OK, it’s not. It’s not funny at all. In fact, it’s one of the most tragic diseases on the planet.
But – BUT – I’m becoming increasingly convinced that humor has a huge role in creating dialog and connection to replace the void of silence and the hushed whispers that currently serve as poor excuses for the conversations necessary to obliterate the stigma associated with addiction to alcohol. Stick with me, and see if you agree that laughter plays a critical role. Even if you think I’m nuts, maybe you’ll get a chuckle out of my assertions.
Have you ever watched the Kentucky Derby and noticed all the people in fancy suits and beautiful dresses? The flamboyant and expensive hats the women wear have largely stolen the spotlight from the horses much like the TV commercials are the highlight of the Super Bowl. When you look at all those elegant people, have you ever wondered where all the people from Kentucky are?
As a boy growing up in Indiana, I learned quickly that one of the only states I was eligible to make fun of was our neighbor directly to the south. If you don’t believe that Indiana has one up on Kentucky, please consider that the toothbrush was invented in Kentucky. Had it been invented in any other state, it would have been named a teethbrush.
I attended the “Run for the Roses” once, and I found all the people from Kentucky. They were with me sweating and guzzling bourbon and cheering for all the topless women in the Churchill Downs infield. While in a betting line, my friend, DJ, and I met a guy named Bobby. We knew his name was Bobby, because he had it tattooed on his own shoulder. We asked him about it, and he explained that he was smarter than all of his friends who tattooed a woman’s name on their shoulders. “I’m never gonna dump myself,” Bobby explained. “By putting my own name on my arm, I never have to wear a shirt with sleeves in embarrassment.” We couldn’t argue with Bobby. His logic was sound. It was also hilarious. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Bobby was both a Kentucky native, and also extremely drunk (like he was most everyday, we gathered). See, I told you alcoholism was hilarious.
Back in college, my friends and I spent one particularly inebriated evening drinking Dark Eyes Vodka (only the best – the 1.75ml bottle was plastic, so it wouldn’t break – smart), and driving Eric’s wood-paneled, family-truckster-style station wagon through the mud volleyball court behind our fraternity. It turns out, it is amazingly easy to turn a sand volleyball court into a mud pit. It just takes a truckload of fill dirt and a garden hose. Turing the mud pit back into a functional sand volleyball court, on the other hand, is impossible. Since I’m the one that ordered the dirt and connected the hose, I’m sorry to the hundred or so guys who lived in the house in 1994.
Back to the vodka and the family truckster, it had rained for about a week before and including the night we decided to see if we could get Eric’s rear-wheel-drive station wagon through the mud without getting stuck. We cranked up the Guns N’ Roses, took a shot of Dark Eyes, peeled out across the adjacent asphalt basketball court and hit the mud at approximately 145mph. We did make some progress in ridding the volleyball court of mud that night as the back tires repeatedly slung it for hundreds of feet in every direction. We made it through the pit a dozen or so times before we got it inextractibly stuck.
Funny. We were all able to scrounge up money for beer and vodka that night, but the next day, when Eric needed help paying for a tow truck, none of us budding alcoholics had any cash.
At an industry convention a few years ago held in a luxury resort in the Arizona desert, I got a fabulous idea after about 519 beers on the last night of the boondoggle. I brought the floating basketball hoop from the pool up to the party room from which we were trying really hard to get kicked out at 2am. I figured out a way to attach the hoop and backboard to the top of my head, and encouraged my fellow revelers to smash beer cans and throw them at my mellon. Because of the backboard, my drunken friends were able to hit me in the noggin with surprising accuracy. Because of my own drunkenness, I painlessly celebrated their success (I’m pretty sure there were a few empty bottles mixed in with all the cans).
See, alcoholism is hilarious. Oh right, the disease isn’t funny, but I bet you at least cracked a grin reading just three of my thousands of stories of drunken debauchery.
I think we need the laughter. I think it might just be the lubrication we require to change the narrative and destroy the stigma. Do you think the official, publicized motto of Las Vegas is, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” because people don’t want their friends and family to learn about all the money they win playing blackjack? Hell no. That slogan exists because of all the embarrassing shit people do while drunk in America’s “Sin City.”
But do you know what happens when we do talk about the unspeakably embarrassing shit? People laugh. And far more importantly, they relate. They relate because our embarrassing shit resonates with their embarrassing shit. Even if the details of the stories are different, the sentiment is exactly the same. When we drink, we do stupid shit in the name of attempting to have fun with our smarts turned off. Our stories are as universally stupid as they are embarrassing in the bright light of sobriety. And they’re funny.
The funny is the lubrication. What’s one thing all alcoholics learn very early in our drinking careers about uncomfortable situations? I’m talking like high-school early. If we drink, the discomfort goes away. One of the most paralyzing aspects of sobriety is that we are left without our social lubrication. If we can’t drink through the awkwardness, what do we do?
Well, we can cry through it. That’s what the rooms of AA are all about. Alcoholics Anonymous is a safe place to share our stories and allow others to resonate and support. It is beautiful. Really. AA is a harbor for people in the midst of the terror and trauma of alcoholism, and the value of that kind of empathetic connection cannot be overstated.
But crying isn’t the only way to pry people open and expose their ticklish vulnerability spots. Laughter does that, too, with a wildly different outcome.
This is my friend, Debbie Scheer, and she is teaching me the value of humor in exploring the deep and dark places we humans are otherwise afraid to venture.
Debbie joins me on a brand new episode of the Untoxicated Podcast where we talk about the incredible power of humor to lubricate our rough conversations and break the ice that freezes and seals our most sacred topics from exposure. This is a big deal. The stigma associated with alcoholism is growing stronger, and the tools we have to defeat it aren’t enough. There are a lot of sobriety badasses taking their best swings at the problem, and all of their work falls into one of these categories:
Empathy – This is the “cry on each other’s shoulders” crowd. There is a place for this method of recovery, and I support it unconditionally. In fact, in our SHOUT Sobriety program, we offer various avenues for peer support and comfort, and crying does take place some of the times (click this link to learn all about SHOUT Sobriety, and maybe even enroll). This is also the connection offered by AA, and it is necessary.
Rainbows and Unicorns – As I’ve explained repeatedly, I hate the pithy inspirational one-liners you find on Instagram and facebook. It is just not my jam. I don’t get anything from a picture of a flower with a caption about the blossoming of a sober life. It oversimplifies a diabolically complex issue for me. Maybe I’m just jealous that I can’t get anything out of the English language in less than 1,000 words.
Long-Form Essay – This is what I do. I write. I drone on and on. I attempt to make a point or two along the way, but I don’t lack for description and philosophy. The problem with this category of recovery methodology is that it takes a long time and a relatively clear head to read. We are all so busy. I am pretty easy to blow off regardless of the importance of my message because it is just too damn many words sometimes. I get it. My favorite mode of communication is limited.
What if we add a fourth category? What about humor? I am convinced Debbie is right, and humor can make these tough conversations doable without the need for a case of Kleenex. The added benefit of using a few laughs to lubricate serious conversations is that we don’t walk away with puffy red eyes, running makeup and a headache from crying. Laughter makes us feel better. It just does. I’m not going into the science behind it here because I think we generally accept that as fact. If we can laugh at ourselves, our peers and our mutual situations, we can dive deep in a very safe way.
In episode 30 of the Untoxicated Podcast, Debbie and I discuss this very phenomenon, and look for ways to use humor to deal with our piles of shit we all spend years, even decades, avoiding. Debbie knows her stuff, and she has been using laughter as a lubricant for years. She even tells the story of the time she was asked if a bowling ball can fit in a vagina. Now, if that question doesn’t crack you wide open for the possibility of having an unguarded conversation, you just might be dead (the answer is yes, by the way, but I’ll let Debbie explain (and I thought I was a vagina expert)).
Debbie has me convinced. This is one of the two places I want to go with the Untoxicated Podcast. About half of the future episodes will include my wife, Sheri, and will be powerful and meaningful discussions about the impact of alcoholism on relationships. We have a vibrant and thirsty audience for these discussions, and they will absolutely continue.
But I’m extremely excited to use humor as a lubricant in the other half of the future episodes, and I’m hopeful to convince Debbie to have those conversations with me. Cause she’s funny. And she knows how to make humor a gateway to the unspoken truth. And she’s also funny. And I like to laugh.
And laughter is woefully elusive in the sobriety badass world.
What do you think? That’s not a rhetorical question, I sincerely want to know. Please post in the comments, or send me an email. Will you listen to my conversation with Debbie on the topic of using humor as an icebreaker? Do you want to hear more conversations about relationships and sex and bowling balls from a couple of sober friends who make each other laugh? What do you want to hear (but first, listen to our initial episode together to help lubricate your opinion)?
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