“Be proud of who you are” they say. “Be proud of being a gay man,” they say. From outward appearances, LGBT look like a group who don’t really care what people think. Thousands of them will walk down crowded boulevards this month during Pride parades wearing assless chaps, glitter high heels or spandex costumes. Obviously, these people are proud of themselves. Even though I am gay, the journey of being proud of myself was never as easy as slipping on a rainbow wig and walking down a city street.
Like a lot of addicts or alcoholics, I somewhere, back in my childhood heard the message that I wasn’t okay. That how I acted was too queer, too creative, too much. I took these messages of “less than” as gospel. I wanted to be Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman when other boys my age wanted to be Christopher Reeves’ Superman. I wanted to concoct multi-layered dramas for Strawberry Shortcake and the gang and they wanted to be outside chasing after Nerf footballs. My entire childhood was a high wire act of balancing who I wanted to be and who I thought they wanted to see. It was exhausting.
By the time I took my first drink, with my best friend listening to the Smiths at the age of 14 I was relieved. It felt horrible and incredible and it felt like my destiny or something. Actually, it kind of was my destiny. My dad was an alcoholic. My grandfather was too. Ditto countless aunts, uncles and cousins. I am the epitome of “Shake my family tree and get hit by bottles” cliche. I knew my chances of becoming an alcoholic were pretty damn good given my exceptional lineage but it didn’t matter. Alcohol and drugs gave me the ability to finally not care what people thought of me. When I was high or drunk with my friends, I wasn’t too weird, too gay or too much. I belonged and I could escape. All I ever wanted is reality to be more sparkly, more fantastic. Drugs and alcohol made that happen. The wheels fell off pretty quickly though.
By 15, I was arrested for stealing alcohol. By 17, I had already used and really, really enjoyed cocaine. I was also going to gay bars at this time. The whole thing was forbidden and edgy. We were drinking wine coolers, watching Janet Jackson drag queens and dancing to late 80s dance music. And by 19, felt like I needed to stop and get my stuff together. This being the 1990’s however I found myself thrown into the rave scene. Here I was with hundreds of other people who also wanted to run away. I did ecstasy and danced until the wee hours of the morning for pretty much every weekend for an entire year. When that stopped working, I moved onto crystal meth. When that got really bad, I turned 21 and could “just” drink. Drinking felt like it could be manageable. But pretty quickly I was blacking out and using hard drugs again.
By 23 I had hit another bottom. I moved to Los Angeles in hopes of everything being different. Thing about moving though is you always take you with you. So my broken, reality escaping self came with me to LA and quickly I found people who like to drink like me and people who didn’t want to do this reality gig either. What happened next was over 10 years of daily drinking, blacking out, hitting mini bottoms, hoping to quit only to start all over again. If it sounds freaking boring and repetitive, that’s because it was. It was a terrible sitcom where the same episode was shown everyday. Unlike the crap they show in syndication, this had real consequences. My dreams of writing were basically down the toilet. The relationship I was in disintegrated. My health slipped away and a glimmer of honesty I had in all of my relationships was gone. After 100 promises to myself that I’d get better or I’d change, the shit hit the proverbial fan after another eviction in January 2009 (turns out landlords don’t love when you spend rent money on drugs and alcohol instead of paying rent–who knew!). This was the moment that I had to decide to either drink until I died or I finally got sober. Thankfully, I chose the latter. Being the king of delusion, I thought I could go to a couple of AA meetings, maybe meet a nice new boyfriend, turn my life around a eventually drink like a normal person for once. Uh. Yeah. That did not happen. What I discovered by going to meetings is that I had a disease. One that wanted me dead and one that I’d have to work really hard at to treat. Damn. I remember sitting in one of my first meeting in a depressing old folks home library in downtown Los Angeles and listening to a man who’d been going to meetings for 40 years. 40 Years! So much for drive-thru recovery. The thought of sitting in sad ass community rooms for the next four decades was unbearable. Suddenly it made sense why every meeting had a poster which read “One Day at a Time.” This cliche became a mantra, a promise and a manageable goal to stop drinking. 7 and half years and several days at a time later, my life has changed. I found my people again but this time it was group of people who knew how to embrace reality and stay sober no matter what. And yes, I have all of the on paper things that prove my life has improved– I’m writing again, I’m in a great marriage, my health is better. But much bigger than that, is I love myself. I walk by a mirror and I don’t feel like I have to run away or escape to another reality. I’m actually proud of myself, every month, no wigs or fancy costumes required.
Sean Paul Mahoney is a playwright,blogger, humorist and podcaster. He lives in Denver with his adorable husband and two trouble making cats.