daydrink believer

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I just saw an article entitled “Now is the perfect time to embrace drinking wine with lunch!” The end. That’s the joke. No really. That’s hilarious. Now is the time! Now?! Okay! The article, which I’m sure is lovely, simply illustrates where we are. Have wine with lunch. Have marijuana edibles as an afternoon snack, drink whisky while you watch Judge Judy, have margaritas at dinner, more wine in front of the TV and why the fuck not put a mushroom laced chocolate on your pillow because you deserve it! After all, NOW is the time! I mean the article and dear sweet iconic cosmo swilling Ina Garten aren’t wrong. The world is a tense and traumatic place. Every time you even look at your phone you’re putting cash in the PTSD bank. For those you can or shall I say still do, the coronavirus shit timeline from hell IS a perfect moment to drink and use away your blues. If I still drank, now really would be the time really let my day drinking out of the closet and it might even look kind of normal.

Oh dear, sweet, feels naughty but is actually tragic, day drinking. What a time honored institution you are. Day drinking is an adorable, special treat for normal drinkers. Like, “Oh my god Diane let’s be crazy and have chardonnay with our chicken salads at lunch!” Get kooky and have some beers at a day game of sportsball. Go wild and pay $10 bucks for a frozen drink at a street fair. It’s festive! As a society, we’ve now let drinking roam freely about the day so your grandparents can have wine at a 1230pm matinee, your girlfriends can drink on the airplane at 6am on the way to San Francisco and your neighbors can sip sangria at a 2pm barbecue. Yet in and of itself drinking during the day still has a reputation for sounding kind of pathetic. Sure, whoop it up with the gals at brunch but Jager shots alone on a Tuesday while filing for unemployment is decidedly less festive. You hear it a billion times over in the halls of recovery that people knew they were in trouble when they started drinking during the day. I don’t know if that was true for me. Day drinking to me always felt like the ultimate in I don’t give a fuckery. It was rock and roll like something Courtney Love or Keith Richards would do. Those two as role models or barometers on how I should or should not drink is a clue on how not normal my ideas about drinking actually are. I rarely had shame about when I drank or used drugs. I didn’t drink constantly because I had a problem, darling. I partied all the time because I was fabulous. And also I’d tell you that  I just needed to drink to take the edge off. Shit. I drank so many edges off that I became a circle. A puffy, depressed, red, gay, circle. Soon all of my drinking felt inappropriate and there wasn’t anything special about it. I drank because I needed to, not because it was fun or celebratory. But that’s me. I haven’t drank or used drugs in over 11 years. The world has changed–obviously. In COVID-19 2020, day drinking seems to really have come into it’s own.

A few days ago, I had to go to the post office. In a story entirely too boring to write about or attempt to make funny, I needed to go there to get a new key for my mailbox. On my walk over around 11am on a Wednesday, I spotted a man,  a white dude probably in his mid-fifties that your dad might be friends with, standing in front of his house just drinking a massive beer out of can while leaning on his mailbox. I mean I think it was his house. Maybe it wasn’t and he was on beer number 17 and just needed somewhere to lean while he figured where he did live. Who knows but the whole thing felt very now. Very stay at home, even if your home doubles as a dive bar. After all, there’s now millions of people suddenly without jobs or suddenly working from home so why wouldn’t you be drinking and leaning on the mailbox at 11am? For a split second, I was very clutch the pearls judgmental. Gasp! Sir, don’t you know it’s a weekday!  Put that beer away! And put some pants on! But almost immediately I cracked up because if I was still drinking I would be right there with him but probably not leaning on the mailbox but face down in the grass. Another part of me admired the swagger and wanted to shout out, “You go, Doug! Get your life!”

The thing is what Doug was doing out there by the mailbox is what we’re all doing right now on some level: self-soothing. Since I no longer drink or use drugs, trust and believe that this dyed in wool addict who does not like to feel pain, has still found lots of ways to sooth the bone crushing uncomfortable task of  simply existing right now. From episodes of old TV shows to mass amounts of baked goods, I am Doug but my mailbox beer is a donut and an episode of Murder She Wrote. If the latest numbers are any indication, me and my neighbor aren’t alone in trying to find a little relief. Alcohol sales shot up 55% in March and continue to skyrocket.What’s more is most states have deemed liquors stores essential businesses meaning they’ve stayed open. Thank god for that. No, really. The last thing we need is alcoholics going into deadly withdrawals. Ditto for the marijuana dispensaries staying open. I say this not only as a person in recovery who fucking gets it but as someone who works in the fields of mental health and addiction. Cutting off the supply right now would be disastrous. That said, I also agree with the assessment of the World Health Organization, who calls alcohol an “unhealthy coping strategy.” Yeah no shit. But it’s the coping strategy most people have.

I would be lying if I said the allure of day drinking still didn’t hold some appeal for me. To not give a shit and just lean outside with my drink in hand sounds kind of glamorous.  Maybe I’d even be able to pass as a normal drinker for a little with all my fellow day drinkers? Or maybe not. Day drinking for me usually started at brunch and was followed by more drinking until I passed out at 4pm and woke at 6pm with a bone-crushing, shame- filled hangover and forced to drink in the evening hours when it become socially acceptable again. Sounds fun, right? See, the time of day didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want to feel my life on a random Friday when nothing was wrong in the world, much less on a Monday morning during a global pandemic.

Back to that joke that writes itself: now is the perfect time to embrace wine with lunch! It’s funny to people like me in recovery because it’s never not a good time to drink at lunch or dinner or alone in bed. Duh. Yet what right now in this unprecedented era of death and chaos is also a bad ass time to stay sober. I’ve watched friends with just a few weeks or days stay sober because they simply can’t go back to how awful it was, regardless of how shitty the world is right now. They’ve chosen to save their own lives even when the future has never been more uncertain. That’s an incredibly powerful and brave thing to when the whole world is drinking at 11am. And really, their timing couldn’t be better.

 

 

 

 

I have no fear, I have only love

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I was keeping it together. No, seriously. I really thought that after several days of feeling utterly emotionally and physically destroyed that on this Sunday morning, I finally had my shit together. The sun was out. I was walking along the waterfront. I took the longer walk because damnit I finally felt good. Might as well extended that feeling for as long as possible. Typical addict. “This feels good! Make it last forever!’ But as I walked further the reality of what was happening in my life hadn’t gone away. No amount of sunshine and long walks could erase that. Then out of nowhere on my airpods, “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac starts. It’s a song about the isolation of choosing the path truer to who you are, despite the freedom that comes along with it. Before I knew it, I was crying. I had stopped to get a coffee along the way in this epic walk. I sat down at picnic table overlooking the river and I sobbed. Like ugly cry on a Sunday morning in public in the bright summer sun with nowhere to hide. I let myself sob because what I do know as a person who has been sober for over a decade is that there is freedom and magic behind those tears. There I was, me and Stevie Nicks, who when she sings “I have no fear, I have only love” really made the waterworks flow, just crying on a Sunday morning. So consumed and knocked out by emotions and my grief, by Fleetwood Goddamn Mac that I failed to realize that there was couple sitting across from me.  The. Whole. Time. A happy couple. The fuckers. The kind of Brad and Courtney couple with perfect bodies and an impossibly adorable looking dog. They were the sort of couple you’d see when you were hungover and instantly feel like you were failing at life. They had it together. In that moment, I had Stevie Nicks, I had coffee, I had tears but I certainly didn’t have it the fuck together. Brad’s eyes caught mine at one point and He awkwardly smiled like what else are you supposed to do to a middle aged gay man so blatantly and openly falling apart in public. When I realized what a mess I was and “Gypsy” ended, I grabbed my coffee and scurried on down the path. Despite a few moments, I was definitively not fucking keeping it together.

Two weeks later, I’d like you to define “keeping it together.” Like what even is that? Am I crying in public currently? No. Am I showering? Yes. Am I eating? Sometimes. Sort of. Am I still overcome with grief and heartache? Also yes. Before we go much further, I guess I should explain what happened. I’ve been stream of consciousness posting about my pain and general malaise for the last few weeks on social media. Without really going into detail because there are other people involved, because I need to process what i needed to process and because fuck you I do what I want. Also, the people who knew, knew. They were important and helpful. Everybody else could wait.  Anyway, in the course of 10 ten days a beloved patient whom I worked with for over a year died of an overdose, Michael and I decided to end our relationship of nine years and to just top everything off, I got the worst cold I’ve had in recent memory. It was a triple quarter pounder of grief and emotional pain. Everything hurt: my heart, my body, my life. I walked like a zombie to my streetcar to work, I went to meetings and cried, I picked at meals with friends. My life was so heavy and hard. It all hurt all of the time and I could not stop crying. Sorry, Brad and Courtney. The death rocked my whole team at work. We were all destroyed. It’s part of our job, sure, sure. But it’s a terrible and shitty part of our job. My marriage, on the other hand, was something that was dying in slow motion for awhile.

Watching nine years of your life spin away like one of Stevie’s shawls is surreal. As it was jointly decided that our marriage was beyond repair, sadness took over. It was a sadness that felt appropriate and horrible and just like something I’d have to acknowledge and get through. I tried to lean into it. There were days when I was fine for most several hours in a row but then out of nowhere “Gypsy”-sized tears would come on and I was unable to stop them. I didn’t even try. What I knew is that I needed to feel all of this horrific, bone crushing grief. However, I was lucky that I wasn’t living in a war zone. Things were not so deeply uncomfortable at home that it made it hard to be there. I kept things super simple: meetings, work, meek attempts at sleeping and eating. That was all I could handle. Mainly, I DIDN’T FUCKING DRINK OR USE DRUGS. I’m sure I slept walked my way through dishes and laundry but I honestly can’t remember. Grief like that is a coma. The world moves around you but you can’t necessarily feel it or even participate in it. Again, I was committed to staying present for these emotions. I knew there was freedom behind them. Eventually.

Two weeks later, here I am. More Stevie Nicks, more coffee and writing.  So I’m back to the velvet underground. There’s less crying daily but the heaviness of my life and of this divorce is still here. We are trying to be kind to one another while attempting to get all of this messy shit handled so we can both start new chapters of our lives. There are pockets of joy sprinkled throughout my day and support from so many people that it’s overwhelming. People text me all day long to make sure I’m okay, to make sure I’ve eaten and to just say hi. I’m overwhelmed by love even when my marriage is ending. Go figure. Therefore, I’m inclined to adopt Stevie’s attitude. I have no fear. I have only love. Sure I have heartache, sadness and grief. But I can also say with no bullshit: I’m not afraid of what’s next. There’s a shit ton of emotions but fear is not one of them. Also? I do have love. Love everywhere and from unexpected places. Love that shows up and says, “I got you.” That’s what I have. And for today, that’s enough.

 

 

freedom, bitches

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This is probably a discussion for another time. I should probably table this on a day when we aren’t honoring this great nation of our’s. But I won’t because saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is kind of the basis for my entire creative career. Here goes: I think we overuse the word and the concept of triggers when it comes to addiction and recovery. Like it can sometimes feel like a copout for relapse, for bad behaviors, for not engaging in real life. I also believe that I don’t really need things or people or events to trigger me into being a drunken asshole. I am an independent hot mess all on my own and therefore I am my own trigger.

But on the other hand, there is a lot to be said about the trauma response that certain things or days can bring. Over my last decade of being sober, there has been dozens, if not hundreds, of times where I’ve walked by something or heard a song on a radio or seen a date on the calendar and immediately taken back to the mindset I had when I was at the height of my addiction. The height of my addiction, by the way, is 5’11 but my husband would argue I’m more like an enthusiastic 5’10. Anyway, from a PTSD place the idea of triggers is very real for me so I give people a pass when they dramatically say that this, that or everything triggers them. Because if I’m being honest, this very day filled with fireworks and now tanks, apparently, is triggering as fuck for me.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like a plastic bag as queried by Katy Perry in her 2010 song “Firework” but something about 4th of July certainly makes me feel edgy. For the better part of a decade, the holiday is linked into memories of being an absolute drunken shit show. During that era, I lived in Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles notable for both its incredible taco trucks and proximity to Dodgers Stadium. Drinking and fireworks both started well before the 4th itself and usually culminated with a viewing of the Dodgers fireworks from my balcony. Not that I ever remembered the fireworks show but I do remember by the time it finally happened always feeling letdown. Now in retrospect, I realize it had nothing to do with the quality of the display itself. My dog would go insane when the fireworks went off but I was of little comfort to him as I myself was insane. Plus it was always hotter than hell in LA at that time of year therefore looking back it just feels forced and uncomfortable. Like I was trying to celebrate but hated myself so much that the burden of being festive was simply bone crushing.

The holiday usually included a lot of drama and fighting but again so did most of my Wasted Wednesdays and Shitfaced Saturdays. Nevertheless, every year I wince when it shows back up. Like “Oh great. Trauma but dusted with patriotism and people in flag printed shorts.” This year, it felt oddly present and I’m sure not enflamed at all by what a daily traumatizing dumpster fire this country currently is. So I decided to deal with it like  i deal with everything else now: cooking. While the country isn’t currently inspiring me to bust into Lee Greenwood covers (let’s be real: cover) while wearing red, white and blue sequins, I was inspired to cook. I was inspired to cook all those summer, American foods, specifically. Fried chicken, pulled pork, mini cheesecakes, hot dogs and homemade potato salad. I couldn’t change the country or erase my trauma but I could eat fried chicken legs while I watched shit blow up in the sky.

I’ve heard over the last few days that many people feel like this holiday, this year feels more depressing and more solemn than in year’s past. Folks from all over have been lamenting that there doesn’t feel like there’s anything to celebrate. Despite my very present trauma-trigger combo, I would disagree. Not latching onto patriotism or weird rhetoric, I think it’s safer for me to focus on the word freedom. I currently live a life free from drugs and alcohol. This is not a big deal if you’ve never been their on-call, 24-7 hooker like I have. But for people like me, it’s also huge. Even after being sober a while, it’s STILL huge. The fact that I’m currently not sipping something vodka spiked out of a Solo cup at 7am is also huge. Not nursing a hangover or trying to lick the remnants of cocaine out of a baggie just to get me out of bed? Also big freaking deals. Today, I am 100 percent free of living a life dictated by drugs and alcohol. I roam freely about the cabin that is this planet without a worry of getting drunk or without the fear of running out of drugs and alcohol. This is a freedom that is badass and incredibly powerful for someone like myself who lived as alcohol’s bitch for over 20 years.

In a deeper sense, I am also free from much of the crippling thinking and behaviors that kept me one sick ticket for just as many years. I’m free from a past that I thought was too horrible and difficult to look at. For the most part, I’m free from self-hatred and self-doubt. Sure, they creep in like the sneaky bitches that they are. But in general I have a freedom around those things that makes my day-to-day pretty damn enjoyable. I’m free too of not feeling good enough or worthy enough for love, happiness and success. This all upper level personal freedom that I always thought was out of reach for me.

Today, while I make coleslaw and toddle to friends’ backyards, my  personal freedom is what I’m celebrating. And shit, I’m celebrating America too, that crazy lady. She’s the reason I can publish this blog post or march in the streets. She’s complicated but I love her. And finally with a whole lot of freedom and sobriety, I can say the same thing about myself.

are sober gays even allowed to brunch?

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Of course, we were getting the potato pancakes, I replied.  The husband argued that the perogies we were also ordering already had pancakes in them. Wouldn’t that be overkill and maybe too heavy?  He was correct but also he was wrong. These were different crispy, potatoes more in the vein of a hash brown and therefore vital for the meal, the meal in question being brunch. Potatoes being a must at brunch is a hill a person with the last name of Mahoney will gladly die on. Having heard my 10 minute monologue on potatoes and brunch probably 400 times over the course of our nine year relationship, the husband gladly surrendered. He’s a brilliant man, despite being occasionally wrong about potatoes. My love for potatoes is legendary at this point so much so that don’t be surprised if one day I get exhausted from writing about myself and turn this into a potato-only blog. Spudologues, anyone?

My win on the potato pancakes aside (which were delicious, by the way), brunch in and of itself is a win for me. The meal for over a decade was a such a loaded gun invitation for day drinking and debauchery. Potatoes were merely a side character and played second fiddle to bottomless mimosas. Bottomless mimosas! Ha. From where I sat at the brunch table it was nothing but bottoms slugging back mimosas. And what a sad gutter gay drink the bottomless mimosa is. Cheap, headache inducing champagne (emphasis on the pain part) mixed with cheaper bar-well orange juice, the kind of juice that needs booze to taste like anything other that liquid heartburn. If it wasn’t mimosas, it was bloody Marys. Tomato juice is disgusting and we should collectively be ashamed ourselves for ever thinking juicing and drinking a tomato was good idea. How dare we. So why not throw vodka in it to really set off how gross it is? I have friends who are sober who tell me they loved bloody Marys. I gently say, no bitch, you liked getting fucked up. No one is drinking bloody Marys because they like the taste of it. Similarly, I want to to punch people in the neck when they say the same thing about kombucha. “I love the way kombucha tastes!’ No girl, you hate yourself and your taste buds.  I gracefully missed the era of the “Loaded Bloody Mary” which is filled with giant olives, shrimp, bacon, gummy worms and all kinds of other crap. Barf. The thought of a soggy piece of bacon in a glass of tomato juice and vodka makes me not only not want to eat brunch ever again but might turn me into one of those people who only eats fruit and never leaves their house. But in the same note, thank god for Bloody Marys and Mimosas. They validated my former favorite part of brunch: day drinking.

At the aforementioned brunch last weekend, the husband and I ordered our respective beverages. Coffee and water for me, which is of no surprise. Listen, I’m a 46 year-old gay sober, alcoholic. Coffee and water are all I care about. Sometimes if I’m at da club, I’ll get crazy and order a Diet Coke but that concludes my beverage repertoire. The hubs ordered some kind of specialty cocktail. He’s a normal drinker so he occasionally gets one drink just to be festive. What a weirdo. He’s completely missing all the fun by not having twelve drinks then texting a coke dealer right before he yells at random people in a liquor store parking lot. I mean why drink at brunch casually when you can get totally shitfaced and ruin the good time of those around you? Day drinking at brunch for me went down either one of two ways:

1.) I accepted the brunch invitation because I was so hungover that I knew that I needed food and more alcohol if I was ever going to be able to function. I’d usually leave with a slight buzz which was great because usually more drinking was on deck at either beer bust(another gay drinking institution that deserves to be murdered) or hanging out a dive bar or just drinking at home later. This drinking served more as an elixir and a coming attraction for the boozefests bound to happen later in the day.

2.) I accepted the brunch invitation with good intentions and tried to not drink too much but around mimosa number six (THEY’RE BOTTOMLESS, PEOPLE!) that aspiration went out the window and my dignity followed soon after. Drunk by 2pm, hungover by 4pm, napping by 5pm and resumed drinking by 6 or 7pm. Brunch really had a way of taking a whole day hostage. It was just supposed to be eggs Benedict but somehow morphed into a scene from Tara Reid’s old reality show Taradise. 

Many a dumb website and magazine have poised that gays love brunch because of the socializing and the stylishness of the meal. I don’t know what fucking gays these people hang out with but for me and my girls it was usually about drinking. Yes, there would be potatoes on the plate and we would actually eat but the acceptability of day drinking at brunch had an allure too hard for this homosexual alcoholic to pass up. I think brunch and drinking and gays has to more with gay culture in general. My people really enjoy drinking, It’s a not talked about but well-known fact and well-researched too. If it involves cocktails, gay men want to be involved. It’s that easy. A few years ago, it was assumed that it was just the older generation of gays that liked to pound the cocktails but despite progress the numbers seem to indicate that young LGBT are at a higher risk for developing substance use disorders than their straight counterparts. So the problem is not really brunch per say but a community that suffers from addiction. Sigh. It’s bigger and a lot more depressing than just potatoes.

To answer the question posed at the top: of course we are. A few years back a friend told me, “We sober gays need to take back brunch!” I quipped, I didn’t know brunch went anywhere. We can’t take things back. We can’t take America back. We can’t take brunch back. There’s no coup coming of groups of sober gay men holding pitchforks and gluten-free waffles storming your local brunch spot. The revolution happens inside, baby. That’s a more exclusive guest list than any tired, homo brunch in NYC. The universe has gifted me with a group of magical sober gay men who do remarkable shit all day long without having to drink or use. They go through breakups sober. They go to drag shows sober. They face difficult battle with mental health sober. They even go to goddamn brunch sober. I told you they were magical.

Our potato-filled and laugh-filled brunch came to a close, not with me being pushed out of the restaurant and into a cab because I was too drunk, but with carrot cake. Because I’m a grown ass man who doesn’t drink or use drugs and this is how I do brunch now.

 

 

pour some sugar on me

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It’s an odd, very “this century” phenomenon, thanks largely to the internet, that when bored white people like myself quit something we expect a medal or a round of applause. Like maybe Sharon should take a few days off in honor of her brave undertaking of the Whole 30. Perhaps Tyler needs a special parking space since he recently gave up vaping. God bless. In lieu of fighting against racist and discriminatory systems to get our basic needs met, we invent little challenges for our “best selves” and really want everyone to know how hard it is. Thus I recently went an entire month without sugar and I really resisted in an online call for prayers and round the clock encouragement.

Thankfully, for the entire world at large this experiment didn’t subject the internet to  shirtless after photos with captions like “Hot #sugarfree #dadbod.” Jesus. No. My ego is not yet that fragile. I say “yet” because much like Ben Affleck, you never know when my ego will shatter in a million pieces. I can say since quitting actual the hard shit like cocaine and daily drinking, I have dabbled in quitting all kinds of stuff and usually out of boredom. I was vegetarian for a few months, I’ve fasted, I’ve juiced and I’ve even had other rounds of me quitting sugar. This bout of sugar detox came on the tail end of the holiday season where I basically consumed sweets like a round-the-clock tournament of Ms. Pac-Man. I baked all of the cookies, I ate all of the holidays cookies and I would do it all again. To paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi in the epic ballad “Wanted Dead or Alive”, I’ve seen million pastries and I’ve eaten them all. It was an amazing holiday season but I wound up on the other end of December cracked out on sugar and bloated as fuck.  It was time to step away from the sugar. At least temporarily.

Having a background in recovery is really helpful when you decide to crash diet or try some bullshit nutritional thing. When you get sober, you learn the process is all one day at a time, that you won’t feel better right away and the progress is slow-moving and hard-earned. Intellectually, I knew this going into quitting sugar on January 7. I didn’t tell all my friends I was quitting forever and that my life was going to change! Child, I’d learned that lesson a zillion times before I got sober when I would blab about being done forever only to be found the week later with a straw in my nose and a beer in my hand at some shitty gay bar. I know better now. Unless, I’m really ready to quit, I should wait until I send out a press release. I kept it low profile in the beginning, allowing for some gentleness if I happened to stumble on a Reese’s peanut butter cup along the way. All of this was great and knowing how to quit things without setting myself up for failure is a huge gift. Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t totally suck.

In my mind I would go sugar-free until February 14th. It would be a month plus one week and I’d celebrate with chocolate hearts. I had the Instagram post already planned out in my mind. However, due to a friend in a real crisis way bigger than nonsense, some chocolate had to happen on February 8th. So I did make it a month and what a month. When people at work or in my personal life would ask me about quitting sugar they’d always say, ” Good for you! Don’t you feel great?!” My response was the  always same: “No. I don’t feel great. I’m bitchy, I wanna punch people and sit in a bathtub filled with gelato.”I would also tell them it was a stupid idea and that I wouldn’t recommend it. This response might have been a tad crabby but it was authentic. I didn’t instantly feel better. I didn’t lose 50 pounds (I did lose 10 pounds though). I didn’t suddenly have all this energy people talk about. What is that energy thing anyway? People say that about everything. I quit eating meat and got so much energy! I quit smoking and got so much energy! This has never happened to me. Then again, as a cocaine enthusiast, my idea of something giving me energy might be different from most folks. Anyway, my real problem with quitting sugar was that it wasn’t a cure-all for every minor or major thing wrong in my life.

Quitting sugar for a month didn’t’ cure my PTSD or lifelong depression or occasional bone-crushing self-doubt. Quitting sugar didn’t make a better person. Quitting sugar didn’t cure my insecurities or prejudices. Quitting sugar didn’t make me less selfish. It just made me a bitchy old gay who really wanted a cookie. Turns out I’m sort of a cunt without a steady stream of chocolate. Now we know! But it also helped me realize that as far as my bigger character stuff, the nitty-gritty, emotional growth and the real juicy spiritual journeys that I’m 100% committed to, I’m in a great place. Over the past year and a half, I’ve pushed myself really hard to get to the bottom of some really gnarly, core personality stuff that has been holding me back. It’s not pretty or cute work. My relationship has been going through a similar process too. It involves putting the ways I think under a microscope and honestly noting that a lot of them are out of business. Changing the way I’ve operated for years is some hardcore shit. Comparatively, quitting sugar ain’t no thing.

Another month later and back on my sugar bullshit, I’d like to say that month helped me put my relationship with sugar into a healthy perspective. But seeing as though I currently have a chocolate cream pie in my refrigerator, that might be a stretch. What it did do is make me realize that recovery taught me how to live my life, how to quit stuff and how to give myself a fucking break and eat a cookie.

 

 

a river I could skate away on

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In case you forgot to watch it, The Very Sean Paul Mahoney Christmas Special from 2017 featured, as all great holiday specials do, a lot of crying in the shower and the music of Joni Mitchell. It wasn’t exactly Bing Crosby in a fucking sweater singing with “A Christmas Song” but it’s where we were. All of that said, I think I should warn you this isn’t about to be one of those fuck Christmas essays. Despite not being Christian at all, I happen love Christmas. It’s a magical holiday that somehow marries my intense love of cookies, glitter and bone-crushing melancholy. It’s also a day that seems to be 1000 times more quiet than other days. Like I love going to a downtown area on Christmas day and seeing all the closed restaurants and shops. The world finally gets sick of hearing itself talk and shuts the hell up on Christmas Day. I guess that’s what they mean by Peace On Earth? I had that moment, that moment that’s so quiet and beautiful it could only happen on Christmas Day, last year and after the month I had, I felt like I earned it.

While I don’t hate Christmas, one thing is for certain, I detest unsolicited advice. I work actively to not to be that guy who says shit like, “Well, you know what I would do…” or  worse “What you need to do is …” Ain’t nobody wanna hear advice from me that they didn’t ask for. But I will hand out this nugget for free: maybe don’t start therapy for long simmering PTSD around the holidays. Take my word on this one, kids. No, Burl Ives. There was nothing holly or jolly about my mood leading up to the holidays last year. (By the way, Christmas is the only time of year we take a moment to pause and  honor the vast talents of Burl so that’s another thing to love about the holiday.) But it all needed to happen. Revisiting old physically violent parts of my past just so they’d finally make sense sounded like a horrible idea. Frankly it sounded scary and hard and like the reason why I drank and used drugs for 20 years. Yet I was ready. I’d been sober almost 9 years, I felt loved and protected by the people in my life and I had bad ass health insurance.

Still the timing was undeniably sucky so thank god for Joni Mitchell. While I couldn’t convince Joni to go to therapy for me (she’s a frail woman, people! I’m sure she would if she could!) she at least provided a soundtrack that made my Christmas life livable. I guess this could have also been an essay about how “River” by Joni Mitchell is the best Christmas song ever. I have at least 800 compelling words to argue that point. Yet that would mean I couldn’t write about myself and that would be unacceptable. Anyway, last year that song came on at the wrong time (or the right time) just a few days before the holidays. By this point, I had been in therapy a few weeks. We had already unearthed some of the hardest, most brutal parts of my past. It was a rough but cathartic journey which resulted in a lot of tears. Insert several of the aforementioned cries in the shower here.  I wasn’t crying because I was still afraid. I wasn’t crying because the wounds were fresh. I was crying for poor, old Sean of the past. I was crying for all the things he went through and all the years he avoided feeling anything at all. I was mourning a life that was broken and that never felt like it deserved a chance to get fixed until 2009. It was all appropriate but it hurt like a motherfucker. So when Joni sang, ” I wish I had a river I could skate away on” I was like “Yeah, bitch! Me too!” Per her request it need to a be so long that it could teach my feet to fly. I needed to fly far away from this shit.

But that’s the thing,  I couldn’t. The beast of an examined life of accountability (which sounds awful when you put it that way, tbh) is that I get to walk through the fire head on, regardless of how hard an unsavory it is.  There’s no skating away or moving around it. When you listen to “River” its clear Joni had done fucked up at that point in her life and she wanted to skate away from all of it. A renowned wine drinker and cigarette smoker, I’m sure La Mitchell used the same ways to “skate away” that I did.  Drugs and alcohol were terrific for that. A few shots, a few lines and the things that I put off feeling for years were put on hold indefinitely. Yet despite all odds there I was: a person who hates facing shit doing precisely that. “River” contains a riff of a deconstructed jingle bells beneath it’s heart wrenching lyrics which fits that moment perfectly too. Here it was Christmas, a time I love with people I love and my heart was imploding. “Jingle Bells” but make it devastating.

To get outside of myself, I baked an obscene amount of cookies.  I mailed tins filled with treats to family around the country. I took cookies to work. I brought cookies to AA meetings. Maybe Mrs. Fields went through PTSD therapy too and thus her business was born? The point was I got through it and I would even say really enjoyed my holidays.  The tears still came but I talked to a network of people who got what I was going through. My sister reminded me that by looking at this difficult stuff and finally healing, I was giving myself the Christmas present of freedom. Sigh. I had really wanted a waffle iron but I knew she was right.

When Christmas 2017 finally showed up, so did the perfect light dusting of snow, just like it does on the holiday specials. My husband and I walked to a movie, like we do every year and there it was: the quiet. We were in downtown Portland but it felt like nobody else was. It was beautiful. I had more work on this journey I needed to do but in that moment everything was okay. “Peace on Earth” means something in moments like that when you’re not exactly at peace yourself.

Today, I am happy to report that while it is decidedly still coming on Christmas and they are still cutting down tress, my feet are firmly planted. Skates hung up and face forward, I don’t have the desire to skate away. I will still bake excessively. I will listen to Joni Mitchell. I will still probably cry at some point. But maybe this year, I can remind somebody else struggling of the gift of freedom, too.

but I’m already so tired

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If we hang out together more than once, you’ll undoubtedly hear me sigh, “My phone’s about to die.” If I work all day- “My phone’s about to die.” If you’re about to launch into a really good story- “My phone’s about to die.” How have you been? “My phone’s about to die.” What’s my go-to order at Popeyes? “My phone’s about to die.” It’s not personal. It’s just now at the every fabric of who I am.  Due to obsessive compulsive tweeting, general forgetfulness and a blissful laissez-faire that can’t be bothered to learn how to run fewer apps, my phone is always on the brink of near death. It’s so perpetually in low power mode, I often wonder if there’s a setting that can just alert me when it is actually charged instead of wasting its breath to always tell me that my phone’s days are numbered. Yet as with those phony tweets announcing Betty White’s death, my phone is alive and well. Just in a perpetual state of low energy. My phone battery, myself. Neither me or my phone is actually about to die but we’re certainly usually not running on full power.

Being gifted with an immune system that behaves like a dainty Southern belle who fans herself while her suitors fetch her lemonades means my baseline is just sort of exhausted. Like not exhausted in a way that actually dying people with hardcore active illnesses are but in a way that I’m certainly not gonna hustle just to prove that I can. Much like that phone battery, I gotta conserve my energy. When it comes to HIV and the meds they give you to handle it, exhaustion is a puzzle.  Like is it the HIV that makes you exhausted or is it the meds or is it the still stupid societal prejudice and misunderstanding of the disease that makes us positive people exhausted? Who knows and I’m too tired to even Google any of this. Truthfully, it’s probably all those things but what I know is that I’m not the only tired bitch with HIV roaming the Earth. This is comforting. We the people with teeny tiny immune systems march forward with coffees in hand and we’re too tired to put up with your bullshit. This right here is the ultimate gift of being tired all the time. “Tired All The Time” is the sequel to Eddie Murphy’s hit song “Party All The Time” but he was too tired to release it.  

When you have a smaller bandwidth, you have to be selective about the things you let ruffle your feathers. Admittedly, in an era with overt racism, contestant nuclear threat, sexual predators in positions of power and every known system collapsing, ruffling feathers seems like a delicate way to put it. Feathers ruffled feels like something we could easily get over. Most of this shit? I’m not too sure about that.  More accurately described as world in decline as per my talisman in black eyeliner Chrissie Hynde, society today could really flatten you if you let it all get to you. Therefore, I’m grateful that my rage, disgust and depression has to be selective. It’s express lane outrage, 9 items or less. The reality for me is that a lot of it is going to bother me and get me down. Congratulations to those folks who tell you any chance they get that they’ve stopped reading everything and that their lives are so much better and that you should really try it. I’m happy for them. But I am not them. The world bugs me and that feels healthy for me. After all, what would I write about if I didn’t sort of low-key hate everyone/everything? So I pick and choose what to angry about. Likewise, I get to pick who and what I put energy into.

I recently spent a lot of time chasing someone. Not romantically, mind you and certainly not literally as in running, dear god, no. But I was trying to a get friend to hang out with me, to spend time with me, hell to even call me back. It was an exhausting place to be. Like what the fuck was I doing? I’m already so tired and now I’m spending time running after a friend who clearly doesn’t want to spend time with me? Girl. What is this? Seventh grade? I eventually released this friend without a bunch of conversations or drama(shit I’m really way too tired to do). One way relationships of any kind fall firmly into the “I’m too tired for this shit” folder and I have to remember to keep them there. Also in that folder:

* people who dominate conversations

* late people

*flaky people

*standing in line for lame events

*entitled people

*arguing with people

*people in general. Kidding. Sort of.

Writing this list, it doesn’t escape me that most of these things that make me more tired are things that I myself am guilty of. Whomp, whomp. Naturally, the bullshit that I am the most sick of and that makes me the most tired is my own. Oh self-awareness. Way to fuck things up once again. Nevertheless, it’s true. I am very tired of my own flakiness, my own entitlement, my impulse to argue with people even when I know better. While the president, the people of planet earth and basically any time I have to go to a store like Home Depot can make me exhausted, it’s my own stuff that really gets tiresome.

Of course, it’s also the stuff that’s easiest to change. Like, Sean, maybe not argue ? Maybe not open your mouth for five minutes? Maybe let someone go ahead of you in line? While my phone is currently at 53%, my energy is considerably less than that. Yet I’m actually okay. Maybe running on half a battery provides me the reflection that I can be less horrible and conserve personal energy. It certainly can’t hurt. I can take the focus of my own exhaustion and try to mediate on being a spiritual being that doesn’t make other people tired.  I need to be the enlightened, tired being I want to see in the world!

But I’ll take a nap first.

Written in summer 2018, this essay, along with other brand new works, will appear in the collection Now That You’ve Stopped Dying, available soon!

to all the bros I loved before

Justin Bieber goes for a jog with his PosseWhy is it that the people who push you around, the ones who beat you up and the guys you don’t wanna run into are also the ones you wanna impress the most? Okay, not you. You’re probably pretty healthy. I’m sorry to put this shit on you. I meant me. Why am I like this? Why do I know in the pit of my soul that these men are garbage fires of individuals but I want them to approve of me anyway? Child. This is a deep thing that I’ve been paying a professional to talk about for over a year. There’s binder full of notes somewhere and a large conspiracy theory type of wall map that we could pull together to try to unravel this. The short answer is that my self-esteem was nonexistent for most of my life so I just wanted these dudes, these bros, theses assholes to like me. They usually never did and what’s more guys like this are the kind of guys who bullied me in school, pushed me in the hallway, threw things at me and mocked me. Painful? Sure, but not impossible to overcome. For the ones who hurt me when I was young, through the hours of work, therapy and 12-Step Meetings I’ve been able to reach a place of “Fuck ‘Em” in the most spiritual way possible.

I’m thinking about all of this right now for lots of reasons but chief among them being because asshole dudes who get away with whatever they want are kind of in fashion. We want to put them in power. We still want to give them things. We want to look the other way at the sheer fact of how much they suck. And here I do mean we.  You are guilty too. I listened to that weird dude cry, sniffle and yell during a job interview for a position on the highest court in the land, all the while knowing that even his inherent shittiness wouldn’t sink him from getting the job. Jerks like him always win. Life isn’t an 80’s movie. Wimpy Ralph Macchio in a headband won’t save us. The Biffs, the Johnnies, the Chads– they run this world and we don’t get a redemption storyline. Just ask Anita HIll or anybody bullied by guys like this. The victims of guys like this get to say their piece and put their necks on the line, only to have their lives ruined all over again. There’s no prom or trophies. Yet what we do get to walk away with is a rebuilt version of ourselves that’s stronger and capable of amazing things like even being able to love these jerks, these dudes, these bros.

Whoever is the head writer for the primetime drama that is my life deserves an Emmy because they can really come up with a plot twist. Little did I know that when I got sober in 2009 that my life would be filled with straight guys, ones that even looked like my tormenters from the past. For years, groups of white men would give me a panic attack and now here I was sitting next to them in meetings. The amazing thing about being in a room of addicts and alcoholics is that whoever you were or where you come from doesn’t matter. There have been too many times to count where I see someone who does not look or sound like me start to open their mouths and I think, “Oh this is gonna put me to sleep” only to have my brain blown open and my heart melted because they said exactly how I felt. I now considered myself blessed to have a network of straight men friends who are sober and who I can count on. Oh and it goes deeper than that.

In my professional world I work with a lot of guys right from jail, from rural and not exactly gay friendly neighborhoods and basically guys who in a different time and place who would kick my ass. Yet meeting them addict-to-addict and from a place of support, where we come from really doesn’t matter. I’ve had burly dudes that people might even describe as scary tell me they love me. Not only do I believe them but I love them too. It’s oddly profound and perfect that the types of guys I thought I hated and who hated and tortured me are the very ones I get to help and get the honor of being a person they can lean on. See? I told you it was a good plot twist. If this was a movie from the creators of This Is Us, you’d be crying right now.

The last reason these bros are on my mind is because one that I loved who didn’t love me back recently left this realm. I got news the other day a guy I used to hang out with was killed in an accident. We were friends when I was 20. It’s a gay story as old as time. We met on ecstasy, went to raves, hung out constantly, I fell in love with him but he didn’t love me back becuase he liked vaginas and I don’t have one of those, he fucked my best girlfriend, I did more drugs and cut them both out of my life. You know. These things just happened in the 1990’s. The impact of this non-romance was powerful though. We were never the same as friends, although the meth might have had something to do with that. Nevertheless, we drifted and over the years I wondered about him. I would see posts from mutual friends on Facebook or hear news of him when I’d return home to Denver over the holidays. By not loving me the way I wanted him to he taught me something too: he taught me I deserve more. He taught me that I shouldn’t chase things that aren’t meant for me. He taught me that I could be loveable. His death hit me like a ton of bricks. I mourned him because he was actually one of the good ones. I also mourned for that 20-year-old drug addict version of myself with the painfully low self-esteem.

Sadly, this will be one of those essays that maybe doesn’t answer the questions posed at the top. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know why we loves these dudes, these jerks, these bros. I don’t know why we love people who hurt us or push us around or who are simply unvailable. And I sure the fuck don’t know why our culture is obsessed with rewarding bullies, rapists and misogynists. This also will not end with me saying that we should try to love and understand straight white males more. God no. Eww. I mean, yes they are not all rapist, bully assholes but that’s the best you’ll get out of me right now.

What I do know is this: the men who’ve hurt me, the ones who’ve bullied me and the ones who couldn’t love me back have only made me tougher, more compassionate and even able to love more. For that alone, I’m grateful for their bro asses.

float

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11-year-old me would be pretty damn excited to learn that one day he would live downtown, in a condo with two cats and someone who loves him. But he’d actually be the most excited that said condo has a swimming pool. 11-year-old me, although a boy from unquestionably landlocked Colorado, was actually a mermaid. This was confirmed when he saw Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. Hannah’s character Madison, a once cool for mermaids only name that has been appropriated by suburban moms (When will the horror of mermaid appropriation end, honestly?), was immediately identifiable. For those who don’t remember, Madison comes ashore to New York City and is forced to acclimate fast to a weird, harsh world that she didn’t belong in. I mean as a gay child that was literally my experience everywhere I went–from baseball games to camping trips and beyond. The one place this mermaid child felt at home was in water. Pool, beach, river didn’t matter. I came alive when I could just bounce in the water. My favorite was swimming underwater. It was quiet and I could hold my breath for a long time so it was just me and water and not the other things in daily life that seemed hard and alien.  Like Madison, I didn’t stay underwater and I  always returned to an awkward life landlocked.

Some 34 years later, this mermaid-merman has learned how to live among non-merfolk. Sort of. I mean I don’t know if I’ll ever pass as someone who gets this whole life thing but I’ve found some ways to make it feel less painful and less alien. I should stop using alien in a negative way. Misunderstood mystical beings from other places should be cherished. (Oh when will our stigmatizing of aliens ever end?) The point is I’ve accepted and even begun to love merself. Even when hanging out at my condo pool.  On one of those Sweet-Jesus-Is-It-Possible-To-Die-From-Summer-Exhaustion days where the air is stifling and hot, I trotted out to the pool after work. Just a quick dip, a little float to help rinse off my day. Naturally, the bonus for pool situations for nosey people like myself is to spy on other swimmers. What are they wearing? What’s the group dynamic? Which one of those blonde girls in the denim cutoffs and bikini top is named Lauren? Why is that guy fixing his hair obsessively and taking selfies? There’s a lot to unpack at the condo pool and I’m ready for it. On this day, I was grateful that the omnipresent group of drunk people wasn’t there.

The last time my husband and I went out together, we were bombarded by a group of boozy forty somethings (or thirtysomethings who drank enough to look a decade older). They were day drinking, which was always a favorite pastime of mine, and swimming. The longer we hung out at the pool, the faster we could see them deteriorate. A woman in pigtails on a rainbow raft kept barking at us to push her to the other end of the pool. A large, loud man pounded cocktails from big plastic tumblers and stumbled in and out of the water. The other friends who hadn’t drunk as much packed their things and scooted off before they got messy, an ability I myself never possessed. As for the husband and I, we laughed and paddled to other, more sober parts of the pool. We causally looked at the booze fueled train wreck but didn’t make direct eye contact, for fear of more slurry speech interaction. It’s always enlightening to see drunk people in broad daylight.  Like now it feels so weird and out of place. My daytime hours are so dull and on such an autopilot, I forget that I used to live my whole life like those people at the pool. Yet the minute I wanna get super judgey about daytime drunks, I have to remember that I once drank and took ecstasy on a Tuesday afternoon just for something to do. It’s just a different life now and a sort of return to that mermaid existence where I am again a creature not doing what everybody else is doing.

Th large, loud and now certainly most hammered guy in the group soon was organizing where they all would drink and play pool one they left. In no shape whatsoever to drink more but had enough wits about him to get together a plan for more alcohol was a mission I certainly identified with. How can you enjoy a drunken daytime moment when you have to figure out how and where you can keep drinking? Anyway, we shuffled off to the hot tub as they left the pool in a wet huddle of swerving, yelling disarray. It was amusing from a distance. It was deserving of a few one-liners and eye rolls. But it certainly didn’t wreck our moment at the pool.

As we hopped back in the water, shivering from the temperature shock, the now silent area felt more like those waters where this merchild first floated. Just me and the water and my merhusband. When we went to the Caribbean a few years ago, I remember this amazing smile on his face as we jumped in the warm waves. That same smile comes back sometimes even when we’re in the pool. He doesn’t always fit in on this earth either. He doesn’t like what everybody else likes. But he loves the water and me so we can float through all of this together.

POZiversary

30420-birthday-candles1 2.jpgWell, that’ll do it. Nobody will love me ever again.

It was an overly dramatic train of thought to be sure but don’t blame me. I didn’t come up with it. As far back as forever, people have been saying they’d never fall in love again(Dionne Warwick) or that they were unloveable (Morrissey) or that they’d never love this way again (Dionne Warwick redux, just sub Burt Bacharach for Barry Manilow). These poor saps usually made these statements after having a broken heart. But people are whores so I’m sure Dionne, Morrissey and countless others indeed did fall in love again. My problem was different. Nobody would love ever again because I was broken. Love just wasn’t something my life would be full of because nine years ago today I found that I was HIV Positive.

I’m gonna go ahead and stop you from writing a comment that includes phrases like, “my cousin’s neighbor is positive and he plays on a softball team and is really happy!” or “they have great drugs for that now and so it’s not really a huge deal anymore!” These things are all true and really great but it’s hard not to feel broken in a zillion pieces when you get that kind of news. It’s fucking weird that since HIV still has the “well, you did it to yourself!” stigma attached to it that we don’t let people feel grief around it. We don’t let people have a journey of acceptance around it because it no longer kills millions of people. We do in fact have wonder drugs that keep people alive so let’s not talk about the difficulty those people still might have and just move on, shall we? So yeah I went through it in August 2009 when I got the news. I felt ripped in half. I felt like it was yet another shitty thing I had to “learn to live with.” But mainly I felt like the timing was really bad.

See, I was only 7 months sober at the time and was using everything short of Scotch tape to just hold my shit together at the time. This kind of news was really inconvenient. The same people who would write those comments are the same ones who would tell you when you get this kind of news, “God never gives you more than you can handle!” Well fuck those people because I could barely as handle being sober and I was given another ball to juggle.  Besides, how does God know what I can handle? I think handling things is overrated anyway. I never signed up for this life gig to “handle shit”. Anyway, there we were and it was something I could accept or drink over. How I didn’t drink over it is anyone’s guess seeing as I drank over (and over drank) everything. So I stayed sober and it was people who helped me, not Scotch tape, keep it together. Still, there was a nagging feeling that love was something that might not ever be in the cards.

But as with all the best parts of my life, I was wrong. Completely wrong on every level and ain’t that a wonderful thing? No, seriously.  In boastful, bullshitter times, there’s something wonderfully, punk rock about being totally, fucking wrong. Because once I’ve shut up and stop being convinced that I know what the outcome on every thing is, magic can happen. And magic did happen. I met a guy who didn’t care about me being HIV positive. Beyond this something else happened- love. Love not just from my beautiful husband but love from family members (even the ones who said shit like, “Well you knew this might happen when you decided to be gay” oy fucking vey). Love happened from other addicts and alcoholics who told they were sorry I was going through a tough time. They gave me permission to cry, they brought me burritos, they took me to meetings and they told me not to drink or use no matter what.  Even more amazing, love happened from other people with HIV.

Other people who maybe felt like they’d never feel loved again too, loved me, no questions asked. I shared about it and they showed up for me. They drove me home from meetings and told me it was gonna be okay and I believed them because they were like me. Even more amazingly, the universe put brave beautiful people with HIV in my life without me ever having to say a word. At four years sober, I met somebody days after being in a coma who I got to watch sobriety change his whole world. He turned out to be HIV positive too. We didn’t know this when we met each other but it was just one of a zillion things that latched our hearts together. But it wasn’t just him. Over the years there’s been lots of “him.” People I loved immediately would later share that they were positive too.  Again, we never planned on meeting. Something bigger just put us together and aren’t we lucky? That happened to me just the other day with a new friend who I instantly adored but who got even closer once we knew what we had in common. We exhaled when we shared it with each other. I feel less alone, less damaged, more lovable the more this happens. The thing is we’re able to fill in the blank spaces that the world, society and our broken selves tell us won’t ever be filled with love.

It’s even happened recently at my day job where I get to help other addicts and alcoholics. Again, it’s unplanned and not manipulated but I have certainly come out to my coworkers as HIV positive. In my field, this is an asset. When patients come in with HIV they know that I’ve been there and they can lean on me, no questions asked. Recently, a patient shared his rage that he felt discriminated against at his treatment center when a fellow patient said people like him shouldn’t be allowed in there. I told him that would have pissed me off too. I also offered to come down there and drag this asshole out of the rehab by the hair. We laughed and he said the staff was on his side and the drama subsided. My offer, however, still stands.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that nine years later, the news I got on August 11th 2009, the news that I thought would ruin my existence or make me go out and use again, turned out to be the news that changed my life. Now, when I think about the day and all of the days since, the only thing I can think of is love.