Pizza

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I’m prepared to be attacked. I’ve braced myself for brutal comments. I have likewise done the necessary emotional work to ensure that I will be okay when, not if, I am met with disparaging and harsh statements. Therefore I’ll just go ahead and blurt it out: I like salad on top of pizza.

Well, okay. One specific salad on top of a specific pizza. But I do. I love it and I am okay saying it out loud. Granted the mere idea of salad on top of pizza is one that much of the internet is probably simultaneously gagging and rolling their eyes to and that’s okay. I get it. We, the collective we who likes to draw hard lines in the sand about what we will and will not eat, gosh darn it, are very passionate about what should and definitely should not go on top of a pizza. But I’m telling you: this salad pizza thing that you can find at a pizza place across the street from Santa Monica college is something else. Maybe it would help if I told you more about it?

According to Grey Block Pizza’s website this salad pizza has a “Cheese, Onion and Sour Cream Covered Crust, Topped by thick layer of Chopped Fresh Salad, Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing and Covered with Fresh California Avocados.” Crunchy greens and a tangy dressing mixed with the creamy avocados and the soggy in the best way possible crust is just something that I’ll never forget. Chances are if you hate the mere idea of salad on pizza then this all probably makes you want to barf and I respect that. Truth be told it might have had more to do with the moment than the salad topped pizza.

If I try, I can chart my adult life with types of pizza. It’s not like I’m some crazy pizza enthusiast but I am a person who loves and remembers food. Thus I remember the pizza from my childhood that we used to get at the Shakey’s that had a cool jukebox with Joan Jett on it. I remember my spitfire great-aunt taking us to a deep dish place when my family visited Chicago in the mid-1980’s.  I remember the personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut I used to scarf down with high school friends at lunch. I remember the barbecue chicken pizzas that took over Los Angeles when I moved there in 1995. I remember the thin crust slices we’d order drunk from some place in West Hollywood. I remember the guilty pleasure pizza from Domino’s, a super thin crust, pepperoni, black olives and a dash of hot sauce over the top, when my alcoholism was really off to the races. Chronologically, with some pizzas forgotten along the way, that brings us to the salad pizza in Santa Monica.

It was 2009. I had just quit drinking and gone back to school. Going back to school was  part of my “getting my shit together” plan that I had that year. There was a vague educational goal but really it was about keeping me out of trouble and out of bars. My life was pretty simple- other that the whole trying not use drugs or drink everyday and crying all of the time because my life was a mess part. I went to school. I went to meetings. Rinse and repeat for 365 days. I had shed all of my drinking friends, my job where I also drank and used cocaine on the clock because I’m an efficient addict who can multitask and even my old relationship. School and getting sober is all I actually had and it was enough. But a guy had to eat and in addition to all of the finer taco stands on the west side, yours truly had this pizza.

By the slice with what I’m sure was some caffeine loaded beverage, I wolfed down the salad pizza with joy and abandon. This was a fork and knife affair, not a fold it like a paper plane headed for your mouth kind of slice. No matter how it got to my belly, the point was it got there. I’ll pretty much eat avocado on a wet piece of cardboard so the idea of it on a pizza was a tempting one indeed. Once tried, I was hooked. Salad on a pizza? It almost sounded healthy and it almost felt like something I discovered. Like here I was eating those two things separately for all these years while this place was saving time and serving them deliciously together. Then for several months at least once a week, salad pizza and me became a thing. It was something I gobbled up happily because this was the first time in over a decade that I was eating alone and eating whatever the hell I wanted. The fact was I didn’t know who I was or what I liked to eat away from my old relationship and independent of drugs and alcohol. Therefore discovering salad on a pizza was a revelation. I was eating what I wanted and getting closer to knowing the person I wanted to be. Like what else did I even like? What else should I eat that I never ate? What sort of deliciousness had I been missing all of this time and should I try immediately? I had no clue but I was dying to find out.

Little did I realize at the time, that salad and pizza were a long time culinary couple. When rambling about my discovery, my older brother who had been to Italy several times remarked, “Oh yeah. There are lots of places in Italy that do that with Arugula.” Well, damn. Someone should really tell the pizza place in Santa Monica that though. They call what I ate so many times in 2009 “The Original Salad Pizza.” Nevertheless, that moment and that salad topped pizza belonged to me and no amount of internet hate can take that away.

Listen to the seanologues podcast episode 2, “Pizza” on Anchor and iTunes! 

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George

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I would like to take a moment to toot my own horn: I’m really great at remembering names. Irene Cara’s command of “baby remember my name (FAME!)” isn’t much of one for person like me. I mean I remembered Irene Cara. The names of people from 6th grade, people I used to work with in the 90’s, people my friends dated and of course most anyone from the world of pop culture I can usually remember. But in classic alcoholic lack of follow through, I don’t always remember their whole name.

Take for example, my friend Marcia. Now, Marcia was a friend in the sense that we went to nightclubs together at age 19, not like a person I could call if I needed a kidney. I mean maybe I could. I don’t remember her drinking as much as I did but I do remember dancing to “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred with her. Anyway, I don’t need a kidney (remarkably) or more specifically I don’t need Marcia’s kidney. This is a good thing seeing as I don’t know her last name. But did I ever know her last name? That’s kind of the deal with friend you meet in nightclubs: you don’t always get the details. Therefore entering “Marcia from Westminster Colorado who had PM Dawn on cassette” into a Facebook search wouldn’t be successful. Trust me, I’ve tried. Further details like her friend Beverly who worked at a salon and their gay friend Brad are also of no help. I do remember that she could vogue, had an amazing Swing Out Sister style bob and once competed in a junior beauty pageant and performed Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” for the talent competition. And really who needs a last name when you have those details?

I also remember that she loved George Michael. One night as she was dropping me off after going to an all ages alternative night in Boulder she said, “Are you going to George Michael on Thursday? Everybody’s going!” By everybody I’m sure she meant Beverly, Brad, that one girl who might have been named Kristen and maybe that other gay kid who I would later sleep with randomly in Los Angeles. I told her I wasn’t. I’m sure I wanted to but sometimes details like getting tickets or showing up to places or sleeping slipped through the cracks after several nights spent on the dance floor.  Lots of friends were going to that show and while I would have loved to, seeing as the record he was touring with at the time, “Listen without prejudice Vol 1.” changed my entire life, I didn’t get it together. Mainly because on some level I must have thought, “I’ll probably get the chance to see him again.”

Flash forward to 2008, I’d been in L.A. for 13 years and George Michael came back through town. Again, nearly everyone I knew was going. Having risen from the ashes of scandal and rehab, George was on something of a global victory lap. Gays and their girls of all ages made seeing him at the LA forum a top priority. The teen girls who loved him back in the day were now middle-aged and Michael himself was 45. The timing and the moment were just right for him to be back and should have been right for me too. But honey in the summer of 2008 when Miss George Michael blew into town, I had bigger fish to fry. While my beloved George was on presumably an upswing, yours truly was on a catastrophic slide into alcoholic hell. After patching together five months sober without help of any kind, my life got difficult, so I reached for bottle of wine in May 2008. That bottle of wine made life even more difficult and I found myself scrambling to find a way to make my broken life, broken relationship and broken self work. My journal from that timeframe is filled with sad ass pep talks about how maybe I’ve found a way to manage drinking and that maybe it wasn’t that bad and maybe I wasn’t that bad. But the reality was shit was bad. I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert and the Twilight books. Clearly, I wasn’t okay.

On the night of his show at the Forum, a performance the Times dubbed him a “waggish showman”, I was drunk and on a friend’s patio. Mutual friends had gone and we were prying them for details. It was a conversation I couldn’t really be fully vested in however. I wanted to be happy that my friends got to see George Michael, the gay musical icon who meant so much to so many of us of that era, but I couldn’t. Not because I was jealous, although I’m sure I was but because my life was a shit show. Evicted, couch crashing and trying keep drinking under control, being happy for anybody about anything was at tall order. Over the next 5 months, things would get even worse for me. Another eviction, cocaine induced panic attacks and a relationship in shambles is what it took for my story to change.

George Michael’s story however, if we are to believe all reports, got sadder. Like myself, Michael had a lifelong battle with addiction, one he lost on Christmas Day 2016. A person I love who loved George Michael as much I do broke the news to me via text. We were devastated but also? I was the happiest I’d ever been. About to turn 8 years sober and to embark on a new adventure moving to Portland, life was really fucking good. And primarily because I had gotten sober. Reading reports of how dear sweet generous George Michael died alone were almost too much to bear. The thought that this icon that people like me and Marcia whats-her-name and millions of others loved died alone and addicted was a heartbreak of another level. Millions of articles, tweets and blog posts spilled onto the internet all of them proclaiming how George Michael changed their lives, just like he did mine.

Still destroyed by the losses of Bowie and Prince, this one felt extremely personal. A gay addict who I looked up to since my teen years was gone and that was it. While I couldn’t change that, I could stay sober, I could still dance to his  music and I could remember his name.

For more of my thoughts on George Michael listen to episode 1 of The Seanologues, now available on Anchor! 

 

you & me & PTSD

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I guess I should have seen it coming. After all, I’d joked about having post traumatic stress disorder for years. Sure, Britney’s 2007 VMA caused me PTSD and so did looking for customer service at any Home Depot. And who on Earth wasn’t still reeling from a light mist of PTSD caused by the political events of 2016? Deeper still, I always knew on some level that the violent and hard to process events from childhood and my years drinking and using left some lasting impression. Nevertheless, I was still shocked when I saw it in black and white from my insurance company: PTSD.

In an email too mundane and too boring to be explained, I was checking my billing from my therapist. There was a discretion on my copay. (See? I told you this was snoozeville.) In a rare moment of adulthood, I decided to get to the bottom things, because mysteries of confusing copays are the kind of thing everybody is dying to see how they turn out. As I can sense that you are deeply concerned and invested, I will say what I thought was a my higher copay turned out to be lower, working in my favor and causing me to get four free therapy sessions. Score one for the crazy people. But an odd little line in my detective work stood out to me. It simply read, “Treatment for: PTSD.”

Like I said, you don’t go through the things that a person like me has gone through and not anticipate some collateral damage. Drunken fights, being robbed at gunpoint, being evicted, being bullied and the daily chaos of growing up in an alcoholic home all qualify me for some gold level PTSD membership so I don’t know why I was surprised. When relaying my diagnosis to a friend their response was a kinder version of, “Well, duh.” Duh, indeed but seeing it in print (and by print I mean on my computer. There was no mid-nineties faxing going on to make the PTSD even worse.) made it more real. Much like when I sat down in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and “My name is Sean and I’m an alcoholic” just blurted out of my mouth this was at once a surprise and a total relief. Yet it was undoubtedly the truth and therefore could not be taken back. This throw away labeling from an insurance company felt much the same way.

The thing about knowing what you have is you can’t un-know it. Of course, you can ignore it or deny it or soak it tequila for 20 years and hope it goes away but you still know that have it, whatever your “it” may be. In a roundabout way, like I said, I’ve always known that PTSD was just a mere thread of rich tapestry that is my mental health. Likewise, when a flood of traumatic feelings showed up on doorstep last summer I knew something had to be done and that’s how I wound up at my therapist’s office in December. Yeah something had to be done but I’m alcoholic and a middle child so I can sit uncomfortably until I turn into a Jello mold of unprocessed emotions. Thus it took me a few months of crying in the shower before I did anything about it.

My therapist’s office is in the top floor of a charming old blue Victorian house, down the street from a taxi dispatch, near downtown Portland. The inside looks a little like Mork and Mindy’s apartment, if that reference means anything to anyone. The point is it’s comfy and cozy and a perfect setting to hand over my lower pay and cry to a virtual stranger for an hour. while treating this thing that is officially called PTSD but I just knew fucked me up, we’ve done a lot of work. Work like talking, revisiting and decoding old terrifying incidents. It isn’t work in the sense of working in a coal mine but I can’t say that wouldn’t be preferable. Heartbreaking, exhausting and ultimately liberating, this work we do is mainly just me struggling to tell the truth instead of trying to say witty things to get my therapist to be my best friend. See, in addition to PTSD, we’re working on my whole obsessed with approval issue. He doesn’t offer me pat solutions. He just asks questions and hopefully leads me to a place of clarity around these traumatic events. He’s so good at his job though, I hardly realize he’s doing it.  We just have engaging conversations and even laugh and it isn’t until I’m walking home that I realize what we’ve uncovered, what we’ve solved and what we’ve conquered. I told you he was good.

Another thing that catapulted me into his office was my job. As a mental health and addictions peer support specialist, I often see new traumatic events and walk into high stress situations on a daily basis.  New to the field, I figured out fast that I could in no way process what I see at work all by myself. One thing pounded into my head as a sober alcoholic is to not be afraid to ask for help. A late night Google session and several referrals later, I found my therapist and fought against my instincts to stay miserable. Just like my first AA meeting, I resisted. I drug my feet making the appointment and had to give myself daily pep talks the week leading up to my first visit. But without being dramatic I can say, it’s changed my whole life.

Addressing my PTSD head on has flipped on a power switch inside of me that I didn’t even knew I had, much less knew it could be activated. According to medical types, PTSD sufferers like myself have a baseline of agitation, irritability, hostility, self-destructive behavior, or social isolation paired with other mental health delights like flashbacks, severe anxiety, mistrust and good old fear.  People like me and millions of others found drugs and alcohol to be an excellent solvent to numb out these shitty symptoms and it worked– until it didn’t. Now, however, I’m able to look at these events and things not feel haunted or devastated by them. Armed with a ton of support, there’s no story too scary, no memory too hard to process that I can’t look at. I will say that it took me nine years sober to really feel stable enough to dig deeper into my past. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really feel ready.

Days after that “exciting” email, the label sat there and I eventually slid into it. Like being a gay man with addiction, alcoholism and HIV, PTSD is another I have and another I get to overcome. What’s more is maybe having the official diagnosis of PTSD will help me help others like me while helping me feel connected? Which brings me to this: if you have PTSD and you’re being treated for it, I love you.  If you are living with someone suffering from it, I love you. If you have PTSD but can’t bear to look at it yet, I get it and I love you too. I will say with all sincerity, it really isn’t the worst label I’ve ever had, even if  it did show up in a lame insurance email.