people like us

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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.

starting here, starting now

Something occurred to when I was sitting in a meeting. Well, two things actually. First of all, I’m craving waffles. Like plain old crispy, buttery waffles with the perfect amount of syrup. But not like fancy vegan gluten-free waffles. Because those don’t sound delicious. They just sound sad. And while I am a proponent of the waffle sandwich, earlier I just wanted a regular waffle. The second thing, and I promise it’s more thought-provoking, is this idea of things getting better. While I am a walking, talking show tune-singing testament to things getting better and I say this to people who are suffering all the time because I also believe it to be true, I think there’s more to it. What if things were already better? What if this mythical time when stuff improved was actually now?

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First of all, everyday that I don’t wake up with a head-pounding hangover and nasal passages clogged with blow is a good one. So if we’re talking comparatively, things are a billion times better. Period. I don’t want to die. I’m not getting kicked out of another apartment and I no longer throw items at the people I love. Success all the way around. This does not mean I’m not allowed to be ambitious or get disappointed or occasionally want to bitch slap someone. What it simply means is that if I’m happy with this moment or at least accepting the moment and grateful for what I do have, the rest of this existence is easier to deal with.

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Then I started realizing, while still not totally paying attention to the meeting but having moved passed the waffle obsession, that ‘it’ getting better isn’t the issue here. I’m the issue! Life, planet Earth, the nature of addiction, the fucked up state of our government- these are all things I cannot change. As much as I’d like our planet to be custom tailored to fit my crazy ass, it isn’t going to happen. I have to get better. More than that I can’t delay happiness or gratitude because things aren’t perfect. Pardon my French but fuck that. Waiting for the non-stop bus to Joy is a waste of time. I’ll walk there my damn self, thank you very much. There’s no reason why I can’t choose happiness right now.

How boring and small-minded to think that my happiness is so fragile that I have to portion in out for moments that are perfect. It’s not stuff or people or life that “makes” me happy or sad. I’m the only one who can embrace happiness and I’m also the only one who can tell it to go screw itself. Things are good. Life is good. And it has been all along. Whether I can see it and enjoy it, that’s up to me. So if you are struggling, feel free to punch me when I sincerely say, “It’ll get better.” And by “it” please know that I mean, you. You will get better.

where are my keys and other mysteries of the universe

At the risk of writing the most boring blog post ever created by man, I can’t find my keys. I know. Call the Miss Marple. Who needs CNN when you’ve got me breaking these kind of headlines? But really I can’t find them. While this nonemergency is annoying, it brought up an old feeling of panic; one that I haven’t felt in a while.

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Back when I drank and used, I was a loser. Not only in “so why don’t you kill me (go crazy with the Cheez Whiz)” sort of way but in the way I’d get drunk and lose things. Phones, wallets, keys– you name it. In general, if I could find all of my belongings after a night of drinking than clearly I didn’t drink enough. I never once lost drugs, though. Priorities, people. Priorities. Sometimes these losses were items temporarily misplaced like your standard cellphone in the refrigerator kind of thing. Other times, these items would fall into the great abyss and presumed gone forever. Although, I did find a few phones in fucked up places in my old apartment long after the service and the chicness of the Motorola Razr had both worn off. I joke but waking up and not knowing if your personal belongings are still with you is a horrible feeling. Even worse is waking up and not knowing where you yourself is. Losing a wallet is one thing but misplacing a drunken gay man in his 30’s is just unacceptable. This lifestyle of calamity, of not knowing where anything is, is awful. I’d crawl out of bed and make sure my wallet was where I left it and then I’d check my phone to make sure I didn’t text anything too awful. Investigating the nightly crime scene of my own drunken existence every morning was an exhausting task. Towards the end, my daily terror wasn’t caused by the things I lost but by the parts of mind that were starting to go missing. I drank to sleep. I drank before, during and after work. I was either riddled with intense anxiety in those final months or living in a delusion that everything would magically get better on its own. Like I said, I was losing my mind and it sucked.

So this dumb, current misplacing of my keys momentarily brought up that panic and terror that I lived in. I tore through my apartment; overturning couch cushions and pulling open drawers.  And still nothing. This frantic looking for my keys started to feel all too familiar and it had to stop. So I had some cookies, watched Community and went to bed. After meditation this morning, I looked for them again and still nothing. I’ll call the coffee shop and see if they wound up there. Follow me on Twitter for more late breaking developments on this important story. I’m laughing about all of this because in comparison to losing my mind and my sanity, keys are no big deal. They can be replaced. My sanity? Well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to hold on to that just so it doesn’t go the way of the Motorola Razr again.

inappropriately appropriate

I was told four years ago by a mental health professional that perhaps a future goal of mine should be having “appropriate relationships” with people. Say what?

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This meant behaviors like blackmailing friends to do what I want, co-dependently controlling those around me and defaulting to martyr people pleaser mode would have to stop. Also getting the heave-ho in this quest for appropriateness? One night stands, relationships built on substances and friends acquired because of their status.They would have to be replaced by giving to others without wanting something in return, not dominating conversations with overblown emotions and generally being more considerate. This all seemed pretty difficult especially not letting emotions steamroll my whole life. When you grow up in alcoholism land, explosive crying, insane rages of anger and non-stop arguing are just kind of the norm. I learned it early and practiced it all throughout my 30s. Emotions, either of the crazy variety or the extreme repressed flavor, could become weapons in relationships and I wasn’t afraid to use them to get what I needed. Also, when you’re high and drunk for a couple of decades, the concepts of normal and appropriate become incredibly warped. You mean not everyone throws electronic devices at their boyfriends? My bad. So re-learning how to be a better friend, husband, brother and son has been a journey just like my recovery.  The biggest thing I’ve learned and have to relearn pretty regularly is that not everything is about me.

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Hard to believe but it is true. Dominating situations with emotions, personal drama and personal wants is the oldest of old behavior and something that needed to go. Teenage histrionics were something fitting at the time but in my late 30’s they were just pathetic. I’ve learned this isn’t about ignoring how I feel. Quiet the contrary. It’s about breathing and honestly assessing situations before I let emotions drive my bus into the Grand Canyon. The other thing this mental health person told me was I had to remember that no one could make me feel anything. What. A. Revelation!!! If I was in charge of my emotions, I could no longer blame others for making me feel certain things and therefore escape accountability for my actions. Again, this was another tall order. But if I wanted relationships built on love and honesty, I had to knock it off.

Today, being the married man I am, I have lots of opportunities to practice (and forget) these lessons. While my small group of friends and I indulge in the occasional bawdy, inappropriate conversation, I’m proud to say these relationships are appropriate. Free of guilt, ridiculous expectations and questionable motives, my friendships are simply allowed to be fun, supportive and precious. In my day job, I do a lot of social media marketing for clients on Facebook, Twitter and the like. I recently had to explain to a client the difference between ‘personal’ and ‘social”. Social is a lively Facebook thread about something timely from pop culture, for example. Personal, and therefore maybe not the kind of thing you should post, would be things like posting photos from a recent neck boil operation or the details of your divorce. As we discussed this delicate art of being able to express personality and humor without crossing into inappropriateness, it dawned on me I was the one being asked for advice on this kind of thing. Me, the former master of disaster relationships! Talk about a change. My friend the mental health professional would be so proud.

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Maybe its the heat. Or the fires. Or the stress from all these doctors appointments. But today, despite my best efforts, I was crabby. Maybe even a little bitchy. And sort of crazy.

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A telltale sign that old Sean isn’t his shiny happy self is when I start yelling at inanimate objects and muttering to myself like the guy outside the soup kitchen who looks like Famous Amos and mumbles about conspiracy theories. So earlier today when I cussed out an ice cube tray and yelled at my phone charger, I knew I wasn’t in the best shape. I actually started wandering around my apartment,  bitching at no one or nothing in particular. This was not cute.  I was a Nick Nolte beard and handmade sign away from being totally batshit. Luckily, no human beings were harmed in my momentary lapse in mental health.

Mainly, my patience is shot and I feel totally and utterly overwhelmed. I wanted to wallow and sleep all day. But thanks largely to the criminal lack of chocolate in my apartment and a simmering feeling that I needed to get outside of my crabby-ass self, I went to a meeting. For 60 minutes, my crap melted away and seeing people I love and who love me back–crabbiness and all- healed my stank attitude, even if it was only temporary. This works for me over and over again. Hearing others hope and strength and courage suddenly makes whatever crabbiness and self-pity I’m going through seem ridiculous. But today something else happened too. People in my meeting who know what I’m going through came up and hugged me and asked if I needed anything.I felt like regardless of how awful my mood was I was going to get thru it.

These feelings of “kumbaya” faded after a phone call from my clinic which began, “I don’t mean to freak you out but…” Really? Who does that? Just FYI healthcare people of planet Earth: just by saying I don’t mean to freak you out, you’ve already done so. It wasn’t too big of a deal however and I’m going back in for a treatment that should help until I get my new meds. It just all seems like a lot right now. Oh crap. Suddenly, I’ve blogged myself from crabby to whiny.

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Before this turns into a therapy session, I’ll wrap it up. This is what I do know: I’m going to be fine. And not being happy all the time and pretending like everything is okay is actually pretty healthy for a chronic people pleaser like myself. Nobody promised me that if I got sober I’d never have another problem ever again. What they did promise me is that I’d have a life beyond my wildest dreams, that I’d never have to drink again and that amazing people would be part of my fellowship.  Crabby attitude and stressed out self aside, I know this to be true and the meeting I went to earlier confirmed it. In the meantime, I’ll work on my attitude.

 

prayers for the terminally self-involved (who are trying to be less so)

Prayer is an interesting topic. It’s a little like cooking a chicken. There’s a billion ways to do it and everybody has their favorite. I guess now would be the time to note that this is a spirituality post and not one about religion. Or cooking chicken for that matter. Although I could ramble about the latter for at least 10,00o words. (Book idea: Eat, Pray, Fry Chicken) Prayer or talking to God or communicating with the universe or whatever you wanna call it is an essential part fo me being less crazy. In the beginning of my sobriety, my prayers were of the “Please help me not drink” or “God, help me make it through today” variety. Today, it varies. I try to take 30 minutes to just hang out and be grateful and pray for people who need help. And most days I pray short little prayers all day long like:

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“God please help me always remember between looking younger and looking scary.”

and

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“God give me the wisdom to delete bitchy or crazy emails/text messages BEFORE I send them.”

also…

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“God help me be less judgmental. Even to myself.”

or one of my favorites is

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“God, help me help other people. Even I ones that make me crazy. Especially them.”

And lastly, this one works all day and rocks for its simplicity.

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After two decades of being a self-involved drunken drug addict, I need all the help I can get. Right now, I’ve got a lot of uncertainty going on with my health stuff and it is scary. But thanks to having a spiritual life, I’m totally okay. Yes, I’m scared. Yes, I feel crappy. But am I going to be alright? Totally. Time has proven that I can get through everything thanks to my version of God and some awesome people in my life.

Listen, I don’t know how this prayer things works and frankly I don’t need to know. I just know that it does. So, readers, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll throw some your way if your throw some my way and we’ll get through whatever together?

Panic at the Bathroom Mirror

I woke up with an impending sense of doom for so many years, I just thought that’s what everybody went  through in the morning. That feeling of another exploding shoe about to drop. The racing heart right when I opened my eyes. My life was such a shitshow for so long, waking up meant having to endure yet another episode where yours truly did something awful while intoxicated. So now, in those rare moments, when I do feel panic or anxiety I’m jettisoned back to those horrible days. It happened just this morning as a matter of fact.

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It was blazing hot in our bedroom when I first woke up and my phone was vibrating. I try not to even deal with my phone for at least 30 minutes after getting out of bed but I instinctually grabbed it and the slew of messages instantly stressed me out. How was I going to get all the stuff done I needed to? Who should I call back first? Why am I always behind even before I’ve had my coffee? Here I was not even fully awake and I had already successfully thrown myself into a panic. I was sweating and felt anxious but I knew setting down my phone and going downstairs was the right answer. Everything would have to wait until I got a handle on this non-issue I was having. Spending years waking up in situations where everything was far from okay had thrown my morning rituals in some kind of PTSD and I’m still learning how to turn my habits and thought patterns around. Before I descended the staircase, I splashed water on my face in the bathroom and said out loud, “You’re fine.”

After prayer, meditation and a cuddle session with my cat, I started to believe it. Further positive actions throughout the day confirmed my temporary panic was not going to cause me to explode and my day turned out pretty great. I walked down the street and could smell flowers. I ran into some friends at my favorite meeting. I had an amazing chicken sandwich. And an opportunity to help someone in need even came up and I pounced at it. This speedy, mental turnaround is proof that my thinking has really evolved. When I used to wake up in a state of “FUUUUCCCCKK!!”, I usually stayed there and it almost always got worse. Now its a different reality. It’s incredible that I can have those moments, acknowledge them and use  some magic tools to move past them. Today was a good reminder that I can just as easily press the reset button as I can press the panic button.

So how was your day?

some survive

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.”

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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.

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“Oh my god!” is what came flying out of mouth. Not, “Are you okay?” or anything of the compassionate nature. Just a good old-fashioned OMG followed by a “Fuck!” And judging by what I witnessed, I think in hindsight these were the proper responses. As I took a morning walk through the park on my way to a meeting the other day, I heard that noise. You know that painful crash reserved for people walking into glass doors or banging their heads on car doors or falling down a flight of stairs. This particular blood curdling clang was caused by a girl on a bicycle who had ridden face first into a steel sign. This sign which apparently came out of nowhere for the rider is the standard “no littering, hours of operation, blah, blah, blah” thing meant to help parkgoers. In this case, however, all the sign helped do is knock this young lady off her bike. As the bike wrapped itself around the sturdy signpost, her face smacked directly into the sign causing the aforementioned noise. So dramatic was the sound and entire accident, a couple walking their dog ran over to help the girl up. Crumpled, embarrassed and a little bloody, she was helped back up and on her bike where, and this could only happen in Denver, she relit her joint and peddled away.

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As I kept walking, I wondered if she’d even remember the entire affair later. Personally, I know had dozens, if not hundreds, of ouch moments while inebriated and probably even more that I don’t remember. I’m not the most coordinated soul in the best , most sober situations so add any kind of chemical to my system and some falling down is bound to happen. Stairs, specifically, were my longtime nemesis. Falling up or down them while completely shitfaced was kind of my speciality. After a long night of drinking, tumbling up or down the steps to my apartment became not that big of a deal. Yet it was a painful, midday slide down their stairs after I’d been asked to leave a barbecue where I’d drank myself into a coma at like 2pm in the afternoon that would be my last drunken, stumble down the stairs.Of the hundreds of times, I’d made an ass out of myself this one stung the most. Not only because the fall itself was incredibly painful- I bounced on my ass down concrete steps into an unforgiving wrought iron door. But because it felt like a new low. My drunkenness had officially crossed over into the pathetic-guy-who-gets-blackout-drunk and ruins a barbecue territory and I wasn’t coming back. It took me another 4 months– and some other huge disasters to finally pull my head out of my ass and get help.

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Now, that was my last drunken tumble but last time I fell down some stairs, I was sober. Newly sober in fact. I was crying on the phone to my mom, as I did pretty much for the first year of sobriety, and it was pouring rain like it does in February in Los Angeles. I was calling her from the campus of Santa Monica college where I had recently enrolled in school. As I hung up with tears in my eyes, I missed a step and went flying down the stairs, cutting my hand open on the sidewalk. A trio of well-dressed African-American girls with chic umbrellas came running over, “Are you okay? You fell pretty hard!” they said. I nodded and mumbled something and ran out of there. Aside from wanting to die, I was okay.

Why I felt compelled to talk tumbles today, I have no idea. Maybe I needed the reminder to help other people who fall down. Maybe I needed to feel grateful that my days of drunken calamities have been over for a while. Or maybe I just needed to remember that everybody crashes and gets back up and rides off. With or without a joint dangling from their lips.

everyday I write the blog

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As I professional writer, ghostwriter, playwrite, copywriter and all-around monkey behind the keyboard, I pretty much write and blog everyday. Sadly, I don’t get to write over here as much as I would like. So when I recived the challegne to blog everyday in the month of June, I hopped at it. And as a person in recovery, consistency is kind of a big deal. “They”, that nefarious they who like to boss you around when you first come into 12 step programs, bang this into your head in the early days of recovery. “You need to go to 90 meetings in 90 days,” they say. “You need to pray everyday”, they tell you. “You need to call another drunk or junkie several times a week”, they order. The only thing I every did with regularity for over 20 years was get wasted and totally fuck up my life so I was skeptical that discipline and routinely doing anything other than that would even be possible. Nevertheless, I was kind of out of ideas seeing as though my own programs of fixing my life which consisted of everything from snorting Benadryl, half-assed studying of the Kabbalah, hiking away my hangovers, even less than half-assed attending of guided Shambala meditations, drinking non-alcoholic beer and smoking weed and beyond failed miserably. Maybe just shutting up and showing up everyday to meetings could work.Maybe little but revolutionary changes in habits every single day could save my life.  And one day at a time for the last over four years, it totally has.

Since that time, I’ve done some amazing and previously impossible things for over 30 days. A month without a cigarette turned into nearly 3 years without one. 30 days without sugar turned into 60 until the dreams of donuts and giant plates of pasta became impossible to deny. A month without meat turned into nearly a year. 30 days of making gratitude lists over 3 years ago has now turned into a daily ritual that has truly transformed my health, life and spirit.  The point is I can do lots of stuff for 30 days and since writing is something I do anyway, why not blog for the next 30 days? Besides, its a nice outlet for me right now. Having just closed a show and working on two book projects in various stages, blogging here feels like a relief.  Will some great idea spring from this month’s worth of posts? By the end of the month will I have some big revelation? Who knows. But what I do know is that none of this will happen if I don’t blog. Besides, I’m a big dreamer and I’ve seen amazing stuff happen in my own life by just making little changes everyday. And you never know what could happen! As Elvis puts it, “Even in a perfect world, where everyone is equal, I’d still own the films rights and be working on the sequel.”