power ballad through it

1txyhkXCA8x-4KchjK67CoAWeird, weak and maybe wonderful things happen at the end of a long creative project. Maybe you hit a wall and decide, “Fuck it. It’s done.” Maybe something elusive shows up at the last second to save the whole thing. Maybe a last blast of steam moves you to turn the whole thing around like a goddamn creative action hero! Or maybe you just fall into a puddle of tears while blasting power ballads. The latter was exactly what happened to me over the summer as I finished my first collection of essays, Now That You’ve Stopped Dying.

All was not well on the ranch last July. Sure, everything on a cellular level around my home was fine. More than fine. It was great. But inside of me? Disaster. The thing that nobody ever tells you about bleeding funny, dark personal stories on the page is that it really takes a toll on you. I’d been editing tons of personal essays as well as creating new essays for months for this collection. Sure, I had more than enough previously published pieces to fill a few volumes but I wasn’t feeling it, dawg. I wanted them to make sense together. I wanted them to hit all the right notes. I wanted them to be a gift to people in recovery who had the same dark, funny fucked up thoughts that I did. But the catch was I had to dig up a bunch of new painful shit, throw glitter on them and be funny too. Trauma but make it fashion.

The new pieces got written and the old ones were spit shined but it came at a price. After so many months of listening to my own voice over and over again, I started to go mad. Not mad like a Sylvia Plath moment but certainly not acting like myself. For example, the last two days of writing, things had gotten really desperate. All I wanted, no, all I NEEDED to finish writing was Starbursts and a never-ending musical supply of power ballads. This is cause for alarm for a lot of reasons but primarily because I’m a strict chocolate, coffee and Stevie Nicks kind of guy when I’m on a deadline. Something about stirring up years of personal shit flicked a switch in my brain. It was Starburst in varieties of flavors and the chest thumping anthems of Celine Dion or this book was not happening.

Thus I did what I’ve done my whole life when a significant moment needed to be less painful, I made a soundtrack. Back in my teen years, my drawers were filled with sad mix tapes that charted every heartbreak and mistake. Today, my benchmark life moments, good or bad, get their own playlists and this moment certainly deserved one. Entitled “power ballad thru it” the playlist hit all the inspiring, dramatic and delightfully codependent notes you want with such a collection. It starts with “Alone” by Heart because it’s one of the best ever and I will refuse to hear anything different. Plus the sisters Wilson had previously helped me write my play The Singing Room so their musical magic couldn’t hurt. Checking more boxes were tracks like “Time After Time,” “Listen to Your Heart” and “Without You”-the Mariah version. Duh. These sometimes triumphant, usually heartbreaking songs were perfect for a project where I hopefully left it all on the page, emotionally, while somehow managing to be hilarious too. It’s  also really helpful for me to have something to sing along to and do expressive hand gestures to while editing. Hemingway and Faulkner did the same thing. Trust me- my fist bump during “Show Me Heaven” as Maria McKee sings “I’m not denyin’!” is a sight to behold. Plus, the overt theatrics of these songs helped me laugh at myself and take this whole bleeding on the page thing a little less seriously. Nothing like an epic lip sync of “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” by Celine Dion (who has two other gems on this playlist) to lighten the mood while editing a piece on PTSD.

The thing is, and this has happened with me finishing big projects before and will undoubtedly happen again, I was just ready to birth the damn thing. Months of tinkering on my own oh-so-humorous thoughts gets exhausting. That’s a fuck ton of time to spend inside my brain. I got tired of myself and of the essays. I lost all objectivity. Self-doubt slipped in more than once, that hateful bitch. She told me, “These essays suck. You’re not funny. Why are you even bothering?” Thankfully, I turned up the music and wondered why Laura Branigan is still so unappreciated instead of wondering if self-doubt was actually right. The day I promised it would be done by crept even closer and with that date approaching came another fear: I wasn’t going to finish. As a decades long flakey alcoholic and drug addict finishing anything other than a bottle or a baggie wasn’t really my strong point. But I wolfed down more Starbursts and didn’t listen to that one either. I’m not sure why other than I’ve grown up. The things that used to paralyze me don’t really anymore. Or they don’t for long, anyway.

The day my book was due, I didn’t work at my day job. I took the day to finish the damn thing, once and for all. The power ballads were at full volumes, the candy had been replenished and the coffee was non-stop. I got to the final essay. It was a rework of a pice that I wrote for urtheinspiration years ago. It meant something to me at the time because it talked about how I learned how to ask for help and to be honest with other alcoholics. Also? It was rich in Cher references. The new version was an expansion on those ideas but  now filled with reflections as a person with over nine years sober. Maybe the piece itself was emotional. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was tired. Or maybe all of those things are true. But as I wrote, tears fell down my face. I couldn’t help myself. I was a very Joan Wilder moment. Cher sang “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me Yet” in the background. The whole experience was way too much. Here was this drunk, coke whore actually finishing a book!?! It took time, candy, caffeine and power ballads but I finished the fucking thing.

And not just that. It was a book I was proud of. I wrote it for everybody who got sober and then thought, “Well, now what?” I wrote it for every queer person who struggled with self-esteem and addiction. I wrote it for every dark motherfucker who has a sense of humor about all of this stuff. I wrote it, finished it and now after months of life’s curve balls, I can’t wait for you to finally read it this spring!

 

 

 

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pour some sugar on me

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It’s an odd, very “this century” phenomenon, thanks largely to the internet, that when bored white people like myself quit something we expect a medal or a round of applause. Like maybe Sharon should take a few days off in honor of her brave undertaking of the Whole 30. Perhaps Tyler needs a special parking space since he recently gave up vaping. God bless. In lieu of fighting against racist and discriminatory systems to get our basic needs met, we invent little challenges for our “best selves” and really want everyone to know how hard it is. Thus I recently went an entire month without sugar and I really resisted in an online call for prayers and round the clock encouragement.

Thankfully, for the entire world at large this experiment didn’t subject the internet to  shirtless after photos with captions like “Hot #sugarfree #dadbod.” Jesus. No. My ego is not yet that fragile. I say “yet” because much like Ben Affleck, you never know when my ego will shatter in a million pieces. I can say since quitting actual the hard shit like cocaine and daily drinking, I have dabbled in quitting all kinds of stuff and usually out of boredom. I was vegetarian for a few months, I’ve fasted, I’ve juiced and I’ve even had other rounds of me quitting sugar. This bout of sugar detox came on the tail end of the holiday season where I basically consumed sweets like a round-the-clock tournament of Ms. Pac-Man. I baked all of the cookies, I ate all of the holidays cookies and I would do it all again. To paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi in the epic ballad “Wanted Dead or Alive”, I’ve seen million pastries and I’ve eaten them all. It was an amazing holiday season but I wound up on the other end of December cracked out on sugar and bloated as fuck.  It was time to step away from the sugar. At least temporarily.

Having a background in recovery is really helpful when you decide to crash diet or try some bullshit nutritional thing. When you get sober, you learn the process is all one day at a time, that you won’t feel better right away and the progress is slow-moving and hard-earned. Intellectually, I knew this going into quitting sugar on January 7. I didn’t tell all my friends I was quitting forever and that my life was going to change! Child, I’d learned that lesson a zillion times before I got sober when I would blab about being done forever only to be found the week later with a straw in my nose and a beer in my hand at some shitty gay bar. I know better now. Unless, I’m really ready to quit, I should wait until I send out a press release. I kept it low profile in the beginning, allowing for some gentleness if I happened to stumble on a Reese’s peanut butter cup along the way. All of this was great and knowing how to quit things without setting myself up for failure is a huge gift. Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t totally suck.

In my mind I would go sugar-free until February 14th. It would be a month plus one week and I’d celebrate with chocolate hearts. I had the Instagram post already planned out in my mind. However, due to a friend in a real crisis way bigger than nonsense, some chocolate had to happen on February 8th. So I did make it a month and what a month. When people at work or in my personal life would ask me about quitting sugar they’d always say, ” Good for you! Don’t you feel great?!” My response was the  always same: “No. I don’t feel great. I’m bitchy, I wanna punch people and sit in a bathtub filled with gelato.”I would also tell them it was a stupid idea and that I wouldn’t recommend it. This response might have been a tad crabby but it was authentic. I didn’t instantly feel better. I didn’t lose 50 pounds (I did lose 10 pounds though). I didn’t suddenly have all this energy people talk about. What is that energy thing anyway? People say that about everything. I quit eating meat and got so much energy! I quit smoking and got so much energy! This has never happened to me. Then again, as a cocaine enthusiast, my idea of something giving me energy might be different from most folks. Anyway, my real problem with quitting sugar was that it wasn’t a cure-all for every minor or major thing wrong in my life.

Quitting sugar for a month didn’t’ cure my PTSD or lifelong depression or occasional bone-crushing self-doubt. Quitting sugar didn’t make a better person. Quitting sugar didn’t cure my insecurities or prejudices. Quitting sugar didn’t make me less selfish. It just made me a bitchy old gay who really wanted a cookie. Turns out I’m sort of a cunt without a steady stream of chocolate. Now we know! But it also helped me realize that as far as my bigger character stuff, the nitty-gritty, emotional growth and the real juicy spiritual journeys that I’m 100% committed to, I’m in a great place. Over the past year and a half, I’ve pushed myself really hard to get to the bottom of some really gnarly, core personality stuff that has been holding me back. It’s not pretty or cute work. My relationship has been going through a similar process too. It involves putting the ways I think under a microscope and honestly noting that a lot of them are out of business. Changing the way I’ve operated for years is some hardcore shit. Comparatively, quitting sugar ain’t no thing.

Another month later and back on my sugar bullshit, I’d like to say that month helped me put my relationship with sugar into a healthy perspective. But seeing as though I currently have a chocolate cream pie in my refrigerator, that might be a stretch. What it did do is make me realize that recovery taught me how to live my life, how to quit stuff and how to give myself a fucking break and eat a cookie.

 

 

come on home, girl.

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We can all breath freely. Order has been restored to the universe. Wounds have been healed. Life as we know it is returning to the way it should be because after a really weird and sad, booze-fueled feud, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have reunited and are back together and on the road. Listen, the Trump era has done some fucked up shit to a lot of people and Ann and Nancy apparently fell victim to these shitty, sad times. But they’re back and so am I.

Back from where, you ask?  I’m not sure, exactly. But I sort of got derailed by the holidays, which isn’t really a thing and I know this. Like the holidays are just normal days with more delicious food and tinsel covered depression. It’s not like I was abducted or became paralyzed. I was just being fat and lazy and watching Christmas specials. Nevertheless, the aforementioned season knocked my seanologues writing off the track. Shockingly, I hadn’t written over here at all in 2019.  Sure, new works could be found elsewhere but I wasn’t here.  But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t home. “Come on home, girl,’ he said with a smile,” Nancy Wilson sings on the track “Magic Man.” (Also fun if you sing it in a 90’s way like “Come on, homegirl!) So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve come home to this blog.  Oddly enough, the whole idea of coming back and returning has been fresh on my mind lately.

If you are lucky enough to stick around in the halls of recovery, you get to see it. People come back. Back after a relapse, back after a period of isolation, back from a near death experience. It’s like the cycles of Elizabeth Taylor’s life but in real-time. These phoenixes rise out of the ashes and miraculously show back up for more crappy coffee and rambling stories to let us know that they’re still alive and that they still need help. When I first got sober, it would really depress me and rattle my cage when people would relapse and come back. It poked holes in this ridiculous fantasy I had that sobriety was forever and easy to hang onto. I would become obsessed as to how it happened and why they relapsed.  I wanted to why and how and mainly what I could do so it wouldn’t happen to me. I wrongfully pitied them and acted high and mighty, like “Poor things! I’m so glad that’s not me!” I’d also keep them at arm’s length, as if getting close to people who relapsed would make me relapse too.  Sure, I was really afraid of relapse but I was also kind of a dumb bitch.

Thankfully, time, experience and lots of heartbreak changed my mind on people who relapse and come back. My judgement is gone. Ditto my need to get down to the bottom of why they relapsed. I no longer pity people.  Seriously. This sounds like hippie garbage but I just love them, no bullshit. Not love them, only if they stay sober. Or love them because their sobriety looks like mine. I love them period. Mainly, I feel love for them because they have a shit ton of courage. They came back, despite the ever daunting odds, and opened their mouths. We don’t shoot our wounded, they tell me. But I can do better than not shooting them. I can love them like people who are suffering from a disease and leave it at that. This isn’t a noble thing to do, you jerk. It’s the right thing to do.

Can you imagine if we were all like, “That stupid whore Olivia Newton-John went and got herself cancer again. What a moron!” We would never. In fact, if you have anything negative to say about ONJ in general, I would suggest keeping that vitriol to yourself. Yet our reaction to relapse (including my own) is soaked in misunderstanding and judgement. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just a deadly disease that is really hard to beat. As deaths by drugs and alcohol hit all time highs, we have to face the fact that most people with this disease won’t make it or at least won’t make it on their first time. I am lucky enough to have many examples of people in my life who came back after a relapse and had a rocking comeback that even the sisters Wilson would approve of.

The first person I ever took all the way through the 12 steps relapsed a few times. Ditto a person I’ve been sponsoring who just celebrated 18 months. Three more with relapse in their stories all newly back have also recently joined my sponsorship family. (For what it’s worth, relapse happens to be a part of the stories of  Robert Downey Jr, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Demi Lovato, all of whom I do not sponsor but I am open to the idea!) Likewise, two of my favorite sober friends on the planet had more than a dozen relapses a piece. What all these brave, hilarious and tough-as-nails people in my life taught me is that the more you try, the better chance you’ll have of making it stick. The fact that they keep fighting and coming back, even though they’ve been knocked down a million times, blows my mind. I don’t know if I have that kind of fight or will to live, if I’m totally honest. Plus, my pride is out of control and I don’t know if I possess the humility to ask for help yet again or the courage to own my whole story. I hope that I would and I know just who I’d call if I did relapse and needed to come back.

Yet for as common as relapse and coming back is, there’s the bigger reality: most people don’t come back at all. Where I got sober in Los Angeles, people would vanish regularly from the rooms of recovery and you’d learn later that they had lost their lives to this disease. It sounds morose but you kind of just got used to people dying, although it never made it less sad.  Statistically in the United States, this stark reality is pretty common. Like I said, it’s a tough disease to beat.

At my non-writer job at a hospital working as a recovery mentor, this reality is ever looming. When patients leave the hospital, I get to work with them in the community. But many vanish and it’s hard not to worry immediately that maybe theyre no longer alive. Last week, one patient that I often had that worry about magically resurfaced. She called me and told me she had 90 days sober. Despite a series of dramatic hospitalizations, she had come back. Not only was I relieved but I was overjoyed and it gave me confirmation that I needed to keep doing the work that I do. Because for every 10 people who dies or goes out or varnishes, there’s that one who comes back. And to miss their triumphant return and heroic journey would just be crazy.