A pair of news stories popped up in my Twitter this morning feed that I found interesting. This is a miracle for several reasons a.) I actually read something other than an arbitrary list about Mean GIrls or Disney Princesses and b.) that I could relate to two stories featuring behavior most people find completely irrational. The first was about Rob Ford. Over the last 48 hours, simply walking by a computer or turning on a smartphone and not seeing the name “Rob Ford” pop up has been an impossibility. Ford, if you don’t know, is the Toronto mayor who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.
Late night comedians and news outlets have had a field day with Ford since last year when a video of him smoking crack surfaced online. Despite the obvious content of the video, Ford denied he smoked crack or used illegal drugs. Then in January another video popped up of the mayor babbling incoherently at a fast food window. And finally, today he took a break from the campaign trail to enter rehab after another video of him smoking crack surfaced. While non-addicts shake their heads and spout off one-liners about Ford and wonder what the heck he was thinking, I feel like all this sounds totally par for the course. Moreover, to me his thinking sounds perfectly logical. As an addict, my natural instinct is to lie and deny. Doesn’t matter if cocaine powder has rimmed my nostril like sugar on a donut or if tequila is coming out of my pores, if you ask me I’ll tell you that, “I’m fine. I’m just tired.” From my experience this is how we roll. Insane bullshit ideas and wackadoodle plans are just the norm. Doesn’t matter how famous we are or how many videos exist, we don’t get the message until we’re really ready. By entering rehab, we can hope maybe he’s starting to get the message. In the meantime, it’d sure be nice if the media showed him and other addicts compassion, instead of stringing them up like piñatas and beating the crap out of them.
Sadly, a lot of the time we addicts don’t get the message at all. Like in the other news story that I read this morning about a couple who after killing a relative and struggling with crippling heroin addiction jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Ugh. To call this devastating is a total understatement and yet again, I totally get it. Addiction is a dark place and if it gets dark enough, ending it seems like the only option. In her suicide note left for her 4 children the woman heartbreakingly wrote,”I’m sorry. I beg you to remember that Nickie that I used to be. Before I was introduced to heroin. You would not understand how much it would hurt for me to wake up every single day without you. I do know that I am taking the cowardly way out. I just don’t want to hurt people anymore.”As usual, the comments sections on the stories about this couple can be relied on for complete ignorance on the nature of addiction and should be avoided if you want to retain some serenity. But as horrible and tragic as their story is, I can’t help but feel lucky and blessed that at least for today, at least for right now, I know I have other options. I know that people can get better. Even murderers or crack smoking mayors. Mainly, I know that my crazy ideas are better off if I run them by somebody first and that I don’t have to do any of this recovery business by myself. And that gives me a lot of hope.
As I listened to a beloved member of my fellowship share a heartbreaking story of his brother who committed suicide after decades of struggling to get sober, two things happened. First, the idiotic, self-involved stuff I was worried about instantly melted away. Nothing like legitimate tragedy to put your “problems” in perspective. And second, a thought that always hits me when I hear news like this came over me once again: “Joe.”
Joe wasn’t my best friend in recovery. Joe wasn’t somebody I hung out with. In fact, Joe was actually someone I was kind of jealous of. Handsome, smart and with an incredible job Joe and his partner were the kind of gay couple in recovery us single losers wanted to be. But Joe and I did have two big things in common: the same home group and we both got sober on January 2nd 2009. When we picked up one year anniversary chips, Joe and I finally exchanged numbers and looked like we were moving towards becoming friends. Sadly, I never got to use his number. Joe and his partner relapsed and struggled to stay in the program. A few months later, Ken came home and found Joe dead in his bathtub. After struggling to get back into recovery, Joe couldn’t take it and like so many of us do, committed suicide. His death hit me like a ton of bricks. Here was a guy with my same sobriety date who seemed to have everything, dead in the blink of an eye. A shockwave of sadness flowed through our group and folks rallied around his heartbroken spouse. At the time, my grief manifested in wondering “Why Joe and not me?” I wondered for a long time why some us get to stay and keep being sober while others relapse and get taken out by this disease. It all seemed so senseless. Wasn’t just wanting it enough?
Three years since Joe’s death and two days since listening to my friend’s talk of heartbreak, I know that just wanting it for someone isn’t enough.They have to want and they have to want to do the work. And while we will never know for certain why some of us get to stay sober and stay alive, I like to think there’s a bigger reason. I put myself in dozens of crazy and dangerous situations and with lethal combinations of chemicals. I’m not sure why that stuff didn’t kill me. I’m equally puzzled as to why I chose to hang onto my life-preserver instead of relapse this go round. But what I do know is since I’m here I owe it to Joe and to my friend’s brother and millions of others to make the most of everyday, to work hard on being less of jerk and to help as many people as I can. I think of it as life-preserver insurance.
My life would make the worst “very special episode” ever. You remember those. A family sitcom or kids show wherein a lead character makes a serious mistake, learns an important lesson and vows to never make that mistake again. Sometimes these lessons were so ridiculous, they become iconic for how silly they are and not really for their powerful message. Jessie and the caffeine pills on Saved by the Bell, anyone?
Other times the “serious issue” itself was so bizarre that it made you question how necessary the entire exercise was. Monroe’s rape and abduction on Too Close for Comfort illustrates this quiet well.
Often these ratings-grabbing sobfests featured special guest stars like Tom Hanks as the alcoholic uncle on Family Ties.
But it didn’t matter if it was Blair smoking weed on The Facts of Life or Punky Brewster shoplifting, the whole mess was always cleared up in 30 minutes (sometimes 60 if it was a really, really special two-part episode.) This is where The Sean Show tanks at very special episodes. See, no matter how many years I have sober or how enlightened I become, my problems are rarely solved in 30 minutes and most of them come back. TV executives must have figured out early that watching a person do the same thing over and over again isn’t entertainment, it’s insanity. although my own experimentation with caffeine pills, wine coolers and a junior high dance only happened once. Jessie would be proud. I mean why mess around with No Doze when you can have cocaine? Now, I’m moving into Kelly Taylor territory.
Anyway, my own issues are thankfully of the” normal, boring and wouldn’t make for a good sitcom” variety these days. Even more undramatic is the way my problems get solved (or don’t get solved as the case may be). Very special episodes of The Sean Show, much to the dismay of television viewers everywhere, would end with me sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of warm milk like they do in TV World and saying “I don’t know” after the kind dad/concerned coworker/mom in fuzzy bathrobe asked me how I was going to handle the problem du jour. Roll the credits and the theme song. Really. That’s my answer to all the life problems I get these days. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. And I don’t have to. By saying I don’t have the answer or know how to fix my problems or the world’s problems, I’m free to be open to real solutions and ideas that the universe will provide even if I don’t have a very special guest star or feature a hotline at the end of the broadcast. Not knowing, to me, means I’ve admitted I need help from a bigger authority. When I’ve reached the place of I don’t know, it means I’ve admitted my ideas won’t work. This is what enlightenment tends to look like in my life today. Not knowing. Who would have thought?
I’m reminded acutely of how little I know when senseless tragedies like the one which happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I don’t know why anyone would do that. I don’t know who would be behind such a thing. I don’t know how people rally and take care of each other during these moments. I don’t know how to even process these kinds of things most of the time. But I do know that we’ll get through it. I do know that, contrary to the mounting evidence, people are good. To quote the theme of another sitcom that was far too smart to ever need a very special episode, love is all around and we are going to make it after all.
“Squirrely.” That’s the word I’ve heard alcoholics use when they describe how they feel before a sober birthday. It’s a pretty accurate description too. The frantic hopping around from tree to tree, the dodging of speeding cars and the general, jumpy squirreliness of the little critters mirrors the moments before a sobriety milestone. Maybe not for every sober person but with my bellybutton birthday happening this Friday and my 4-year sobriety birthday on January 2nd, squirrely is something I can relate to. In fact, I can safely say I currently fall somewhere in between Squirrely Temple and Squirrely MacLaine.
The combination of future tripping, anticipation, anxiety, perfectionism and the holidays thrown in there for good measure has created a perfect storm of cray-cray. I’m also busier than I’ve been all year and taking on new projects almost weekly. Yesterday, I was so squirrely and, not to over use the metaphor, nuts that I was on the verge of cancelling my birthday party and erupting like some emotional volcano. I used to judge a friend of mine who was eternally stressed out and the only way she could handle life was by snorting Vicodin. I know. Me the former hardcore coke whore judging. Needless to say, it’s in tense moments like this I completely understand. Luckily for my nostrils’ sake, however, I calmed the fuck down this morning.
Being squirrely for squirrels makes sense. All the leaping and running and squirreling around is what they do. It’s how they survive. For a nearly 40-year-old gay man who doesn’t even like running or wearing fur, squirreliness makes zero sense. (Sidebar: my nature observation writing is pretty incredible. “Being squirrely for squirrels makes sense” You’re welcome Discovery channel.) Futilely spinning my wheels and getting freaked out about stuff is a waste of emotional dollars. After some prayer and meditation this morning, I realized a couple of things: a.) I’m lucky to have the problems I have today. Just making it to 40 is a freaking miracle for this premiere passenger on Self-Destruction Airways so even if it’s just cake with some friends, I deserve to celebrate. and b.) it happens all the time. By “it”, I mean, all of it. People turn 40 all the time. People celebrate sobriety milestones all the time. People do the work and have generally amazing lives all the time. Thankfully, I’m one of those people.
And people get squirrely all the time. Big deal. My moments of hot messiness make me human and I no longer have to drown these moments out with drugs or alcohol. I now deal with them by writing about them and dragging my fluffy-tailed ass to a meeting.
Happy Birthday, Ronnie Spector!
Clearly, the above song was chosen with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek. Yet Ronnie defines the word “inspiration” for many reasons. Naturally, her genius and one of a kind vocal stylings can be found on 1960’s hits like Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain. But it’s her survivor spirit that inspires me today Ronnie was always considered the badass of the girl group scene. No one knew how much of a badass she really was until decades later when she wrote about living with Phil Spector. According to Wikipedia, Ronnie “claims Spector showed her a gold coffin with a glass top in his basement, promising to kill and display her if she left him. During Spector’s reclusive period in the late 1960s, he reportedly kept his wife locked inside their mansion. She claimed he also hid her shoes to dissuade her from walking outside, and kept the house dark because he did not want anyone to see his balding head. Ronnie stated in her autobiography that she walked out of the house through the closed and locked rear sliding glass door, shoeless, shattering the glass as she left, and feet all cut up by the time she got to the gate. She never returned. Ronnie Spector filed for divorce in 1972.” Whoa. Talk about tough. Ronnie’s ability to survive Phil Spector’s brand of batshit craziness while remaining cool is admirable indeed.
She went on to have a comeback in the 80’s thanks to Eddie Money, record an album with Joey Ramone and recently recorded Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. So yeah she’s still a badass. August 10th is a good of day as any to practice being “tougher”. Not tough in a defensive way, but tougher in the way of not letting little things bug me or hurt my feelings. Letting the small stuff roll of your back while still staying true to yourself is not easy but as Ronnie can tell you, it sure beats walking barefoot over broken glass.