I will survive…but not alone

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On dancefloors. Under discoballs. Next to thumping speakers and kids in furry backpacks. Thru fog machines, cigarette smoke, and puffs of glitter. In empty, burned out warehouses suddenly transformed by day-glo foam sculptures of mushrooms and hearts, evoking a modern Alice in Wonderland. This is where I felt like I showed up. Like this was my moment. It was 1992 and I was 19 years-old and rave culture had caught fire across the United States. By this time, I had already cycled through teen goth clubs, shady underage gay bars and high school parties and all of the drugs that accompany those events. I always had my eye on the next cool thing to walk around the corner. Not because I had my finger on the pulse but more out of an insatiable desire to make the party never stop. So thank god when rave culture showed up. Here were hundreds of other kids who all felt the same way. The music was the draw. I could link videos to rave classic songs for days but really 20 plus years later the truth is revealed: that music? It was pure and simple dance music. A road forged by disco culture nearly 30 years earlier was now being paved by house music, techno and everything else with a drum machine. Back then, it was rave music, now it’s EDM, tomorrow we’ll call it something else. But the appeal, whatever generational version of it, remains consistent. It paired well with drugs, with escape, with sex and with dancing with others who wanted the same things. I took so much ecstasy and danced so many hours it stopped working but I’m persistent, dammit. I rode the rave thing until the wheels fell off. When that party ended thanks to an unwelcome appearance by crystal meth, I moved on to the next which I burned out from and then moved on once again to another party, this time in Los Angeles at age 23 and one that would have incredibly high highs and crash with the worst of lows. And that so-called party lasted until I was 36.

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Spot me in this crowd! Hint? I’m the raver in flannel!

The thing I loved about raves or trashy glam clubs in LA or gay bars, in addition to the music, was the feeling of belonging. With considerable effort and dedication to the craft of going out several nights a week, I became enough of a club presence to usually get on the guest list, maybe score free drinks and a bump or two in the bathroom. I was a minor celebrity among club friends and known in a tiny microcosm which was good enough for me. I slid naturally from clubs and guest lists to dive bars to drinking nightly at home. Formerly sparkling and social became sad and the part I loved, feeling like I belonged, vanished along with the smoke and glitter. So then what? What happens to a disco diva when the lights come up, the free drinks stop and the club friends vanish in thin air upon hearing a whisper of the word, “sober”?

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For this disco diva, life got real/real depressing. Things like health, debt and broken relationships were waiting in line outside the club like I used to and just like me they were gonna get in, even if they weren’t on the guest list. In addition to waking up to the shit storm that was my existence, I also had to remove a huge chunk of my social drinking circle if I wanted any semblance of success at staying sober. It had never occurred to me in the 600 other times I tried to stop drinking that by hanging out with daily drinkers I wasn’t exactly giving myself a fighting chance. Well, it sounds obvious when I put it like that but as I’ve mentioned before I’m a slow learner. So fine. I did that. I lovingly detached from the old crew but now what? Turns out the recovery world was filled with people just like me. I didn’t take too long to find my people. They certainly didn’t look like me but honestly the world only needs a handful of valley girl voiced Moby look-alike alcoholics. What was important was they knew how I felt and knew what I was going through. They even nodded their heads when I shared horrible, crazy, unspeakable things. yea-uh-huh.gif

2816 days later, I’m still finding my people and in delightful and unexpected places. Mainly online. There are a lot of debates about sobriety, recovery and anonymity online and as you know I detest digital bickering of any flavor so we will not go there. What I will say is this: just like I did in meetings all over the country and just like I used on dancefloors, I have found other people who were like.My #RecoveryPosse is always available on Twitter or if I’m really desperate on Facebook. Many of them have blogs. Others have podcasts. Others are normal, hilarious folks who make me laugh on a regular basis. Others I’ve even been lucky to meet in real life. The point is thanks to that cursed blessing known as technology, my people are always here and easy to find on my phone. A couple of days ago, I tweeted the opening line to the song referenced in the title. What transpired was the kind of loopy, brilliant, back and forth I’ve come to know and love from my online tribe.

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But it doesn’t begin and end there. When I blogged on UrTheInspiration, I was lucky enough to meet my people like Heather Kopp or my now real-life pal Jen and my friend Paul, who even though he’s in Canada and straight, is someone who always for some reason gets what I’m going through. A few years ago, we started an Artists in Recovery meeting in Denver and every week I run into my people there. By being on Facebook, I randomly will have someone reach out from the past who tells me they are now sober or maybe they are struggling so I meet my people there too. The thing is by speaking my truth, whether in person or online, the world becomes less scary and I’m less isolated. You don’t have to search too hard to find hundreds of studies that say people who have support have a better chance of staying sane and sober than those who don’t. I’ve found it to be true. When I tried to get by all by my lonesome, I never stood a chance. I end every Sloshed Cinema by saying, “You are never alone.” Partly to pass that onto others but mainly to remind myself that no matter how bad I feel, there’s always help. There’s somebody willing to nod their head to what I’m sharing if I just open my mouth.  And there’s always someone dancing to the same song I am, somewhere.

Angry Anymore

chile_villiarica.jpgBubble. Furiously simmer. Boil over. And explode. Repeat for 10 to 20 years. This was the family recipe passed on for generations of hotheaded alcoholics. The funny thing is I always thought I wasn’t one of them. You know one of those angry, yelling types who blew the fuck up out of nowhere and for no good reason. Those assholes were cray-cray. I mean I loved them and I was related to them but they needed to relax. But I also thought that I wasn’t an alcoholic so what did I know?

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Turns out, your buddy ole smiling Sean Mahoney is one angry muthafucker. Thru a series of writings that the kids in programs that help people stop killing themselves with drugs and alcohol  call “stepwork” I was able to learn this. The more I wrote and looked at my past actions, the more I realized how incredibly pissed off I was. Pissed off at Catholic school teachers who humiliated me. Pissed off at exes who didn’t love me enough. Pissed off at myself for making the same mistakes year after year.  If I looked at this stuff and found my part and cleaned up my messes, I’d feel better and maybe, just maybe I’d stop drinking to dull how angry I was. They turned out to be right. And seven years later they are still right. I’m back into doing this kind of writing again and I guess I should explain why.  A mutual friend with the same time as me relapsed, couldn’t stop and killed himself. Another friend who I got sober with in 2009 and with more time than me went out and now struggles to stay sober. And yet another beloved friend had seven years but relapsed and has spent the last seven trying to get sober. He just celebrated a year. This sort of thing happens in recovery (sadly, a lot)but for some reason these events got to me this year. All of these people had the amount of time I had and suddenly did not. I was terrified. So I asked my sponsor if we could do the work again. Thus, here I am looking at how angry I am yet again.

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I realize for me, like the generations of hothead Irish alcoholics before me, that anger is poison. I’ve had two maybe three big, angry explosions in sobriety. They feel awful. They feel out of control. They feel like the kind of thing that would make me go back to drinking. Rage is equally as deadly as drugs and alcohol and I’ve seen people destroyed by it. Therefore, I have to look at it. I have to treat it. I have to write about it. Sigh. Seven years later, I’m still wishing for the unsavory parts of my character to vanish but they don’t unless I do a little work on them. This time around, I’m discovering there’s still a few things that I’m really angry about. It’s deeper, less superficial stuff though. I’m angry at America. I’m at angry at the news. I’m angry at the way we treat each other. I’m angry at racist, homophobic, sexist, intolerant assholes, in general. But the people I dated, the people who raised me, the people I drank with and probably pissed off too? Child. Ain’t nobody got time for the that.

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Miraculously, through doing this stuff that seems impossible and like a real pain in the neck, a lot of the things I thought I’d never get over, I’m just not angry about anymore. Really. There’s a lot of forgiveness. There’s even more accountability. And there’s a strong recognition that being crazy and angry for me is a toxic place to be. On my best days, I can let anger say it’s thing and explode and then tell it, “Thank you for sharing. Now, go sit your angry ass down.” On my worst days? I try to shut up and not hurt people.  Yesterday, my sponsor told me to look at the people and things I have resentments against and realize which ones have to do with acceptance. What am I unwilling to accept the way they are? Turns out, that’s almost everything. For me, I can be sad today. I can have compassion. I can even be disappointed by the world and the people who populate it. I can also take action and change the things I’m mad about. But I just can’t be angry anymore.

I Won’t Ruin Your Barbecue. You’re Welcome.

solo cups.jpgFor the eighth Fourth of July in a row, I will not ruin your barbecue. As much as I know you’d like me to show up at your dignified, patriotic while still being kitschy backyard fiesta, I will not. This means I won’t arrive at your function already buzzed even though it’s only 2pm. Ditto I won’t fall down in your entryway at 5pm. And, finally, I won’t sneak away from the party to send a series of crazy text messages trying to find cocaine. I know you’re disappointed but that’s the way it is.

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See, the summer of 2008, I used up more than my share of “Hot Mess In The Middle of The Afternoon” coupons. There was a series of backyard summery jamborees hosted by my best friend and at all of them I was the biggest mess in the room. This is a feat because outside of a Hemingway family reunion never has there been a group who can drink their faces off like this group. Nevertheless, this was the summer where my drinking went from festive to horribly sad in about 60 seconds. A friend at one of these get-togethers even remarked,” Wow. Sean, every time I see you at one of these things, you’re pretty drunk.” This was a friend who’d been jailed on drug charges so she knew what she was talking about.

Now, I was a good guest on paper. You’d invite me for my witty banter. You’d invite me for promptness and ability to help out in the kitchen. And even if you didn’t love me for my personality, you loved me for my potato salad. Which, by the way,is pretty rock star. I take particular pride in my white person culinary abilities to nail all of your mom-type mayonnaise based salads (chicken, egg, potato,what-have-you). But as the shitstorm of alcoholism becomes a category 5, it ain’t all cheeky jokes and deviled eggs. Soon after a few drinks, you were always checking your watch and wondering when I’d leave. Now, to my credit, I was never a yeller or a drunken crier. I was more the politely drink myself into a coma type of guest. Messy for sure but contained messy. Well at least until that summer. One barbecue, which could have been Fourth of July but who knows really, stands out as the deal breaker. As I was trying to leave, knowing that I was wasted and had to get out before it got even worse, I took a tumble-down some concrete stairs. The hangover, the scraped up hand and the throbbing, bruised tailbone were unbearable. I woke up more humiliated than usual. It was painful on lots of levels but mainly because I had five months sober. I say had because until May of 2008 I had patched together five months of sobriety with no help, no support and no clue that when life happened (which it did and always does) that I would go to my only coping mechanism– booze. By later in the summer when my literal fall from grace occurred, I was still writing things in my journal like, “I’m drinking again but it’s really not a huge deal.”Well it was a huge deal and by January 2009 the party, backyard or otherwise, was finally over. I asked for help for the first time ever. I did all the stuff a lot of other people did to get sober. I felt bad for a long time but I didn’t drink or use drugs. Slowly everything improved. Oddly, that tumble during that barbecue that could have been on the Fourth of July was a big catalyst in me getting sober. I mean it took a few months. Like I said, slowly.

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So no, I won’t be able to make it to your daytime drinking, grillin’ and chillin’ Fourth of July extravaganza. It’s better off this way. I’m better off this way.

But I’ll totally make potato salad sometime if you want.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ 50 Years Later Drinking With George & Martha is Still Terrifying

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Everybody has shown up to a party and immediately thought, “Maybe we should go.”

50 years ago today, in movie theaters, Nick and Honey wondered the same thing. Nick and Honey are nice young couple who are new at the university, so when the president of school’s daughter and her professor husband invited them to attend an after hours party, they jump at the chance. But upon entering the pair see their hosts George and Martha arguing, they wonder if they made a bad choice. And so begins the cocktail party from hell that has been inspiring movie-watchers for five decades to think twice about late-night invitations.

I watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few days ago in preparation for the season 2 premiere of Sloshed Cinema. My podcast “that talks about movies that talk about drinking, drugs and getting sober” has had the film on its list for quite some time. A writer friend of mine,who is not an alcoholic, argued recently that the film and the play it’s based on aren’t really about alcoholism and certainly not about recovery. While I agree on the last thought, I have to disagree that it isn’t about alcoholism. Sure, it’s about A LOT of stuff and alcohol is certainly the lubricant for gnarly topics to come up. But George and Martha don’t drink like people in search of good time. They drink like people who want to forget. They drink like a couple who wants a way out. Edward Albee, the author of the play, from all accounts certainly grew up around alcoholism and is an alcoholic himself. After a bout of really bad behavior at a dinner party, Albee wrote,”By nature, I am a gentle, responsible, useful person, with a few special insights and gifts. With liquor, I am insane.” Sounds like me and every alcoholic I’ve ever known. Certainly sounds like George and Martha.

George and Martha(played with pitch perfect acidity by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton)are bubbling volcanos of emotions who the run gamut between deep marital love and total disgust with one another even before their guests show up. Their house is messy and ramshackled. Martha does that half-assed version of drunken cleaning we alcoholics know so well. Dirty dishes shoved in a drawer, rumpled clothes shoved under the blankets before the bed is made and generally trying to make something presentable that hasn’t been so in a while. This goes double for their marriage. But the effort there is even less inspiring.

From moment one George and Martha set out to, in their words, “get the guests” meaning everything vicious, uncomfortable and unpresentable is now on display and at times gleefully so. In true alcoholic fashion, Martha takes particular delight in tearing George down in public and George can go toe-to-toe with Martha all without spilling a drop of his drink. The writing in those first scenes is solid gold. There’s no wonder the play is performed almost daily on stages of all sizes around the globe. Alcohol, in my mind, is almost the fifth character in the film. It makes George and Martha go wild. It pushes poor Honey to the point of vomiting. And it loosens Nick’s lips and clouds his judgement. The whole charade and destructive dance is familiar to anyone who has ever been in an alcoholic relationship. Sure, in the film you could walk away with the idea that this was a one time thing but for those of us who’ve been there, we assume this is just another Saturday night for George and Martha. There came a point in my drinking that I wasn’t fun to be around. That me and my significant other at the time were toxic and not a couple you wanted to drink with. George and Martha are at that point. There’s something that happens with alcoholics who drink together. They live with lie after lie and pour alcohol on these lies in hopes of having them vanish. Yet at the same time they really want to tell it like it is and let their version for the truth shoot out of their mouths. It’s vital. A lot of this happens in the film. George and Martha want these virtual strangers to know their truths or their lies and they both want to be seen and heard. Albee himself said the title means “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, which means who’s afraid of living life without delusions?” I’m probably not alone when I say fear and delusion were huge parts of my drinking.

As a sober person, I found myself cringing a lot when I watched this movie again. I’d seen it dozens of times, mostly when I was drinking and caught it a few years ago on stage. It struck me how sharp Albee’s language is 50 years later, how breathtaking the performances are and how Albee, whether he set out to or not, perfectly painted a marriage destroyed by regret, anger and yes, alcohol. I, myself hosted or participated in more than one cringe worthy cocktail function or as the B52-s called them a “party gone out of bounds”. My intention, I thought anyway, was simply to have a good time. But now I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear what Martha’s intention is which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it. I didn’t want to feel my life and I wasn’t having a good time. Like ever. Liquor never made it all go away. It made me crazier, sad and terrible to be around. Just like our hosts. I think it deserves a place in the conversation about movies that talk about drinking because it nails the insanity that a couple who drinks together feels on a regular basis.

Yet there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this film. Some fantastic trivia, Liz and Dick alone could eat up 2,000 words and all of the crazy ass symbolism in the text has been chewed over by drama nerds for decades. So it’s a good thing that Sloshed Cinema is back! There’s so much to gab about with this film, I’ve even invited my buddy Amy along to the party. Join us, why dontcha? I promise you won’t regret it.

Listen to the season premiere of Sloshed Cinema here & here! 

 

To be real

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I want everything to be pretend. I want everything to be shiny. I want things to be plastic. I don’t want things to be messy. Or genuine or uncomfortable or awkward. So god only knows how I’ve been able to get sober. After all,the whole process of recovery is a series of shit-eating humbling events where you have to ask a billion times over, “I need help.” Somehow, thankfully, my circumstances were terrible enough to have those words fall out of my mouth. What I didn’t know was that I would have to continue to get honest if I wanted my life to stay fabulous.

I lived in plastic for years. Hiding out in the worlds of nightclubs and restaurants with other misfits who weren’t to keen on this whole real world idea either afforded me the luxury to play make-believe for as long as I wanted. My partying (which as a verb I think is hysterical, by the way. Like it implies I made party an action and turned every moment into a party. Uh yeah. Let’s go with that.) had a specific goal of erasing currently reality. For the better part of two decades(!!!!) I achieved that goal. I know. I’m really proud. Therefore when I got sober this idea of “getting honest” felt impossible. I’d bullshitted, lied and avoided for most of my adulthood. It was what I knew and how I operated. Thus this new practice in sobriety of being honest and telling people I wasn’t okay, instead of acting like everything was all sunshine and roses, was foreign to say the least. After seven years of sobriety, I still slip into a robotic refrain of “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

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I bring all of this up because last night I had the opportunity to share my story at a meeting. As usual, I had over thought it in my brain, planned out a bunch of jokes and also went to the trouble to plan out what the reactions to this speech I had yet to give would be. Yup. Totally sane behavior. The thing is when I finally got up there and opened my mouth all of my genius ideas and all of my witty banter just dissolved. What came out instead was the truth. That thing I had hid from for 20 years. That thing I thought I’d never be able to embrace. That thing turned out to be what saved me last night. Just like it did seven years ago. And thankfully, the truth can be really funny. Embracing reality is something I have to remind myself to do. La La Land is my default location so being real and present for work, my health, my marriage, my family still doesn’t always come automatically these days.  But I know now that even if it sucks and it’s uncomfortable being truthful is always the way to go, even if it isn’t glamourous.

So this great inspirational talk that I had over-planned turned into a truthful, hilarious sharing between people who all suffer from the same thing. I’m sort of at my best when I’m just chatting with friends and once I let go of my crazy ideas that’s exactly how it felt. Dark stuff, sad stuff, funny stuff. All of the stuff came out and it felt like an exhale. And a complete honor too. The fact that anyone would ask me to talk about getting sober still boggles my mind. Each time someone asks me to speak, I think, “Wait. Me? Are you sure?” But last night several people came up and said they could relate and thanked me for telling my truth. Incredible. Listen, my sincere hope when I got sober in 2009 was maybe I could stop being a mess for a little while and then I could maybe drink again like normal people. That never happened. What did happen was something tangible. Something beautiful. Something hilarious. And something real.