you & me & PTSD

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I guess I should have seen it coming. After all, I’d joked about having post traumatic stress disorder for years. Sure, Britney’s 2007 VMA caused me PTSD and so did looking for customer service at any Home Depot. And who on Earth wasn’t still reeling from a light mist of PTSD caused by the political events of 2016? Deeper still, I always knew on some level that the violent and hard to process events from childhood and my years drinking and using left some lasting impression. Nevertheless, I was still shocked when I saw it in black and white from my insurance company: PTSD.

In an email too mundane and too boring to be explained, I was checking my billing from my therapist. There was a discretion on my copay. (See? I told you this was snoozeville.) In a rare moment of adulthood, I decided to get to the bottom things, because mysteries of confusing copays are the kind of thing everybody is dying to see how they turn out. As I can sense that you are deeply concerned and invested, I will say what I thought was a my higher copay turned out to be lower, working in my favor and causing me to get four free therapy sessions. Score one for the crazy people. But an odd little line in my detective work stood out to me. It simply read, “Treatment for: PTSD.”

Like I said, you don’t go through the things that a person like me has gone through and not anticipate some collateral damage. Drunken fights, being robbed at gunpoint, being evicted, being bullied and the daily chaos of growing up in an alcoholic home all qualify me for some gold level PTSD membership so I don’t know why I was surprised. When relaying my diagnosis to a friend their response was a kinder version of, “Well, duh.” Duh, indeed but seeing it in print (and by print I mean on my computer. There was no mid-nineties faxing going on to make the PTSD even worse.) made it more real. Much like when I sat down in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and “My name is Sean and I’m an alcoholic” just blurted out of my mouth this was at once a surprise and a total relief. Yet it was undoubtedly the truth and therefore could not be taken back. This throw away labeling from an insurance company felt much the same way.

The thing about knowing what you have is you can’t un-know it. Of course, you can ignore it or deny it or soak it tequila for 20 years and hope it goes away but you still know that have it, whatever your “it” may be. In a roundabout way, like I said, I’ve always known that PTSD was just a mere thread of rich tapestry that is my mental health. Likewise, when a flood of traumatic feelings showed up on doorstep last summer I knew something had to be done and that’s how I wound up at my therapist’s office in December. Yeah something had to be done but I’m alcoholic and a middle child so I can sit uncomfortably until I turn into a Jello mold of unprocessed emotions. Thus it took me a few months of crying in the shower before I did anything about it.

My therapist’s office is in the top floor of a charming old blue Victorian house, down the street from a taxi dispatch, near downtown Portland. The inside looks a little like Mork and Mindy’s apartment, if that reference means anything to anyone. The point is it’s comfy and cozy and a perfect setting to hand over my lower pay and cry to a virtual stranger for an hour. while treating this thing that is officially called PTSD but I just knew fucked me up, we’ve done a lot of work. Work like talking, revisiting and decoding old terrifying incidents. It isn’t work in the sense of working in a coal mine but I can’t say that wouldn’t be preferable. Heartbreaking, exhausting and ultimately liberating, this work we do is mainly just me struggling to tell the truth instead of trying to say witty things to get my therapist to be my best friend. See, in addition to PTSD, we’re working on my whole obsessed with approval issue. He doesn’t offer me pat solutions. He just asks questions and hopefully leads me to a place of clarity around these traumatic events. He’s so good at his job though, I hardly realize he’s doing it.  We just have engaging conversations and even laugh and it isn’t until I’m walking home that I realize what we’ve uncovered, what we’ve solved and what we’ve conquered. I told you he was good.

Another thing that catapulted me into his office was my job. As a mental health and addictions peer support specialist, I often see new traumatic events and walk into high stress situations on a daily basis.  New to the field, I figured out fast that I could in no way process what I see at work all by myself. One thing pounded into my head as a sober alcoholic is to not be afraid to ask for help. A late night Google session and several referrals later, I found my therapist and fought against my instincts to stay miserable. Just like my first AA meeting, I resisted. I drug my feet making the appointment and had to give myself daily pep talks the week leading up to my first visit. But without being dramatic I can say, it’s changed my whole life.

Addressing my PTSD head on has flipped on a power switch inside of me that I didn’t even knew I had, much less knew it could be activated. According to medical types, PTSD sufferers like myself have a baseline of agitation, irritability, hostility, self-destructive behavior, or social isolation paired with other mental health delights like flashbacks, severe anxiety, mistrust and good old fear.  People like me and millions of others found drugs and alcohol to be an excellent solvent to numb out these shitty symptoms and it worked– until it didn’t. Now, however, I’m able to look at these events and things not feel haunted or devastated by them. Armed with a ton of support, there’s no story too scary, no memory too hard to process that I can’t look at. I will say that it took me nine years sober to really feel stable enough to dig deeper into my past. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really feel ready.

Days after that “exciting” email, the label sat there and I eventually slid into it. Like being a gay man with addiction, alcoholism and HIV, PTSD is another I have and another I get to overcome. What’s more is maybe having the official diagnosis of PTSD will help me help others like me while helping me feel connected? Which brings me to this: if you have PTSD and you’re being treated for it, I love you.  If you are living with someone suffering from it, I love you. If you have PTSD but can’t bear to look at it yet, I get it and I love you too. I will say with all sincerity, it really isn’t the worst label I’ve ever had, even if  it did show up in a lame insurance email.

 

 

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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 into mush. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

a job well done

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Blink and you probably missed International Firefighter’s Day on May 4th. Likewise, you might have missed Secretary’s Day on April 26 or Teacher’s Day this past Tuesday, May 9. But don’t worry. There’s always Labor Day which sort of celebrates all kinds of workers in a big lump. Being a festive alcoholic by nature, I like this idea of celebrating people who just show up and work. Like yay. You contributed something and hopefully it didn’t corrode your soul in the process. Have a cupcake! For those of us who do the work taking care of our various mental illnesses, the work of staying sober and the work of generally fighting against of the demons inside our brains, I think we could use a holiday too.

“International Day of People Working Hard Not to Kill Themselves” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue but it could all be shortened and worked out through a series of focus groups, I’m sure. Also, I don’t know what kinds of cards are out there in the gift universe applicable to such a holiday but I’m positive the fine folks at Hallmark could come up with something. And we probably wouldn’t get a day off since stopping taking our meds or going to meetings or therapy even for one day is a terrible idea. Okay, so there’s a lot of logistics to work out for such a holiday. But staying healthy, sober and sane is a ton of work and it should be recognized as such. After all, every meeting ends with “Works if you work it” and the general scope of things to do to stay sane and sober is always referred to as “doing the work.” Conversely, we hear when people have come back from a relapse. they usually admit they “stopped doing the work” before they went out. We call it work because that’s what it is. Changing our thoughts, getting better and making an effort all require work and lots of it. It’s the kind of work, unlike the aforementioned highly esteemed professions, that has no time clock and that we need to do forever.

Personally, there are times when it really feels like work. Like a slog. Like another, “Fuck. not again” task. Not to whine like the worst sober person ever but I have to constantly talk myself into doing these things, this work that I know will make me feel better. The fact I need to talk myself out of feeling uncomfortable is sign enough that I really, really need to continue doing this work. Intellectually I know all of this but y’all. I’m an entitled alcoholic. Don’t think I’d continue “doing the work” if there was a magical pill I could take once a day which would have the exact same effects. But even then I’d probably complain about taking the pill too, as my routine with my other medications has proven. I am, at the very core of my being, resistant to anything that makes me less miserable. Hence why the word work feels appropriate.

One day in early recovery after I had gotten my HIV diagnosis, I was complaining to a beloved sober friend who said to me very nonchalantly, “Meh. You take your pills, you got to meetings. What’s the big fucking deal?” He was right. It isn’t a big fucking deal but certainly becomes one if I don’t do all of the things that make this mental health miracle sparkle. This morning as I forced myself out the door to a meeting wherein I again forced myself to share all the crazy bullshit on my mind, it felt like work and work I did not want to do. But I did it anyway and one hour later I felt lighter, happier and okay with hanging out with me for the rest of the day. The people in the halls of recovery pounded into my brain this idea of contrary action, of doing stuff that I really didn’t want to do but just doing them anyway. Therefore, I do the work I need to stay sober not because I’m some sobriety olympian but because I’m a still sort of a hot mess that needs all the help he can get.

The more I think about it, we don’t need no stinking holiday to celebrate our work. Let those other hard-working folks have their days. We get to have complicated, beautiful, big, amazing, pain in the ass lives instead. And as Miss America as that sounds, that’s the real reward for doing the work. Plus, when you’re the boss of your recovery and doing the work all the time, you can have a damn cupcake whenever you want.

 

 

 

easier

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“I thought it would be easier.”

From a simple errand to the grocery store to a short flight to a neighboring state, we always think it should be and would be easier. After all, we live in technologically advanced times, everything should be easier.  So it’s a genuine shock to our pampered 21st-century selves when daily errands turn into a harrowing epic journeys involving things like –gasp!- standing in line or waiting on hold. We also say, “I thought it would be easier” after we’ve attempted something we weren’t at all familiar with but somehow our crazy ass ego told us it wouldn’t be so hard. “I thought it would be easier” in this case means, “Holy shit. This is hard and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Either way, we usually only say this once whatever we thought would be easier, turns out to be a colossal pain in the ass. Yet there are a lot of things that I think we can agree on that don’t seem easy at all. They are the sort of tasks that are dubbed as “pretty fucking hard” and therefore if you attempt these things, you know what you’re getting into. Climbing Mount Everest, taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court, childbirth, a marathon, being the leader of a country– none of those things sound easy. And yet if the ego is out of control enough, we’ll try one of these universally known as difficult tasks and be genuinely shocked when it doesn’t turn out to be a cakewalk.

Our president said these exact words in an interview with Reuters, published yesterday when talking about his first 100 days in office. I laughed naturally but let’s be clear I don’t think he’s funny or that our country is funny right now. People keep saying, “Well, he’s at least good for comedy!” No, asshole. Richard Pryor was good for comedy. We only laugh at this idiot to stop ourselves from hurling our bodies in front of speeding trains. I laughed in that, “This muthafucker” eye roll sort of way. I laughed because of all the things I think about being the president it being easy is not even on the list. I’ve always thought it looked pretty hard, to be honest. It sounds stressful, terrible, like a living nightmare. But not easy. I mean have you seen those guys after they leave office? They all look 500 years old with their skin the color of paste and like they haven’t eaten in four years. Yet our dear president thought it would be easier and according to the article, he misses driving and misses his old life. Sigh. Trust us, boo. We miss that for you too and wouldn’t begrudge you if you just skedaddled out of the White House in a puff gold dust, never to be seen again. Alas, that’s not going to happen. In fact, I’m of the Negative Nelly mindset that we’ll be stuck with him for 8 years.

Anyway, all of this is to say that thinking being the president would be easier is hilarious to me. I mean, easier than what? Building your own rocket in your backyard and going to Mars? Learning brain surgery online and performing it on your mom?  I guess thinking things will be easier is symptomatic of the our collective entitlement and as much as it pains me to admit this, I too, just like Whats-His-Face, have started things only to realize how hard they were once it was too late.

As delusional as it sounds, I actually thought it would be easy to get sober. I really believed I could maybe go to two or three meetings, learn how to drink normally and maybe even pick up a new boyfriend while I was there. Surely, there had to be a drive thru version of AA or an accelerated program? My rude awakening came at a meeting in a depressing as fuck library inside of a seniors center in downtown Los Angeles. A nice older man in a red sweater greeted me and even gave me a hug. He later shared that he’d been going to this meeting for 20 years. 20 goddamn years? I wanted to cry. I was going to have to sit in sad, shitty seniors centers for the next 20 years? Where was that speeding train when you needed it? Other people with 5 years, 10 years and even 11 months weren’t exactly helping me keep the dream alive about this being an in-and-out kind of jam.  I left that meeting utterly depressed and if it wasn’t for the cute rocker boy who said hi to me, I probably wouldn’t have come back. But I did come back to that meeting and others. I woke up to the fact around 60 days of sobriety that this was going to be a hard, that I was going to be fighting for my life. In fact, more major challenges were yet to come and things would get a hell of lot worse before they got better.

Sober people and people dealing with mental illness know that it isn’t easy. None of it. Despite time under your belt and doing all of the right things, life can still be hard. I was humbled with this very thought a couple of days ago. Sure, it’s infinitely better than it was before but I’d be lying if I said my existence has been 24 hours of butterflies and rainbows since I got sober in 2009. Sobriety has granted me the gift of being realistic and knowing that some things are going to be hard. Really hard. I’ve also been given the gift of boundaries. I know that it’s okay too say no to things that are stressful and not worth the effort. While I can’t speak for that guy with the powerful job that turned out to be hard (duh), I know that when I think things were going to be easier, it  really means I have no idea what challenges are coming next.

 

emergency, in bloom

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I woke up yesterday with a really strong feeling that I had to get going. I needed to leave. I wanted to get out. While I’m not currently punching a time clock and not really expected to show up anywhere (other than by the food dish to fill the bellies of my feline monsters), yesterday I just needed to go. A couple of weeks ago, I spied some cherry blossom trees in bloom down by the waterfront and for some reason, I really wanted to check them out. You know you’re reaching a certain age when a seasonal floral event is a “rouse you out of bed” sort of thing. Whether it was my age or an itch to see something springtime-ish, I just knew I had to GTFO. So drizzle be damned, I hightailed it over to the waterfront park.

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Yet when I got there it looked as if the poor trees had been crying pink tears. The path beneath them was dotted with petals. These lush blush-colored beauties were now mostly spring green and didn’t exactly offer up an apology for not living up to my geriatric, floral fantasy. Might as well walk the “floating bike path” was my thought. Okay. I didn’t know that it was even called a floating bike path until the bearded guy with a ponytail  told his bike tour group that’s what it was called. He also said it was the largest floating bike path in North America. So there you go. Armed with that little nugget of trivia, I marched forward. After coming from the driest winter in Colorado in quite some time, I’m still in love with the romance of walking in the rain. It’s still lovely and cinematic. Check in with me next year and I’ll let you know I how I feel but for now I’m happy to slosh around town in my boots.

While the natural beauty was sleepier than I had expected, I wasn’t bored visually. Portland has this rad mix of super industrial steel and old bridges mixed with flowering trees and leaves so green they look like Kermit decorated the joint. It’s man-made meets nature and they oddly seem to get along and even look fantastic together. Like the section of the path that runs parallel with the train tracks. As I walked it yesterday, a train was rumbling by while the water on the other side of me stayed calm and unimpressed. Standing there snapping photos, my body rocked back and forth. Soon, whatever I was thinking about was drowned out by the sound of train. It was exhilarating and meditative at the same time, if that makes any sense. Either way, I ‘m pretty sure some old cherry blossoms couldn’t pull that off.

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Splashes of street art were guideposts as I continued walking. Locks placed on the fences, Sharpie written declarations of love and perfectly placed illustrations all blended in as if they were meant to live there too.

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Walking, as I’ve mentioned before, is sort of my magic potion. I haven’t been feeling depressed lately but maybe a little lonely since the hubby’s not around for me to annoy. Also, the sluggishness of relocating has certainly taken its toll too. So moments like this one, doing something I love and doing it alone, that need to be hung on and slipped into my pocket. A very satisfied looking goose just hanging out on a log by himself, whom I bumped into a little further down the path, seemed to confirm this.

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An hour into my journey, I’d forgotten what had brought me there in the first place. I was calm and happily exhausted/hungry. I decided to call it and head back home. On my way past a firehouse nearby the waterfront, there it was: the reason, the emergency that made me leave my warm, toasty house.

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Fragrant and a candy color of pink I want my whole life to look like, there was a row of flowering trees with no one around. This private natural art show was on view in an unexpected place and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  I sniffed them and took a ridiculous amount of photos as the nonplussed firemen on their way into the station gave me a smirk and a “What Up, bro” head nod.  This little blooming surprise was the emergency I woke up for.  I just didn’t know it at the time.

Several hours later, the news of the US bombing Syria hit. While not unexpected, it certainly falls under the holy fuck category of things. Violent, depressing and sure to open a can of worms, this was a real emergency. The thought of the civilians taken out by such an action churns my stomach. It’s the kind of news that made me head to bed early and watch stupid Food Network Shows until I passed out.

In a post-news, pre-coffee haze, the thought hit me this morning, maybe things like enjoying nature, hanging out with friends, reading, laughing and walking are vital in times like ours. My time here on this little rock is limited and I want to squeeze in as much amazing as possible. Sure, to look the other way and pretend everything is just fabulous isn’t a cool way to live your life. Acting oblivious to the world around me has never, ever done me any favors. But I also refuse to spend my days huddled in fear and feel victimized by every piece of terrible news. My only option? To take all of it seriously, to help people when I can, to laugh when I can and to get out and enjoy beauty. Especially when it feels like an emergency.

doubt, fired.

“Holy shit. Not another fucking Robin Williams meeting.”

I remember thinking that a little over two years ago today. I was thinking this and fuming as I sat in one of those rooms where people who have what I have talk about trying not to drink, do drugs or kill themselves. It was a horrible thought to have, granted. But since his passing a week earlier, I had literally been to 7 meetings where the topic was how fucking sad people were that Robin Williams had died. I mean, I got it. I got that he was a special part of people’s childhoods. I got that for this dark and sad group of people, his comedy probably provided a lot of joy to folks who normally didn’t have any. I got that he was an addict like ourselves and whenever one of our own passes, its horribly heartbreaking, whether they’re famous or not. I got all of this and I was still annoyed. I’m gay and alcoholic so in truth me being annoyed probably didn’t have anything to do with Robin Williams. Annoyed is just sometimes my old crusty default setting. I was probably just irritated that we weren’t talking about me in these meetings and that we were obsessed with the celestial being that was Robin Williams.

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As you may have picked up on, I am a movie snob and a half. Therefore, the later half of Williams’ career is something I resolutely turned my nose up at. Basically,1998’s Patch Adams and everything that followed it can be filed in Sean’s NMKOM (Not My Kind of Movie) file. Fluffy family stuff and flatulence based comedies are not my jam so the charms of films like Old Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad and License to Wed would most likely be lost on me. Still, as a performer his power was impossible to deny. I liked him best on stage and unhinged. Like most addicts, he was at his best when he was outrageous and honest. Like here when he talks about alcoholism.

When he died, before hearing sober people yammer about him for a week, I remembered my own Robin Williams moment from 2006. He came into the restaurant on Sunset Blvd where I used to work. It was one of those locals-and-cool-people-only places tucked away in and he was with a regular customer, Bobcat Goldthwait. They had just come from a meeting, Williams told us. His battles with drugs and alcohol were well-chronicled so he clearly embraced this part of this personality and seemed open about it. Seeing as it was a crowded Saturday night and the place was tiny, Williams and Goldthwait were undoubtedly in a fishbowl. It struck me how good-natured and sweet he was for a guy who was clearly being gawked at and watched. By this time he’d been famous for decades and overcome a lot of demons so he handled that dining room and everything with the kind of charm you’d expect from a star like Robin Williams. I was far, far, far from sober in 2006 therefore the triumphs in his personal life, like much of his film resume, were also lost on me. Suffice to say, two years after his death, I actually get it.

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Here in 2016, the battle to overcome mental illness and addiction is still very real. Sadly, maybe even worse than it was then. With an exploding heroin epidemic and a healthcare system stacked against mental illness, Williams’ effort to simply stay afloat is nothing short of heroic. We know now that Williams’ committed suicide in 2014, something more than one of us on this journey has certainly thought about. Personally, a shocking relapse in my inner-circle of early recovery has my own head spinning today. Someone I love with years of recovery is no longer sober. It’s as simple and heartbreaking as that. So I guess what I need to tell myself on August 11th while thinking about Robin Williams and my dear friend is that I need to stay. I need to keep going and keep fighting. More than that, I want to. When doubt creeps in and tells me it’s too hard, I need to tell it to kindly fuck off and keep moving. Because, as a movie snob and a half, I know in my heart that a tragic ending is not the only way for this to end.