Approval Anonymous

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I don’t think I could ever be Kylie Minogue. This is, I can imagine, a relief to the actual Kylie Minogue as it means she won’t be out of a job nor will she have to partake in some weird body switching thing and then become a 45-year-old gay alcoholic. A little background information on where this thought comes from: On a recent sunny, Sunday afternoon, I was randomly thinking about Kylie, as one does. Mainly, I was thinking how fickle her widespread love and approval has been throughout her career, at least here in America anyway. It’s like every 15-20 years we as a country decide that we remember that Miss Minogue is, in fact, a legend. There were no shorter than 14 years in between when she charted on these shores with a cover of “The Loco-Motion” and her 2002 hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” This doesn’t mean Kylie wasn’t out there doing her thing and making delicious pop confections. It just means our dumb American asses were too stupid to notice. I obviously have a lot of strong feelings about this major pop culture travesty. Nevertheless, this neglect from an entire nation, this utter denial of approval is precisely the thing that would knock me out of the running for becoming Kylie’s replacement. The very idea of being ignored at the drop of a hat crushes me because at the end of the day I am an approval addict, through and through.

My first drug and my worst drug, approval is something I’ve chased long before I ever picked up a beer bottle or crammed a straw up my nose. Who knows where it started but in my mind I think I probably made somebody laugh when I was infant, saw how it made them happy and in turn made me happy and then we were off to the races. From applause garnered for impromptu lip sync performances to scratch and sniff “Grape Job!” stickers on spelling tests, I itched for validation. I ached for any sign that I was okay, that I wasn’t a misfit but I was as good as everyone else. All of this sounds pretty normal for  normal kids but when you have a brain like mine, the brain of an addict, there was never enough. There was never enough love, there was never enough approval and therefore I was never enough. This is some sad, sad business for a little kid but downright pathetic for a grown up person who should have gotten over that shit.

During active addiction, a phrase I love because it makes it sound like you snort cocaine while wearing track suits and terry cloth headbands, the hunt for approval worked in tandem with the hunt for booze or drugs quite nicely. People who I wanted to be my friends also did drugs and drank so I could relate with them on that level, take them hostage as friends and then ditch them when they wanted anything real, crazy shit like accountability or honesty, from me. We all spoke the language of more so that meant we all wanted more. More love, more drugs, more drinks, more cigarettes, more conflict. The approval I got from them was hollow and toxic. Each of us wanted to vampire hours and days off of one another and if you couldn’t meet the supply and demand, I’m sorry my dear, you’re up for elimination. We also gave each other approval for behavior and attitudes that the rest of the world wouldn’t put up with. Wanna have a three-way on a week night with people you met from Craigslist? We approve. Wanna verbally assassinate one of our other friends? We approve and we’ll you help you out with that. Wanna drink on a Wednesday afternoon? Not only do we approve but we’ll also meet you at the bar.

Outside of my drinking and using friends, I scored approval where I could, by telling jokes to customers at the restaurant where I used to work, by writing little articles that maybe people would read and pat me on the back for and by puffing up my meager accomplishments to family members or anybody who would listen. Obviously, we all sort of exist on this planet and hope that people will love and approve of us and I hear there are normal, healthy ways of seeking that out. It’s like Stonehenge. Like I know it exists but until I see it for myself, it’s just a thing people talk about. Without any real self-esteem, the never-ending quest for approval is fucking exhausting. Making people laugh, quick sexual encounters and-God it pains me to say this- likes and comments on social media posts all fill up that void inside of me. But without an internal approval supply, there won’t actually ever be enough.

This was abundantly clear when I got sober. More than a few times, I resorted to having quick hookups to make me feel better. I wasn’t looking for Mister Right. I was looking for Mister Make Me Not Feel My Life. Approval through sex is the fastest way for me to recognize that I do in fact treat this whole thing like I would any drug. The rush of having people, familiar, anonymous, in person or online, say we like you is one I’ve chased through sex clubs, bath houses, MySpace and Twitter alike. Once I got hip to the fact that I was using people and their approval just like I did substances even though I was physically sober, the jig was up. By the way, is the jig ever down? I guess we don’t talk about that because when it’s down it must mean everything is cool.

Anyway, I was gifted with a buttload of self-awareness in sobriety and that sucked. All of my addict ways of looking to, ahem, fill holes, as it were, became crystal clear. This meant I knew EXACTLY what my motivation was every time I obsessively checked Twitter to see if someone liked my tweets. This also meant I TOTALLY knew what I was doing when I flirted with random people. But mainly it meant the other places in my life where I acted like an addict were exposed and sooner or later would have to be looked at.I say “looked at” and not “dealt with” because the real deal here is that I have a lot of addictive behaviors still that don’t involve substances but are ones that quite frankly I don’t want to give up. They’re crutches to be sure. But if this need for approval and the rush get from it go away, then what?

Back in 2008, I was sober for a hot minute of five months. It was a real delight too. I was dry and not getting any help and still trying to blend in with my old drunk life. Gee, I wonder why that didn’t take? I kept trying to do things for myself and talk myself into feeling better but without any real self-esteem or support it was all sort of a lost cause. One day, I treated myself and went to a taping of the Craig Ferguson show. Since the universe has no chill when it comes to irony, it’s now hilarious to me that Ferguson is a longtime openly sober person. But I wasn’t headed there to hear him crack jokes about getting sober. I was there to see Kylie Minogue. In a super-rare stateside appearance, Kylie was performing a song from the criminally underrated effort X. The track “All I See” is an R&B tinged should’ve-been banger and one that lended itself to a great live performance.  In a packed studio audience filled with gays and girls, I felt one of the few moments of joy in that excruciatingly, uncomfortable five months. I relapsed not long after seeing Kylie, not that I blame her or anything. I hated myself and didn’t think I was worth getting better. No amount of imported Aussie glamour could change that.

While history will be the judge if Kylie pursuing a country tinted disco record was a good idea, I know for a fact that looking at my own addiction to approval is. With years sober under my belt at this point, I know that cracking open other parts of my life won’t kill me and I might even make me feel better. Sure, the mere idea of seeing how I’ve sought out approval like I used to drugs isn’t pretty.  People who know how to work on these, primarily my therapist have pointed out that if I’m validating my damn self and taking care of me, I might not obsessively seek out approval from everyone else. It’s an odd thing to ween myself of off though. Something in my mind tells me that this is one addiction I can keep. After all, nobody ever died or wound up in jail seeking out approval. Yet it’s something I’m looking at and hoping to let go because that’s what Kylie would do. I mean Kylie doesn’t give a crap if America likes her all the time. She’s a worldwide icon. She moves thru this world in her diminutive, sparkle-covered body with confidence and a badass survival spirit. She doesn’t need to troll for the approval of randoms. She’s Kylie Muthafucking Minogue. And at the end of the day, neither do I.

 

 

 

 

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A Little Respect

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Part wood nymph, part rock star, the mere sight of Andy Bell in short shorts and wearing a flower crown undoubtedly changed me. Throughout the concert, he was flanked by two fierce black backup signers also covered in glitter and flowers. It was like a Renaissance painting did ecstasy while watching Little Shop of Horrors and decided to put on a show. And what a show it was. I was 16 years old and here was this rare, gay man out and proud and having a huge musical career in 1990 while I was a closeted, burgeoning drug addict who didn’t even know who I was. Bell was almost too much to look at. So in-your-face, so sweet, so charming and so out of fucks to give, it seemed like the me that could be but a me that was totally out of reach.  I mean Andy Bell was the lead singer of Erasure and I was just some effeminate teenager in Golden, Colorado.

Bullied, beaten up and black and blue, I ran towards anything that looked shinier and more beautiful than the existence I had as a teenager. It wasn’t just music like Erasure’s but Bowie, Sinead O’Connor, Deee-Lite, Madonna and anything else I could dance to and forget who I was. Drugs fit fabulously into this plan too. When I was high, I didn’t have to feel the pains of growing up gay and from an alcoholic home. When I was with the kids I used with I was cool, not just some kid that got routinely called faggot as he walked down the hall. I wasn’t the kid you pushed in the cafeteria because he wouldn’t push back, I was a smart ass drunk and drug addict and who could drink you under the table. I was cool or at the very least cool adjacent. I knew who to hang out with to at least give the appearance of being cool. I was also a kid with an incredible taste in music.

Drinking, drugs and listening to cassette tapes or going to teen alternative clubs was basically my whole life. Smoking cloves dancing to “Personal Jesus”, drinking Big Gulps spiked with whiskey and watching Book of Love in concert, taking drugs and seeing Love and Rockets, smoking weed and singing Madonna at Burger King instead of being in class. I had no use for traditional school, a place where I was regularly fucked with for being who I was. Instead, I sought out personal enrichment through drugs, pop culture and music. Like why go to biology when you can take acid, listen to New Order and go to the mall? Perpetually in peril and in over my head with a life out of control, most anybody who knew me who didn’t do drugs with me was probably concerned about me. People of all kinds tried to help or tried to figure out what was wrong but to no avail. After all, I was a nice kid, a creative kid and a kid who couldn’t if fit with everybody else no matter who hard he tried. I couldn’t even be invisible which was a real bitch. Okay, fine. I’ll be the gayest child that Colorado ever saw in 1989 but can I at least camouflage into the background?

Yet that was not my story. I was extra before we even started saying extra. Therefore the “extra” artists of that era– Erasure, Cyndi Lauper, Pete Burns, Boy George– forged the path for me to walk down. But what did I do when I wasn’t listening to music or dancing or going to concerts? It’s not like Andy Bell could magically appear like the fairy from Pinocchio and perform Blue Savannah every time I felt horrible. Likewise, giving myself platinum blonde hair like Madonna wasn’t a real substitution for self-esteem although it didn’t stop me from trying. Drugs and alcohol, thank god, gave me the ability to not give a fuck, like Mr.Bell himself. After spending my junior year harassed and pushed around, I emerged my senior year of high school as some kind of faux phoenix. The kids who fucked with me the most had graduated and now I could smoke cigarettes, talk shit, get high and listen to music in my friends cars without caring who hated me. Sure, I was still teased but after a summer of going to gay clubs, doing acid and dancing all night long, as directed by Miss Cathy Dennis, I had developed a swagger that sort of looked like self-esteem. I tried my best to own who I was but without actually being out of the closet or actually liking myself, it was just a performance.

A long running performance, at that. A tough exterior of joke cracking gay best friend who knew all the cool kids served me well and even well into my thirties. But the thing about that kid who knows all the good bands and has gossipy stories about celebrities and bitchy take downs of coworkers is that’s all there is to him. My inability to get real about the hurt, sadness, shame and self-hate that I felt inside 24 hours a day was killing me. Towards the end, drugs and alcohol didn’t just loosen up the act and make life more comfortable, they were vital for even leaving the house. I hated myself and no amount of  male pop stars in hot pants could make that go away.

At age 45 and counting, I am now unable to suppress a deep sigh or at the bare minimum a low-key eye roll when people flippantly say, “Love yourself.” Undoubtedly catchy for some other generation to enjoy in a Justin Bieber song, the idea of loving yourself to a person like me sounds downright puzzling. “Love yourself!” and while you’re at it solve world hunger. Love yourself. Please. As if someone merely telling us to love ourselves is enough. In fact, a lot of times when people say “They need to love themselves” it’s a way to comment on the perceived low self-esteem of others. Love yourself, you pathetic mess. Even Rupaul’s well-intended and much quoted,”If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”is a loaded shortcut to something that I’ve found very hard to do. Trying to love myself sounds a little easier while liking myself more than I did before is sometimes really the best I can muster.

In 2010, a good 20 years after I had the magical gay epiphany of seeing Andy Bell and Erasure on stage, the band once again entered my conscience. A year and a half sober, I was visiting my sister and her kids in Colorado. The place I had grew up in had changed too– thanks marijuana! It was no longer the deep red state steeped in homophobia and hatred. It had come around a little and so had I. My niece and nephew, who possess not just great sets of eyelashes but incredible senses of humor, were obsessed with the video game “Robot Unicorn Attack.” The ridiculous game had its moment in the sun as sort of viral obsession and along with it came an Erasure reemergence. The band’s song “Always” is winkingly featured as game’s theme song. Quick to pick up on anything amazing, my niece and nephew loved the song too. They’d giggle uncontrollably when Bell would dramatically sing, “Open your eyes. Your eyes are open.”  It seemed all too perfect that this band and this song would show back up at a point where I was starting to like myself.

Now aged 50-something with his hot pants days behind him,  Andy Bell is sober too. He’s talked openly, like we would expect anything less, about his battle with drugs and alcohol. There’s something comforting about knowing that this gay icon who was utterly 100% himself maybe hated himself too and that makes his role in who I grew up to be even more profound. It makes the beautiful angel I whose music I loved in on friends cassette tapes relatable and real, Perhaps Andy Bell, like the rest of us, faked loving himself, until he could get close to the real thing.

Maybe that’s the best any of us can do? Maybe we should take this ultimatum of “love yourself or fail at life” off the table completely. Because what I know is all of this–this feeling better, this trying to stop killing myself, this path to even tolerating myself, much less loving myself– is that it’s a lot of fucking work. No amount of Bieber songs or stickers or mugs or even Drag Race episodes can make me love myself. It’s a long road I have to walk (and occasionally fall of) everyday. Being the good drug addict that I am it’s unfortunate to discover I can’t snort self-esteem like I used to snort cocaine. Instead, it self-esteem and yeah even loving myself comes in little doses through small efforts. Just not being a dick to people at the grocery store. Holding the door open for someone and not expecting a round of applause. And not using drugs or alcohol one day at a goddamn time get me closer. Closer to a little more happiness, a little more self-esteem and a little respect.

Pizza

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I’m prepared to be attacked. I’ve braced myself for brutal comments. I have likewise done the necessary emotional work to ensure that I will be okay when, not if, I am met with disparaging and harsh statements. Therefore I’ll just go ahead and blurt it out: I like salad on top of pizza.

Well, okay. One specific salad on top of a specific pizza. But I do. I love it and I am okay saying it out loud. Granted the mere idea of salad on top of pizza is one that much of the internet is probably simultaneously gagging and rolling their eyes to and that’s okay. I get it. We, the collective we who likes to draw hard lines in the sand about what we will and will not eat, gosh darn it, are very passionate about what should and definitely should not go on top of a pizza. But I’m telling you: this salad pizza thing that you can find at a pizza place across the street from Santa Monica college is something else. Maybe it would help if I told you more about it?

According to Grey Block Pizza’s website this salad pizza has a “Cheese, Onion and Sour Cream Covered Crust, Topped by thick layer of Chopped Fresh Salad, Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing and Covered with Fresh California Avocados.” Crunchy greens and a tangy dressing mixed with the creamy avocados and the soggy in the best way possible crust is just something that I’ll never forget. Chances are if you hate the mere idea of salad on pizza then this all probably makes you want to barf and I respect that. Truth be told it might have had more to do with the moment than the salad topped pizza.

If I try, I can chart my adult life with types of pizza. It’s not like I’m some crazy pizza enthusiast but I am a person who loves and remembers food. Thus I remember the pizza from my childhood that we used to get at the Shakey’s that had a cool jukebox with Joan Jett on it. I remember my spitfire great-aunt taking us to a deep dish place when my family visited Chicago in the mid-1980’s.  I remember the personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut I used to scarf down with high school friends at lunch. I remember the barbecue chicken pizzas that took over Los Angeles when I moved there in 1995. I remember the thin crust slices we’d order drunk from some place in West Hollywood. I remember the guilty pleasure pizza from Domino’s, a super thin crust, pepperoni, black olives and a dash of hot sauce over the top, when my alcoholism was really off to the races. Chronologically, with some pizzas forgotten along the way, that brings us to the salad pizza in Santa Monica.

It was 2009. I had just quit drinking and gone back to school. Going back to school was  part of my “getting my shit together” plan that I had that year. There was a vague educational goal but really it was about keeping me out of trouble and out of bars. My life was pretty simple- other that the whole trying not use drugs or drink everyday and crying all of the time because my life was a mess part. I went to school. I went to meetings. Rinse and repeat for 365 days. I had shed all of my drinking friends, my job where I also drank and used cocaine on the clock because I’m an efficient addict who can multitask and even my old relationship. School and getting sober is all I actually had and it was enough. But a guy had to eat and in addition to all of the finer taco stands on the west side, yours truly had this pizza.

By the slice with what I’m sure was some caffeine loaded beverage, I wolfed down the salad pizza with joy and abandon. This was a fork and knife affair, not a fold it like a paper plane headed for your mouth kind of slice. No matter how it got to my belly, the point was it got there. I’ll pretty much eat avocado on a wet piece of cardboard so the idea of it on a pizza was a tempting one indeed. Once tried, I was hooked. Salad on a pizza? It almost sounded healthy and it almost felt like something I discovered. Like here I was eating those two things separately for all these years while this place was saving time and serving them deliciously together. Then for several months at least once a week, salad pizza and me became a thing. It was something I gobbled up happily because this was the first time in over a decade that I was eating alone and eating whatever the hell I wanted. The fact was I didn’t know who I was or what I liked to eat away from my old relationship and independent of drugs and alcohol. Therefore discovering salad on a pizza was a revelation. I was eating what I wanted and getting closer to knowing the person I wanted to be. Like what else did I even like? What else should I eat that I never ate? What sort of deliciousness had I been missing all of this time and should I try immediately? I had no clue but I was dying to find out.

Little did I realize at the time, that salad and pizza were a long time culinary couple. When rambling about my discovery, my older brother who had been to Italy several times remarked, “Oh yeah. There are lots of places in Italy that do that with Arugula.” Well, damn. Someone should really tell the pizza place in Santa Monica that though. They call what I ate so many times in 2009 “The Original Salad Pizza.” Nevertheless, that moment and that salad topped pizza belonged to me and no amount of internet hate can take that away.

Listen to the seanologues podcast episode 2, “Pizza” on Anchor and iTunes! 

George

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I would like to take a moment to toot my own horn: I’m really great at remembering names. Irene Cara’s command of “baby remember my name (FAME!)” isn’t much of one for person like me. I mean I remembered Irene Cara. The names of people from 6th grade, people I used to work with in the 90’s, people my friends dated and of course most anyone from the world of pop culture I can usually remember. But in classic alcoholic lack of follow through, I don’t always remember their whole name.

Take for example, my friend Marcia. Now, Marcia was a friend in the sense that we went to nightclubs together at age 19, not like a person I could call if I needed a kidney. I mean maybe I could. I don’t remember her drinking as much as I did but I do remember dancing to “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred with her. Anyway, I don’t need a kidney (remarkably) or more specifically I don’t need Marcia’s kidney. This is a good thing seeing as I don’t know her last name. But did I ever know her last name? That’s kind of the deal with friend you meet in nightclubs: you don’t always get the details. Therefore entering “Marcia from Westminster Colorado who had PM Dawn on cassette” into a Facebook search wouldn’t be successful. Trust me, I’ve tried. Further details like her friend Beverly who worked at a salon and their gay friend Brad are also of no help. I do remember that she could vogue, had an amazing Swing Out Sister style bob and once competed in a junior beauty pageant and performed Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” for the talent competition. And really who needs a last name when you have those details?

I also remember that she loved George Michael. One night as she was dropping me off after going to an all ages alternative night in Boulder she said, “Are you going to George Michael on Thursday? Everybody’s going!” By everybody I’m sure she meant Beverly, Brad, that one girl who might have been named Kristen and maybe that other gay kid who I would later sleep with randomly in Los Angeles. I told her I wasn’t. I’m sure I wanted to but sometimes details like getting tickets or showing up to places or sleeping slipped through the cracks after several nights spent on the dance floor.  Lots of friends were going to that show and while I would have loved to, seeing as the record he was touring with at the time, “Listen without prejudice Vol 1.” changed my entire life, I didn’t get it together. Mainly because on some level I must have thought, “I’ll probably get the chance to see him again.”

Flash forward to 2008, I’d been in L.A. for 13 years and George Michael came back through town. Again, nearly everyone I knew was going. Having risen from the ashes of scandal and rehab, George was on something of a global victory lap. Gays and their girls of all ages made seeing him at the LA forum a top priority. The teen girls who loved him back in the day were now middle-aged and Michael himself was 45. The timing and the moment were just right for him to be back and should have been right for me too. But honey in the summer of 2008 when Miss George Michael blew into town, I had bigger fish to fry. While my beloved George was on presumably an upswing, yours truly was on a catastrophic slide into alcoholic hell. After patching together five months sober without help of any kind, my life got difficult, so I reached for bottle of wine in May 2008. That bottle of wine made life even more difficult and I found myself scrambling to find a way to make my broken life, broken relationship and broken self work. My journal from that timeframe is filled with sad ass pep talks about how maybe I’ve found a way to manage drinking and that maybe it wasn’t that bad and maybe I wasn’t that bad. But the reality was shit was bad. I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert and the Twilight books. Clearly, I wasn’t okay.

On the night of his show at the Forum, a performance the Times dubbed him a “waggish showman”, I was drunk and on a friend’s patio. Mutual friends had gone and we were prying them for details. It was a conversation I couldn’t really be fully vested in however. I wanted to be happy that my friends got to see George Michael, the gay musical icon who meant so much to so many of us of that era, but I couldn’t. Not because I was jealous, although I’m sure I was but because my life was a shit show. Evicted, couch crashing and trying keep drinking under control, being happy for anybody about anything was at tall order. Over the next 5 months, things would get even worse for me. Another eviction, cocaine induced panic attacks and a relationship in shambles is what it took for my story to change.

George Michael’s story however, if we are to believe all reports, got sadder. Like myself, Michael had a lifelong battle with addiction, one he lost on Christmas Day 2016. A person I love who loved George Michael as much I do broke the news to me via text. We were devastated but also? I was the happiest I’d ever been. About to turn 8 years sober and to embark on a new adventure moving to Portland, life was really fucking good. And primarily because I had gotten sober. Reading reports of how dear sweet generous George Michael died alone were almost too much to bear. The thought that this icon that people like me and Marcia whats-her-name and millions of others loved died alone and addicted was a heartbreak of another level. Millions of articles, tweets and blog posts spilled onto the internet all of them proclaiming how George Michael changed their lives, just like he did mine.

Still destroyed by the losses of Bowie and Prince, this one felt extremely personal. A gay addict who I looked up to since my teen years was gone and that was it. While I couldn’t change that, I could stay sober, I could still dance to his  music and I could remember his name.

For more of my thoughts on George Michael listen to episode 1 of The Seanologues, now available on Anchor! 

 

a piece of cake

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I’m a talker, a communicator, a storyteller. I’m a sharer and an over-sharer.  I’m a chronic poster, tweeter and Instagramer. I’m a recovering gossip who occasionally relapses. I’m eternally the 4th grade chatterbox who took the report card note of, “talks too much in class” as less of a criticism and more of a challenge to talk even more. Therefore, when I suddenly fell mute for a few days like Ariel in the weirdest part of The Little Mermaid, I was concerned. After all, there was A LOT going on in the world and now was the moment I chose to shut the hell up?

After Valentine’s Day, you know that sad ass Valentine’s Day where 17 people lost their lives in Florida, I kind of didn’t know what to say. Now, I’ve written about shootings before. From Aurora to Orlando, I have endlessly wondered why and how this keeps happening. I write to process, to vent and to share. More than that, I wrote about these things to hopefully connect with others who are feeling the same way so I feel less alone. Lots of words and tears but virtually everything has stayed the same. I just didn’t know what to say this time. By the way, feeling sad or enraged about shootings is an appropriate response. Otherwise, you’re fucking soulless robot. Yet somehow Florida was different. Sure, this was yet another heartbreaking, head shaking American made tragedy but it felt like it was finally enough. So soon after so many others, this one felt like a shift. Parkland wasn’t going to let us forget it and keep moving with our busy little gun-toting lives. Parkland wanted us to do something. Thankfully, as we all have seen by now, the children affected by that tragedy are leading the charge. Will things stay the same? I hope not but at least we have the right group with a lot to say when folks like me have run out of words.

What I did instead of talking was bake. As we have discussed here before, I’m kind of obsessed with cooking and baking. Baking, in particular, is very relaxing to me. I have an entire ritual: I listen to Sarah Vaughn, I make coffee and I bake. An obnoxious friend of mine once said “knitting is the new yoga” but today I would challenge her and say that baking is the new yoga. But who am I kidding? There have been so many new yogas that by now yoga is probably the new yoga. Anyway,  ever since my home was blessed with a pistachio-colored KitchenAid mixer last fall, my baking game has been taken to the next level. Elaborate Christmas cookies in tins for gifts, biscuits for Sunday mornings, cupcakes for parties, muffins just for the hell of it. The irony in all of this is my husband is not eating carbs, dairy or sugar (and yet somehow we stay happily married!). This means my baked accomplishments often travel elsewhere. I brought chocolate peanut butter cookies to a friend fresh out of detox. I took cookies to fundraiser for Crystal Meth Anonymous because tweakers deserve cookies just like everyone else, dammit. When someone at the clinic I work at suddenly died, sending a shockwave of sadness through my workplace, I brought more cookies and some muffins because I’m a former Catholic whose grandparents taught me that’s just what you do when these kind of things happen. Those cookies and muffins worked out particularly well since death is another hard situation where you don’t know what to say. It was my calorie-laden way of saying, “Holy shit. This is fucking sad. I love you. Have a muffin.”

Therefore, two nights ago I did what I do when I don’t know what to do: I baked. I made a lemon coconut cake. I experimented with cake flour because that’s what people like me do when they no longer experiment with new ways to ingest cocaine. I got to also make cream cheese frosting which is always a good day in my book. I was taking it to a dinner with some beloved sober people. Selfishly, it also helped me get my mind of some heavy shit. Besides Florida, I got some terrible news. A loved one who has been battling alcoholism for a long, long time has taken a turn for the worse. Her poor body cannot keep up with her disease. Alcoholism: 1, The Body: 0. It’s a horrific way to suffer. If it was someone with cancer or an incurable disease, the attitude would be different. Instead, since it’s “just” alcoholism (which is like saying just a tsunami) we act weird, dishonest and maybe not as compassionate as we should. God forbid we talk about it openly and say, “Ain’t alcoholism a bitch?” and then cry over a basket of muffins. So this loved one, this family member, this aunt of mine is losing a battle.

And in true alcoholic fashion, I can’t help but make someone else’s death all about me and take it personally. Like it’s super present to me that this is what would happen if I went out and started drinking again. My death wouldn’t be instant. My death from drinking and drugs wouldn’t be a graceful. It would be a long, brutal nightmare and that scares the shit out of me. Unable to eat and soon maybe unable to speak, a basket of UPS’d cookies would be lost on her at this moment. But don’t think I didn’t consider it.  Instead I make the cake for the ones that are here, the ones who are fighting alcoholism, addiction and depression, the ones who have sprouted up in my life like a magical bean stock. But mainly, I made it for me. I made it for me, the kid who is losing his aunt, the sober adult who is watching the disease in action–and ain’t that a bitch and I made it for me, the grieving person who simply just doesn’t know what to say.

what to say when someone next to you is OD’ing

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Like most reasonable people at some point in their lives, the other day I wondered, “What would Carol Hathaway do?” What would the nurse played by Julianna Margulies on six seasons of the television drama ER do if she, in her pink scrubs, wound up where I was the other day? How would Carol handle a person dying from a drug overdose right next to her? Well, Carol is a nurse, granted a pretend nurse on a cancelled tv show but a nurse nonetheless which still makes her more of a medical professional than me. So Carol would do nursey things, things that were helpful and life saving. And the other day I couldn’t do those things. I still can’t do those things and what’s more I could barely figure out what to say when all of this was unfolding right before me at a crazy pace.  I’m sure good old Carol would say something comforting as well. But the best I could come up with the other day as a man was overdosing right next to me was, “Call 911.”

When I think about moments like this potentially happening my obvious point of reference is television. It’ll be heroic and a moment of my own personal strength! It’ll be like that scene in season 4 of Grey’s Anatomy where Izzie as played by Katherine Heigl does mouth-to-mouth on a dying deer. Well, it was none of those things. I didn’t feel heroic, just scared and awful. Trust me, I would have rather been Katherine Heigl that day and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person ever to write those words. It all happened so terrifyingly fast, as things often do at my non-writer mental health and additions based day job. But this day, with someone’s life in peril, was a first.

Listen, I can’t tell all of his story due to the nature of my job and it’s actually not really about that. It’s about me. I mean, I’m an alcoholic. Of course I can make someone else’s overdose all about me! But I will say that this person, like me, has struggled his whole life with drugs and alcohol. Lots of times in my job I get to see people, who also like me, finally overcome these things and change their lives. But more often than not, I get to see the really hard stuff. Wednesday was one of those days.

After talking to him and trying to just keep him awake, the paramedics showed up. They arrived really quickly, and despite having to use Wikipedia(!!!!!!) to figure out what Suboxone was (in a state with a major heroin crisis, mind you) they were fantastic. They did all the nursey Carol Hathaway things I couldn’t do. Or maybe all the things an EMT character on that show would do. I stopped watching after Clooney left so I don’t know who that would be. Anyway, they wheeled him off on a stretcher, slid him into the ambulance and sped away. What they didn’t take with them was poor, shattered ill-equipped, non-nursey me.

With lump in throat and tears waiting in the wings to fall from my face, I decided that this was probably a good moment to call it a day. I needed to go collapse in privacy of my own home where my husband and cats could be on call to pick up the pieces. I think it affected me so deeply because for one, I am a human being. Sounds like a stupid thing to even type but as a drunken, drug taking robot on a suicide mission for 20 years, I need to write that from time to time. A human watching another human in peril SHOULD be upsetting and my response felt appropriate. Again, it sounds crazy to even justify that but as an addict who used to live in a constant state of “I’M FINE. I’M FINE. I’M FINE”  just to admit a normal emotional response is still liberating. Now, at the workplace, I gotta keep it together. Nobody wants a mental health professional bursting into tears. What would Carol Hathaway think! But in the comfort of my own world, with the people I trust, it felt okay to not be fucking okay.

It also affected me because I am an addict and so of course for a moment I thought, “This could be me” followed by the guilt-induced but totally honest thought, “Thank god it isn’t.”The thing is every time someone relapses or overdoses or god forbid dies, we all think this. We all think that could be/should be me followed by I’m so glad that it isn’t. It’s the ghost of Alcoholic Christmas Future right in front of your face, telling you this is what waits for you if you decide to go back. The obtuse “What If?” worst case scenario became tangible in that moment as this guy, this usually funny, charming, energetic guy nearly slipped away right next to me. And, for lack of a more poetic turn of phrase, it sucked.

But what really hit me in those rushed few moments that felt like a shook up Coke bottle about to explode that this guy was a human too. Somebody’s son. Somebody’s friend. Somebody’s dad. He wasn’t HuffPo article or CNN statistic about the opioid epidemic. He was a living breathing example of what it looks like today all across the country. Luckily, I saw this human being yesterday at the hospital. He is doing okay. As I told him what happened the last time we saw each other, he looked shocked and apologized several times. I told him it was okay and then I did what Carol Hathaway couldn’t do: laugh with him as a fellow addict. I told him it was good thing we weren’t using at the same time otherwise we’d both be in the hospital. I told him to play nice with the other kids at rehab. I told him yes we still had all of his stuff and we’d hang onto it. But mainly, I tried to tell him, “I get it.” Because I honestly do and because over and over again in my recovery people have told me they get it too.

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.