what feeds me

shutterstock_94824595Currently, there are two pans of bread crumbs drying on my counter for two different types of stuffing or dressing or savory bread pudding or whatever your mom called it and now you call it. Because nothing says a small, sober alcoholic Thanksgiving like two different types of stuffing. Likewise, there is a container of chipotle sweet potato hummus in the refrigerator, two pumpkin rolls in the freezer and a big bag of potatoes in my cupboard awaiting that ancient Mahoney mashing magic.  And lest we forget, a turkey. I was thinking this morning as a laid in bed plotting my gravy strategy (because everyone needs one of those) that if per chance the apocalypse were to happen on Thanksgiving, this wouldn’t be so bad. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry. At least my version of the apocalypse features pie and a parade on the television.

I would say food is dominating my thoughts today because it’s Thanksgiving, which is by far my favorite holiday, but that would be a lie. I pretty much think about what I’m going to eat, what I’ve eaten, what I’ve never eaten and even wonder what your eating all throughout my day. As we’ve discussed here a few times, I love cooking, going to restaurants and sharing meals with people I love. Now that I don’t look forward to waking up and drinking a bathtub of tequila everyday, I look forward to what I’m eating. I will admit without shame or remorse that there are invitations to things that I have either accepted or denied based solely on the food being served and said event. Wanna talk to me about taxes over a plate of tacos? I’ll be there! Wanna have a friendly chat at a vegan juice bar? Hard pass! I try to celebrate and enjoy everything I eat– from a really great, perfectly ripe banana to a birthday cupcake. So hopefully it makes a choosier eater and happier Sean all the way around.  But when I think about what actually feeds me, what actually nourishes me and what really satisfies my appetite, then I’m thinking in a deeper universe far beyond my gravy strategy from earlier(still important, btw).

I had a day last week where I laughed really hard with two newer  but suddenly beloved friends on the phone. That same day I also read a great novel on the train into work as it was raining outside. There was also two delicious cups of coffee, some homemade corn chowder and a dinner of dumplings to be had that day. Sure, those things didn’t entirely make my day. Far from it. That was a day at work when me and a coworker sat with a screaming person suffering from mental health issues trying to get committed to the hospital. Additionally, I was faced with a nagging personal issue at work that I’ll eventually have to deal with before it turns into the demogorgon of my professional life. Naturally, there was also another avalanche of gross, depressing ass headlines (which do we even make any other kind of headlines in 2017?) just to top things off. But what I’m really left with today, what really stuck to my ribs and fed me was all the bright spots of that day.  Particularly, the laughter.

There is something about laughing with other people that does more for me than any pan of brownies ever can which is truly saying something if you really know me and know how important brownies are to me. But it’s true. When other people are making me laugh or I’m making them laugh, I feel like I know why I’m here on the planet. I feel like all this bullshit we listen to and people we put up with are totally worth it. Laughter is this rebellious pocket of joy that waves its middle finger at everyone and everything telling us how horrible the world is. Laughter can’t be kept down and wants us to keep pursuing it and I for one am 100% on board.

As a creative person, another thing that really feeds me is great art. This time of year for film lover like me is basically the cinema version of Thanksgiving. There are so many knockout, brilliant films pushed out from now until the end of the year that a movie amateur would feel overwhelmed. But for junkies like myself, its absolute heaven. Already with my sleeves rolled up and checking off movies one by one, I can’t say enough nice things about Lady Bird. The film directed by Greta Gerwig is getting heaps of praise and it’s easy to see why. Gerwig captures those awkward teenage moments while never deviating into cliché. But for my money the movie that knocked me on my ass and blew my mind at the same time is The Florida Project. While telling the tale of kids who live in rent by the week motels outside of Disney World, the movie also will open moviegoers eyes to the existence of America’s hidden homeless population. But what the movie really does is show that these kids are still capable of having fun while being homeless. Shot in a clear hilarious homage to The Little Rascals, Sean Baker focuses on  6-year-old Moonee and her friends who don’t need big fancy suburban houses to cause trouble. Really funny, heartbreaking and packed with the most devastatingly beautiful ending of a film that I’ve seen in years, The Florida Project fired my creative juices up and whet my appetite for more delicious seasonal film offerings.

As the clock ticks down and I get ready to transition from normal guy in pajamas to crazy person in the kitchen, the biggest thing that feeds me recently is more present than ever: love. There is a great moment in the film Marvin’s Room that goes like this:

Bessie: Oh, Lee, I’ve been so lucky. I’ve been so lucky to have Dad and Ruth. I’ve had such love in my life. You know, I look back, and I’ve had such… such love.

Lee: They love you very much.

Bessie: No, that’s not what I mean. No, no… I mean that I love them. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.

This exchange has stuck with me for over 20 years since that film was released and not just because it’s between Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. But because the longer I’m sober and hopefully less self involved, I want to be grateful for the love I get to have for people and not chase love for what I’ll get in return. I know. Sounds lofty and hard and a little corny. Still, I think I’ll try it. I think I’ll try to love my husband, my cats, other addicts and alcoholics and my family the best way I know how.

And today what that looks like is lots of laughs and two different  kinds of stuffing.

 

 

 

A New Gratitude

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You are really concerned about Thanksgiving. I’ve seen your dozens of posts about its racism, pilgrims and gluttony. These are all really important discussions. Likewise, I find all of the seasonal slideshows about stuffing, pie and potatoes to be equally important. Your thoughts on this holiday are valid but without sounding like a dick: if these are your only thoughts on Thanksgiving, you are doing it wrong. The delicious filling on the inside of this turkey-football-inception-puzzle-holiday is gratitude. Sorry ’bout it Hokey Pokey, but gratitude is what it’s actually all about. By all means, groan at this very word and whilst you do so, listen to Ms. Patti LaBelle. Please enjoy the hats and earrings.

See, I told you. Everything goes down better with shoulder pads and drum machines. Even concepts like gratitude. Look, I get it: the idea feels beaten to death. Rightfully so, as our culture currently offers a warped and syrupy expression of gratitude. There’s 6,001 inspirational gratitude memes (none of which I will post because I love you). There’s an underdeveloped but widely spread idea that if you’re just grateful for what you have a magical gift basket of your heart’s desires will show up on your doorstep. And how could we forget the tweets using #grateful for the most annoying superficial things? Yet if we clear away all of the lame ass Pinterest sentiment, gratitude is actually some badass shit. Turns out, science agrees with me too.

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The Greater Good Center at Berkeley is filled with neuroscientists, sociologists and psychologists who’ve “launched a $3 million research initiative to expand the scientific understanding of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of health and well-being, developmental science, and social contexts.” Clearly, this group of smarties thinks gratitude is something worth investing in. So far, the research is already paying off. According to the website:

They’re finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
Higher levels of positive emotions;
More joy, optimism, and happiness;
Acting with more generosity and compassion;
Feeling less lonely and isolated.

Tal Ben-Sharar, who taught Harvard’s most popular course on happiness agrees too. One of his six keys to happiness is to, “Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.” In fact, it was his book Happier which I stumbled on back in 2010 while housesitting, that blew my brain open and catapulted me into my own gratitude practice.

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When I was drinking, I remember watching a mid-2000’s episode of Oprah (which were the best in the craziest way possible. I could write 2,500 words on the Hermes episode alone) where she said she always wrote down 5 things she was grateful for before bed. It sounded like a brilliant idea and I probably even told people I started doing it too. But the reality was Oprah was a billionaire with lots of things to be grateful for and I was a drunken coke whore who was waiting tables. Coming up with 5 things back then was certainly a challenge. Still, it stuck in my brain so when Happier fell into my lap, I started making a daily list.

Keep in mind, I’m an addict so even my  early gratitude lists were excessive. 25 things every day along with 30 minutes of meditation. Apparently, I was trying to win some Best In Spirituality ribbon. However, binging on gratitude and meditation wasn’t exactly sustainable. Luckily, the practice morphed. First, a sponsee and I started texting our gratitude lists. Soon, my sponsor and I started sharing our gratitude lists in a private thread on Facebook. It was whittled down to five things. They were written with intention and I did it every single day for years even after I moved away from my sobriety family in Los Angeles to Denver. The list and ritual with it soon moved onto the people I’ve sponsored. And lo and behold, it’s been a daily part of my life for nearly 7 years. It’s the closest thing I have to a religion, if I’m totally honest.

Listen, I really don’t know how or why gratitude works. It’s magic and that’s kind of what my whole God spiritual life thing is based on. I don’t have any specific religious God defined. I just think the magic of the universe and all things I can’t explain fall under the God umbrella and it works for me. I do know that whatever bullshit I’m grappling with seems pretty incidental when I’m able to write down a few things that made my day easier or put a smile on my face. Sometimes, just horrible days being over is something to be grateful for. Gratitude has even managed to carry me through hard times. When I’ve struggled, muscling through and finding something, anything to be grateful my outlook transforms. Anger, sadness, depression all have been loosened when I focus on what’s amazing in my life and let go. Ditto with poor health. I’m no Berkeley grad but based on my last doctor’s visit, I can tell you my blood pressure is low and I feel pretty fantastic so I gotta believe gratitude (along with some decent choices) has certainly helped. Therefore, I guess it’s only natural like as gratitude has changed me, my idea of gratitude has recently changed too.

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As I was getting ready to write this, I was listening to Alanis, as one does in sorts of research situations. My current idea of gratitude was right there as sung by a 90’s Canadian songstress:

Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

That was it! When I started this practice it was all about just the sunny, wonderful things that made my life better. Yet as I listened to this song I realized, it ain’t really just about that anymore. Today, I am also grateful for the fucked up stuff too. I’m grateful for loss, for moments of darkness and yes even for situations that feel horrible and utterly hopeless. Like homegirl said, terror, frailty, disillusionment– all of it. Crazy but it’s the honest to god’s truth because I know that the healing and wisdom gained from hard times is immeasurable and something to be thankful for. Sure, I’d like that daily list to always be filled with rainbows and life-changing pieces of chocolate cake but being grateful for heartache and sadness is even more powerful.

Thus tomorrow, on Thanksgiving day, I’ll write my gratitude list as always. It’s not lost on me that I’m lucky to even be alive and celebrating Thanksgiving so that will certainly cross my mind. As will the people I’m grateful to have known who aren’t here this year. Not being drunk on holidays always makes the list. Then the list will move onto lovely things like hugs, my cats and mashed potatoes. But by taking 3 minutes to realize that everything doesn’t suck, the holiday becomes something incredibly special to me.

And then if I’m really lucky, I get to wake up on Friday and write a new list all over again.

I’m Gonna Be Festive. Dammit.

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It might not happen today. It might not happen next week. It might be a minute, as in the kind of minute that could take a month and not just 60 seconds. But it will happen. I’m going to be happy and I’m going celebrate. For fuck’s sake.

Moving into my first holiday season* sober back in 2009, I was petrified. What if multiple listens of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” caused me to relapse? (This is a legitimate concern, by the way. Turn on Judy Garland’s version and try not to wash down a bottle of Xanax with a tumbler of Jim Beam.) What if I was horribly miserable during the most wonderful time of the year? What if my first set of sober holidays were like everything else that first year–miraculous but really difficult? I voiced these concerns to my first sponsor to which he replied, “Boo, you need to worry about Tuesday.” His point was I was just as likely to relapse on any random day of the week than I was on the holidays. Fair enough. After all, I never needed a calendar holiday to justify being a hot wasted mess. He also said, I might as well find joy in the holidays and make them my own. In other words, embrace them or get crushed by them. I am also what’s been diagnosed as a “massive depressive” which means I even have to do depression more over the top and more dramatic than the average bear and therefore this is a good strategy. To say that holidays can be triggering for us residents of Depression Island (best. reality. show. ever.) is an understatement of the “maybe the planet is kind of getting hotter” variety. I have found that if I do fun things, watch ridiculous holiday movies, eat copious amounts of bake goods and hang out with people I love, the whole depressing holiday stigma melts away.

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Now, it should be mentioned again that I have no religious affiliation attached to the holidays and use them instead to celebrate peace on Earth and practice kindness. It’s also a nice time of year to breathe and enjoy beauty. This year, 2016 the year wherein Bowie, Prince and Cohen said, “You’re on your own, bitches!” it’s more vital and more challenging than ever to deck the halls. Don’t think I haven’t considered trying to operate the rest of 2016 as well as the holidays underneath a pile of cats and blankets (best. Christmas. special. ever). After all, it’s just 49 days. I think if I hid for 49 days people wouldn’t even be concerned. I mean Olivia Newton-John’s boyfriend disappeared like 10 years ago and we’re still not that worried about it.

What happened on Tuesday–which I won’t refer to by name for the sanctity of the internet and out of respect for you the reader– would be reason enough to zip up my massive depressive bodysuit and just linger there until further notice. Granted that event and the person at the center of that event are fucking terrifying and depressing. As stated at the top of the post, it will take a while for me to get over the shock and despair which has been sprinkled over humanity like sugar cookie decorations. There’s no time limit on sadness, by the way. I’ve read these horse shit posts over the last few days that are all, “Oh. Maybe it won’t be so bad. And now we can all breathe.” (By the way, STFU Oprah) Um. No. Fuck you. Maybe we’re not ready to breathe. Maybe we’re not ready to hop into action and fight the power either. Maybe we just need to eat Chinese food and watch a show about Queen Elizabeth. Okay? Stop telling me to fucking getting over it or to galvanize, Internet. I need to be still, hug my husband and my cats and not move too much until further notice.

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I will most likely move from wanting to slap everyone to wanting to hug everyone on Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday. There’s no gifts. There’s no out of whack expectations. Just pie and gratitude. I adore cooking and eating with my favorite people so Thanksgiving is kind of like my version of the Super Bowl. Last year was magical as we ate dinner and watched the snow fall. We had my grandma over along with other beloved family members. This year, grandma is no longer here and the group will be tiny. But the truth is I actually have a lot to be grateful for. I took several amazing trips to different parts of the world. I saw some amazing art and read incredible stuff. I got on the other side of pneumonia that nearly killed me and now feel better than ever. Creatively, I’ve had a complete overhaul and renaissance that can only be described as whoa. And I’ve been lucky enough to stay sober and present through some heavy, heartbreaking shit. Basically, I have a lot of gratitude to be expressed this Thanksgiving and will eat the amount of pie proportional to said gratitude.

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Right after that, it’ll be Christmas. The thing I like about Christmas is that it gives me a moment to be quiet and be still. Snowmen, twinkling lights and yes, even some of that sad ass music in the background are all things I look forward to. As suggested, I’ve grown into making the holidays my own. Every year, my husband and I along with a bunch of old Jewish couples go to the movies on Christmas Day. We eat brunch. We do gifts and then we sit in the dark and watch a movie. It’s heaven and I can’t wait to do it again. The thing is: no person, no event, no election can rob beauty from my life. No political climate can negate the truth that my life is beautiful and should be celebrated as such. Combatting the external shittiness of the world starts with me having joy. In fact, it feels more important than ever right now. And when the time is right and I feel less fragile, look the hell out.

 

*Read more about my first holiday sober in a Tough Cookie Christmas available here!