One night in 2009, when I had like 6 months sober, I was leaving a meeting in Santa Monica and I heard it coming from a SUV. It was a familiar, campy jingle jangle intro of a seventies song I had heard about 4,000 times since childhood. “I was born in a wagon of a travelling show. My mama used to dance for the money they’d throw,” she sang. Of course I was leaving a gay meeting that night and of course it was a Cher song. I had to laugh out loud the minute I heard it. “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” Perfect. Like that title pretty much describes all of the attendees of every 12 Step meeting I’ve ever been to. Clearly, I was in the right place.
Having grown up in more of the Madonna generation than the Cher-Barbra-Bette era of young gay men, the diva was already on her 750th comeback by the time she won her Oscar when I was a teenager. But it was hard not to love Cher, even though I was more of a goth- new wave kid and she was recording Bon Jovi in fishnets music at the time. Cher was an outsider, a rebel and she didn’t care. Those were all things I aspired to be so she was added to the lengthy list of celebrities I was obsessed with in about 1989. As I got older and into my mid-twenties, Cher had her 751st comeback with “Believe” and I was fully out of the closet both as a gay man and Cher obsessive. The closest I ever got to the Cher-o-sphere in person was when I was 28 and working at a clothing company. Per the request of her stylist, I sent Cher some samples of the arm bands and gloves that we made. She sent me back a signed cd which meant we were basically best friends.
I also saw her in concert as art of her farewell tour that wasn’t really a farewell tour in 2005. This concert is harder to remember. Hard to remember because I was wasted drunk during that concert so every detail is fuzzy. Also hard to remember as in difficult. The whole memory because it still kind of stings. Here was this diva I loved for years and I barely remember a thing about that concert. I blacked out somewhere after “Take Me Home” and before “Heart of Stone.” I was sloppy drunk and it was an evening I regretted even before it was over. I do remember we had drinks before the concert we met a couple who was excited that The Village People were opening for Cher. “I can’t wait to do the YMCA for real,” the woman said. “I’ve only done it at weddings and bar mitzvahs!” I also remember the men’s restroom being the cruisiest gay spot I’d ever been to outside of a San Francisco leather bar. Other than that, I got nothing. Which is too bad. I really wish I had a magical Cher moment to pass onto you but I do not. I will however take this opportunity to discourage anyone who thinks drinking a lot and walking down the hills of the Hollywood Bowl sounds like a fun idea. It isn’t. Ugh. What a mess. I think I owe myself a Cher amends at some point.
Back in the rooms of recovery of 2009, I hope I would have made Cher proud. After all, she’s a self-professed member of Al-Anon, presumably after being married to Greg Allman. However, Allman was such an accomplished alcoholic that I think even if you purchased his greatest hits, you’d qualify for Al-Anon. But more than that, I hope I embraced the honesty that my idol had always proudly displayed. She always said what was on her mind and now I needed to do the same if I wanted to stay sober. To be fair, I didn’t learn how to share in meetings from Cher. I learned it from other alcoholics and addicts.
Week after week, meeting after meeting, I would hear people share about trying to stay sober when life got bad. We lost a member of our group who died of cancer but died sober. We lost others who relapsed. We lost a few to suicide. We also had people stay sober through good times like job promotions, weddings and financial successes. You know the kind of things you’d drink over to celebrate. People share about that too. I remember complaining once to my sponsor about a guy who bitched every week about his neighbors. To which my sponsor replied, “Well, he’s not drinking over his neighbors, now is he?” Fair point.
The other thing I noticed was the people who really shared what was going were the ones who stayed and stayed sober. The others who sat silently? Not so much. Being “wonderfully verbal” as a friend of mine once described me, I tried to jump right into sharing at meetings. I ALWAYS had something to say and I was sure that it was genius. I was also sure everyone else was obsessed with what I shared too. One night after a meeting and after a long and scattered share, I said to my friend, “I hope my share made sense.” Totally deadpan, he replied, “You shared tonight?” When I picked up a year, another friend said, “you’re a lot less crazy than you were when you got here!’ Turns out, my shares weren’t that memorable. But what was happening is I was feeling better. I was also for the first time ever trying to come clean about what was really happening. I was sharing about all the things I never wanted anyone to know for fear that I would be ridiculed. But as time went on, the reverse happened.
The harder something was to talk about, the more it connected me to others. When I got my HIV diagnosis at seven moths sober, I shared about it. Immediately, tons of gay men from my homegroup rallied around me. They told me they were positive too. They told me I was going to be okay. They told me where to go to get meds. They told me I didn’t have to drink over it. And I believed them. Shame, lies and self-hate drove me to he brink of death and now sharing the truth had brought me back to life. It was a comeback of my own that surely Cher would approve of.
In the cult classic Burlesque, Cher sings “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” The song, like “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” could be for every alcoholic too. Those of us who fought to stay alive and stay sober feel it in our bones when La Cher sings, “I am down but I’ll get up again.” But I won’t unless, I open my mouth. Each time, I write or speak or podcast or even share at a meeting, I’m fighting to stay honest and to stay here. The more I tell my story and tell on myself, the less power my alcoholism and addiction have.
So sadly, no you haven’t seen or heard the last of me but I hope I haven’t seen the last of you either.