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.

my therapists poop in a box

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18 days in and it’s come to this: a post about cats. Between yesterday’s post about my ass and today’s about my cats, I’m clearly on a downward blogging spiral. Buckle up!

However, these little creatures are on my mind today because with my husband out-of-town for six weeks, let’s just say that me and the cats have spent a lot of time together. So much so that my older cat Maeby can often be seen sitting by the front door as if she’s planning her escape or at least waiting for another damn human to walk thru the door. You can almost hear moan, “Really? Are we sure the other guy isn’t coming back?” To be fair, Maeby has a special affection for Michael. When he was home over the weekend, she slept by his side and followed him from room to room. I don’t begrudge her that at all. Trust me, I’m sick of me too. Still, I’m grateful for their little furry behinds because believe it or not they’ve helped me a lot.

Maeby, whom we inherited from Michael’s old roommate and who is named after Maeby Funke from Arrested Development, is the shy but sweet and thoughtful type. Happy to say hello but happier still to give you some space. Larry, on the other hand, whom we inherited from a suburban Denver alley, is more in your face. Unlike his older and more reserved sister, Larry will come darting from whatever part of the house he’s napping in just to say hi and hang out the minute you come home. He’s a little more type A and outgoing so it’s no mystery which cat truly gets me. These two are both survivors in their own right, Larry being an orphan and Maeby getting shifted from multiple owners. They know something about adapting to new surroundings and getting settled.

Carefree, crazy Larry and relaxed af Maeby don’t really give a crap about my existential non-crisis of being new in town. After all, they’ve somehow managed to make themselves right at home despite being basically snatched from their old lives against their will, shoved on an airplane for the first time and dropped off somewhere totally foreign.  I think I can handle not knowing where the dairy aisle is at a new grocery store.  When we were first planning this move, Michael and I were a tad worried about how Maeby would react. The last time we moved it took her 3 months to stop hiding and resenting us. Like the good cat of an alcoholic, she can hold a grudge. We were not, however, concerned about Larry. After all, this is the goofball life of the party who actually likes the vet’s office and sleeps in his carrier. Turns out, we were wrong on both counts.

In a feline plot twist, our older lady took to apartment living like someone’s recently divorced mother-in-law while Larry had a total meltdown. Within our first 30 minutes here. We lost our damn cats. We went to the grocery store and when we came back, they were gone. Like vanished, which is nearly impossible as it’s a large loft-like space with almost zero places to hide. As Michael panicked and ran down the massive hallways, I heard a little meow. The little rascals had wedged themselves behind the refrigerator and snuggled up together. Flash forward to a few hours later upon returning home from IKEA, we were greeted with howling coming from a unknown source. One of our critters was obviously in distress but they weren’t back in the refrigerator hiding spot. With a visual on Maeby, we knew it was Larry. After another panicked search, we discovered that somehow the lunatic had fallen in between our two upper kitchen cabinets. The physics of all of this is still perplexing one month later but all I know is after I hopped up on the counter, I spied his skinny long black legs pointed toward the ceiling. I tried to grab him but my arms are too short and I was afraid I’d hurt him. After mulling over the idea of making the world’s most embarrassing 911 call, Michael was able to somehow pull Larry’s lanky, disheveled body from the depths of our fancy modern cabinets. And this was all in the first 4 hours.

I wish I could report it’s been smooth sailing ever since that ridiculously traumatic day but I cannot. Larry still cries at night as if he’s wondering where the hell he is and where all of his old stuff went.  He’s found other places to hide but is thankfully keeping himself out of peril. But they spend their afternoons together watching birds from our huge windows and nap with me during the day. They chase each other and sleep for 14 hours. While none of this may sound very therapeutic or relaxing for me, I swear it has been.

As an alcoholic and drug addict who’d usually forget to feed himself, it still blows my mind that I can care for and keep other living things alive. Therefore, having Maeby and Larry to look after has been a relief. “Turning our thoughts towards others” is a tool of recovery and nowhere does it state those others have to be at all human. Feeding them and cleaning their litter box gets me outside of myself which is always a relief. In fact, cats are often referred to as the “Unsung Heroes of Mental Health”. Animals for people like me who also struggle with depression, are great for the soul, self-confidence and reducing stress. The simple act of them being here when I return from a day out running around my new city, makes me feel more at home. Just by being present for these two, I’ve reaped the benefits of their magical powers and I’m a better person for it.

Maeby is back to snuggling up to me during morning meditation and Larry is, well, still the Larryest. As I was turning off lights last night getting ready for bed, I couldn’t find him.”Oh terrfic. I lost Larry again. ” I searched all the usual hiding places and some new ones to,just in case. Nowhere to be found but I was tired enough that I headed by to my bedroom. After one last-ditch glance around the room, I found him. He was snuggled up inside a basket by my side of the bed. Turns out, we’re both a little more comfortable than we were just a month ago.

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I walk alone

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this morning on Detroit Street.

This is how it starts. It starts on a tree-lined street in my childhood neighborhood that is now my middle age neighborhood. It starts here. It starts with me. And I’m walking.

Before I go much further, I should take a minute to call bullshit on myself. I am the first person to roll eyes at exercise posts or nutrition posts or articles on how someone stopped being a prick for ten minutes and is now the light of the world. I think a lack of humility about basic, human and humane actions is part of our collective problem. We’re not horrible for 20 seconds and we expect a humanitarian award. Sigh. That being said I love walking. And, I will say this right here, I was wrong for making fun of people who post how great whatever exercise they love has saved their life. I think anything that makes us happy and doesn’t hurt other people is solid gold. So I’m a judgmental jerk and I’m sorry. I’ve never really loved driving and proudly say that I am a non-car owner and have been for awhile. I try to centralize my life so I can walk everywhere. Yes, it’s good for the environment. Sure, it’s good for my body. But mainly I walk because it helps my head.

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a local karate school mural entitled “Fight Together!”

Walking the crazy off is a vital component in helping me be a less horrible human. A couple of years ago, I slipped into a pretty dark depression. I talked to my doctor at the time and I told her I was open to medication but I’d like to explore other options first. I already take an Elvis sized handful of meds just to keep my body running so I didn’t want to add another pill. Now, do not take this as an anti-psych meds stance. The opposite, actually. If you have a chemical imbalance that cannot be fixed any other way, for the love of God man, take your effing meds. Seriously, humanity will thank you for it. My depression, however, is a bump in the road of my larger mental health picture. And oh what a picture it is. What I’m getting at here is my depression has never gotten bad enough that I felt like meds needed to be part of the story. Until that summer. She, my doctor, then asked me a bunch of questions. What’s happening in my personal life? How’s my family? Which of my routines have changed? Insert giant lightbulb emoji here or a picture of a gate in my alley I took, whatever works.

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an early morning shot of a gate in my alley that I’m in love with for some reason

I realized in that moment that what had changed is my walking routine. Whereas I used to walk 40 minutes to and from work I was now only walking about 6 minutes. She recommended that I up my walking and start journalling about my depression(don’t expect that one on the Amazon editors pick anytime soon, by the way)and get back to her. If nothing changed we’d talk about medication. Flash forward 40 days, things had changed. I was walking more and feeling better. Again, let me stress, this is what worked for me and I wouldn’t tell you to do the same unless somebody who actually went to school for this type of shit suggests you try it. I’m just some idiot with a computer and a giant cup of coffee. So don’t listen to me. How about these smart people? Or this study? Or how about this?

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Really, the point of this whole spiel is not to convince you to Go Take a Walk America! Or some crap. It’s to tell you that me, this guy Sean with the big cup of coffee and the sarcastic attitude, feels better after he walks around his neighborhood. I don’t wear special walking clothes for godsakes. Nor do I belong to a walking group. Jesus. Anyway, it’s not just the health thing either. It’s also because as a writer I get to see so much more when I walk. Like the creepy pink baby heads above. Or this clever piece of vandalism:

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push it real good.

Or people yelling at their kids or dogs. Or old people holding hands. Or flyers for weird shit I’m never going to but want to read anyway. I get to see my life up close when I walk and I get to confirm that it’s all pretty amazing.

Even bah humbug exercise me has a fitness app on his phone. On good days, I do over 10,000 steps. Over the last few days, it’s been closer to 25,000. This isn’t mentioned for applause or a special walking ribbon. Clearly, these numbers confirm that I’ve needed the extra help lately. I have been pretty honest about my dismay over the human race as of late and I’m walking that off too. Sure, I’m still me when I get home and the world still needs a brain transplant but I can be human and normal and in gratitude after a walk. Therefore, this how the story ends: I’ll keep walking. Maybe I’ll even bump into you. I’ll be the guy by himself in jeans and a t-shirt taking pictures of weird shit or saying hi to random dogs.