the heart asks for pleasure first

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I guess the idea shows up in your brain when you’re watching an Emily Dickinson movie on Amazon.

The film being A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon as the elusive poetess. The title doesn’t lie as it’s a quiet little church mouse of a movie but honestly it’s worth the watch for the poetry alone. Long a poetry nerd since childhood, the movie reminded me the Emily Dickinson is overused, over-quoted and maybe even overrated for a reason. The woman was a genius. Her sensitive soul and deep affection for her family mixed with a famously reclusive nature have always spoke to me. Therefore, the film’s choice to have Nixon read her work in voiceover is a brilliant one. In one scene in particular, my jaw fell open when I heard her speak these words:

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep; 
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Well, that was it. Ms. Dickinson, as portrayed by Miranda from Sex and the City, nailed it. The “it” I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a month: the journey of the heart. Of my heart, specifically. See, without me even trying or setting an intention or making vision board or visiting a witch (all things I approve of, just things I didn’t do) my heart changed. Love changed. Listen, this might sound like a bunch of nonsense so feel free to close your laptop or go read a really important article about the best episodes of The Barefoot Contessa.  But the best way I can describe it is it all got bigger. My heart could suddenly handle more. More love, more heartbreak and more change. And love, dear sweet love whom I’ve tried to push around and control my whole life, proved to me it was the boss. In the world of recovery, we often say “life on life’s terms” but I think we should say love on love’s terms, too.

Maybe it also shows when you hear a Savage Garden song in a Lyft.

“Is the music okay?” my sweet 50-something year-old driver asked me. “Perfect,” I said. Sometimes you just need to lip synch, “I’ll be your dream. I’ll be your wish. I’ll be your fantasy” in the back of a stranger’s SUV. Last week, was one of those times. For that 10 minute ride, I was happy to listen to Savage Garden and give my brain a breather. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend. From a joyous evening to celebrate with new friends to watching a loved one suffer, it was clear early on that my role was to just be wherever you invited me. The fact that I’m even able to do that still blows my mind after 9 years sober. Had you known me before when sending me a text message was akin to tossing a folded letter down a dark well, you’d be impressed too. Sure, I wasn’t doing as directed by Savage Garden and standing with you on a mountain or bathing with you in the sea,  but I was showing up for you last weekend and it felt good.

What happened by just showing up, is it availed me to some amazing experiences. One of which was sitting in a room with fellow addicts where someone I love was sharing their story. I scanned the building and noticed that 95% of the crowd was gay men. Gay men of all ages and varying lengths of sobriety. This is special for me because I never in a million years would have ever thought I’d have groups of gay men across several states that I felt  loved and accepted by. But here I am, gifted with male friends who are more than just fucks, adversaries or exes. We are connected to one another by the heart and by a common journey. What these people do, with varying degrees of success, is just show up and support each other and hopefully get better. The fact I get to be a part of something spectacular like that isn’t lost on me. By the end of the night, I soon didn’t feel like I needed my retreat into Savage Garden nor was my act of showing up all that remarkable. I felt honored just to be there.

It’s probably present too every time a friend picks up the phone.

The pursuit of being the cool bitch with a whole gang of friends has taken me to dark places. In the name of “cool” and on the never-ending quest for approval, I’ve done everything from shoplifting to trying heroin to snorting Special K with drag queens. Now at age 45, I am finding myself again seeking, finding and cultivating new friendships. It’s humbling to put myself out there, call people and be open. On some entitled level, I feel like I should just get a group of new friends each time I move to a new town without having to do any work. Like can’t we just have a casting agent take care of it? Can’t we hold auditions? Sadly, no. However, I have somehow found cool, funny, brilliant people to hang out with who I want to get to know better. I’ve rallied and pushed aside my shitty attitude to make friends. What’s more, and this is that expansion of love at work here, is I am open to be vulnerable and real with people I barely know, cool kid status be damned. I don’t take people hostage anymore and force them to get wasted with me. I’m just letting friendship happen. Already, I’ve been gifted with more than one phone call to a friend who somehow always gets what I’m going through, despite us not knowing each other for that long. This person speaks my language, lets me be myself and I try to do the same. It’s an incredible gift especially for someone newly back in the friendship game. Yet my heart is also grown up enough now to know that I can love these people in this moment, without expectation and somehow that feels like enough.

Maybe it’s always there.

Coming home the other night after being out with friends, my husband was already tucked in bed. A sleepy, funny random conversation that only couples who really like talking to each other followed, despite it probably not making a hell of a lot of sense. My heart and the rest of me wanted to go to sleep but it was later when I thought about those snuggly seconds before passing out that I realized that my pursuit of love and friendship begins and ends here, at home. The beings who live here: my cats Maeby and Larry and mainly, my husband Michael are the ones who teach me how to love all day long and who remind me that no journey my heart wants to take is too dangerous or too scary. No friendship too risky, no act of kindness without reason. Because every road leads back here–home. As Emily herself once wrote, I dwell in possibility and where I live is filled with precisely that.

 

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what to say when someone next to you is OD’ing

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Like most reasonable people at some point in their lives, the other day I wondered, “What would Carol Hathaway do?” What would the nurse played by Julianna Margulies on six seasons of the television drama ER do if she, in her pink scrubs, wound up where I was the other day? How would Carol handle a person dying from a drug overdose right next to her? Well, Carol is a nurse, granted a pretend nurse on a cancelled tv show but a nurse nonetheless which still makes her more of a medical professional than me. So Carol would do nursey things, things that were helpful and life saving. And the other day I couldn’t do those things. I still can’t do those things and what’s more I could barely figure out what to say when all of this was unfolding right before me at a crazy pace.  I’m sure good old Carol would say something comforting as well. But the best I could come up with the other day as a man was overdosing right next to me was, “Call 911.”

When I think about moments like this potentially happening my obvious point of reference is television. It’ll be heroic and a moment of my own personal strength! It’ll be like that scene in season 4 of Grey’s Anatomy where Izzie as played by Katherine Heigl does mouth-to-mouth on a dying deer. Well, it was none of those things. I didn’t feel heroic, just scared and awful. Trust me, I would have rather been Katherine Heigl that day and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person ever to write those words. It all happened so terrifyingly fast, as things often do at my non-writer mental health and additions based day job. But this day, with someone’s life in peril, was a first.

Listen, I can’t tell all of his story due to the nature of my job and it’s actually not really about that. It’s about me. I mean, I’m an alcoholic. Of course I can make someone else’s overdose all about me! But I will say that this person, like me, has struggled his whole life with drugs and alcohol. Lots of times in my job I get to see people, who also like me, finally overcome these things and change their lives. But more often than not, I get to see the really hard stuff. Wednesday was one of those days.

After talking to him and trying to just keep him awake, the paramedics showed up. They arrived really quickly, and despite having to use Wikipedia(!!!!!!) to figure out what Suboxone was (in a state with a major heroin crisis, mind you) they were fantastic. They did all the nursey Carol Hathaway things I couldn’t do. Or maybe all the things an EMT character on that show would do. I stopped watching after Clooney left so I don’t know who that would be. Anyway, they wheeled him off on a stretcher, slid him into the ambulance and sped away. What they didn’t take with them was poor, shattered ill-equipped, non-nursey me.

With lump in throat and tears waiting in the wings to fall from my face, I decided that this was probably a good moment to call it a day. I needed to go collapse in privacy of my own home where my husband and cats could be on call to pick up the pieces. I think it affected me so deeply because for one, I am a human being. Sounds like a stupid thing to even type but as a drunken, drug taking robot on a suicide mission for 20 years, I need to write that from time to time. A human watching another human in peril SHOULD be upsetting and my response felt appropriate. Again, it sounds crazy to even justify that but as an addict who used to live in a constant state of “I’M FINE. I’M FINE. I’M FINE”  just to admit a normal emotional response is still liberating. Now, at the workplace, I gotta keep it together. Nobody wants a mental health professional bursting into tears. What would Carol Hathaway think! But in the comfort of my own world, with the people I trust, it felt okay to not be fucking okay.

It also affected me because I am an addict and so of course for a moment I thought, “This could be me” followed by the guilt-induced but totally honest thought, “Thank god it isn’t.”The thing is every time someone relapses or overdoses or god forbid dies, we all think this. We all think that could be/should be me followed by I’m so glad that it isn’t. It’s the ghost of Alcoholic Christmas Future right in front of your face, telling you this is what waits for you if you decide to go back. The obtuse “What If?” worst case scenario became tangible in that moment as this guy, this usually funny, charming, energetic guy nearly slipped away right next to me. And, for lack of a more poetic turn of phrase, it sucked.

But what really hit me in those rushed few moments that felt like a shook up Coke bottle about to explode that this guy was a human too. Somebody’s son. Somebody’s friend. Somebody’s dad. He wasn’t HuffPo article or CNN statistic about the opioid epidemic. He was a living breathing example of what it looks like today all across the country. Luckily, I saw this human being yesterday at the hospital. He is doing okay. As I told him what happened the last time we saw each other, he looked shocked and apologized several times. I told him it was okay and then I did what Carol Hathaway couldn’t do: laugh with him as a fellow addict. I told him it was good thing we weren’t using at the same time otherwise we’d both be in the hospital. I told him to play nice with the other kids at rehab. I told him yes we still had all of his stuff and we’d hang onto it. But mainly, I tried to tell him, “I get it.” Because I honestly do and because over and over again in my recovery people have told me they get it too.

the best of me

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I mean, I clearly had an amazing burrito in San Francisco. 2017 couldn’t have been all bad, right? 

Look. I’m a sucker for a year end list. I know. They’re basic. I know. They’re a cop out and the kind of thing writers do when they can’t make something original.  I agree but I like them anyway and I’m the boss around these parts! Besides, I was thinking about 2017 and the truth about the year that was and you know what: it was incredible. No, really. I know it’s popular to shove an entire chunk into a “IT SUCKED” folder and move on. But I can’t honestly say that about 2017.

Sure, I had my challenges and my share of emotional pain. In fact, one of the more revealing things I wrote this year was about the moment that changed it all for me over the summer. I hit an emotional bottom over the summer and felt, for lack of a more poetic term, like shit. It was painful and frightening but it changed my whole life and program of recovery for the better. From there on out, my year got incredibly good. A new challenging career, new opportunities to be of service and a trip to Europe to boot! So I refuse to believe any year is entirely bad. Below, I’ve collected some of my most favorite and popular posts in no particular order to hopefully confirm that not all of last year was horrible.

Standard Bitch: The years most viewed post with one of my favorite titles. I’m a little befuddled why this piece was so popular but maybe y’all just like the poodles and the b word as much as I do and that’s good enough for me. It also features the phrase “turd salad’ and an Eyrkah Badu quote as well as reflecting on the trials and tribulations of being a sarcastic ass bitch. Please enjoy.

Handle With Care: A shipping metaphor meets a Traveling Wilburys cover is the title for this post inauguration essay which was my second most viewed piece of the year. I was depressed as fuck when I wrote this so I’m glad a lot of people got something out of it. Insert shruggie emoji here.

A Hot Mess, Now At Room Temperature: I wrote an essay a day in April and this little piece came out on the 23rd. The number 3 most popular post of the year is one I’m proud so many folks responded to. I wanted to convey how my sobriety and my life is better but still kind of a hot mess and judging by your response I think I did that. So yay.

Eventually, You’ll Think About Your Ass: Also from my April writing fest, this piece doesn’t crack the top ten as far as popularity goes but it’s hands down my favorite thing I wrote last year. To all of you who had lovely things to say about the piece, thank you. To all of you who had lovely things to say about my ass, thank you too.

At Least Theres Potatoes: Another from April, this piece personifies what’s actually important to me: potatoes and a good laugh. Michael was travelling for work during that time and I was new to Portland so I had a lot of time to battle the blues, cook and write and this post sums all of that up perfectly.

A Path to the Rainbow’s End:  Listen, if someone wants to give me a few thousand dollars to write an entire book of essays about Stevie Nicks songs, I’ll gladly do it! And this essay about “Seven Wonders” by Fleetwood Mac would make an excellent addition to that book. I love using songs as a prompt and this one was fun and cathartic to write about.

I Die a Little: Speaking of posts that use a song as a prompt, here’s one that relies on the words of Cole Porter while processing the horror that was Charlottesville. I’m including it here not just because it personifies the state of the world in 2017 but because it also was an example of when writing here helped me a lot. Again, thank you for that.

Relieve Me of the Bondage of Selfie: The post with my actual favorite title of the year, chronicled my social media addiction and the subsequent short-lived detox from it. Suffice to say, the little break was helpful but it didn’t last and came back from it with an Instagram account and even more new obsessions. Sigh.

Sorry Bitches, But We Still Exist: Here’s one that also ran on Medium and did quite well over there. I’m rarely pissed off when I write but this one was an exception. As a reaction to the erasing of gay men in concentration camps in Chechnya, the piece cuts loose on bigotry against LGBTQ people while letting go of some serious anger.

God Probably Sounds a Lot Like Mavis Staples: I wrote about a lot of movies and tv shows last year and it was hard to pick a favorite out of those pieces but for some reason this one about a Mavis Staples documentary seemed worthy of another look. I hope you think so too.

That’s enough navel gazing and self-reflection for now. I’m back to publishing twice a week in 2018 with another daily essay fest sure to happen in the spring. Thanks again for reading, commenting, reblogging and generally being nice in 2017.

Happy New Year.

hope & a bucket of popcorn

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Like all good year-end reflections by all decent upstanding homosexual men of a certain age, mine begins with Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. And oddly enough in 1991, not 2017. See, in 1991 at the age of 19 I was living alone in an apartment in downtown Denver. Yes, I was working at my parents bookstore. Yes, I was going to school but what really made me an official adult out on my own was the ability to see movies all by myself. The hours of waiting for someone to take me and the days of practiced pitches about why we should go see Beaches instead of watching the Super Bowl were over. I could go see whatever the hell I wanted and when I wanted. And I did just that. While 1991 wasn’t exactly peak Streisand or hot as flames comeback Midler but that didn’t stop my gay ass from going to see The Prince of Tides and For the Boys, respectively. I’m pretty sure I loved both movies but what I really loved was the new act of independence along with the old comfort that film had always provided. Today, at the tippy top end of 2017, I’m happy to report that comfort and hope that movies have always given me is still very much alive and thank fucking god.  2017 was a year where movies really, really needed to do their job and here’s four films, in no particular order who did that job spectacularly.

The Florida Project: Every year, there’s a smaller, more emotionally driven film that critics love and that I usually love but somehow gets flattened when it comes to Oscars season. (Don’t talk to me about what happened to my beloved Boyhood. I’m still angry.) The film like that this year looks to be The Florida Project. Much like my trips to see Barbra and Bette, I saw this one alone at a matinée. Not flashy or hot button or big budget, I dare say The Florida Project is the most American film of the year. At once a portrait of America’s “hidden homeless” and a rollicking look at childhood mischief, The Florida Project easily pinpoints everything right and wrong with how we live in 2017. Heartbreaking, hilarious and utterly unforgettable, this movie made me remember why I love movies in the first place: at their best they show us the possibilities and serve as a mirror. The Florida Project delivers on that and so much more. Plus, it has the best ending of a film that I’ve seen in years.

Wonder Woman: My love and admiration of Wonder Woman is long and storied. Suffice to say, I dressed up like her in kindergarten and even have her tattooed on my arm for over decade. Thus my expectations were high and I’d been reading about the proposed movie versions for nearly two decades. To think we almost got versions with Sandra Bullock and Beyoncé. Shudders. Well, obviously it was worth the wait. In fact, I’d say Wonder Woman showed up just in time. While she was fighting Nazis on the big screen, real life Nazi assholes marched later that summer. Likewise, it was hard not think of her when modern villains like Harvey Weinstein were being heroically taken down by brave women. Aside from being a movie of the moment, it’s just a darn entertaining film with a fantastic lead performance and jaw dropping action sequences.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri: Many a long-winded internet essay has been penned on this film and the multitude of hot button issues it touches upon. From missing the boat on delving deeper on violence against women to being tone-deaf on racism by law enforcement, everybody has something to say about this movie and respectfully, I think they’re all wrong. What I have yet to read about this film is how it’s a meditation on grief and resentment which turns into revenge. It looks at our worst impulses and somehow makes them relatable and even funny. Darkly hilarious, the script by  Martin McDonagh is razor-sharp and takes no prisoners. A true playwrite, McDonagh isn’t afraid to let these people talk and have opinions, even if their opinions are horrible or wrong. Utterly unforgettable and badass in every sense of the word, Frances McDormand gives an already iconic performance in a film that you won’t soon stop talking about either.

The Shape of Water: I’ve already put my boxing gloves on and I’m ready to throw down with the first person who poo poos this film as a lightweight fairytale. Why? Because it’s so much more and perhaps more important than we realize. Without discounting the numerous and significant cinematic charms–the delicious soundtrack, the stunning visuals, the crisp pacing, The Shape of Water is at its heart a film about generosity and tolerance.  A black woman, a gay man, a mute and yes, a sea creature all love and protect one another in a movie that’s part Beauty and the Beast and part 50’s horror film. Guillermo Del Toro does what he does best in creating an unforgettable world but also shows us how the people we so often throw away take care of one another. I confidently say it’s my favorite film of 2017 and one I believe other 19-year-old movie nerds will find hope in too. It’s a beautiful film, a magical film and even an important film. And I’ll fight anybody who says otherwise!

Additional shoutouts to other cinematic hope providers like the witty, wonderful and wise Lady Bird, the complicated and scary The Beguiled, the important City of Ghosts, Tiffany Haddish’s performance in Girl’s Trip and the totally gorgeous Call Me By Your Name. I guess it should be noted that I have yet to see several big films like The Post or hard to find movies like Faces Places and BPM. But I will! In the meantime, what are some of your favorites from 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out From Under: On Britney & Bottoming Out

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Every meltdown needs a soundtrack. Every extra shitty life moment needs a theme song. Most of the time, we don’t get to pick these songs or the albums. They pick us simply by being played while everything comes crashing down. For me, the album that will forever be associated with my own person shit storm in 2008 is Circus by Britney Spears.

Call it prophetic timing. Chalk it up to gayness. Or simply write it off to the magical powers of pop divas. But the sixth album by Britney Spears came out right as things were about to get really fucking real for me. Remembered 9 years later primarily for the hit single “Womanizer” and it’s wig swapping video, Circus falls firmly in the Comeback Era of our Lord and Savior Britney Spears. Having had her own terrible times in 2007, Britney was experiencing a renaissance. Less crazy, more energetic and presumably on a better combination of psych meds, Britney was doing all of the morning shows that fall. The word on the street was “It’s Britney, bitch and she’s back!” Couple this with the ushering in of the Obama era, things looked like they were turning around in America. Well, for everybody but me.

While Britney was cracking whips and wearing sexy ringmaster outfits on Good Morning America, yours truly was having cocaine induced panic attacks in the hallway of the apartment that he was days away from getting evicted from. It’s hard not to notice the juxtaposition of Britney’s upbeat, pop confection of a record, which I was listening to non-stop while my own life events were closer to the kind of circus with sad, drunk clowns and abused animals. Now, anyone who knows me knows that music is a huge part of my life and I’m not some top 40 devotee who slurps up all populist crap. The opposite actually.

As a former record store employee and DJ, I’m a music snob and a half. Go ahead and  mansplain me on the topics of sports and home improvement but I will unequivocally smoke your ass when it comes to knowledge of music and pop culture. This is a fact. I proudly turn my nose up at overrated sensitive dude singers, pride myself on loving bands before anyone else did and enjoy seeking out weird old shit. That said, I have a soft spot for brain-rotting cotton candy pop. Britney is certainly a master of this category. Of the 90’s teen pop divas, her trailer trash roots, auto-tuned voice and undeniable club bangers have made me a fan. Not in a crying, “Leave Britney alone!” way but a fan in the same way that I’m a fan of the Filet O’ Fish from McDonald’s. Maybe it isn’t great but damn is it tasty! Plus, she’s got a lot of really great songs to work the imaginary runway in your bathroom to and a few truly legendary music videos. 

Before I go any further, let’s look at a timeline of this awful era so we might have a little more clarity as to what was really going on:

  • Circus came out on November 28th, 2008.
  • My birthday is November 30th.
  • Britney’s birthday is December 2nd.
  • My sobriety date in January 2nd, 2009.

Coincidence, bad timing and the aforementioned diva sorcery, the album and the artist who made it are now forever wedged in a timeframe of my life that was undeniably horrible. Today in 2017, I think this is hilarious. I’m sure Britney and the gang didn’t sit down and say, “Let’s make an album you can bottom out from drugs and alcohol to but you can also dance to!” Sexy booty shaking anthems like the title track, “Kill the Lights,” “Leather and Lace” and “If You Seek Amy” are so light and fluffy they might as well be made out of marshmallows. “Leather and Lace” literally opens with the lines, “French fingertips. Red lips. Bitch is dangerous. Cotton candy kiss.
Can’t wait for my sugar rush” for crying out loud. It wasn’t like I was suicidal and listening to PJ Harvey on repeat (not this time, anyway). I was EXTREMELY delusional in those final days of 2008, however. Convinced that maybe things weren’t so bad and maybe an 11th hour financial miracle and a mystical answer from the gods would soon arrive, perhaps the sugary snacks of La Spears were just what I needed in that timeframe. Maybe it was all I could handle.

I sure the hell couldn’t handle reality. A mere month after Britney gifted Circus to the world, I would be evicted from my apartment. A few days after that I would come clean and ask for help. My own circus of daily drinking and regular cocaine use came crashing down. After starting drinking and using at age 14, at age 36 I finally got sober. Circus, the record soon fell off my playlist too. Too upbeat, too reminiscent of those last insane days, Britney’s solid B+ of a record was shifted out rotation for darker, holy-shit-my-life-is-fucked albums. In fact, I hadn’t even listened to the whole record since then until yesterday.

In celebration of her own 36 birthday(ANOTHER BRITNEY PARALLEL! Chills and goosebumps, people.), I honored St. Britney by listening to Circus as I was making curry and baking. Still hard not to bust a move to, the record has great dance tracks and some Grade A guilty pleasures. Remarkably, I remembered all of the lyrics to every track which is impressive given my chemical intake at that time. Not triggering or PTSD inducing, I had a really good time revisiting the soundtrack of my bottoming out. Britney and her general Barbie as pop star persona has always been really enjoyable to me and Circus falls very much inline with all of that. It’s always weird/hard/intense things time of year for me and oddly enough hearing Circus again brought some unexpected closure. I know. A spiritual moment courtesy of Britney Spears (Spearitual?) sounds ridiculous. But as I hung out in my kitchen with Brit-Brit, I gained some compassion and perspective for that guy who was literally dying.

It did strike me that one song, “Out From Under” sort of sums up that year and those final days perfectly. A dreamy-sounding break up song, it could be personally applicable for ending my relationship with drugs and alcohol or the actual romantic relationship I was in at the time. Produced by the underrated genius Guy Sigsworth, the song was probably played in dramatic moments on CW shows in 2008. But it was these lyrics that struck me yesterday:

I don’t wanna feel the pain
What good would it do me now
I’ll get it all figured out
When I’m out from under.

Under. That’s very much where I was and not where I am today. While we don’t get to pick our soundtracks for our bottoming out, I can honestly say I’m glad Circus is mine. It’s very “on brand” for my tongue in cheek journey of getting sober. Depression and despair that you can dance to! Perfect. Nice work, God & Britney. Plus, it forever bonds me to my Sagittarius sister Britney for life. But never forget that I did shaved head and crazy first, bitch.

 

 

what feeds me

shutterstock_94824595Currently, there are two pans of bread crumbs drying on my counter for two different types of stuffing or dressing or savory bread pudding or whatever your mom called it and now you call it. Because nothing says a small, sober alcoholic Thanksgiving like two different types of stuffing. Likewise, there is a container of chipotle sweet potato hummus in the refrigerator, two pumpkin rolls in the freezer and a big bag of potatoes in my cupboard awaiting that ancient Mahoney mashing magic.  And lest we forget, a turkey. I was thinking this morning as a laid in bed plotting my gravy strategy (because everyone needs one of those) that if per chance the apocalypse were to happen on Thanksgiving, this wouldn’t be so bad. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry. At least my version of the apocalypse features pie and a parade on the television.

I would say food is dominating my thoughts today because it’s Thanksgiving, which is by far my favorite holiday, but that would be a lie. I pretty much think about what I’m going to eat, what I’ve eaten, what I’ve never eaten and even wonder what your eating all throughout my day. As we’ve discussed here a few times, I love cooking, going to restaurants and sharing meals with people I love. Now that I don’t look forward to waking up and drinking a bathtub of tequila everyday, I look forward to what I’m eating. I will admit without shame or remorse that there are invitations to things that I have either accepted or denied based solely on the food being served and said event. Wanna talk to me about taxes over a plate of tacos? I’ll be there! Wanna have a friendly chat at a vegan juice bar? Hard pass! I try to celebrate and enjoy everything I eat– from a really great, perfectly ripe banana to a birthday cupcake. So hopefully it makes a choosier eater and happier Sean all the way around.  But when I think about what actually feeds me, what actually nourishes me and what really satisfies my appetite, then I’m thinking in a deeper universe far beyond my gravy strategy from earlier(still important, btw).

I had a day last week where I laughed really hard with two newer  but suddenly beloved friends on the phone. That same day I also read a great novel on the train into work as it was raining outside. There was also two delicious cups of coffee, some homemade corn chowder and a dinner of dumplings to be had that day. Sure, those things didn’t entirely make my day. Far from it. That was a day at work when me and a coworker sat with a screaming person suffering from mental health issues trying to get committed to the hospital. Additionally, I was faced with a nagging personal issue at work that I’ll eventually have to deal with before it turns into the demogorgon of my professional life. Naturally, there was also another avalanche of gross, depressing ass headlines (which do we even make any other kind of headlines in 2017?) just to top things off. But what I’m really left with today, what really stuck to my ribs and fed me was all the bright spots of that day.  Particularly, the laughter.

There is something about laughing with other people that does more for me than any pan of brownies ever can which is truly saying something if you really know me and know how important brownies are to me. But it’s true. When other people are making me laugh or I’m making them laugh, I feel like I know why I’m here on the planet. I feel like all this bullshit we listen to and people we put up with are totally worth it. Laughter is this rebellious pocket of joy that waves its middle finger at everyone and everything telling us how horrible the world is. Laughter can’t be kept down and wants us to keep pursuing it and I for one am 100% on board.

As a creative person, another thing that really feeds me is great art. This time of year for film lover like me is basically the cinema version of Thanksgiving. There are so many knockout, brilliant films pushed out from now until the end of the year that a movie amateur would feel overwhelmed. But for junkies like myself, its absolute heaven. Already with my sleeves rolled up and checking off movies one by one, I can’t say enough nice things about Lady Bird. The film directed by Greta Gerwig is getting heaps of praise and it’s easy to see why. Gerwig captures those awkward teenage moments while never deviating into cliché. But for my money the movie that knocked me on my ass and blew my mind at the same time is The Florida Project. While telling the tale of kids who live in rent by the week motels outside of Disney World, the movie also will open moviegoers eyes to the existence of America’s hidden homeless population. But what the movie really does is show that these kids are still capable of having fun while being homeless. Shot in a clear hilarious homage to The Little Rascals, Sean Baker focuses on  6-year-old Moonee and her friends who don’t need big fancy suburban houses to cause trouble. Really funny, heartbreaking and packed with the most devastatingly beautiful ending of a film that I’ve seen in years, The Florida Project fired my creative juices up and whet my appetite for more delicious seasonal film offerings.

As the clock ticks down and I get ready to transition from normal guy in pajamas to crazy person in the kitchen, the biggest thing that feeds me recently is more present than ever: love. There is a great moment in the film Marvin’s Room that goes like this:

Bessie: Oh, Lee, I’ve been so lucky. I’ve been so lucky to have Dad and Ruth. I’ve had such love in my life. You know, I look back, and I’ve had such… such love.

Lee: They love you very much.

Bessie: No, that’s not what I mean. No, no… I mean that I love them. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.

This exchange has stuck with me for over 20 years since that film was released and not just because it’s between Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. But because the longer I’m sober and hopefully less self involved, I want to be grateful for the love I get to have for people and not chase love for what I’ll get in return. I know. Sounds lofty and hard and a little corny. Still, I think I’ll try it. I think I’ll try to love my husband, my cats, other addicts and alcoholics and my family the best way I know how.

And today what that looks like is lots of laughs and two different  kinds of stuffing.

 

 

 

Bateau Ivre

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Since I got back from Paris, I’ve become one of those people who starts off a lot of sentences with “Since I got back from Paris…” because the trip turned my thinking upside down. I know, I know this idea that “Since I got back from Paris, my point of view has totally changed” all sounds very PBS low-budget travel show but it’s actually true.

We got home on October 16–or was it the 17th? All I know is it was an odd time of day and I was hungry. But that could very well be said of any day for me, travel or not. It was one of those days that started in another time zone, in another country but somehow miraculously ended on the same day in a different time zone, even though 15 hours had been spent somewhere along the line. All this travel math and 8 hours of airplane movies turned my brain inside out. By the time we returned to our little abode in Portland, I just wanted to collapse and hang out with my cats. I did just that for the better part of 2 weeks. But the longer I’m back from Paris (and Amsterdam and Vienna who I also hung out with on my voyage) the longer I’ve realized a few things about myself and the country I grew up in: America.

First of all, we ain’t shit. Look, I know that’s not poetic but that was the overwhelming theme I left Europe with. After nearly 2 years of emerging Trumpism, bombastic headlines and daily reminders from every digital platform that the world is fucked, it was a breath of fresh air to be on a continent that legitimately did not give a shit. As I checked Twitter while in Europe, it shocked me that Trump or Mueller or any other thing we were freaking out about were not trending. Case in point: dark alternative rock god Nick Cave was trending while we were in Amsterdam on a week where the US was still shocked from the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Speaking of Las Vegas, it barely came up while we were there and while I can’t be sure, I’m guessing it’s because from a foreigner’s point of view, events like that happen all the time in the US. Hard to argue with that logic, sadly. Horrible redundant American tragedies aside, it felt good not to matter. It felt good to not have the impending shit storm of dread that so many of us have woken up with for months. It felt good not to be the center of universe for 5 minutes and realize that nobody cared about my paltry American nonsense.

IMG_2563.jpgWhich brings me to the other realization I had and one as an alcoholic I need to remember regularly: other people are going through stuff too. France, a country which has arguably seen more than its share of heartbreak and violence over the last few years, maybe couldn’t be bothered with our hot messes because it’s still trying to heal. Michael and I attended a life altering exhibit chronicling the life and work of Christian Dior. The exhibit had dresses, designs and the art behind the famous designer. Told exhaustively on several floors of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, it was an uplifting and inspirational journey into the birth of what we know as modern fashion and fashion branding. But what knocked the wind out of me and gave me goosebumps was the reaction of the french speaking visitors to the museum. Filled with pride and curiosity, each person seemed personally invested in the works. After a massive line to get in and packed galleries, the spirit was unwavering and I think that says a lot about the French and perhaps humans in general. Devastated together by heartbreak but united by a love of art and beauty, the Dior show felt less like a fashion exhibit and more like a window into the French soul. In those moments watching them take selfies with the mannequins or devour the text about Dior’s life, I finally got it. These people needed this show and they needed each other. And I needed it too.

The other thing that hit me is that despite traveling several countries over the course of over two weeks and getting far, far away from Sean at Home, I am still me wherever I go. This is an unfortunate but inevitable fact. My carry on luggage comes equipped with my own personal baggage and ain’t that a shame? I will say that it is lighter these days and as a travel companion, I am pretty fantastic. The gorgeous photo at the top of the post was taken by husband the last night we were in Paris. It was a perfect, sun-kissed moment while amazing music played in the background. This was a snapshot, unlike the dozens of photos of cake that I took and posted to Instagram, that needed to happen. Such a significant moment, the image has since served as our screen saver since we got back from Paris. Out of curiosity and since my junior high French only took me so far, I wondered what “bateau ivre” meant. I cackled when the magic of Google revealed that it means “drunk boat.” Perfect. That’s me–bateau ivre, a little drunk boat floating around the globe. Except now this little drunk boat has safe harbours like the meetings I went to in Paris and Amsterdam (spoiler alert: alcoholics are the same everywhere), the sober friends I messaged from random locales and the moments of peace I got by staring at views like this one.

Lastly, since I got back from Paris, I haven’t felt like an American or just an American, I should say. Listen, I’m  not unpatriotic or a spurned former lover of the USofA. I just feel like more of a human. You know, a person who lives in the whole world, instead of in just his small American bubble. I feel like a person who is lucky to have these adventures and people who I love to come home to. But mainly I feel like if I love myself and help other people than this little drunk boat is safe to dock pretty much anywhere.

*This is the first in a three-part series about my recent travels to Europe. If you hate travel posts, I apologize but I promise to fill each of them with my signature brand of neurosis to not deviate from my brand too much. hearts–S.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Time I Saw Paris

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Let’s get this out of the way: the following post has nothing to do with the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor film in the title other than the fact I’ve pretty much always wanted my whole life to be an Elizabeth Taylor film. No, the title in this case is quite literal. The last time I saw Paris, I was 20 years old.

While I suppose a blow-by-blow account of a love tinged trip to the city of lights wherein I came of age and not only found a new city but found myself(insert barf face emoji) would be just damn delightful, I have no such recollection. Thanks to the mountain of drugs ingested in the 1990’s I recall very little of that era. I mean if you’re gonna do drugs might as well do so many that you experience memory loss. That’s what I always say. Well, when I remember to say it. Yet what survives from that era is the feeling of who I was. 
The faces, names and places might be gone. But the emotional landscape of Sean Mahoney, age 20 is something I’ve never forgotten. Just a small town gay boy in oversized raver denim, I realize now that that kid had the deck stacked against him. A shook up soda pop bottle of a human, he bounced from place to place and person to person. Panning for gold in goth clubs, raves, bathhouses, gay bars, on stage, he spent a shit ton of time searching for someone to say, “You are alright.” 

So thank god for drugs. I say this a lot in what sounds like jest but I absolutely mean it. See, without drugs I would have never came out of shell or maybe ever came of the closet. Drugs helped moved past my big, gay effeminate self. Drugs connected me to people and gave me friends. Drugs created a better reality than the harsh shitbox one that was always lurking for me when I came down. 
By the time I got to Paris at age 20, drugs had already put me through the ringer. Broken up and gotten back together several times by that age me and drugs were like the aforementioned actress and Richard Burton. I’m Liz in this scenario, just so we’re clear. Coming off my first summer of meth(because it took me two full insanity soaked summers of meth to figure out how much that drug sucks. Some people go to Hamptons every summer. I did meth.) I scooted off to Europe to find myself that fall. I was with a close friend and the trip as a whole, from what I can remember, was good. But somewhere inside of me at that time I knew I was sort of in trouble as far as the whole drugs thing went. The pendulum always swung from fun to problematic pretty quickly in those days. This break was supposed to help figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my 20 year old self. 

I know now that the idea of knowing who you are and what you want at that age is utter horseshit. I was a lost satellite and dancing and doing drugs at least provided some direction. So I did that in Europe too. But we did all the other Europey things as well. I remember eating gelato in Venice and having my mind blown open. I remember finally finishing Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon on that trip and having mind blow open even further. 

As far as Paris itself goes, it’s more of a fuzzy slideshow that lives on. The smallness of the Mona Lisa, the magazine stands on the Champs Eylsse, the view of the Effiel tower across the river, an old lady yelling at me to take off my hat inside Notre Dame, a croissant here and there. 

What didn’t happen is me finding myself. In fact, I came back more lost than ever. Only gone for a month, life moved quickly among me and rave going, drug doing friends. One group who dabbled in heroin back in May now seemed lost for good in October. Another group who had a meth fueled misunderstanding were now permanently at odds. And me and my friend who I traveled with drifted when we got back. Making things worse was the fact that I was not yet 21 and many of my closest pals were now able to go to bars. I would remain lost in Denver, the city I grew up in, until age 22 when I moved to Los Angeles.

Thus the last time I saw Paris was a blip and blur but luckily I get to see it again! Now nearly 45 years old, sober and married this post comes from you on a plane to Chicago. My decidedly epic travel day will take me from Portland to Chicago to London and finally Vienna where we will be for five cake and museum filled days. Next, we’ll take a two day jaunt to Amsterdam and finally end up in Paris. 
Travel, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my passions and one I share with my husband. We do it extremely well together. Part comedy act, part reality show, we have found a balance in travel that works and one that is downright enjoyable. I’m traveling with a person who routinely says, “You are alright.” And that is something I didn’t have at age 20. Make that two people.

Unlike Sean age 20, I am no longer lost. I know who I am. I’m not slowly killing myself. I give less of a fuck about what other people think and I even kind of like myself.  This is all excellent news whether I’m seeing Paris again or napping on my sofa. 

forbidden happy

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You’re okay.

You’re okay.

You’re okay.

I had to kept saying this to myself as I laid in bed. I had to keep saying it not just because I knew it was true but also because saying it was helping. See, I woke up with my heart racing, sweating and generally having that feeling I was far from fucking okay. As I closed my eyes (You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay) I tried to believe it. I mean really feel like I was okay. My heart eventually took it down a few notches. I started to breathe normally. And right on cue, one of my cats laid on my chest.  We were okay. I am actually okay. That was the truth. After all, this isn’t some old feeling I had years ago although waking up in terror thanks to years of delightful things like depression, addiction and PTSD is an old familiar feeling. No, this happened this morning.

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It happened this morning at what could arguably considered that height my personal okayness. Fuck okay. My life has currently transcended to fabulous. New job, great relationships, strong connection to my recovery and the incredible people in it, plenty of food, money, coffee and all of those things I need to survive. So why did I wake up there? Why did feel like I used to when I would wake up to the shitstorm of my life during yet another body crushing hangover? Why, after nearly nine years, did I wake up convinced for even a few moments that I wasn’t okay?

The easy answer? Blame it on the wiring. Much like blaming it on Rio or blaming it on the rain, blaming it on the wiring for people like me with mental health, uh shall we say, “challenges”, is the easiest route. Just because I am better and continue to grow doesn’t mean I’m going to have the thoughts of a totally sane and healthy person all of the time. The default setting of HOLYFUCKINGSHITEVERYTHINGISTERRIBLE is a tough one to override. Is it better than it was in 2009 or even 2015? Hell yes. But does it still exist? Do I still struggle with a brain hell-bent on self-destruction and misery? Also, hell yes. The thing is there’s a bunch of healthy stuff I do to drown that voice and those feelings out and I can currently say that all of those things are working. So perhaps it’s a glitch in the system and one that won’t last. I mean, I already feel better sitting at my kitchen table writing and drinking coffee.

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Yet it could also be something else. Something more ingrained. Yesterday, I was walking home after hanging out with someone from my recovery family. Fall leaves crunched under my feet for the first time. The air was warm but crisp. The quickly vanishing sun had turned downtown Portland a peachy orange color. The world in that moment felt beautiful. Life felt beautiful. Moreover, I felt really, genuinely, no bullshit happy. Like happy with no exceptions. Like not that kind of happy that’s temporary or faked or delusional. But legit happiness. Short of bursting into a musical number, I walked home happier than I can remember being in quite sometime. These are moments worth cherishing and remembering. Not because there was some big material payoff or splashy life milestone. But because a person like me can feel this way and can feel this way most of the time. It’s also worth remembering because there’s still a teeny, tiny part of me that thinks I don’t deserve this. That I shouldn’t be happy and that I should go ahead and do something to fuck it and up and sabotage it because it’s not like it’s going to last anyway, right?

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My idea of happiness, much like these candy colored ridiculous Lisa Frank pictures of unicorns, is decidedly twisted and out of whack. Like a good addict, I want happiness to be bigger and last longer. New, Improved Happiness! Now 100 times stronger than original recipe happiness! So right away I’ve set myself up for something that can’t happen or at the very least is not in any way sustainable. Thus when I don’t live a life that feels like an endless loop of someone winning both showcases on The Price is Right then I can go ahead and choose to feel fucked up, sad, and miserable.

“Choose” is the magic word here, kids and one that I didn’t know when I was drinking and using. I thought horrible things just happened to me and that I must have been cursed. I reality was, however, I chose some pretty horrible things and had life that reflected those choices. So yeah I can choose to feel happy. I can choose to see the truth that I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay. I can choose all this and still wake up in terror and have to choose it all over again. This is fine. Happiness isn’t something forbidden and out of reach or something spectacular that I’m not worthy of. It’s something that shows up under my feet like the fall leaves or lies on my chest like my cat. It’s something that’s already available. All I have to do is choose it.

I’m a spiritual being, muthaf*ckers

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Let’s get this out of the way before we roll up our sleeves and really talk about God: people who wear “Spiritual gangsta” hoodies or refer to themselves as gurus or have things like “Christ first” in their Twitter bios are the worst. I mean I get it. Everyone is seeking something so maybe these folks need to fly their freaky spirituality flag to let the world know how down with G.O.D. they really are. But still it does feel obnoxious. Like the most spiritual and god-like people I ever met were the ones who were humble and did amazing acts for their fellow-man all pretty much on the d.l. They didn’t need sweatshirts or Facebook groups to prove that they had spiritual lives. But who I am to judge really? I’m a seeker like everyone else even the spiritual gangsta. And this whole road of seeking is, as far as I can tell, a messy affair.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really do organized religion. I’m not much of joiner, I find religious services to be snoozy and oh yeah, I sort of hate people. So these things don’t really make yours truly the ideal candidate to organize your church picnic. Nevertheless, I have a version of god and spiritual life. Go figure. I had long thought the two went hand in hand and you couldn’t have one without the other. But, much like chocolate and peanut butter, I’ve discovered some people can enjoy religion and spirituality together while others have them a la carte. Thanks to nearly dying from drugs and alcohol and then getting sober, I found God. Not like God was missing. He’s not Carmen San Diego or something. Or even that I was struck by a lightening bolt and started dancing in the streets and speaking in tongues. I simply found something bigger than myself. My own version of god has a sense of humor (obvi) and takes their own damn time figuring things out but is always there for me. That’s really all I can tell because it’s my god, not yours. And I’m a middle child and bad at sharing. Get your own damn God, goddamnit.

So this thing bigger than me and more powerful than me keeps expanding and I’m still desperately seeking God. This apparently is good news. I was in a meeting on Saturday morning with drunks and drugs addicts, as I’ve been known to do, and there was a woman celebrating 30 years sober. She talked about moving through rough patches recently. She shared honestly about not always feeling connected to her version of God. But mainly, what I heard, was a woman who was sharing about still seeking. She’s still looking to strengthen the spiritual connection, to grow and to keep changing and getting better. By sharing about struggling but somehow persisting and staying sober anyway, she let me and presumably the others in the packed room know that we were okay just where we are. Because God and from what I can tell spirituality in general isn’t some graduate program or reality tv competition. There isn’t an end in sight or a certificate to achieve.

God is on my mind this morning because I noticed I had several conversations about god this weekend. As an old AA friend of mine once said, sober people either talk about alcohol or they talk about god and this weekend, it was primarily the latter. Life is a mystery, as my own spiritual conduit Madonna once said, and therefore so is God. When I have conversations about God with sober people that’s sort of what we’re doing: unravelling the mystery and getting clues from one another on how you do this whole god thing. Before I stopped drinking and using drugs, I thought God was some punishing being who hated me for being gay and was probably still low-key pissed off at what a bad Catholic I was. So I need to see and hear what God is for other people and then go off continue to seek my own.

Therefore it isn’t really my business if someone has a God who hates gay people or belongs to a religion that oppresses women. Likewise it’s not my concern if Facebook friends post overly religious crap. I’m too busy trying not to be a horrible person, one day at time. So I guess even the guy in the “Spiritual Gangsta” hoodie gets a pass. That said, I’m gonna hold off on ordering one for myself.