A New-ish Leaf.

It’s been quite a while since I updated my blog. I met someone I really wound up liking and only had a couple weeks to spend with her, so most of my time on those days was spent going to lunches, dinners, movies, comedy shows, and laying in bed with the sheets wrapped around us while we read. It was the best couple weeks I’ve had in a while.

She flew back home a while ago, and I’ve been trying to maintain a certain level of productivity, but I’ve had a lot of thoughts going through my head these days. Not bad ones, strangely, but busy ones. It’s a little tricky getting back into the routine I had before she arrived, but today’s the day! (he said, hoping against hope that Procrastination won’t rear its ugly head and devour him once more as the eagle does Prometheus’ liver).

Anyway. I’ve spent most of the last month sober, which is a massive change in lifestyle from most of the last three years. I went from drinking a half a bottle of whiskey or more on a nightly basis to maybe having a beer on my lunch every once in a while. For a long time, I drank to grieve. Then I drank because I was just angry and depressed and lonely. Then I drank because it was a health issue to just quit cold turkey. I’m over that hump now.

Over the last year, I had another horrific mental and emotional breakdown that cost me some close friendships with people that meant the world to me. It almost cost me my job. It put me in a very bad, unstable place. I’ve come a long way since, and for once I’ve taken action to hopefully keep my head above water. I saw a therapist (and plan on continuing again once the new year starts and insurance kicks in). I’ve got medication. I’ve dialed my drinking back significantly, in fact, almost completely. I’ve started writing again. I’ve been reading A LOT.

What’s weird is that, for the first time, I feel like the world is truly open to me again. It’s scary some days because with so many avenues of opportunity, I don’t know where to start. I saw a TED talk once about how the plentitude of choices can sometimes work as a detriment to the consumer. How when presented with too many options, someone can be deterred or frozen into inaction. I feel that same way sometimes now, but it’s also kind of exciting. I haven’t felt as determined to set out on a new path than I did six years ago when I first made the biggest change I had ever done.

Six years ago, I was a wily-eyed 21-year old with dreams of an acting and writing career (the former is laughable in retrospect; I still hold out hopes for the latter). I was going to take the world by storm through sheer brazenness and bravado. My grandmother paced back and forth in the kitchen, fretting. Bless her heart, she was worried about all the little details, convinced that any number of things would kill me during my journey into a better life.

To be fair, she had every right to worry. I was setting out with two friends, one car between us, $2,000 of my own with no job lined up, no other known associates, no place to live and I was moving to a city I hadn’t been to since I was seven years old. It’s an absolute miracle I managed to make it as long as I did, and it absolutely involved a lot of drinking cheap wine and vodka and eating two weeks’ worth of food on $30 (thank God for the $1 store).

My grandfather just sat quietly as my grandmother paced, and when she moved into her bedroom he stood up, came over to me and gave me a tight hug. All he said to me was that he was proud of me. My uncle had talent as a musician but never pursued it, instead settling for a career (that, by his own admission, he did love). My aunt married early to a pilot, had three kids, got divorced and married another pilot. My dad was also a talented musician but a troubled life that involved hard women and harder drinking. My grandfather told me he was proud of my talent and proud of me for attempting to go out and make something of it where his kids did not.

I mean, six years, a few failed auditions and three novels that don’t sell later, I don’t know how great a plan that was on my part. I’m $30k in medical debt and never got out of the nomadic mindset. I sleep on an air mattress and could pack up and leave in 20 minutes or less (is that a bastardized line from Heat? You know it is). And there’s a certain kind of freedom and a certain kind of loneliness wrapped up in that. I do want to settle down some day. I want a family. I like being able to come home and have my own room to plop down in and escape from the world sometimes. I spent two years on couches, futons and floors and it wasn’t the greatest, you know? But I also like knowing that I can pick up and go.

Even though I haven’t.

Even though, really, I couldn’t.

See, here’s my problem: after a year of scraping by in Los Angeles, an unemployed stint in Seattle, scrabbling for my feet in Redmond, being on solid ground again in Anchorage only to hit rock bottom all over again three years ago, I hate feeling poor. I hate eating cheap shit. I finally found a job that pays me well and reliably, but for the past two years, I’ve been living check to check because it’s so much easier to live IN THE MOMENT. You know what I mean? I like going out and having $15-30 lunches and dinners, good food that other people cook to me. I like going out and having drinks with friends, and I don’t drive and I’m impatient, which means I spend a lot on cabs every time that happens. I blew money on single issues of comic books when I know it’s better and cheaper to wait half a year and pick up the trade paperback, and I know that it’s all going to go into storage anyway. Living check to check leaves no money for emergencies, no money to move, no money as a safety net. And it’s that last thing that really makes a huge difference in my life, because my grandparents are dead. My dad is newly out of prison and already blew my inheritance on legal fees and the abusive harpy wife that put him there. I have no idea what’s going on with my mom. My aunt and her husband are saddled with medical problems. My uncle would help me in a pinch, but he’s already helped me so much and it isn’t his place to help me at all. His parents ADOPTED me. I’m a nephew he didn’t ask for and one he has already done so, so much for. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

So if I pack up and leave on a whim again, I’m on my own. 100% and that’s fucking terrifying. Exhilarating, but terrifying. See, I could save more money. I could try to transfer down with my job (instead of working for a local credit union, I work for a nationwide company; instead of being there for five months, I’ve been here for over two years). I have friends down there now. Connections.

But I had no money. I have no safety net.

And yet.

And yet.

I can’t fucking live here anymore. Not on anything like a permanent basis. Sobriety has brought a sense of clarity that I smothered over the last few years. I’m stuck in a sea of comfort in Alaska. I’m stuck in this cyclical loop of going out to the same bars, eating at the same restaurants, staying home to avoid running into someone I slept with every day of the week, or someone who has heard a rumor, or a former friend, or friends of people I may have wronged or made an ass of myself to.

I like bigger cities. I like reliable weather and normal sun cycles. The seasonal depression wrecks me every year. I like being able to have a measure of anonymity when I go out. I miss the beach. The real fucking beach and the sounds of the ocean. I need to be somewhere I can make actual connections with other authors, with more readers, with publishers, with people who might know people. Anchorage is home, it will always be sort of home to me, but it’s hostile to my soul and it’s easy to grow complacent. I can’t be complacent. I have a heart that cries out for travel and for seeing new things and meeting strangers in passing and for collecting stories of myself and others.

Long story short, I’ve decided to cut back my expenses, to budget money from my check and – for the first time in years – set money aside in my savings account. I need to survive one more winter and maintain some discipline and hopefully by next spring… by next summer at the latest, I’ll have solidified a plan to take another leap. And even though I’ll have a little bit of a safety net again, maybe this time I’ll focus on not missing the fucking bar I’m jumping for.

Oh, and hopefully I’ll have a couple more books out by then, too.

I’ve always wanted to be someone my grandparents could be proud of. But I want more than that. I want to be good at what I love to do. I want my friends to be proud of me as well. I want to be able to experience life more fully. I’d love to fall in love with someone else some day, but I also want, more than anything, to find love in the creases, cracks, shadows and backdrops of the world.

Correction, Not Compromise

“Be true to yourself. But that’s something everyone says and no one means. No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”

That’s an excerpt from The Young Elites, written by Marie Yu. It’s an interesting quote and a bleak one. I find it’s not always true, that most people are fortunate to find at least one person who will accept them during the good days and the bad. Conversely, you’ll find out who cares or even pays attention in situations that would often benefit from ignorance in that regard. You know, if you find yourself in the hospital. If you find yourself dealing with bleak feelings or bouts of irritability. If you lose someone and you’re mired in grief. Those are the times you most need people to be there for you, and those are the times you’ll find out who appreciates you for you and not just what’s convenient to them or what handful of aspects appeal to them.

I have several friends who have seen me hit rock bottom and stayed with me as I struggled to step back up. They’ve offered assistance and a shoulder to lean on, a couch to crash on, or money to borrow until I could get back on my feet. I am fortunate for them.

The thing is, even having people appreciate me for who I am, it’s often difficult to appreciate myself. Where friends, true friends, have been forgiving of my missteps and mistakes, I’ve often found myself having a difficult time forgiving myself. I don’t often feel worthy of their kind words or their assistance or their time. I struggle with being me because I don’t think I’m very good at it.

Additionally, I put myself out in the open a lot. I published and put out novels. I regularly post poetry and writing tips and opinion pieces. I write about my family, friends, and especially about myself, and I’m generally pretty open about it. On paper, anyway. I express my emotions as fully and deeply as I can, because I feel to do otherwise would be disingenuous.

Exposing those aspects of my life and my psyche is somewhat taxing, though. It puts a spotlight on me and allows others access to my life, and there is an inherent pressure in it. For everyone that messages me thanking me for talking about something they couldn’t or didn’t want to, I can feel others pulling away from me in disapproval or annoyance or disgust. It’s tempting to rein it in. It’s tempting to fudge the truth or to shy away from the embarrassing or negative aspects of my life, especially when I consider that by being so open, I could very well push away people who would otherwise be interested in me as a friend or something more.

The last week and a half, I’ve been tapering off from liquor and so have been sober (in so much as not reaching a state of even tipsyness), going through the day, going to bed and waking up with a clear mind for the longest period of time in… Christ, I don’t know how long. That clarity, though, has helped remind me, though, that I value honesty above all else.

I was raised to be honest, I was raised to try and help others where I can, and those lessons are ones I’ve spent my whole life trying to live up to. I haven’t always been successful at that. I’m far from a saint. All the same, I’ve done my best to do right by people and to be there when they needed someone.

I used to write long Facebook posts about thoughts and feelings I had. When I started this blog, I found my words could reach so many more people. It gave me an opportunity to talk about things that others found uncomfortable, to confess things about my life, to relate experiences that came from a difficult family or personal lifestyle. Not all of my posts are agreeable or wide-read, but they’re honest. They’re as true to me and my life as they could possibly be.

If even one person messages me or comments to tell me my words meant something to them or to thank me for talking about an experience, if one person feels better about the things they’ve gone through because they know someone else has gone through it, too, then it’s worth it not to compromise who I am.

I forgot that, for a while. I forgot I wasn’t just writing for me. I forgot I was writing in hopes I could reach others and help others and let people know it was going to be okay.

Shit, I forgot it was going to be okay. Probably. Maybe. Probably.

I wrote somewhere a while back that I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that it’s more important for me to sure others felt safe and secure than it was for me to be happy. Not that I was incapable of being happy, not that by not being happy I was necessarily sad. I meant that maybe I’m meant to be here more for others.

If that’s the case, I’m happy to put my demons on display. Maybe not immediately, but always completely. Honestly. Being true to yourself means not conforming to expectations, I suppose, but it doesn’t mean being content with damaging behavior. You can improve yourself without compromising who you are at heart or being someone else’s ideal, and I plan on doing that, and I plan on telling the truth about it.

I’ll tell you it’s fucking hard, that I’m struggling. That I want to tear my hair out and give up some days, that I wish I felt comfortable enough with others to not do this 95% by myself. I’ll tell you that sometimes I want to cry myself to sleep and I don’t because I don’t want to have to sleep on a damp pillowcase. I’ll tell you sobriety is bringing me nightmares and heartache and that I don’t know what to do with myself or who to talk to, and that I’m astonished at how much of my life I’ve wasted with grief and anger.

I’ll tell you I don’t know what to do, what I’m doing, what I’m going to do next.

When I started this blog, I made a promise to never lie to you. Not about myself, not about my life, not about anyone else. I won’t. Ever. I’ll keep writing about difficult things, my fuck-ups. I’ll keep sharing short stories and poetry, and stories of the people I love and the world’s beauty. Hopefully you learn something from my mistakes. Hopefully you’ll know it’s okay to make some of your own. Hopefully you won’t feel alone.

Most importantly, know that whatever I write about, whatever I’m going through, you’ve got someone here in your corner if you need it. Most importantly, know that you’re going to be okay.

The A Word

I never had a problem with drinking, until I did.

Boom! What a killer opening line. People should pay me for this shit. It’s true, though. Somewhere along the line, I stopped drinking recreationally, and I started doing it out of grief, and then out of fear. Fear for my health, believe it or not, and of course that would come around full circle to affect me anyway.

This is a milestone for me, in that it’s my 100th blog post of shared articles, original poetry and fiction, profile articles and personal reflections. This needed to be something more important, something next-level personal. I decided to push off my article on the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and focus instead on alcohol. Let’s start at the beginning.

I had tried alcohol as a kid. I wasn’t shotgunning brews in elementary school or anything, but my parents would let me have a sip of their beer or their wine. Never more than a sip, and it was stressed to me that those were adult drinks and not to have any otherwise. I was pretty good about that for a long time, but I was also a rebellious little twat, so it was only a matter of time.

One night, when I was 12 or 13, or was staying up at my step-dad’s house to spend the night with my siblings. He was still a heavy drinker at that point and had a cornucopia of liquors in the kitchen. The night grew later, everyone fell asleep, and I tippy-toed up the stairs and into the kitchen because dammit, I was going to try some of this fire water (my late godfather once referred to it as “elephant juice” because it “makes you as strong as a bull”. I called him Poo-Poo Face for lying to me. I was a charming child, really).

I’m standing there and I’m looking at these bottles like the kids in the Goonies first took in One-Eyed Willie’s pirate treasure. Where do I start? What would I like? I ultimately decided to go with whichever bottle looked the coolest and settled on this stout, beautiful blue bottle of something called Bombay Sapphire Gin.

So I took my trembling pre-order hands and carefully lifted the bottle off of the counter, took it over to the sink and filled half of a Dixie cup with liquid. Hell, this stuff looks like water. Smells a little funny. I lifted the cup and tried to let it trickle down my throat the way one would a nice cold cup of H2O.

I desperately and successfully hid my wracking coughing fit as my throat burned and seized up and I poured the rest of the contents down the drain. It was ten years before I tried gin again. I like it okay now.

The next time I really started drinking, though, I was 15. I got invited to this house party by a guy I worked with and I ended up drinking too much rum and vomiting in everyone’s shoes. I managed to get away with that somehow, but it was an ignominious start to a storied drinking career.

There are far too many stories to go through over the course of a decade, so I’ll shorten it as much as I can:

When I was 16, I moved out of my grandparent’s house and into an apartment with a bunch of 21 and ups. We partied a lot. My grades suffered but that was more due to a crippling depression and crisis of self, because I was at school every day. I just didn’t give a shit. I partied, and when I moved back home, I barely partied, and when I turned 18, I partied all over Europe and paralyzed my hand and unparalyzed it because, guys, I’m pretty cool. I’m just really dumb.

I’d hit up one or two house parties a week until I turned 21 with the rest of my friends. I spent that birthday in Reno with my friend Amber, writing bad poetry and almost taking strippers home. I came back to Alaska and spent 4-5 nights a week with two of my best dude friends at a karaoke bar we came to love and be recognised at.

That fall, I moved to Los Angeles, and I drank a lot down there for two reasons:

1) I didn’t pay for shit. I’m talking free beers, free rum and Cokes, $6 pitchers of Adios Motherfuckers, and my friend and I drank like this for five months straight with people from all over the world, because goddamnit, that was a rock and roll type of life. And when that gravy train hit the station,

2). my friend moved away, I moved to a different spot, I was struggling financially and I was in a toxic relationship. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING TO DO.

And I knew it, and I knew I had to get right, so I moved back up to Alaska for four months. I stopped drinking so heavily, I lost a lot of weight, I got my money in order, I moved back down, and three months after that, I made some stupid decisions completely independently of alcohol (I wish I could say I was drunk instead of a fool, believe me). I lost the job I had spent over a year building myself into, the girl I loved, a ton of friends, a ton of money,and I had to move to Washington.

In Seattle and Redmond, my friend and I adopted a more regular drinking schedule. We kept beer in the fridge and there was a dive bar down the road, but we didn’t drink in excess at the house (with a few special occasions), we primarily went to the bar on the weekends (there was a promo girl I liked, so I got to A. flirt, B. get cheap shots and C. get free swag for buying cheap shots). But also, man, I was feeling low. Those suicidal thoughts were creeping in. I had no money, I was a pariah, I was lonely and heartbroken, I felt like a failure. I got a job with the help of my friend, and it was a job testing video games, which is awesome, but it was a temp job, which was less awesome, and I felt aimless.

I visited Alaska again to see my newly born nephew. That weekend, sober, I popped into a (now closed) bar I never went to, and saw a woman I had long had an inexplicable and probably borderline creepy affection for. We were MySpace friends but had only ever shared one actual interaction. She saw me, she somehow recognised me, smiled and waved, came over and told me I was a great writer and she believed in me.

As silly as that might be, that changed everything for me. I got my head straight, I went back to Washington, just wrote my first book in six months and just made plans to come back to Alaska for 4-6 months just to visit everyone, save up some dough, and move back to California.

That was a little over three years ago. And you know what? I was doing great. I was out a bunch, but I wasn’t drinking much. I was writing, mostly, and it was good. And then two years ago, everything kind of went to shit.

My godfather died. His funeral was on my birthday, and while I was driving my mom back to rehab after, my date cancelled dinner a half hour before our reservation. A week later, my grandmother, the best mother figure I ever really knew, passed away of a heart attack. Five months after that, my grandfather passed away and a woman I had loved for five years promised me she would be there for me and left me instead for one of only two people I genuinely hate.

That was the start. Right there. That night. I got the news, I was crashing on my friend’s couch at the time and I was without a vehicle, but he had a half-time bottle or 99 Bananas in the freezer and I drank the whole thing. I cried until he got home, cried while we talked about it, he went to bed, I cried some more, another friend hit me up to cab it to his girlfriend’s place, I drank some Jack Daniels, let some girls pluck my eyebrows, called someone a bitch and woke up the next morning on the first friend’s floor, even though there was a perfectly good couch right there.

Grief had me. I lashed out at everybody. I hated myself for not being a better friend/grandson/person, and I embraced it, and then it got worse.

I got septic shock and almost died. When I pulled through, I put my two weeks in at my job, got harassed by an assistant manager and when I filed a complaint, they fired me. They skimped me on my pay. I’m still paying people back for that. My dad stole my inheritance and used half of it to pay for his legal fees around his prison sentence and gave the rest to his wife, who put him there in the first place. I didn’t see a penny.

I started drinking just about every night. At first, it was out of grief and anger and self-pity. That was for a good year, year and a half. I was a horrible person. I’ve since come to peace with that, and I’ve done my best to repair the relationships I ruined, and those who were open to forgiving me have. The rest is in the past.

After the grief, I started drinking to suppress everything. I didn’t need to black out, I just needed enough to sleep. Once I was there, I wouldn’t dream, or if I did, I didn’t remember it. When I woke up, I was either tired or hungover or both, but however I was feeling physically kept my mind from doing anything but focusing on that.

But, see, here’s the thing: I have never felt that I needed alcohol. I’ve wanted it. I’ve wanted it to drown out everything or to punish myself or to stoke creative embers (in my better days), but if there wasn’t any around, I was fine. I could go days, weeks, months without a drink no problem. And unlike most, I drink because I like the taste. I like the bite, the burn, the flavor. I’m a rum and Coke guy all day, but a shot of Jameson and a craft beer? A pale ale or a vodka martini? 12 year scotch on the rocks to sip on while I’m poring over notes? I like them all. I like the differences and the nuances and as long as it’s not tequila, we’re good to go.

I don’t drink shots of tequila because I hate the taste. Put it in a margarita that’s more fruit punch than agave, we can talk, but get that Tequila Sunrise bullshit out of my face. I’m not that guy who drinks whatever he can get his hands on. I have my tastes and I have restraint.

Or I used to.

And as the better parts of two years wound down and I was past the grief and I had become ready to face my thoughts and emotions again, I discovered another problem: at this point, I had drank so heavily, so regularly, and for so long, I was terrified at the toll it would take on my body to quit. So I started slowly struggling with some kind of game plan on how to wean myself off. I wanted to consult a doctor, but I don’t have a regular physician and I’m so deep in medical debt, I wasn’t sure what avenues to go to. I felt lost and, frankly, since I feel like most of my friends judge me and think I’m an alcoholic anyway, I didn’t know who to turn to.

Then one morning, I woke up to the sound of my roommate getting up and while I lay in bed, my body went through a full involuntary convulsion. It wasn’t long and I was conscious through it, but it was unusual and it was scary. I went to the ER where, after some basic tests,the doctor seemed to think it was dehydration related. Rather than put me on detox medication, he basically told me to figure it out and drink more water. So that was a cool trip.

I took the rest of the day off work and I talked to a couple friends (both of whom are bartenders) and they helped me come up with a plan to help regulate myself. So that’s what I’m doing, and it’s working like this:

First off, I only go out to the bars on Friday and Saturdays now. That’ll probably stay consistent, because I like to get out of the house, listen to music, watch some comedy, and see some friends I don’t have a chance to see otherwise. During the week, now that I’ve got my office set up, I’ll have A drink, just to make sure my body’s not fully without. Sometimes I’ll have a second, but since I started this a couple weeks ago, some nights I won’t have any at all.

When I do go out, for every drink I order, I have at least one glass of water with it. Sometimes two. I have a habit where, when I have a drink (any drink: liquor, water, soda, in a cup, in a glass, in a bottle), I’m constantly drinking it. By adding a glass of water, it scratches that itch while keeping me hydrated.

So after all of that, here is where I’m at: I’ve cut my drinks down to a third or less what I was drinking. I go to bed sober most nights, and I wake up tired but clear-headed and not nauseous. When I do go out on the weekend, I find I’m less hungover the following day, and that I’ve begun redeveloping restraint. I cut myself off and switch to strictly water if I feel I’ve had too much, and more than that, I’m finding less of an urge to get another drink. I’ll nurse them for longer periods of time.

I understand that this is normal shit for a lot of people, and it used to be normal shit for me. I think I had a bad reaction to a series of bad events, and it just took me longer than normal to start getting out of it.

Here’s the other thing, though: when I was drinking heavily, it suppressed my mind. Now that I don’t have that, I am thinking ALL OF THE THOUGHTS ALL OF THE TIME. I find myself falling asleep between 4AM and 7AM every single night. I get 3-5 hours of sleep on average, and what sleep I get more often than not has vivid dreams that are more often than not horrifically realistic nightmares. I’m nostalgic and short of temper, and I’ve got mood swings. I literally spent an hour googling monasteries the other day because I thought maybe going some place like that for 6-8 months would help. Help what? I don’t even know.

I feel like I know now why so many writers and artists are addicts of some kind, and I feel, sometimes, like I’m sacrificing my sanity for my sobriety.

But I’m not the religious type, I’m not the meetings type. Even though I bare my life, soul and all of my fuck-ups on this blog for the internet to see, in real life, I’m not even much of a trusting, talkative type. But I am a fighter. I have a plan. So far it’s working. I’m going to start with that.