What’s So Funny ‘Bout Sobriety?

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“You use humor to hide your pain”

– a person with no sense of humor

I should take things more seriously. Things like bills and responsibilities. And….? Um. And relationships? To some degree, I suppose but if I don’t have a sense of humor when dealing with people, I’ll end up in a sanitarium. I’d say world events and news but please see the previous note about the funny farm. I certainly take my sobriety seriously yet there’s quite a bit of laughing going on in the rooms of recovery, especially for a group of people who were all slowly trying to murder themselves. 

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I’ve always been a smartass and fast with a one liner so when I first heard people share in meetings about serious shit but with a sense of humor, I exhaled. This I could do. Sure, there was some crying going on in meetings but there was a lot of laughing too. This was fantastic because I desperately need a laugh back then. A few paramount meetings in the early days filled with funny, raunchy tales and uproarious laughter let me know it was okay to talk however I wanted to as long as it was the truth. After all, pain and laughter have long gone hand in hand in my own life.

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The clown, weirdo, diversion creator of the family was a role I was born into and one I played well into my thirties. Being funny was a way, as the person with no sense of humor said, to mask my pain. But in recovery it was different. There was a little of that going on for sure but in order to stay sober it couldn’t just be one-liners. I also had to share about the truth. Well, once my sense of humor met my new friend honesty, it was on. I verbally vomited whenever I could, sometimes met with laughter, sometimes met with tears.  What was happening is I was getting better and not letting things live inside my head. Soon what people thought of what I said didn’t fucking matter. It was my truth and that by itself was a revelation. The truth that I was an alcoholic, that being honest was the only way I could stay sober and that I could still have a sense of humor smacked me upside the head.

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Now, for the most part, humor and truth go hand in hand. But if there’s pain in there too than so be it. After all, using humor to talk about pain and humor to mask pain are two different things. I found being funny sometimes opens doors for me to talk about more serious shit. If I can’t laugh at really messed up parts of my life, than I am beyond screwed. Turns out, other people sometimes like laughing at it too. I’ve even been asked to speak at meetings specifically because I’m “funny”. I guess this should irk me that I’m not being asked based on my wisdom or brilliant insights but I’m an attention whore so it doesn’t bother me. Plus if I can in any way return the favor of laughter so freely given to me in my early days, I’ll gladly do so.827937719-1

And finally getting around to the title question, what’s so funny about sobriety? Nothing and everything. Life in and of itself is absurd and ridiculous. This includes getting sober. I can laugh at it and be in on the joke or I can feel like its out to get me and be miserable. I’ll take door number one, Monty. This is all on my mind today I guess because I’m celebrating 7 years (in a row!!) of sobriety. None of these years have been a walk in the park but I can guarantee you they would have been worse had I not been able to laugh. So thank you for making me laugh, for listening, for making me lighten the hell up and for being there.

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That One Time At That One Meeting

I drank and used drugs everyday for a really, really REALLY long time. Therefore, my thought in 2009, and I think it was a good one and yet it was probably someone else’s thought, was I should do something everyday to help me not drink or do drugs. One of those things is going to 12 step meetings. Look, every bad TV movie of the week with Markie Post or the mom from Family Ties has very dramatic scenes of folks tearfully sitting in meetings and admitting they have a problem. And after a few commercial breaks, this person has their shit together. A billion movies, a billion more books and endless other forms of media have covered the idea of meetings and how they help addicts so many times that even non-addicts have a somewhat solid idea of how 12-step programs work. So I sort of don’t talk about meetings all that much. I figure that people who need them go to them and the ones who don’t, can watch it on TV. Nothing I say will make people go to a meeting. There’s not, like, Yelp reviews for this kind of thing. Like, “great meeting but I wish the coffee was French roast–3 stars.”

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Also, meetings and the literature you find in them, have been effective and around for a long, long time and there’s nothing I can add that would be fresh.  However, I feel sort of compelled to write about them today because a.) they have saved my life (although it took a tad longer than a commercial break) and b.) because sometimes they’re really, really hilarious. Without breaking anonymity of others or giving out addresses or specifics, I can say the very idea of a room full of emotional disasters ripe with varying degrees and flavors of mental illness is inherently hilarious. And today’s meeting was the perfect example of that. The chairperson at today’s meeting ignored the format, cross-talked like she was on Meet the Press and got lost several times. She went rogue and off book much to the chagrin of old-timers in the meeting. The attendees murmured to themselves and shared entirely too long. The whole thing went off the rails and started to get surreal. And after 45 minutes of all things crazy, your’s truly couldn’t stop giggling. I blame the girl next to me. She started it. Her shoulders moved up and down and she laughed to herself and I joined in. When things get awkward or weird or just random, I think it’s really hilarious. It’s so human and goofy and I have to laugh.

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Once upon a time, this kind of wackadoodle meeting might have ticked me off or made me leave early. In the early days, I looked to meetings to lift me up and tell me how to live without getting wasted. And when things got weird or real back then I couldn’t deal.  But not today. Today, I had to laugh because these are my muthafucking people. I laughed because I get it. I get them. These folks have what I have. These folks are showing up in the middle of a Tuesday to save their own lives. And for all their faults and hilarity, these folks are my heroes and I’m honored to be in their company.

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There’s a line in recovery literature which says, “we are people who normally would not mix.” There’s also references to folks in recovery being like survivors of a disaster.

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From my experience, both statements happen to be true. I’ve been to meetings with high-powered attorneys, Hollywood stars, hipsters, homeless people, all gays, mixed and everything in between. I can’t be sure how this is possible but when all you want to do is stop trying drinking or using, all prejudices fly out the window. For the most part, considering they’ve all come back from the brink of death, this assorted group of nuts is usually a pretty happy and welcoming bunch no matter what meeting you go to. I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve fought this battle with lately.  And the book I juts finished reading 90 Days talks about the power of these people too. The people who I was lucky enough to have save my ass on several occasions and in a couple of different States (both mental and geographic). It took a village to lift my glitter covered self out of the gutter. By just showing up and saying, “Hey I feel like shit over here and I need some help” they helped me. Or by sharing that their life was really challenging and they felt like drinking and using. Or whenever I just heard someone say “I’m _______ and I’m an alcoholic.”  I felt less freakish and less alone. I felt like I had the support of these people who were nothing like me.  And I wanted to help them too.

End-ceremony-star-wars-a-new-hope-12500053-820-444These misfits, these people who I wouldn’t normally mix with are the people I like being around the most. They get me. We speak the same crazy language and have the same fucked-up thoughts. And we’ve fought the same battles. As a result of this recovery deal, my life has gotten amazing and wonderful and big. The odd thing is that sometimes this life makes it hard for me to get to meetings and spend time with my fellow warriors.This week was really busy and I only went to one meeting. Well, by today I was pretty much a complete lunatic. I think I actually floated to my meeting that’s much I needed to go there. As soon as I sat down and exhaled, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was home– again.

That’s what’s so incredible about this blog too. “My People” read this too and I read their blogs and so on and so on. This experience with UrtheInspiration has been so powerful and so much fun I figured why not make it even bigger? So I’m happy to announce that I am finally fast-tracking the book proposal for a book based on this blog and I’ll be featuring guest bloggers, this fall too. But more on that later. For now, thanks for being my people. I couldn’t do this without you.

thanks for letting me cher

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In a misty Santa Monica park, on top of a green hill, with the sound of fog warnings coming from the beach and dogs barking, there’s a rec center. In addition to what sounded like some pretty spicy dance classes, this center also has meetings of the 12 step variety. Meetings I needed very much when I first moved to the beach in 2009 in hopes of turning my shipwreck of a life around.  My first time there I peered in the window and saw all these happy smiling people. Well, this certainly couldn’t be a meeting for drunks and drug addicts. Where was the crying? Where were the hobos with the red bandana knapsacks and pork pie hats? Where were the junkies in wheelchairs on death’s door? Being convinced I was in the wrong place, I quickly got out of there before anybody noticed me.  What I didn’t I know was that was the right place and I would be spending a lot of time there in the months to come.

12 step meetings are crazy ass places. Drama. Laughter. Breakdowns. Breakthroughs. Bunnies. No, really, there was an actress from the 80’s who used to bring her pet rabbit to the meeting. Maybe the bunny had a drinking problem. It’s all the stuff people watch reality tv for but without the commercials. Unlike those televised travesties, meetings actually save people’s lives. I’m not exactly sure how but people who go all the time usually stop doing drugs, drinking, gambling screwing everything in sight or whatever else might ail them. Again, this magical juju is beyond my comprehension. Sure I can tell you the names of the kids on Full House or the order of the singles released on Madonna’s True Blue record, but mysteries of the universe are beyond my comprehension. What I did notice about these gatherings is the folks who shared about their struggles and the solutions to said struggles and did so on a regular basis managed to stay sober. One day after a gathering of these brave people, my heart was full. I left the meeting and as I walked down the fog covered hill, this song started came from the SUV of one of the people leaving the meeting:

I started laughing. Not only because of the song’s goofy jingly-jangly intro or the lyrical parallels to attendees of the meeting, but because it’s Cher. Diva, icon and former spouse to someone who used drugs and alcohol like I did, Cher is everything. I love Cher for the camp factor, for her music and because as a gay man in his forties, it’s the law. Cher is also the ultimate symbol  of survival. Ain’t no Equal commercial or bad movie gonna keep her down!  Just when we think she’s done, she comes back. With a few months sober and back from the brink of self-destruction, I could kind of relate.  I could go on with the Cher metaphor (“I was once a ‘Dark Lady’ and now I ‘Believe”) but I won’t. What people like Cher, Madonna Cyndi Lauper and Boy George represented to me as a kid was individuality and strength, things I so desperately wanted. Meetings were the first place I felt like I could be myself. The real version. I could say, “hey, I’m not feeling good.” or “I need help” without giving a crap about what people thought. I soon began to find my life but bigger than that I learned I didn’t have to do any of this alone. And thankfully, my road to individuality and being able to share my problems was one that didn’t require headdresses or assless pants.

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minutes & moments matter

“It’s like you’re giving birth to a big sober baby!” a friend of mine told me when I was about to celebrate nine months of sobriety back in October 2009. I laughed at her metaphor but it was kind of true. Whatever was growing inside of me was not the same hopeless drugged-out, eternally hung over monster that I was before. The longest I had ever gone since the age of 20 was five months. At  age 36, 9 months seemed like an impossibility. You don’t see that chip handed out at meetings very much and based on my own hellish days in early sobriety, I understood why. At seven months, I received my HIV-positive diagnosis, had a cyst yanked out of my face by the thorough yet sadistic Dr. Wong, attempted to piece back together my life after leaving a long-term relationship and basically tried daily not to drink or kill myself. Just getting to 9 months was like winning a race. Even though I knew I hadn’t graduated, the fact I made to that moment, really meant something.

It is strange that the life of a drunk, so free of schedules and oblivious to the concept of timing, suddenly becomes sensitive to every second when they stop drinking. Personally, I clung to tiny  little glimpses of joy as proof perhaps this hell wasn’t going to last forever. I collected happy minutes and hours, reflecting on them, leaning on them when times got dark. Coloring with my nieces, devouring big slices of pizza on beach by myself, random laughter with friends in recovery-  kept the lights on and kept me going. In Southern California, recovery milestones are met with lots of clapping, sometimes singing and cake. In the beginning I rolled my eyes and snickered at this stuff. After a few months, I found myself singing, clapping and even crying like my life depended on it.

Currently, I have people in my life counting days and collecting moments. Restarting sober lives, waiting for difficulties to pass, changing for the first time, learning to live without someone. Seems to be going around. And thank God.  Hope, for me, exists largely in the human capacity for change. Also, watching others hang onto moments and minutes forces me to be grateful for my own. Mainly, it gives me the strength to keep growing and changing too. Fears and difficult stuff didn’t vanish in a puff of glitter just because I stopped being a drunken dipshit. Quite the contrary. But if I try to love this moment and be thankful for the happy minutes, it’s amazing how much easier it all seems.

The Library

I remember the first real meeting I went to. For those of you just joining us, by “meeting” I mean for the things alcoholics and drug addicts go to, not  a meeting like the high-powered thing CEOs go to with catered lunches and glass top conference room tables. This not-as-glamorous but equally as powerful meeting took place on the 4 floor of a dilapidated senior living complex in downtown Los Angeles. My recovery plan was simple.  I figured I’d sail in there,  shed some crocodile tears and legions of good-looking and helpful people would rally around  me and fix my life. I would then leave a brand new person, never to return. This rinky-dink library was filled with vintage page-turners by Nelson DeMille and Jackie Collins and probably didn’t see a lot of reading going on. I suspected it was more of an alternative napping place for the residents. (That’s how I plan on spending my golden years, by the way: finding new and kind of inappropriate places to fall asleep.) It figures that my first meeting would be in a library. I’ve spent the better part of my life hiding in libraries and stumbling on life changing information and this encounter was no different.

On my way to sit down, a really, really happy smiling older man in a flannel shirt and tan pants accosted me with a small square of paper. After getting my name, he explained the paper was to ask anonymous questions about getting sober. “Can you please shoot me?” or “What the hell am I doing here?” didn’t seem like the kind of inquires they were looking for so I kept the paper blank. As the meeting started, I surveyed the room looking for the three categories of  I normally look for upon entering a new situation: ” Fashionable people I want to talk to”, “Guys I Want to Sleep With” and People I Can’t Wait to Judge. It was a Tuesday afternoon so it was slim pickings for all three. Having grown up with a dad who got sober I was familiar with the slogans and prayers and pomp and circumstance to be found at an AA meeting. Within in moments, like clockwork all of it was there. But just as fast, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Also, these people were really fucked up. I mean seriously. Relapses, depression, suicide attempts, jail time and that was all from people who’d been sober awhile! Where was the hugging and smiling and instant life-fixing? It sure the fuck wasn’t next to the Mary Higgins Clark books and burnt coffee in the senior center library. Still, I was desperate enough to stay and listen. I listened as a tough looking Latino guy (who would have comfortably fit into Category number 2 if times were rough and trust me, they were) read the questions and other alcoholics answered them. I listened to a hipster dude talk about how his world had improved. I listened to a girl cry who said drinking had made her life a mess. But mainly, I listened to people who kept coming to meetings. For years. And years. Older men, the smiling variety who didn’t fit into any of my categories, shared about how they kept coming to meetings and never drank, no matter what. Hearing this I started to cry. Suddenly my life flashed before my eyes. An eternity spent in dank smelly libraries listening to drunk people who tried to kill themselves. Somehow I don’t think I put this scenario on my vision board.

At the end of the meeting, my friend the smiling guy gave me a chip, he hugged me and told me to keep coming back. “Like Hell I will!”, I thought to myself. But I did come back. Because even though this seemed like the end of the world and the last fucking thing I wanted to do, my life was just beginning. Mainly, I came back because I wasn’t fixed yet and maybe it wouldn’t happen in one sitting but at least these people were laughing and weren’t drinking. No, I wouldn’t have imagined a new start happening in a shitty senior center in downtown LA but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.