push

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In order for it to happen, it’s all gotta be perfect. Perfect meaning the climate in my house is ideal, an absolute silence has blanketed in my entire block and the coffee is strong enough to punch me in the face. That’s when I think it’ll happen. The “it” being writing. Then and only then is what my demanding diva mind says. I will settle for nothing less, dammit! So no wonder it’s hard to even start. God forbid my house is hot. Or I’m out of coffee. Or some neighbor is sawing the world’s longest and loudest piece of wood. Or my cats have for some reason decided to practice their wrestling moves on the dining room table. One little glitch in the system can throw off the whole machine. And that’s kind of what my week has looked like. Satan is currently giving Colorado an HGTV-style makeover so running around in the heat is something I try not to do. We, the husband, the cats and myself, are primarily concerned with staying under the ceiling fan and moving as little as possible. Then there’s this whole the world is going to shit thing that is currently happening and what could I write to possibly contribute to such horrific times? Add to it a general feeling of laziness and my three times a week publishing practice has nearly flown out the window. wings

Needless to say, I woke up this morning like my bed was on fire. I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to write. I didn’t know if the conditions were perfect. I didn’t know anything other than that I had to write. See, I made that promise to myself a month ago and I took it seriously. Or at the very least I wanted to take it seriously. So here I am in my cool,quiet house with strong coffee and snoring cats writing. Being creative my entire life, I’m always shocked when I start to self-sabotage the process. I know making stuff and telling stories makes me physically and mentally feel better and therefore easier to be around, nicer and less a pain in the ass. I know this in my core but I still resist it. As an addict and alcoholic, I sort of resist anything that makes me feel better. When I admit this to other people in recovery, sometimes jaws drop open. Like now that I’m sober, I’m not supposed to admit that sometimes I suck at being a beckon of light and sometimes I don’t want to do things that make me feel better. Besides, isn’t the whole idea of feeling better subjective? I mean, I feel better than I did 8 years ago when I was waiting tables and scraping bits of cocaine out of paper packets. But feeling better in a, “Wow! That kid has his shit together!” kind of way? Uh.

And yet the evidence suggests, I am better than I was and so is my writing practice. I spent a lot of this week feeling not up to snuff. Like I wasn’t doing enough to foster creatively and that my actions were slowing down my writing process. Quite the opposite actually. The great Gwendolyn Brooks talked a lot about how a writer’s education didn’t stop inside the halls of schools. In fact, in her mind, the real work of writing was experiencing life and then coming back with something to report. Bingo. I heard live music this week that blew my mind.

I went and walked around an art museum with my husband. IMG_3330

I watched the rest of Girls. I read new posts from my brilliant writing compadres. I kept waiting for a lightening bolt to write this week or some big push. Turns out, I was already doing that. I was pushing my damn self. I just didn’t realize it until now.

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I guess what I’m getting at here is that my brain rarely tells the truth. Self doubt can slip in unannounced and wreck the whole party in mere minutes. However, I have been gifted with an emotional alarm system that now pushes me into doing things that make me feel better, even when (or especially when) I simply don’t want to do them. Being inspired at all times, as they tell us in 12 step programs, just ain’t gonna happen. This is fantastic news. This means everybody, even creative juggernauts who are so prolific it makes your head spin, get stuck and need a little push. The trick is to keep pushing. Push through sad times. Push through lazy times. Push through bad ideas, no ideas and even so good they scare you ideas.

Thus, on this Thursday in the middle of the weirdest summer of my life, I’m going to keep pushing. I hope you do too.

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I walk alone

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this morning on Detroit Street.

This is how it starts. It starts on a tree-lined street in my childhood neighborhood that is now my middle age neighborhood. It starts here. It starts with me. And I’m walking.

Before I go much further, I should take a minute to call bullshit on myself. I am the first person to roll eyes at exercise posts or nutrition posts or articles on how someone stopped being a prick for ten minutes and is now the light of the world. I think a lack of humility about basic, human and humane actions is part of our collective problem. We’re not horrible for 20 seconds and we expect a humanitarian award. Sigh. That being said I love walking. And, I will say this right here, I was wrong for making fun of people who post how great whatever exercise they love has saved their life. I think anything that makes us happy and doesn’t hurt other people is solid gold. So I’m a judgmental jerk and I’m sorry. I’ve never really loved driving and proudly say that I am a non-car owner and have been for awhile. I try to centralize my life so I can walk everywhere. Yes, it’s good for the environment. Sure, it’s good for my body. But mainly I walk because it helps my head.

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a local karate school mural entitled “Fight Together!”

Walking the crazy off is a vital component in helping me be a less horrible human. A couple of years ago, I slipped into a pretty dark depression. I talked to my doctor at the time and I told her I was open to medication but I’d like to explore other options first. I already take an Elvis sized handful of meds just to keep my body running so I didn’t want to add another pill. Now, do not take this as an anti-psych meds stance. The opposite, actually. If you have a chemical imbalance that cannot be fixed any other way, for the love of God man, take your effing meds. Seriously, humanity will thank you for it. My depression, however, is a bump in the road of my larger mental health picture. And oh what a picture it is. What I’m getting at here is my depression has never gotten bad enough that I felt like meds needed to be part of the story. Until that summer. She, my doctor, then asked me a bunch of questions. What’s happening in my personal life? How’s my family? Which of my routines have changed? Insert giant lightbulb emoji here or a picture of a gate in my alley I took, whatever works.

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an early morning shot of a gate in my alley that I’m in love with for some reason

I realized in that moment that what had changed is my walking routine. Whereas I used to walk 40 minutes to and from work I was now only walking about 6 minutes. She recommended that I up my walking and start journalling about my depression(don’t expect that one on the Amazon editors pick anytime soon, by the way)and get back to her. If nothing changed we’d talk about medication. Flash forward 40 days, things had changed. I was walking more and feeling better. Again, let me stress, this is what worked for me and I wouldn’t tell you to do the same unless somebody who actually went to school for this type of shit suggests you try it. I’m just some idiot with a computer and a giant cup of coffee. So don’t listen to me. How about these smart people? Or this study? Or how about this?

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Really, the point of this whole spiel is not to convince you to Go Take a Walk America! Or some crap. It’s to tell you that me, this guy Sean with the big cup of coffee and the sarcastic attitude, feels better after he walks around his neighborhood. I don’t wear special walking clothes for godsakes. Nor do I belong to a walking group. Jesus. Anyway, it’s not just the health thing either. It’s also because as a writer I get to see so much more when I walk. Like the creepy pink baby heads above. Or this clever piece of vandalism:

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push it real good.

Or people yelling at their kids or dogs. Or old people holding hands. Or flyers for weird shit I’m never going to but want to read anyway. I get to see my life up close when I walk and I get to confirm that it’s all pretty amazing.

Even bah humbug exercise me has a fitness app on his phone. On good days, I do over 10,000 steps. Over the last few days, it’s been closer to 25,000. This isn’t mentioned for applause or a special walking ribbon. Clearly, these numbers confirm that I’ve needed the extra help lately. I have been pretty honest about my dismay over the human race as of late and I’m walking that off too. Sure, I’m still me when I get home and the world still needs a brain transplant but I can be human and normal and in gratitude after a walk. Therefore, this how the story ends: I’ll keep walking. Maybe I’ll even bump into you. I’ll be the guy by himself in jeans and a t-shirt taking pictures of weird shit or saying hi to random dogs.

Angry Anymore

chile_villiarica.jpgBubble. Furiously simmer. Boil over. And explode. Repeat for 10 to 20 years. This was the family recipe passed on for generations of hotheaded alcoholics. The funny thing is I always thought I wasn’t one of them. You know one of those angry, yelling types who blew the fuck up out of nowhere and for no good reason. Those assholes were cray-cray. I mean I loved them and I was related to them but they needed to relax. But I also thought that I wasn’t an alcoholic so what did I know?

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Turns out, your buddy ole smiling Sean Mahoney is one angry muthafucker. Thru a series of writings that the kids in programs that help people stop killing themselves with drugs and alcohol  call “stepwork” I was able to learn this. The more I wrote and looked at my past actions, the more I realized how incredibly pissed off I was. Pissed off at Catholic school teachers who humiliated me. Pissed off at exes who didn’t love me enough. Pissed off at myself for making the same mistakes year after year.  If I looked at this stuff and found my part and cleaned up my messes, I’d feel better and maybe, just maybe I’d stop drinking to dull how angry I was. They turned out to be right. And seven years later they are still right. I’m back into doing this kind of writing again and I guess I should explain why.  A mutual friend with the same time as me relapsed, couldn’t stop and killed himself. Another friend who I got sober with in 2009 and with more time than me went out and now struggles to stay sober. And yet another beloved friend had seven years but relapsed and has spent the last seven trying to get sober. He just celebrated a year. This sort of thing happens in recovery (sadly, a lot)but for some reason these events got to me this year. All of these people had the amount of time I had and suddenly did not. I was terrified. So I asked my sponsor if we could do the work again. Thus, here I am looking at how angry I am yet again.

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I realize for me, like the generations of hothead Irish alcoholics before me, that anger is poison. I’ve had two maybe three big, angry explosions in sobriety. They feel awful. They feel out of control. They feel like the kind of thing that would make me go back to drinking. Rage is equally as deadly as drugs and alcohol and I’ve seen people destroyed by it. Therefore, I have to look at it. I have to treat it. I have to write about it. Sigh. Seven years later, I’m still wishing for the unsavory parts of my character to vanish but they don’t unless I do a little work on them. This time around, I’m discovering there’s still a few things that I’m really angry about. It’s deeper, less superficial stuff though. I’m angry at America. I’m at angry at the news. I’m angry at the way we treat each other. I’m angry at racist, homophobic, sexist, intolerant assholes, in general. But the people I dated, the people who raised me, the people I drank with and probably pissed off too? Child. Ain’t nobody got time for the that.

Vivid colorful landscape scenery with a footpath through the hill covered by violet heather flowers and green valley river mountains Pentland hills near Edinburgh Scotland

Miraculously, through doing this stuff that seems impossible and like a real pain in the neck, a lot of the things I thought I’d never get over, I’m just not angry about anymore. Really. There’s a lot of forgiveness. There’s even more accountability. And there’s a strong recognition that being crazy and angry for me is a toxic place to be. On my best days, I can let anger say it’s thing and explode and then tell it, “Thank you for sharing. Now, go sit your angry ass down.” On my worst days? I try to shut up and not hurt people.  Yesterday, my sponsor told me to look at the people and things I have resentments against and realize which ones have to do with acceptance. What am I unwilling to accept the way they are? Turns out, that’s almost everything. For me, I can be sad today. I can have compassion. I can even be disappointed by the world and the people who populate it. I can also take action and change the things I’m mad about. But I just can’t be angry anymore.

I Won’t Ruin Your Barbecue. You’re Welcome.

solo cups.jpgFor the eighth Fourth of July in a row, I will not ruin your barbecue. As much as I know you’d like me to show up at your dignified, patriotic while still being kitschy backyard fiesta, I will not. This means I won’t arrive at your function already buzzed even though it’s only 2pm. Ditto I won’t fall down in your entryway at 5pm. And, finally, I won’t sneak away from the party to send a series of crazy text messages trying to find cocaine. I know you’re disappointed but that’s the way it is.

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See, the summer of 2008, I used up more than my share of “Hot Mess In The Middle of The Afternoon” coupons. There was a series of backyard summery jamborees hosted by my best friend and at all of them I was the biggest mess in the room. This is a feat because outside of a Hemingway family reunion never has there been a group who can drink their faces off like this group. Nevertheless, this was the summer where my drinking went from festive to horribly sad in about 60 seconds. A friend at one of these get-togethers even remarked,” Wow. Sean, every time I see you at one of these things, you’re pretty drunk.” This was a friend who’d been jailed on drug charges so she knew what she was talking about.

Now, I was a good guest on paper. You’d invite me for my witty banter. You’d invite me for promptness and ability to help out in the kitchen. And even if you didn’t love me for my personality, you loved me for my potato salad. Which, by the way,is pretty rock star. I take particular pride in my white person culinary abilities to nail all of your mom-type mayonnaise based salads (chicken, egg, potato,what-have-you). But as the shitstorm of alcoholism becomes a category 5, it ain’t all cheeky jokes and deviled eggs. Soon after a few drinks, you were always checking your watch and wondering when I’d leave. Now, to my credit, I was never a yeller or a drunken crier. I was more the politely drink myself into a coma type of guest. Messy for sure but contained messy. Well at least until that summer. One barbecue, which could have been Fourth of July but who knows really, stands out as the deal breaker. As I was trying to leave, knowing that I was wasted and had to get out before it got even worse, I took a tumble-down some concrete stairs. The hangover, the scraped up hand and the throbbing, bruised tailbone were unbearable. I woke up more humiliated than usual. It was painful on lots of levels but mainly because I had five months sober. I say had because until May of 2008 I had patched together five months of sobriety with no help, no support and no clue that when life happened (which it did and always does) that I would go to my only coping mechanism– booze. By later in the summer when my literal fall from grace occurred, I was still writing things in my journal like, “I’m drinking again but it’s really not a huge deal.”Well it was a huge deal and by January 2009 the party, backyard or otherwise, was finally over. I asked for help for the first time ever. I did all the stuff a lot of other people did to get sober. I felt bad for a long time but I didn’t drink or use drugs. Slowly everything improved. Oddly, that tumble during that barbecue that could have been on the Fourth of July was a big catalyst in me getting sober. I mean it took a few months. Like I said, slowly.

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So no, I won’t be able to make it to your daytime drinking, grillin’ and chillin’ Fourth of July extravaganza. It’s better off this way. I’m better off this way.

But I’ll totally make potato salad sometime if you want.

flight or fight (or write)

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The answer is usually right in front of my face. The answer is usually something I knew all along. The answer is usually standing in the waiting room tapping its foot and saying, “Hello? I’m over here, you big dumdum.” And this is how I’ve ended up posting endless links to new things I’ve written over the last month.

Let me explain: intuitively I knew I had to get back on a regular writing schedule. Now I’ve continued to write for clients and work but doing my own projects? Not so freaking much. After completing a script last year and battling some health nonsense, writing for me felt like something energetically I just couldn’t swing. The problem was, however, that without writing regularly, I started to feel nuts. I was explaining to another alcoholic just yesterday that I’m often jealous of people who can maintain their sanity and sobriety by just being physically sober or doing very little work. I, on the other hand, need a lot of help and from all kinds of sources. It’s like mind-blowing mole, you know that dark spicy chocolate sauce that comes from Mexico that when done right can be a religious experience.  The real deal, make-you-wanna-smack-your- mama mole requires at least 3 days and 30 ingredients to achieve poetic heights. And my sanity/spirituality/humanity is much the same. I can’t just do meetings. I can’t just exercise. I can’t just meditate. I can’t just have a digital support group. I need to be firing on all cylinders to make myself consumable for the human public. Now when an ingredient is missing, I begin to feel icky. A regular writing practice was missing so this is how I’ve ended up bothering you three times a week with new posts.

Suffice to say over the last month, my life has gradually changed and a light has gone on. I’ve written a few things that lots of people have read. I’ve written a few more that no one has read. All of this is fine. I am not doing it for internet pats on the back or sparkly comments. I’m doing it to stay alive. As I’ve mentioned, the news in June kicked my ass and made me feel devastatingly sad. Old me would have felt a blip of sadness and doused myself in alcohol or cocaine. Today, I feel all the feels as the kids say and it’s uncomfortable and real and intense. Thank god for writing. Writing helps we exorcise whatever is banging around in my head. June also saw some gnarly personal conflicts come up that previously would have resulted in neck crooking finger waving name calling confrontation better suited for Bravo than real life. I’ve somehow been able to avoid being a dick while not running away. I’ve stayed present, calm and authentic and I’ve kept writing. Who the hell knew any of this was possible? I made simple commitment to blog three times a week in addition to things I’m collaborating on and my professional stuff. That’s it.

Now, those of you who know me in real life or follow me on Twitter(which I was recently informed isn’t real life! Mind. Blown.) know how much I detest self-helpish, click baity ‘You’re living your life wrong if you don’t do this” type of posts. I hate that we’ve somehow cultivated a culture that gives the thumbs up to people who’ve stopped being an asshole for like 2 minutes and now they should be experts and tell us how to live. Eww. So in lieu of dishing out the kind of unsolicited advice that makes me gag: I’m simply offering my experience of the last month. I felt yucky and emotionally jumbled before I got back writing regularly again and now I don’t. Whoomp there it is. If there’s something that you love, something that helps you feel better, something you want to get back to (writing, knitting, walking, baking, meditating, volunteering, other positive activities that end in ‘ing’.) why not take a month and get back to them? It can’t hurt. Fuck. It might even help you. And maybe for you, like me, it’ll be the answer you’ve been looking for this whole time.

*please feel free to leave sparkly comments below.