Out From Under: On Britney & Bottoming Out

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Every meltdown needs a soundtrack. Every extra shitty life moment needs a theme song. Most of the time, we don’t get to pick these songs or the albums. They pick us simply by being played while everything comes crashing down. For me, the album that will forever be associated with my own person shit storm in 2008 is Circus by Britney Spears.

Call it prophetic timing. Chalk it up to gayness. Or simply write it off to the magical powers of pop divas. But the sixth album by Britney Spears came out right as things were about to get really fucking real for me. Remembered 9 years later primarily for the hit single “Womanizer” and it’s wig swapping video, Circus falls firmly in the Comeback Era of our Lord and Savior Britney Spears. Having had her own terrible times in 2007, Britney was experiencing a renaissance. Less crazy, more energetic and presumably on a better combination of psych meds, Britney was doing all of the morning shows that fall. The word on the street was “It’s Britney, bitch and she’s back!” Couple this with the ushering in of the Obama era, things looked like they were turning around in America. Well, for everybody but me.

While Britney was cracking whips and wearing sexy ringmaster outfits on Good Morning America, yours truly was having cocaine induced panic attacks in the hallway of the apartment that he was days away from getting evicted from. It’s hard not to notice the juxtaposition of Britney’s upbeat, pop confection of a record, which I was listening to non-stop while my own life events were closer to the kind of circus with sad, drunk clowns and abused animals. Now, anyone who knows me knows that music is a huge part of my life and I’m not some top 40 devotee who slurps up all populist crap. The opposite actually.

As a former record store employee and DJ, I’m a music snob and a half. Go ahead and  mansplain me on the topics of sports and home improvement but I will unequivocally smoke your ass when it comes to knowledge of music and pop culture. This is a fact. I proudly turn my nose up at overrated sensitive dude singers, pride myself on loving bands before anyone else did and enjoy seeking out weird old shit. That said, I have a soft spot for brain-rotting cotton candy pop. Britney is certainly a master of this category. Of the 90’s teen pop divas, her trailer trash roots, auto-tuned voice and undeniable club bangers have made me a fan. Not in a crying, “Leave Britney alone!” way but a fan in the same way that I’m a fan of the Filet O’ Fish from McDonald’s. Maybe it isn’t great but damn is it tasty! Plus, she’s got a lot of really great songs to work the imaginary runway in your bathroom to and a few truly legendary music videos. 

Before I go any further, let’s look at a timeline of this awful era so we might have a little more clarity as to what was really going on:

  • Circus came out on November 28th, 2008.
  • My birthday is November 30th.
  • Britney’s birthday is December 2nd.
  • My sobriety date in January 2nd, 2009.

Coincidence, bad timing and the aforementioned diva sorcery, the album and the artist who made it are now forever wedged in a timeframe of my life that was undeniably horrible. Today in 2017, I think this is hilarious. I’m sure Britney and the gang didn’t sit down and say, “Let’s make an album you can bottom out from drugs and alcohol to but you can also dance to!” Sexy booty shaking anthems like the title track, “Kill the Lights,” “Leather and Lace” and “If You Seek Amy” are so light and fluffy they might as well be made out of marshmallows. “Leather and Lace” literally opens with the lines, “French fingertips. Red lips. Bitch is dangerous. Cotton candy kiss.
Can’t wait for my sugar rush” for crying out loud. It wasn’t like I was suicidal and listening to PJ Harvey on repeat (not this time, anyway). I was EXTREMELY delusional in those final days of 2008, however. Convinced that maybe things weren’t so bad and maybe an 11th hour financial miracle and a mystical answer from the gods would soon arrive, perhaps the sugary snacks of La Spears were just what I needed in that timeframe. Maybe it was all I could handle.

I sure the hell couldn’t handle reality. A mere month after Britney gifted Circus to the world, I would be evicted from my apartment. A few days after that I would come clean and ask for help. My own circus of daily drinking and regular cocaine use came crashing down. After starting drinking and using at age 14, at age 36 I finally got sober. Circus, the record soon fell off my playlist too. Too upbeat, too reminiscent of those last insane days, Britney’s solid B+ of a record was shifted out rotation for darker, holy-shit-my-life-is-fucked albums. In fact, I hadn’t even listened to the whole record since then until yesterday.

In celebration of her own 36 birthday(ANOTHER BRITNEY PARALLEL! Chills and goosebumps, people.), I honored St. Britney by listening to Circus as I was making curry and baking. Still hard not to bust a move to, the record has great dance tracks and some Grade A guilty pleasures. Remarkably, I remembered all of the lyrics to every track which is impressive given my chemical intake at that time. Not triggering or PTSD inducing, I had a really good time revisiting the soundtrack of my bottoming out. Britney and her general Barbie as pop star persona has always been really enjoyable to me and Circus falls very much inline with all of that. It’s always weird/hard/intense things time of year for me and oddly enough hearing Circus again brought some unexpected closure. I know. A spiritual moment courtesy of Britney Spears (Spearitual?) sounds ridiculous. But as I hung out in my kitchen with Brit-Brit, I gained some compassion and perspective for that guy who was literally dying.

It did strike me that one song, “Out From Under” sort of sums up that year and those final days perfectly. A dreamy-sounding break up song, it could be personally applicable for ending my relationship with drugs and alcohol or the actual romantic relationship I was in at the time. Produced by the underrated genius Guy Sigsworth, the song was probably played in dramatic moments on CW shows in 2008. But it was these lyrics that struck me yesterday:

I don’t wanna feel the pain
What good would it do me now
I’ll get it all figured out
When I’m out from under.

Under. That’s very much where I was and not where I am today. While we don’t get to pick our soundtracks for our bottoming out, I can honestly say I’m glad Circus is mine. It’s very “on brand” for my tongue in cheek journey of getting sober. Depression and despair that you can dance to! Perfect. Nice work, God & Britney. Plus, it forever bonds me to my Sagittarius sister Britney for life. But never forget that I did shaved head and crazy first, bitch.

 

 

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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 inside out. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Time I Saw Paris

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Let’s get this out of the way: the following post has nothing to do with the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor film in the title other than the fact I’ve pretty much always wanted my whole life to be an Elizabeth Taylor film. No, the title in this case is quite literal. The last time I saw Paris, I was 20 years old.

While I suppose a blow-by-blow account of a love tinged trip to the city of lights wherein I came of age and not only found a new city but found myself(insert barf face emoji) would be just damn delightful, I have no such recollection. Thanks to the mountain of drugs ingested in the 1990’s I recall very little of that era. I mean if you’re gonna do drugs might as well do so many that you experience memory loss. That’s what I always say. Well, when I remember to say it. Yet what survives from that era is the feeling of who I was. 
The faces, names and places might be gone. But the emotional landscape of Sean Mahoney, age 20 is something I’ve never forgotten. Just a small town gay boy in oversized raver denim, I realize now that that kid had the deck stacked against him. A shook up soda pop bottle of a human, he bounced from place to place and person to person. Panning for gold in goth clubs, raves, bathhouses, gay bars, on stage, he spent a shit ton of time searching for someone to say, “You are alright.” 

So thank god for drugs. I say this a lot in what sounds like jest but I absolutely mean it. See, without drugs I would have never came out of shell or maybe ever came of the closet. Drugs helped moved past my big, gay effeminate self. Drugs connected me to people and gave me friends. Drugs created a better reality than the harsh shitbox one that was always lurking for me when I came down. 
By the time I got to Paris at age 20, drugs had already put me through the ringer. Broken up and gotten back together several times by that age me and drugs were like the aforementioned actress and Richard Burton. I’m Liz in this scenario, just so we’re clear. Coming off my first summer of meth(because it took me two full insanity soaked summers of meth to figure out how much that drug sucks. Some people go to Hamptons every summer. I did meth.) I scooted off to Europe to find myself that fall. I was with a close friend and the trip as a whole, from what I can remember, was good. But somewhere inside of me at that time I knew I was sort of in trouble as far as the whole drugs thing went. The pendulum always swung from fun to problematic pretty quickly in those days. This break was supposed to help figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my 20 year old self. 

I know now that the idea of knowing who you are and what you want at that age is utter horseshit. I was a lost satellite and dancing and doing drugs at least provided some direction. So I did that in Europe too. But we did all the other Europey things as well. I remember eating gelato in Venice and having my mind blown open. I remember finally finishing Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon on that trip and having mind blow open even further. 

As far as Paris itself goes, it’s more of a fuzzy slideshow that lives on. The smallness of the Mona Lisa, the magazine stands on the Champs Eylsse, the view of the Effiel tower across the river, an old lady yelling at me to take off my hat inside Notre Dame, a croissant here and there. 

What didn’t happen is me finding myself. In fact, I came back more lost than ever. Only gone for a month, life moved quickly among me and rave going, drug doing friends. One group who dabbled in heroin back in May now seemed lost for good in October. Another group who had a meth fueled misunderstanding were now permanently at odds. And me and my friend who I traveled with drifted when we got back. Making things worse was the fact that I was not yet 21 and many of my closest pals were now able to go to bars. I would remain lost in Denver, the city I grew up in, until age 22 when I moved to Los Angeles.

Thus the last time I saw Paris was a blip and blur but luckily I get to see it again! Now nearly 45 years old, sober and married this post comes from you on a plane to Chicago. My decidedly epic travel day will take me from Portland to Chicago to London and finally Vienna where we will be for five cake and museum filled days. Next, we’ll take a two day jaunt to Amsterdam and finally end up in Paris. 
Travel, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my passions and one I share with my husband. We do it extremely well together. Part comedy act, part reality show, we have found a balance in travel that works and one that is downright enjoyable. I’m traveling with a person who routinely says, “You are alright.” And that is something I didn’t have at age 20. Make that two people.

Unlike Sean age 20, I am no longer lost. I know who I am. I’m not slowly killing myself. I give less of a fuck about what other people think and I even kind of like myself.  This is all excellent news whether I’m seeing Paris again or napping on my sofa. 

I’m a spiritual being, muthaf*ckers

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Let’s get this out of the way before we roll up our sleeves and really talk about God: people who wear “Spiritual gangsta” hoodies or refer to themselves as gurus or have things like “Christ first” in their Twitter bios are the worst. I mean I get it. Everyone is seeking something so maybe these folks need to fly their freaky spirituality flag to let the world know how down with G.O.D. they really are. But still it does feel obnoxious. Like the most spiritual and god-like people I ever met were the ones who were humble and did amazing acts for their fellow-man all pretty much on the d.l. They didn’t need sweatshirts or Facebook groups to prove that they had spiritual lives. But who I am to judge really? I’m a seeker like everyone else even the spiritual gangsta. And this whole road of seeking is, as far as I can tell, a messy affair.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really do organized religion. I’m not much of joiner, I find religious services to be snoozy and oh yeah, I sort of hate people. So these things don’t really make yours truly the ideal candidate to organize your church picnic. Nevertheless, I have a version of god and spiritual life. Go figure. I had long thought the two went hand in hand and you couldn’t have one without the other. But, much like chocolate and peanut butter, I’ve discovered some people can enjoy religion and spirituality together while others have them a la carte. Thanks to nearly dying from drugs and alcohol and then getting sober, I found God. Not like God was missing. He’s not Carmen San Diego or something. Or even that I was struck by a lightening bolt and started dancing in the streets and speaking in tongues. I simply found something bigger than myself. My own version of god has a sense of humor (obvi) and takes their own damn time figuring things out but is always there for me. That’s really all I can tell because it’s my god, not yours. And I’m a middle child and bad at sharing. Get your own damn God, goddamnit.

So this thing bigger than me and more powerful than me keeps expanding and I’m still desperately seeking God. This apparently is good news. I was in a meeting on Saturday morning with drunks and drugs addicts, as I’ve been known to do, and there was a woman celebrating 30 years sober. She talked about moving through rough patches recently. She shared honestly about not always feeling connected to her version of God. But mainly, what I heard, was a woman who was sharing about still seeking. She’s still looking to strengthen the spiritual connection, to grow and to keep changing and getting better. By sharing about struggling but somehow persisting and staying sober anyway, she let me and presumably the others in the packed room know that we were okay just where we are. Because God and from what I can tell spirituality in general isn’t some graduate program or reality tv competition. There isn’t an end in sight or a certificate to achieve.

God is on my mind this morning because I noticed I had several conversations about god this weekend. As an old AA friend of mine once said, sober people either talk about alcohol or they talk about god and this weekend, it was primarily the latter. Life is a mystery, as my own spiritual conduit Madonna once said, and therefore so is God. When I have conversations about God with sober people that’s sort of what we’re doing: unravelling the mystery and getting clues from one another on how you do this whole god thing. Before I stopped drinking and using drugs, I thought God was some punishing being who hated me for being gay and was probably still low-key pissed off at what a bad Catholic I was. So I need to see and hear what God is for other people and then go off continue to seek my own.

Therefore it isn’t really my business if someone has a God who hates gay people or belongs to a religion that oppresses women. Likewise it’s not my concern if Facebook friends post overly religious crap. I’m too busy trying not to be a horrible person, one day at time. So I guess even the guy in the “Spiritual Gangsta” hoodie gets a pass. That said, I’m gonna hold off on ordering one for myself.

 

out of service

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It all started by a waterfall with cliff divers.  Okay and there was also a mariachi band and a large orange monkey. There was also magicians, an old drunk couple with guitars and the gloppy enchiladas that should probably be considered a hate crime against Mexico. Little red flags popped up and me and a bevy of other teenagers would magically appear with chips and salsa and sopapillas (this puffy, fired dough pillow creation best eaten at mouth scorching temperatures and drizzled with honey.) Later, they’d tear me away from all of this glamorous action and sequester me to a hot steamy kitchen where my loud thin Vietnamese manager Hong would yell at me, “Do something!” Suffice to say, I didn’t last very long.

Yep, it all started nearly 30 years ago when I was 15 and working at a ridiculous Mexican restaurant/theme park/Denver anomaly called Casa Bonita. The “it” in question is my almost 30 year on and off again career of waiting tables, working behind retail registers and dealing with the general public. These restaurant/retail gigs have always made for good money makers while I’ve persued drugs or writing or getting sober. Now at age 44, my time behind the counter and I’m sad to report by fake waterfalls with cliff divers has come to an end.

While I won’t say, “I’ll never go back!” to working in cafes, shops or restaurants, I will say for the time being it looks like that chapter of my life is officially done. On Saturday, I said goodbye to the part-time gig I’ve had since I moved to Portland at a culinary shop/cooking class hub. While aspects of it were fun, I did feel a little like the daytime stripper way past her prime. Bitter, slow and armed with one liners ripe for any possible thing that could come up, it became clear that my time in this arena had run its course. The fact that no one got stabbed and my sobriety remained in tact means my time there was success. My new adventure, working as a peer counselor for the State of Oregon will put in me in an entirely different realm of the word service but will certainly take me out of this weird wonderful, fucked up world that I have known since my teen years.

It’s an over-simplification of the highest order and a snap judgement anyone can and has made probably any time they’ve left their house, I can confirm that people are the worst. Entitled, rude, awkward, racist, homophobic, cheap, dishonest, mean-spirited and generally awful, people put it all out there when their shopping and eating out. I also happen to be people too so I know this is true for myself as well. We like to think “everyone’s doing the best they can” but I’d argue that when we’re shopping or eating out that we are often on autopilot and the first things to evaporate are our common sense, manners and general non-shittiness. Like we don’t go places with the intentions of being awful but we don’t exactly set out into the world with the opposite intention either. However, I will say after you’ve worked with the public long enough, you no longer flinch when cray-cray shit flies out of their mouths. Somewhere around Year 500 of me working with the public, I developed a protective shield, one that kept me free from reaction while also making everything and everyone seem funny, human and really not that bad. Naturally curious and nosey, I do actually like talking to people, the big weirdos. So as I took on these gigs in sobriety I was able to have fun with them and promptly forget them when I went home.

Back when I was waiting tables, a friend once optimistically chirped, “But as a writer waiting tables must be a great insight into people, right?”  I’m sure I agreed and muddled sure, sure, sure then followed it up by some insightful, funny story about customers. Yet now I’m not so sure. After all, it’s a micro-glimpse into their lives and not really who they are. Yet I will say as a person who loves to write dialogue, working with the public has been invaluable. Plus, people are really vulnerable(read: insane) when they’re eating and shopping so you get to see them in a heightened state which is great for dramatic purposes. Yet for all the drama and all the years waiting tables only a few good stories remain and they are simplistic at best. Here are a few of the most memorable:

That time I waited on Isabella Rossellini. For obvious reasons– duh!

That time I watched a sleazy guy cut his girlfriend’s steak for her. Despite watching people vomit or get in fights, this sticks in my brain as one of the grossest and oddest things I ever saw waiting tables. I don’t know why but it’s forever lodged in my conscience.

That time I got to escort Harrison Ford backstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Harrison. Goddamn. Ford.

That time a customer posted a negative Yelp review of the place I worked at and singled out my shitty, snotty attitude. She wasn’t wrong.

That time I got to send clothes to Cher’s house for her to try on and she in turn sent me a signed cd.

That time I helped Roseanne pick out body glitter and punk rock records.

That time a couple had sex in the changing room at a boutique I worked at.

That time Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks sang Happy Birthday to her friend at the restaurant I worked at.

That time Rene Russo ate in our restaurant while her kids ate Domino’s in her car.

That time I got hit on by a customer at lunch and later hooked up with him in between shifts.

That time a D-List actor rudely yapped on his cell phone and ignored his 4 year-old kid while dining at my work. He even left the kid(!!) alone while he went to the ATM and he didn’t tip.

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That time, despite being really high/drunk I actually made a lot of money. Okay. That was most of the time.

Did I mention Isabella Rossellini already? The point is the fodder isn’t nearly as juicy as you might think. And without the celebrity sightings the cache of my illustrious customer service career completely bombs. I’ve mainly learned that people want to be heard, people want to be noticed and people shouldn’t be fucked with if they’re hungry. Also, this makeshift career of helping other people has oddly opened the door for me to want to help them even more, beyond bringing dessert menus or helping them pick out body glitter.

Service, as fate would have it, is a necessary part of my recovery. At nearly 9 years into this jam, I am constantly on the hunt for new ways to be of service. They say helping others keeps people like me out of our heads and I am all for that. Thus my new career and even writing have pushed me into a life less about Sean. Or at least that’s my hope. Plus, if all else fails I can return to this old wacky world. That’s the thing. Once you’ve conquered it you can do it anywhere and at anytime.

Meet me by the waterfall and I’ll bring you some menus.

 

sea change

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Look at the ocean long enough and you’ll hear it. It’ll be whispered to you as the waves hit the shore or in your ear as an ocean breeze pushes its way by you. It’ll gently tell you as you feel hypnotized by watching the water do its thing. It will remind that you, a white dude in his forties, isn’t really that important. And for this particular white dude in his forties this is something I needed to hear.

The ocean, as we’ve talked about, is one of those massive, overwhelming but really comforting forces for me. Whenever my problems feel too large and never-ending, the ocean says, “Oh no, girl. I’ll show large and never-ending.” As I stood by the water at the rocky tide pools of Cannon Beach this Saturday, that feeling, that reassurance was still there. The ocean and its power had not changed. But me? Honey, that’s another story all together. See from where I stand, ocean in view or not, change is about all I’ve been doing since last fall. From my grandmother dying to moving to Portland to spiritual and creative shifts, my world has been pulled like taffy and rearranged several times over. This is all okay, by the way. I long, long ago listened to some old crusty sober person who croaked out in a meeting, “The only constant is change!” This is usually said by a person who has the same shirt on every time you see him, by the way but his point is valid and one I’ve taken to heart. Besides, I’ve lived a life of stagnant, repetitive alcoholism before and to say it’s depressing as fuck would be the understatement of the century. So the only other alternative is to lean into it.

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As we sat jointly sighing, looking at the ocean for an hour or so, it occurred to me that I’m currently at a pit stop between even more changes. Mainly, in the career department. On September 11th, I’ll be starting a new job. Thru the utter magic of the universe, dumb luck and my ability to talk the ear off anyone, I have landed a job as a Peer Support Specialist with a state mental health organization. In a job interview which felt more like a 12-Step meeting, I was able to express my desire to help other while really, really wanting a regular gig with great benefits to help support my creative life. I had a good feeling about the position for the get-go. I mean it’s talking to other addicts which I love and the interview itself was on Madonna’s birthday, for crying out loud.  So it felt like a sure thing. Yet after a recent busload of rejections, no thank yous and straight up professional ghosting, I was cautious. Therefore, I stayed out of the results, I showed up and did my best and attempted to let it go and not obsess over it. Thankfully for Michael, the cats and my nervous system, I got word two days after my interview.  I’ll have this week at my silly cooking school job, a week off and then a whole new adventure begins.

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But it’s not just work that’s changing–I’m also going to Europe in 5 weeks! This trip is mainly what my husband and I yammered about like excited little college kids while we were walking around the beach shops. Kitschy beach boutiques and food stands, while not as powerful as the ocean are an essential part of any ocean side visit for me. I mean there’s only so much natural beauty I can handle until I need to nibble on fried clams and peruse the finest in local tchotchkes. Luckily, Cannon Beach provides those things very well and in spades. It was a celebratory backdrop to discuss a trip we’ve been dying to take since we started dating over 7 years ago. Plus, it was nice to talk about a big life event, that unlike death or a career shift, doesn’t deal with fear of the unknown or loss. This trip, and we by no means planned it this way, lands nearly 25 years after the last time I was in Europe as a high, hot mess 20-year-old.  It’ll be nice to reinvent Europe, a place whose centuries old buildings have not changed, through the eyes of a person who certainly has.

And yet none of my changes, as the ocean reminds me, are that important. In fact, compared to love, staying sober, helping other people and travel, I’m starting feel like a lot of things aren’t that important. This could be my biggest personal change of all. Maybe I’m biting some of the ocean’s style but I’ve recently felt like the world around me doesn’t have the stranglehold that it once did. I feel dissatisfied with modern culture, social media, politics, celebrity culture, popular ideology, did I mention social media? The thing is I’m feeling like a bunch ways I react, participate and engage in life in 2017 are starting not to fit anymore. This is an odd thing to articulate but I feel like I’m less and less interested in what everybody else is interested in. Not in an alienated way at all. But like I’m being freed from unimportant crap that’s bogging down my time on this little planet. It feels good. It feels like I’m being streamlined to let bigger things in and let little stuff just float out to sea. What any of this means I don’t know. But what I do know about change, especially the ones we don’t understand, is that it can be as magical and surprising as the ocean herself.

 

 

 

action! I wanna live.

feelingsWe are in the era of the topless, body positive Instagram post. We are in the era of the multi-tweet thread chronicling everything from an individual’s heroic battle with a mental illness to a harrowing account of waiting in line at the airport. We are in the era of blogs like the one your reading now routinely using (or abusing) their pages to become a digital dumping ground for confessions, neuroses and run-of-the-mill epiphanies. As a big fan of all of these things, I will say respectively and from the most spiritual place possible, fuck this era. Fuck this false sense of heroism for simply being a human who handles their emotional shit. Fuck this bar for being so low that we now spring to our feet anytime someone is real about themselves. Because for people with mental illness, addiction and alcoholism this brand of self-truth telling isn’t some breakthrough handpicked specially for a Lenny Letter essay. It’s just how we stay alive.

Hopefully, my flagrant flinging of the f-bomb didn’t frighten you off. But I swear all of this is on my mind for a reason (cue the aforementioned confessional in 5, 4,3,2…). While I like to think it takes guts for me to yell into the void of the internet, “Ugh. I feel shitty and I kind of hate myself/everything else!” I know it’s ultimately chicken shit. After all, I could whine for days digitally (and I have and thank you for reading, by the way!) but if it’s not happening in real life and if I’m not reaching out in the real world, it’s all for show. While bleeding on the page and essentially throwing glitter on my hot mess mental health is sort of my brand, it can’t just be a blog or a series of tweets. I mean for me. “For me,” in case you didn’t know,  is what we say so we don’t alienate people who are doing something else to treat their own hot mess mental health. But in this case I don’t know if it is just “for me”. Study after study, book after book has shown that people with the stuff I have tend to feel better when they share it with others who have the same thing. All of this is to say, that yesterday, live and in person without editing or a delete tweet option, I let it out.

The “it” in question is some of the financial and career blahs I mentioned before but then also my general feeling horrible/depressed/over everything that’s been plaguing me for several days.  Plaguing is a dramatic word and not at all accurate when it considering places like Syria or Venezuela or Chechnya. But I described it to my husband as a “baseline of annoyance and depression”. In other words, I’ve been a fucking delight. Completely wrapped up in self and miserable, I forced myself to go to a meeting yesterday. It was a gay meeting not unlike the gay meetings I got sober in Los Angeles back in 2009. Gay meetings are awesome, by the way. Not only do I find them to be a little more entertaining and honest but they are filled with people who get me in a way sober straight people do not. Anyway, after hearing lots of stuff that resonated, I vomited out everything that I was feeling. While the details of this monologue are best left in the magical ethos of the sacred spaces of 12 Step rooms, I will say that I felt better almost immediately. And more than that a few people gathered around me and gave me their phone numbers after the meeting. After a tear filled text session with my sober bestie in LA, who hilariously called me controlling and called alcoholism a cunt, I started to feel human. I calmed down. I ate bread and watched reality shows. I snuggled with my husband, who currently deserves some sort of trophy. I went to bed. But I went to bed knowing that I need to be in a new state of action.

The thing is I’ve been going to meetings and doing the work I need to do to stay sober since I moved to Portland but clearly I still need more help. This is always a drag for me discover. I really, really hoped that when I got sober I’d only have to ask for help once and only feel shitty for a small period of time and the rest of my life with be like the last 3 minutes of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. What I’ve gotten in reality is a life that actually looks more like the last 30 minutes of Postcards from the Edge which is to say not perfect, challenging and a lot of work if I want to stay healthy and happy. Yesterday’s breakdown/breakthrough was a wake-up call to do more work and to keep going. Therefore, I’ve committed to 30 meetings over the next 30 days. I’m also going to find a sponsor and take on a service commitment. I traditionally don’t like to do any work and will only do so when I’m in a considerable amount of pain so consider this me screaming, “Uncle!”

I guess the point of this yet-another-act of internet heroism is this: my mind was in a dark place. A sad place. A despair filled place. A fucked up place. And was kind of there for a while and was pushing me to feel like, “Why bother?” This freaked me out. Because how long do I think like this until I then start thinking that drinking or using or god forbid suicide all sound like awesome ideas? Yikes. So I told the truth. I told on myself. I cried in front of strangers. I asked for help and I did it not because I wanted applause but because I want to be happy and alive. And because it’s what we do.

 

 

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.

 

 

my expectations have expectations

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Me: Also? I’m a 173 pounds.

Husband: But that’s what you said you thought you weighed, right?

Me: Yeah. But still. It’s not great news.

The Husband: Wait. So you’re upset that something you knew was going to turn out a certain way did just that?

Me: Well, I was just really hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Husband:(laughs and shakes head)

END SCENE

The preceding little domestic scene happened yesterday after a doctor’s appointment. Without getting to my a boring ass account of my medical history, I can tell you what I wanted out of this appointment and what I got were two totally different things. My teeny tiny request that I be told that my T-Cells were off the charts amazing, I was in fantastic shape and also 20 pounds lighter was sharply denied by the Universe and medical professionals alike. Not only did I not leave without the news I wanted, I left with two sore arms. My consolation to being fatter and lesser healthy than I wanted was two Hepatitis shots in each arm. My hilarious nurse, who also informed that space was scary because, “You just don’t know what’s up there. For real, for real.” told me that given my HIV status I get extra vaccination juju meaning it would be more painful. My immediate throbbing arms backed up her theory thus I can only assume she is correct about space too. For real, for real. But more than achy arms, I slumped out of that clinic with the kind of pain only procured by out of whack expectations.

A night at the Oscars or a full-blown apocalypse and nothing else in between. That’s what my crazy little alcoholic mind wants. The humdrum dull boring results of living a normal human life are of little interest to me. Either be covered in glitter or covered in chaos. This, as you can imagine, puts a lot of pressure on everyday living. Therefore, this doctor’s appointment was doomed to fail from the start. There is no way it would ever meet what my mind had built up around that and I know this now sitting calmly with my mug of coffee at my kitchen table. But yesterday, I felt defeated.

The thing is pneumonia almost killed me two years ago. Since then I’ve worked hard to choke down seven pills a day and stay healthy. It’s been a slog, if I’m totally honest. I want any recovery I have from anything to look like the makeover scene from Cinderella. Alas, this has been anything but. It’s a slow-moving journey to feel better which my new doctor reminded me of yesterday. My numbers dropped down really low in 2015 and building them back won’t happen overnight. This also explains my ongoing energy depletion and sudden feelings of wanting to lie the fuck down. I was told that this too was going to tak some more time. Maybe even a year or two. Again, horrible news for an instant gratification junkie like myself. I was also reminded that my HIV has a resistance in it (which of course it does. Even my diseases are rebellious little jerks.) that makes it harder to bounce back. Not hearing thunderous applause for taking care of myself or hearing that I was 20 pounds lighter put a cloud over the truth.

The truth is despite lower numbers, the rest of my health is good. I’m undetectable, I’m trending upward and I’m being moved from seven pills a day to two pills. The truth is it is happening. Just not as fast as I wanted. Therein lies the real bitch about expectations and what my husband found so hilarious yesterday. Despite knowing that I wasn’t going to be 20 pounds lighter as I had recently weighed myself. I was disappointed that some unrealistic magic hadn’t occurred. I’m surprised my laptop didn’t just explode when I typed the insanity of these thoughts. It’s akin to expecting that Mariah Carey will be performing at your house on Christmas Eve even though you know for a fact it’ll just be the holiday classics station on Pandora. Which is to say this is all proof positive that my expectations are rarely rooted in the real world. I mean why have realistic expectations when you can have mentally unstable expectations? Go big or go home and while you’re at it pretend that home is Versailles.

Later in the evening, me, my sore arms and mopey attitude got something we didn’t expect: compassion. My husband, the aforementioned scoffer, hugged me and told he was sorry I had a rough day. He took me out for dinner, held my hand on our walk home and, most importantly, helped me laugh at myself. He’s good like that and he also helped me realize that things are good. My life is good. And despite fantastical expectations, my health is good. For real, for real.

 

 

was it the movie or was it the moment?

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

Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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