Nobody Gives a Crap How You Stay Sober

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I say this from a place of love, light and spirituality: nobody gives a fuck. No, I’m serious and I swear once you wear this idea like a big old cozy sweater, the better off you will be. The pain of being convinced that people actually care and are overly invested in our every move is some 21st century narcissistic bullshit that serves no purpose other than to make you insane. This is especially true when we talk about getting sober. Everybody (and by everybody I mean addicts because let’s be honest we some selfish ass bitches and we think we are everybody) is convinced that how they are trying to get sober is a way that’s being scrutinized or being judged.We think we’re doing it wrong. We think that we found a way to stay sober that needs to be shouted out from the rafters. But baby, I’m here to tell you ain’t nobody give a fuck.

The most boring thing on the internet today is the blog post deep-fried in clickbait batter that says, “Why AA Sucks!” or conversely “Why AA is the only way to get sober.” If you have clicked on either one of these types of article, you’ve been played, sucka. The people who write these things don’t want to honestly connect with other people struggling with addiction. They want to scream about how right they are into a void. And that’s boring to me as are the billions of angry comments left on these posts. It’s all inflammatory bs concocted to get page views and not substance. My mom always says hurt people hurt other people but also hurt people also write attention seeking blog posts and its all nonsense. Bo to the ring.

I find it so brain splatteringly boring for a few reasons. First of all, people struggling to stay sober need to cling onto whatever life raft they find and your anti 12-Step program posts aren’t helping. If somebody about to die finds comfort there and stays sober, leave them the fuck alone. Likewise, if 12 step programs aren’t somebody’s thing, don’t beat the fuck out of them. It’s attraction rather than promotion, my AA homie and you should know better. Stop yelling in all caps quotes from the big book. We’ve ceased fighting, dawg and you should know that too. Also, I find it boring because these arguments back and forth deflate the real issue at hand: THAT PEOPLE ARE DYING, YOU SELFISH TURD AND YOUR OPINIONS AREN’T HELPING ANYONE. Seriously if we all spent as much time waxing poetically on the best ways to stay sober as we did actually helping struggling addicts and alcoholics in real life, we’d be better off. Lastly, I think it’s boring because it solves nothing. I’m a cocaine addict, mind you, so I like some instant ass results. Okay fight back and forth but let’s have something useful come out of these conversations. Otherwise, I cannot be bothered.

I got sober through AA primarily because I’m uncreative and I was out of options. Relying on just smoking weed, hiding from alcohol or good old-fashioned magic to keep me sober didn’t work. I sincerely hope somebody out there tried a one or more of those things and it helped you get sober. Particularly magic. Please if magic made you sober, you owe the world a book and I will buy it. However none of that shit worked for me and I did what family members and a billion friends did: I went to a ton of meetings. I didn’t buy the whole AA kit and caboodle at first and guess what– nobody gave a fuck. These were a bunch of screwed up people like me. Sure, they wanted to help if they could but honeychild, they were hot messes too so they did what they could. But nobody was too worried about if I was “feeling it” or if I needed to be converted. I either got on board or I didn’t. These folks were just trying not to die. I could do what they were doing and if not that was cool too.

After awhile, it all sort of clicked. Yet as I have mentioned numerous times, it was not all good in the formerly drunken hood. In fact, it was all jacked up for a long ass time. But I was desperate not to be the same drunken a-hole I had been for 20 plus years so I did whatever people said worked for them. AA saved my life but mainly because I did ALL of the shit they tell you to do and all of the 12 Steps. Weird that we’d even have to point out that a 12 Step program only works if you do the entire thing but you’d be surprised at how many people went to two meetings, never opened their mouths or did a step and then declared, “AA is some bullshit!” That’d be like hating on Paris even though you had only flown over it and never actually walked around the damn place. Anyway, AA did what it was supposed to do for me and has kept me sober for nearly 10 years. I never felt bullied or pressured or shamed by people in AA. Annoyed, exhausted and agitated by people in AA but to be fair that’s how I feel about most people everywhere.

Still, I recognize the spirituality part is a tough pill to swallow for people and that it isn’t everybody’s jam. Lots of folks stay sober through church. Even more stay sober through yoga. Some with just the support of loved ones. Refuge Recovery. SMART Recovery. Celebrate Recovery. Crossfit. Therapy. Biking. Knitting. Whatever it takes. I say anything that keeps us of the streets and stops us from being drunken, drugged out terrors at places like Target or the airport, then I’m all about it. Acting like I’m some authority or expert on staying sober or that my way is the only way is stupid. Likewise, so is beating up people for staying sober through ways I don’t understand.

After about 18 months without drinking, I walked into my old grocery store in Echo Park. The cashier was a girl named Roxy who rang me up dozens of times and definitely saw me totally shit housed more than a few times. “Did you need a bottle today, ” she asked. I told her I didn’t and that I hadn’t drank in over a year. “Oh thank god,” she said. “you were really bad.” You’re a special kind of neighborhood alcoholic when even the girl at the grocery store notices. She wasn’t lying, though. The thing was Roxy didn’t care how I stayed sober. She was just glad I did. I was no longer stumbling into the grocery store and everybody was happy about that, myself included.

Listen, it still takes a lot to get my own sober behind out of bed and out the door. I don’t have time to micromanage your program of recovery.  You found it, whatever it is that keeps you sober and I’m truly happy for you! Please keep doing what you’re doing and please help some damn people find the sober juju you have found! And also? I don’t give a fuck.

Seasonal Alcoholism

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The people on the patios. Oh, the people on the patios. All the oh, so many people on oh, so many patios. They drink on the patios. They smoke on the patios. They drink even more on patios. In fact, they drink so much on these quaint little patios that you start to wonder if anybody anywhere does anything else on patios. Oh sure, you might see a half-eaten order of some pedestrian artichoke dip on the table or a few barely picked at hot wings. But these people are really on these patios to drink. They so look comfortable on these patios too. Like the minute it gets warm, the people defrost, as if they’ve been sitting there all winter. Like they live there. Me? I just walk by all these patios. Sure, I can sit with the sober girls and drink our iced coffees but we quickly move on. We’re not meant to linger there. It’s no longer our turf and we know it. The patios already have their people and we are not them. And sometimes, God help me, I’m like fuck those people on those patios.

A newly sober friend and I were talking at the tail end of winter about what a trap the allure of patio drinking is once the weather warms up. We mainly laughed about how a quick trip to have a few drinks on a poor unsuspecting patio turned into a real life drunker version of Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch.” Perhaps not just drunker but gayer. Like “Ladies who Lunch” at a leather bar. Shots, cheap beers and a restroom handjob–and one for Mahler! Something about patio drinking just seems like it’s something we’re supposed to do though. I mean every episode of House Hunters has at least one scene of a lady with bad hair saying, “I could just picture drinking wine out here, couldn’t you, Chad?” As if entire pieces of property were sold strictly on how cocktail friendly their patios were. Maybe they were and it actually doesn’t sound that insane. I’ve bought a lot crazy shit to further facilitate my drinking so buying a house with the perfect outdoor space to get loaded in isn’t too much of a stretch. The pull of patio drinking is just that strong, y’all.

One day at like 6 years sober, I called my sponsor in Denver and blurted out, “I walked by a patio and people were drinking margaritas and it looked like a really good idea!” I was freaked out that momentarily my brain was so easily romanced back into the pull of patio drinking. He laughed and reminded me it was summer and I was an alcoholic. But it isn’t just the patios of summer that are a trap. It’s also the weather. When I lived in Los Angeles in a series of apartments with no air conditioning, something I would not recommended, I convinced myself for several summers that I drank more during that season so I could pass out at night. Surely, I could have gotten a swamp cooler without the amount of tequila I drank but who had time for logic when it was SO HOT! Summer also brought about outdoor festival season in Los Angeles which was really just a great excuse to drink outside. The same goes for backyard barbecues, Fourth of July and outdoor sporting events which I of course do not attend but don’t get it twisted I definitely found myself at more than one Dodgers game based solely on the allure of beer and hot dogs alone. Summer and drinking just went hand in hand yet for a dedicated drunk like myself self, couldn’t that be said of all seasons?

I remember an episode of Oprah (how every great story in literature starts, by the way) with Kirstie Alley. The Cheers actress and Scientology devotee is something of a mental health barometer. Ask yourself is this something Kirstie Alley would do say or think? If you answered yes, please pause and rethink whatever it is your about to do. However, in this particular interview the star of Look Who’s Talking and Look Who’s Talking Too said something I’ll never forget. She was spending an entire hour with La Winfrey discussing her weight which is such an odd thing that we ask actresses to do. This entire genre of interviews and books that are basically “Former Hot Star Became A Pig But Then Became Hot Again!” is just fucking bizarre to me. But I digress.

Anyway, she had become hot again and she was telling Oprah that for her, binge eating really started around Halloween with the trick or treat candy her kids brought home then it went right into all the delicious food for Thanksgiving which lead to candy and cookies at  Christmas which lead to a big dinner on New Year’s which lead to Valentine’s chocolates which lead to, well you get the picture. What the beloved star of Veronica’s Closet was trying to illustrate was her pigging out really didn’t get a break and the mere idea that Halloween was a trigger was laughable. My drinking, much like Kirstie’s eating, was all-season and her story was immediately identifiable. Stars–they’re just like us! I didn’t actually need it to be summer or Halloween or Easter to get drunk. Sure, those things made it easier for me to hide behind the guise of being “festive.” But I was just as happy to drink alone on a bland Wednesday in August and that was the truth. The allure of summertime drinking wears off quickly when I remember it usually lead to summertime vomiting or summertime screaming matches in parking lots. Oddly enough those things usually came along with springtime drinking and holiday drinking too. Getting to that place, snaps me back to the reality that it isn’t the patios who are the problem. It’s me.

I guess with now nearly a decade sober, I should have some bravado about reclaiming patios. I should start a movement so formerly drunk people can now sit on patios for as long as they want, dammit! But that sounds like a lot of work and sort of dumb. Like maybe people sit on a patios for so long because they’re hammered and can’t stand up? Or maybe it’s too damn hot to sit outside for my delicate ass anyway? But maybe me and my sober girls have our iced coffees and bounce off of summer patios because we have shit to do, honey.

Approval Anonymous

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I don’t think I could ever be Kylie Minogue. This is, I can imagine, a relief to the actual Kylie Minogue as it means she won’t be out of a job nor will she have to partake in some weird body switching thing and then become a 45-year-old gay alcoholic. A little background information on where this thought comes from: On a recent sunny, Sunday afternoon, I was randomly thinking about Kylie, as one does. Mainly, I was thinking how fickle her widespread love and approval has been throughout her career, at least here in America anyway. It’s like every 15-20 years we as a country decide that we remember that Miss Minogue is, in fact, a legend. There were no shorter than 14 years in between when she charted on these shores with a cover of “The Loco-Motion” and her 2002 hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” This doesn’t mean Kylie wasn’t out there doing her thing and making delicious pop confections. It just means our dumb American asses were too stupid to notice. I obviously have a lot of strong feelings about this major pop culture travesty. Nevertheless, this neglect from an entire nation, this utter denial of approval is precisely the thing that would knock me out of the running for becoming Kylie’s replacement. The very idea of being ignored at the drop of a hat crushes me because at the end of the day I am an approval addict, through and through.

My first drug and my worst drug, approval is something I’ve chased long before I ever picked up a beer bottle or crammed a straw up my nose. Who knows where it started but in my mind I think I probably made somebody laugh when I was infant, saw how it made them happy and in turn made me happy and then we were off to the races. From applause garnered for impromptu lip sync performances to scratch and sniff “Grape Job!” stickers on spelling tests, I itched for validation. I ached for any sign that I was okay, that I wasn’t a misfit but I was as good as everyone else. All of this sounds pretty normal for  normal kids but when you have a brain like mine, the brain of an addict, there was never enough. There was never enough love, there was never enough approval and therefore I was never enough. This is some sad, sad business for a little kid but downright pathetic for a grown up person who should have gotten over that shit.

During active addiction, a phrase I love because it makes it sound like you snort cocaine while wearing track suits and terry cloth headbands, the hunt for approval worked in tandem with the hunt for booze or drugs quite nicely. People who I wanted to be my friends also did drugs and drank so I could relate with them on that level, take them hostage as friends and then ditch them when they wanted anything real, crazy shit like accountability or honesty, from me. We all spoke the language of more so that meant we all wanted more. More love, more drugs, more drinks, more cigarettes, more conflict. The approval I got from them was hollow and toxic. Each of us wanted to vampire hours and days off of one another and if you couldn’t meet the supply and demand, I’m sorry my dear, you’re up for elimination. We also gave each other approval for behavior and attitudes that the rest of the world wouldn’t put up with. Wanna have a three-way on a week night with people you met from Craigslist? We approve. Wanna verbally assassinate one of our other friends? We approve and we’ll you help you out with that. Wanna drink on a Wednesday afternoon? Not only do we approve but we’ll also meet you at the bar.

Outside of my drinking and using friends, I scored approval where I could, by telling jokes to customers at the restaurant where I used to work, by writing little articles that maybe people would read and pat me on the back for and by puffing up my meager accomplishments to family members or anybody who would listen. Obviously, we all sort of exist on this planet and hope that people will love and approve of us and I hear there are normal, healthy ways of seeking that out. It’s like Stonehenge. Like I know it exists but until I see it for myself, it’s just a thing people talk about. Without any real self-esteem, the never-ending quest for approval is fucking exhausting. Making people laugh, quick sexual encounters and-God it pains me to say this- likes and comments on social media posts all fill up that void inside of me. But without an internal approval supply, there won’t actually ever be enough.

This was abundantly clear when I got sober. More than a few times, I resorted to having quick hookups to make me feel better. I wasn’t looking for Mister Right. I was looking for Mister Make Me Not Feel My Life. Approval through sex is the fastest way for me to recognize that I do in fact treat this whole thing like I would any drug. The rush of having people, familiar, anonymous, in person or online, say we like you is one I’ve chased through sex clubs, bath houses, MySpace and Twitter alike. Once I got hip to the fact that I was using people and their approval just like I did substances even though I was physically sober, the jig was up. By the way, is the jig ever down? I guess we don’t talk about that because when it’s down it must mean everything is cool.

Anyway, I was gifted with a buttload of self-awareness in sobriety and that sucked. All of my addict ways of looking to, ahem, fill holes, as it were, became crystal clear. This meant I knew EXACTLY what my motivation was every time I obsessively checked Twitter to see if someone liked my tweets. This also meant I TOTALLY knew what I was doing when I flirted with random people. But mainly it meant the other places in my life where I acted like an addict were exposed and sooner or later would have to be looked at.I say “looked at” and not “dealt with” because the real deal here is that I have a lot of addictive behaviors still that don’t involve substances but are ones that quite frankly I don’t want to give up. They’re crutches to be sure. But if this need for approval and the rush get from it go away, then what?

Back in 2008, I was sober for a hot minute of five months. It was a real delight too. I was dry and not getting any help and still trying to blend in with my old drunk life. Gee, I wonder why that didn’t take? I kept trying to do things for myself and talk myself into feeling better but without any real self-esteem or support it was all sort of a lost cause. One day, I treated myself and went to a taping of the Craig Ferguson show. Since the universe has no chill when it comes to irony, it’s now hilarious to me that Ferguson is a longtime openly sober person. But I wasn’t headed there to hear him crack jokes about getting sober. I was there to see Kylie Minogue. In a super-rare stateside appearance, Kylie was performing a song from the criminally underrated effort X. The track “All I See” is an R&B tinged should’ve-been banger and one that lended itself to a great live performance.  In a packed studio audience filled with gays and girls, I felt one of the few moments of joy in that excruciatingly, uncomfortable five months. I relapsed not long after seeing Kylie, not that I blame her or anything. I hated myself and didn’t think I was worth getting better. No amount of imported Aussie glamour could change that.

While history will be the judge if Kylie pursuing a country tinted disco record was a good idea, I know for a fact that looking at my own addiction to approval is. With years sober under my belt at this point, I know that cracking open other parts of my life won’t kill me and I might even make me feel better. Sure, the mere idea of seeing how I’ve sought out approval like I used to drugs isn’t pretty.  People who know how to work on these, primarily my therapist have pointed out that if I’m validating my damn self and taking care of me, I might not obsessively seek out approval from everyone else. It’s an odd thing to ween myself of off though. Something in my mind tells me that this is one addiction I can keep. After all, nobody ever died or wound up in jail seeking out approval. Yet it’s something I’m looking at and hoping to let go because that’s what Kylie would do. I mean Kylie doesn’t give a crap if America likes her all the time. She’s a worldwide icon. She moves thru this world in her diminutive, sparkle-covered body with confidence and a badass survival spirit. She doesn’t need to troll for the approval of randoms. She’s Kylie Muthafucking Minogue. And at the end of the day, neither do I.

 

 

 

 

A Little Respect

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Part wood nymph, part rock star, the mere sight of Andy Bell in short shorts and wearing a flower crown undoubtedly changed me. Throughout the concert, he was flanked by two fierce black backup signers also covered in glitter and flowers. It was like a Renaissance painting did ecstasy while watching Little Shop of Horrors and decided to put on a show. And what a show it was. I was 16 years old and here was this rare, gay man out and proud and having a huge musical career in 1990 while I was a closeted, burgeoning drug addict who didn’t even know who I was. Bell was almost too much to look at. So in-your-face, so sweet, so charming and so out of fucks to give, it seemed like the me that could be but a me that was totally out of reach.  I mean Andy Bell was the lead singer of Erasure and I was just some effeminate teenager in Golden, Colorado.

Bullied, beaten up and black and blue, I ran towards anything that looked shinier and more beautiful than the existence I had as a teenager. It wasn’t just music like Erasure’s but Bowie, Sinead O’Connor, Deee-Lite, Madonna and anything else I could dance to and forget who I was. Drugs fit fabulously into this plan too. When I was high, I didn’t have to feel the pains of growing up gay and from an alcoholic home. When I was with the kids I used with I was cool, not just some kid that got routinely called faggot as he walked down the hall. I wasn’t the kid you pushed in the cafeteria because he wouldn’t push back, I was a smart ass drunk and drug addict and who could drink you under the table. I was cool or at the very least cool adjacent. I knew who to hang out with to at least give the appearance of being cool. I was also a kid with an incredible taste in music.

Drinking, drugs and listening to cassette tapes or going to teen alternative clubs was basically my whole life. Smoking cloves dancing to “Personal Jesus”, drinking Big Gulps spiked with whiskey and watching Book of Love in concert, taking drugs and seeing Love and Rockets, smoking weed and singing Madonna at Burger King instead of being in class. I had no use for traditional school, a place where I was regularly fucked with for being who I was. Instead, I sought out personal enrichment through drugs, pop culture and music. Like why go to biology when you can take acid, listen to New Order and go to the mall? Perpetually in peril and in over my head with a life out of control, most anybody who knew me who didn’t do drugs with me was probably concerned about me. People of all kinds tried to help or tried to figure out what was wrong but to no avail. After all, I was a nice kid, a creative kid and a kid who couldn’t if fit with everybody else no matter who hard he tried. I couldn’t even be invisible which was a real bitch. Okay, fine. I’ll be the gayest child that Colorado ever saw in 1989 but can I at least camouflage into the background?

Yet that was not my story. I was extra before we even started saying extra. Therefore the “extra” artists of that era– Erasure, Cyndi Lauper, Pete Burns, Boy George– forged the path for me to walk down. But what did I do when I wasn’t listening to music or dancing or going to concerts? It’s not like Andy Bell could magically appear like the fairy from Pinocchio and perform Blue Savannah every time I felt horrible. Likewise, giving myself platinum blonde hair like Madonna wasn’t a real substitution for self-esteem although it didn’t stop me from trying. Drugs and alcohol, thank god, gave me the ability to not give a fuck, like Mr.Bell himself. After spending my junior year harassed and pushed around, I emerged my senior year of high school as some kind of faux phoenix. The kids who fucked with me the most had graduated and now I could smoke cigarettes, talk shit, get high and listen to music in my friends cars without caring who hated me. Sure, I was still teased but after a summer of going to gay clubs, doing acid and dancing all night long, as directed by Miss Cathy Dennis, I had developed a swagger that sort of looked like self-esteem. I tried my best to own who I was but without actually being out of the closet or actually liking myself, it was just a performance.

A long running performance, at that. A tough exterior of joke cracking gay best friend who knew all the cool kids served me well and even well into my thirties. But the thing about that kid who knows all the good bands and has gossipy stories about celebrities and bitchy take downs of coworkers is that’s all there is to him. My inability to get real about the hurt, sadness, shame and self-hate that I felt inside 24 hours a day was killing me. Towards the end, drugs and alcohol didn’t just loosen up the act and make life more comfortable, they were vital for even leaving the house. I hated myself and no amount of  male pop stars in hot pants could make that go away.

At age 45 and counting, I am now unable to suppress a deep sigh or at the bare minimum a low-key eye roll when people flippantly say, “Love yourself.” Undoubtedly catchy for some other generation to enjoy in a Justin Bieber song, the idea of loving yourself to a person like me sounds downright puzzling. “Love yourself!” and while you’re at it solve world hunger. Love yourself. Please. As if someone merely telling us to love ourselves is enough. In fact, a lot of times when people say “They need to love themselves” it’s a way to comment on the perceived low self-esteem of others. Love yourself, you pathetic mess. Even Rupaul’s well-intended and much quoted,”If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”is a loaded shortcut to something that I’ve found very hard to do. Trying to love myself sounds a little easier while liking myself more than I did before is sometimes really the best I can muster.

In 2010, a good 20 years after I had the magical gay epiphany of seeing Andy Bell and Erasure on stage, the band once again entered my conscience. A year and a half sober, I was visiting my sister and her kids in Colorado. The place I had grew up in had changed too– thanks marijuana! It was no longer the deep red state steeped in homophobia and hatred. It had come around a little and so had I. My niece and nephew, who possess not just great sets of eyelashes but incredible senses of humor, were obsessed with the video game “Robot Unicorn Attack.” The ridiculous game had its moment in the sun as sort of viral obsession and along with it came an Erasure reemergence. The band’s song “Always” is winkingly featured as game’s theme song. Quick to pick up on anything amazing, my niece and nephew loved the song too. They’d giggle uncontrollably when Bell would dramatically sing, “Open your eyes. Your eyes are open.”  It seemed all too perfect that this band and this song would show back up at a point where I was starting to like myself.

Now aged 50-something with his hot pants days behind him,  Andy Bell is sober too. He’s talked openly, like we would expect anything less, about his battle with drugs and alcohol. There’s something comforting about knowing that this gay icon who was utterly 100% himself maybe hated himself too and that makes his role in who I grew up to be even more profound. It makes the beautiful angel I whose music I loved in on friends cassette tapes relatable and real, Perhaps Andy Bell, like the rest of us, faked loving himself, until he could get close to the real thing.

Maybe that’s the best any of us can do? Maybe we should take this ultimatum of “love yourself or fail at life” off the table completely. Because what I know is all of this–this feeling better, this trying to stop killing myself, this path to even tolerating myself, much less loving myself– is that it’s a lot of fucking work. No amount of Bieber songs or stickers or mugs or even Drag Race episodes can make me love myself. It’s a long road I have to walk (and occasionally fall of) everyday. Being the good drug addict that I am it’s unfortunate to discover I can’t snort self-esteem like I used to snort cocaine. Instead, it self-esteem and yeah even loving myself comes in little doses through small efforts. Just not being a dick to people at the grocery store. Holding the door open for someone and not expecting a round of applause. And not using drugs or alcohol one day at a goddamn time get me closer. Closer to a little more happiness, a little more self-esteem and a little respect.

Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

you & me & PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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