Bateau Ivre

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Since I got back from Paris, I’ve become one of those people who starts off a lot of sentences with “Since I got back from Paris…” because the trip turned my thinking upside down. I know, I know this idea that “Since I got back from Paris, my point of view has totally changed” all sounds very PBS low-budget travel show but it’s actually true.

We got home on October 16–or was it the 17th? All I know is it was an odd time of day and I was hungry. But that could very well be said of any day for me, travel or not. It was one of those days that started in another time zone, in another country but somehow miraculously ended on the same day in a different time zone, even though 15 hours had been spent somewhere along the line. All this travel math and 8 hours of airplane movies turned my brain inside out. By the time we returned to our little abode in Portland, I just wanted to collapse and hang out with my cats. I did just that for the better part of 2 weeks. But the longer I’m back from Paris (and Amsterdam and Vienna who I also hung out with on my voyage) the longer I’ve realized a few things about myself and the country I grew up in: America.

First of all, we ain’t shit. Look, I know that’s not poetic but that was the overwhelming theme I left Europe with. After nearly 2 years of emerging Trumpism, bombastic headlines and daily reminders from every digital platform that the world is fucked, it was a breath of fresh air to be on a continent that legitimately did not give a shit. As I checked Twitter while in Europe, it shocked me that Trump or Mueller or any other thing we were freaking out about were not trending. Case in point: dark alternative rock god Nick Cave was trending while we were in Amsterdam on a week where the US was still shocked from the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Speaking of Las Vegas, it barely came up while we were there and while I can’t be sure, I’m guessing it’s because from a foreigner’s point of view, events like that happen all the time in the US. Hard to argue with that logic, sadly. Horrible redundant American tragedies aside, it felt good not to matter. It felt good to not have the impending shit storm of dread that so many of us have woken up with for months. It felt good not to be the center of universe for 5 minutes and realize that nobody cared about my paltry American nonsense.

IMG_2563.jpgWhich brings me to the other realization I had and one as an alcoholic I need to remember regularly: other people are going through stuff too. France, a country which has arguably seen more than its share of heartbreak and violence over the last few years, maybe couldn’t be bothered with our hot messes because it’s still trying to heal. Michael and I attended a life altering exhibit chronicling the life and work of Christian Dior. The exhibit had dresses, designs and the art behind the famous designer. Told exhaustively on several floors of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, it was an uplifting and inspirational journey into the birth of what we know as modern fashion and fashion branding. But what knocked the wind out of me and gave me goosebumps was the reaction of the french speaking visitors to the museum. Filled with pride and curiosity, each person seemed personally invested in the works. After a massive line to get in and packed galleries, the spirit was unwavering and I think that says a lot about the French and perhaps humans in general. Devastated together by heartbreak but united by a love of art and beauty, the Dior show felt less like a fashion exhibit and more like a window into the French soul. In those moments watching them take selfies with the mannequins or devour the text about Dior’s life, I finally got it. These people needed this show and they needed each other. And I needed it too.

The other thing that hit me is that despite traveling several countries over the course of over two weeks and getting far, far away from Sean at Home, I am still me wherever I go. This is an unfortunate but inevitable fact. My carry on luggage comes equipped with my own personal baggage and ain’t that a shame? I will say that it is lighter these days and as a travel companion, I am pretty fantastic. The gorgeous photo at the top of the post was taken by husband the last night we were in Paris. It was a perfect, sun-kissed moment while amazing music played in the background. This was a snapshot, unlike the dozens of photos of cake that I took and posted to Instagram, that needed to happen. Such a significant moment, the image has since served as our screen saver since we got back from Paris. Out of curiosity and since my junior high French only took me so far, I wondered what “bateau ivre” meant. I cackled when the magic of Google revealed that it means “drunk boat.” Perfect. That’s me–bateau ivre, a little drunk boat floating around the globe. Except now this little drunk boat has safe harbours like the meetings I went to in Paris and Amsterdam (spoiler alert: alcoholics are the same everywhere), the sober friends I messaged from random locales and the moments of peace I got by staring at views like this one.

Lastly, since I got back from Paris, I haven’t felt like an American or just an American, I should say. Listen, I’m  not unpatriotic or a spurned former lover of the USofA. I just feel like more of a human. You know, a person who lives in the whole world, instead of in just his small American bubble. I feel like a person who is lucky to have these adventures and people who I love to come home to. But mainly I feel like if I love myself and help other people than this little drunk boat is safe to dock pretty much anywhere.

*This is the first in a three-part series about my recent travels to Europe. If you hate travel posts, I apologize but I promise to fill each of them with my signature brand of neurosis to not deviate from my brand too much. hearts–S.

 

 

 

 

 

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forbidden happy

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You’re okay.

You’re okay.

You’re okay.

I had to kept saying this to myself as I laid in bed. I had to keep saying it not just because I knew it was true but also because saying it was helping. See, I woke up with my heart racing, sweating and generally having that feeling I was far from fucking okay. As I closed my eyes (You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay) I tried to believe it. I mean really feel like I was okay. My heart eventually took it down a few notches. I started to breathe normally. And right on cue, one of my cats laid on my chest.  We were okay. I am actually okay. That was the truth. After all, this isn’t some old feeling I had years ago although waking up in terror thanks to years of delightful things like depression, addiction and PTSD is an old familiar feeling. No, this happened this morning.

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It happened this morning at what could arguably considered that height my personal okayness. Fuck okay. My life has currently transcended to fabulous. New job, great relationships, strong connection to my recovery and the incredible people in it, plenty of food, money, coffee and all of those things I need to survive. So why did I wake up there? Why did feel like I used to when I would wake up to the shitstorm of my life during yet another body crushing hangover? Why, after nearly nine years, did I wake up convinced for even a few moments that I wasn’t okay?

The easy answer? Blame it on the wiring. Much like blaming it on Rio or blaming it on the rain, blaming it on the wiring for people like me with mental health, uh shall we say, “challenges”, is the easiest route. Just because I am better and continue to grow doesn’t mean I’m going to have the thoughts of a totally sane and healthy person all of the time. The default setting of HOLYFUCKINGSHITEVERYTHINGISTERRIBLE is a tough one to override. Is it better than it was in 2009 or even 2015? Hell yes. But does it still exist? Do I still struggle with a brain hell-bent on self-destruction and misery? Also, hell yes. The thing is there’s a bunch of healthy stuff I do to drown that voice and those feelings out and I can currently say that all of those things are working. So perhaps it’s a glitch in the system and one that won’t last. I mean, I already feel better sitting at my kitchen table writing and drinking coffee.

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Yet it could also be something else. Something more ingrained. Yesterday, I was walking home after hanging out with someone from my recovery family. Fall leaves crunched under my feet for the first time. The air was warm but crisp. The quickly vanishing sun had turned downtown Portland a peachy orange color. The world in that moment felt beautiful. Life felt beautiful. Moreover, I felt really, genuinely, no bullshit happy. Like happy with no exceptions. Like not that kind of happy that’s temporary or faked or delusional. But legit happiness. Short of bursting into a musical number, I walked home happier than I can remember being in quite sometime. These are moments worth cherishing and remembering. Not because there was some big material payoff or splashy life milestone. But because a person like me can feel this way and can feel this way most of the time. It’s also worth remembering because there’s still a teeny, tiny part of me that thinks I don’t deserve this. That I shouldn’t be happy and that I should go ahead and do something to fuck it and up and sabotage it because it’s not like it’s going to last anyway, right?

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My idea of happiness, much like these candy colored ridiculous Lisa Frank pictures of unicorns, is decidedly twisted and out of whack. Like a good addict, I want happiness to be bigger and last longer. New, Improved Happiness! Now 100 times stronger than original recipe happiness! So right away I’ve set myself up for something that can’t happen or at the very least is not in any way sustainable. Thus when I don’t live a life that feels like an endless loop of someone winning both showcases on The Price is Right then I can go ahead and choose to feel fucked up, sad, and miserable.

“Choose” is the magic word here, kids and one that I didn’t know when I was drinking and using. I thought horrible things just happened to me and that I must have been cursed. I reality was, however, I chose some pretty horrible things and had life that reflected those choices. So yeah I can choose to feel happy. I can choose to see the truth that I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay. I can choose all this and still wake up in terror and have to choose it all over again. This is fine. Happiness isn’t something forbidden and out of reach or something spectacular that I’m not worthy of. It’s something that shows up under my feet like the fall leaves or lies on my chest like my cat. It’s something that’s already available. All I have to do is choose it.

relieve me of the bondage of selfie

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How do I look?

How do I look when I’m struggling?

How do I look when I’m happy?

How do I look when I’m grocery shopping?

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

More importantly do you think I look?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

action! I wanna live.

feelingsWe are in the era of the topless, body positive Instagram post. We are in the era of the multi-tweet thread chronicling everything from an individual’s heroic battle with a mental illness to a harrowing account of waiting in line at the airport. We are in the era of blogs like the one your reading now routinely using (or abusing) their pages to become a digital dumping ground for confessions, neuroses and run-of-the-mill epiphanies. As a big fan of all of these things, I will say respectively and from the most spiritual place possible, fuck this era. Fuck this false sense of heroism for simply being a human who handles their emotional shit. Fuck this bar for being so low that we now spring to our feet anytime someone is real about themselves. Because for people with mental illness, addiction and alcoholism this brand of self-truth telling isn’t some breakthrough handpicked specially for a Lenny Letter essay. It’s just how we stay alive.

Hopefully, my flagrant flinging of the f-bomb didn’t frighten you off. But I swear all of this is on my mind for a reason (cue the aforementioned confessional in 5, 4,3,2…). While I like to think it takes guts for me to yell into the void of the internet, “Ugh. I feel shitty and I kind of hate myself/everything else!” I know it’s ultimately chicken shit. After all, I could whine for days digitally (and I have and thank you for reading, by the way!) but if it’s not happening in real life and if I’m not reaching out in the real world, it’s all for show. While bleeding on the page and essentially throwing glitter on my hot mess mental health is sort of my brand, it can’t just be a blog or a series of tweets. I mean for me. “For me,” in case you didn’t know,  is what we say so we don’t alienate people who are doing something else to treat their own hot mess mental health. But in this case I don’t know if it is just “for me”. Study after study, book after book has shown that people with the stuff I have tend to feel better when they share it with others who have the same thing. All of this is to say, that yesterday, live and in person without editing or a delete tweet option, I let it out.

The “it” in question is some of the financial and career blahs I mentioned before but then also my general feeling horrible/depressed/over everything that’s been plaguing me for several days.  Plaguing is a dramatic word and not at all accurate when it considering places like Syria or Venezuela or Chechnya. But I described it to my husband as a “baseline of annoyance and depression”. In other words, I’ve been a fucking delight. Completely wrapped up in self and miserable, I forced myself to go to a meeting yesterday. It was a gay meeting not unlike the gay meetings I got sober in Los Angeles back in 2009. Gay meetings are awesome, by the way. Not only do I find them to be a little more entertaining and honest but they are filled with people who get me in a way sober straight people do not. Anyway, after hearing lots of stuff that resonated, I vomited out everything that I was feeling. While the details of this monologue are best left in the magical ethos of the sacred spaces of 12 Step rooms, I will say that I felt better almost immediately. And more than that a few people gathered around me and gave me their phone numbers after the meeting. After a tear filled text session with my sober bestie in LA, who hilariously called me controlling and called alcoholism a cunt, I started to feel human. I calmed down. I ate bread and watched reality shows. I snuggled with my husband, who currently deserves some sort of trophy. I went to bed. But I went to bed knowing that I need to be in a new state of action.

The thing is I’ve been going to meetings and doing the work I need to do to stay sober since I moved to Portland but clearly I still need more help. This is always a drag for me discover. I really, really hoped that when I got sober I’d only have to ask for help once and only feel shitty for a small period of time and the rest of my life with be like the last 3 minutes of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. What I’ve gotten in reality is a life that actually looks more like the last 30 minutes of Postcards from the Edge which is to say not perfect, challenging and a lot of work if I want to stay healthy and happy. Yesterday’s breakdown/breakthrough was a wake-up call to do more work and to keep going. Therefore, I’ve committed to 30 meetings over the next 30 days. I’m also going to find a sponsor and take on a service commitment. I traditionally don’t like to do any work and will only do so when I’m in a considerable amount of pain so consider this me screaming, “Uncle!”

I guess the point of this yet-another-act of internet heroism is this: my mind was in a dark place. A sad place. A despair filled place. A fucked up place. And was kind of there for a while and was pushing me to feel like, “Why bother?” This freaked me out. Because how long do I think like this until I then start thinking that drinking or using or god forbid suicide all sound like awesome ideas? Yikes. So I told the truth. I told on myself. I cried in front of strangers. I asked for help and I did it not because I wanted applause but because I want to be happy and alive. And because it’s what we do.

 

 

confessions of a dramaholic

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For those of you keeping score at home, I have at some point in my life detoxed from the following substances: alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, sugar (a couple of times) and drama. I slide that last nasty little drug on there because for me it’s precisely that. Conflict, chaos, pot stirring, gossip, backstabbing, general smack-talking and havoc wreaking. I love all of it and it appears to be my default setting. And it’s an incredibly addictive way to live. The highs of a super dramatic life are really high while the lows are sub-gutter level. But it’s readily available, with no hangover and it’s one of the few addictions that can go on for decades, if you want it to. I suppose this addiction to drama is a useful character defect when it comes to playwriting but it’s an exhausting way to live a normal life.

Yes, I’m gay and yes I am from an alcoholic home which are two things that would certainly qualify me as someone predisposed to drama. Growing up in the house I did, you never knew what was on the other side of the door when you came home from school. I didn’t wait for the other shoe to drop, it usually had already dropped, causing 70 flavors of dramatic bullshit in the process. The very nature of living in an alcoholic home requires a lot of intrigue, lying and role-playing. Nobody is who they say they are and nothing is as it appears. Again, great qualities for a trashy Lifetime movie but a fall down tiresome way to live a life especially as a child.

As far as being gay and dramatic, I wouldn’t say that those two things are always a given. I mean I’ve met some boring, level-headed, normal gay people (they exist!). But for me, it’s a chicken and egg situation. Like am I dramatic because I’m gay or vice versa or did I just happen to win the personality lottery? Who knows. I will say that growing up gay, I certainly had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t and lie about who I was therefore adding even more intrigue to a life that was already a Pat Conroy novel your aunt would read on vacation. No wonder I started drinking at age 14. My dramatic ass life required a cocktail (or 30) just to be dealt with.

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All of this being said and me being an individual who never really loves shouldering the blame for anything, I think The Young and the Restless and the television canon of Aaron Spelling are partially at fault here. I think of The Young and the Restless every year around this time because me and my sister were absolutely hooked on the never-ending drama happening to the fine folks of Genoa City. A soap opera like Y&R, as we junkies refer it, is a wonderful thing for addict like myself. No matter what day, what month or far into an episode, the drama was always there. It’s like a bar that opens at 6am and what’s on tap is your run-of-the-mill baby stealing, husband stealing, identity stealing antics. If you weren’t careful you could even have your family’s cosmetic company stolen like the Abbot’s did. The Abbotts are the family at the center of all of this dramatic foolishness on Young and the Restless. Through the years, the clan had seen more than its share of drama and certainly qualify as addicts. But when we picked up the drug in 1980’s, there was no one causing more drama than Jill Foster Abbott. The former hairdresser turned rich housewife is a great alcoholic character that was never an alcoholic. Jill, like Erica Kane who was doing much the same thing on another network at the time, was at the center of a lot of problems and yet somehow considered herself a victim of circumstance and in no way to blame for whatever shit show was happening to her. Sleeping with her stepson, hiring imposters to take down her nemesis and paying off the trampy girlfriends of her hot dumb son Phillip were just a few of Jill’s great ideas. Jill miraculously managed to never actually take responsibility for her fuck ups and usually threw someone else under the bus in the process.

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On some level, I must have thought that Jill had a great way of living because for as long as I can remember I had created dramas that would inevitably backfire. Lying, cheating, stealing and light forgery (it’s like original forgery but with fewer calories!) were something I did from early in my teens and continued into my thirties as I drank and used. Naturally, the Jill Foster Guide to Life didn’t work so well in the real world not sponsored by Downy and not airing from 11am until 12pm on CBS. But like Jill, it never mattered who got hurt and I never really owned up to the fact that, as they say in the program, my misery was of my own making.

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I’d like to say that I got sober and went through the 12 Steps and I was also cured of my addiction to drama. But that isn’t the truth. More pot stirring, gossip and unfortunately a few finger in the face Real Housewives-style confrontations have happened to me since I’ve gotten sober. Unlike before however the high is shorter and the hangover is god awful. I have had two really dramatic fights in sobriety that felt like the closest I’ve come to relapsing. In both situations, I was out of control and the drama was largely my fault. Coming down from both of those highs shook my program to the core. But please note that it took two times for me to realize that this way of living did not work.  It’s an old mindset that no feels utterly out of step with how I want to live right now.

I’ve recently seen the drama addiction from the other side. Watching others struggle with dramatic thinking or situations that they’ve created is really painful. I wince as a I watch their schemes spectacularly backfire or witness their delusional drama based thoughts spin them out of control. I wince because I know drama is an easy thing for me to pick back up.  In fact, I think it’s the last acceptable drug in sobriety. If you’ve never been around people who no longer drink or use drugs that aren’t more than occasionally embroiled in some crazy drama than you don’t know enough sober people. I think a lot of us take some time to get re-programmed. I think it takes an effort to remember that, “Oh yeah. I don’t have to live like that anymore.” I know for me it’s a choice. One that most days, I’m really good at. But some days whether it’s online or at work or with friends, I seek out drama. Which is okay as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing so it doesn’t go on happening everyday at the same time, 365 days a year. I’ll leave that kind of drama schedule to Y&R. 

what if I was no longer sober?

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what if I was no longer sober?

what if I started drinking again?

what if drugs were something that I all of a sudden just did again?

what if this part of me for the last 8 years just melted away and suddenly wasn’t?

what if it turned out to be not a big deal? 

what if it could be normal?

what if I could be normal?

I wouldn’t say I live there. I wouldn’t even say I hang out there. But I would be lying my face off if I didn’t say I still slowly drive by there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally look in there and see what I might be missing.  I admit it. I have been known to peak in the windows and wander around a bit just to see what it might be like: if I was no longer sober.

WARNING: This is entire thought process as well as the conversation we are about to have is probably a whole lot of wrong for a sobriety guru and all-around spiritual inspiration to be having. So thank god I’m not one of those assholes. I mean seriously. How exhausting. I’m just some writer jerk trying to be less of a jerk and stay sober while doing so. My brand has very low standards, people, making it easier for me to pass the sassy smartass savings onto you. If I was perfect and had totally nailed this gig of recovery, I’d pretty much have to stop talking about myself which would be a travesty. Also, I’d most likely be a robot because from what I’ve seen struggles and real, crazy thoughts don’t stop happening just because you’ve stopped drinking or using drugs. Bummer, I know. But them’s the breaks.

As you might have guessed the crazy thought popped that in my mind was what if I just stopped being sober? I’ve been sober for over 8 years so the idea of how it would be if I suddenly started drinking again is an intriguing and terrifying one. Based on 20 years of dedicated field research, I tend to think that the experiment would be a catastrophe.  Back in 2008, I had a specific period of time which illustrated this theory nicely. I had been sober for 5 months. And by “sober” I mean dry, pretty much insane and doing it myself all the while hanging out with daily drinkers. This is a god awful plan, by the way and I wouldn’t recommend it. Nevertheless, she persisted and somehow managed to stop drinking. But my life was pretty terrible and got even more so in May when we were evicted from our apartment. I remember texting a friend telling her I was just going to grab a bottle of wine and her words were, “Just be careful.” Well, I wasn’t and the next 6 months were a nightmare from hell which led me to getting sober in January 2009.

So I know from firsthand experience what it looks like when I go back to drinking. I’m lucky to have this incredibly painful and shitty experience to draw from and to remember whenever I see glamorous people in their damn sunglasses drinking their damn frozen drinks on their damn patios. Yet I have the brain of an addict and that brain is going to ask me, “what if?” I mean, hi. Drug addicts and alcoholics think about drinking. It’s what we do. So sometimes, no matter how happy we are in our sober life, we will do just that. And wondering what life would be like if I just was no longer sober seems normal too. While I have no crystal ball or physic abilities (again, bummer) I know for sure that if I wasn’t sober I’d lose connection with people.

First off, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have time or patience or the stomach to put up with my sober circle of friends and family. Relations with them would be counterproductive and annoying. They know too much and therefore they would have to be removed. Secondly, the re-established connections I have since I got sober would once again be wobbly due to the fact that I was no longer who I said I was trying to become when we got reconnected. Lastly, I know for a fact the actual circle around me would shrink. I needed people less, the more I drank. I couldn’t handle their perfect lives or judgement. Being alone is just easier.

But how long could I go on? Or how long before it got out of control? Or would it ever get out of control? These are things I don’t know and things that, for today, I don’t actually want to know. I’ve recently watched a few friends drift further and further away from their sober selves and that’s probably where this post comes from. Despite the near-click-baity title which suggests I’m on the verge of a dramatic relapse, I’m mainly curious. What happens to the brain to bridge it from passing thoughts of drinking to slipping right back into your old life? What happens to the soul to make it shrug and think “Eh. Why the hell not?” Again, I don’t know. But I do know being honest helps.

Recently, three people I love have had really open conversations with me about not feeling inspired by sobriety and not really wanting to do the work anymore. These conversations have opened the door to very real, “Oh my god. You too?!?” types of exchanges that suddenly help the task of staying sober feel less daunting and more fun. These people are alcoholics like me whose first instinct is to tell you they are fine and that everything is wonderful. So the fact that we’re able to get real with each other and laugh about our insane thoughts is really powerful and an antidote to the very thinking that ails us. These thoughts become less scary and more funny and our bonds become tighter. Plus, and this is really worth mentioning, we’re all still sober.

Conversely, I’ve also witnessed a few folks whose worlds have gotten smaller, whose connections are less and less. These people look like they’re drifting away. They don’t seem like they’re doing all that well. But they also haven’t opened their mouths and they haven’t reached out. They seem okay going back to ideas that got them drunk the first go round with hopes that it might be different. Seems like a scary game to play but like I said, I get it.

So what if I’m never “normal”? And what if I have thoughts of drinking or using for the rest of my life? Okay. But what if I could still be happy too? What if my world could still get bigger? What if I could still feel more love than I had ever dreamed possible? And what if there’s even more magic coming if I just stay sober and continue to try to get better? Now, that’s a “what if” truly worth pursuing.

 

 

my terms & conditions have changed

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On behalf of alcoholics and drug addicts everywhere, I’d like to confirm that we are worse at change than you are. Sure, you might be complaining endlessly about the new Twitter update but some of us are ready to start rioting in the streets over it. Just so you know, we will always win at The Who Sucks At Change More Olympics because we are, after all, a curious creature who can sit in his or her own filth and get high as their world collapses around them and hotly refuse to make a change. We don’t need that meme of the little dog in the hat surrounded by flames– we live that meme, dawg. So it’s even more hilarious that when we get sober, after we have literally changed every thing about us in order to survive, that we still resist and recoil to change.

This morning, my sober friends and I all acted like Twitter was our husband who’d suddenly gotten a facelift and revealed that he’d been sleeping with Sharon Stone. It was a betrayal and one perpetrated by an inanimate object. Insane but that’s how we roll. I panicked then I remembered I hate when anything changes. I mean, I’m still not over Paula Abdul leaving American Idol. I figured I’d eventually be able to get move past it as my Twitter addiction might possibly be stronger than my resistance to change. And after my twentieth morning tweet, my little tech-soaked, oatmeal brain was already used to the new Twitter and we were all upset about something else. It did get me thinking, though. Maybe I have gotten better at change and maybe there are times that I even like it. After all, I’ve certainly changed and not all of those changes gel with the world at large.

At the grand age of 44 (and it is a grand age, lemme tell ya. The new wrinkles, the unexpected gas, the tiredness– all grand!) what I like, tolerate and put up with have all changed. For example, I am going out tomorrow evening after 10pm(!!!) and I am already planning when we’ll leave. Not that I don’t want to have a good time and not that I’m not excited but like I said I’m in my forties and I know having an escape plan is the way to go. This change seems minor but considering I used to not leave my house until 11pm, it’s kind of a big deal. Other superficial changes include rationing out the time I spend annually around big crowds of people and/or waiting in huge lines, not chasing down people to spend time with me and no longer feigning interest in things that quiet frankly aren’t at all interesting. Likewise, I no longer hang out with dramatic people (other than myself), abusive people or untreated crazy people. I am already tired all of the time and these people make me even more so. On a deeper level, some changes have already happened and they all start with my own thinking.

As some of you guys know, I’ve been working freelance as a copywriter and content creator for the last 7 years. It’s a lot of hustle but it is creative and allows me to do what I love. Plus, it’s been good exercise for me as a writer and lets me set my own schedule. However, lately, this part of my writing as a business isn’t thrilling to me and not only that it’s been hard to drum up new work. Don’t think the correlation of these two things is lost on me. I had like 3 rejections in a row in the past week, to places I didn’t even want to write for, that shifted my thinking. It was a lightening bolt: maybe I wasn’t booking these gigs because I didn’t actually want them. More than that maybe I needed to be spending my writing time on something else: my book!

My book, my book, my book. Oh my book. I’ve had this idea for years that many of the essays here and from urtheinspiration need to become a book. Yet it wasn’t a book I wanted to write at three years sober nor one I even wanted to write last year. Intuitively, I felt like I needed my experiences and time to direct it to its best self. Well, I can now say I’m ready. And getting here was a huge relief. I plan on working my side gigs, blogging and working my butt off on my book all summer and letting the universe handle the rest. This seemingly minor change in thought blew my head open. Like the decision some eight-plus years ago to get sober, just making it changed my outlook and perspective. What’s funny is that once I made this decision, gigs from people I love to collaborate with suddenly showed up. There are no mistakes, chickens.

All of my changes, unlike a social media site that is firmly in the category of the “things I cannot change” are part of something bigger, something scary, something called growth. Growth. Talk about the biggest change of all. As I grow up in sobriety, what I want and who I am grows up too. I mean hopefully. That is the actual goal of recovery, as far as I can tell. Keep changing or rot and stay the same. Some of this growth is painful and a lot of it I resist. Still. But at least now I know that I’ll fight it, then embrace it and even grow to love it, only to be met with even more change down the road. I also know that until I’m actually ready to change, I won’t and in the meantime there’s always Twitter to bitch about.

 

my expectations have expectations

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Me: Also? I’m a 173 pounds.

Husband: But that’s what you said you thought you weighed, right?

Me: Yeah. But still. It’s not great news.

The Husband: Wait. So you’re upset that something you knew was going to turn out a certain way did just that?

Me: Well, I was just really hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Husband:(laughs and shakes head)

END SCENE

The preceding little domestic scene happened yesterday after a doctor’s appointment. Without getting to my a boring ass account of my medical history, I can tell you what I wanted out of this appointment and what I got were two totally different things. My teeny tiny request that I be told that my T-Cells were off the charts amazing, I was in fantastic shape and also 20 pounds lighter was sharply denied by the Universe and medical professionals alike. Not only did I not leave without the news I wanted, I left with two sore arms. My consolation to being fatter and lesser healthy than I wanted was two Hepatitis shots in each arm. My hilarious nurse, who also informed that space was scary because, “You just don’t know what’s up there. For real, for real.” told me that given my HIV status I get extra vaccination juju meaning it would be more painful. My immediate throbbing arms backed up her theory thus I can only assume she is correct about space too. For real, for real. But more than achy arms, I slumped out of that clinic with the kind of pain only procured by out of whack expectations.

A night at the Oscars or a full-blown apocalypse and nothing else in between. That’s what my crazy little alcoholic mind wants. The humdrum dull boring results of living a normal human life are of little interest to me. Either be covered in glitter or covered in chaos. This, as you can imagine, puts a lot of pressure on everyday living. Therefore, this doctor’s appointment was doomed to fail from the start. There is no way it would ever meet what my mind had built up around that and I know this now sitting calmly with my mug of coffee at my kitchen table. But yesterday, I felt defeated.

The thing is pneumonia almost killed me two years ago. Since then I’ve worked hard to choke down seven pills a day and stay healthy. It’s been a slog, if I’m totally honest. I want any recovery I have from anything to look like the makeover scene from Cinderella. Alas, this has been anything but. It’s a slow-moving journey to feel better which my new doctor reminded me of yesterday. My numbers dropped down really low in 2015 and building them back won’t happen overnight. This also explains my ongoing energy depletion and sudden feelings of wanting to lie the fuck down. I was told that this too was going to tak some more time. Maybe even a year or two. Again, horrible news for an instant gratification junkie like myself. I was also reminded that my HIV has a resistance in it (which of course it does. Even my diseases are rebellious little jerks.) that makes it harder to bounce back. Not hearing thunderous applause for taking care of myself or hearing that I was 20 pounds lighter put a cloud over the truth.

The truth is despite lower numbers, the rest of my health is good. I’m undetectable, I’m trending upward and I’m being moved from seven pills a day to two pills. The truth is it is happening. Just not as fast as I wanted. Therein lies the real bitch about expectations and what my husband found so hilarious yesterday. Despite knowing that I wasn’t going to be 20 pounds lighter as I had recently weighed myself. I was disappointed that some unrealistic magic hadn’t occurred. I’m surprised my laptop didn’t just explode when I typed the insanity of these thoughts. It’s akin to expecting that Mariah Carey will be performing at your house on Christmas Eve even though you know for a fact it’ll just be the holiday classics station on Pandora. Which is to say this is all proof positive that my expectations are rarely rooted in the real world. I mean why have realistic expectations when you can have mentally unstable expectations? Go big or go home and while you’re at it pretend that home is Versailles.

Later in the evening, me, my sore arms and mopey attitude got something we didn’t expect: compassion. My husband, the aforementioned scoffer, hugged me and told he was sorry I had a rough day. He took me out for dinner, held my hand on our walk home and, most importantly, helped me laugh at myself. He’s good like that and he also helped me realize that things are good. My life is good. And despite fantastical expectations, my health is good. For real, for real.

 

 

you with the sad eyes

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Cyndi Lauper, Gay Pride Parade West Hollywood, 2003

When it comes to life encompassing black holes of depression and despair, it’s helpful to have a benchmark. It’s helpful to have a moment so damn bleak that nearly everything in comparison feels like a Smurfs cartoon. It’s helpful to remember these periods in your current life too so you don’t take it for granted or mistake temporary blahs as the end of the world. I’m lucky, and use that word with a wink and a shoulder shrug, that my 30th year on this planet was one of two personal benchmarks when it comes to despair.

The story goes like this: On November 30th, I turned 30 accompanied by the most over-the-top alcoholic birthday party ever stacked to the gills with drag queens, live bands, cocaine, family members and a trip to Disneyland. It was a happy weekend but that’s where it pretty much ended. By mid-December, I slipped into a depressive state so easily that I didn’t even know it at the time. Okay, okay. I was drunk 7 nights a week at this time so trying to figure out what was depression and what was just the remnants of the daily hangover was darn near impossible. Nevertheless, I was depressed and numb and incapable of feeling my life and when I did it felt like shit. I was working at the big theater complex in downtown Los Angeles at the time and thank god. I’d hide out and watch the LA Opera or listen to the philharmonic and cry in my usher uniform. I watched the touring production of 42nd Street so many times, I feel like I could still perform a one-man-show abridged version of it for you today. 42nd Street in Less Than 40 Seconds! In addition to the drama I watched on stage, there was plenty to be had in my real life. Unable to pay my bills, fighting with my boyfriend and generally being a hot drunk mess took up a lot of time and energy. The ongoing blahness of my life was so commonplace at this time that it was hard to remember when I felt anything else. Yet there are pockets of time that I remember, moments where I was giving it the old college try to feel better or at least feel something.

One such moment was Gay Pride weekend in 2003. By June, drinking and working at the the performing arts complex were all I really did. The social part of my alcoholism floated away with the birthday balloons and now it just served the purpose of erasing my days and knocking me out. Yet when it was announced that Cyndi Lauper was performing at Pride, I woke up. I HAD to go. Cyndi Lauper was everything to me as a kid. She sent me a message in videos like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “She-Bop” that it was okay to be a big, loud colorful weirdo and to be myself. I credit her for letting me follow the beat of my own drum at an early age. Therefore, my attendance at her performance the night before the parade was mandatory.

As sworn Eastsider who avoided West Hollywood at all costs, I sucked it up for Cyndi. I worked a matinée that day and then hopped on a bus from downtown LA. I stopped at the liquor store for a mini-bottle (or two or three) of vodka before entering the festival. While waiting for Cyndi to go on and my friends to show up, I wandered around drinking and watching random second stage acts. I distinctly remember being impressed by the Mary Jane Girls. By “Mary Jane Girls” I mean like one of the originals– the talented JoJo to be precise, along with a few new girls. “JoJo and Some Other Bitches” just didn’t have the marquee value of The Mary Jane Girls though. Nevertheless, I thought they were amazing. I mean if you could survive both Rick James and the blistering midday sun all while nailing a performance of “Candyman”, you deserved all the applause possible.

By the time the sun went down, I found my people. I know there was more drinks involved. I know Cyndi looked incredible. I know we were sort of bummed that most of her set was remixed super-gay dance versions of her most popular songs. I know we left and drank more. But as far as the other details of that night, I can’t help you. That’s a another bi-product of a year spent under the blankets of depression: the precise moments seem to melt into one blob of ickiness. What I am sure of today in 2017 is that I felt let down by the moment, overall. At the time, I thought it was all the gay pride hoopla and circumstance that left me feeling flat. Gay Pride in West Hollywood is always more of a corporate affair that could rub even the most optimistic homos the wrong way. Of course, now I know it wasn’t gay pride. It wasn’t West Hollywood. It sure the hell wasn’t Cyndi. It was me.

The combo platter of raging alcoholism and depression made everything feel like a bummer. There wasn’t enough cocaine, tequila, glitter or 80’s music to make me better. Yet somehow, I hung onto this life of despair, in varying degrees for another 6(!!!!) years. Things got a whole hell of a lot worse before they got better, as is usually the case. I never made it back to gay pride in West Hollywood which had more to do with the headliners than any resentment towards the festival. More depressingly, I haven’t seen Cyndi Lauper again in concert. I feel like I owe myself a Cyndi amends for sure. But as far as feeling and really getting this idea of Pride? I think I know it now more than ever.

Being sober, HIV positive, married and expressing myself like I always wanted to as a kid is a life I could have never imagined. I feel freer at 44 on zero drugs than I ever did bombed out of my mind in my 20’s. I’m actually proud of myself as a gay man and sobriety has truly helped me get there. Not sure if that’s what Cyndi had in mind when she sang, “Your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow” but that’s certainly what it means to me today.

it takes a village, people.

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Seven pills a day.

Three to four meetings a week.

One guided meditation, three times a week.

Four other addicts who I call/text regularly.

Five afternoon naps during the course of a workweek.

10,000 to 18,000 steps per day walking.

As of May 27, 2017 those are the numbers. The numbers I need to keep this mental health cruise ship afloat. They will undoubtedly fluctuate and change. The meds for example will probably go down this month. Which is good news as I’m currently on some combo that has given me the bladder of a 68-year-old woman. The meetings should probably increase but will likely dip at some point because I am, after all, me. The steps, the naps, the mediation all subject to dip or increase depending on how fucked I feel on any given day. But in general, this is an honest equation I’ve come up with for today. I am realistic with my rebellious, stubborn ass. I know there are days when the “But I don’t wanna”s will take over. This is fine and I try not to beat myself up. I’m balancing a myriad of manageable but deadly diseases and sometimes what they all want me to do is lie the fuck down. Yet despite my best efforts to find the precise numerical equation to make me all better there’s something I need more than anything else: other people.

If I wasn’t so lazy I would be able to find you study after study that point to the power of support for folks like me. By folks “like me” I mean people with addiction, alcoholism, depression and HIV.  But these studies floating out there in the internet say people dealing with grief, cancer and trauma also benefit from leaning on other people. It’s odd too because when hit with one of these conditions we often hear, “You need to take care of yourself.” Which is certainly true but sounds solitary.  Like “Just figure it out on your own and make yourself all better. And could you hurry up because you’re a drag to be around?” However time after time, I’ve learned that when I take care of myself by myself, there is very little care involved. I’m tortured, isolated and filled with a grab bag of shitty self-sabotaging ideas. I second guess everything and feel like I’m the worst person on the planet. In other words, it’s a party for one and it sucks. Thus, taking care of myself involves me reaching out to other people.

This is not second nature for me. Kids like me from alcoholic homes suffer from “I got this!” syndrome maybe more so than any other kids on the planet. We in some ways raised ourselves and figured out stuff by on our own so reaching out and asking for help is a foreign concept. As a person in recovery for the past 8+ years, I’ve had to learn how to lean on other people and open my mouth. This week, I had HIV clinic appointment. It’s my first since moving to Portland. Thanks to the miracle of the private sector and little to no help from the government at all, HIV positive folks like myself with no insurance have a plethora of resources including free meds available. I am eternally grateful but in order to tap into that stuff I have to take the action. I have to make the appointments. I also have to show up for those appointments. I have to bring the documents and answer the emails and do the work. All of which I did this week but it wasn’t lost on me that just taking care of myself and asking for help is still no small feat. Overcoming my self-sabotaging, I got in and handled my business but it was far from a solo act.

After a morning dealing with incredibly nice nurses, case workers and receptionists, it hit me how many people I actually need. Beyond that setting which also includes therapists and pharmacists, there’s all of the people in my recovery life I need. Sponsors, sponsees, all the people who share their stories with me, all the people who listen to my story, the people who set up meetings, the people who make coffee at said meetings, the people who just smile or say hi and know exactly what I’m going through and on and on. Oh and this does not even include all of the friends, family members and co-workers who lift me up, encourage me, walk with me, laugh with me and generally help this baby bird out of the nest on a regular basis. Yet it doesn’t stop there. There’s also you.

You who exist in this digital realm that somehow I was lucky enough to find. You who despite never meeting in person we are linked together by our joint experiences. You who share my pain, joy and warped sense of humor from wherever you are. You who are also damaged but recovering. You who read my rambling, crazy nonsense and even say nice things about it. The point is it I feel proudly connected to you and all the other dozens of people who help me along the way. Like I said, it’s been proven countless times that I cannot do any of this alone and now I know I don’t have to. While you may not be cops, Indian chiefs or construction workers, you are my people and for that I’m eternally grateful.