“You’re the inspiration” is not only the title of this blog but the title of an amazingly schmaltzy Chicago song from the 80s. I named this blog about addiction, disease and recovery after that musical masterpiece because it occurred to me years ago that whenever I was in my local Rite Aid buying alcohol, some corny love song like this one or this one or anything from the Celine Dion (more on her at another time) catalog was always playing. It was as if the musical director for the drug store chain had masterfully crafted a soft rock tapestry perfect for purchasing everything from cheap wine and cat litter to copies of Soap Opera Digest and Fleet enemas. The humor and irony that songs of love and downright co-dependency (See: “Without You”, the Mariah Carey version for further proof) were blasting as I purchased the only thing that I loved at that time was not lost on me. My alcoholism had a soundtrack and much like my disease itself, it wasn’t pretty.
These songs are played at weddings and are the kinds of things that wind up on late night CD compilations that you secretly want to buy. And it’s funny that most of the lyrics of these heartwarming hits could be applied to the way I felt about drugs and alcohol. Take “Through the Eyes of Love”-please!- for example.The lyric “Please don’t let this feeling end, it might not come again and I want to remember” pretty much sums up my never-ending search to get high and hopes that I can recapture and hang onto the feeling. Not only is this a great song to summarize my addiction but it’s also the appropriate thing to play if you’re an ice skater who goes blind. Yet the romance of my drinking unlike these pop music cockroaches, didn’t last for long. It was ugly for the better part of a decade. In my mind though it still sounded cool like the real music I loved like PJ Harvey or Phoenix or Bjork (who’s Post was a favorite of mine to listen to high). In reality it was out of date, old and tired like the songs at Rite Aid.
In a way, urtheinspiration is my greatest hits. Thoughts I’ve had, secrets I’ve kept, memories that have come back, memories that are still fuzzy and new theme songs. Also, You’re the inspiration refers to you, the people I know and don’t know who battle addiction and adversity who routinely tell me, “yes, you can get through this.” So let the music play and no I don’t take requests. Okay, maybe I’ll take requests as long as it isn’t anything by Air Supply.
When I first got sober, I went to an AA clubhouse near the Marina in West Los Angeles. This place was just as seedy rowdy and ridiculous as the bars I used to hang out in plus there was always the very real possibility of a fight breaking out, so suffice it to say, I loved it. I mainly frequented this place because it was close and I inevtitably encountered someone at those meetings who made me feel better about my life becasue their’s was so messed up. Every so often, however, I would hear a very real and amazing piece of wisdom. One night, when I was feeling particularly low and bored and like I couldn’t do this sobriety thing right, I heard a speaker. She was a foul mouthed ex-crackhead who spent most of her share telling off-color jokes about dogs and peanut butter. I laughed with everybody else because just like them I need to laugh and was happy for the distraction. After 20 minutes, it was time for her to wrap it up. I know she probably said a lot of memorable things that night but her parting words have stuck with me. “Give yourself a fucking break”, she told the crowd who just like me clearly needed to hear those words.
Those five words have rung in my ears whenever I start beating myself up for not being perfect or for making mistakes or for stressing out about things that are beyond my control. “Give yourself a fucking break, Sean,” I’ve said to my reflection in the mirror more times than I can count since that summer night in 2009 in the Marina. And now nearly three years later in Colorado, I still need to say those words to myself . Because even though I’m sober, I still act crazy and I still need to be good to myself.
I have happily passed on these five words to friends who are struggling because most of the time we can’t see how tough we are on ourselves. And they in turn, have said them back to me over and over again. So if the holidays were rough, if you think you suck at your job or relationship, if you’re sober and having a hard time with life, or if you’re struggling to make a change like get sober or leave a bad relationship– Give yourself a fucking break. Things are never as bad as we think we they are and that includes ourselves.
(I’m not really sure what the unicorn van has to do with giving yourself a break. But enjoy it anyway.)
The poetess, prophetess and all around goddess Dolly Parton once sang those words in the headline. And last night, two doors down, they were actually having a party. Unlike the lyrics in Miss Parton’s song however, I was not “crying my heart out and feeling sorry.” I was just annoyed. I mean hi. It was a Tuesday. Like who parties and gets loud on a week night? Oh yeah. Right. Never mind.
After I removed the stick out of my ass, realized it was only 9pm, and laughed with the husband about wanting to move, I calmed down. I figured I kept hundreds of neighbors awake with my drunken shenanigans the least I could do is let our usually quiet neighbors off the hook. Unlike my exploits, they wrapped it up early, clearly out of consideration for those around them. Again, not how I used to party.
When I first got sober and I was living by the beach, I would go outside for a cigarette and always hear some kind of function or party. It was that kind of barbecue, drink wine all night sort of Southern Californian neighborhood. Sadly, I was no longer on the guest list for those sorts of get togethers. I felt terribly alone those first few months. I left all of my drinking buddies on the East side and hadn’t met many people. Hearing people have fun or looking at pictures on Facebook of my old friends sipping margaritas on a patio made me feel like everybody was having more fun than I was. When I told my sponsor this he said, “That’s because they are having more fun than you are.” He was right. Getting sober and breaking up with my partner of 12 years wasn’t supposed to be fun. But did it mean I was never going to have fun now that I got sober? Hell no.
First of all, I truly believe that fun is subjective. Sure drinking for me was under the guise of “fun” but it never really was that much fun. Unless blackouts and throwing shoes at people is your idea of a party. I wanted to have fun and wanted to be lively and loved and the life of the party. For a few minutes I was but after awhile, the blacking out and shoe throwing would commence. I guess I didn’t really know how to have a good time even though I was always looking for one. And you will never hear me say in a meeting, “sobriety can be fun!’ because sobriety itself isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to save my life and that life can be filled with fun. But I got sober so I could be happy so that meant I had to find fun in different things. I sort of returned to what I thought of as fun as a kid– going to the movies, petting dogs, roller skating, coloring with my niece. And then there was the new fun in things like always knowing where my phone was or waking up without anxiety. I’ve gone dancing and been to parties and seen concerts sober and it’s all been a good time. Do I have to do those things to make myself seem a fun person? Again, hell no. I’m not terribly interested (anymore) in if anyone thinks I’m boring.
Today, fun for me looks like taking a walk to get an ice cream cone or decorating cookies with my other niece or spending all day at the bookstore with my husband. But let’s hear from you– what’s your idea of fun and how has it changed since you got sober?
The movie Annie was seminal in my life for several reasons. First off, it was the launching pad for a game called “orphanage” in which me and my cousins would wait for nice people to adopt us. I’m sure a psychologist could have a blast in analyzing why childhood me from the alcoholic home loved playing that game. Second, it was the movie that briefly inspired me to play the piano. I learned how to play “Tomorrow” which was a nice accompaniment to the only other song I knew how to play, “The Rose.” That’s right, my entire piano act consisted solely of a Bette Midler song and a song from a musical. By the time I played those songs a billion times, I’m sure even our piano was ready to come out of the closet. Lastly, the film made me realize that I need to live somewhere where I could have servants, preferably ones who sang.
I’m thinking about Annie today because much like the curly-headed orphan, I’m thinking about tomorrow. I’m having a hard time being in the now right now and thought if I blogged about it, it would pass faster. It’s not tomorrow specifically but January 2nd that’s heavy on my mind. Unless I get kidnapped by terrorists or crushed by a speeding bus, I will celebrate 3 years of continuous sobriety on January 2nd! This is fantastic especially since year 2 has been a challenge. No one bothered to tell me until I was about six months in, that the second year of sobriety is notoriously tough and commonly referred to as the terrible twos. Thanks for the warning! Even still, I managed to overcome the self-doubt and struggles to say in the program during year two and I’ve stayed sober. My life is amazing right now. I just married the man of my dreams, I work full-time as a writer, and my first play opens in a month from today! My life is mind-blowingly awesome and I have the program and getting sober to thank for all of it. And yet… my alcoholic brain sends me shitty messages like “you don’t deserve any of this” and “you’ll never make it” and of course that number one hit song played on repeat since 1972, “You’re not good enough.”
So I listen to that garbage for about ten seconds, do the things I’ve been told to do that always make me feel better and I breathe and give myself a break. I always get itchy before birthdays and I know that’s what this is. And maybe Annie wasn’t living in the future. Maybe the little orphan was saying it might seem crappy now but there’s always tomorrow. Or as they say in the rooms, “this too shall pass.” Here’s to clearing away the cobwebs and the sorrow, indeed.
PS- I realize these are “quality problems” so thanks for indulging me.
I promised I’d use this blog to drag out things I don’t like about myself, be honest about them and even laugh about them. So here it goes: I’m a straight up eye rolling, shit talking, sarcastic, smart assed hater.
There isn’t a 12 step program for this particular bad habit. Or maybe there’s a Shittalkers Anonymous and I haven’t found it yet. Still, I like to think I’m a recovering hater. Recently, I’ve had opportunities to tear someone down or throw people under the bus just for the sport of it and I haven’t done it. Not like stopping being a dick qualifies me for canonization but considering my past I think I’ve made real progress. Getting sober has made me less of a hating a-hole for sure. Drinking and being bitter is a classic combination and my negativity cocktail of choice was always a tequila and haterade. Nothing made me happier than to get drunk and talk shit. Not surprisingly, this made my self-esteem feel like an abandoned outhouse by the time I got sober. As you can imagine, my first inventory was filled with people I verbally assassinated.
Like nearly every addict I know, I had an early opportunity to learn the shit talking lesson but it didn’t stick. My 5th grade teacher Brother Joseph, a Franciscan brother who sounded like Elmer Fudd, intercepted a note I wrote to a friend. The note said lots of stuff because even back then I didn’t know when to shut up but there was one key phrase that sealed my fate. I wrote “Brother Joseph is a jerk” and he read it. And even worse he took me out in the hallway and asked me in his sweet funny voice why I thought he was a jerk. A shit talker’s nightmare. I burst into tears. I cried because I called this sweet teacher a jerk. I cried because it wasn’t good Catholic behavior. Mainly, I cried because I got caught. This horrifying event should have stopped my big mouth in its tracks. But it didn’t. I’ve spent the better part of two decades rolling my eyes and making the “gag me” hand and facial expression combo.
Today, I try to not to live in HaterVille. I really try to treat people how I want to be treated. I honestly try to stop myself from gossiping. But about that eye rolling, I’m still guilty of that one. I’m so sarcastic, I probably roll my eyes in my sleep. I do know that it’s extremely rude and I am conscious of when I do it. But I still eye roll with the best of them, I just do it a little less then I used to. After all, like they say “progress not perfection.” (rolls eyes)
A few days ago I read this story about American Idol runner up Adam Lambert and the drunken kerfuffle he got into with his boyfriend outside of a bar in Finland. The press says punches flew and the two both were detained by police. Lambert says the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Now, regular people who didn’t almost win reality shows get into fights outside of bars all over the world and nobody cares. Sadly, when you’re even sort of famous, word spreads like wildfire. His boyfriend by the way also is sort of famous. He too was on some reality show in Finland. The whole kerfuffle (love that word! but I promise that’ll be the last time I use it. in this blog anyway) got me thinking about gays and alcohol. It’s this notoriously toxic pairing yet we never want to talk about it.
And why would we? Is there anything less fabulous than being an alcoholic or a drug addict? I recoiled at thought of being an alcoholic for years. I mean ick. I did drugs and drank with creative and amazing people. I wasn’t some hobo and I certainly wasn’t the angry Irish drinkers in my family. And yet towards the end, my day-to-day was an endless loop of misery. Now I’m not saying that Adam Lambert is an alcoholic. The only person I know for sure is one of those is me. But I do think an honest conversation is order about gays and lesbians and their relationships with drugs and alcohol. It’s a conversation sports fans, musicians and several ethnic groups could have too. The misconceptions will run rampant until we get honest about alcoholism. I know mine certainly did. Okay, I’m starting to sound preachy. Let me know how you feel about this. Does talking about alcoholism help inform or is it one of those diseases that society won’t ever understand? And if this blog entry annoyed you, I apologize. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed the sparkly elephants.
Depending on my mood, hearing things in meetings like “my alcoholism is such a gift” can really piss me off. I mean don’t get me wrong I see and believe myself in the sliver lining of having this disease. But a gift? I’m sorry I don’t remembering registering for alcoholism. Can I exchange it for a waffle iron?
And yet on this day that is merry and bright, I’ll admit being a drunken disaster whose life exploded has been the best thing to ever happen to me. One of the best things about being sober during this time of year is actually being present for the events I show up to. Granted, I was never one of those drunks who would miss holiday festivities. On the contrary, I worked overtime to make it look like it seemed as if everything was perfect during the holidays. I’d have the delicious dip you wanted me to bring along with wrapped gifts for everyone in my hands. But I wasn’t actually there. I was either living in the hangover from the morning or living in the future as I tried to figure out when was the appropriate time to have some wine or beer or anything to help me feel more comfortable.
Now when I go to holiday parties, I’m really there. With no escape from awkward conversations or silences. Today, I’m okay showing up without gifts or working overtime to make sure everybody knows how happy I am. I do however still pride myself in bringing excellent potluck items. The world is filled with shitty Jell-o salads and I for one will not contribute to such culinary vandalism. More remarkably, I’m happy to be there to really be present and capable of having conversations. So, yes person at the twelve meeting wearing the reindeer sweater who introduces themselves as a ‘grateful alcoholic’, this disease and recovery are really a gift. And ones I cherish. Even if they can’t make crispy golden brown waffles.
Intuition, as I’ve come to understand it, is the little voice that says “maybe you should apply for that job” or “you’ll look good in those jeans even though you haven’t tried them on”.
Or perhaps intuition is just a real voice or gut feeling or true instinct that keeps us out of harm’s way and on the right path. I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that little voice is hard to hear when you’re swimming in a pool of tequila with a nose clogged full of cocaine. And then when you do hear what you think is intuition, it’s a voice with a really bad idea like “maybe you should go look for sex even though you can’t even stand up” or “you’ll be fine if you hop over that fence in a third world country.” The point is I never had really good judgement. Or that’s what I thought anyway. I believed I was just a tool who was destined to make dumb mistakes over and over and over again. By listening to others who sent me “you suck” smoke signals at an early age and then by pouring chemicals on my brain for twenty years, I was pretty convinced that I had no intuition .
Turns out, that is not the case. Yep, I, the guy who once wore acid wash jeans and who willingly ate at Claim Jumper, am capable of good decisions. Today, I have an intuition that actually does point me in the right direction and is there for me when I listen for it. For example, in July 2010 I stepped out of the shower and heard a voice that said “you’re ready for a relationship.” Now it wasn’t some booming Charlton Heston voice from the heavens but something inside of me that said go ahead, take the leap. The thing is I didn’t think I would ever be ready to love again after what I had been through and seeing that I was only a year and a half sober. This was a crazy suggestion because it was something that was good for me. It wasn’t (for once) a horrible idea like “go write a bad check so you can buy vodka”. My intuition wanted me to be happy and honestly that scared me. Still, I trusted this voice. I didn’t have to “do” anything per say. I just had to be open to where my intuition was pointing me. I met the guy I’m married to on August 8th 2010. And he’s wonderful and he puts up with my crazy ass and loves me even on the rare occasions when my intuition is off.
But the kicker is my intuition doesn’t work when I’m doing drugs or drinking. Maybe others are capable of great ideas after a night of partying but not me. So to hang on to it, I have to not be a hot drunken mess. Seems like a fair trade-off.
I seriously over planned what I was doing for my first holiday season sober. I made arrangements to leave Los Angeles and spend ten days in Arizona at my parent’s house. There I would hide out and wouldn’t be tempted to get drunk or do drugs. Yet little did I know, I didn’t need to go to all that effort. The fact was, the program was really working and I wasn’t in danger of relapsing. My sponsor at the time told me, “Boo, you don’t need to worry about the holidays. You need to worry about Tuesday.” He was trying to get me to see that I could relapse any day of the week if I wasn’t actively treating my disease and it wasn’t just Christmas or New Year’s that was going to trigger it. Also, I was starting to see that it wasn’t people or days of the week or stuff that made me get drunk. The cause for most of my problems was me. Figuring this out sucked actually. If I’m the problem, then that means I can’t blame anybody else? Lame. But seriously, it’s liberating now that I’ve accepted that the only person “out to get me” is me. And despite hiding out during my first Christmas sober, I really had a great time. I baked cookies with my mom and watched movies with my dad and generally made the decision to enjoy myself without alcohol or drama.
So today I know that holidays or train rides or Tuesdays are just as wonderful or miserable as I decide they will be.
When I was drinking and using drugs, I used to tell myself “everything is going to be okay.” I said this especially when things were really fucked up. Like I honestly thought just by saying everything was going to be okay that it would be instantly better. I know now that yes, everything will be okay but it helps if I’m actually doing something to insure the road to okayness. Things are less likely to be shitty when I’m not contributing to the overall shit-fest.
At seven months sober, I had run away to live by the ocean and go to AA meetings and go back to school. I left my hipster part of town, my relationship of 12 years, and my daily drinking friends to get my act together. I didn’t know what getting my act together would exactly entail. Like did that mean I was going to rehearse dance numbers and sew sequins on a top hot or did it mean admitting I had a serious problem with drugs and alcohol and asking for help? I’m afraid it was the latter, less glamorous and more daunting set of tasks I had to take on. I gained some clarity and started to face parts of my life that previously scared the shit out of me. Through this lifting of the fog, I decided it was time to go to a doctor and get a HIV test. I was a 36 year gay man who snorted and screwed his way through Los Angeles in the 90’s and had only been tested once. It was time. It’s never a good sign when the clinic that took 3 hours to take your blood and tells you they’ll call you in two weeks blows up your cellphone three days later at 8 o’clock in the morning. They needed me to come in for my results. As soon as possible. Fuck. The grey haired gentle RN, whom I’m sure I owe some sort of apology or thanks to, told me I was HIV positive. It was as if she said those words and then I was submerged underwater. The next 5 minutes were a blur as my face grew hot and red while tears dripped down my cheeks like a leaky faucet. I barreled down the stairs of the clinic desperately trying not to collapse or vomit. Great, I thought to myself. What wonderful timing. Divorced, trying to get sober and now HIV positive. Given my current streak of fabulous luck, I assumed it was only a matter of time until I found out that I was adopted or that I needed to have a limb removed. Once on the bus, I called my sister. I told her the news. And told her I really wanted a drink. She told me I couldn’t and told me to go home and lay down. While blubbering tears, I said “I never wanted to be somebody who had to overcome things. I never wanted to be an inspiration.” She wisely replied, “Well sweetie, it’s not up to us.”
Two and a half years after that diagnosis and days before my third sobriety birthday, I’m still not sure that I’m ready to be an inspiration or if I even qualify. But I do know this, I have gotten through what I’ve gotten through largely because when I thought my world was crumbling, people who had lived through similar things told me “you are going to be okay” and I believed them. I wasn’t like when I lied to myself that everything was just fine. Oddly enough it was admitting that everything was supremely fucked up and having the courage to laugh about it, that made everything okay. So that in short, is why this blog exists. Sharing a laugh or talking about uncomfortable things makes me feel better. And maybe I can do that for you too. Hopefully others who are addicted or positive or heartbroken will read this and believe me from the bottom of my heart that everything, will in fact, be okay.