Posts Tagged ‘family’
Last New Year’s Eve, I had a bad case of the flu. I was miserable, lonely, broke and ill. I called my friends at 11am and told them I wouldn’t be joining them and put down the phone feeling gutted.
Any normal person would have chalked it up to a case of bad luck and germs, watched movies in bed, grabbed a pizza and an early night and woken up on New Year’s Day one step closer to feeling better.
What did I do? I went to the shop, bought a bottle of vodka and got drunk.
I’ve never drunk normally. I regarded people who enjoyed ‘just the one glass of wine with dinner’ as freaks — although I envied them totally. For me, it had one purpose: oblivion. It made everything go away, and once I had it inside me, there was no ‘off’ button until my money ran out or someone broke the front door down to stop me.
At 3am, a brick smashed through the bedroom window and landed on the bed. It wasn’t personal, most likely the antics of some drunken idiot trying to prove himself to his mates. Ironically I judged him.
I woke up, not knowing for a moment what had happened. Broken glass covered the duvet and I cut my hands to ribbons tearing back the bedsheets and trying to figure out where I was. Still pissed, and with a bitter wind now blowing through my bedroom, I went into the living room, downed half a bottle of Jack Daniels and knocked myself out till morning, comatose on the sofa in a bloodstained blanket.
So it should come as little surprise that as I sit here typing this, hangover-free on January 1st — having spent New Year’s Eve eating ice cream and watching movies with my boyfriend — that comparatively speaking, 2012 is already off to a rollickingly good start.
2011 began as it was to continue for the next six months. I started off the new year drunk, lonely, frightened, in debt and with a hole in my soul ten times the size of that in my bedroom window.
February saw me relapse again, nine bottles of vodka over four days. The police broke in. I can’t even remember being taken to hospital.
I managed to stay dry for three months till it happened again. I had tried so hard, but I was merely abstaining, not dealing; and it was scarily easy to give in and pour it down my neck again. As I opened the bottle I even felt a sliver of excitement. Another week lost from my life, another empty bank account and another bunch of cuts and bruises to add to my ever-growing collection of scars. All of which I have no recollection of getting.
I was losing my friends, the respect of my family, and clinging onto my job with bloodied fingernails. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I’d felt something close to self-respect.
All the while I was playing out a life in public that everything was okay. But then, I guess that’s what the disease of addiction turns you into: a liar.
I truly mean it when I say I wanted to get better — or the next time I wanted to die. That was the choice. I couldn’t live like this any longer. I stopped trying to do it on my own and I got some real help.
I found a way. The irony is, I can’t tell you how I did it. I won’t. I’m not going to stand here and advertise a method of getting and staying sober. What if it ends up not working for me and I have a public fall from the wagon? I could destroy someone’s faith in a solution that might otherwise have worked for them. But what I will say is this: for anyone who’s listening, you can’t do it alone. You’ve probably tried already and it’s failed.
A month after I got myself cleaned up good and proper, the handsomest man I’ve ever known turned to me and said “I’d love for you to be my boyfriend.” He had wanted it for a while, he just needed to know I was getting sober for myself rather than for him.
Two months later I left my job. At the time I was riddled with fear, but by this time I had managed to accrue some cash in the bank. I took four months off work and threw myself into getting better.
In October I sent my first invoice for my new business, Thesaurus Rex Copywriting, to one of the world’s biggest software companies.
But most importantly, I no longer see fear or apprehension in the eyes of the people I love. I don’t have to feel that disappointment emanating from my friends and family when I’m found, paralytic, wild-eyed, thin and covered in god-knows-what after going off the radar yet again.
Destructive behaviour comes in all forms and can go to different extremes. Not everyone with alcohol problems drinks the way I did. It can manifest itself in drugs, booze, risky sex, even work and fitness. The drink and drugs just make the noise go away. The sex is a temporary validation.
My world this January 1st is a million miles from where I was last year. I have a loving boyfriend whom I fully intend to marry, a roof over my head, money in the bank, a buzzing new business. I’ve just been ranked in the top 50 most influential LGBT people on Twitter (in fact, it’s for this very reason I’ve chosen to share my story). All this has come to me since I got sober and started participating in my life instead of being a victim to an illness.
The best thing I did in 2011 was for myself: I saved my life. I finally saw how little I valued ‘me’ and I did something about it. And I’m full of gratitude to the people who helped me.
Life has changed, and if you’ve read any of this and are thinking “This is me. This is how I feel” then I promise it can change for you, too.
You just have to ask for help, and it will be given.
Happy new year. x
“I told you I was trouble,” Amy Winehouse sang, “You know that I’m no good.”
For me, that’s the most poignant lyric she ever wrote. It sums up the mind of an addict. You see, it wasn’t a brag; it was a mixture of ‘keep away’ and ‘help me’.
How do I know? Because not so long ago, I was Amy Winehouse.
For most addicts, there’s a constant presence on your shoulder telling you you’re not good enough, that somehow, you’re ‘less’ than everyone out there. Your thoughts go round like a washing machine on high-speed. The noise in your head is constant, loud and harsh. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rich and famous popstar, or Mary Taylor in Islington, homeless and sleeping rough in a shop doorway; it’s that same mindset. Alcohol and drugs are merely the medication.
Addiction isn’t fun. Addiction isn’t “Let’s go to the pub and get pissed and have a right laugh” or “Let’s get fucked on drugs and get up to mischief”. Addiction is lonely, terrifying and insidious. Oh, sure, you start out like everyone else, a few drinks here and there, a dabble or two in something a little harder. You don’t realise when it stops being fun, but it does. Suddenly you find yourself alone in a room, afraid to go out, because ‘outside’ is too damn scary.
So you take that hit, and for a short while, the noise stops. Peace through oblivion. Then you come around and the noise starts again, louder this time, and coupled with the anxiety, fear and terror that come with withdrawal. So you take another hit. Sweet, blessed relief. And somewhere in the back of your mind you hope you don’t wake up from this one. You’re nothing but trouble, you see. All you cause is pain and worry.
I read a fantastic blog by Russell Brand today, in which he said:
“When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phonecall. There will be a phonecall. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make — it must be received.”
The problem is, addiction is the only disease in existence that tells you that you haven’t got it. Lock an addict away and they’ll be looking for an escape, or biding their time and playing the ‘yes, I’m fine now’ role until they’re alone again. I’ve had people in the kitchen pouring drink away while I’ve been climbing out of the bedroom window on my way to buy more.
I’ve been a day out of hospital after being found in my flat, hours away from death, and already I’m figuring out where I can get hold of some gear. I believed the booze and drugs were giving me something. In fact, it was the opposite. They were hollowing me out, alienating my friends and family and slowly stripping me of all that was real and good.
Sadly, all the love and support in the world wasn’t going to help Amy get better. She was trotted out on stage at every opportunity to make money for her record company. She didn’t have the luxury I’ve had of anonymity, of being left alone so she could get better. Contracts had been signed and albums were due. Her star had to keep shining, and all the while the press were snapping at her heels, waiting for her to fall again.
I can’t imagine anything more frightening than the whole world waiting with bated breath for me to fuck up, then posting it on YouTube when I do.
Yesterday evening, people shut down Facebook and Twitter on their computers, still in shock and disbelief at this tragedy, before heading off down to the pubs and clubs for a well-deserved weekend blowout.
Mary in Islington sits down in her shop doorway, begging for a few coins to get a can of beer. Just a little something to help take the edge off. You might have seen her last night, she may have come up to ask you for some change, desperate and devoid of pride, but like a lot of people, you probably looked away, annoyed and uncomfortable.
Sunday morning rolls around, and half of London wakes up with a hangover. Some might even still be going. iTunes seizes the opportunity to promote Amy’s albums on its homepage to make some cash, and somewhere in Islington, an ambulance arrives to take away the body of a homeless woman found dead in a shop doorway.
And all over the world, recovering addicts wake up and pray to a God they’re not even sure exists for the strength to stay clean one more day.
The world carries on. Then somewhere, a phone rings.
You know those people who always seem to say the right thing? Those serene individuals, calmer than Buddha, who wait patiently while you witter on like a blithering idiot, then promptly sum up every feeling, every emotion, everything you’ve been trying so desperately to verbalise in one, simple answer?
Yeah, I’m not one of those people.
Ironic isn’t’ it? I mean, I’m a writer. Words are like, my thing, you know? But talking isn’t. Oh, sure, I can construct perfect paragraphs, sizzling sentences and compelling copy, but ask me to talk without a crib sheet and I fly off on a million different tangents, tripping over my words and getting so caught up in what I want to say, I never actually manage to make the point I originally intended to make.
It’s probably why I chose to make this my living. Ask me to write what’s in my head and I’ll give you an articulate, well-structured piece of copy. Come to me for advice and I’ll serve you up the verbal equivalent of a really fucking bad first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a ‘closed’ person. I’ve done the I-am-an-island thing and I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, and nowadays I like to think I’ve found a happy medium concerning what and with whom I share things.
But GOD, that talking thing. It’s like my thoughts trip over halfway between my brain and my mouth and what comes out is a tangled mass of arms, legs and the contents of the owners’ handbags. Ever seen a pile up in a cycling race? Yeah, that.
Take tonight for instance. I was on the phone with someone who’d had a bad day. A simple enough situation, but you see, he’s one of those people. The kind of person who can say in four seconds what you’ve been trying to say for half an hour. The kind of person who always says the right thing, and does so without having to try three different versions of it. Out loud. The kind of person I just wish I could be like.
Let’s just say he’s ‘special’ to me, and I wanted so badly to come up with some earth-shattering wisdom to solve all his problems and leave him comforted (and slightly in awe of my verbal dexterity), but all I managed were a few long pauses, punctuated by the razor-sharp “Uhm…yeah…well I don’t really know what to say. It’s like… yeah, cause uhm…”
You get the picture.
We began wrapping up the phonecall and saying goodnight. Inside I was feeling like I’d been utterly useless. Then, right before we bid our farewells, he said this:
“Thanks for listening to me moan. I really needed that.”
For this writer, sometimes I need to forget about words. Sometimes all I need to do is just listen.
Afterwards, I went into the living room where my flatmate and best friend of ten years was watching TV.
“Why is it that when I’m talking to him, I can never put into words what’s in my head? It just comes out all jumbled and I end up sounding like an idiot.”
“Because you’re emotionally invested,” she replied simply, “you’re not impartial so it’s harder.”
Yeah. She’s another one of those people.
It’s been a while since I got up on my political soapbox (well, last Thursday at least), But while I gaily chowed down on my low-fat grilled chicken caesar salad, Grindr chirping away happily in the background, the home-made fruit smoothie on my desk perfectly complimenting my purple Abercrombie and Fitch top, I couldn’t help but wonder: what should we really do with Melanie Phillips?
For those of you who have spent the day in a dark room with only mice for company, Melanie Phillips has joined the ranks of the odious Jan Moir to become the Daily Fail’s newest lady-in-hating. As if she hasn’t already got RSI from her constant pearl-clutching over anything remotely not right-wing, in today’s column, she swivels her Sauron’s eye and fixes it squarely on a brand new “Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda.”
For those of you who don’t speak fluent bigot, she’s referring to the plans laid out today by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to develop lesson plans in maths, geography and science that ‘celebrate the gay community’. The opt-in scheme will introduce non-sexual depictions of gay life into lessons, with some references to mummies and daddies occasionally being replaced by same-sex couples, and science lessons in which children will learn about other types of family setup, like those of seahorses and certain species of penguins, which rely on the male to care for the young.
Sound like a good plan? Not so, thinks Phillips, who roared that it was a “ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour.”
Yes, that’s right, Melanie. Leftie homo penguins are coming for your children because militant poofs are holding the Government hostage and forcing them to do our bidding by threatening them with a good hard bumming if they don’t.
In fact, while we’re deporting all the queers to Alcatraz, let’s run those coloured people out as well. They’ve gotten into the White House you know — it’s only a matter of time before one will be in No. 10.
The funny thing is, I read the article (don’t worry, the link goes to the Pink Paper’s verbatim reprint) and to be honest, my jaw didn’t drop. I didn’t sit there incensed. I got to the end and the only thing I did was snort and say, “Whatever.”
In my opinion, all Phillips has achieved is showing herself up. It’s pathetic pieces of writing like this — masquerading under the banner of journalism — that keep gay rights at the forefront of public consciousness.
And do you know what? I welcome it.
Think about it. People like Phillips and Moir work for the Mail because it’s the only paper that would have them. They’re preaching to the converted. They’re talking to an audience they know will agree.
Even the Mail’s own token woofter, Andrew Pierce, has been programmed into spouting forth a load of homophobic nonsense on regular occasion. I’d love to have read the ad: “Wanted – gay journalist for right-wing Tory paper. Must be full of self-hatred and be prepared to lambast their own community in every column.”
Their supporters are few and far between, and now, just like our homosexual forefathers, they know they must keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal. Times they are a-changing, and the boot, it seems, is now firmly on the other foot. It’s just been fierced up a little with a killer heel and some diamante studs.
Yes, the Mail probably sold out today, and yes, the visitors came to the website in their droves to read the article and probably netted the paper a pretty penny in advertising revenue, but so what? They’re going to need it for all those libel cases they’re constantly fighting.
Why do you think those people came? Was it to join forces with the ‘voice of reason’ Phillips believes herself to be? Or was it to read the article, then regard its author with a mixture of pity and slight revulsion, much the same way you would observe a starving, three-legged one-eyed dog at the roadside, sadly twitching away the last moments of its life?
Such is the shift in the last twenty years or so, that it’s people like Phillips and Moir with their articles on ‘the gays’ (a term as outdated and archaic as the women and paper that printed it) who are now regarded as aberrant. People regard them with a kind of fascination; a caricature of days gone by that nobody actually believes can still exist.
How many straight people do you know who have posted that article on Facebook and said, “I totally agree with this woman”?
So do not vilify Melanie Phillips, for she is a poor, stupid creature. And you shouldn’t kick a dumb animal when it does something wrong just because it lacks intelligence.
Instead, let’s all give her a great big gay old hug. Because as she bleats pathetically from her bigoted, dark little corner, she does so knowing she’s a dying breed.
And let’s face it, after the lambasting she’s going to get — she’s going to need one.
I looked in the mirror at the red-eyed quasimodo squinting gunkily back at me and shuddered. Not because of my reflection — I’ve seen myself in worse states — but because I knew what this meant.
Now, before you start branding me a hypochondriac, I’m not so stupid as to think conjunctivitis is a serious condition. Fear of blindness wasn’t responsible for the quiet dread that crept over me as I crossed my bedroom and opened a drawer.
It was the fact that until the infection had cleared, I would have to wear what was sitting inside.
I hate my glasses. They have the ability to instantly transport me back in time to when I was a chubby, gawky kid with no real friends, constantly teased because he never quite fitted in. They were a constant companion right from the age of four, all the way up through my teenage years.
As soon as I put on my glasses, I’m transformed from a confident, strong-willed man, into a shuffling, self-conscious little boy again. I’m once again freezing to death on a school sports field, waiting to be picked last, because nobody wanted to have a kid with glasses on their team.
I have the most invisible pair ever: two frameless bits of glass held together with one piece of wire, with two longer pieces fixing them to my face, but to me they feel gargantuan. It’s like they weigh a ton as well, pulling my head down to my neck so I’ve got no option but to stare at the floor.
Going without them isn’t an option. With both my eyes boasting a prescription of -4.75 (that’s ‘really fucking short-sighted’ for all you non-optical people), I’d be run over before I even made it to the tube station.
At fifteen years old, after bludgeoning my mother into getting me contacts, she relented.
I stood in the bathroom, tongue out, eyelids stretched, fiddling with this slimy little bowl of plastic for ages, because I was damned if I wasn’t going to get this thing in my eye.
When I finally got them in. I looked at myself and burst into tears.
Most people take their own reflection for granted — but I’d never seen my own face clearly in a mirror.
Shuffling round the gym on Tuesday night, looking at all the hot guys with their spec-free gorgeous faces, it felt like I was back on that playground, looking at the bigger boys standing together in a corner, sniggering at me. Their voices shouting, “Oi! Are you that Su Pollard?” and “Look! It’s Timmy Mallett!” echoing round in my head like a cheesy flashback scene from an 80s movie.
Later that night, tired and sore-eyed, I poured out my misery on Twitter and posted a picture of myself as a bottle-ended nobody.
No amount of you-were-adorables or aww-how-cutes were going to make me feel better, until I noticed something: all the lovely folk of Twitter had begun posting photos of their own childhood di-glass-ters.
I suddenly realised just how many of my fellow Tweeters still wore glasses in their profile pictures.
These were gorgeous, confident men and women — proud of their bins. Were they shuffling around in the background, hoping they wouldn’t be noticed? Hell to the no!
The tweet that finally dragged me out of my needless self-pity and made me realise just what an idiot I was being came from @bishbashboshjosh, who said:
Okay, @guy_interruptd campaigns against the stigma about HIV, but needs therapy for wearing glasses?”
Hmm…well, erm…. Yeah. When you put it like that.
So I’ve decided that tomorrow (well, when I get some money anyway) I’m going to harness my inner geek.
I’m going to take that self-conscious little boy by the hand, march right into Specsavers, (because apparently a lot of people regret not going) and get myself a funky-chunky black pair. I’m going to grab my four-eyed counterpart by the bollocks and be an out and proud speccie.
Well, some of the time, anyway.
The next morning, I dressed in a crisp white shirt and grey suit, and strolled to work with my bespectacled head held high.
Standing at the counter, waiting to pay for my usual breakfast roll, the woman behind it looked up, blinked and said, “Oh! It’s you! I’ve never seen you in your glasses before! You look really handsome.”
“Thanks.” I beamed.
And as I walked out of the cafe, smiling to myself, I thought: Maybe I’ll keep these on for a couple of days after my eyes have cleared up.
I can’t quite describe how it feels to be standing six feet from Annie Lennox, as you have your photo taken by one of the world’s top fashion and portrait photographers.
The fact that I was doing it for an amazing cause made the whole experience even more special.
This year, The Body Shop has teamed up with UNAIDS and photographer Rankin for a global World AIDS Day campaign called Be An Activist. It showcases activists of all ages and races, from all walks of life, from popstars and CEOs, to your average man on the street, like me.
In a world where treatments are improving and AIDS is becoming less of a killer, sadly, people are becoming more complacent. Ignorance is high. Lack of education is a constant problem, and as a result, infections continue to rise.
This is why I’m so honoured and passionate to be a part of a campaign which reinvigorates the message that HIV is always out there, and it doesn’t discriminate.
Arm yourselves with the knowledge to protect yourself and make safer decisions, and let’s end the stigma surrounding HIV — and hopefully one day, eradicate the virus itself.
Below is a transcript (and a shaky video!) of the keynote I delivered (along with my best mate Emma) at the campaign’s press launch on 29th November 2010.
World AIDS Day is on December 1st, and I urge you all to stand with me and wear your red ribbon with pride.
I am proud to be an activist. Join me, and be an activist too.
Every morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do after throwing the alarm clock across the room, is go to the bathroom, where I carefully place two bits of plastic onto my eyeballs so I can see properly.
Yes, I’m short sighted. Shocking, isn’t it? I mean, you wouldn’t know unless I told you. But yep, I genuinely can’t see my hand in front of my face without my lenses.
Being short sighted isn’t my fault; it’s just something that happened to me.
An hour later, before I leave the house for work, I tip four small tablets into my hand and knock them back with a glass of milk. To help my immune system cope with the effects of the HIV virus.
So there’s two things you wouldn’t guess from just looking at me. But only one of those things has the potential to change the way I’m perceived by other people.
We’ve been brought up to believe HIV is ‘unclean’ and that the people who carry the virus are somehow lesser beings, to be feared and ostracised. But I’m not, I’m innocent, I’m just like you.
I’m the person who gave you his seat on the tube. The guy who smiled at you when you bumped into him because you were walking along engrossed in your phone. I work with you, I cross the road with you. I’m not locked away in some dark corner of a hospital, gaunt, dying and covered in lesions. Every day, you come into contact with HIV+ people — you just don’t know it. And we’re not evil, we were just unlucky.
I hope one day, World AIDS Day is a day to reflect on the past and feel grateful that we live in a world free of stigma, a world where people can go about their lives without feeling they have to hide their status. I hope it becomes a time to remember those who lost their lives to the disease, and to thank those who developed treatments, and maybe one day even a cure.
Being an activist doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It doesn’t mean you have to march in a parade with a banner. You don’t have to stand behind a lectern at City Hall and deliver a speech. It can be something as simple as pinning a red ribbon to your jacket as you make your way to work. It’s an act of compassion towards a fellow human being. It says, “I’m with you on this’. Because after all, ten thousand voices whispering can be a whole lot louder than one person shouting.
I’m so proud to be a part of this campaign, to stand alongside such inspiring people and finally put a face to HIV. I hope that by sharing my story, I can empower people to take control of their health, get tested regularly and protect themselves from this virus.
I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I’m not afraid to be honest. And I will carry on holding my head up and fighting on behalf of those who live in fear so that we can finally end stigma once and for all.
My name is Kristian Johns, I’m HIV positive. And I refuse to hide, because I shouldn’t have to.
The exhibition at City Hall runs until December 7th 2010
It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, so hear me out.
You see, I’m an impulsive sort of guy; I always have been, so when a friend sent me a link to a video for a new campaign aimed at gay teenagers called, “It Gets Better”, it stirred something up in me, and I jumped head first into forming an opinion.
American author, Dan Savage and Terry, his partner of 16 years, speak about their difficult, religiously influenced childhoods, leaving behind their traumatic school years, before meeting each other and settling down into happy, gay, wedded bliss. The message being that if you’re growing up gay and facing the daily ignorance, abuse, and sometimes even violence — it does get better.
A fantastic sentiment — and I mean that sincerely — but part of me couldn’t help feeling like it was all a bit too saccharine for my tastes. I mean, are these two really representative of the wider gay community? And are they telling the truth? Does it ever really get better, or does the focus just shift?
For me, the homophobia subsided at school by the time I was 14 or 15 — I developed a smart mouth and I had a fiery temper, so I soon put my detractors in their place. But it’s actually been since I left school and entered the gay scene that I’ve encountered the most hostility.
You see, we call ourselves the gay ‘community’ — but I think we forget what that word truly means. We actively practice segregation — the dykes don’t talk to the gays, the muscle boys don’t talk to the chickens, the bears all stick together and the skins all go to Compton’s.
Most of us frantically pump iron at the gym in a bid to be accepted by a community that doesn’t even register you if you’re under 70kg and not popping out of an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.
Yep, we’re all about making people feel like they don’t belong.
And why? Maybe we get a kick out of it. After so long feeling different, it’s nice to feel like we’re part of something, and fun to turn our noses up at the people who don’t fit in. And all the while hoping nobody notices that once upon a time, we too were the outsider.
Of course, there’s a difference between not being hot enough and getting the shit kicked out of you. But what’s worse? Being shunned by the idiot kids at school, or by the very community who should be welcoming you, arms open? And all because you simply don’t fit the bill.
If, like Dan and Terry, you manage to avoid all this and find the man of your dreams at a relatively young age, then you’re lucky. But does this rosy picture of a happily married gay couple, complete with adopted son, give kids something to aspire to, or is it setting them up for disappointment when they get out there and find it’s all about instant gratification, transient friendships, fast sex and very little commitment?
You may (possibly rightly) call me bitter, and given my recent experiences, who could blame me? But the truth is, I know (and admire) plenty of happily married gay couples.
My friends Noel and Steve have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for fifteen years and have an adopted son and daughter. My other pals Uwe and Quentin just celebrated eighteen years, and I’m very excited to be going in February to the wedding of Rob and Jamie, who are finally tying the knot after fourteen years together.
But the reality is that most of us are destined to still be on our own well into our 30s, 40s and even 50s and beyond. So do we tell our gay teenagers the cold, hard truth — or should we give them something positive to strive for?
The cynic who couldn’t identify with Dan and Terry’s cuddly, present-day lives was erring on the side of the former.
That was, until yesterday, when I read the story of Seth Walsh, the thirteen year old boy who died on life-support this week, nine days after hanging himself.
The reason? He was being bullied at school for being gay.
As I reflected on my initial reaction of ‘these men do not represent my community’, I realised that what every kid needs is a role model, whether it’s Spider-man, a parent, or the granddad who fought in two wars. Gay teens need something to hold onto during those awful years when others are discovering they’re different as quickly as they themselves are.
If dreaming of getting married and settling down with a white picket fence is what’s going to save the lives of kids like Seth Walsh, then who the fuck am I to pass judgement on a video that may or may not give them unrealistic expectations?
What would I have done if I’d had the chance to speak with Seth before he tried to take his own life? Would I have told him about the liars and the cheats? Would I have told him about the rampant body fascism that dictates we should spend half our waking lives in the gym to feel accepted? Would I have warned him about the dangers of men who just want to get laid and don’t care about passing on HIV?
Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have put my arm around his shoulder and simply said:
“It gets better.”
So rest in peace, buddy. There’s no hatred in heaven. I’m just sorry you didn’t get to see a better life.
I looked in the mirror at the man smiling at me, and smiled back.
He was about thirty, wearing a deep V neck t-shirt and fitted black blazer. He had short hair that had gone sandy-coloured from a recent holiday, excited green eyes, stubble that hadn’t quite made the transition to ‘beard’, and was probably wearing a bit too much aftershave.
I’m now at the age my parents were when they had me, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in my six-weeks-from-turning-thirty-one years. Probably over less bumps than some, but definitely over more bumps than most.
But all those experiences put me on a path that had landed me right where I was standing — in the gents’ restroom at the Royal Festival Hall, about to share a stage with six ‘proper’ writers at the London Literature Festival on the South Bank.
I was reading an extract from my recently published story: Dying, And Other Superpowers in front of about 200 editors, writers, authors, critics and general ‘literary’ types.
Don’t ask me what ‘literary’ looks like exactly. But to give you an idea — it usually wears glasses, is probably holding a copy of your book, has its legs crossed, pen poised, head cocked to the side and is regarding you with a slightly inquisitive expression.
The book’s editor, Paul Burston introduced me as “the newbie” and I got up to cross what had morphed into three miles of echoey floor to the stage at the front of the room.
I say echoey — people were clapping and cheering — but I could only hear my own footsteps.
Deep breath number two.
(Oh, who am I kidding? Deep breath number three-hundred-and-forty-two is slightly more accurate.)
I straightened my notes on the lectern and began with Josh’s story:
“I’ll remember my eighteenth birthday for three reasons. The first being that I turned eighteen.
The second reason is because it was the day I got diagnosed with HIV. And the third? I made a mug explode.
Yeah, that was a pretty hectic day…..”
I took the audience through the story I knew so well. I knew these characters far better than I’d described on the page. I knew what they looked like, where they lived, what music they listened to, even the subtle facial tics they made when they were angry or excited. I got lost for a little while, enjoying the feeling of bringing them to life through speech.
I finished on a cliffhanger:
“I gaped at my hands, turning them over a couple of times, but my vision was blurring and I felt unsteady. I looked around the room, unfocused and disoriented, and in a weak voice said, “Mum?”
I don’t know if she answered, because my world went black.”
I looked up, smiled and said: “And if you want to know what happens, you have to buy the book!”
There was a collective cry of “Gah!” from the audience, followed by a round of very genuine applause, and I knew I’d done OK.
I’d like to tell you about the rest of the evening, but to be honest, it was a bit of a blur, I remember points of it. My wonderful friends and family hugging me and clapping me on the back, warm congratulations from people I’d never met. A very humbling moment when a young man told me he’d come all the way from Nottingham to hear me read because he’s a fan of this blog (thank you, David — it’s not often I’m rendered speechless).
And people were asking me to sign books! With my signature!
Feeling like a bit of a fraud, I wondered: what do I write? Do I try to make each message personal? Do people expect you to write “best wishes” or is that just wanky and patronising?
Do I just sign it? Do I try to be neat? Do I screw it and just be intentionally, fantastically, artistically untidy? Can I make my writing even remotely legible when my hands are shaking this much?
Oh, Paul-bloody-flipping-Burston, you’re supposed to be my mentor! WHERE are you when I need you?!
On top of that, I realised I was going to have to ask them all that cringeworthy question:
“What’s your name?”
The crowds filtered out and I rejoined my wonderful, drunken friends, and ceased being a writer, a new talent, or a member of the literary world — I was just ‘me’ again. We set off into Soho for a few celebratory drinks.
Now that the dust has settled on that crazy night, I certainly don’t feel like an ‘author’, a ‘fresh new talent’, a ‘hidden genius’ or any of the things I’ve been described as over the past few weeks.
It’s hard to feel like a ‘rising star’ when you’re sitting in a messy bedroom, wearing crap boxers, writing a blog post with a cup of tea and Star Trek: Voyager on the telly for company.
Cynics may (possibly rightly) argue that this is nothing to get excited about; I mean, it’s not my own novel — it’s a short story that’s been published in an anthology.
But as I’ve said before, it’s the beginning of my story, and I don’t know if it’s a short story, a novel, or a whole fricking library, but I can’t wait to write some more pages.
Paul called me late last night:
“I didn’t get to speak to you afterwards because it was just a bit crazy, but I wanted to tell you, you were phenomenal. I’ve had so many messages about the event over the last 24 hours. You made a huge impact. You should be very proud of yourself.”
Phenomenal? Well, that’s for time and other people to decide — not me.
Breakups are never easy. I recently split with the man I saw myself marrying. The worst thing is that it was my decision — he wasn’t in the right place to give me a whole relationship, so, as much as it hurt, I had to walk away. And believe me when I say it hurt.
So I’m faced with the task of finding my way back to happy again. I’ll get there. I was happy before I met him, so I’ll be happy again in the future. And this is how I’m planning to get there:
1. Put it in a box
Amy Winehouse got it right with her song, Take The Box. Some may disagree, but I say cut contact and remove all those reminders that, for now, are going to stop you from moving on.
Delete them from Facebook/Twitter (but tell them nicely why). Take all those photos of them off your phone, un-sync “your” songs from your iPod, change your phone’s screensaver. Put everything in a folder on your computer and set that folder to ‘hidden’.
Don’t get rid of it all though — don’t delete things or throw them away, just put everything out of sight where it can’t hurt you, and come back to it at a time when you can view it more objectively.
It’s like setting a broken bone in a cast. Your heart is raw and open and needs time to heal, and you need to protect it while it does that.
2. Don’t try and second guess them
You can only go on what you know, and all you know right now is that you’re not together. Don’t drive yourself insane trying to guess what’s going through their mind, because you just don’t know. So concentrate on the stuff you do know.
And don’t try and find out either. You’ll make people uncomfortable, and you’ll also look like the freaky-ex-who-isn’t-over-it. So have some dignity.
3. Listen to music
And no, I don’t mean wailing along to Celine Dion’s All By Myself . I mean, seriously, is she even still alive? And if she is, why hasn’t someone shot her?.
Screw all those crappy power ballads about lost love and being heartbroken, Sarah Maclachlan’s I Will Remember You sums up perfectly the notion that you can let someone go, but still have them in your heart.
For the pop fans, I recommend Jennifer Lopez: I’m Gonna be Alright. It’s a strong song, full of grim, grit-your teeth resolve, and it’ll make you lift your head up and walk with a purpose.
To lift a mood, you can’t beat the shiny, disco-pop perfection of Agnes: Release Me. So sing along with her as she proudly proclaims “I’m better off without you” — even if you don’t feel like you are yet.
And for the times when you’re so furious you could put your fist through a wall, Apocalyptica’s I Don’t Care and Three Days Grace’s I Hate Everything About You are awesome, angry rock songs to scream along to.
Just don’t put your fist through a wall. It hurts. Take it from me.
4. Get distracted
Go on some dates. Enjoy being single again. Flirt back with the guy at the gym who’s been eyeing you up for ages.
Jeez, have a sweaty, no-strings fuck with a random stranger if that’s what you feel you need.
But accept you’re on the rebound. You’ll be comparing others to your ex for a long while yet, so accept that for now, dates are just a distraction. And be honest with them. Say you’re just getting back in the dating scene after a breakup, but leave it at that — they want to have a drink with you, not console you.
And whatever you do, don’t hurt a nice person by using them as a replacement. You might meet someone fantastic, who’s ready for a relationship, but you’re not in that place yet — and starting something on an unequal footing, where they stand more chance of getting hurt, is just not fair.
5. Count your blessings
A friend recently suggested I take a couple of minutes every day to acknowledge the five nice things that have happened to me that day. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, just make yourself aware of them.
- The sun was shining and I was in my shorts in the park at lunch
- The sandwich lady gave me a free portion of carb-tastic pasta with my chicken roll because I said I was going for a run later
- I had an uninterrupted half an hour alone with a great book
- My friend Dillon is treating me to 30 Seconds To Mars at the O2 in November
- My other friend Paul took me out for a run this evening to prep me for the Asics Great London 10K Run (see next section)
And in addition to all that, I’m grateful to have found an amazing set of friends who are there with a smile and a hug whenever I need it.
When people are there for the drama as well as the fun, you know you’ve found your gang. Guys, you know who you are.
No, it’s not a metaphor, and no, I’m not referring to that god-awful Leona Lewis desecration cover of the Snow Patrol song, I mean actual running.
A friend said to me: “Running is great. There comes a point where all you’re thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other and your mind is totally clear — it’s like mediation.”
So I tried it, and he was right. Bring on the endorphin high.
7. Hope, but don’t live in hope
There’s a difference. A big one. Some people put their life on hold waiting for that person to come back to them.
Hope isn’t a bad thing — as long as it’s not all you’re living for. So it’s okay to hope, but eventually, there will come a point when you realise you’ve stopped hoping — but it’s alright — because all it means is that you’re over it.
8. Let go.
Mourn it, and miss it, but let it go.
If you can put your hand on your heart and say you did everything you could, you just have to accept it and move on.
You split up for a reason, and yes, it hurts, but there’s no use going back to something just because it’s easier to be with them than to be without them.
Your problems would still be there if you got back together, you’d just be pushing them under the rug for a while longer.
Be grateful you’ve had the chance to be close to that person, remember them and take on board the lessons you’ve learned from them and from the relationship in all its stages.
And as my very wise and wonderful mother always says to me when life kicks me in the teeth:
“Don’t look back — you’re not going there.”
So look to the future — your future — and embrace it.