enough of never enough

7372321_14564273372092_rId10.jpgWhen did it start? How did it happen? Was it childhood? Doesn’t it always come back to childhood? Surely, that was it. Although, maybe not. After all, I never went to bed hungry. I always got everything on my birthday list. The lights were never out and the house was always warm. By those standards, I always was taken care and had enough. A deeper, no-nonsense part of my brain that maybe I don’t want to listen to right now on my first cup of coffee says, “But did you have enough love?” Damn, girl.  I don’t know. Probably not. But whatever it is, I have a brain that tells me I don’t have enough.

Scarcity feels like a shameful and dramatic word for an American like me to use. Like here we are in the land of endless crap with more people than ever. How could we possibly feel scarcity? Google news search “scarcity” and you’ll come up with some places that deserve that word.  Places in India with water scarcity or inner city areas facing a teacher scarcity. That’s some real shit. My buried deep inside of me scarcity, and I know this already, comes solely from me. My scarcity exists because I let it. If I am not hysterical and if I am willing to see the truth I know for a fact that I have house, food to eat, regular income, medical care, etc. Still, as an addict, who lived so long waiting for the next high, re-wiring my brain out of scarcity mode is fucking hard.

I promised last year when I started this conversation with you that I would talk about everything. Thus here we are talking about finances, careers, jobs and other sorts of things that make me feel icky. Which is funny because I have no problem blurting out 700 words about doing meth or feeling insane but talking about this stuff feels particularly vulnerable. I don’t know why. I guess because I have this notion that as a person my age should have their shit together financially. My ego wants you to think I’m some baller or that the very least a person who doesn’t have single digits in their bank account. Yet the real truth is I’ve always been pretty terrible in the financial department. Naturally, as an addict I have the myriad of overdrawn accounts, evictions and bad checks in my past. But now 8.5 years sober, I still struggle to balance my finances and currently making enough money.

Since moving, my employment status has been all over the place. Piecing together freelance writing gigs and side job shenanigans has been harder than I thought it would be. Sure, some of it, as my husband reminds me, is the new city deal. I moved here, unlike him whose job brought him here, without a job. Therefore, he assures me, it’s normal that I’d have a period of readjusting. And he’s right. Plus, it isn’t like I’ve had zero opportunities and no money coming in. Just not enough to really cover my bills. I’ve been proactive in the meantime, however. I’ve applied for tons of other jobs, submitted writing to all kinds of places and I’ve signed up for every depressing and bleak job website and their respective (and equally terrible) email newsletters. In general, I’ve run around like a crazy person to make it click, to make this click, to make me click into a place where I feel like I’m contributing and where I don’t have to worry. And the result? Nada.

So many “no”, “no thank you” and plain old no response answers have beaten me into a place of submission. I’ve even readjusted the goals, widened the net and tried different things. And the answer has universally still been the same. Sigh like for two hours sigh. Yesterday, I had a moment. It was a hard moment but a good moment. In this little moment of mine, it hit me. It wasn’t that there isn’t enough jobs or enough money or that the city of Portland is conspiring against me from financially succeeding. It was me. It was this broken brain hell-bent on scarcity that was causing the issues. Damn, girl: the sequel. “Things” were not going to change unless I changed my thinking.

Oh goody. Another opportunity for painful spiritual growth. I’m thrilled. Yet it feels like the only way. The external is not budging and doing what I want it to do, the hateful bastard. So it’s up to me. And to be completely honest I am not even sure what this will look like. More meditation, more faith, more gratitude all seem like the place to start.  Changing my bitch ass attitude about the jobs I do have and about the money I do have coming in is another thing I can do too. But the rest of? Honeychild, I really don’t know. But what I know is this: I’m hitting a bottom around this lie of scarcity and this fraud that I don’t have enough or that I am not enough. And from what I know about hitting bottom, it’s an excellent place to start and the only way from here is up.

 

 

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.

 

 

blow shit up

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From about May 1st through September 1st, my old neighborhood of Echo Park would explode. Most of my neighbors participated in ongoing illegal firework marathons from sun down to sun up. I’d say it was a Latino thing but it also just felt like an Echo Park thing. Everybody made stuff explode and even if you weren’t into it, you got use to it and learned to ignore it. Even our Echo Park ice cream man sold actual bombs hidden in with the Bomb Pops. I was too busy with the 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job of imploding my own life to ever really light fireworks, aside from a few sparklers. Even a drunken disaster like myself knew that literally playing with fire while inebriated was a terrible idea. But there’s one thing I did love during Fourth of July in my old hood: the fireworks at Dodger’s stadium.

Perfectly visible from out balcony, the fireworks at Dodger’s stadium lasted a few nights on or around The Fourth, depending on the game schedule. Here was a beautiful, big budget, house shaking display of fireworks practically in our house.  It was a front row to all things festive without ever having to leave home. This was key since the Fourth like everything else centered around getting loaded. The problem (or one of the problems, anyway) was that since the fireworks lasted all week, the partying was usually kicked up into a higher gear too. Naturally, when you drink like a lost Barrymore, celebrating the Fourth of July soon becomes not so fun and kind of a hot mess nightmare like the other 364 days of the year. In fact, the holiday is so associated with blackouts and drunken brawls in my mind that I can barely hear the words “Fourth of July” without shuddering.

Flash forward to a 8 and half years sober and in Portland, thousands of miles away mentally and physically from my old LA holidays, I feel more inspired than ever to blow shit up. True, you still won’t catch with matches next to a pile of explosives but the desire the explode is strong in 2017. After two decades of being self-destructive, the way I blow things up has thankfully changed. But it’s certainly still there. I mean so far this year, I’ve moved to a different state, had job changes and a major creative shift. Plus I have a big trip to Europe coming up in the fall and a few more plans to shake things up before the years ends.

Creatively is where I’m feeling this the most these days. I have so many pursuits I’m interested in(more podcasting, more public speaking, more food writing) and things I’m excited to work on (my book!!!) that I’m a little like a kid trying to pick out a toy– EVERYTHING LOOKS COOL AND I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND!!!! This kind of excitement is good, in my opinion.When I stay here and focus on the joy of storytelling and making stuff for me and not for some premeditated result then it all feels really cool and fun. These days, I have an overwhelming feeling with creative endeavors of, “Why the fuck not?” Like why not go after things that excite me? Why not try new stuff? Why not make as many cool things as I can? Thus far I haven’t found a good answer.

The only thing that stops me here is fear. Fear tells me I have no talent. Fear tells me I have no time. Fear tells me why bother because there’s already a million people doing what I’m doing. Ugh. Fuck fear. And fear should be the first thing we blow up. Without it, shaking things up, making big life changes and blowing shit up doesn’t seem scary. After all, we need a little smoke, fire and debris when we blow stuff up. It’s part of the process. Nothing changes unless there’s an explosion first. This very planet that you read this here blog on is proof of that. Sure, there is uncertainty after an explosion and sure there are some things that won’t ever be the same. But this is good. To be honest, I think America, on the day where its citizens are all blowing stuff up, is currently blowing up too. And it isn’t cute. But the more things evolve, I think it’s necessary. Lots of times when things explode it’s because the current way of operating is no longer working. I know that was definitely true when my own life erupted in 2009. Each time a personal shakeup has happened, regardless of how painful its felt in the moment, I’ve desperately needed it. And even thoguh my life is good, I need to keep blowing up the stuff, the ideas, the behaviors that no longer works and let new stuff in. And maybe you need it right now too?

So Happy Independence Day. Here’s to blowing shit up. I’ll bring the matches.

 

Previously On The Seanologues

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You know what I miss the most about old Aaron Spelling shows like Dynasty or Melrose Place, I mean besides the shoulder pads and catfights? I miss the voiceover before each episode, usually done by a cast member like John Forsythe or Heather Locklear that said, “Last time on Melrose Place” or “Previously on Dynasty…” It was this 45 second way to catch up on everything you missed or forgot over the last week. So dramatic and cheesy and so something we wouldn’t do today because we just sit down devour a whole series in one sitting like Garfield does lasagna. Wow. A Garfield reference and Aaron Spelling references. Way to keep it current. Anyway, I was thinking of recaps and more specifically recapping this here blog. It’s on my mind because today the is the year anniversary of The Seanologues! It got me thinking how in the world would I ever recap the last year?

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”- Lewis Carrol

Okay fine, Lewis. That’s where I’ll start. I sat down last spring with an idea that I wanted to talk about everything. My old beloved blog was mainly recovery based and I loved it dearly but I wanted a new space to say more. The upshot to getting older for me is that I now feel okay saying whatever the hell I want, whenever I want. The more years I have, the less fucks I have to give about what people think. Thus, The Seanologues as an idea was born. My first posts I wrote about pop culture and while they’re fine posts, I don’t really cut loose until two weeks into the journey. A real, real shitty thing happened in the world, that thing being the attack on a gay club in Orlando on June 12th. The news, unlike any headline in a really long time, devastated me. It felt personal. It felt awful. And I felt hopeless. I turned to this blog and wrote down my feelings. I wrote it just for me. I cried when I wrote it and I released it. This blog was suddenly more than just a blog to me but also a tool to channel what I was feeling. Turns out, this thing I wrote the day after Orlando struck a chord with other people too. I’m forever grateful to anybody who commented or read that piece. It gave me the motivation to keep going and changed the course of this blog.

After the doors of honesty had been blown open, there was no looking back. Which is fantastic because the last year of my life has been a roller coaster. From travel to death to moving and lest we forget major world news, the signs were clear that I pick one hell of a year to write honestly about my feelings and my life. However, just being a blah, blah, blah space to whine about my life wasn’t enough for me. As a writer, I wanted these pieces to be entertaining and able to stand on their own. To the best of my ability, I tried (and sometimes failed) to keep pushing the content to say more. I didn’t want to repeat myself or write things just to make other people happy. Time and time again, what I learned was the pieces that sounded the most like me were the ones that were the best.

I bring this up because if you are thinking about blogging or writing and don’t know where to start, be a good narcissist and start with yourself. Seriously. Your tone, your story, your perspective. Ain’t nobody got those things but you. For me, the honesty thing works best when I can have a laugh at myself. As the year went on, the posts I felt the best about were the ones that told some truth I never said out loud but were also really funny. Two benchmarks for this blog happened when I talked about being a drunk mess at summer barbecues and when I talked about my ass. These tell you all you need (or perhaps more than you ever wanted) to know about me as a writer and human being. By making these uncomfortable things to talk about more amusing, I let myself off the hook as an imperfect human being. This is integral for me as a writer and person in recovery alike. I need reminders to lighten the fuck up on a regular basis so if writing one liners helps me do that than so be it.

I continued to write about pop culture and the more I did it, the better it felt and sounded. Finding a way to interject my voice into a topic I love was tricky at first but with more time, the pieces got stronger.  Again, if it was something that moved me and I was passionate about it, I could really have fun writing about it. This came into focus in April as I blogged everyday. Forcing myself to create new works each day utterly changed me as a writer and it’s something I cannot recommend enough. By the end of the month, I felt my voice was more defined and I could talk about anything including pop culture in the most Sean way possible.

So what happened over the last year? I grew up. I fell apart. I leaned in. I moved on. I changed. I stayed the same. But mainly, I kept going. And The Seanologues will keep going too! In fact, many of these essays you’ve read over the last year will make their way into a collection I’m planning on publishing as a book. This means I’m starting at the beginning, as suggested by the King, but I’m far from reaching the end.

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.

please talk about me when I’m gone

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What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

Rinse and repeat four thousand times. Sure, sure, sure. I believe this. Or I try to. See, I know it’s true and even for a narcissist like me the very idea can actually be comforting. Knowing that nobody’s opinion of me is actually important is a relief. Like if I am really “there” in that head space of truly and joyfully not giving a shit about what people think, it can provide a whole lot of freedom. Of course the whole idea of social media hinges on what people think about you and this is a tad difficult to reconcile. Still, I know in my heart that what people think about me is none of my business. Well, at least until I die, anyway.

Oh trust me we’re about to take self-obsession to a whole other level so buckle up. The level of the afterlife, specifically.  I do know that I can’t actually control what people think about when I die or maybe I can but that’s not something I’ll find out until I’m like dead. Uh duh. Still, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what sort of legacy my big ass personality will leave behind. Listen, my real hope is that I’m not so exhausting that I kill off all the people around me. Likewise, I don’t want my departure from this realm to be a “Thank God that bitch is gone!” sort of thing. I also don’t have grand illusions of monuments being erected or holidays being launched in my honor after I die. Of course, I am open to these things but I am not counting on them. This all sounds odd, I know but I have been thinking about it a lot lately. At age 44, I spend entirely too much time wondering about death and old age all the other things I didn’t think would physically happen when I was drinking and using drugs. Not in a morbid way though. More like a “Hmm. I wonder what the hell that’ll be like” sort of way. I know death is a train on its own timetable that I cannot stop and I don’t wish to. But I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t curious about what happens after it picks me up from the station.

My sister, who is sober and living in Florida and therefore proof that those two things can in fact coexist, was telling me a story the other day about a woman she knows from the rooms of recovery. This woman, in her 80’s recently died, causing a shockwave of sadness amongst her sober community. She had been able to cobble together 18 months of continuous sobriety after years of struggling to get sober. It’s an incredible accomplishment at any age. So imagine my sister’s shock and disappointment when nary a mention of this woman’s brave struggle against alcoholism even came up at the memorial. Instead, it was a ceremony rich in religious practices that were more about her family than her own. My sister felt like it was slap in the face to this woman who had by all accounts busted her ass to get and stay sober. We then agreed that if our respective funerals were given an unwanted religious makeover that we would independently haunt this earth in a manner that would make Amityville Horror look like a housewarming. We also agreed “that” part of our story was worth mentioning and honoring in death. After all, it’s a heroic battle that should be celebrated. There’s no doubt that a bout with cancer or time spent in the military would be heralded. Thus we came to the conclusion overcoming addiction should be treated the same way.  I mean for us. You do whatever you want with your funeral and haunt this earth however you choose.

But yeah I think when I die, it would be nice for my whole story to be told. Not like I plan on dying soon, as I am from a decidedly salty stock of people who tend to hang on for 90 years and act sassy until their very final moments. Still, I fought hard for this whole story, dammit and would like it all to be remembered. The idea of having people who only knew me sober at my funeral is a nice one. The idea of people being there who saw the whole journey is even nicer. And since my cross to bear in this life as a chronic bullshitter is telling the truth, these testimonies to my character might as well be as honest and funny as humanly possible. It would be very “off brand” to have it any other way. Might as well celebrate the whole picture, warts and all. As long as it’s not in a church and there’s 80’s music and tacos, I think there’s nothing from my personal life that couldn’t be talked about in death.

Sure, I can’t control what happens at my funeral, although my grandmother who had everything from the readings to the food and the location on lock well before she died would argue with this sentiment. But I can control what happens until then. I can try my best to be less of a dick on a daily basis. I can try to tell people I love them whenever and wherever I can. I can take minute and smile and think, “Wow. I’m fucking lucky to be walking in the sunshine right now” like I did the other day as I strolled home after buying flowers.

Therefore, consider this my official notice that you can say whatever you like about me at my funeral as long as it’s the truth and as long as you say a lot of it. Also, conditions and terms of the aforementioned haunting are subject to change depending on what kind of shit goes down over the next few decades.

the despair & depression disco dance party playlist

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The road map of my “journey” with drugs and alcohol can be done by venue. Journey is a hilarious word as if it required some old-timey scroll map and a brass telescope. Anyway, the progression for me is easy to chart. What started at teen goth and alternative clubs moved into raves and warehouse parties which moved to gay bars followed by all kinds of clubs and bars in Los Angeles which landed me at dive bars and soon enough drinking seven nights at home on my couch.  All of those locales naturally came with a soundtrack and as a lifelong music freak, one-time record store employee and DJ, I really thought the reason why I went out was because of the music. Knowing what I know now, I can see it was about the music but it was also about getting fucked up. And towards the end, it was just easier to get drunk and listen to music at home on my couch.

2009, the year I got sober, also had a soundtrack. I was riding the bus an hour each way everyday from Echo Park to Santa Monica for college which gave me lots of time in my headphones. Most days, I’d find a spot on the bus and hide in the back to listen to Jenny Lewis on repeat so I could cry my face off. When you’ve recently been evicted, watched you relationship of 11 years implode and quit drinking and using drugs, you kind of don’t give a shit about what people think so crying on the bus came with zero shame. Plus, its Los Angeles. People are so self-involved you’d practically have to be naked and on fire to get people to notice and even then they probably wouldn’t unless they recognized you from a reality show. In addition to my boo-hoo playlist, I was oddly drawn back into the electro music that I loved and played in my drinking days. But this time it happened in my headphones while waiting at downtown LA bus stops.

Although that little iPod I used to clutch onto like Linus does his blanket has long flown off to the electronics heaven in the sky, some of those songs still remain. Thanks to the Cloud and Apple’s inability to let anything go, I still own a lot of what I listened to the year I got sober. I recently looked at some of those songs again as they now follow me on my phone as if it’s still 2009 and was surprised at the soundtrack that pulled me through the hardest year of my life.

Basically everything off M83’s excellent Saturdays=Youth record tells the story of my 2009. Moody, teenage in spirit but adult in loss, the album was the perfect soundtrack for someone whose life was being rebuilt. I specifically remember listening to this beautiful track walking around downtown LA and waiting for the bus.

This is the song that pushed me down the rabbit hole of playlists past. I heard it on Pandora a few days ago and was immediately transported to that year and all of those feelings. Undeniably dancey and catchy, I’m sure I identified on some level with the dark as hell lyrics like:

In the darkness, A killer awaits
To kill a life, And the lies you make
You do another, So this death can live
Just keep on dancing.

Tapping into my 1980’s soul who loved bands Human League and New Order, “Lights and Music” was one of those songs I could just blast and not think about anything. Sure, I was a million miles away from the party atmosphere they talk about in the song but the dance party in my mind was lit, y’all.

Speaking of the 80’s, Cyndi Lauper is so ingrained in who I am as gay man that it would require another post and a box of tissue to really scrape the surface of how much she changed my life as a child. So of course she was there again in 2009 with this track from the tragically unappreciated Bring Ya To The Brink.

Turned up loud enough, this song by Everything But the Girl frontwoman Tracey Thorn was best enjoyed in 2009 while walking at night and participating in text fights with my ex. Like I said, everything has a soundtrack.

Seeing Karen O live on stage is like watching a hurricane turn into a person. I had totally forgotten until I scanned my library how much I played the hell out of this song. Maybe in my weakened state I was hoping to summon Karen’s fierce magic would rub off on me.

The epitome of #Underrated, this rollicking jam sums up every ripped open, pissed off desperate emotion I was going through at the time. Lyrics like, “Oh my god. You think I’m in control” and “Find a cure for my life” still punch me in the gut today and take me back to that place where the world felt like it was ending.

To listen to these songs now is like watching a movie about another person. They vividly compose a picture of a life in peril, a life in progress, a life with no certainty. But it’s a life so alien to the cozy and relatively sane one I have today. I can hear these tracks and sing and dance along to them but the picture of this guy in utter despair is still crystal clear. Nobody told me as I schlepped myself on the bus to school and AA meetings that the chances I’d come out the other end and stay sober weren’t good. Nobody told me that I was walking a thin line between life and death. Nobody told me that the numbers and statistics of a person like me staying sober weren’t exactly in my favor.

Or maybe they did and I just turned the music up and kept walking.

 

a hot mess, now at room temperature

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You really need to get your shit together, they told me.

“They” were friends and family. “They” were coworkers. But “they” didn’t exactly say it in so many words as so much gently imply that perhaps maybe there were better ways to conduct my life that didn’t make me feel like a walking, smoking human dumpster. No, I was the one who said it to myself over and over again. “You really need to get your shit together” is pretty much the through line of mental thought I had for the last 5 years of my drinking and using. Let me tell you, that’s a bummer of a message to play on repeat.  Thankfully, drugs and alcohol make it go away very quickly. “You really need to get your shit together.” Oh yeah? Lemme pour tequila and cocaine on you until you shut up.

See, nobody ever wants to hear that their shit isn’t together. Nobody wants to be told, even by themselves, that they are a disaster. We all live a delusion on some level that we are absolutely nailing this whole life thing. Besides, compared to, like, a serial killer or somebody living with kittens under a bridge, my shit was together. So I couldn’t pay my bills and was hung over 7 days a week. At least, I wasn’t wanted by the law or trying to hide a body. These are admittedly low bars to set for the whole “getting your shit together” thing. Alas, with that message playing for so long and things getting progressively worse, I had to “get my shit together.” 8 and a half years later, my shit is together. But is it really?

By telling my story and writing about being an addict and alcoholic, I’ve landed in a magical yet bizarre place. I am incredibly lucky to get to write about my past and my recovery. Each time I do, I feel the burden of my old life loosen and it all gets more progressively ridiculous and more funny as time goes on. It is indisputably a gift and I cherish being connected online to so many other writers in recovery who day after day share their story of getting better. For me, writing about this stuff is therapeutic and if somebody else happens to get something out of it, fantastic. I think of it as a way of being of service so I try not to get fucked up about comments and page views and collective digital approval, which is a drug in its own right. We who write about this sort of stuff are part of a community online which is truly amazing. This community has spilled into my real life and lifted me up in the most unexpected ways.

Yet it ain’t perfect. I don’t share many of the popular recovery stories out there. I’m not a high bottom drunk. I don’t hate calling myself an addict (please do not get me started on that). I don’t do inspirational memes or go on yoga retreats. All of those things are fine but that’s not my sobriety. I’m also not straight (spoiler alert lol) so I’m kind of the lone gay, pink wolf in this pack which is actually fantastic as lord knows miss thing likes being unique. The other thing? I’m not a sobriety expert or sober coach or life coach or life fixer. God no. I’d be terrible at that. I am simply an experience sharer which all brings me back to the top of the post. Sometimes, most of the time, the experience is that I’m still a mess and far from being some sort of mental health icon.8 years in, I really wish I could tell you I never acted like an addict ever again and all of my character defects disappeared in a poof of lavender glitter. Likewise, I wish I could tell you my self-esteem is rock solid and I’m just insanely in love with myself. Sadly, I cannot.

Two days ago, after shopping for new clothes, eating a delicious meal and having time with friends, I still felt empty. That old hole in myself that needs to be filled but given its endless nature can never be, popped back up.  I wanted something, anything to fix me. But today I know the truth about that hole. No amount of Netflix or chocolate or dick or drugs or alcohol can fill it. I should have laid down or reached out or went to a meeting but instead I just drove myself nuts for while until I got tired and went to bed. Yesterday, when I woke up I had an emotional hangover. I prayed. I meditated. I ate a great breakfast and I vowed to be nicer to myself. Lo and behold, I was nicer to myself and I felt better. I woke up today happy and well rested. Yet I realize that this is all a moment-by-moment proposition all contingent on how I take care of myself.

It’s also why I can’t be a sobriety or mental health guru. I’m just some idiot who was fortunate to get help from other addicts and alcoholics and managed to stay sober, one muthafucking day at a time. I no longer drink when life gets hard or annoying (and it does frequently). I have tools I can use and will begrudgingly do so when I’m in enough pain. That being said, there’s a recipe to a happier, more Sean that even if I follow to the letter doesn’t ensure total daily bliss. Even with money in my bank account, a roof over my head and years of sobriety under my belt, my shit isn’t necessarily together. I am still a hot mess but now I’m served at room temperature.

I didn’t feel anything. Maybe I need more.

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For a platinum level drug addict like myself, remembering specific times that I was high is difficult to say the least. That’d be like our dear president trying to remember the people he’s blocked on Twitter. There’s just too damn many of them, darling.

As I sat down this morning and sipped coffee, I scanned the internet for prompts, inspirations and something to write about.  Turns out, today is kind of a fucked up day to look for writing prompts. Yeah 1,000 words on Hitler’s birthday? I’m gonna pass on that. Ditto with the 18th anniversary of Columbine. Although as a Colorado native, I certainly have thoughts on all of that but I feel like I covered them pretty well back when the Aurora shooting happened in 2012. After briefly considering a post that would simultaneously have paintings by Joan Miro while talking about Jessica Lange movies, both of whom were also born today, I remembered it was “420.” That “holiday” gets all the eye-rolling and air quotes from me because I think it’s ridiculous. Having just lived in Denver and seen 420 stupidity up close and personal, let’s just say I’ve had my fill with poorly dressed stoned white people people dancing in the street. Still, I was sure I could come up with a funny story about smoking pot. After all, I smoked it for a long time so there had to be fodder in there somewhere. But again, when you’re were high as much as I was it gets rolled into some big cerebral blob and none of it is all that entertaining. What I did remember, though, was the first time. The time it didn’t work.

At my late 80’s mountain brewery town junior high, there were a lot of “Jens.” You know, Jennifers who turned 13 and after trying out a heart over the “i” in 5th grade, suddenly landed on a more casual approach to their moniker. My first time smoking pot was at Cool Jen’s house. Cool Jen is not to be confused with Theatre Jen or Jen Who Wore Her Collar Popped Up On Her Polo Shirts. Cool Jen wore denim jackets and acid wash jeans, lots of lip gloss and listened to Mötley Crüe. Although certainly more stoner/rocker than my new wave listening self, Cool Jen’s appeal was universal. Me and my best friend along with a bunch of other randoms wound up at Cool Jen’s house. We were going to smoke pot. By now, at age 14, I had already drank enough times to consider myself a seasoned partier so pot was the most logical step and it was a big deal.

We’d all talked about it endlessly, trying to figure out what our exit strategies were, how to deal with our parents and basically how and what it would feel like. It felt extra risqué for me because not only was my dad sober but he was also a narcotics officer on the police force. Plot twist/irony alert/of course he was. It would be like if Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple secretly ate Wendy’s and shopped at Old Navy. The rebelliousness of the act was certainly part of the appeal but smoking weed held the promise of getting outside myself and that’s what really excited me. I already knew that drinking made me disappear and was now open to any and all other substances that would help me do the same.

Thankfully, one of the Marks were there to help guide us new pot smokers through the experience. Like Jens, there were a lot of Marks at our school. Unlike Jens, I think they all of them had long hair and smoked weed thus making them truly indistinguishable. Mark lit what I’m 82% positive was a joint (but can’t really remember because drugs) and passed it around. A smoker of stolen Marlboro red’s already, I knew the basics of the act so when it got to me I knew what to do and I was already instructed to hold it in. Some kids coughed and wheezed. Other held it in and let out massive clouds of billowing smoke. Someone lit it for me because I was (and still sort of am) was as coordinated as an aging walrus. I held it in and let it out and passed it on. It went around and round and then it was done. We hung out in Cool Jen’s yard and listened to music. And everybody laughed and had red eyes. Everybody but me. It didn’t work. I was pissed. Maybe I did it wrong? Maybe it was bad weed? Maybe I needed more? Another girl (not a Jen. Maybe a Megan?) there assured that it was normal for a first time and that it doesn’t work on some people. Other kids told me I should try it again sometime. And that’s all I needed to hear. I went on to try it again soon after that and it worked. So did acid right after that and so did ecstasy and cocaine a few years after that.

Some 30 years later, this the part of the story I find really funny. I know there are non-addicts out in the universe who try drugs and alcohol and it doesn’t work for them so they never do it again. This fascinates me! Because every drug or drink, even the terrible ones that made me want to scrape my skin off or puke my guts out, I tried again. Some several times, you know just to make sure. Special K, Gin, Crystal Meth all things I really hated but did for extended periods of time because maybe I was doing it wrong or maybe I just needed more? This is not normal. It would be like continuing to eat Pad Thai even though you had a peanut allergy. What this memory really does however is shout at the top of its lungs, “YOU ARE AN ADDICT AND YOU ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, DUMBASS!” which is something I need to hear and remember on the daily, especially on 420.

 

crawl out or stay buried.

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By now, crawling my way out, is second nature. I’ve crawled out of addiction, physical illness, toxic work situations, bad relationships. Likewise, I’ve crawled out of mental states like depression, self-pity, despair and delusion. With all of this crawling, my life is sort of like that scene from Die Hard where Bruce Willis crawls through broken glass. Yes, I just referenced Die Hard. And that concludes the entire macho contents of this blog for 2017. While all of this crawling and pulling myself up from my bootstraps (which I’ve never had but I’m open to if they come in style) sounds heroic and worthy of that Willis reference, the truth of the matter is I don’t always crawl out, I get pulled.

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I think I should start by saying I think feeling depressed about the world is valid. Toughening up and pretending that it’s all good in the global hood is some fucking crazy bullshit thinking. Last night, the combination of late night coffee and fear of more mothers of all bombs kept me tossing and turning. I mean we went from zero to holy shit in the war department in a matter of days and the world feels pretty fucked. Therefore, tossing and turning at night concerned about humanity is progress for me. After all, I spent 20 years thinking only about myself and not feeling anything.

Yet as a person who also struggles with depression, I have to keep it real. I need to be careful I don’t let legitimate sadness be the door to debilitating despair where my chemical imbalance ends up driving the neurological bus. So how do I crawl out? Moreover, can I even crawl out if things feel really bad?

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While becoming the ruler of CatAndBlanket Kingdom and never leaving my bed feels like a great option, especially when shits getting blown up, it isn’t realistic. Therefore I have to do the opposite of what I want to do. When I want to sleep all day, I force myself to take a walk. When my life feels overwhelming, I tackle one small project like cleaning the bathroom or answering emails. When I feel really useless, I start writing. And when I just want to soak and simmer in sadness all by myself, I reach out to people. If you’re like me all of this sounds like work and it is. It’s “taking action” as they call it 12 step programs. Taking action. What a drag of a phrase. It makes tired just typing it. Mainly because it implies that I’ll have to do actually something and can’t rely on magic to make it all better. Damn you, magic.  But I now have tools and after the requisite griping and feeling really terrible, I do finally take action. Doing things that make me feel good and just being nice to myself go a long way in helping me crawl out. I know I have options today, which given the alternative, is a real blessing.

I was promoted to write this today, from a bakery that’s testing my serenity by playing Enya and Norah Jones, because my heart is breaking for all the people who don’t feel like they have options. I heard from my AA BFF the other day that many people I loved from early sobriety have gone out recently. This sort of news never stops being terrible. People you loved who gave you hope are now suddenly out of hope and gone. Elsewhere, I have friends and family members also trying to crawl out their own mental illnesses and addictions. Some are fighting and crawling as fast as they can. Others have paused but are hoping the strength will come while others still are stuck and might never come out. So many beautiful people who deserve more are all feeling like they’ll have to stay buried. Like I said, heartbreaking.

I guess my point in writing all of this, other than posting pictures of animals crawling out of holes, is to let you know that today I’m okay. Today, I’m better than okay. I’m sober. I’m safe. I’m loved. And I’m strong enough to pull you out if you need a hand.