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.
“I’m so happy you’re here. Now, STAY!”the lady with a billion years of sobriety told me on January 2nd. Stay. Of all the heartfelt things people said to me after the meeting the recent afternoon wherein I picked up a chip celebrating 4 years of sobriety, “stay” was the most profound. Just typing that makes my eyes well up and my chest feel heavy. We tell our furry friends like that handsome devil pictured above to stay because we don’t want them to run off and because we want them to stick around and not get hurt. There was time I would have thought getting such a command would have been insulting. Now being told to “stay” sounds like something honorable indeed.
Simple to say or write down, to “stay” sober or in recovery is far from easy. I want to stay at the bar or stay miserable but stay and get better? That sounds really tough. Yet somehow that is exactly what happened. I’m not sure why I’ve stayed in recovery. Probably because I was finally in enough pain to stick around and see if I could get help. By nature, I am vanishing act which is to say I have always sought and found ways to disappear. Whether it was hiding under the stairs in a secret room in my grandparent’s house, concealing notes from creditor’s in junk drawers or cramming ecstasy down my throat, I am a master of not being here and not dealing. Staying and being present in the sober world, frankly, sucks sometimes. Not having the option to check out means I have to really experience life’s most horrible, most boring and most uncomfortable moments; straight up and with no chaser.
The kicker is that by staying and being able to walk amongst the living not stinking like a tequila processing plant is that I also get the good stuff too. I recently sat in auditions for the new show I have opening this spring trying to jump out of my skin with excitement. Here were these ridiculously talented performers saying my stupid words and making the whole thing sound just amazing and sitting next to me was my brilliant husband. How did this happen to the former waiter who was trying to drink and snort himself off the planet a mere 4 years ago? I guess the not surprising and maybe not incredibly deep answer is: I stayed. I kept trying. I kept making mistakes. From couch surfing and chicken sitting to HIV clinics and detox meetings, I stayed. Most incredibly, no matter what shitty news came my way, I stayed sober and never picked up. Again, I’m not sure how a lifelong hider transformed into a stayer, but I’m glad I did.
Speaking of staying, this blog is staying put too. I took sometime off to wear my increasingly large and all-encompassing playwright hat but I’m back and it feels good. I have lots of fun stuff happening in 2013 including a new ebook, an essay collection, multiple theater offerings and lots more blogging. In closing, I’m terrible at advice and never follow it in my own life until its too late but I will say this: If you’re going through something difficult and want to run the opposite direction, trying staying right where you are first. Because as it was said to me and I mean this “I’m glad you are here. Now STAY!”
If you randomly bust into dance moves when you hear “Le Freak” by Chic coming from the sound system at the grocery store, if you still expect to be on the guest list even though you have been to a nightclub in several years or if you suffer from minor hearing loss due to dancing next to speakers for an extended period of time; you may be suffering from disco damage. Other common symptoms include the unwavering belief that nothing gets good until after 12am, spontaneously yelling “Hey girl!” at drag queens even if you don’t know them and a deep desire to dance instead of dealing with your life.
Disco damage sufferers like myself have a had tough week. The back-to-back deaths of Donna Summer and Robin Gibb reinforced the depressing, unavoidable truth: nothing,not even a great dance song, lasts forever. I was a toddler during the original disco era but the beat must have seeped into my brain at an early age because my whole life I’ve been in love with dance music. Yes, I am aware that an affinity for dance music is part of my gay DNA but disco and the culture around it were very much a fantasyland and that appealed to me very much as a future drug addict and alcoholic.
I was scooped into nightclubs and raves at an early age. And what goes better with dance music than drugs? Body glitter and platforms are fabulous but if I really wanted to dance my ass off, drugs had to be my number one accessory. Once at a rave in a warehouse in suburban Denver, the Chic song I mentioned earlier came blasting out of the speakers. I was high on ecstasy and it felt like this was my moment. This is what I was looking for my whole life. I had friends on the dance floor, I felt fantastic and I was 20. This kind of high needed to happen all the time and normal life needed to feel more like this. So it was this feeling, this hunger that propelled me from Colorado raves to LA nightclubs to working at a record store and to DJing and promoting my own clubs in Hollywood. The goal of a budding disco diva was simple: get high and dance. Ecstasy was the preferred dancing accoutrement for many years but cocaine did the trick and so did some strong cocktails. (For the record, 3 Long Islands and 2 Vicodins aren’t a great dance floor combo and we’ll leave it at that.) There’s a great line in the disco classic, “Lost in Music” by Sister Sledge that sums it up:”Responsibility to me is a tragedy. I’ll get a job some other time.” For many years, I worked to keep partying, I kept partying to avoid really living.
Eventually, the lights came on, last call was called and I tried to live real life. For a club child, this is a difficult prospect. We’re used to phony relationships and being high all the time. Things like paying our bills and dealing with our problems are icky tasks meant for those boring, grownups we’d see heading to church on Sunday mornings on our way home from the club. I eventually would face the music and lucky for me that music still had a disco beat. You could take the homo out of the nightclub but disco would forever “toot, toot- aah- beep beep” in my heart. Donna Summer and the Bee Gees were the soundtrack to my growing up, the background music at the roller rink and still bumping at after hours clubs when I was hell-bent on vanishing in the 1990s and 2000s. Now, songs like Nights on Broadway or Try Me I Know We Can Make it are celebrations that despite ingesting more drugs than a Rick James after-party, I too will survive. My dance parties today take place at my desk most of the time although I still occasionally hit the clubs with other sober folks. So be kind to me if you see me shaking my booty in the frozen food aisle to Bad Girls or Jive Talking. It’s just a little disco damage and a sweet hangover that I don’t wanna get over.
“Your people sure do love margaritas!’ said the Argentinian lady I used to work for back in the mid-1990s. And she was right. The restaurant she owned was packed on the weekend with gays and lesbians just getting their drink on. Now, a new study from The Center for American Progress says that not only do “my people” love their cocktails but they are more prone to drug and alcohol abuse then our straight counterparts.
I talked about this months ago on these pages and have often wondered what, if any, is the correlation between LGBTs and addiction/alcoholism. Based on my own non-scientific yet vast field experience, I would ascertain that we queers are one cracked out, jacked up drunken mess of a group of people. But clearly I’m no researcher. I like to think of myself as more of a lab rat. Thankfully, this study which pulled data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other studies, did the real work. The organization claims “that an estimated 20-30% of gay and transgender Americans have abused substances, compared to 9% of the general public” according to TheFix.com. That staggering number confirms what the LGBT community has known for decades but refuses to talk about; addiction and alcoholism are killing thousands of gays and lesbians. So why, after all the knowledge we have about addiction does it continue to ravage the gay community? “The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principal driver of these higher rates of substance use, as gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges,” the report states. “And a lack of culturally competent health care services also fuels high substance-use rates among gay and transgender people.” Gay and transgender folks, the study says, are also 200% more likely to smoke tobacco than hetrosexuals while gay men are 3.5 times more likely to smoke pot than straight guys.
I can’t begin to speak on the drinking and drug habits of all gay people. (Contrary to popular belief we don’t all know each other.) But for me personally, I read a survey like that and find those numbers to be right on in my own life. Drug abuse? Check. Alcoholism? Check. Smoking? Check. I’m not sure about the hypothesis of why gays and lesbians drink and drug more though. For me it was a combo of things. Being gay was one part but mainly I drank and used to escape, to get away from a person I hated–myself. I had a lot of shame and not all of it was centered on being gay. Ironically, my “battles with discrimination and stigma”,as the study calls them, were more inflamed while I was using. I don’t encounter that kind of resistance in my sober life but that’s a different study altogether. Personally, I don’t believe being gay or being the child of an alcoholic or being bullied or having a high voice alone made me an alcoholic. It was all kind of written in the stars before I got here and it was up to me to either meet the challenges or not. But that’s my crazy ass beliefs. My hope is that gay leaders can look at this study and say “Our community has a problem. What do we do about it?” Ignoring it and having Absoult sponsor our gay Pride floats isn’t helping matters, in my opinion.
But what do you guys think? Does this study hold any water? Will it bring out much-needed honest conversation? Or are LGBTs doomed to a life of addiction? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section!
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?
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.