it takes a village, people.

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Seven pills a day.

Three to four meetings a week.

One guided meditation, three times a week.

Four other addicts who I call/text regularly.

Five afternoon naps during the course of a workweek.

10,000 to 18,000 steps per day walking.

As of May 27, 2017 those are the numbers. The numbers I need to keep this mental health cruise ship afloat. They will undoubtedly fluctuate and change. The meds for example will probably go down this month. Which is good news as I’m currently on some combo that has given me the bladder of a 68-year-old woman. The meetings should probably increase but will likely dip at some point because I am, after all, me. The steps, the naps, the mediation all subject to dip or increase depending on how fucked I feel on any given day. But in general, this is an honest equation I’ve come up with for today. I am realistic with my rebellious, stubborn ass. I know there are days when the “But I don’t wanna”s will take over. This is fine and I try not to beat myself up. I’m balancing a myriad of manageable but deadly diseases and sometimes what they all want me to do is lie the fuck down. Yet despite my best efforts to find the precise numerical equation to make me all better there’s something I need more than anything else: other people.

If I wasn’t so lazy I would be able to find you study after study that point to the power of support for folks like me. By folks “like me” I mean people with addiction, alcoholism, depression and HIV.  But these studies floating out there in the internet say people dealing with grief, cancer and trauma also benefit from leaning on other people. It’s odd too because when hit with one of these conditions we often hear, “You need to take care of yourself.” Which is certainly true but sounds solitary.  Like “Just figure it out on your own and make yourself all better. And could you hurry up because you’re a drag to be around?” However time after time, I’ve learned that when I take care of myself by myself, there is very little care involved. I’m tortured, isolated and filled with a grab bag of shitty self-sabotaging ideas. I second guess everything and feel like I’m the worst person on the planet. In other words, it’s a party for one and it sucks. Thus, taking care of myself involves me reaching out to other people.

This is not second nature for me. Kids like me from alcoholic homes suffer from “I got this!” syndrome maybe more so than any other kids on the planet. We in some ways raised ourselves and figured out stuff by on our own so reaching out and asking for help is a foreign concept. As a person in recovery for the past 8+ years, I’ve had to learn how to lean on other people and open my mouth. This week, I had HIV clinic appointment. It’s my first since moving to Portland. Thanks to the miracle of the private sector and little to no help from the government at all, HIV positive folks like myself with no insurance have a plethora of resources including free meds available. I am eternally grateful but in order to tap into that stuff I have to take the action. I have to make the appointments. I also have to show up for those appointments. I have to bring the documents and answer the emails and do the work. All of which I did this week but it wasn’t lost on me that just taking care of myself and asking for help is still no small feat. Overcoming my self-sabotaging, I got in and handled my business but it was far from a solo act.

After a morning dealing with incredibly nice nurses, case workers and receptionists, it hit me how many people I actually need. Beyond that setting which also includes therapists and pharmacists, there’s all of the people in my recovery life I need. Sponsors, sponsees, all the people who share their stories with me, all the people who listen to my story, the people who set up meetings, the people who make coffee at said meetings, the people who just smile or say hi and know exactly what I’m going through and on and on. Oh and this does not even include all of the friends, family members and co-workers who lift me up, encourage me, walk with me, laugh with me and generally help this baby bird out of the nest on a regular basis. Yet it doesn’t stop there. There’s also you.

You who exist in this digital realm that somehow I was lucky enough to find. You who despite never meeting in person we are linked together by our joint experiences. You who share my pain, joy and warped sense of humor from wherever you are. You who are also damaged but recovering. You who read my rambling, crazy nonsense and even say nice things about it. The point is it I feel proudly connected to you and all the other dozens of people who help me along the way. Like I said, it’s been proven countless times that I cannot do any of this alone and now I know I don’t have to. While you may not be cops, Indian chiefs or construction workers, you are my people and for that I’m eternally grateful.

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was it the movie or was it the moment?

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“A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”

Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

If the world right now seems like an overwhelming, horrible fucked up place, that’s because it is. And let’s get it out of the way- I won’t be the one to ever tell you to channel your anger and sadness and go make a change. I mean this isn’t “The Man in the Mirror” and I am not Michael Jackson. While I am already trying my damnedest to write the least motivational post of all time, we might as go for broke here and I’ll give you my advice for dealing with a world in turmoil: don’t. Seriously. For a moment or perhaps a day or even a few days why not take your voice out of the chatter and go sit in the dark and watch a movie.

Sure, it sounds like stupid advice which it probably is, considering I’m a person who hates advice. I’m also a drug addict who loves avoiding life so naturally I’d go tell you to run and hide from anything unsavory or depressing. But hear me out. Whether it was monster movies on in the middle of the afternoon on local tv or sitting and watching Redford and Streep in Out of Africa on the big screen, I was always able to find what I was looking for as a kid when I went to the movies. Growing up in the dawn of cable and the VCR era of the 1980’s meant we suddenly had access to all kinds of movies and for a cinema nerd like me, it was heaven. I’d basically watch whatever was on as I tried to figure out what I loved and didn’t love. I wanted to see every movie that books about movies talked about. I wanted to see movies like Jaws and Flashdance that were R-Rated and therefore forbidden to my Catholic soul. I wanted to see every movie that came out during the summer, even if I wasn’t excited about them. I wanted to see every movie. Period. It was how I learned about the world but more than that movies were also how I dealt with the world. At an early age I figured out that movies provided a safe space, a respite and a relief from the real world. Growing up in an alcoholic home, my real world was realer than a lot of other kids so movies gave me something the real world sometimes couldn’t: hope.

Some four decades later, film does the same thing for me. Yet thanks to recovery and plenty of time dealing with this here real world, I have a healthy relationship with movies. On Friday afternoon after discovering it was on Amazon Prime, I decided to watch The Wizard of Oz. The movie was on my mind after me and some of my twitter buddies started the #30DayMovieChallenge. This is one of those list challenges where everyday for  a month you come up with different films for different categories. It’s a blast and currently providing a break from the shitstorm of bad news to be found online. When my pal Susan said The Wizard of Oz was her all-time favorite movie, something hit me. Maybe I need to watch it again. I hadn’t seen it in decades and due to early childhood flying monkey trauma, the movie had always kind of freaked me out. I even sluffed it off on the “hate it” pile for a while. Sure, I’m gay and love Judy Garland but I didn’t get the never-ending love for The Wizard of Oz.

Now being older and of (slightly) more sound and open mind, I really wanted to watch it. Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and marveled at the tricks it was able to pull off for being made in 1939. There’s a sadness and desperation now found in all of Judy Garland’s work for me so that made her already great performance here even better. Plus, the music is really clever and well done. But it triggered something that I forgot: I really loved Glinda the Good Witch as a kid. Sure, in her pink sparkly gown with her coy one-liners and shiny hair it seems obvious that 7-year old Sean would love her. But somehow my brain forgot that and only remembered those flying monkeys (still creepy AF, by the way). Billy Burke is a delight and I was happy to reunite childhood me with her. This little matinée in the merry old land of OZ got me thinking: maybe the movies are magic but maybe the moments in which you see them certainly help.

Nursing a terrible cold with really spicy pasta arrabiata and The Philadelphia Story. Ditching class to see Natural Born Killers only to walk out halfway through (Woody Harrleson has that effect on me). Watching Almost Famous with my grandma and both of us crying as we talked about it on the bus ride home. Feeling heartbroken after my grandfather died and numbly binge watching 80’s movies like St Elmo’s Fire. I’ll never forget these films nor will I forget what was going on in my life those moment.

Elsewhere in my brain live movies that were really important because of who I was at the time: Top Gun being a film I saw with a group of new friends as an awkward tween, Reality Bites with my first real boyfriend and The Fantastic Mr Fox during my first year of sobriety. In every case, the importance of the actual life milestone and of the film itself bleeds together. They become one big sticky, sugar-coated memory which as a person who doesn’t like to feel their life I really enjoy. The movie and the reality of the moment are now gilded together forever making them both easier to remember. This is incredibly helpful for a person who did so much Ecstasy they’ve been left with the memory of a goldfish. The movies and the moments help one another out in the watery vortex of my brain.

Yet movies (and moments too) end. Therefore, my dear Toto, there isn’t a place in the real world where there isn’t any trouble. We do get to lean on movies, though which on the day after the senseless tragedy in Manchester means a lot. We get 90 minutes or so to see something else, to be someone else, to feel something else. And that sounds pretty valuable right about now. But mainly, we get to remember that, despite the horrible fucked up shit in the headlines, humans are capable of beauty. Movies are proof of that.

The Battle of Bitterville

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A pot of lavender on your patio.

The guy who stands on the corner who sings Motown covers.

A shaggy black dog in the elevator.

The smell of waffle cones wafting out of a downtown ice cream shop.

A text from another sober person who just wants to let you know they’re thinking about you.

At the little side job I have currently to keep the flow of income happening while I await that big paycheck from an anonymous billionaire who wants to pay me to watch Netflix, there it was, the Ghost of Bitter Homosexual Future. The “cranky old queen” is a trope for a reason. This old bitch has been sipping martinis at bars and verbally assassinating anyone in her sights since time began. Wilde was maybe the first one. Capote was definitely one. Warhol? Certainly qualifies as do Crisp, Kramer and Savage (best law firm of all time, by the way). This particular real-life Bitter Betty tried to convince me how much I’ll hate Portland while also encouraging me to follow him on Facebook where he “does nothing but complain about politics! It’s fun!” Uh. Hard pass on that one, home skillet. But thanks for the offer!

There was an aggressive and salty quality about him the rubbed me the wrong way from moment one.  Which was a bummer. There is nothing I love more than when two gay men get the “hey, sister” vibe right away and are able to kiki with each other immediately. But that was not happening here. Being contrarian for no reason other than being the biggest hater in the room is a very bitter old queen thing to do and this one was rocking it hardcore. Everything me and my other coworker laughed at, he sighed or walked away from. Even when trying to be nice to me, he seemed annoyed that I was in his presence breathing. Listen, I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean I discovered he’s a vegan who smokes cigarettes (lol) so I was willing to cut him some slack. But by the end of the night, I wanted to run screaming out of my little side job. Primarily, because I know that the role of bitter bitch is one I can instantly slip into myself.

The feeling you get when you talk to your mom on the phone.

Listening to your husband jam out to old school Mariah Carey in the next room.

The birds that land on your window and drive your cats insane.

So let’s get this out-of-the-way: my name is Sean and I’m an alcoholic, an addict and a sometime bitter gay man. Look, I’m not proud of it. But it’s like being bitter is one of our factory settings as gay men. We can all “go there” without blinking an eye.  What can be charming, biting, smart and truth-telling can also easily turn into bitter and unsavory. For me, it’s an ugly outfit I slip on and don’t even realize I’m wearing it. After all it’s comfortable. It fits me. It’s easy to find. More than all of that, it feels like something I’m entitled to wear. But like I said, it’s fucking hideous. Still, there’s a huge part of me that feels justified for being bitter. Like you’d be bitter too if you had my lot in life. Didn’t I earn the right to be bitter after the way straight people had fucked with me since I came out of the womb in a poof of pink glitter? And maybe I’m not being bitter. Maybe I’m just discerning or critical, in the same way a one-eyed pit bull is discerning or critical. Now pass me the cigarettes and vegan meatballs along with my martini!

White Hydrangea in glass vases.

Afternoon naps while it rains.

Remembering to meditate in the morning.

Yet as a sober person, being bitter is a big no-no. That literature that lots of sober people read says the grouch and the brainstorm are dubious luxuries for normal men but no bueno for drunks and drug addicts like me. So I’ve had to find a new way to live which means I can be a little bitchy but not full for bitter old queen. For example, I gleefully like to say, “I hate everyone/everything.” Yet I don’t actually mean this. I spout it off in a salty, sassy way. Like in a “Aww. Isn’t Sean adorable? He hates everything again. Go get him a cookie,” kind of way. Believe it or not, I actually see and encounter things I like and even love. And nearly every hour of the day.

As we’ve talked about here before, I write gratitude lists every day and have for over 7 years. I find five things that made life a little better and I write them down. That’s it. That is the whole practice. Its a kind of magic that does not require special oils, a wand or even an ancient spell. Listen, I don’t know why it makes me less of an insufferable asshole. That’s why it’s magic. All I know is that it does work. A little daily flow of positivity and love helps keep the bitter old queen away. Or maybe not entirely away but less bitter.

When I was 24, I worked at a Mexican restaurant where old gay men would sit and drink margaritas and bitch about their lives. Bobby, the bartender at that place, smoked cigarettes and told me stories of his days on the MGM set as an assistant. He even went to Korea with Marilyn Monroe. I loved dear Bobby but she was a bitter old gal who drank a lot. I just naturally assumed this would be my destiny. Drunk, bitter and unhappy. But in the ultimate plot twist, I’m no longer drunk and I’m certainly not unhappy.  I’ve already defied my gay programming and started to erase the writing on the wall. So hopefully, one day at a time, I can be a less bitter too. In the meantime, I’ll settle for sassy and salty.

what we mean when we call you girl

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Girl.

It’s the four letter text message that says it all. Add a “u” or a few rrr’s but it still says everything. It says, “Oh my god.” It says, “Can you believe this shit?” It says, “I’m exhausted and I can’t get it into it.” It says, “I agree with you.” It says, “I’m sorry.” It says, “My mind is blown and I need to resort to one word that expresses everything.”  But to me the word girl when spoken among gay men means, “You belong and I get you.”

When I turned 21, I was dating an older guy (who was like 25 at the time but being the hateful little queens we were, we all acted like he was Grandma Moses) and I spent a lot of time with his friends. To each other, they were all “girl.” It was a term of endearment and while I don’t remember the precise moment, I do remember how I felt when I was called “girl.” When dishing and drinking cocktails or playfully making fun of each other, the word bounced around the room with each person catching it and tossing it back. My natural social nature mixed my extreme people pleaserism helps me acclimate fairly quickly to any situation so soon enough I was being called girl too. Getting the moniker “girl” and addressing others with it too meant that I had arrived as a young gay man and in that moment it felt important. After spending my teen years bullied and in the closet, I felt like myself finally and the being able to drink like a grown up didn’t hurt either. The girl had arrived and she wasn’t going back.

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Through nightclub life in Los Angeles and hanging out with drag queens, I had found my girls in the mid-nineties and me and the phrase were off to the races. It was said in rage, it was said in gossip, it was said in concern and it was said instead of getting into deeper uglier details. It could also be said in the realm of gay superficiality, one as a creature of the night I was exposed to a lot. You’d call someone girl instead of remembering their name or call them girl to feign a closeness that really didn’t exist. Regardless, girl cemented itself into my language which is interesting given the origin of the word. According to this fascinating piece, the word has a bizarre and storied history. In the 15th Century, both men and women were called girl. Women, believe it or not, were referred to as “gay girls” while young men were called, “knave girls.” In my mind this sort of makes sense. I mean what if 15th century homos were just walking by one another and saying, “Knave girl!” which would later become “Hey Girl!” Okay, I’m totally making up my own etymology myth here but it could have happened. What struck me about this little blip of a factoid is that at one point we were all girl. I know. “We are all girl” sounds like some horrible feminism lite campaign started by a lip gloss company. But still it’s cool to think that back in the day sexualizing the moniker wasn’t even a thing. That we were all called girl.

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At age 44, it’s now just part of my gay vernacular and something I say all of the time even when I talk to straight people. The women in their fifties and sixties who I used to work with loved when I’d exhaustedly call them girl.  But the word isn’t even so much about gender as it is the perfect every occasion word to perfectly nail a myriad of situations. Thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race the gay context of the word has gone mainstream and people now know how we use it. When I was thinking about this topic before I sat down to write, I wondered if for me the word had even further power. During my childhood, I was always called girly or sissy or gay (even though I was the least sexual child on the planet) or having everything I do from walking to talking described as “like a girl.” So it would be natural to shun the word. Some gay men work overtime with the masculinity to avoid the word and the negativity associated with it. Yet I think what we, as gay men get to do, is reclaim it. We take what was negatively labeled on us and turn it into a word of power, of humor and most importantly a word of belonging. My best gay friends and I call each other girl and when we do it’s like a verbal hug. It’s code for, “I love your big gay crazy ass.” When my bestie from the recovery texts me girl or bitch (a word we’ve also reclaimed and that I adore), I know that I’m loved even though he’s a few thousand miles away.

 

I’m willing to accept that I’ve spent some 1,000 words gaysplaining the word girl and its personal meaning to me. See, in the brewing intolerant times we live in, being as gay as humanly possible has become something of a personal mission. Like, I’m inches away from performing a non-stop Judy Garland lip synch routine in a park while covered in rainbow body glitter. Owning my big girl self isn’t just good esteem-wise but it’s a pink neon middle finger to the world at large. As gay men are currently being put in concentration camps and trans people are being murdered, I can’t hide. As LGBT suicide and addiction rates explode, I can’t look the other way. In fact, as a person who is out and healthy and expressive I have a responsibility to keep the lights on for those who are still in hiding and in pain.

So girl, when we call you girl, it means something. It means we get you. It means we have your back. It means we love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a path to the rainbow’s end

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So long ago
It’s a certain time
It’s a certain place

Not everybody I know who got sober drank at work. Not everybody I know who got sober did drugs at work. But I certainly did. As did my favorite rock goddess Stevie Nicks. Stevie also slept with Tom Petty and wore shawls to work, things I did not do–yet! I mean there’s still time! Actually, the shawls are more likely to go down than the Petty moment(shudder). Still, Stevie is such a longstanding influence on me that I wouldn’t count anything out. In fact, I’m a little shocked that I haven’t blogged about her here after nearly a year in business. She certainly came up multiple times at urtheinspiration. The thing I love about Stevie is that her songwriting has such layers. Beneath the witchy, lace and leather trappings are some real complex, emotional words. Her writing is unapologetic and truthful while always peppered with a little sadness just to round out the flavor.  Yet the song on my mind lately is “Seven Wonders” a song she didn’t even write for Fleetwood Mac.

The song comes from Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night, two albums after their flawless in every sense of the word classic Rumors. Celebrating 30 years in release this spring, Tango in the Night has a spattering of memorable songs and is notable for being the last album the Fleetwood-Nicks-Buckingham-McVie-McVie lineup ever recorded together. Tracks like “Big Love,” the still solid “Everywhere,” “Little Lies”  and the aforementioned “Seven Wonders” were radio hits for a reason. Lushly produced by Lindsey Buckingham, each song is pure Fleetwood Mac and signs of a band who could pretty much phone it in after 14 albums together. This must-read Pitchfork review of the re-issue nails all the delights and disasters of Tango In The Night but let’s just say, as always with Fleetwood Mac, the back story nearly eclipses the record itself.

Knee-deep in a spiraling cocaine addiction co-founder Mick Fleetwood could barely be counted on during the recording of Tango In The Night while Nicks was out of rehab for her own coke problem but now filled to the brim with opiates. In a move that pre-dates the current opioid crisis, Nicks claims her doctor prescribed her Klonopin as a form of treatment for cocaine addiction. Per an article she wrote for Newsweek in 2011:

What this man said was: “In order to keep you off cocaine we should put you on the drug that we’re using a lot these days called Klonopin.” Stupidly, I said, “All right.” And the next eight years of my life were destroyed.

Naturally, Tango in the Night suffered. “I started not being able to get to Lindsey Buckingham’s house on time, and I would get there and everybody was drinking, so I’d have a glass of wine,” she writes. “Don’t mix tranquilizers and wine. Then I’d sing horrific parts on his songs, and he would take the parts off. I was hardly on Tango of the Night, which I happen to love.” Buckingham himself says of Nicks’ performance on the record, “Stevie was the worse she’s ever been.” Reports of Nicks being too drunk to record and having to have vocals patched together by Buckingham are now part of Tango in the Night’s legend.

Yet for all the drug soaked disasters on Tango in the Night, Stevie Nicks and “Seven Wonders” survives. The song had a major resurgence recently when it was featured on American Horror Story, catapulting it back on the Billboard charts. When you hear today in 2017, its pure Nicks. Written by her backup singer and collaborator Sandy Stewart, Nicks receives co-writing credit by default. According to SongMeanings, “While listening to the demo by Stewart (who did not provide any written lyrics), Nicks misunderstood the phrase “All the way down you held the line” as ‘All the way down to Emmeline’, which is what she sang and led to Nicks’ credit as co-writer of the song.” Classic Stevie. Like what the hell does her version even mean but wait who cares? It’s Stevie. We mere mortals are not meant to understand. Clearly, Stewart was well-versed in the mysticism and imagery of Stevie as the track features lines like “I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end.” As far as Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac songs, it’s not one of the iconic greats. It’s no “Landslide” or “Gypsy.” But I love it for the shawl-twirling late 80’s rock sensibility. Plus, it’s catchy as hell. 1987 was the pinnacle for pop song earworms and “Seven Wonders” holds its own among them.  Knowing we what we know now about Stevie during the time the song was recorded, it’s impossible not to view it as a survival anthem.

So long ago
It’s a certain time
It’s a certain place
You touched my hand and you smiled
All the way back you held out your hand
If I hope and I pray
Ooh it might work out someday
If I live to see the seven wonders
I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end
I’ll never live to match the beauty again

Rich in the theme of a missed opportunity of fleeting love and happiness, you’d be hard pressed not to see how this relates to a person struggling with addiction. I can’t speak for Stevie but I know for me there were long stretches in my drinking and using and even in early sobriety, where I thought I’d never be happy again.  Love and happiness seem like fantasies when you’re just trying to stay alive. “Seven Wonders” taps into the this sentiment while hiding under the (presumably lace) veil of unrequited love. Plus, the legacy of the song is one of an artist in shambles, barely keeping it together. I certainly identify with wanting to show up but being too wasted to actually be any good. Equally profound is that Nicks has re-claimed the song in recent years and made it her own by performing it live. Talk about not regretting the past or shutting the door on it.

Upon the recent re-release of Tango in the Night, Rolling Stone posted the stripped down original version of the song. In it, you hear an artist fighting for her life but still absolutely killing it. She sounds determined, fierce and broken. It’s a stunning performance that proves that maybe the 8th wonder of the world is being able to escape our demons and survive ourselves. If it isn’t, than Stevie Nicks certainly is.

a job well done

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Blink and you probably missed International Firefighter’s Day on May 4th. Likewise, you might have missed Secretary’s Day on April 26 or Teacher’s Day this past Tuesday, May 9. But don’t worry. There’s always Labor Day which sort of celebrates all kinds of workers in a big lump. Being a festive alcoholic by nature, I like this idea of celebrating people who just show up and work. Like yay. You contributed something and hopefully it didn’t corrode your soul in the process. Have a cupcake! For those of us who do the work taking care of our various mental illnesses, the work of staying sober and the work of generally fighting against of the demons inside our brains, I think we could use a holiday too.

“International Day of People Working Hard Not to Kill Themselves” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue but it could all be shortened and worked out through a series of focus groups, I’m sure. Also, I don’t know what kinds of cards are out there in the gift universe applicable to such a holiday but I’m positive the fine folks at Hallmark could come up with something. And we probably wouldn’t get a day off since stopping taking our meds or going to meetings or therapy even for one day is a terrible idea. Okay, so there’s a lot of logistics to work out for such a holiday. But staying healthy, sober and sane is a ton of work and it should be recognized as such. After all, every meeting ends with “Works if you work it” and the general scope of things to do to stay sane and sober is always referred to as “doing the work.” Conversely, we hear when people have come back from a relapse. they usually admit they “stopped doing the work” before they went out. We call it work because that’s what it is. Changing our thoughts, getting better and making an effort all require work and lots of it. It’s the kind of work, unlike the aforementioned highly esteemed professions, that has no time clock and that we need to do forever.

Personally, there are times when it really feels like work. Like a slog. Like another, “Fuck. not again” task. Not to whine like the worst sober person ever but I have to constantly talk myself into doing these things, this work that I know will make me feel better. The fact I need to talk myself out of feeling uncomfortable is sign enough that I really, really need to continue doing this work. Intellectually I know all of this but y’all. I’m an entitled alcoholic. Don’t think I’d continue “doing the work” if there was a magical pill I could take once a day which would have the exact same effects. But even then I’d probably complain about taking the pill too, as my routine with my other medications has proven. I am, at the very core of my being, resistant to anything that makes me less miserable. Hence why the word work feels appropriate.

One day in early recovery after I had gotten my HIV diagnosis, I was complaining to a beloved sober friend who said to me very nonchalantly, “Meh. You take your pills, you got to meetings. What’s the big fucking deal?” He was right. It isn’t a big fucking deal but certainly becomes one if I don’t do all of the things that make this mental health miracle sparkle. This morning as I forced myself out the door to a meeting wherein I again forced myself to share all the crazy bullshit on my mind, it felt like work and work I did not want to do. But I did it anyway and one hour later I felt lighter, happier and okay with hanging out with me for the rest of the day. The people in the halls of recovery pounded into my brain this idea of contrary action, of doing stuff that I really didn’t want to do but just doing them anyway. Therefore, I do the work I need to stay sober not because I’m some sobriety olympian but because I’m a still sort of a hot mess that needs all the help he can get.

The more I think about it, we don’t need no stinking holiday to celebrate our work. Let those other hard-working folks have their days. We get to have complicated, beautiful, big, amazing, pain in the ass lives instead. And as Miss America as that sounds, that’s the real reward for doing the work. Plus, when you’re the boss of your recovery and doing the work all the time, you can have a damn cupcake whenever you want.

 

 

 

standard bitch

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The Google image title of this photo is actually “White Standard Bitch” which could make an excellent book title, btw.

Everybody has something they bring to the table. Even people who are awful have that one thing they contribute, even if it’s just their general awfulness. Personally, that thing I can bring to the table is my sense of humor. Look, this is not some passive aggressive outcry for compliments. Jesus fuck no. I just know that being funny is something I can contribute. So when that contribution goes tragically awry and gets misinterpreted causing all sorts of bullshit Facebook comment fallout, what I’ve wound up bringing to the table is basically a big turd salad.

There is no more special of a hell than that in which I am forced to explain a joke or intention behind what I said. I take this personally as a funny person because it means I’ve belly-flopped on this whole “aren’t you clever” gig. As Erykah Badu would say, “Keep in mind I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” Yet that’s exactly what happened last week when I made a joke about hurling myself into a volcano based on my pre-existing conditions being problematic to the recently passed by congress ACHA. Sigh. Before we go any further, I know that it’s a buyer beware situation with stuff like this on Facebook. Notoriously lacking in a sense of humor and ready to pounce with unsolicited advice at a moments notice, I know that I get what I deserve when I post on Facebook. Yet I did it anyway. As a HIV positive man with mental illness who is also an addict/alcoholic in recovery, my joke was that I should just save myself some time and hurl my body into a volcano instead of trying to get healthcare. I mean if I can’t make fun of my pre-existing conditions than I’m really screwed. Plus one of my other pre-existing conditions is being a sarcastic bitch so I felt like the joke was well warranted and more than that it was what was on my mind at the time. To no one’s surprise, this joke went over like BLTs at a Kosher meal. Some of my comments were left by people who laughed and made jokes in return. These people can stay and are reason why I friended them on that mind-sucking social media hell hole in the first place.  Everybody else? Not so much.

These folks fell into two camps: people who told me to rally or people who were “internet concerned” about the state of my well-being. The first group of people can, and I mean this in the most Christian way possible, eat a bucket of dicks. The ones who did this it should be noted are affluent folks with no pre-existing conditions who are also white and straight. So yeah. One bucket of dicks, coming up! I’m sorry I don’t tell you how to detail your Volvo because, gee, I don’t know, I DON’T OWN A VOLVO. So zip it with the “go rally and call your senator” battle cry. Unless you plan on magically becoming a HIV positive drug addict with depression than I kind of don’t give a shit. Plus, I wasn’t wallowing. I was doing what I always do: making a joke instead of stepping in front of a bus. It felt healthy and appropriate given the bad news.

Which brings me to the second camp of people, the ones who thought I was really serious and upset. One friend worried that I was going to relapse. One shared a story about a loved one struggling with mental illness and suggested an online support group for me to join. Insert a deep sigh that comes from the bottom of my toes here. I mean first of all, if you’ve followed me for more than a week on social media, than you know that I’m not serious about anything. Ever. So that I would put out a Facebook status message with serious thoughts of suicide is freaking ridiculous. Secondly, none of these people were that concerned. Like they didn’t direct message me or call me or text me. They just posted to make themselves feel better which is fine and it’s something we all do. But girl. Don’t pretend my dumb post made you go pray or call 911.

After a few hours, I decided to just delete the damn post. The fault here was not my friends. It’s not even Facebook’s fault. It was my own and I knew it. Insert another gigantic sigh here. I was feeling feisty and bitchy which led me to momentarily forgot the whole “restraint of pen and tongue” thing. Lesson learned or at least temporarily learned. It’s one day at time with this shit too, people. For the next few days, I wondered if maybe I should exam my bitchy, cynical nature. Maybe this attitude was toxic. Maybe I should use my voice to share motivational thoughts or inspiring words.

Well , thank god those thoughts quickly passed. Because that’s just not who I am. I didn’t stop killing myself with drugs and alcohol only to censure myself. I’m big, beautiful smart ass me. Despite one joke tanking, I really like who I am. I think humor can be really powerful and the people who make me laugh save my life. Therefore, if I can do the same for someone else, I feel like I’ve made a difference. And that’s about as inspirational as this standard bitch is gonna get.

please talk about me when I’m gone

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What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

Rinse and repeat four thousand times. Sure, sure, sure. I believe this. Or I try to. See, I know it’s true and even for a narcissist like me the very idea can actually be comforting. Knowing that nobody’s opinion of me is actually important is a relief. Like if I am really “there” in that head space of truly and joyfully not giving a shit about what people think, it can provide a whole lot of freedom. Of course the whole idea of social media hinges on what people think about you and this is a tad difficult to reconcile. Still, I know in my heart that what people think about me is none of my business. Well, at least until I die, anyway.

Oh trust me we’re about to take self-obsession to a whole other level so buckle up. The level of the afterlife, specifically.  I do know that I can’t actually control what people think about when I die or maybe I can but that’s not something I’ll find out until I’m like dead. Uh duh. Still, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what sort of legacy my big ass personality will leave behind. Listen, my real hope is that I’m not so exhausting that I kill off all the people around me. Likewise, I don’t want my departure from this realm to be a “Thank God that bitch is gone!” sort of thing. I also don’t have grand illusions of monuments being erected or holidays being launched in my honor after I die. Of course, I am open to these things but I am not counting on them. This all sounds odd, I know but I have been thinking about it a lot lately. At age 44, I spend entirely too much time wondering about death and old age all the other things I didn’t think would physically happen when I was drinking and using drugs. Not in a morbid way though. More like a “Hmm. I wonder what the hell that’ll be like” sort of way. I know death is a train on its own timetable that I cannot stop and I don’t wish to. But I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t curious about what happens after it picks me up from the station.

My sister, who is sober and living in Florida and therefore proof that those two things can in fact coexist, was telling me a story the other day about a woman she knows from the rooms of recovery. This woman, in her 80’s recently died, causing a shockwave of sadness amongst her sober community. She had been able to cobble together 18 months of continuous sobriety after years of struggling to get sober. It’s an incredible accomplishment at any age. So imagine my sister’s shock and disappointment when nary a mention of this woman’s brave struggle against alcoholism even came up at the memorial. Instead, it was a ceremony rich in religious practices that were more about her family than her own. My sister felt like it was slap in the face to this woman who had by all accounts busted her ass to get and stay sober. We then agreed that if our respective funerals were given an unwanted religious makeover that we would independently haunt this earth in a manner that would make Amityville Horror look like a housewarming. We also agreed “that” part of our story was worth mentioning and honoring in death. After all, it’s a heroic battle that should be celebrated. There’s no doubt that a bout with cancer or time spent in the military would be heralded. Thus we came to the conclusion overcoming addiction should be treated the same way.  I mean for us. You do whatever you want with your funeral and haunt this earth however you choose.

But yeah I think when I die, it would be nice for my whole story to be told. Not like I plan on dying soon, as I am from a decidedly salty stock of people who tend to hang on for 90 years and act sassy until their very final moments. Still, I fought hard for this whole story, dammit and would like it all to be remembered. The idea of having people who only knew me sober at my funeral is a nice one. The idea of people being there who saw the whole journey is even nicer. And since my cross to bear in this life as a chronic bullshitter is telling the truth, these testimonies to my character might as well be as honest and funny as humanly possible. It would be very “off brand” to have it any other way. Might as well celebrate the whole picture, warts and all. As long as it’s not in a church and there’s 80’s music and tacos, I think there’s nothing from my personal life that couldn’t be talked about in death.

Sure, I can’t control what happens at my funeral, although my grandmother who had everything from the readings to the food and the location on lock well before she died would argue with this sentiment. But I can control what happens until then. I can try my best to be less of a dick on a daily basis. I can try to tell people I love them whenever and wherever I can. I can take minute and smile and think, “Wow. I’m fucking lucky to be walking in the sunshine right now” like I did the other day as I strolled home after buying flowers.

Therefore, consider this my official notice that you can say whatever you like about me at my funeral as long as it’s the truth and as long as you say a lot of it. Also, conditions and terms of the aforementioned haunting are subject to change depending on what kind of shit goes down over the next few decades.

private chanter

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If I have unrealistic expectations, don’t blame me. Blame Tina Turner. Witnessing Tina Turner live and onstage at age 12 has forever warped my expectations of what mere mortals should be able to do. I thought that every woman could dance and run around for 90 minutes in 7 inch high heels (they cannot). I thought that every person in their 50’s looked and acted like her (they do not). Much to my dismay, I also thought that every soul diva to come after her would be just as excellent and as we know they are not. In fact, I really blame Tina Turner for me not loving Beyoncé. Had I never seen Tina Turner live and experienced her funky rock and roll voodoo in person maybe I’d be more impressed with Beyoncé. Alas, I did see her on tour (with Stevie Wonder no less!) and therefore I am decidedly not. This is not Beyoncé’s fault. I am just rewired differently because of this experience. Having not seen many live performances at that age I still knew on a cellular level that this firestorm of a person was incredible. Every song, every dance move, every interaction with the audience was a masterclass on how rock and roll should be done.  On spiritual level, I think needed this cosmic interaction with Tina Turner as a 12-year-old. Maybe her resilience and survival were subconsciously telling me to hang in there or maybe she was just incredibly fierce and ran around non-stop in leather.

Either way, my expectations were high and made even higher when I saw What’s Love Got To Do With It? in theaters in 1993. Please watch this immediately to properly find your way to the Church of Tina Turner. Anchored by two of the best performances of the 1990s courtesy of Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburn, the film tells Tina’s life story and her escape from her abusive marriage to Ike Turner. It’s a phenomenal film made even better by the packed house of primarily black women where I saw it on opening weekend. The scene in the limo where Tina finally leaves is powerful on its own but gets rocketed into a whole other dimension of amazing when the audience is hollering at the screen, “That’s right, girl! Leave his ass!” Yet the scene that really stuck with me was when Tina gets introduced to Buddhism by one of the Ikettes. She is shown chanting, “nam myoho renge kyo.” I was almost 21 when I saw that movie and seeking something else. By then, I’d already done enough ecstasy that it stopped working and moved my car over into the meth lane to disastrous results. So this 3 minutes of spirituality on film was powerful for some reason.

Flash forward to the summer of 2009. I had moved from the East side to the West Side in Los Angeles which is a cultural faux pas akin to leaving the Democratic party to become a Republican. But I did it to get sober. Thankfully, my roommate at the time  was also sober and practicing Daishonin Buddhism. The religion, as it turns out, is primarily based on chanting “nam myoho renge kyo.” When she asked if I was familiar, I of course acted like an expert. But the reality was all I knew of nam myoho renge kyo was the 3 minutes from the movie. Still, it worked for Tina Turner and it looked like it was working for my roommate and her friends so I thought I’d give it a try. She taught me how to chant at home, took me to Buddhist events and I started to read more about it. Listen, I was in bad shape after 20 years of drugs and alcohol and I was pretty much open to anything. It felt good when I chanted and it didn’t seem like it couldn’t hurt. The idea to go get tested for HIV came to me while chanting. It had been years and it was way past due. Chanting also brought up strong and difficult emotions about the past. When I got my positive diagnosis and other parts of my life started to fall apart, I realized that maybe I was a tad out of depth with this chanting thing. Maybe my Tina Turner expectations around my newfound spirituality were unrealistic too?

Like a good drug addict, I wanted all of my recovery and spirituality to work fast and make me instantly feel better. So when chanting brought up difficult stuff, it scared the hell out of me. At the time, I felt like I unleashed a whirlwind with this spiritual tool and I was freaked out. Pretty quickly, I dropped chanting as a practice. However, the reality  was my life was fucked up thanks to the damage I did. Chanting just brought it all to the surface. The shit was destined to hit the fan (and continue to do so for several months) and chanting just expedited it. Also, those three minutes in the movie, although powerful, don’t tell the whole story. Any good Tina fan knows that her battles with Ike and struggles to get her career back were just beginning so chanting was just a practice and not some cure-all for her either. She continued chanting and her life, as we know, gradually improved.

Even though I stopped chanting, my life improved too. Feeling like I fast tracked a religious life too quickly, I just went to meetings and tried to keep my life simple. It was going to take a lot of time to get honest, to change my thinking and to stop feeling horrible. My spiritual life was stripped down to the basics. Prayers in the morning and at night and that was it. That’s all my little drug damaged head could handle. I introduced more meditation at a year and a half sober but I naturally did that alcoholically too at 30 minutes a day and was forced to make that easier as well.

This morning, I meditated while the sun came up for ten minutes as the cats took turns walking across my lap. I giggled at them and took sips of coffee and gently pushed my thoughts back to meditation. I’m not exactly levitating these days or being sought after for spiritual advice. But my prayer and meditation feels honest which for a lying addict like me is huge. What’s more is the thing I really loved about Tina Turner, her spirit of survival and ability to come out the other side of horrific times, is something I get to see in real life when I hang out everyday with other sober addicts and alcoholics. And I even get to see it in myself and I don’t even have to wear leather or high heels.

Lessons from Blogging Every Day in April

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I know, I know. It’s not April anymore. Why the hell am I still talking? Trust me. I’m as shocked as anybody else that I still have anything to say. If April went on for any longer, I’d be forced to write posts reviewing YouTube drag queen videos (Um that actually sounds entertaining now that I think about it). But I did want to spit out some thoughts on writing everyday this month before I binge more Hulu shows and forget what I wanted to say.

Writing every day last month was an unexpectedly informative journey. I basically decided to do it because I was bored and needed a project. I had no end game and wasn’t trying to build a fan base or rough draft a book. But those two things accidentally happend by the way!  I just knew on some level that writing everyday would be good for me. So I hopped into this whole endeavor with zero plans or expectations. To my surprise, this little 30 day exercise taught me a whole bunch about myself. Here now are a few of the lessons I learned along the way.

Marathon Not a Sprint: Fairly quickly, I dunno maybe around April 5th, I realized the breadth and scope of what I was doing. It felt overwhelming and more than that it felt like I was going to struggle to keep it fresh and entertaining for 30 days. Luckily, I didn’t think about it too much and just wrote everyday. I did make little notes on things I wanted to talk about and came up with a calendar of posts that was flexible enough if decided to write about something else. All of this helped the project feel less overwhelming and allowed me to just do what I could do everyday and that was simple: write.

Feed The Beast: Although writing as an activity happens, cue the Celine, all by myself, it very much relies on the outside world to survive. After all, you can’t write about food unless you cook all of the time. You can’t write about art unless you look at art all of the time. So for me as a writer of pop culture and recovery, I had to lap in as much of that stuff as possible. This past month, I needed every tv show I watched online, every movie, every walk with friends, every conversation, every meeting I went to and most importantly every single thing I read. Without any other stimulation, I become dry, dull and repetitive. I know for a fact if I’ve run out of things to say there’s a huge problem and usually that problem can be fixed easily with reading. Reading brilliant and funny essays by Lindy West, Melissa Broder and Phoebe Robinson helped me so much as that’s the kind of stuff I want to write. By keeping myself “well-fed” creatively, I had more inspiration and energy to continue.

Look Out Weekends: It’s always interesting to look at when my blog gets the most reads. Until April, I just assumed it happened randomly. Like people stumbled on it whenever as if it was a dollar they found in their pocket. Turns out, thanks to WordPress’ algorithm tools, there are actually times and days when more people look at my blog. Thus it would make sense to publish on those days. Duh. For me, y’all like to read me on the weekends. And I’m okay with that and being the people pleaser I am will take that into account from here on out.

Reader Knows Best: That handy-dandy data also helped me figure out what kind of posts people liked to read too. The one common thread in popularity in my posts? The truth. When I let go and let you have it, the posts did really well. The more honest the post, the more readers. Pre-calculated and overwrought pieces rarely did well. But then again, my readers also like stuff that deals with life right now. So posts about a current tv show or movie or life change did in general better than the ones that dealt with a memory. These are good things to keep in the back of my mind when developing new essays….

But Also Write Whatever The Fuck You Want: I can’t get too tripped up about what people want to read or what I think they want. Talk about exhausting. Sure, it’s helpful to see what’s trending and gained popularity on my blog but it can’t be the whole reason I write certain posts. Readers see right through that nonsense. Instead, this month taught me to go with my gut and write posts from the heart that oozed honesty. 9 times out of 10 people responded when I stayed true to my voice.

Burn Out & Breakdown: Halfway through the month, as I have discussed here and on Twitter, I had a meltdown. Not like a Mariah Carey on a 5150 type of meltdown, mind you. But after days of spilling my guts on the page, I felt raw and like an exposed nerve. I thought I was breaking down because I’d hit something really personal in my writing and unleashed a mess of emotions. This was in fact part of it but not the whole story. I was also just burnt out. I was tired and out of gas. I needed to refuel and relax. This minor bump in the road was incredibly helpful because it made me prioritize self-care(things like rest, eating well, walking) and make it work in tandem with my writing practice.

Rehash & Recycle: Another thing I learned in this process? Some days the brilliant thoughts aren’t gonna come. Some days the well is just dry. So for these days I have plenty of drafts with a couple of sentences of half-formed ideas to help form new posts. Also I have an old blog filled with hundreds of posts and some of those ideas could use a fresh take or new spin. While for April I did write each post fresh every single day, there were a couple of posts who were born from an old draft, old post or just a simmering idea I jotted down a few words about. The challenge of breathing new life into an idea that was DOA is a good one and helped a few posts turn into something cooler and bigger than I could have imagined.

Trust It: Without a desired destination or preordained specific goal in my mind when I started this project, I really had to write with a whole shit ton of faith. I had to turn fear and preconceived notions off and just keep writing. I had to be creative and simply trust that creativity was enough. Which is not at all easy. Just trusting yourself as a writer and a creative being is some ninja bad assery. Still, when I let go and trust this process that’s when magical posts appeared out of nowhere. More than that, it’s these posts that I was the most proud of and that were the most meaningful. No, I didn’t sit down in the begininng of the month wanting to write about potatoes, showers, burritos, Mavis Staples and my ass. But by trusting the process, I did write those posts and I’m really glad I did.

So would I recommend writing a blog post every day for a month? Absolutely. It’s a really great way to get your writer muscles in shape. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But not in May. I promised you guys I’d shut up for a bit. And by “a bit” I mean I’m now only publishing three times a week.

 

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