Because at first it was hard for simple reasons, and now it is hard for reasons that don’t make sense. A man I heard speak once said, “Is this all there is?” And I talked to a friend of mine sometime in January and said, “I have that same question that the man had,” and my friend said, “I’m pretty sure this is it, yes.” And I wept on the bench in the sun and drank coffee and smoked cigarettes and squinted and rubbed my face and dried my red eyes in front of the pane glass and straightened my tie and went back to work. Because this is what there is, and it is hard for reasons that don’t make sense.

I have spent most of my life looking for God or meaning or some combination of the two, and I have spent most of my life claiming to have an answer that’s better than nothing. I have read books that have helped and books that have not, and I’ve climbed mountains and flown on airplanes and ridden on buses and looked at the stars and done more than my fair share of mind-altering substances looking for a way out of answering the question about what there is or is not, and what that means about responsibility and purpose and duty and how we conduct ourselves in the world. I have learned that this is very little I know with absolute certainty, and I have learned that I am a very poor judge of what even constitutes certainty in the first place.

I read a book once that flattered my ego when it said, “Most people do not have philosophical problems.” It flattered my ego because I am awash in them most days, and it flattered my ego because, according to my self-serving interpretation, it set me apart from the crowd. That I then took it upon myself to prove the point through years of alcohol abuse was, I suppose, a bit unfair to the people who love and care about me, but I submit that there was other shit going on there that I let get the best of me for a long, long time. You don’t know what you don’t know, and I didn’t know how to stop drinking alcohol. I still really don’t, except that you really do do it a day at a time.

I went to India once, and as I was standing out front at JFK smoking my last cigarette before I got on the flight there, I said to this guy who was also smoking, “I’m going to India and I don’t have a plan.” I was slightly drunk at the time, because I am almost always slightly-to-very drunk in my stories about my 20’s, and he said, “How long is your flight?” I said, “I dunno. 20 hours?” And he said something pretty great that’s always stuck with me for reasons I don’t understand, he said, “That’s enough time to come up with a plan!” and he went inside.

A year ago tomorrow I went back to detox for the sixth time with no plan. I had nowhere left to live and I was down to my last $2,000 after liquidating my 401k and being fired from a bagel shop and a bar. In detox I met a guy named Matt, who was a drunk like me, and who’d spent the past two years in and out of detoxes and rehabs, and we played whist while we got over withdrawals with librium and hospital food. We went to the same rehab in Petersham, Massachusetts after detox, and at one point while we were there I said to Matt, “I’ve been coming to these things for a year. If I keep doing this, I’m going to kill myself.” We were on our way to lunch. Matt is a Harvard guy and a friendly enough fellow, and he just smiled and said to me, a bit too cheerfully, “You haven’t killed yourself yet!” and went to get his food.

I’ve only attached significance to this in retrospect; at the time, it meant almost nothing. What it is now, though, is an organizing principle and a prayer. It is an affirmation and a call to action. It is my Molly Bloom moment — my “yes I said yes I will Yes.”

You haven’t killed yourself yet!

No, I have not.



saturday december 15 2018

One of the things you’ll hear in AA pretty frequently if you decide that you should go (which, hey, maybe you should, who am I to judge?) is that AA isn’t a religious organization and that it’s not a cult. The former claim has the virtue of being technically true, while the latter is an open question depending on your definition of “cult.” (I tend to think of it less as a cult and more as a fraternal organization whose members can perhaps be a bit too overzealous at times, but who are by and large mostly harmless.) You’ll hear it pretty frequently because it turns out that AA has a reputation as this weird cult-ish religion-y thing out there in the world of people who don’t go to AA meetings. I’ve been going to AA on and off since 2012 so I’d mostly forgotten that part, but when I moved to Maine, it was as though every meeting had someone who’d mistaken it for a sales call. When this happened — when a person would tell their story about their reluctance to come into AA because of the God stuff, and how it was misplaced because it turns out God was actually there the whole time (!) — I kind of just rolled my eyes and let it slide. Again, I’d been going to AA for six years, so nothing that anyone said in a meeting really surprised me anymore, but it seemed almost counterproductive in a way. Part of it, too, is that I’ve worked in sales in various capacities for most of my adult life, and I don’t like sales people. Or, rather, I like sales people who aren’t pushy, and converts to the cause can be a bit excitable.

With AA, the God stuff never really bothered me. I’m pretty indifferent to the specifics of the belief systems that help people get well as long as they’re getting well. There isn’t some grand utilitarian calculus being figured by a JS Mill in the sky, casting aspersions on AA for not being better than it is. (And if there is, it turns out the AA people were right about the God stuff, after all.) What bothered me was that AA told me to quit drinking. And I loved to drink. All of the things in the world were reasons to drink, and as a consequence there were never enough drinks to sate me. I would get drunk, sure. But I wanted liquor to destroy me. That it was destroying me wasn’t enough, either, because it wasn’t destroying me fast enough. I had it in my head that in order to be a fully realized tragic hero I had to die. If I died, then you would finally understand my suffering, and if you happened to suffer in the process, well, then, the proof was in the pudding.

Why that made sense to me is probably something I’ll never get to the bottom of. I was talking to my sponsor about all this “why” shit one day — why did I drink, why did I want to drink even when it stopped working, why did I do this to myself and to everyone around me — and he said, quite simply, “You drank because you’re an alcoholic.” I don’t know if it was a white light moment or what, but I’ve gone back to that moment over and over again when I start going down the rabbit hole of “why.” Because the truth is, I don’t know why I drank except that I’m an alcoholic. I’m not uniquely tortured, I’m an alcoholic. I’m not a character in a drama, I’m an alcoholic. I don’t really need to figure it all out, I just need to not fucking drink alcohol. Maybe try to own my shit and help out other people when they ask. Boom, that’s the program. That’s your 12 steps.

To the extent that the God stuff bothers me now, it’s because it fits so cleanly into my tendency to structure my life as a narrative — as something that I’m not actively living, as the world-acting-upon-me. It’s partly why I’m wary of sharing my own story at meetings. Early on in AA, way back in 2012, I was telling some dudes outside a meeting that I’d run a book-donation program for a nonprofit and that I’d seen countless copies of the AA Big Book donated in that time. Some guy chimed in, “Ha! That’ll be part of your story one day.” And it could be. I could go through my past and pick up all of the little plot pieces and string them together and tie them up with a bow and maybe convince you, or someone who wanted to believe badly enough, that me being sober today — hell, being alive today — is part of the Plan. I’m living in a cabin in Maine right now because I met some woman in my second rehab after my sixth detox who said that she had a cabin in Maine and I said, “Huh, I’m moving to Maine,” and she said, “You can live there,” and I said, “That’s good.” And I got sober because I had no other choice after years of trying and failing and generally burning my life to the ground. And let me tell you all of the stories about grace and chance and redemption. Let me tell you about how I was made whole again.

It’s convenient, but it’s just the flip side of my original narrative, which also involved the world revolving around me. What I’ve learned is that I don’t know if there’s a God, but I do know that I’m not it. And if that’s the only thing I ever learn, I can live with that.


One of the last things I said to Jimbo, aloud anyway, was that I wasn’t going to his funeral. This was as he moved the last of his things into the back of his Honda Accord from Myrtle Street. He was leaving the sober house in the middle of the night — only it wasn’t the middle of the night. It was closer to eight. It may as well have been the middle of the night, though, since he was bailing on the rent he owed Tommy without telling anyone. Trying and failing to keep it hush hush. He had been flirting with the idea of leaving for a few days, which meant that he’d already made his decision, but a few of us were trying to talk him out of it.

“Where are you gonna go, Jimbo?” we said.

Jimbo said he had his eye on a couch in a living room in an apartment in the West End. $500 a month. The guy who was on the lease was a former manager of the sober house where we lived. Nobody could really figure out the angle, which meant that the angle was clear as day. Jimbo had his eyes on another run.

They say in the rooms that you relapse a long time before you ever pick up again. In that regard, I’m not sure Jimbo ever really got clean. He was a big gorilla of a man. 6’2”, 230, and bearded with wild in his eyes. He’d recently become obssessed with going to the gym, and we all speculated that he was shooting testosterone into his ass, but hey — better to get swole than die with fentanyl. Jimbo was a delight to call your friend. He’d been kicked out of Myrtle Street early in the summer for buying Johnnies from another guy in the house, and gone on a hell of a tear, but we were all glad he’d made it back in one piece. When he was out, he’d apparently overdosed with some people he knew, but they’d brought him back with Narcan. He’d gotten the tip of a syringe stuck in his arm from God knows what — nodding off after shooting up probably. He’d left his brand new AC unit in our apartment when he got booted, and texted me one day in July to get it back. I don’t know why I didn’t say no, but I didn’t, and it went straight into his veins.

He’d made it back, though. He’d heard about how Chris had died in our bathroom, and he’d ODed himself. He said it put the scare into him. He was ready to do it different this time.


About a week before Jimbo left, my housemates and I were sitting in our living room being sober and boring when we hit on the idea of starting a pool to bet on people we thought were going to be the next to relapse. We never did start it, but we all agreed that Jimbo was the best odds. Maybe because we’d all been to more detoxes than we could count, or because we’d spent enough time living those odds ourselves — the simple fact is that if you keep doing what you were doing before your last relapse you’re in trouble.

And so it was that Jimbo was still hung up on an ex-girlfriend. So it was that Jimbo stopped going to meetings after about a week back. So it was that the little unpunished transgressions against house rules piled up. Jimbo got a shitty call center job, went to shows after curfew, and ruined Tinder for the rest of us. (On what was probably his last Tinder date, he drove half an hour to a woman’s house, brought her wine, fucked her, and left when she asked him to make her come.) And we let him get away with it, because what else could we do? How can a group of people who are barely keeping it together tell the most gregarious of all of them to dial it back for his own good? What sort of credibility do we have?

A good suggestion made in the rooms is to refrain from taking another person’s moral inventory. It’s something we all do anyway, but it’s probably best to keep it to yourself for the most part. After all, very few people react well to being told they’re fucking it all up, and even less so the person in the throes of addiction. So why risk it? Why risk inciting the unwell part of the brain into saying, “I’ll show you who’s fucking up!”

What you do instead is take your own inventory, and try very hard not to make the same mistakes you’ve made repeatedly. In the 12 Steps, this process is undertaken in the 4th and 5th steps. The 4th is your reckoning — as best you can muster — and the 5th is your confession. It’s all very Christian and American and confusing, and for a lot of people it arouses suspicion and skepticism. And maybe that scrutiny comes from a good place. But maybe trying to believe in something you don’t believe in at all is as sincere a gesture as you can make sometimes.

I don’t know.

What I do know is this — when I’d finished my 5th step with my sponsor, sitting on a park bench across the street from Starbucks, under-dressed for the crisp fall air in the early morning light, rushing through so I could get to work, he stopped me and said, “You can be very mean,” and I winced. I can be very mean. I’d already known that I could be selfish and arrogant and needlessly strident and deceitful and on and on. But I didn’t know I was mean. I thought everyone knew how kind I was. Or how kind I wanted to be. I thought that even if my ideals about the generosity of the human spirit didn’t always shine, at least it was clear to everyone how excellent those ideals were. Always. But it turns out I was wrong.

So when I told Jimbo as he was leaving Myrtle Street that I wouldn’t go to his funeral, I corrected myself, because that was mean — just needlessly mean. I said I was sorry, and I told him not to go one more time. And of course he left. And since we all know how this story goes, last week he died in that living room he was renting for $500 a month, alone and unwell. His roommate had been arrested earlier in the week during a standoff with police, so his body sat there over the weekend, rotting from the inside.

Everyone who knows him is shattered.

It’s probably not the case that a mental illness has a telos, but I can tell you from experience that it feels a whole hell of a lot like addiction wants you dead. When everything in your rational mind is saying, “Do not do this, you are going to die,” and that argument is just utterly steamrolled by your disease — that happens every day, all the time, all over the place. All of the accumulated wisdom of the rooms and the rehabs loses. It’s the reason people in recovery suggest taking things a day at a time — the implication being that it only takes a day to kill you. And while cliches and platitudes aren’t always sexy, and are sometimes so unsexy as to be anti-sexy, they occasionally have the virtue of being true. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might live long enough to know that in your bones. And if you’re not, for reasons I don’t get but I understand, I truly hope you find your peace. Because I will miss you terribly.

a little tenderness

lloyd died on my kitchen floor at about 1:30 in the morning on friday the 13th, 2018. yesterday. naked from the waist down, blood coming out of his nose from either the fentanyl or the narcan (i had run next door to get narcan after we found him in the bathroom, so i’m not sure if he was bleeding before or after we gave it to him and anyway it doesn’t matter), pallid face slowly losing heat, me on the phone with 911 — “i’m not certified in cpr anymore i was certified in cpr five years ago,” just absolutely frantic, the dispatcher on the other end of the line, very calmly, “you don’t have to be certified” — and then me pushing my housemate ryan’s hands lower to the base of the breast bone, my left hand on top of his hands, 911 in my ear. we push and push and push and push and i tell ryan, “go fucking harder break his ribs it doesn’t matter,” and ryan stops and i yell, “don’t stop keep going,” and he does, and i’m really trying to help break his ribs here when the fire department arrives and takes over. i tell 911 thanks and they say thanks and hang up and we all go outside and talk to a dozen cops and detectives for a while and give statements and correct them when they fuck up the timeline, and wait. another ryan — the one who helped me get the door open — he and i both know he’s dead, and so we don’t bother to stand on tiptoes to look through the kitchen window and assess the situation. there is no breaking news anymore. and anyway news doesn’t break it just unfolds and there usually isn’t a thing you can do about it.

i only remember later that you don’t have to request a person’s permission to perform cpr or first aid when they’re unconscious — that their consent is implied, and that that’s why the 911 dispatcher had told me that i didn’t need certification. i learned this in my certification class, and i remember this as i’m sitting on the steps at the sober house next door to my own at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning, sitting with everyone else in silence, a light rain falling, waiting for the crime scene unit to take the body away.

when they finally do, my housemate not-cpr ryan and i go back in and throw away the bath mat that’s covered in blood and shit, clean up the blood on the kitchen floor, and mop. tommy, the house manager, helps out and tells us to get some rest, and ryan and i are just like, “it’s fine, tommy.” i spray air freshener to get rid of the smell of death and take out the trash and tommy leaves and ryan and i sit on the couches in the living room and wait for exhaustion to come. when it finally does i go back to my newly single room, lie down and look at lloyd’s bed for a minute or two before rolling over to face the wall and go to sleep.

a review of your favorite concert of the year

sean is weird. it’s not that he’s weird so much as that he’s simply this dude who was completely there when i was small, and now he’s also there but it’s different now because people on the internet know who he is. people on the internet don’t know who i am. i kind of like it like that, but i’m not gonna lie i wish i had the attention paid to me that sean does. because baby i wanna be famous. i’m not gonna lie about it. most people probably wanna be great. i just wanna be famously great. i want people to be like, there’s tom, and i’ll be like feigning, ‘heh, i don’t want this,’ but i’ll secretly be curious about whatever person i’ve constructed for public consumption. like, how’s that person doing? i hope okay.

it’s weird. people i know are famous. i’m just kinda like, ‘i remember when you and i lived together and you never did the dishes.’

full disclosure: i’m not talking about sean here

fame is the last thing a bunch of interesting people say they want, but even those of us who aren’t particularly interesting want it. because whatever. we live in a place and in a time where being famous is validating and you’re like maybe i’ll be a footnote one day. because a footnote means a biographer. and who wouldn’t want a biographer?


sean and i said hello and i said, ‘my gosh i don’t know a thing about you’ to myself, and realized that i never will because to be close means to maintain space, and i do neither with sean. so i get the performative sean. which is all any of us ever get with one another. i said this in rehab when john, ‘if you ever discuss any of this outside of this room you’ll be violating hippa and may be subject to termination in the program’ the psychiatrist suggested in group that i was being ‘brave’ by acknowledging the fact that we were all playing roles in rehab. that it was exactly what we were supposed to be on guard for. like ending a sentence in a preposition. which maybe i acknowledged as some meta commentary que sera style, or maybe i was just flattered that someone finally said it, until everyone said it — to wit, ‘you’re so interesting’ — and i was like, ‘fuck omg i created this mess. i am a performance  and a caricature of myself.’

which fuck you you are too


with everything else

my brother and i were sitting on a ledge way up high on some cliff on some streetside in front of the colisseum. in rome, that place. i don’t know how to spell collosieum. it’s one of those things that just you realize you’ll never get it one day, and it happens and you go, “it’s fine, there are no spelling tests in the apocalypse.”

anyway, this was in 2003, so fifteen years ago around this time. or a month and fifteen years ago. or whatever. not important. what was important was that we’re sitting there with a, like, three-euro jug of wine and paul mccartney is playing hey jude and we’re all stupid in the crowd watching paul mccartney sing hey jude in front of the colloseum, and it was free? i don’t know how, because it was 2003 and twitter didn’t exist then so i couldn’t figure this out. like maybe he said something bad on twitter and this was a goodwill tour — which hasn’t happened on twitter yet but c’mon it obviously will. anyway. but my brother and i had just been wandering around rome being broke and like, ‘okay parents this is the part where we get money and guidance from you,’ and parents were like, ‘ya i don’t think you planned this too well.’ and so we wandered around rome and the collisseum was free that day for some reason that is also inexplicable, and we were just strolling back to a hostel near the train station when i was like, “someone is doing a soundcheck outside of the collossseumm,” and literally there’s paul mccartney playing ‘let it be,’ and it was just like, ‘that’s interesting.’ and so, as you do, we sat down and some people tried to sell us stuff and paul mccartney said, ‘see you tonight for my free concert arrivederci,’ and we were like, ‘okay, that works. that sounds like a plan.’ we went to the hostel and ate food and waited around. i think my brother took a relatively decent photo of me looking blase and weathered that i’ve always liked and that i’ll never see again. then it was just, ‘okay. probably now or so, right?’ ‘yeah, probably.’ ‘okay, so some wine, and a baguette.’


and then paul mccartney played some music that night, and my brother and i were sitting on the side of the road on this cliff drinking and smoking weed in front of a shrine to death and its malcontents, and paul mccartney’s just like, ‘fuck it time for hey jude’ and we’re like, ‘fuck yeah, dude, na na na na na na na is the universal language!’ and they go ahead and do it. they do it and it’s fun as hell to sing a bunch of nas in rome in may in front of the collissuem in 2003 when you’re me. but also other people seemed to be having fun, too


Other people seem to be having fun. Which is in itself a mystery. I went to the dual diagnosis place to treat my whatever. I am an alcoholic, so one was addressed-ish. Which is a problem, because I’m also an idiot, but as I said, whatever. I went to this AA meeting where I absolutely did not give a fuck anymore about anything but the next five minutes, and I said “Look, I’ve done it all, I’ve lived an interesting life, I’ve collapsed and stood back up. I can hustle. That’s the problem, I can hustle. I’ve never really had to because it came so easy. It comes so easy. And now I’m doing all this shit to deny myself and sabotage myself because all of this is ridiculous and fleeting. I came to rehab and beat the system with smoking — seriously, you can ask these people, I’m the fucking cigarette smoking guru around here, scouting spots and doing recon and shit… it’s ridiculous. And then I get the hot chick because why not? It’s a mission and something to look forward to. And so it happens, and whoop-dee-do. Now I’ve got another week in here to do what? Sit here and live. There’s nothing sexy about sobriety. There’s nothing sexy about being basic.”

No one really listens because c’mon it’s AA.


a friend of mine once said this to me:

You’re a special creature. I admire your adventurous nature. There’s something about your calm presence that draws me to you. You march to the beat of your own drum, and in turn I think you will continue to be a leader, whether you like it or not. I like your subtle humor and your philosophical take on concepts. Your [sic] way too intelligent to let yourself drown in alcohol. Harness that shit and I think you can make beautiful things happen. Come jump in the ocean with me sometime.

You’ll always be my rehab boyfriend,

xoxo [redacted]

i have it in a folder with everything else

some splainin to do

[and i]