Sean Kirst’s Foreword for Seamus Kirst’s Memoir, “Shitfaced”

I did not say much to my children about alcohol as they were growing up.

Looking back on it, that choice was no mystery.

Maybe if I had – and if I had done it right – Seamus, my oldest son, would never have felt the need to write this book.

But I was good, highly skilled, at running away from who I was. My daughter and two sons would sometimes see me sloppy, but rarely in the state that my friends and I liked to call “wasted.” Typically, the kids were already in bed on the nights when I’d start drinking and then wouldn’t stop, the nights when I’d think I was the funniest and sharpest guy in the bar and would suddenly be slurring family secrets to total strangers, the nights when I’d turn into a grotesque caricature of myself and wake up in the morning, sick with nausea and diarrhea, the sweat in my hands stinking of alcohol, humiliated at what I remembered ….

If I remembered.

I was a binge drinker, a blackout drinker. I could go weeks without drinking, feeling no need for a drink, which helped me to keep telling myself the big lie: I was not an alcoholic. At worst, I was a “problem drinker,” which to me always meant I was free to keep on drinking. An alcoholic, I told myself, needed to drink, and I didn’t need to drink …. even if it was only while I was drinking that I would feel good about myself, even briefly, even if drinking was the thing that helped me set aside the sense of shame and self-loathing and inadequacy I’d carried since childhood.

My mother had always been terrified by drinking. It blew apart her immigrant family when she was a child. Her father, an alcoholic, abandoned his children when my mom was small. One of her brothers, a combat veteran of World War II who suffered from post-traumatic shock, killed himself when he was drunk. I was the youngest, and fear of my mother’s temper and random violence – she would be waiting, trembling with anger, when you came home late at night – caused me to stay away from alcohol until it seemed as if all my high school friends were getting hammered (they weren’t), and the ones who drank the most had the prettiest girlfriends (not always), and I was a guy with thick glasses and rampant acne who wanted to be a star athlete (this was true) as my older brothers and sister had been, and I wasn’t even close ….

So I became a star drinker. At a party at 16, maybe the second time I ever touched alcohol, I drank until I was crawling around the floor, drank until my friends carried me home and I became unconscious, drank until my parents took me to the hospital and I woke up sick and ashamed, vomiting over the side of a hospital bed ….

And before long, resumed drinking.

No, my kids did not see much of my actual drinking as they grew up. But they grew up with a drinker, and the sickness that went with it. They grew up with a guy who’d sometimes watch them from the couch while leveled by the headaches and sweats and run-to-the-bathroom sickness of hangovers. They grew up with a guy who believed that any good thing in life demanded a reward – rather than the good thing being a reward unto itself – and that the reward was usually getting wasted. They grew up with a drunk, a guy who sometimes went out at night and did things and said things so embarrassing, so humiliating, so dangerous, it is difficult for me to sit and write these words, because I’m forced to remember and accept what I was.

My drinking was symptomatic. It was tied to a screwball childhood, and a brilliant but wounded and abusive mother, and an utter lack of self-esteem, and – absolutely – to depression, to a struggle with anxiety and mental illness. All the things that drove me to be a writer also led to self-hatred, to an inability to find myself amid the whole, forces that all remain in play to this day. They are part of the journey to wherever this all leads, except for one thing:

I stopped drinking.

I stopped drinking in 2005. I remember the night. I had just won a journalism award that meant something to me, and we went out to celebrate, because I needed the reward; once drunk, I could tell myself how cool and great I was. I was in a downtown bar crowded with cops and prosecutors, on a day when they had just won a high-profile conviction. Many were people I liked, people I’d known for years, but up and down the bar were car keys, stacked like little cairns, monuments to hypocrisy as men and women of the law prepared to join men and women of the press in driving home, utterly wasted. Everyone was getting hammered, sloppy, some not so far from blind drunk, an ancient tradition of both professions. I was just getting started. I stood at the bar with a beer in my hand and I thought about the kids waiting for me at home. I thought about the messages we implant, how we say not to drive drunk and then we do, and how people die because of it – either at once, or bit by bit. I thought about friends I knew in childhood, brilliant friends who could have done amazing things but instead died terrible deaths when they were drunk, friends who were exactly like me.

Or my children.

Just like that, like a wall washed down by a flood, it was over.

I was tired of it all. My hangovers had been getting worse. I got drunk, embarrassingly drunk, more quickly than ever. Two fast beers and my speech would start to slur, and my angry wife would need to ask me to leave a party. Standing in that bar, a cascade of revulsion and fatigue swept me up, and I set down the half-finished beer and left. That was it. No more. I turned to friends in the recovery community, and they strengthened the decision while it was fresh, allowing the mold to harden, and I stopped. I was ready. My drinking came to an end.

Just as my son’s was really gaining speed.

I wish now. I wish now. I wish now. I wish now I could do 10,000 things again. I had stopped drinking, but my journey was only beginning. The word ‘recovery’ is cliché, but it is true. You are never truly beyond drinking. You are always recovering, because drinking never truly leaves the alcoholic DNA. I feel it now, like a presence at the table. The only difference is I’m comfortable to make it sit there, starving. It comes from and draws upon our wounds and flaws, and to be without wounds and flaws is to be divine, which none of us are. Which I will never be. I am always in recovery, exposed to what I am, where my greatest risk must also be a strength.

Seamus was struggling. Our connection had always been both unbearably intense and somehow distant, wary circling, understanding each other all too well and thus piling on lies. In the way of so many wide-open, bright and sensitive little kids, Seamus compensated as he began to learn the world by becoming a wiseass, a very good and astute one, and also by becoming far more guarded, qualities that led him to essentially shut us out once he reached the storm years of adolescence. If there is one memory I would call upon for comfort at that time, it was from 1991 or so, when we were living in a battered flat in Syracuse in a student neighborhood. Seamus would wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. He was maybe 11-months-old, and I would put him in one of those little plastic strollers and walk up and down Fellows Avenue in the middle of the night, both of us wide awake, neither of us speaking, the trees whispering around us, my little boy looking from side to side, observing the quiet city ….

Just utterly content.

Years later, the night I realized it had gone over the brink was the night one of his friend’s mothers called the house, trying to cover for him, saying Seamus was a “little drunk” and wanting to know if he could “sleep over.” Here is one lesson for any of you who are parents: If we had agreed, Seamus might be dead. Something told us we needed to go to that house, where the woman and her daughter dragged Seamus to the stoop, where this kid of 15 fell unconscious on the cement and rolled down the steps. Unconscious drunks are a joke in our culture, until it is your son, alabaster skin, lifeless, everything limp, his head slamming each step as he rolls toward the ground.

He spent the night in the hospital, his blood alcohol level – hours after he stopped drinking – right around .30, and the arc that would become this book began. My initial reaction to my son’s excess was to try and be my parents, or more exactly my mother, to punish and shame it out of him, to grind it out of him, to lecture and hector it out of him, to do everything but look at the burning core I should have known and felt, to realize beneath all his noise and anger he was suffering. Suffering relentlessly. It took me awhile, a long time, to get to that place. I was late. By the time I found my way to where he was, everything was at high and terrifying risk.

Thinking back on it, I know my wife and I were half-prepared for the worst kind of call in the middle of the night. Nora, too, had grown up in a family torn apart by alcoholism; for her, there was nothing but scar tissue in reliving all those patterns. We did not know if Seamus could ever come back from his addictions. We had seen people lost, people we loved who never found their way. You are about to read his own brave and painfully honest account of those years, but I can tell you that the day when Seamus, too, grew weary and had enough – the day when he stopped drinking – was not the greatest moment in our lives, because there were many days that he stopped, and it didn’t last.

The greatest day is right now, as it goes on.

–           Sean Kirst, January 2017, Syracuse, N.Y.

This is Sean Kirst’s foreword for Seamus Kirst’s memoir, “Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk.” You can purchase ‘Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk’ here. The featured image for this post was taken by Mike Greenlar. See more of his work here.

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I Wasn’t Always, but now #ImWithHer, and I Hope You Are Too

Last night, as I sifted through stories of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the now nearly deadlocked national polls, I realized for the first time that next week Donald Trump could actually be elected president of the United States.
Allowing this thought to sink in made me feel physically ill.
This election cycle has been emotionally tortuous: As a society, we have so much at stake; we have so much to lose if Donald Trump becomes our president.
We must elect Hillary Clinton on November 8th.
As a disclaimer, I am no ‘day one’ Hillary Clinton supporter. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and given the choice, I would make the same decision again. I am much more left-leaning than Hillary Clinton, and I do not always identify with her policy decisions.
I have taken issue with some of her outspoken stances over the years. I dislike her ‘super-predators’ comment from 1996, and I dislike the fact that she didn’t voice her support of same-sex marriage until 2013, after she had spent more than a decade speaking against it. I dislike that she is not speaking out against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I dislike the degree to which her campaign is funded by Super PACs.
So, no, I am not some person who believes Clinton is infallible. A year ago, she was not even my choice for president.
With that being said, it is now inarguable that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be president. It is of dire consequence that we elect Hillary Clinton into office. She may not be the pinnacle of progress, but the false equivalence that has developed in comparing her to Trump is truly terrifying.
I do not want to live in an America where ‘law and order’ justifies unarmed people of color being gunned down by the police; I do not want to live in an America where Muslims are deemed terrorists; I do not want to live in an America where women are not allowed to make decisions about their own health and bodies; I do not want to live in an America where LGBTQ people cannot get married, and aren’t legally protected from discrimination; I do not want to live in an America where climate change is scoffed at, and where it will not be fought against before it is too late.
Do I believe that all of these attitudes will magically disappear when Hillary Clinton becomes president?
No, I don’t.
Yet I believe Hillary Clinton wants to at least keep pushing in this forward direction. I believe that she cares about progress, and that she would at least acknowledge protests with progressive causes. I believe that she will to some degree listen to the voices of people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
I believe that Hillary Clinton understands the general direction that many young people hope to follow, and I believe – overall – she identifies with being a progressive human being.
The man she is running against is not.
The man she is running against is looking backward; he wants to make America great again.
The history of our nation is rife with genocide and slavery; it is rife with oppression along racial lines, maintained with violence.
So, I wonder, what ‘great America’ would he like to reestablish?
Would he like to bring slavery back? Or maybe just Jim Crow? Would he like to take away suffrage from black people or women? Would he like to return to a time when women were forced to perform potentially fatal abortion procedures at home? How about a time when LGBTQ people were forced to express their love in the shadows, or otherwise be subject to violence or death?
No matter what historical periods or societal characteristics to which Trump alludes, none of it is good.
We certainly need to acknowledge our national past, if we ever hope to make amends. We need to not shy away from speaking about such realities as the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, segregation, mass incarceration and police violence if we hope to begin to heal the wounds from the past, and prevent inflicting further injuries against different identity groups in the future.
There is no need to reinstate the policies that scarred before; there is no need to regress.
Diversity is what makes the United States of America beautiful.
Those who are fighting for white supremacy, lower taxes on extreme wealth, and the oppression of people who do not fit the description of the founding fathers are fighting a losing battle.
Wealth inequality will be reformed; climate change will be fought against; human rights will prevail.
For these things to happen, as a progressive people, we need to elect Hillary Clinton to office on November 8th, and start pressuring her to push forward on the day she assumes office.
These times are scary, but they are not without hope. We cannot elect a monster like Donald Trump, and then not be considered monsters, too.
Hillary Clinton is the not the perfect choice for president, but she is the right choice. Electing Hillary Clinton president will not set us back; electing her to office is not going to solve our societal inequality, but it will allow us to continue on the path we are already on; it will allow us to keep the power to effect the changes we want, to use our voices to make America the remarkable place I believe in my heart it can be.

To Put it Simply: “I am Mentally Ill”

I was recently at a dinner with two friends, when we began discussing mental illness and mental health treatment.

All three of us have openly had periods of struggle with both depression and anxiety, but we all had very different takes on treatment, particularly in regards to antidepressants.

“I wouldn’t go on them,” said the first friend.

“I would go on them, but just until I feel better,” said the second.

My take was the opposite: I have been taking antidepressants on and off my entire life, and since deciding to take them consistently nearly three years ago, my life has turned around. I plan to be on them forever.

Conversations like this are not uncommon. When it comes to mental health issues, opinions are often polarized and strongly held.

I understand that antidepressants are not for everyone; many people are fortunate in not suffering from mental illness, and even many of those who do would prefer to have medication be their last resort.

For me, medication is a part of a more comprehensive treatment plan to avoid falling back into the throes of the major depression that I know always lingers beneath the surface of my delicately balanced equilibrium.

I remember what it feels like to be unwell.

For as far as my memory extends, I recall always feeling a haunting sadness, a darkness that seemed ever-present, as if it lived in my marrow.

Of course, there were times when the depression was more prevalent than others, but – nonetheless – it was always there.

I compare the onset of a particularly heavy spell of depression to a thick fog that moved through my veins and took refuge in my skeletal cavity; I felt weighed down and trapped, a hostage to my own mind.

I remember days, weeks and months where it felt like I was separated from life by a sheet of Plexiglas; I could see what was going on and (mostly) keep up with the world, but everything felt muffled and blurry. The worst depression is not sadness; it is numbness, a haunting apathy and hopelessness. When you fall to that place, it is nothing except empty darkness.

Though I could always feel it, my depression was not always easy to see from the outside. To a maniacal degree, I always pushed myself to excel.

I was high school valedictorian. I was class president. I had many friends. I graduated from Brown University. I held several jobs and showed up and did my work.

Perhaps, on paper, I don’t match the stereotypical image of what it looks like to have a mental illness. Yet without a doubt; I know I am mentally ill.

Yes, that’s right: I am mentally ill.

I am not sad. I am not going through a phase that I will outgrow; I have major depressive disorder. No matter how happy I am, how many of my goals I achieve, I know I will always have depression. I do not mean that to be defeatist, I mean it to be pragmatic. My depression is manageable. If I take antidepressants, go to therapy, exercise and abstain from drugs and alcohol, then I am not only able to function, I am able to thrive.

But, on the flipside, if I do not pay attention to my mental health, if I do not do what I need to do, I am aware of where my emotional health can go. Again: It is a very dark place.

I know because I have been there. I spent so many years denying that I was depressed. I spent so many years resisting therapy and medication. I believed they were punitive, or unnecessary. I though it was unfair that I had to go through such measures to create a stable emotional baseline, where most of my friends just naturally found themselves there.

That period of my life was turbulent. It can be defined by suicide attempts and drug and alcohol abuse; by eating disorders and emotionally paralyzing spells of depression; by dysfunctional relationships and general despair. I have had my life commandeered, and almost taken, by my mental illness.

I know so many others have, as well.

Though I am not afraid to admit that I am mentally ill, I understand why people are: Mental illness is still stigmatized. Nationally, we mostly speak about mental illness in the wake of mass shootings, or after suicides. Historically, when people suffered from mental illness, they were shipped off to devastating institutions. As a result, people might worry that they’d lose jobs, friendship or romantic relationships if they were honest about their mental health issues.

Mental illness should not just be spoken about in these contexts. It should be spoken about all of the time.

Mental illness is common: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “One in 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”

One of the worst parts of mental illness is this idea of isolation and silent suffering, the belief that your feelings and behaviors are wrong, that they must be hidden and denied.

The only way we are going to make the mental health system better is if all we all start having honest dialogues about what we, or our loved ones, need to be healthy.

Therapy and medications are not punishments, and they are not luxuries either. For many people, they are necessary for survival – and certainly necessary for having a high quality of life.

Mental illness should be treated like physical illness; there is nothing in it to be ashamed about. You should not have to share it if you are diagnosed, but you should not feel like you have to hide it either.

Everyone who suffers from it experiences diverse symptoms, and everyone will respond differently to varying treatment methods and approaches, as well.

One thing is for certain: Having a mental illness does not make you weak, and it does not make you a bad or dangerous person.

It makes you a person with a unique set of challenges, but they involve obstacles that can be worked through, and – if not completely overcome – then at least controlled.

You can be happy, and you can be free, but it takes work, commitment and self-honesty.

As a society, it takes reform; we need increased access to affordable quality mental health care, and we need to change the way we perceive and approach mental illness and mental health treatment.

As we approach a presidential election, when we often talk about health care and reform of the health industry, in general, we need to make mental health care a prominent part of that conversation.

We have come too far to have people silently suffering. We have come too far to have people feel alone.

I hope that conversations like the one I had with my friends become more common; that – even if uncomfortable initially – mental illness becomes a conversation that can be had at a dinner table.

Change can only come once taboo is removed; progress can only be made once people feel comfortable being honest.

After the Party is Over: Searching for Myself in Sobriety

Three years ago today, I stopped drinking.

Yesterday, I spoke to my dad – who is also in recovery – about the upcoming anniversary. He wanted to share something someone once told him.

“When you stop drinking, it won’t solve your problems,” he said. “But you’ll be able to know your real problems, and not just the ones you’re creating for yourself.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Three years ago, when I stopped drinking, I knew I had to; if I didn’t I was certain I was going to die.

For nearly a decade, my life had, in many ways, been defined by my tumultuous relationship with alcohol. There were hospitalizations, and rehabilitations; there were relationships ruined, and dreams depleted; there were increasingly frightening – and common – blackouts, and days spent in bed miserably recovering from the night before.

Yet, throughout this, I convinced myself that alcohol was what made me happy; what made my life a little less meaningless. I really believed that the intoxicated version of myself was my true being; the sober person that I left behind felt so sad and deflated, so cautious and needy. I didn’t believe I was truly happy, but I believed that with alcohol, I was the happiest I could possibly be. I was more than willing to accept the side effects that came with that consumption.

Of course, none of it makes any sense. As a drunken person, I was verbally aggressive; I said mean things to get my way, and in the moment didn’t care who I hurt. I was insecure, and I sought emotional and sexual validation. I cried, often; and woke up each morning having done or said at least one thing that I regretted.

If someone was mad at me, or when something bad happened, I always blamed it on the alcohol.

I didn’t mean the nasty thing I said, I was drunk.

I didn’t actually want to hurt myself, I just had too much to drink.

I know I could have died, but I didn’t, and moving forward I’ll drink less.

Those excuses (mostly) worked, and I was able to keep drinking to excess. But, I didn’t ‘get away with it’ because I was so much smarter than everyone else (like I thought) or because my drinking habits were more normal than people were acknowledging (like I truly believed.) I got away with it, because at a certain point, people didn’t really know what else they could do. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themself, so they were stuck watching a car crash; some looked away, others ran away and still more watched, holding their breath, hoping that I might come out alive.

At the end of my drinking career, when I realized that I’d lost everything that mattered to me – joy for life, honest relationships, compassion and self-love – I gave up alcohol.

After more failed attempts at quitting than I can event count, this time it worked. I don’t think it was because I hit ‘rock bottom.’ I think I finally opened my eyes and saw how much more darkness lay beneath me; that perhaps there wasn’t a true rock bottom and for a person with such a streak of self-destruction, I would always be able to find a way to hurt myself a little more.

I didn’t want that, I realized; I wanted to be happy, or at least to try to be. I wanted to be functional and reliable, and kind. I hadn’t been any of things for many years.

In early sobriety, what I found out quickly was another piece of wisdom my dad had tried to impart onto me a year and a half before when he visited me while I studied abroad in India. At the time, I had a full-blown addiction Xanax, and I was trying to wean myself off. For days, I could not stop crying; I was blaming my emotional state on being in India and out of my comfort zone.

With a blend of sympathy and tough love he turned to me and gently said, “I think you’re finding out the hard way that wherever you go, there you’ll be.”

Early sobriety in many ways, felt much like my time in India: I was navigating terrain that was so far beyond my comfort zone, where all of my preconceived notions were constantly being proven wrong. I was in a place where the only constant was what I wanted to most escape: Myself.

The initial exhilaration of sobriety, and making such a powerful decision made the first week easy.

Then the novelty faded; I was no longer preoccupied with the announcements that I was making to all of my friends and family. They already knew. My coronation was over, and now it was time to do the hard work. It was time to actually be sober, and not just to be told how strong I was, or how proud people were of me. It was time to not drink for myself.

Like my dad pointed out, sobriety did not mean my problems went away; it meant that they were no longer moving targets darting around as blurs in front of me. They were now perceivable and imminent; issues I had to actually face.

Without alcohol, I no longer felt like my bottom had fallen out, but I still felt quite close to, if not on, the bottom. I thought sobriety would be gleeful, I thought that I would now be ‘happy’ and more easily fulfilled.

That wasn’t the case.

Day after day, I had to wake up and just be sober. I had to accept that I didn’t like where my life was, and that it was at that point because of decisions I had made. There were some relationships that weren’t salvageable; there were some dreams that would take years to fulfill because I’d spent so long trying to find the easiest way out. I had to get used to the sound of my own voice, and think about what I wanted to say and how I said it, because I could no longer say that I had only said it because I was drunk.

I had to accept that there was still a persistent sadness and self-hatred that had not only been there because I’d been an alcoholic.

I thought back to years earlier, when I’d been at a concert. I’d taken Ecstasy with a group of friends, and as it set in, I just kept wanting more. I took another pill, and though most people I was with felt sufficiently high and wanted to avoid drinking, I was seeking it out.

The combination made me feel like I was floating, and numb and dulled. I felt so close to death, yet present. In that moment, I felt bliss.

In sobriety, thinking back to that moment terrified me. What was it inside of me that sought to destroy my own essence? Why did I feel joy in that moment of danger, when I now felt apathetic and flat in this period of self-nurturing?

Answering questions like that has been the hardest part of sobriety. Hell, I still don’t have all the answers; I’m not even close.

Becoming sober wasn’t like removing the exterior layer of paint on a wrecked car, and finding that there was a perfect, brand new car beneath; everything that I struggled with was still there. The only difference was that it was now just much more visible without the mask of alcoholism.

Without alcohol, I still found that I had mean thoughts, that I sought validation, and that I sometimes still woke up shrouded in darkness. I realized I could still do all of the same shitty things.

I could still spend days in bed.

I could still have mindless sex to remind myself that I was wanted.

I could still punish myself; I could still eat too little, or too much; I could deprive myself of sleep, or not do the things I love.

I could still keep secrets; I could still be guarded, and emotionally opaque. I could still be scared; I could still be dishonest about the things I wanted, and devastated when they didn’t happen how I’d hoped.

I don’t want that.

I want to dig in; I want to push myself to feel joy and to feel whole. Whether that comes through antidepressants and therapy, yoga and meditation, writing and conversation, I am willing to try it all.

Not all of my questions are answered, and not all of my problems are solved; my urge to self-destruct has dwindled, but it still chirps in, on occasion.

But, my voice of reason is louder and stronger:

No, you shouldn’t drink until you’re physically there but mentally gone; in fact you shouldn’t drink at all.

No, the world is not ending because something went wrong.

Sure, you can sleep with that person, but do you actually want to? He isn’t going to magically add meaning to your life.

No, life is not just a river that you blindly hurl yourself into and see where you end up.

I know that each morning, when I wake up, there is only going to be one person, who will never go away from me, and that person is myself.

Three years ago, the fastest way to deny that reality was to get shitfaced.

Today, I am okay with waking up and sometimes feeling uncertain; I am okay with not always feeling content or whole, or brave or sure.

Three years ago, I was scared. Today, I am not.

Today, I can see my problems, and I’m ready to fight.

Follow @SeamusKirst on Twitter and like his page on Facebook.

Orlando: For Real Change, We Dare Not Forget

 

When I first heard of the massacre in Orlando, I tried to settle myself by saying it wasn’t something truly new, only the most horrific example of something very old. As an LGBT person, when friends and family called to offer solidarity, I tried to seem unafraid: This is a potential reality, I told them, that we live with every day.

I was lying to myself. Badly.

As an LGBT person, the Orlando massacre strikes deep. I know that I am upset when I start walking and can’t stop. Late Monday night, after going to the vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City, I left my friend’s apartment and headed toward the subway. When I reached the station I just kept going. I turned in the direction of the Hudson, and sped through the West Village. It was dark and quiet, and my mind was racing, so I made my legs race even faster.It was as if my mind were telling my body not to slow down; whatever you do, don’t stop. If I paused, I would have to really process what had happened to the victims; I would have to process the reaction I was having deep inside.

When I realized I couldn’t run forever, my mind surrendered to my body and got I on the subway back to Brooklyn. I started to allow myself to feel. Tears welled in my eyes. The massacre was so horrific. It shattered my illusion of safety. It made me realize that, despite my denial, I live with a fear based on my sexuality: a fear of rejection, a fear of judgment, a fear of violence.

I’m sure you would be hard-pressed to find an LGBT person who, on some level, doesn’t. I’m sure most LGBT people would admit there are many situations in which they’re self-conscious. Most queer people I speak to have been called a ‘faggot’ or some other slur at some point in their lives; or they’ve listened in silence while people say heinous things about queer sexuality. Many people have been beaten, or shunned; ridiculed and tokenized.

Many LGBT people must deal with racism, classism and sexism in addition to homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.

For queer people, our sexuality dictates our life decisions. What college is gay friendly? In what city will I least likely be subjected to harassment or hate crimes? In what career will I find people who are welcoming? What religion won’t require me to condemn myself?

When I finished high school in Syracuse, I went to Brown – a school that is reputed for being wildly liberal and having a thriving LGBT community. I graduated, and moved directly to New York, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. I aspire for a career in entertainment. None of this is haphazard a coincidence.

When you look at the great American cultural landscape, you really couldn’t build a life that is more ‘LGBT friendly.’ Yet, I am still frightened. How can you not be in a world, in a country, where so many people hate you for your very existence?

We love to point out how Russia violates LGBT rights, but I am afraid here in the United States.

How can you not be afraid in a United States where Marco Rubio, while running for president, threatens to find a way to reverse marriage equality should he take office? How can you not be afraid in a United States where Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal spoke at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines? That conference was headed up by Kevin Swanson, a man who advocates the execution of gay people based on his interpretation of the bible; a man who called for mass extermination onstage; a man who has advocated for Christians to make signs that gay and lesbian couples should be put to death, and then bring said signs to queer weddings.

How can you not be afraid in a United States where trans-activist Pearl Love said that she didn’t realize that being assaulted by a woman on the subway simply for being trans was bad, because she is so frequently abused? How can you not be afraid by a United States where men who have sex with men are not allowed to donate their blood? Is our blood so dirty? Is it so contaminated?

How can you not be afraid in a United States where a man walks into a gay club and kills fourty-nine people for simply being who they are?

And please, I beg of you, don’t blame Islam for this attack. No, I hardly an advocate for Islamic extremism, but I am also in direct opposition to right-wing Christian extremism, as well. Only one of those forces has played a much larger part in creating the oppressive and violent culture homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc. that plagues our country. I’ll give you a clue: It’s not the former.

Forty-nine lives were taken this weekend. Let’s not allow these men and women to die in vain. It is time to rise in power. We can no longer tell LGBT youth that ‘it gets better,’ or that ‘love always wins,’ because these sentiments are not promised. TRUE?  Sure, life can get better for LGBT people, and love can certainly win, but only if we fight.

So yes, let’s push for gun control, and certainly let’s improve and expand our mental health system. But, also let’s fight for the end of homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, sexism, etc. Allies, stand up for the LGBT community whenever you can. Not just this week, while the pain of the massacre is fresh in your minds, but forever. Queer brothers and sisters, plant your feet and stand your ground. Whether it’s calling someone out for saying ‘faggot,’ or using your vote to keep bigots out of office; whether it’s voicing that you don’t care who uses which bathroom, or stepping in when you see hate crimes or harassment on public transportation; every small step will help.

The victims of these shootings are not statistics, and they are not negotiating tools for policy. They were people, with hopes and dreams. They loved and were loved.

Please. Not just this week, but forever: Say their names.

Rest in Peace:

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Falling Up the Rabbit Hole

Originally published on The Beat RI: http://www.thebeatri.org/?p=429

I still remember the initial feeling I had two years ago, when I finally made the decision to become sober.

For me, a beer guzzling, sharp-tongued wild child, bidding adieu to alcohol was a shocking turn of events. Even though I had known for years that my drinking was unhealthy, deep down I didn’t believe that I was ever going to actually do anything about it.

Radical change is an adrenaline rush; you’re initially thrilled as the new image of yourself that you’re going to create dances around your head.

I’m going to be the real me; I’m going to be the best me; I’m going to be stable; I’m going to be at peace; I’m going to be happy.

 But, of course, nothing can ever be that simple; happiness will never be the lowest hanging fruit. When you’re unhappy it’s not very hard to convince yourself that it’s always resting just beyond your reach.

Sobriety hasn’t always been easy, and it was especially hard in the beginning. When you’re used to not only socializing through drinking – but also flirting, dating and being intimate – losing that crutch, frankly, feels devastating.

With my initial surge of conviction and determination, I imagined that taking away alcohol – my favorite vice – would make me feel whole; it would simply leave behind an unscathed version of who I was meant to be.

But, the loss of drinking – though necessary – initially felt like just that: A loss. I mourned the death of my inebriated identity. I missed my excuse to escape; I wept for my rationale for any and all misbehavior. I yearned to get wasted.

For many people, myself included, being in a tough situation makes you want a significant other; you crave someone who will stand by you, or better yet, make your troubles go away.

As a gay 22-year-old, I had gone from the closeted confines of high school – where I’d never had a functional or enduring relationship – to college, where all of my romances and other intimate affairs were catalyzed by liquid courage.

What was even harder to accept during those early days of sobriety was that I was in no emotional place to date. Once you took the alcohol away, my problems were glaring: I felt empty, and I was so scared.

I had to learn to love myself. For the first year, I was on a total emotional roller coaster. I had to confront all of these terrible feelings and fears that I’d been burying for so long beneath alcohol, drugs, eating disorders and promiscuous sex.

Why did I feel unworthy of happiness? Why did I hate myself? Why was I scared to just be okay? Couldn’t I exist as a normal, healthy person? Did I need to encase myself behind a thin shield of tragedy as a way to keep the rest of the world out?

I’d like to tell you that I have found the answer to all of these questions. I’d like to say that I’m completely fulfilled and that you can be, too, should you just follow my clearly defined steps.

But, it’s not that simple. I’m not there yet, but I am so much further on my way.

Sobriety is tough. It forces you to deal with your shit; yep, the same shit you’ve spent your whole life hiding and denying.

Initially, this inevitable introspection is terrifying. You don’t have alcohol to blur the edges until the picture of yourself is just what you want it to be.

But, it gets better; it gets so much better. And I’m getting closer all the time.

Self-acceptance no longer feels like my version of Tantalus’ punishment in Tartarus; it will not forever be just past the ends of my fingertips. I can feel it; I have felt it; I have held it in my hands and found it a place to rest within my heart.

I have realized that nothing is so black and white. Self-love and self-acceptance are not obtained or lost, they are rather in flux; the levels of both that you may hold at one time are constantly ebbing and flowing. Some days, I love myself and other days I am still hard on myself, but I assure you that I am never that crumpled ball crying on the floor, always on the verge of self-destruction, that I was so often during my drinking days.

Obtaining sobriety in the LGBT community can have its own additional challenges when you live in a larger society that does not accept you, which has subconsciously led you to believe that you should not accept yourself.

That acceptance will come. Though sobriety may feel isolating, or “quitting” drinking may feel like you lost some game that other people are winning, don’t succumb to these dark thoughts. You are not alone, and you are better off not playing that twisted game where the prize is a hazy delivery unto emotional or physical death.

You’ll find your people, I promise you will, but you have work to do before: The first step out of your crumbling Wonderland is the one where you begin to find yourself.