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.

 

 

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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.

 

out of service

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It all started by a waterfall with cliff divers.  Okay and there was also a mariachi band and a large orange monkey. There was also magicians, an old drunk couple with guitars and the gloppy enchiladas that should probably be considered a hate crime against Mexico. Little red flags popped up and me and a bevy of other teenagers would magically appear with chips and salsa and sopapillas (this puffy, fired dough pillow creation best eaten at mouth scorching temperatures and drizzled with honey.) Later, they’d tear me away from all of this glamorous action and sequester me to a hot steamy kitchen where my loud thin Vietnamese manager Hong would yell at me, “Do something!” Suffice to say, I didn’t last very long.

Yep, it all started nearly 30 years ago when I was 15 and working at a ridiculous Mexican restaurant/theme park/Denver anomaly called Casa Bonita. The “it” in question is my almost 30 year on and off again career of waiting tables, working behind retail registers and dealing with the general public. These restaurant/retail gigs have always made for good money makers while I’ve persued drugs or writing or getting sober. Now at age 44, my time behind the counter and I’m sad to report by fake waterfalls with cliff divers has come to an end.

While I won’t say, “I’ll never go back!” to working in cafes, shops or restaurants, I will say for the time being it looks like that chapter of my life is officially done. On Saturday, I said goodbye to the part-time gig I’ve had since I moved to Portland at a culinary shop/cooking class hub. While aspects of it were fun, I did feel a little like the daytime stripper way past her prime. Bitter, slow and armed with one liners ripe for any possible thing that could come up, it became clear that my time in this arena had run its course. The fact that no one got stabbed and my sobriety remained in tact means my time there was success. My new adventure, working as a peer counselor for the State of Oregon will put in me in an entirely different realm of the word service but will certainly take me out of this weird wonderful, fucked up world that I have known since my teen years.

It’s an over-simplification of the highest order and a snap judgement anyone can and has made probably any time they’ve left their house, I can confirm that people are the worst. Entitled, rude, awkward, racist, homophobic, cheap, dishonest, mean-spirited and generally awful, people put it all out there when their shopping and eating out. I also happen to be people too so I know this is true for myself as well. We like to think “everyone’s doing the best they can” but I’d argue that when we’re shopping or eating out that we are often on autopilot and the first things to evaporate are our common sense, manners and general non-shittiness. Like we don’t go places with the intentions of being awful but we don’t exactly set out into the world with the opposite intention either. However, I will say after you’ve worked with the public long enough, you no longer flinch when cray-cray shit flies out of their mouths. Somewhere around Year 500 of me working with the public, I developed a protective shield, one that kept me free from reaction while also making everything and everyone seem funny, human and really not that bad. Naturally curious and nosey, I do actually like talking to people, the big weirdos. So as I took on these gigs in sobriety I was able to have fun with them and promptly forget them when I went home.

Back when I was waiting tables, a friend once optimistically chirped, “But as a writer waiting tables must be a great insight into people, right?”  I’m sure I agreed and muddled sure, sure, sure then followed it up by some insightful, funny story about customers. Yet now I’m not so sure. After all, it’s a micro-glimpse into their lives and not really who they are. Yet I will say as a person who loves to write dialogue, working with the public has been invaluable. Plus, people are really vulnerable(read: insane) when they’re eating and shopping so you get to see them in a heightened state which is great for dramatic purposes. Yet for all the drama and all the years waiting tables only a few good stories remain and they are simplistic at best. Here are a few of the most memorable:

That time I waited on Isabella Rossellini. For obvious reasons– duh!

That time I watched a sleazy guy cut his girlfriend’s steak for her. Despite watching people vomit or get in fights, this sticks in my brain as one of the grossest and oddest things I ever saw waiting tables. I don’t know why but it’s forever lodged in my conscience.

That time I got to escort Harrison Ford backstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Harrison. Goddamn. Ford.

That time a customer posted a negative Yelp review of the place I worked at and singled out my shitty, snotty attitude. She wasn’t wrong.

That time I got to send clothes to Cher’s house for her to try on and she in turn sent me a signed cd.

That time I helped Roseanne pick out body glitter and punk rock records.

That time a couple had sex in the changing room at a boutique I worked at.

That time Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks sang Happy Birthday to her friend at the restaurant I worked at.

That time Rene Russo ate in our restaurant while her kids ate Domino’s in her car.

That time I got hit on by a customer at lunch and later hooked up with him in between shifts.

That time a D-List actor rudely yapped on his cell phone and ignored his 4 year-old kid while dining at my work. He even left the kid(!!) alone while he went to the ATM and he didn’t tip.

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That time, despite being really high/drunk I actually made a lot of money. Okay. That was most of the time.

Did I mention Isabella Rossellini already? The point is the fodder isn’t nearly as juicy as you might think. And without the celebrity sightings the cache of my illustrious customer service career completely bombs. I’ve mainly learned that people want to be heard, people want to be noticed and people shouldn’t be fucked with if they’re hungry. Also, this makeshift career of helping other people has oddly opened the door for me to want to help them even more, beyond bringing dessert menus or helping them pick out body glitter.

Service, as fate would have it, is a necessary part of my recovery. At nearly 9 years into this jam, I am constantly on the hunt for new ways to be of service. They say helping others keeps people like me out of our heads and I am all for that. Thus my new career and even writing have pushed me into a life less about Sean. Or at least that’s my hope. Plus, if all else fails I can return to this old wacky world. That’s the thing. Once you’ve conquered it you can do it anywhere and at anytime.

Meet me by the waterfall and I’ll bring you some menus.

 

relieve me of the bondage of selfie

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How do I look?

How do I look when I’m struggling?

How do I look when I’m happy?

How do I look when I’m grocery shopping?

How do I look when I’m dealing with family members, cleaning up cat barf, watching reality TV or cooking dinner?

More importantly do you think I look?

Luckily for me, I have the magic mirror of narcissism that is social media which answers those questions with bubbly hearts. When illuminated several times over, I have won at the game of self-worth. The numbers can even tick up in front of my eyes like flashing beacons that say, “You’re doing amazing, sweetie.” Conversely, when nobody gives a damn these bubbly hearts stay clear, invisible, with no numbers beside them to alert the world that my likeability has confirmed kills. Yet recently, I reached the very bottom of the mirror and stared at the whole thing. Yes, that’s correct. I really feel as though I’ve read all of what Twitter and Facebook has to offer. I’ve heard the opinions. I’ve had my opinions. I’ve seen their opinions become my opinions.  I’ve seen them take my opinions.  In fact, I’ve now heard and read so many opinions that none of them matter or stand out anymore. Even my own. Yes, I truly think I’ve read it all. And what I’ve learned is, to quote Jon Bon Jovi, it’s all the same, only the names have changed.

This is okay. I mean how many things do we all have to actually talk about? It’s normal that we’d ramble on and ramble and repeat crap again and again. Besides, humans and their ability to have different spins on the same topics is one of the best things about humans. The “best things about humans” would be a great hashtag, by the way since it appears our collective qualities are harder and harder to celebrate these days and therefore should be gathered as evidence. It would be a great hashtag if I was doing those sorts of things anymore. But I’m not. In fact, I’m not really doing any social media anymore.

Or should I say “for today” I’m not doing social media. In case you didn’t know, “for today” is that give a way phrase we addicts use to signal that for hopefully 24 hours we won’t engage in something that is addictive and unmanageable. And by “not doing,” I mean I’ve cut back on Twitter and deactivated my Facebook for like 2 days so far. I know. I’m practically a monk. As someone who has worked in digital content and social media for the past seven years, I guess this is the part of the post where I should talk about the virtues that social media does have. You know– the ability to bring people together from around the globe, the ability to share information quickly and the ability to make you feel bad about you had for lunch– those types of things. And they are all valid and worthwhile. But I’m not going to talk about those virtues. Because my problem with social media is (wait for it) me.

Sometime over the summer after I had spent entirely too long styling a selfie for an author photo a website that I  contribute to, it hit me maybe my relationship with all of this is too intense. Putting my self-worth in the hands of others is something I’ve done for decades. So much so that if the folks at MasterClass are interested I’ll gladly share my knowledge with the world for the low, low price of $90.00. Us ninja level codependent people pleasers didn’t need no stinking social media to wrap our self-esteem in the approval of others but it sure the fuck makes it a lot easier! Now, instead of calling people or walking to their houses or showing up to their events that I don’t want to go to but will go to in hopes of them liking me more, I can just post witty, wise crap that will endear me to their hearts. In my pocket at all times, I hold the power to turn over my power to faceless others in 140 characters or less. Weeee!

I’m making light of this because that’s sort of what I do when a behavior of mine has become problematic. Like, “Ha, ha, ha! Isn’t it a hoot how much cocaine I can snort?” But the reality is my relationship with social media started to feel problematic. More than once, I’ve ignored my husband or missed what he was saying because my face was stuck to my iPhone like a fly on the windshield. Not a cool thing to do to my literal favorite person to talk to. Also troubling? Something about my dependence on it felt odd. Like here I was preaching the gospel of being sober and present in my life but all the while I had gleefully become my iPhone’s bitch. Uh, what?  I at the very least don’t use my phone or text during meetings. I mean honestly if I can’t live without looking at it for an hour, I really need help. But nearly everywhere else I’m glued to it and that’s primarily because of social media.

Even worse, I’d committed the cardinal sin of social media, the one I’d warn clients about, the one every article back in 2009 would caution against: I started to take it too personally. When the tweets of others start to feel like attacks or the vague online personalities of people you don’t actually know in real life start to affect you, it’s time to get a grip. After all, it’s all for entertainment purposes only which I fundamentally know. Yet somehow here I am. But it also kind feels like something else. Like it feels hallow and immature for where I am right now. Worse for a snob like myself, my dependency on it is shamefully basic. I’m no better than our president or Taylor Swift. Look what I made me do.

So what? I grab a stack of novels and go live in the woods? Not really an option especially since I have real life commitments and hate mosquitos. Like my other addictions, I have to figure out how to treat it. Listen, I’m my motto has always been “Why do something you enjoy when you can turn it into an obsession?” so I’ve been down this road with booze, drugs, cigarettes, tv, sugar, people, sex, ad nauseam. By the way, if you’re struggling with drugs and alcohol and this sounds like some trivial-ass bullshit, that’s because comparatively it is. Nevertheless, I know I first need to admit it’s a problem, which I guess what this 1200 word declaration is all about and then I have to take action. For me, action looked like deactivating my Facebook account and taking Twitter off my phone. The obsession, as the sober kids say, has not been removed just yet and I’m really starting to see how much time I was actually spending on it. Yikes. It’s becoming clear how much of a crutch it actually is.

Suddenly, I don’t aimlessly scroll like a zombie in search of little bubbly hearts. Suddenly, I don’t have you to tell me how I look. And now I have to look at myself.

sea change

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Look at the ocean long enough and you’ll hear it. It’ll be whispered to you as the waves hit the shore or in your ear as an ocean breeze pushes its way by you. It’ll gently tell you as you feel hypnotized by watching the water do its thing. It will remind that you, a white dude in his forties, isn’t really that important. And for this particular white dude in his forties this is something I needed to hear.

The ocean, as we’ve talked about, is one of those massive, overwhelming but really comforting forces for me. Whenever my problems feel too large and never-ending, the ocean says, “Oh no, girl. I’ll show large and never-ending.” As I stood by the water at the rocky tide pools of Cannon Beach this Saturday, that feeling, that reassurance was still there. The ocean and its power had not changed. But me? Honey, that’s another story all together. See from where I stand, ocean in view or not, change is about all I’ve been doing since last fall. From my grandmother dying to moving to Portland to spiritual and creative shifts, my world has been pulled like taffy and rearranged several times over. This is all okay, by the way. I long, long ago listened to some old crusty sober person who croaked out in a meeting, “The only constant is change!” This is usually said by a person who has the same shirt on every time you see him, by the way but his point is valid and one I’ve taken to heart. Besides, I’ve lived a life of stagnant, repetitive alcoholism before and to say it’s depressing as fuck would be the understatement of the century. So the only other alternative is to lean into it.

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As we sat jointly sighing, looking at the ocean for an hour or so, it occurred to me that I’m currently at a pit stop between even more changes. Mainly, in the career department. On September 11th, I’ll be starting a new job. Thru the utter magic of the universe, dumb luck and my ability to talk the ear off anyone, I have landed a job as a Peer Support Specialist with a state mental health organization. In a job interview which felt more like a 12-Step meeting, I was able to express my desire to help other while really, really wanting a regular gig with great benefits to help support my creative life. I had a good feeling about the position for the get-go. I mean it’s talking to other addicts which I love and the interview itself was on Madonna’s birthday, for crying out loud.  So it felt like a sure thing. Yet after a recent busload of rejections, no thank yous and straight up professional ghosting, I was cautious. Therefore, I stayed out of the results, I showed up and did my best and attempted to let it go and not obsess over it. Thankfully for Michael, the cats and my nervous system, I got word two days after my interview.  I’ll have this week at my silly cooking school job, a week off and then a whole new adventure begins.

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But it’s not just work that’s changing–I’m also going to Europe in 5 weeks! This trip is mainly what my husband and I yammered about like excited little college kids while we were walking around the beach shops. Kitschy beach boutiques and food stands, while not as powerful as the ocean are an essential part of any ocean side visit for me. I mean there’s only so much natural beauty I can handle until I need to nibble on fried clams and peruse the finest in local tchotchkes. Luckily, Cannon Beach provides those things very well and in spades. It was a celebratory backdrop to discuss a trip we’ve been dying to take since we started dating over 7 years ago. Plus, it was nice to talk about a big life event, that unlike death or a career shift, doesn’t deal with fear of the unknown or loss. This trip, and we by no means planned it this way, lands nearly 25 years after the last time I was in Europe as a high, hot mess 20-year-old.  It’ll be nice to reinvent Europe, a place whose centuries old buildings have not changed, through the eyes of a person who certainly has.

And yet none of my changes, as the ocean reminds me, are that important. In fact, compared to love, staying sober, helping other people and travel, I’m starting feel like a lot of things aren’t that important. This could be my biggest personal change of all. Maybe I’m biting some of the ocean’s style but I’ve recently felt like the world around me doesn’t have the stranglehold that it once did. I feel dissatisfied with modern culture, social media, politics, celebrity culture, popular ideology, did I mention social media? The thing is I’m feeling like a bunch ways I react, participate and engage in life in 2017 are starting not to fit anymore. This is an odd thing to articulate but I feel like I’m less and less interested in what everybody else is interested in. Not in an alienated way at all. But like I’m being freed from unimportant crap that’s bogging down my time on this little planet. It feels good. It feels like I’m being streamlined to let bigger things in and let little stuff just float out to sea. What any of this means I don’t know. But what I do know about change, especially the ones we don’t understand, is that it can be as magical and surprising as the ocean herself.

 

 

 

The Rise of Politecore

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An odd thing happened for seven minutes in downtown Portland on Monday. This in and of itself is a remarkable thing to say, seeing as though a few weeks back in the exact same spot I witnessed a man in a Spider-Man costume playing the bagpipes and riding a unicycle. But this occurrence right here steps away from the world-famous Powell’s bookstore was something that doesn’t happen everyday, unlike the musically inclined Spidey. Because even in a terminally friendly town like Portland, there was something bigger and more profound at work and not just the eclipse, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1979.

No, what I witnessed was people, strangers for the most part, genuinely being happy with one another and dare I say it, in the era of world leaders dissing one another on the Internet, polite. Whether they were moving out of the way so a stranger could get a better glance or sharing their glasses with each other, something about the sun getting blocked out for seven minutes brought the best out in people. Very quickly you got the feeling that it wasn’t just the eclipse that was special but the behavior associated with it too. As it ended, we all went back to our respective shops, workplaces and cafes. The eclipse was gone and you could assume these moments of politeness, humanity and decency were gone along with it. But I’d argue that politeness is making a comeback and you need look no further than your television for solid evidence.

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Of the hundreds of things to love about The Great British Baking Show (or Great British Bake-Off as it’s known in the U.K.) are the moments when contestants help each other. As a reality tv aficionado (or junkie depending on how you want to spin it) I can tell you this is a weird and unnatural thing in the genre. Sure, we’ll have random drag queens loan one another costumes on RuPaul’s Drag Race but for the most part, the “I came here to win! I didn’t come here to make friends!” is the battle cry of American reality tv. Thus it’s the utter lack of backstabbing and cut throat competitiveness that makes Baking Show so charming. During the last season to air on PBS this summer, I once again found myself near tears as contestants assisted one another in finishing their frosted masterpieces. The contestants genuine goodwill and enjoyment of each other makes the show feel darn near aspirational. They help their fellow contestants not because there’s an endgame or an additional bonus for not being a selfish jackass. They do it because it’s the right, normal decent human being thing to do. Sounds like a revolutionary concept when I put it like that. And perhaps it is.

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For more proof that maybe  we just don’t act right, look no further that Netflix’s Terrace House. The reality tv hit from Japan became a global sensation recently when Netflix wisely added it to its roster of international delights. Seriously, if you’re not watching at least one crazy-ass foreign tv series on Netflix than you’re doing it wrong. They have a lot of great ones and Terrace House is my recent guilty pleasure. The show puts 6 singles (three boys, three girls) in a flawlessly designed house and let’s the drama (or in this case non-drama) unfold. If this all sounds eerily like MTV’s old standby The Real World than you wouldn’t be wrong. Except in Terrace House there are no manipulated situations, challenges or group jobs. It’s just six incredibly reserved Japanese people living under the same roof. With the exception of adding a room of offsite commentators who offer their own insights on the action in the house, that is literally it. Much has been written about why a show that isn’t just politecore but borderline borecore is so compelling even with its lack of fabricated plots. From the heartfelt discussions of emotions to the intimate glimpse into Japanese dating culture, the show has several layers that makes it a fascinating watch. But for me, watching twentysomethings that weren’t the rude, selfish, loud ingrates that I was in my twenties is utterly captivating. Even when Terrace House has “drama”, usually revolving around food or temporary thoughtlessness, the housemates resolve it in a sincere and tear filled way that would never go down on these drinking throwing, wig pulling shores. Sure, the sometimes snarky commentators offer good-natured jabs at the housemates. But even they spend a fair amount of time celebrating the personalities and emotional triumphs of each resident. Turns out, rooting for people who are considerate is just as easy as rooting for mental unhinged housewives.

While suggesting that we all be the Terrace House we want to see in the world is too ham-fisted and unrealistic for even me, I do think there’s something to be said for politeness. I recently had a job interview where the potential employed asked my philosophy on taking care of customers. I said basically, I try to treat people how I want to be treated. He laughed and said, “That’s so simple but sounds amazing in times like ours.” I agreed but it wasn’t just one of those things I said in order to get a job (which I did get, by the way). It’s a way of life I try to achieve. Try being the operative word. Catch me on a day with no sleep and in between meals while waiting in a long line and you’ll see that sometimes this ideal of politeness is hard to achieve. But for me the idea is to at least give it a shot. Like it won’t kill me to at least attempt not being awful.

This includes online too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to do a lot of deep breathing and deleting on social media when replying to discussing about racism, homophobia and all the other nifty thing currently happening in this country. The endless scroll is now home to people yelling at each other, rambling off manifestos and most annoying telling others how they should process. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a trap to even have these conversations online. My rule of thumb now is I can either respond in a way that’s online with how I act in person or not at all. This, as it turns out, is a tall order as it is really easy to act like know it all or bully online with zero repercussions. Instead, I’ve chosen to make good-natured smartass comments, have my beliefs, stay of service in my real life and leave the debating over the head of strangers to those better equipped than myself.

Yet if we listen to the internet just being polite isn’t enough. Just being thoughtful of one another doesn’t qualify you to put resistance in your Twitter bio. Just having compassion won’t help us “rise up” as directed by the song the play on everything from the Olympics to soap commercials. And that’s fine. Part of politecore, the hardest part in my mind, is sticking to a value that kindness means something and that being courteous and loving to strangers is where real change is happening, without hashtags or celebrity endorsements. But the most amazing thing about politecore, about compassion and about love is that we don’t have to wait for another eclipse or to watch it broadcast from a foreign land. We can do it right now.