doubt, fired.

“Holy shit. Not another fucking Robin Williams meeting.”

I remember thinking that a little over two years ago today. I was thinking this and fuming as I sat in one of those rooms where people who have what I have talk about trying not to drink, do drugs or kill themselves. It was a horrible thought to have, granted. But since his passing a week earlier, I had literally been to 7 meetings where the topic was how fucking sad people were that Robin Williams had died. I mean, I got it. I got that he was a special part of people’s childhoods. I got that for this dark and sad group of people, his comedy probably provided a lot of joy to folks who normally didn’t have any. I got that he was an addict like ourselves and whenever one of our own passes, its horribly heartbreaking, whether they’re famous or not. I got all of this and I was still annoyed. I’m gay and alcoholic so in truth me being annoyed probably didn’t have anything to do with Robin Williams. Annoyed is just sometimes my old crusty default setting. I was probably just irritated that we weren’t talking about me in these meetings and that we were obsessed with the celestial being that was Robin Williams.

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As you may have picked up on, I am a movie snob and a half. Therefore, the later half of Williams’ career is something I resolutely turned my nose up at. Basically,1998’s Patch Adams and everything that followed it can be filed in Sean’s NMKOM (Not My Kind of Movie) file. Fluffy family stuff and flatulence based comedies are not my jam so the charms of films like Old Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad and License to Wed would most likely be lost on me. Still, as a performer his power was impossible to deny. I liked him best on stage and unhinged. Like most addicts, he was at his best when he was outrageous and honest. Like here when he talks about alcoholism.

When he died, before hearing sober people yammer about him for a week, I remembered my own Robin Williams moment from 2006. He came into the restaurant on Sunset Blvd where I used to work. It was one of those locals-and-cool-people-only places tucked away in and he was with a regular customer, Bobcat Goldthwait. They had just come from a meeting, Williams told us. His battles with drugs and alcohol were well-chronicled so he clearly embraced this part of this personality and seemed open about it. Seeing as it was a crowded Saturday night and the place was tiny, Williams and Goldthwait were undoubtedly in a fishbowl. It struck me how good-natured and sweet he was for a guy who was clearly being gawked at and watched. By this time he’d been famous for decades and overcome a lot of demons so he handled that dining room and everything with the kind of charm you’d expect from a star like Robin Williams. I was far, far, far from sober in 2006 therefore the triumphs in his personal life, like much of his film resume, were also lost on me. Suffice to say, two years after his death, I actually get it.

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Here in 2016, the battle to overcome mental illness and addiction is still very real. Sadly, maybe even worse than it was then. With an exploding heroin epidemic and a healthcare system stacked against mental illness, Williams’ effort to simply stay afloat is nothing short of heroic. We know now that Williams’ committed suicide in 2014, something more than one of us on this journey has certainly thought about. Personally, a shocking relapse in my inner-circle of early recovery has my own head spinning today. Someone I love with years of recovery is no longer sober. It’s as simple and heartbreaking as that. So I guess what I need to tell myself on August 11th while thinking about Robin Williams and my dear friend is that I need to stay. I need to keep going and keep fighting. More than that, I want to. When doubt creeps in and tells me it’s too hard, I need to tell it to kindly fuck off and keep moving. Because, as a movie snob and a half, I know in my heart that a tragic ending is not the only way for this to end.

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8:30pm on a Sunday and there he was. Light brown skin dotted with black stubble. Black hair parted, perfectly framing his face. Apricot pants. A crisp white shirt. Perfectly posed. And perfectly asleep. Like frozen in time asleep. Like Brothers Grimm by way of Disney asleep. Passed out on an incline on the cement steps to one of those charming early 1900’s houses that my neighborhood has in spades. As if he was delivered there in state of slumber, like some human newspaper you’d leave on the steps. Naturally, I am walking. Walking and wondering. How did he get here? Does he live there? Wait. Didn’t that house recently go up for sale? I wondered if I should call someone. I wondered if he’d freak the hell out of you tried to wake him up (Not like I was gonna do it. No way. I knew better. Not waking up sleeping strangers is just one of those City 101 things you never do along with feeding injured squirrels and talking to people with religious pamphlets). I wondered if he was a brunch refugee who had too many mimosas followed by after brunch beers and decided that this set of steps right here looked as good of place as any to sleep it off for a few minutes. This was just one of a dozen scenarios I’d created in the 45 seconds I strolled by this mysterious sleeping prince. My line of thinking could be perceived as nosy but I like to think of it as inquisitive. Besides, this wasn’t like my old neighborhood in LA where the world was your sleeping bag. People rarely passed out in corners over here so I couldn’t help but be curious. Also, I couldn’t help but think about all of what he was missing right here in my cozy neighborhood at 830pm on a Sunday.

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Prior to running into him, I have to admit I was awestruck. It was a dense and kind of foggy warm night. The streets are lined with lush lavender and swaying Rudbeckia. There were noisy crows cawing in the background and crickets singing their own song loudly as if determined not to be upstaged by those black feathered big mouths. And then there were bats. Tons of them. In fact, my neighborhood must have been having a bat convention over the weekend because the little guys had been partying in the air above our streets for several nights in a row. And on Sunday they were out in full force. Swooping through tree branches. Soaring in the moonlight and diving back into the darkness again. The walk already felt like a fairytale and this was all before I ran into the sleeping dude.

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However, these things–swooping bats, glittering moonlight and what-have-you are not new, hot off the shelf items. They’ve been here the whole time. It’s just that I myself have not been here the whole time. As best as I can tell and seeing that it is only August, 2016 has been about an emotional awakening. People will tell you when you first get sober that, “More will be revealed.” This, from my experience, has been true. When I stopped being a human booze and cocaine dumpster, I started to notice all kinds of shit about myself. Some of it was not very pretty. But what they don’t tell you is the longer you’re not a drunken disaster, that even more stuff reveals itself to you. Thus how I ended up feeling like my normal little Denver neighborhood was something from the mind of Hans Christen Andersen. See, Even though I’ve been sober over seven and a half years, I’m still waking up. This is a marvelous thing. The people and stuff around me are more beautiful. Moments with others feel more genuine. Happiness more tangible. Basically, everything I wanted to feel by taking drugs, I’m feeling now stone cold sober. Irony alert.

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I got home on that Sunday night and I was buzzing with excitement. Not because something big had happened or because something was about to happen or like so many nights in the past, because of drugs of alcohol. But because I loved what was happening right then in that moment. The bats, the flowers, the sleeping prince, that walk home in the moonlight. All of it ordinary. All of it run of the mill. But all of it magical and something to cherish too.

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The steps sans sleeping prince

Epilogue: I walked down that same street the following Monday morning. The steps were still there but the sleeping guy was gone. Gone also were the bats and the moonlight. The feeling that my life, faults and all, was perfect just the way it is? Still here and very much awake. 

Brobia

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Dudes. Buddies. Bros. However you identify them, this eternal flip-flop wearing, high-fiving, beer drinking generation of men is so easy to make fun of but even harder to love. Truth is groups of white guys with cargo shorts and backwards baseball caps were my torturers back in my day. Screw gang members or terrorists. I was deathly afraid of large flocks of white guys wherein one or more was named Todd or Chad. With persistence and precision, these first class a-holes made things like walking down the hall or speaking in class a total nightmare. They relentlessly made fun of my big gay teenage self. Although, it should be mentioned I’m pretty sure I hung out with way more girls than they did and they, as meathead mutant jocks, most certainly saw a ton more naked teenage boys than I ever did. Thanks to the combination of getting as old as fuck and getting sober, I’ve forgiven that pack of suburban dickheads (and I say dickhead from a place of love and spirituality, of course). Nevertheless, big groups of loud straight guys still scared the crap out of me for a really long time

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We’ll call what I had “brobia”. I suffered from an acute fear of groups of bros. By the way, what do you call a group of bros? A gaggle? A herd? A pile? Please discuss. Anyway, my suffering around this group was pretty real. I went to meet my husband in a very bro-centric neighborhood (which in Denver could be all of them but more on that in a minute). It was dark. I was alone but then I wasn’t. A large group of white guys who were loud and presumably wasted (Again, Denver. We just know these things.) I all of a sudden was panic-stricken and my heart raced. I crossed the street, kept my head down and did whatever you call a version of walk-running for people who despise running. It was in that moment that I realized that my brobia was real. Call it asshole-induced PTSD. Call it brobia. But whatever I had I needed to get over and fast. After all, I lived in Denver now and these dudes were everywhere.

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Nicknamed by some blogger somewhere, “Menver” is chockfull of bros. If Colorado was to have a state type of person, it would be bros. Denver is called the Napa Valley of Beer therefore it’s the Holy Land for bros. Add in an overtly fanatic sports culture coupled with several man-filled colleges and universities and you’ve got yourself a bronado. So bros were unavoidable (unavoidabro? yeah. I’ll stop with those puns now) It would be like having a fear of spiders and moving to the Amazon. You better learn to live with them or perish. Thankfully, not only had I changed, the little city I left fifteen years earlier had changed too. Yes there were now more bros than ever thanks in large to a pot-induced population explosion. But this generation of bros was little more gay friendly or maybe just more self-involved enough so that I wasn’t on the radar. Still, I was a tad cagey around these types. Two miraculous things happened, though. Theatre & recovery.

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When my husband and I were running a theatre company we worked with straight guys all of the time. No really! A lot of actors are straight. Crazy right? More than that they were really cool. I soon ended up with a bunch of goofy type A personality brothers who were very talented and extremely loveable.Soon big groups of these guys were ones I was happy to see and not ones that sent me running across the street. Another set of straight guys that helped me ( and continue to on the daily, btw) are the ones I met in recovery. At 2 years of sobriety when I moved back, my exposure to sober straight guys was limited. See, I got sober in Los Angeles where they have like a billion gay meetings a week and even the “straight Meetings” weren’t all that straight. And the cool thing about recovery is that you’re immediately bonded together with other people who tried unsuccessfully to kill themselves with drugs and alcohol so it doesn’t matter if they’re gay, straight or whatever. (Lots of people who fall into the whatever category in recovery, by the way.)  In Denver, though, recovery was decidedly more heterosexual and more male. Still, it wasn’t long until I found my people and many of them straight men. We speak the same language so much so that the externals of who we are and where we come from just melt away.

This new place and new age in recovery also helped me see some not cute things about myself too. It has been pointed out to me more than once (slowlearner.com) that I can’t really bitch about intolerance and prejudice if I myself practice those same things. Fucking ow but true. This meant all the religious groups and groups of people (bros included) whom I thought wronged me needed to be let off the hook, forgiven and released if I wanted to live free of resentment and not like a big, annoying asshole. Ugh.Tall goddamn order but by now I’m willing to give anything a shot to hang onto my sobriety. The other thing that’s come up doing the work? I, Sean Paul Mahoney, have a major seeking the approval of straight men issue. Granted, I pretty much seek approval from everything from potted plants to anonymous coffee shop waitresses but when it comes to getting men to like me, it’s problematic. From falling in love with unavailable straight men in my early 20’s to doing drugs with hideous dudes who I just wanted to be friends with, the issues are deep, honey child. Oh! And it turns out, my issues don’t have anything to do with groups of straight men!

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The issues are mine and mine alone. Thus this love boat of dysfunction turns right back around and docks in the harbor of forgiveness (we’ve moved on from bro puns and segued right into nautical metaphors. be excited.) Sure, there’s a lot of guys who said and did shitty things to me in high school. And yes I’ve been harassed by straight guys out in the world. It sucks but does it give me a free pass to fear and hate a whole group of people? Hell to the no. Plus hanging on to old shit is kind of the worst thing ever that an alcoholic can do, so I’ve had to let a lot of things go. Now does this mean I’ve abandoned making fun of bros? Absolutely not. As I mentioned, it’s too easy and they’re everywhere and most importantly it’s still funny. But I am working on loving them (in a non-sexual, non-creepy way), one bro at a time.

tbh

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A few years ago when millennial girls all decided to start every sentence with, “To be honest” I could feel my eye twitch and my brain start to sizzle. I mean, I had already accepted the overuses of literally I cannot change, the courage to change the literallys I can and the wisdom to literally know the difference. I already embraced the new teeth gnashing existence of bruh. I swallowed the linguistic pills of bae, fam and everything in between. How much more is a 40-something gay book nerd supposed to endure? Besides, there was always something so redundant and awkward about “to be honest” or “tbh” as we say online. Like unless you clarify with “to be honest” we are to assume the rest of the time you are full of shit? Or is it like “to be honest” as in I’m gonna get real. I’m gonna let you have it. I’m going to tell it like it is.

As with many internet speak phrases that drive me nuts, however, I surrendered and started using it too. I found ways to drop a “tbh” in funny places, no big deal. You know ironic, smart-assy. You know. How I say basically everything. In case you didn’t realize this, I watched old movies as a kid with the sassy, salty sidekick and assumed it was a tutorial on how I should behave as an adult. This, for the most part, has been a disastrous assumption. Sarcasm doesn’t work too well with doctors , bill collectors, strangers, religious fanatics, people sensitive to jokes about being a drug addict, people on Facebook from high school who I don’t actually remember but now wish I never followed, etc. But in the world of online banter? It’s a hit. Or if it’s not, I stream of consciousness vomit out so many posts that at least one is bound to land. As long as we’re being honest here, the real reason the phrase probably makes me uncomfortable is that being honest is something I still sort of bristle at. After nearly of 8 years of having people tell me I needed to get honest, I’m still sort of holding out for fantasy to pay off. I’m still waiting for a magical story in my mind to become real life.

The urge to be dishonest remains pretty powerful. Without busting out the sad silent movie violin solo, I’ll tell you that I learned to bullshit at an early age as a way to cope, to divert attention and to handle the craziness around me. The BS fest went from white lies to full on delusion somewhere around the age of 30. I’d lied to myself and everyone else for so long that the truth felt horrifying and more than that, totally unattainable. Thus the mere idea of getting real about everything when I got sober sounded insane. And it felt like one I could probably bullshit my way through. Honesty, schmonesty. There just had to be a way to skate through that part of being sober.

After all, I thought I already was honest. I had no problem telling you what was wrong with you, how fucked up your life was and what you needed to do to change it. Too bad in order to stop killing myself I had to be honest about myself. Well, fuck. That I was horrible at. I mean really bad. I tried to nap car accidents away. I tried to drink angry landlords into oblivion. I tried to snort so much cocaine that bad relationships would vanish. All to no avail. So here I was, me, the guy who thought I told it like it is, I had to tell on myself, I had to stop lying and I had to do it all of the time, darling.

Honesty, thank freaking glitter unicorn goddess in the sky, is a practice. I didn’t get all super fucking honest all at once. It has taken time. A lot of time. And just as I think I’ve embraced all the gnarly parts of my past and of my personality, more crap will show up in a flaming bag on the doorstep of my mind. Terrific. On good days, I face these things and rely on new ways of thinking. On bad days, I blurt out lies knowing I’ll have to clean it up eventually. Such is life. C’est lie vie, as it were.

So if I’m honest, if I’m telling it like it is, if I’m being real right in this moment, what would that look like? I guess I would say I spent much of this summer feeling disillusioned and very sad but now I actually feel better. I guess I would say that after nearly six years, I am very much still in love with my husband despite misplacing my wedding ring during a homemade salsa making session. I’d also say that some days I wake up thinking everything is really fucked, only to be inevitably proven wrong by some kind person or miracle of nature. I would tell you too that the juggling of the ongoing care of two diseases that could kill me wears me the fuck out and I still slip into a fantasy where I don’t have these things. I would also say that I have a lot of thoughts that are toxic but I have just as many resources to help me combat them. But mainly I would say despite daily bouts of “why the fuck did I lie about that” I know that I am more honest than I used to be. I wake up without panic and without being suffocated by lies and insanity and this is something special. My life is real, messy and,for the most part, fantasy-free and I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest.