enough of never enough

7372321_14564273372092_rId10.jpgWhen did it start? How did it happen? Was it childhood? Doesn’t it always come back to childhood? Surely, that was it. Although, maybe not. After all, I never went to bed hungry. I always got everything on my birthday list. The lights were never out and the house was always warm. By those standards, I always was taken care and had enough. A deeper, no-nonsense part of my brain that maybe I don’t want to listen to right now on my first cup of coffee says, “But did you have enough love?” Damn, girl.  I don’t know. Probably not. But whatever it is, I have a brain that tells me I don’t have enough.

Scarcity feels like a shameful and dramatic word for an American like me to use. Like here we are in the land of endless crap with more people than ever. How could we possibly feel scarcity? Google news search “scarcity” and you’ll come up with some places that deserve that word.  Places in India with water scarcity or inner city areas facing a teacher scarcity. That’s some real shit. My buried deep inside of me scarcity, and I know this already, comes solely from me. My scarcity exists because I let it. If I am not hysterical and if I am willing to see the truth I know for a fact that I have house, food to eat, regular income, medical care, etc. Still, as an addict, who lived so long waiting for the next high, re-wiring my brain out of scarcity mode is fucking hard.

I promised last year when I started this conversation with you that I would talk about everything. Thus here we are talking about finances, careers, jobs and other sorts of things that make me feel icky. Which is funny because I have no problem blurting out 700 words about doing meth or feeling insane but talking about this stuff feels particularly vulnerable. I don’t know why. I guess because I have this notion that as a person my age should have their shit together financially. My ego wants you to think I’m some baller or that the very least a person who doesn’t have single digits in their bank account. Yet the real truth is I’ve always been pretty terrible in the financial department. Naturally, as an addict I have the myriad of overdrawn accounts, evictions and bad checks in my past. But now 8.5 years sober, I still struggle to balance my finances and currently making enough money.

Since moving, my employment status has been all over the place. Piecing together freelance writing gigs and side job shenanigans has been harder than I thought it would be. Sure, some of it, as my husband reminds me, is the new city deal. I moved here, unlike him whose job brought him here, without a job. Therefore, he assures me, it’s normal that I’d have a period of readjusting. And he’s right. Plus, it isn’t like I’ve had zero opportunities and no money coming in. Just not enough to really cover my bills. I’ve been proactive in the meantime, however. I’ve applied for tons of other jobs, submitted writing to all kinds of places and I’ve signed up for every depressing and bleak job website and their respective (and equally terrible) email newsletters. In general, I’ve run around like a crazy person to make it click, to make this click, to make me click into a place where I feel like I’m contributing and where I don’t have to worry. And the result? Nada.

So many “no”, “no thank you” and plain old no response answers have beaten me into a place of submission. I’ve even readjusted the goals, widened the net and tried different things. And the answer has universally still been the same. Sigh like for two hours sigh. Yesterday, I had a moment. It was a hard moment but a good moment. In this little moment of mine, it hit me. It wasn’t that there isn’t enough jobs or enough money or that the city of Portland is conspiring against me from financially succeeding. It was me. It was this broken brain hell-bent on scarcity that was causing the issues. Damn, girl: the sequel. “Things” were not going to change unless I changed my thinking.

Oh goody. Another opportunity for painful spiritual growth. I’m thrilled. Yet it feels like the only way. The external is not budging and doing what I want it to do, the hateful bastard. So it’s up to me. And to be completely honest I am not even sure what this will look like. More meditation, more faith, more gratitude all seem like the place to start.  Changing my bitch ass attitude about the jobs I do have and about the money I do have coming in is another thing I can do too. But the rest of? Honeychild, I really don’t know. But what I know is this: I’m hitting a bottom around this lie of scarcity and this fraud that I don’t have enough or that I am not enough. And from what I know about hitting bottom, it’s an excellent place to start and the only way from here is up.

 

 

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something there that wasn’t there before

If I was that writer I would have called this post “Things Your Kids Love Because of AIDS.” If I was that writer, I’d probably also be selling my soul to some clickbaity site that would be good for my career but would also increase my chances of stepping in front of a bus. Alas, I am not that writer. I am, however, someone who loves fairy tales and really loves Disney versions of fairytales. I know, I know it’s not cool or woke or hipster to like Disney movies. The Disney machine, and not wrongly in most cases, is accused of turning entertainment into a machine and stripping away real character and depth from darker, childhood stories. They are also cited for snatching up beloved properties and sucking the life out of them. Likewise, Disney is notorious for problematic imagery for children and hideous employment practices. Yet the heart wants what it wants and my big gay heart loves a Disney fairytale.

I hesitate to own this statement in print because it feels so permanent and the movie in question has now become bland and basic due to a live-action remake that I refused to see. Seriously, do not get me started on this onslaught of live-action Disney remakes which by the way can hardly be called live action when 80% of them is done in CGI. I’m still annoyed/traumatized/baffled by that hideous Jungle Book everyone seemed to love but me. I digress but Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of the Disney fairytale canon. There. I said it. And I stand by it. Properly dark, great characters, beautiful animation and knockout songs, it swept Oscar nominations the year it was released and rightfully so. A smart heroine who happens to be a giant book nerd and who gets along with her family plus Angela Lansbury as a tea kettle? Sign me up. However here in 2017 in my forties this movie means something else to me today and mainly because of the film’s lyricist Howard Ashman.

Ashman, the openly gay songwriter and genius also behind Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid, was dying from AIDS as Beauty and the Beast was being completed. According to film lore, Ashman worked from his home in New York while his songwriting partner Alan Menken and the film’s directors Gary Torusdale and Kirk Wise flew back and forth from Los Angeles during the making of the movie. There’s no question that the movie wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for Ashman’s lyrics. It’s impossible to think of it without singing the title track which also allows you the bonus option of doing either an Angela Lansbury or Celine Dion impression. Rooted in musical theater, the songs seamlessly bridged the gap between Broadway and animation and I’d ventured to say we’ve never gone back. Specifically, however, it’s impossible to deny AIDS when it comes to Beauty and the Beast and its iconic songs. According to the live-action film’s director Bill Condon in Vanity Fair:

“It was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters. Until then, it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling. Specifically for him, it was a metaphor for AIDS. He was cursed, and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him, and maybe there was a chance for a miracle—and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”

Songs like “Kill the Beast” are more overt in reference to AIDS.  In a few bars, Ashman slyly nails the paranoia and prejudice of the AIDS era. “We don’t like what we don’t…understand and in fact it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least.
Bring your guns, bring your knives, save children and your wives, we’ll save our village and our lives!,” the song warns. The metaphor is so clear now but at the time no one knew. The lyrics fall in line with Ashman’s other astute observations of the human condition. Songs like “Skid Row” from Little Shop of Horrors and “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid surely tap into the feelings of not belonging and wanting to escape that gay people have always felt. But given his skill as a songwriter, he tapped into emotions that anyone, especially children can identify with.

Beauty and the Beast really resonates with folks who feel like they don’t belong. The hideous and withdrawn Beast and the bookish and imaginative Belle are square pegs and outcasts. Fate brings them together and we are all the better for it. Ashman’s songs particularly, “Something There” really capture how unlikely people who don’t fit anywhere else sometimes find and fall in love with one another, despite their own misconceptions and prejudices. Talk to any queer person and they’ll relate a similar story when they tell you about finally finding their people. To think that Beauty and the Beast is his last completed project (he also wrote a few songs for Aladdin)is profound to say the least.

As a person living with HIV and in a very different era, it’s hard not to get chills and feel emotional when reading about Ashman and the horrors that artists like him faced at the time. I started thinking about him this week when it was announced that a new documentary about his legacy was coming out later this year. The film looks to shine a light on his artistry as well as last his days dying from AIDS. Despite extreme hatred and isolation, Ashman and other great artists were able to produce works that people are still enjoying to this day.

This August, it will be 8 years since my own HIV diagnosis. While I’m grateful that times have changed and that I can have meds to help me stay alive with relative ease and low-cost, I’d be lying if I said that I still didn’t think we had a long way to go. Sure, we’re now acknowledging Ashman and his legacy. But look elsewhere, like the new movie about Freddie Mercury, and the story of AIDS is all about erased.  To ignore such a vital part of Mercury’s story and it’s impact seems like a mistake. I guess my point of writing is this to remind myself of artists like Ashman and Mercury and what they contributed as people with AIDS and to know they are not forgotten.

Maybe my clickbait idea at the top was correct. I mean, if you love The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, then you love Howard Ashman, a man who died from AIDS.  But also if your kids love the literary adventures of Frog and Toad,  they also love a story of AIDS. If you’ve watched Dreamgirls and sang along, you are enjoying a story that is not just a black story or a musical story but the story of AIDS.   So maybe your kids love something dearly like Beauty and the Beast and that’s partially because of AIDS, a monster whose horrors they’ll hopefully never know. Talk about a real life fairy tale ending.

confessions of a dramaholic

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For those of you keeping score at home, I have at some point in my life detoxed from the following substances: alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, sugar (a couple of times) and drama. I slide that last nasty little drug on there because for me it’s precisely that. Conflict, chaos, pot stirring, gossip, backstabbing, general smack-talking and havoc wreaking. I love all of it and it appears to be my default setting. And it’s an incredibly addictive way to live. The highs of a super dramatic life are really high while the lows are sub-gutter level. But it’s readily available, with no hangover and it’s one of the few addictions that can go on for decades, if you want it to. I suppose this addiction to drama is a useful character defect when it comes to playwriting but it’s an exhausting way to live a normal life.

Yes, I’m gay and yes I am from an alcoholic home which are two things that would certainly qualify me as someone predisposed to drama. Growing up in the house I did, you never knew what was on the other side of the door when you came home from school. I didn’t wait for the other shoe to drop, it usually had already dropped, causing 70 flavors of dramatic bullshit in the process. The very nature of living in an alcoholic home requires a lot of intrigue, lying and role-playing. Nobody is who they say they are and nothing is as it appears. Again, great qualities for a trashy Lifetime movie but a fall down tiresome way to live a life especially as a child.

As far as being gay and dramatic, I wouldn’t say that those two things are always a given. I mean I’ve met some boring, level-headed, normal gay people (they exist!). But for me, it’s a chicken and egg situation. Like am I dramatic because I’m gay or vice versa or did I just happen to win the personality lottery? Who knows. I will say that growing up gay, I certainly had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t and lie about who I was therefore adding even more intrigue to a life that was already a Pat Conroy novel your aunt would read on vacation. No wonder I started drinking at age 14. My dramatic ass life required a cocktail (or 30) just to be dealt with.

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All of this being said and me being an individual who never really loves shouldering the blame for anything, I think The Young and the Restless and the television canon of Aaron Spelling are partially at fault here. I think of The Young and the Restless every year around this time because me and my sister were absolutely hooked on the never-ending drama happening to the fine folks of Genoa City. A soap opera like Y&R, as we junkies refer it, is a wonderful thing for addict like myself. No matter what day, what month or far into an episode, the drama was always there. It’s like a bar that opens at 6am and what’s on tap is your run-of-the-mill baby stealing, husband stealing, identity stealing antics. If you weren’t careful you could even have your family’s cosmetic company stolen like the Abbot’s did. The Abbotts are the family at the center of all of this dramatic foolishness on Young and the Restless. Through the years, the clan had seen more than its share of drama and certainly qualify as addicts. But when we picked up the drug in 1980’s, there was no one causing more drama than Jill Foster Abbott. The former hairdresser turned rich housewife is a great alcoholic character that was never an alcoholic. Jill, like Erica Kane who was doing much the same thing on another network at the time, was at the center of a lot of problems and yet somehow considered herself a victim of circumstance and in no way to blame for whatever shit show was happening to her. Sleeping with her stepson, hiring imposters to take down her nemesis and paying off the trampy girlfriends of her hot dumb son Phillip were just a few of Jill’s great ideas. Jill miraculously managed to never actually take responsibility for her fuck ups and usually threw someone else under the bus in the process.

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On some level, I must have thought that Jill had a great way of living because for as long as I can remember I had created dramas that would inevitably backfire. Lying, cheating, stealing and light forgery (it’s like original forgery but with fewer calories!) were something I did from early in my teens and continued into my thirties as I drank and used. Naturally, the Jill Foster Guide to Life didn’t work so well in the real world not sponsored by Downy and not airing from 11am until 12pm on CBS. But like Jill, it never mattered who got hurt and I never really owned up to the fact that, as they say in the program, my misery was of my own making.

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I’d like to say that I got sober and went through the 12 Steps and I was also cured of my addiction to drama. But that isn’t the truth. More pot stirring, gossip and unfortunately a few finger in the face Real Housewives-style confrontations have happened to me since I’ve gotten sober. Unlike before however the high is shorter and the hangover is god awful. I have had two really dramatic fights in sobriety that felt like the closest I’ve come to relapsing. In both situations, I was out of control and the drama was largely my fault. Coming down from both of those highs shook my program to the core. But please note that it took two times for me to realize that this way of living did not work.  It’s an old mindset that no feels utterly out of step with how I want to live right now.

I’ve recently seen the drama addiction from the other side. Watching others struggle with dramatic thinking or situations that they’ve created is really painful. I wince as a I watch their schemes spectacularly backfire or witness their delusional drama based thoughts spin them out of control. I wince because I know drama is an easy thing for me to pick back up.  In fact, I think it’s the last acceptable drug in sobriety. If you’ve never been around people who no longer drink or use drugs that aren’t more than occasionally embroiled in some crazy drama than you don’t know enough sober people. I think a lot of us take some time to get re-programmed. I think it takes an effort to remember that, “Oh yeah. I don’t have to live like that anymore.” I know for me it’s a choice. One that most days, I’m really good at. But some days whether it’s online or at work or with friends, I seek out drama. Which is okay as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing so it doesn’t go on happening everyday at the same time, 365 days a year. I’ll leave that kind of drama schedule to Y&R. 

what if I was no longer sober?

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what if I was no longer sober?

what if I started drinking again?

what if drugs were something that I all of a sudden just did again?

what if this part of me for the last 8 years just melted away and suddenly wasn’t?

what if it turned out to be not a big deal? 

what if it could be normal?

what if I could be normal?

I wouldn’t say I live there. I wouldn’t even say I hang out there. But I would be lying my face off if I didn’t say I still slowly drive by there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally look in there and see what I might be missing.  I admit it. I have been known to peak in the windows and wander around a bit just to see what it might be like: if I was no longer sober.

WARNING: This is entire thought process as well as the conversation we are about to have is probably a whole lot of wrong for a sobriety guru and all-around spiritual inspiration to be having. So thank god I’m not one of those assholes. I mean seriously. How exhausting. I’m just some writer jerk trying to be less of a jerk and stay sober while doing so. My brand has very low standards, people, making it easier for me to pass the sassy smartass savings onto you. If I was perfect and had totally nailed this gig of recovery, I’d pretty much have to stop talking about myself which would be a travesty. Also, I’d most likely be a robot because from what I’ve seen struggles and real, crazy thoughts don’t stop happening just because you’ve stopped drinking or using drugs. Bummer, I know. But them’s the breaks.

As you might have guessed the crazy thought popped that in my mind was what if I just stopped being sober? I’ve been sober for over 8 years so the idea of how it would be if I suddenly started drinking again is an intriguing and terrifying one. Based on 20 years of dedicated field research, I tend to think that the experiment would be a catastrophe.  Back in 2008, I had a specific period of time which illustrated this theory nicely. I had been sober for 5 months. And by “sober” I mean dry, pretty much insane and doing it myself all the while hanging out with daily drinkers. This is a god awful plan, by the way and I wouldn’t recommend it. Nevertheless, she persisted and somehow managed to stop drinking. But my life was pretty terrible and got even more so in May when we were evicted from our apartment. I remember texting a friend telling her I was just going to grab a bottle of wine and her words were, “Just be careful.” Well, I wasn’t and the next 6 months were a nightmare from hell which led me to getting sober in January 2009.

So I know from firsthand experience what it looks like when I go back to drinking. I’m lucky to have this incredibly painful and shitty experience to draw from and to remember whenever I see glamorous people in their damn sunglasses drinking their damn frozen drinks on their damn patios. Yet I have the brain of an addict and that brain is going to ask me, “what if?” I mean, hi. Drug addicts and alcoholics think about drinking. It’s what we do. So sometimes, no matter how happy we are in our sober life, we will do just that. And wondering what life would be like if I just was no longer sober seems normal too. While I have no crystal ball or physic abilities (again, bummer) I know for sure that if I wasn’t sober I’d lose connection with people.

First off, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have time or patience or the stomach to put up with my sober circle of friends and family. Relations with them would be counterproductive and annoying. They know too much and therefore they would have to be removed. Secondly, the re-established connections I have since I got sober would once again be wobbly due to the fact that I was no longer who I said I was trying to become when we got reconnected. Lastly, I know for a fact the actual circle around me would shrink. I needed people less, the more I drank. I couldn’t handle their perfect lives or judgement. Being alone is just easier.

But how long could I go on? Or how long before it got out of control? Or would it ever get out of control? These are things I don’t know and things that, for today, I don’t actually want to know. I’ve recently watched a few friends drift further and further away from their sober selves and that’s probably where this post comes from. Despite the near-click-baity title which suggests I’m on the verge of a dramatic relapse, I’m mainly curious. What happens to the brain to bridge it from passing thoughts of drinking to slipping right back into your old life? What happens to the soul to make it shrug and think “Eh. Why the hell not?” Again, I don’t know. But I do know being honest helps.

Recently, three people I love have had really open conversations with me about not feeling inspired by sobriety and not really wanting to do the work anymore. These conversations have opened the door to very real, “Oh my god. You too?!?” types of exchanges that suddenly help the task of staying sober feel less daunting and more fun. These people are alcoholics like me whose first instinct is to tell you they are fine and that everything is wonderful. So the fact that we’re able to get real with each other and laugh about our insane thoughts is really powerful and an antidote to the very thinking that ails us. These thoughts become less scary and more funny and our bonds become tighter. Plus, and this is really worth mentioning, we’re all still sober.

Conversely, I’ve also witnessed a few folks whose worlds have gotten smaller, whose connections are less and less. These people look like they’re drifting away. They don’t seem like they’re doing all that well. But they also haven’t opened their mouths and they haven’t reached out. They seem okay going back to ideas that got them drunk the first go round with hopes that it might be different. Seems like a scary game to play but like I said, I get it.

So what if I’m never “normal”? And what if I have thoughts of drinking or using for the rest of my life? Okay. But what if I could still be happy too? What if my world could still get bigger? What if I could still feel more love than I had ever dreamed possible? And what if there’s even more magic coming if I just stay sober and continue to try to get better? Now, that’s a “what if” truly worth pursuing.

 

 

blow shit up

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From about May 1st through September 1st, my old neighborhood of Echo Park would explode. Most of my neighbors participated in ongoing illegal firework marathons from sun down to sun up. I’d say it was a Latino thing but it also just felt like an Echo Park thing. Everybody made stuff explode and even if you weren’t into it, you got use to it and learned to ignore it. Even our Echo Park ice cream man sold actual bombs hidden in with the Bomb Pops. I was too busy with the 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job of imploding my own life to ever really light fireworks, aside from a few sparklers. Even a drunken disaster like myself knew that literally playing with fire while inebriated was a terrible idea. But there’s one thing I did love during Fourth of July in my old hood: the fireworks at Dodger’s stadium.

Perfectly visible from out balcony, the fireworks at Dodger’s stadium lasted a few nights on or around The Fourth, depending on the game schedule. Here was a beautiful, big budget, house shaking display of fireworks practically in our house.  It was a front row to all things festive without ever having to leave home. This was key since the Fourth like everything else centered around getting loaded. The problem (or one of the problems, anyway) was that since the fireworks lasted all week, the partying was usually kicked up into a higher gear too. Naturally, when you drink like a lost Barrymore, celebrating the Fourth of July soon becomes not so fun and kind of a hot mess nightmare like the other 364 days of the year. In fact, the holiday is so associated with blackouts and drunken brawls in my mind that I can barely hear the words “Fourth of July” without shuddering.

Flash forward to a 8 and half years sober and in Portland, thousands of miles away mentally and physically from my old LA holidays, I feel more inspired than ever to blow shit up. True, you still won’t catch with matches next to a pile of explosives but the desire the explode is strong in 2017. After two decades of being self-destructive, the way I blow things up has thankfully changed. But it’s certainly still there. I mean so far this year, I’ve moved to a different state, had job changes and a major creative shift. Plus I have a big trip to Europe coming up in the fall and a few more plans to shake things up before the years ends.

Creatively is where I’m feeling this the most these days. I have so many pursuits I’m interested in(more podcasting, more public speaking, more food writing) and things I’m excited to work on (my book!!!) that I’m a little like a kid trying to pick out a toy– EVERYTHING LOOKS COOL AND I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND!!!! This kind of excitement is good, in my opinion.When I stay here and focus on the joy of storytelling and making stuff for me and not for some premeditated result then it all feels really cool and fun. These days, I have an overwhelming feeling with creative endeavors of, “Why the fuck not?” Like why not go after things that excite me? Why not try new stuff? Why not make as many cool things as I can? Thus far I haven’t found a good answer.

The only thing that stops me here is fear. Fear tells me I have no talent. Fear tells me I have no time. Fear tells me why bother because there’s already a million people doing what I’m doing. Ugh. Fuck fear. And fear should be the first thing we blow up. Without it, shaking things up, making big life changes and blowing shit up doesn’t seem scary. After all, we need a little smoke, fire and debris when we blow stuff up. It’s part of the process. Nothing changes unless there’s an explosion first. This very planet that you read this here blog on is proof of that. Sure, there is uncertainty after an explosion and sure there are some things that won’t ever be the same. But this is good. To be honest, I think America, on the day where its citizens are all blowing stuff up, is currently blowing up too. And it isn’t cute. But the more things evolve, I think it’s necessary. Lots of times when things explode it’s because the current way of operating is no longer working. I know that was definitely true when my own life erupted in 2009. Each time a personal shakeup has happened, regardless of how painful its felt in the moment, I’ve desperately needed it. And even thoguh my life is good, I need to keep blowing up the stuff, the ideas, the behaviors that no longer works and let new stuff in. And maybe you need it right now too?

So Happy Independence Day. Here’s to blowing shit up. I’ll bring the matches.