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.

 

 

come on home, girl.

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We can all breath freely. Order has been restored to the universe. Wounds have been healed. Life as we know it is returning to the way it should be because after a really weird and sad, booze-fueled feud, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have reunited and are back together and on the road. Listen, the Trump era has done some fucked up shit to a lot of people and Ann and Nancy apparently fell victim to these shitty, sad times. But they’re back and so am I.

Back from where, you ask?  I’m not sure, exactly. But I sort of got derailed by the holidays, which isn’t really a thing and I know this. Like the holidays are just normal days with more delicious food and tinsel covered depression. It’s not like I was abducted or became paralyzed. I was just being fat and lazy and watching Christmas specials. Nevertheless, the aforementioned season knocked my seanologues writing off the track. Shockingly, I hadn’t written over here at all in 2019.  Sure, new works could be found elsewhere but I wasn’t here.  But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t home. “Come on home, girl,’ he said with a smile,” Nancy Wilson sings on the track “Magic Man.” (Also fun if you sing it in a 90’s way like “Come on, homegirl!) So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve come home to this blog.  Oddly enough, the whole idea of coming back and returning has been fresh on my mind lately.

If you are lucky enough to stick around in the halls of recovery, you get to see it. People come back. Back after a relapse, back after a period of isolation, back from a near death experience. It’s like the cycles of Elizabeth Taylor’s life but in real-time. These phoenixes rise out of the ashes and miraculously show back up for more crappy coffee and rambling stories to let us know that they’re still alive and that they still need help. When I first got sober, it would really depress me and rattle my cage when people would relapse and come back. It poked holes in this ridiculous fantasy I had that sobriety was forever and easy to hang onto. I would become obsessed as to how it happened and why they relapsed.  I wanted to why and how and mainly what I could do so it wouldn’t happen to me. I wrongfully pitied them and acted high and mighty, like “Poor things! I’m so glad that’s not me!” I’d also keep them at arm’s length, as if getting close to people who relapsed would make me relapse too.  Sure, I was really afraid of relapse but I was also kind of a dumb bitch.

Thankfully, time, experience and lots of heartbreak changed my mind on people who relapse and come back. My judgement is gone. Ditto my need to get down to the bottom of why they relapsed. I no longer pity people.  Seriously. This sounds like hippie garbage but I just love them, no bullshit. Not love them, only if they stay sober. Or love them because their sobriety looks like mine. I love them period. Mainly, I feel love for them because they have a shit ton of courage. They came back, despite the ever daunting odds, and opened their mouths. We don’t shoot our wounded, they tell me. But I can do better than not shooting them. I can love them like people who are suffering from a disease and leave it at that. This isn’t a noble thing to do, you jerk. It’s the right thing to do.

Can you imagine if we were all like, “That stupid whore Olivia Newton-John went and got herself cancer again. What a moron!” We would never. In fact, if you have anything negative to say about ONJ in general, I would suggest keeping that vitriol to yourself. Yet our reaction to relapse (including my own) is soaked in misunderstanding and judgement. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just a deadly disease that is really hard to beat. As deaths by drugs and alcohol hit all time highs, we have to face the fact that most people with this disease won’t make it or at least won’t make it on their first time. I am lucky enough to have many examples of people in my life who came back after a relapse and had a rocking comeback that even the sisters Wilson would approve of.

The first person I ever took all the way through the 12 steps relapsed a few times. Ditto a person I’ve been sponsoring who just celebrated 18 months. Three more with relapse in their stories all newly back have also recently joined my sponsorship family. (For what it’s worth, relapse happens to be a part of the stories of  Robert Downey Jr, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Demi Lovato, all of whom I do not sponsor but I am open to the idea!) Likewise, two of my favorite sober friends on the planet had more than a dozen relapses a piece. What all these brave, hilarious and tough-as-nails people in my life taught me is that the more you try, the better chance you’ll have of making it stick. The fact that they keep fighting and coming back, even though they’ve been knocked down a million times, blows my mind. I don’t know if I have that kind of fight or will to live, if I’m totally honest. Plus, my pride is out of control and I don’t know if I possess the humility to ask for help yet again or the courage to own my whole story. I hope that I would and I know just who I’d call if I did relapse and needed to come back.

Yet for as common as relapse and coming back is, there’s the bigger reality: most people don’t come back at all. Where I got sober in Los Angeles, people would vanish regularly from the rooms of recovery and you’d learn later that they had lost their lives to this disease. It sounds morose but you kind of just got used to people dying, although it never made it less sad.  Statistically in the United States, this stark reality is pretty common. Like I said, it’s a tough disease to beat.

At my non-writer job at a hospital working as a recovery mentor, this reality is ever looming. When patients leave the hospital, I get to work with them in the community. But many vanish and it’s hard not to worry immediately that maybe theyre no longer alive. Last week, one patient that I often had that worry about magically resurfaced. She called me and told me she had 90 days sober. Despite a series of dramatic hospitalizations, she had come back. Not only was I relieved but I was overjoyed and it gave me confirmation that I needed to keep doing the work that I do. Because for every 10 people who dies or goes out or varnishes, there’s that one who comes back. And to miss their triumphant return and heroic journey would just be crazy.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Alcoholism

spring-event

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.