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. 

Cute Pandas Playing On The Slide

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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A Dream Deferred No Longer

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What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– ‘Harlem’ by Langston Hughes

I remember reading those words as a young kid and thinking, “Wow. That sounds awful. A life without living your dreams? How horrible.”  I read them again at age 36 and thought, “Tell me about it.” True, I have no idea about what living in the crime ridden Harlem of Hughes’ poem is like but I certainly knew a thing or two about deferring my dreams. The fact is I buried my dreams for a long, long time. Sure it sounds terrible but you’d bury your dreams too if you were me.  It’s because my relationship was bad. It’s because my childhood was tough. It’s because I don’t look like a model or come from a celebrity family or own a Mercedes. Actually, it was because I was high and drunk for a couple of decades and when reality slips away from you for that long, your dreams are the first things to go. It’s insane how easily I let my dreams just walk out the door. Things I wanted to do since childhood just vanished and I let them go without a fight.

A few years into sobriety, I had what someone in recovery poetically referred to as “the country song in reverse”- you know, getting the car, the job, the wife and the dog back. And the dreams. Mainly, I got my dreams back. When I was a kid I wrote plays for my teddy bears and stories and poems and that’s all I ever wanted to do. Yesterday, I finished my second full-length play. Me the drug addict whose biggest accomplishment was finishing a case of two buck Chuck finished writing another play! One that people are going to come and see! How the hell did that happen? Frankly I have no idea. This process this time around was TOUGH. I wrestled back and forth with the plot, the dialogue, the characters. I second guessed my creativity, my sense of humor, my choices. I battled with it for nearly a year with tons of starts and stops in that time frame. Magically, a few days ago I surrendered and moved the fuck out-of-the-way. That’s when the miracles happened and here we are with a great version that will look good and hopefully make people laugh when it makes it to the stage this spring. 

However, most of that is out of my control. I can’t force people to love it or pay people to laugh. Or maybe I could but I’m way too lazy to mastermind that sort of manipulation. All I know is that I delivered on what I promised, I showed up and did the work. And today, that’s what a dream looks like. It didn’t dry up or rot or get put on hold. But maybe they do explode. Maybe they blow up and set a bunch of other amazing things, hidden wishes and  life-long desires in motion. I know. It sounds crazy but a guy can dream, can’t he?

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.

Inspiration for August 9th: Purple Rain

August of 1984 was a great time to be a kid who loved movies. I stumbled on a list of the top movies for August 3rd thru the 9th while researching this post. All I can say is holy crap. This list contains every film from that year I either saw and loved (Muppets Take Manhattan, Ghostbusters,  Last Starfighter, a re-issue of the Jungle Book and Karate Kid), wanted to see but didn’t until later (Neverending Story, Gremlins Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) or movie I was too young to see (Revenge of the Nerds, Bachelor Party) and today’s inspiration Purple Rain. Purple Rain was the badass movie with the incredible soundtrack that every teen or preteen in my life got to see. Everybody but me. R rated movies were a no-no and for a kid who broke every other rule in the book this was one I obeyed.

When I finally saw the film on VHS (three letters to confirm your suspicions that I am in fact a gentlemen of a certain age), I was blown away. Yes, it’s sexual content was scandalous for sort-of-good Catholic boy like myself. And yeah even I could tell the acting was wooden and the plot was kind of silly. But what sold the whole deal was Prince. Tiny with giant hair and shiny superhero-ish costumes, Prince had swagger before we even knew what swagger was. His extraordinary talent made us believe he was a sex symbol and even made the world like this goofy-melodramatic movie. Prince thoroughly owns his whole self in that film especially in the mind-blowing musical performances. In the end, we leave Purple Rain thinking it’s fucking fantastic because of him and because he believes in the Prince package as much as we do.

Talk about an inspiration. In fact don’t hate if Prince shows up in these pages again. The guy is that brilliant. In the meantime, I’m going to incorporate a little of that Prince swagger in myself today. Maybe I don’t have the balls (or other body parts) needed to wear his assless pants but I can try to embrace my whole self and believe in my own talents too.

Stages

I was recently told by a new friend that I have a, “larger than life personality” which could be a passive aggressive way of calling me obnoxious. But this friend meant it as a good thing. I’m embarking on a new (and pardon the theatrical puns from here on out) stage of my writing career. My first play opens next Friday!

The thing is, I’ve had to rely on my big ass personality recently to get press interested and to sell myself. Even though I’m the playwright I am also the PR guru for the theater company. So with other shows I try to get people interested in the “story” not only the plot of the play but the story that could potentially run on their website, blog or publication. However, with this show, I am also selling my product – the play and me as a writer. The crazy thing is.. people are actually interested in both! This is proof of serious progress because I couldn’t ever really sell myself before. Sure I could sweet talk my way into a gig but when I fell short or fell out of favor,  the jig would be up. Nobody ever really “bought” what I was selling because I didn’t really buy it myself. I was pretty dang miserable for a long time and it became increasingly more difficult to convince myself otherwise. So this is where the progress sticks out like a sore thumb- I actually like the product I’m selling! I’m  incredibly proud of the play and proud of actually finishing something I said I would do. It’s been a  longtime dream to have a play written and performed and  now it’s happening. Terrific.

The writing process was not easy but that’s primarily because I’m a pain in the ass. My self-destructive mind kept wanting to quit in the middle or sabotage the whole affair with crazy drama.  Today somebody in the meeting referred to the steps as “stages” like  longer  life experiences, instead of tasks. I like that and think my stage currently is one of continued and increased spiritual upkeep. It isn’t pretty having an ego that tells you that you’re either God or complete caca and nothing in between. In order to achieve some kind of middle ground, I have to continue to do the work and fully embrace the stages and steps and seasons of my life. Did I just kind of quote Stevie Nicks there? Anyway, my point is ( and I’m nearly positive I have one) is that thanks to recovery from alcoholism and addiction I can be both happy and proud of my progress and open and willing to make even more changes. Unlike my play which is now the actors’ and director’s problem child to deal with and nurture, my story continues to belong to me. I know through experience that only way that story gets better is if I continue to get better.

I Want It That Way

Here’s a fun thing to try: punch the word “sober” into Google news and see whatcha come up with. Well, maybe it’s not that fun but I’m easily entertained. Anyway upon doing this exercise yesterday, I read the following amazing headline: BACKSTREET BOY A.J. MCLEAN PROUD HE MARRIED WHILE SOBER. Normal, non-drunken hot messes must be like “Well, duh” when they read such a headline.

But for those of us in recovery or trying to get sober, getting through your own wedding without being bombed seems like something very remarkable indeed. Personally, there wasn’t an event-major or otherwise- that I didn’t  try being loaded for. Concerts? Check. Going to the laundromat? Check. Work? Check. Easter brunch? Check. Sunday brunch? Check. Disneyland? Check. Cher concert, thrift store shopping, movies? Check, check and ch-ch-check. But for an alcoholic like myself the “big” events were really carte blanche for getting drunk. My brain would rationalize mass consumption of alcohol with a dialogue like this “Well, weddings/funerals/job promotions are reasons to celebrate and they’re kind of stressful. So I might as well have a few drinks. Isn’t that what everyone does to celebrate their wedding/funeral/job promotion?”  Oh but the thing about me is that I don’t know how to celebrate with alcohol. I never did. I know how to drink alcoholically until I throw up, pass out, cuss you out, score drugs, or wind up doing something stupid/dangerous/crazy.

As I’ve talked about before, it’s nice to have milestones and to be able to actually remember them. Like AJ, I recently got married. I too was awake and present for every special and beautiful moment. I remember looking into my husband’s eyes while the sun was shining in Central Park and thinking “Wow. I’m so lucky and I’m so glad I’m sober for all of this.” Unlike AJ, I didn’t have Nick Carter at my reception. But either way, if you’re a boy band member or a freelance writer or a Burger King employee and you’re sober than everyday is a special occasion indeed.