t wait to do the YMCA for real,” the woman said. “I’ve only done it at weddings and bar mitzvahs!” I also remember the men’s restroom being the cruisiest gay spot I’d ever been to outside of a San Francisco leather bar. Other than that, I got nothing. Which is too bad. I really wish I had a magical Cher moment to pass onto you but I do not. I will however take this opportunity to discourage anyone who thinks drinking a lot and walking down the hills of the Hollywood Bowl sounds like a fun idea. It isn’t. Ugh. What a mess. I think I owe myself a Cher amends at some point.
Back in the rooms of recovery of 2009, I hope I would have made Cher proud. After all, she’s a self-professed member of Al-Anon, presumably after being married to Greg Allman. However, Allman was such an accomplished alcoholic that I think even if you purchased his greatest hits, you’d qualify for Al-Anon. But more than that, I hope I embraced the honesty that my idol had always proudly displayed. She always said what was on her mind and now I needed to do the same if I wanted to stay sober. To be fair, I didn’t learn how to share in meetings from Cher. I learned it from other alcoholics and addicts.
Week after week, meeting after meeting, I would hear people share about trying to stay sober when life got bad. We lost a member of our group who died of cancer but died sober. We lost others who relapsed. We lost a few to suicide. We also had people stay sober through good times like job promotions, weddings and financial successes. You know the kind of things you’d drink over to celebrate. People share about that too. I remember complaining once to my sponsor about a guy who bitched every week about his neighbors. To which my sponsor replied, “Well, he’s not drinking over his neighbors, now is he?” Fair point.
The other thing I noticed was the people who really shared what was going were the ones who stayed and stayed sober. The others who sat silently? Not so much. Being “wonderfully verbal” as a friend of mine once described me, I tried to jump right into sharing at meetings. I ALWAYS had something to say and I was sure that it was genius. I was also sure everyone else was obsessed with what I shared too. One night after a meeting and after a long and scattered share, I said to my friend, “I hope my share made sense.” Totally deadpan, he replied, “You shared tonight?” When I picked up a year, another friend said, “you’re a lot less crazy than you were when you got here!’ Turns out, my shares weren’t that memorable. But what was happening is I was feeling better. I was also for the first time ever trying to come clean about what was really happening. I was sharing about all the things I never wanted anyone to know for fear that I would be ridiculed. But as time went on, the reverse happened.
The harder something was to talk about, the more it connected me to others. When I got my HIV diagnosis at seven moths sober, I shared about it. Immediately, tons of gay men from my homegroup rallied around me. They told me they were positive too. They told me I was going to be okay. They told me where to go to get meds. They told me I didn’t have to drink over it. And I believed them. Shame, lies and self-hate drove me to he brink of death and now sharing the truth had brought me back to life. It was a comeback of my own that surely Cher would approve of.
In the cult classic Burlesque, Cher sings “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” The song, like “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” could be for every alcoholic too. Those of us who fought to stay alive and stay sober feel it in our bones when La Cher sings, “I am down but I’ll get up again.” But I won’t unless, I open my mouth. Each time, I write or speak or podcast or even share at a meeting, I’m fighting to stay honest and to stay here. The more I tell my story and tell on myself, the less power my alcoholism and addiction have.
So sadly, no you haven’t seen or heard the last of me but I hope I haven’t seen the last of you either.

Get this essay and others in my new collection Now That You’ve Stopped Dying available now! 

I have no fear, I have only love

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I was keeping it together. No, seriously. I really thought that after several days of feeling utterly emotionally and physically destroyed that on this Sunday morning, I finally had my shit together. The sun was out. I was walking along the waterfront. I took the longer walk because damnit I finally felt good. Might as well extended that feeling for as long as possible. Typical addict. “This feels good! Make it last forever!’ But as I walked further the reality of what was happening in my life hadn’t gone away. No amount of sunshine and long walks could erase that. Then out of nowhere on my airpods, “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac starts. It’s a song about the isolation of choosing the path truer to who you are, despite the freedom that comes along with it. Before I knew it, I was crying. I had stopped to get a coffee along the way in this epic walk. I sat down at picnic table overlooking the river and I sobbed. Like ugly cry on a Sunday morning in public in the bright summer sun with nowhere to hide. I let myself sob because what I do know as a person who has been sober for over a decade is that there is freedom and magic behind those tears. There I was, me and Stevie Nicks, who when she sings “I have no fear, I have only love” really made the waterworks flow, just crying on a Sunday morning. So consumed and knocked out by emotions and my grief, by Fleetwood Goddamn Mac that I failed to realize that there was couple sitting across from me.  The. Whole. Time. A happy couple. The fuckers. The kind of Brad and Courtney couple with perfect bodies and an impossibly adorable looking dog. They were the sort of couple you’d see when you were hungover and instantly feel like you were failing at life. They had it together. In that moment, I had Stevie Nicks, I had coffee, I had tears but I certainly didn’t have it the fuck together. Brad’s eyes caught mine at one point and He awkwardly smiled like what else are you supposed to do to a middle aged gay man so blatantly and openly falling apart in public. When I realized what a mess I was and “Gypsy” ended, I grabbed my coffee and scurried on down the path. Despite a few moments, I was definitively not fucking keeping it together.

Two weeks later, I’d like you to define “keeping it together.” Like what even is that? Am I crying in public currently? No. Am I showering? Yes. Am I eating? Sometimes. Sort of. Am I still overcome with grief and heartache? Also yes. Before we go much further, I guess I should explain what happened. I’ve been stream of consciousness posting about my pain and general malaise for the last few weeks on social media. Without really going into detail because there are other people involved, because I need to process what i needed to process and because fuck you I do what I want. Also, the people who knew, knew. They were important and helpful. Everybody else could wait.  Anyway, in the course of 10 ten days a beloved patient whom I worked with for over a year died of an overdose, Michael and I decided to end our relationship of nine years and to just top everything off, I got the worst cold I’ve had in recent memory. It was a triple quarter pounder of grief and emotional pain. Everything hurt: my heart, my body, my life. I walked like a zombie to my streetcar to work, I went to meetings and cried, I picked at meals with friends. My life was so heavy and hard. It all hurt all of the time and I could not stop crying. Sorry, Brad and Courtney. The death rocked my whole team at work. We were all destroyed. It’s part of our job, sure, sure. But it’s a terrible and shitty part of our job. My marriage, on the other hand, was something that was dying in slow motion for awhile.

Watching nine years of your life spin away like one of Stevie’s shawls is surreal. As it was jointly decided that our marriage was beyond repair, sadness took over. It was a sadness that felt appropriate and horrible and just like something I’d have to acknowledge and get through. I tried to lean into it. There were days when I was fine for most several hours in a row but then out of nowhere “Gypsy”-sized tears would come on and I was unable to stop them. I didn’t even try. What I knew is that I needed to feel all of this horrific, bone crushing grief. However, I was lucky that I wasn’t living in a war zone. Things were not so deeply uncomfortable at home that it made it hard to be there. I kept things super simple: meetings, work, meek attempts at sleeping and eating. That was all I could handle. Mainly, I DIDN’T FUCKING DRINK OR USE DRUGS. I’m sure I slept walked my way through dishes and laundry but I honestly can’t remember. Grief like that is a coma. The world moves around you but you can’t necessarily feel it or even participate in it. Again, I was committed to staying present for these emotions. I knew there was freedom behind them. Eventually.

Two weeks later, here I am. More Stevie Nicks, more coffee and writing.  So I’m back to the velvet underground. There’s less crying daily but the heaviness of my life and of this divorce is still here. We are trying to be kind to one another while attempting to get all of this messy shit handled so we can both start new chapters of our lives. There are pockets of joy sprinkled throughout my day and support from so many people that it’s overwhelming. People text me all day long to make sure I’m okay, to make sure I’ve eaten and to just say hi. I’m overwhelmed by love even when my marriage is ending. Go figure. Therefore, I’m inclined to adopt Stevie’s attitude. I have no fear. I have only love. Sure I have heartache, sadness and grief. But I can also say with no bullshit: I’m not afraid of what’s next. There’s a shit ton of emotions but fear is not one of them. Also? I do have love. Love everywhere and from unexpected places. Love that shows up and says, “I got you.” That’s what I have. And for today, that’s enough.

 

 

freedom, bitches

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This is probably a discussion for another time. I should probably table this on a day when we aren’t honoring this great nation of our’s. But I won’t because saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is kind of the basis for my entire creative career. Here goes: I think we overuse the word and the concept of triggers when it comes to addiction and recovery. Like it can sometimes feel like a copout for relapse, for bad behaviors, for not engaging in real life. I also believe that I don’t really need things or people or events to trigger me into being a drunken asshole. I am an independent hot mess all on my own and therefore I am my own trigger.

But on the other hand, there is a lot to be said about the trauma response that certain things or days can bring. Over my last decade of being sober, there has been dozens, if not hundreds, of times where I’ve walked by something or heard a song on a radio or seen a date on the calendar and immediately taken back to the mindset I had when I was at the height of my addiction. The height of my addiction, by the way, is 5’11 but my husband would argue I’m more like an enthusiastic 5’10. Anyway, from a PTSD place the idea of triggers is very real for me so I give people a pass when they dramatically say that this, that or everything triggers them. Because if I’m being honest, this very day filled with fireworks and now tanks, apparently, is triggering as fuck for me.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like a plastic bag as queried by Katy Perry in her 2010 song “Firework” but something about 4th of July certainly makes me feel edgy. For the better part of a decade, the holiday is linked into memories of being an absolute drunken shit show. During that era, I lived in Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles notable for both its incredible taco trucks and proximity to Dodgers Stadium. Drinking and fireworks both started well before the 4th itself and usually culminated with a viewing of the Dodgers fireworks from my balcony. Not that I ever remembered the fireworks show but I do remember by the time it finally happened always feeling letdown. Now in retrospect, I realize it had nothing to do with the quality of the display itself. My dog would go insane when the fireworks went off but I was of little comfort to him as I myself was insane. Plus it was always hotter than hell in LA at that time of year therefore looking back it just feels forced and uncomfortable. Like I was trying to celebrate but hated myself so much that the burden of being festive was simply bone crushing.

The holiday usually included a lot of drama and fighting but again so did most of my Wasted Wednesdays and Shitfaced Saturdays. Nevertheless, every year I wince when it shows back up. Like “Oh great. Trauma but dusted with patriotism and people in flag printed shorts.” This year, it felt oddly present and I’m sure not enflamed at all by what a daily traumatizing dumpster fire this country currently is. So I decided to deal with it like  i deal with everything else now: cooking. While the country isn’t currently inspiring me to bust into Lee Greenwood covers (let’s be real: cover) while wearing red, white and blue sequins, I was inspired to cook. I was inspired to cook all those summer, American foods, specifically. Fried chicken, pulled pork, mini cheesecakes, hot dogs and homemade potato salad. I couldn’t change the country or erase my trauma but I could eat fried chicken legs while I watched shit blow up in the sky.

I’ve heard over the last few days that many people feel like this holiday, this year feels more depressing and more solemn than in year’s past. Folks from all over have been lamenting that there doesn’t feel like there’s anything to celebrate. Despite my very present trauma-trigger combo, I would disagree. Not latching onto patriotism or weird rhetoric, I think it’s safer for me to focus on the word freedom. I currently live a life free from drugs and alcohol. This is not a big deal if you’ve never been their on-call, 24-7 hooker like I have. But for people like me, it’s also huge. Even after being sober a while, it’s STILL huge. The fact that I’m currently not sipping something vodka spiked out of a Solo cup at 7am is also huge. Not nursing a hangover or trying to lick the remnants of cocaine out of a baggie just to get me out of bed? Also big freaking deals. Today, I am 100 percent free of living a life dictated by drugs and alcohol. I roam freely about the cabin that is this planet without a worry of getting drunk or without the fear of running out of drugs and alcohol. This is a freedom that is badass and incredibly powerful for someone like myself who lived as alcohol’s bitch for over 20 years.

In a deeper sense, I am also free from much of the crippling thinking and behaviors that kept me one sick ticket for just as many years. I’m free from a past that I thought was too horrible and difficult to look at. For the most part, I’m free from self-hatred and self-doubt. Sure, they creep in like the sneaky bitches that they are. But in general I have a freedom around those things that makes my day-to-day pretty damn enjoyable. I’m free too of not feeling good enough or worthy enough for love, happiness and success. This all upper level personal freedom that I always thought was out of reach for me.

Today, while I make coleslaw and toddle to friends’ backyards, my  personal freedom is what I’m celebrating. And shit, I’m celebrating America too, that crazy lady. She’s the reason I can publish this blog post or march in the streets. She’s complicated but I love her. And finally with a whole lot of freedom and sobriety, I can say the same thing about myself.

are sober gays even allowed to brunch?

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Of course, we were getting the potato pancakes, I replied.  The husband argued that the perogies we were also ordering already had pancakes in them. Wouldn’t that be overkill and maybe too heavy?  He was correct but also he was wrong. These were different crispy, potatoes more in the vein of a hash brown and therefore vital for the meal, the meal in question being brunch. Potatoes being a must at brunch is a hill a person with the last name of Mahoney will gladly die on. Having heard my 10 minute monologue on potatoes and brunch probably 400 times over the course of our nine year relationship, the husband gladly surrendered. He’s a brilliant man, despite being occasionally wrong about potatoes. My love for potatoes is legendary at this point so much so that don’t be surprised if one day I get exhausted from writing about myself and turn this into a potato-only blog. Spudologues, anyone?

My win on the potato pancakes aside (which were delicious, by the way), brunch in and of itself is a win for me. The meal for over a decade was a such a loaded gun invitation for day drinking and debauchery. Potatoes were merely a side character and played second fiddle to bottomless mimosas. Bottomless mimosas! Ha. From where I sat at the brunch table it was nothing but bottoms slugging back mimosas. And what a sad gutter gay drink the bottomless mimosa is. Cheap, headache inducing champagne (emphasis on the pain part) mixed with cheaper bar-well orange juice, the kind of juice that needs booze to taste like anything other that liquid heartburn. If it wasn’t mimosas, it was bloody Marys. Tomato juice is disgusting and we should collectively be ashamed ourselves for ever thinking juicing and drinking a tomato was good idea. How dare we. So why not throw vodka in it to really set off how gross it is? I have friends who are sober who tell me they loved bloody Marys. I gently say, no bitch, you liked getting fucked up. No one is drinking bloody Marys because they like the taste of it. Similarly, I want to to punch people in the neck when they say the same thing about kombucha. “I love the way kombucha tastes!’ No girl, you hate yourself and your taste buds.  I gracefully missed the era of the “Loaded Bloody Mary” which is filled with giant olives, shrimp, bacon, gummy worms and all kinds of other crap. Barf. The thought of a soggy piece of bacon in a glass of tomato juice and vodka makes me not only not want to eat brunch ever again but might turn me into one of those people who only eats fruit and never leaves their house. But in the same note, thank god for Bloody Marys and Mimosas. They validated my former favorite part of brunch: day drinking.

At the aforementioned brunch last weekend, the husband and I ordered our respective beverages. Coffee and water for me, which is of no surprise. Listen, I’m a 46 year-old gay sober, alcoholic. Coffee and water are all I care about. Sometimes if I’m at da club, I’ll get crazy and order a Diet Coke but that concludes my beverage repertoire. The hubs ordered some kind of specialty cocktail. He’s a normal drinker so he occasionally gets one drink just to be festive. What a weirdo. He’s completely missing all the fun by not having twelve drinks then texting a coke dealer right before he yells at random people in a liquor store parking lot. I mean why drink at brunch casually when you can get totally shitfaced and ruin the good time of those around you? Day drinking at brunch for me went down either one of two ways:

1.) I accepted the brunch invitation because I was so hungover that I knew that I needed food and more alcohol if I was ever going to be able to function. I’d usually leave with a slight buzz which was great because usually more drinking was on deck at either beer bust(another gay drinking institution that deserves to be murdered) or hanging out a dive bar or just drinking at home later. This drinking served more as an elixir and a coming attraction for the boozefests bound to happen later in the day.

2.) I accepted the brunch invitation with good intentions and tried to not drink too much but around mimosa number six (THEY’RE BOTTOMLESS, PEOPLE!) that aspiration went out the window and my dignity followed soon after. Drunk by 2pm, hungover by 4pm, napping by 5pm and resumed drinking by 6 or 7pm. Brunch really had a way of taking a whole day hostage. It was just supposed to be eggs Benedict but somehow morphed into a scene from Tara Reid’s old reality show Taradise. 

Many a dumb website and magazine have poised that gays love brunch because of the socializing and the stylishness of the meal. I don’t know what fucking gays these people hang out with but for me and my girls it was usually about drinking. Yes, there would be potatoes on the plate and we would actually eat but the acceptability of day drinking at brunch had an allure too hard for this homosexual alcoholic to pass up. I think brunch and drinking and gays has to more with gay culture in general. My people really enjoy drinking, It’s a not talked about but well-known fact and well-researched too. If it involves cocktails, gay men want to be involved. It’s that easy. A few years ago, it was assumed that it was just the older generation of gays that liked to pound the cocktails but despite progress the numbers seem to indicate that young LGBT are at a higher risk for developing substance use disorders than their straight counterparts. So the problem is not really brunch per say but a community that suffers from addiction. Sigh. It’s bigger and a lot more depressing than just potatoes.

To answer the question posed at the top: of course we are. A few years back a friend told me, “We sober gays need to take back brunch!” I quipped, I didn’t know brunch went anywhere. We can’t take things back. We can’t take America back. We can’t take brunch back. There’s no coup coming of groups of sober gay men holding pitchforks and gluten-free waffles storming your local brunch spot. The revolution happens inside, baby. That’s a more exclusive guest list than any tired, homo brunch in NYC. The universe has gifted me with a group of magical sober gay men who do remarkable shit all day long without having to drink or use. They go through breakups sober. They go to drag shows sober. They face difficult battle with mental health sober. They even go to goddamn brunch sober. I told you they were magical.

Our potato-filled and laugh-filled brunch came to a close, not with me being pushed out of the restaurant and into a cab because I was too drunk, but with carrot cake. Because I’m a grown ass man who doesn’t drink or use drugs and this is how I do brunch now.

 

 

power ballad through it

1txyhkXCA8x-4KchjK67CoAWeird, weak and maybe wonderful things happen at the end of a long creative project. Maybe you hit a wall and decide, “Fuck it. It’s done.” Maybe something elusive shows up at the last second to save the whole thing. Maybe a last blast of steam moves you to turn the whole thing around like a goddamn creative action hero! Or maybe you just fall into a puddle of tears while blasting power ballads. The latter was exactly what happened to me over the summer as I finished my first collection of essays, Now That You’ve Stopped Dying.

All was not well on the ranch last July. Sure, everything on a cellular level around my home was fine. More than fine. It was great. But inside of me? Disaster. The thing that nobody ever tells you about bleeding funny, dark personal stories on the page is that it really takes a toll on you. I’d been editing tons of personal essays as well as creating new essays for months for this collection. Sure, I had more than enough previously published pieces to fill a few volumes but I wasn’t feeling it, dawg. I wanted them to make sense together. I wanted them to hit all the right notes. I wanted them to be a gift to people in recovery who had the same dark, funny fucked up thoughts that I did. But the catch was I had to dig up a bunch of new painful shit, throw glitter on them and be funny too. Trauma but make it fashion.

The new pieces got written and the old ones were spit shined but it came at a price. After so many months of listening to my own voice over and over again, I started to go mad. Not mad like a Sylvia Plath moment but certainly not acting like myself. For example, the last two days of writing, things had gotten really desperate. All I wanted, no, all I NEEDED to finish writing was Starbursts and a never-ending musical supply of power ballads. This is cause for alarm for a lot of reasons but primarily because I’m a strict chocolate, coffee and Stevie Nicks kind of guy when I’m on a deadline. Something about stirring up years of personal shit flicked a switch in my brain. It was Starburst in varieties of flavors and the chest thumping anthems of Celine Dion or this book was not happening.

Thus I did what I’ve done my whole life when a significant moment needed to be less painful, I made a soundtrack. Back in my teen years, my drawers were filled with sad mix tapes that charted every heartbreak and mistake. Today, my benchmark life moments, good or bad, get their own playlists and this moment certainly deserved one. Entitled “power ballad thru it” the playlist hit all the inspiring, dramatic and delightfully codependent notes you want with such a collection. It starts with “Alone” by Heart because it’s one of the best ever and I will refuse to hear anything different. Plus the sisters Wilson had previously helped me write my play The Singing Room so their musical magic couldn’t hurt. Checking more boxes were tracks like “Time After Time,” “Listen to Your Heart” and “Without You”-the Mariah version. Duh. These sometimes triumphant, usually heartbreaking songs were perfect for a project where I hopefully left it all on the page, emotionally, while somehow managing to be hilarious too. It’s  also really helpful for me to have something to sing along to and do expressive hand gestures to while editing. Hemingway and Faulkner did the same thing. Trust me- my fist bump during “Show Me Heaven” as Maria McKee sings “I’m not denyin’!” is a sight to behold. Plus, the overt theatrics of these songs helped me laugh at myself and take this whole bleeding on the page thing a little less seriously. Nothing like an epic lip sync of “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” by Celine Dion (who has two other gems on this playlist) to lighten the mood while editing a piece on PTSD.

The thing is, and this has happened with me finishing big projects before and will undoubtedly happen again, I was just ready to birth the damn thing. Months of tinkering on my own oh-so-humorous thoughts gets exhausting. That’s a fuck ton of time to spend inside my brain. I got tired of myself and of the essays. I lost all objectivity. Self-doubt slipped in more than once, that hateful bitch. She told me, “These essays suck. You’re not funny. Why are you even bothering?” Thankfully, I turned up the music and wondered why Laura Branigan is still so unappreciated instead of wondering if self-doubt was actually right. The day I promised it would be done by crept even closer and with that date approaching came another fear: I wasn’t going to finish. As a decades long flakey alcoholic and drug addict finishing anything other than a bottle or a baggie wasn’t really my strong point. But I wolfed down more Starbursts and didn’t listen to that one either. I’m not sure why other than I’ve grown up. The things that used to paralyze me don’t really anymore. Or they don’t for long, anyway.

The day my book was due, I didn’t work at my day job. I took the day to finish the damn thing, once and for all. The power ballads were at full volumes, the candy had been replenished and the coffee was non-stop. I got to the final essay. It was a rework of a pice that I wrote for urtheinspiration years ago. It meant something to me at the time because it talked about how I learned how to ask for help and to be honest with other alcoholics. Also? It was rich in Cher references. The new version was an expansion on those ideas but  now filled with reflections as a person with over nine years sober. Maybe the piece itself was emotional. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was tired. Or maybe all of those things are true. But as I wrote, tears fell down my face. I couldn’t help myself. I was a very Joan Wilder moment. Cher sang “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me Yet” in the background. The whole experience was way too much. Here was this drunk, coke whore actually finishing a book!?! It took time, candy, caffeine and power ballads but I finished the fucking thing.

And not just that. It was a book I was proud of. I wrote it for everybody who got sober and then thought, “Well, now what?” I wrote it for every queer person who struggled with self-esteem and addiction. I wrote it for every dark motherfucker who has a sense of humor about all of this stuff. I wrote it, finished it and now after months of life’s curve balls, I can’t wait for you to finally read it this spring!

 

 

 

pour some sugar on me

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It’s an odd, very “this century” phenomenon, thanks largely to the internet, that when bored white people like myself quit something we expect a medal or a round of applause. Like maybe Sharon should take a few days off in honor of her brave undertaking of the Whole 30. Perhaps Tyler needs a special parking space since he recently gave up vaping. God bless. In lieu of fighting against racist and discriminatory systems to get our basic needs met, we invent little challenges for our “best selves” and really want everyone to know how hard it is. Thus I recently went an entire month without sugar and I really resisted in an online call for prayers and round the clock encouragement.

Thankfully, for the entire world at large this experiment didn’t subject the internet to  shirtless after photos with captions like “Hot #sugarfree #dadbod.” Jesus. No. My ego is not yet that fragile. I say “yet” because much like Ben Affleck, you never know when my ego will shatter in a million pieces. I can say since quitting actual the hard shit like cocaine and daily drinking, I have dabbled in quitting all kinds of stuff and usually out of boredom. I was vegetarian for a few months, I’ve fasted, I’ve juiced and I’ve even had other rounds of me quitting sugar. This bout of sugar detox came on the tail end of the holiday season where I basically consumed sweets like a round-the-clock tournament of Ms. Pac-Man. I baked all of the cookies, I ate all of the holidays cookies and I would do it all again. To paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi in the epic ballad “Wanted Dead or Alive”, I’ve seen million pastries and I’ve eaten them all. It was an amazing holiday season but I wound up on the other end of December cracked out on sugar and bloated as fuck.  It was time to step away from the sugar. At least temporarily.

Having a background in recovery is really helpful when you decide to crash diet or try some bullshit nutritional thing. When you get sober, you learn the process is all one day at a time, that you won’t feel better right away and the progress is slow-moving and hard-earned. Intellectually, I knew this going into quitting sugar on January 7. I didn’t tell all my friends I was quitting forever and that my life was going to change! Child, I’d learned that lesson a zillion times before I got sober when I would blab about being done forever only to be found the week later with a straw in my nose and a beer in my hand at some shitty gay bar. I know better now. Unless, I’m really ready to quit, I should wait until I send out a press release. I kept it low profile in the beginning, allowing for some gentleness if I happened to stumble on a Reese’s peanut butter cup along the way. All of this was great and knowing how to quit things without setting myself up for failure is a huge gift. Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t totally suck.

In my mind I would go sugar-free until February 14th. It would be a month plus one week and I’d celebrate with chocolate hearts. I had the Instagram post already planned out in my mind. However, due to a friend in a real crisis way bigger than nonsense, some chocolate had to happen on February 8th. So I did make it a month and what a month. When people at work or in my personal life would ask me about quitting sugar they’d always say, ” Good for you! Don’t you feel great?!” My response was the  always same: “No. I don’t feel great. I’m bitchy, I wanna punch people and sit in a bathtub filled with gelato.”I would also tell them it was a stupid idea and that I wouldn’t recommend it. This response might have been a tad crabby but it was authentic. I didn’t instantly feel better. I didn’t lose 50 pounds (I did lose 10 pounds though). I didn’t suddenly have all this energy people talk about. What is that energy thing anyway? People say that about everything. I quit eating meat and got so much energy! I quit smoking and got so much energy! This has never happened to me. Then again, as a cocaine enthusiast, my idea of something giving me energy might be different from most folks. Anyway, my real problem with quitting sugar was that it wasn’t a cure-all for every minor or major thing wrong in my life.

Quitting sugar for a month didn’t’ cure my PTSD or lifelong depression or occasional bone-crushing self-doubt. Quitting sugar didn’t make a better person. Quitting sugar didn’t cure my insecurities or prejudices. Quitting sugar didn’t make me less selfish. It just made me a bitchy old gay who really wanted a cookie. Turns out I’m sort of a cunt without a steady stream of chocolate. Now we know! But it also helped me realize that as far as my bigger character stuff, the nitty-gritty, emotional growth and the real juicy spiritual journeys that I’m 100% committed to, I’m in a great place. Over the past year and a half, I’ve pushed myself really hard to get to the bottom of some really gnarly, core personality stuff that has been holding me back. It’s not pretty or cute work. My relationship has been going through a similar process too. It involves putting the ways I think under a microscope and honestly noting that a lot of them are out of business. Changing the way I’ve operated for years is some hardcore shit. Comparatively, quitting sugar ain’t no thing.

Another month later and back on my sugar bullshit, I’d like to say that month helped me put my relationship with sugar into a healthy perspective. But seeing as though I currently have a chocolate cream pie in my refrigerator, that might be a stretch. What it did do is make me realize that recovery taught me how to live my life, how to quit stuff and how to give myself a fucking break and eat a cookie.

 

 

come on home, girl.

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We can all breath freely. Order has been restored to the universe. Wounds have been healed. Life as we know it is returning to the way it should be because after a really weird and sad, booze-fueled feud, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have reunited and are back together and on the road. Listen, the Trump era has done some fucked up shit to a lot of people and Ann and Nancy apparently fell victim to these shitty, sad times. But they’re back and so am I.

Back from where, you ask?  I’m not sure, exactly. But I sort of got derailed by the holidays, which isn’t really a thing and I know this. Like the holidays are just normal days with more delicious food and tinsel covered depression. It’s not like I was abducted or became paralyzed. I was just being fat and lazy and watching Christmas specials. Nevertheless, the aforementioned season knocked my seanologues writing off the track. Shockingly, I hadn’t written over here at all in 2019.  Sure, new works could be found elsewhere but I wasn’t here.  But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t home. “Come on home, girl,’ he said with a smile,” Nancy Wilson sings on the track “Magic Man.” (Also fun if you sing it in a 90’s way like “Come on, homegirl!) So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve come home to this blog.  Oddly enough, the whole idea of coming back and returning has been fresh on my mind lately.

If you are lucky enough to stick around in the halls of recovery, you get to see it. People come back. Back after a relapse, back after a period of isolation, back from a near death experience. It’s like the cycles of Elizabeth Taylor’s life but in real-time. These phoenixes rise out of the ashes and miraculously show back up for more crappy coffee and rambling stories to let us know that they’re still alive and that they still need help. When I first got sober, it would really depress me and rattle my cage when people would relapse and come back. It poked holes in this ridiculous fantasy I had that sobriety was forever and easy to hang onto. I would become obsessed as to how it happened and why they relapsed.  I wanted to why and how and mainly what I could do so it wouldn’t happen to me. I wrongfully pitied them and acted high and mighty, like “Poor things! I’m so glad that’s not me!” I’d also keep them at arm’s length, as if getting close to people who relapsed would make me relapse too.  Sure, I was really afraid of relapse but I was also kind of a dumb bitch.

Thankfully, time, experience and lots of heartbreak changed my mind on people who relapse and come back. My judgement is gone. Ditto my need to get down to the bottom of why they relapsed. I no longer pity people.  Seriously. This sounds like hippie garbage but I just love them, no bullshit. Not love them, only if they stay sober. Or love them because their sobriety looks like mine. I love them period. Mainly, I feel love for them because they have a shit ton of courage. They came back, despite the ever daunting odds, and opened their mouths. We don’t shoot our wounded, they tell me. But I can do better than not shooting them. I can love them like people who are suffering from a disease and leave it at that. This isn’t a noble thing to do, you jerk. It’s the right thing to do.

Can you imagine if we were all like, “That stupid whore Olivia Newton-John went and got herself cancer again. What a moron!” We would never. In fact, if you have anything negative to say about ONJ in general, I would suggest keeping that vitriol to yourself. Yet our reaction to relapse (including my own) is soaked in misunderstanding and judgement. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just a deadly disease that is really hard to beat. As deaths by drugs and alcohol hit all time highs, we have to face the fact that most people with this disease won’t make it or at least won’t make it on their first time. I am lucky enough to have many examples of people in my life who came back after a relapse and had a rocking comeback that even the sisters Wilson would approve of.

The first person I ever took all the way through the 12 steps relapsed a few times. Ditto a person I’ve been sponsoring who just celebrated 18 months. Three more with relapse in their stories all newly back have also recently joined my sponsorship family. (For what it’s worth, relapse happens to be a part of the stories of  Robert Downey Jr, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Demi Lovato, all of whom I do not sponsor but I am open to the idea!) Likewise, two of my favorite sober friends on the planet had more than a dozen relapses a piece. What all these brave, hilarious and tough-as-nails people in my life taught me is that the more you try, the better chance you’ll have of making it stick. The fact that they keep fighting and coming back, even though they’ve been knocked down a million times, blows my mind. I don’t know if I have that kind of fight or will to live, if I’m totally honest. Plus, my pride is out of control and I don’t know if I possess the humility to ask for help yet again or the courage to own my whole story. I hope that I would and I know just who I’d call if I did relapse and needed to come back.

Yet for as common as relapse and coming back is, there’s the bigger reality: most people don’t come back at all. Where I got sober in Los Angeles, people would vanish regularly from the rooms of recovery and you’d learn later that they had lost their lives to this disease. It sounds morose but you kind of just got used to people dying, although it never made it less sad.  Statistically in the United States, this stark reality is pretty common. Like I said, it’s a tough disease to beat.

At my non-writer job at a hospital working as a recovery mentor, this reality is ever looming. When patients leave the hospital, I get to work with them in the community. But many vanish and it’s hard not to worry immediately that maybe theyre no longer alive. Last week, one patient that I often had that worry about magically resurfaced. She called me and told me she had 90 days sober. Despite a series of dramatic hospitalizations, she had come back. Not only was I relieved but I was overjoyed and it gave me confirmation that I needed to keep doing the work that I do. Because for every 10 people who dies or goes out or varnishes, there’s that one who comes back. And to miss their triumphant return and heroic journey would just be crazy.