every second of the night, I live another life

C9QqL74All I know was I was with people I work with and we had to jump off a bridge onto a moving train. It was all very dramatic in an early 1990’s way. Like Sandra Bullock could have sped by in an out of control bus at any moment. Anyway, I jumped and completely missed the platform I was supposed to land on. For a split second (which when we talk about really dramatic near plummets to our deaths, are the only kind of seconds allowed. Take your normal second elsewhere, pal.) I thought well I’m screwed. Guess I should have been nicer to people but now I’m fucked because my brain is going to splatter all over the pavement. Meanwhile, my coworkers had landed successfully and ran off to the next dramatic challenge, I’m assuming. But instead of my brain splattering, I floated. I just kind of hovered like one of those dumb looking seagulls that flies in place during an ocean breeze. I was out of breath and terrified and then I woke up. I rolled back over and fell asleep and started dreaming again quickly. I was immediately greeted by a creature who was part bear and part armadillo. And not greeted like he was gonna give me a hug. But in the way the he was standing in the path I was walking down and looked like he didn’t want to move nor did he want to be fucked with.  I woke up again with my heart pounding and decided that maybe my subconscious was telling mine it was time to get up.

I’ve had pretty intense dreams my entire life. Granted, this sounds like one of those conversations your  dramatic friend in college would have right before she launched into a confession that she might be psychic or at the very least an empath. But it’s true. This imagination runs on overdrive when I close my eyes.  I used to have awful nightmares as a child, primarily dealing with getting attacked by wild animals thus why I knew better than to tangle with bearmadillo. No more than 10 years old, I would wake up screaming and drenched in sweat. Once after a really terrible nightmare, my two brothers stood above my bed with worried faces. While I don’t remember the dream, I remember it was freaky enough to startle me and everyone in my house. I was even given a dream journal at a young age hoping that would help. I can’t say for sure that it did but it certainly helped me start exploring dreams as a gateway to something else and a window into possibilities, regardless of how ridiculous they were.

Through some of the things I read, I learned tricks and ways to wake from nightmares or to shift the narrative if shit got too real, too fast. I learned if I floated above myself, like I recently did as I was falling, I was actually having an out-of-body experience. I learned if I scribbled three words down when I first woke up, I had a better chance of remembering the entire dream later.  It was very much in line with the psychology of the 1980’s and even pop culture. The hot garbage 1984 classic Dreamscape with Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid explored the idea of being able to project yourself into the dreams of others. With the aid of shifty scientists and terrible government officials, as was the case in all of these films. I must have watched that stupid movie 178 times on HBO but the idea really appealed to me: leave my own thoughts and go somewhere else. The last scary “attacked by an animal dream” as a child I really remember was a large bird trying to rip my arm off as I floated alone on a raft in the middle of a calm lake. No wonder my mind wanted to be somewhere else. One of my dream books from that era said that my dreams of being attacked by animals meant that something was eating me on a subconscious level. As a gay kid not out of the closet or even in the remotest sense sexually awakened, this analysis was a little too on the nose.

With a recent death in my family and about 6 days of the worst sleep ever, let’s just say my current dreams have been off the chain. Non-linear, dramatic snippets of life crammed together with nonsensical narratives of political, sexual and psychological nature. The Heart song quoted in the title of this essay isn’t just to remind you that I’m old and that the 1980’s is my only point of reference. It also sums up what I like about dreams: to live another life, to be someone else. That’s what I liked about drugs too. Dreams, however, are even harder to control and more unpredictable than substances. Especially dreams about substances. My last cocaine dream was about three weeks ago. I snorted cocaine at a party and then spent the remainder of the dream trying to come up with an elaborate lie so that no one in my  life would ever find out I relapsed. Even asleep, I’m a scheming bitch. When I wake from using and drinking dreams, I always travel from being panicked that it actually happened, to disappointed in myself to ultimately relieved that it was just a dream. It’s quite a journey to take when you just open your eyes, honey.

This morning when I woke up, after a dream I don’t really remember, I forced myself to stay in bed as long as I could. I am the lucky owner of a bladder and two cats all of whom want me to get up around 5am. I try my damnedest on my days off to fight the urge to sit in the pre-sunrise stillness of my living room. I try to roll over and go back to sleep, back to dreaming. But this morning it was a no go. There was coffee to be had and internet to be read, cats to pet and so on. I told my therapist I’d been having fucked up dreams and sleeping horribly and he said, “Let’s monitor those and check in next week.” Seems like a solid plan. Treat my subconscious like a recently repaired air conditioning unit.

While there’s no bridges to jump off or wild creatures to battle in my waking life, there’s this brain I get to walk around with. It’s the brain of an addict. It’s the brain of a person with depression. It’s the brain with a whole goody bag of mental health challenges. But mainly, it’s a brain that likes to dream. And dream a lot! Lately, I have a slew of dreams suddenly taking shape and morphing into a real world things, all by themselves. When I think about the people I’ve lost recently and think about their dreams that got interrupted and cut short, I know it’s a brain I’m lucky to have.

 

 

 

was it the movie or was it the moment?

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“A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”

Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

If the world right now seems like an overwhelming, horrible fucked up place, that’s because it is. And let’s get it out of the way- I won’t be the one to ever tell you to channel your anger and sadness and go make a change. I mean this isn’t “The Man in the Mirror” and I am not Michael Jackson. While I am already trying my damnedest to write the least motivational post of all time, we might as go for broke here and I’ll give you my advice for dealing with a world in turmoil: don’t. Seriously. For a moment or perhaps a day or even a few days why not take your voice out of the chatter and go sit in the dark and watch a movie.

Sure, it sounds like stupid advice which it probably is, considering I’m a person who hates advice. I’m also a drug addict who loves avoiding life so naturally I’d go tell you to run and hide from anything unsavory or depressing. But hear me out. Whether it was monster movies on in the middle of the afternoon on local tv or sitting and watching Redford and Streep in Out of Africa on the big screen, I was always able to find what I was looking for as a kid when I went to the movies. Growing up in the dawn of cable and the VCR era of the 1980’s meant we suddenly had access to all kinds of movies and for a cinema nerd like me, it was heaven. I’d basically watch whatever was on as I tried to figure out what I loved and didn’t love. I wanted to see every movie that books about movies talked about. I wanted to see movies like Jaws and Flashdance that were R-Rated and therefore forbidden to my Catholic soul. I wanted to see every movie that came out during the summer, even if I wasn’t excited about them. I wanted to see every movie. Period. It was how I learned about the world but more than that movies were also how I dealt with the world. At an early age I figured out that movies provided a safe space, a respite and a relief from the real world. Growing up in an alcoholic home, my real world was realer than a lot of other kids so movies gave me something the real world sometimes couldn’t: hope.

Some four decades later, film does the same thing for me. Yet thanks to recovery and plenty of time dealing with this here real world, I have a healthy relationship with movies. On Friday afternoon after discovering it was on Amazon Prime, I decided to watch The Wizard of Oz. The movie was on my mind after me and some of my twitter buddies started the #30DayMovieChallenge. This is one of those list challenges where everyday for  a month you come up with different films for different categories. It’s a blast and currently providing a break from the shitstorm of bad news to be found online. When my pal Susan said The Wizard of Oz was her all-time favorite movie, something hit me. Maybe I need to watch it again. I hadn’t seen it in decades and due to early childhood flying monkey trauma, the movie had always kind of freaked me out. I even sluffed it off on the “hate it” pile for a while. Sure, I’m gay and love Judy Garland but I didn’t get the never-ending love for The Wizard of Oz.

Now being older and of (slightly) more sound and open mind, I really wanted to watch it. Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and marveled at the tricks it was able to pull off for being made in 1939. There’s a sadness and desperation now found in all of Judy Garland’s work for me so that made her already great performance here even better. Plus, the music is really clever and well done. But it triggered something that I forgot: I really loved Glinda the Good Witch as a kid. Sure, in her pink sparkly gown with her coy one-liners and shiny hair it seems obvious that 7-year old Sean would love her. But somehow my brain forgot that and only remembered those flying monkeys (still creepy AF, by the way). Billy Burke is a delight and I was happy to reunite childhood me with her. This little matinée in the merry old land of OZ got me thinking: maybe the movies are magic but maybe the moments in which you see them certainly help.

Nursing a terrible cold with really spicy pasta arrabiata and The Philadelphia Story. Ditching class to see Natural Born Killers only to walk out halfway through (Woody Harrleson has that effect on me). Watching Almost Famous with my grandma and both of us crying as we talked about it on the bus ride home. Feeling heartbroken after my grandfather died and numbly binge watching 80’s movies like St Elmo’s Fire. I’ll never forget these films nor will I forget what was going on in my life those moment.

Elsewhere in my brain live movies that were really important because of who I was at the time: Top Gun being a film I saw with a group of new friends as an awkward tween, Reality Bites with my first real boyfriend and The Fantastic Mr Fox during my first year of sobriety. In every case, the importance of the actual life milestone and of the film itself bleeds together. They become one big sticky, sugar-coated memory which as a person who doesn’t like to feel their life I really enjoy. The movie and the reality of the moment are now gilded together forever making them both easier to remember. This is incredibly helpful for a person who did so much Ecstasy they’ve been left with the memory of a goldfish. The movies and the moments help one another out in the watery vortex of my brain.

Yet movies (and moments too) end. Therefore, my dear Toto, there isn’t a place in the real world where there isn’t any trouble. We do get to lean on movies, though which on the day after the senseless tragedy in Manchester means a lot. We get 90 minutes or so to see something else, to be someone else, to feel something else. And that sounds pretty valuable right about now. But mainly, we get to remember that, despite the horrible fucked up shit in the headlines, humans are capable of beauty. Movies are proof of that.

Carrie On

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“Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”  

-Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

In a Barnes & Noble in Glendale, CA, there she was. Carrie Fisher. No, not in person but in book form. It was her memoir Wishful Drinking. I was just a month or so sober, shopping with my mom and utterly miserable/confounded/fucked up. In times of crisis my mom and I often go to bookstores and libraries and getting sober and leaving a ten plus year relationship certainly qualified as a crisis. Like every newly sober person ever, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But I knew I needed her book. And I needed it badly.  I devoured her first novel Postcards from the Edge at age 15 and she instantly became a source of storytelling inspiration. Here was this actress, this princess I always wanted to be, writing her soul out; utterly truthful, hilarious and talking about really dark shit. It blew my mind as a teenager from an alcoholic home who still had problems even acknowledging the truth, much less telling the truth about anything. So in 2009 with my head up my ass, I knew I needed that book. I knew this because she had been there for me before and I knew I could count on her again.

The usual snickering and laughing like a crazy person by yourself that happens with a Carrie Fisher book ensued once I got my hands on Wishful Drinking. It came at the precise right time in my life, as books usually do. Dishy, sad, profound and really funny, it was the tonic required to deal with my life. But what didn’t I know then or even as a fifteen year old is that Carrie Fisher wasn’t just entertaining me. She was actually helping me figure how I could someday talk about my own really dark shit too.

But in that moment with a life in turmoil what Carrie Fisher was giving me was a good laugh. Wishful Drinking is so jam-packed with Carrie Fisherisms that it’s sort of like hanging out with an old friend who maybe overshares a little too much which could be exhausting in real life but makes for one hell of an entertaining read. There are literally hundreds of gems and nuggets of wisdom in that book especially for addicts and alcoholics but here’s a few of my favorites:

“I feel I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”

“Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But I think if you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life–more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time–well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.”

“Anyway, at a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“And not that it matters, but my mother is not a lesbian! She’s just a really, really bad heterosexual.”

“Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything…I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”

This gift, this memoir, this book picked up in a bookstore on a Sunday with my mom was the beginning of the long process of what I like to call “the light turning on.” For me it was never a simple flick of a switch but a billion positive messages, a million tears and thousands of laughs that eventually lead to the light being turned on. Wishful Drinking and Carrie Fisher were a part of that. I’m incredibly grateful that Carrie Fisher was the one to show me that the truth could be funny, fierce and freeing. And more than that it could help other people too.

When news of her death took over the internet yesterday, I realized instantly that I wasn’t the only one to have the light turned on by Carrie Fisher. My amazing editor Anna David wrote about it in Time. Sober friends tweeted about her impact all day long. And friends and relatives who knew how much she meant to me texted to offer their condolences. See, the thing is that even though Carrie Fisher and I never met, she was important. By following her example of learning how to laugh at the shitshow of my life, I’ve been able to recover. I’ve been able to get better and I’ve learned how to laugh at the other curve balls life has thrown my way in sobriety.

But now that Carrie is gone, it’s up to us. It’s up to us make one another laugh about really dark shit. It’s up to us to keep writing our truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us and the people around us. It’s up to us to speak out for people with addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. We get to carry this torch for one another and laugh together and what an incredible gift. I don’t treat it lightly and plan on doing my damnedest to continue her work.

I was given the writing note this fall that a piece of mine needed to be “funnier and sassier and Sean-like.” While I rose to that challenge and fired on all smart ass cyllanders, what this person was actually saying was, “Be more like Carrie Fisher.” And from here on out I will keep trying to do just that.

“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
― Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking