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.

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

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

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

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

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

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