Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Larry, the unlikely hero

It seems like there is a lot of fear that goes into developing and managing a recovery program. I have written for a year now about some of the fears that I have had through the process – fears when I began the program were foolish insecurities wrapped in a disguise of fear, things like, “How will I get my haircut at that ranch,” or “Will they make fun of me if I bring my loofah,” these are the kinds of things I focused my fear upon because the bigger things that scared me were entirely too scary to face at that time.

Over the past year I have slowly faced the other fears, one by one, and have begun to sort out some of the things that held me back in the past – it feels good to know I have begun to strip the power from the very thing that stripped me of power for so long. A plastic bottle of gin can be a formidable foe, and such an enticement to remain under the spell.

But failing at recovery my biggest fear. I am not going to do rehab again. This is not a revolving door for me, there is this one and only chance to get what I need from it because I won’t be here again. When Tina Griego wrote about me in the Denver Post, she predicted that by the end of the program I would no longer have the fear of failing at it, that I would have the confidence to know I had beat this. Her words resonated with me because she seemed so sure of herself when she told them to me. I believed her.

But the fear has remained and I had no clue what my life would look like when I left here or if I would even be able to maintain this. There are things I want to do, and looking back, it seemed that the more success I had in certain parts of my life, the deeper down the gin-hole I went. I’ve never spoken about my life as though it was one colossal failure after another, in fact, it had some dizzying heights of amazing opportunities and experiences…. These were countered in equal measure, however, with the failures of that same dizzying degree.

I believe that when life is grand and then it is taken away from you, or you walk away from it, bottle in hand, the loss feels much greater – whether it is or not. I’ve come to realize a couple things about all this. First, through a series of redemptive experiences the past year, I have figured out that maybe I have never truly failed, I have had experiences and reactions to these experiences seemed like failure. The things I value, I still have and have had all along – family, friends, my brain, and especially, my heart. I have a really cool heart. But we tend to give up to the word 'failure' and throw our hands up and say, 'well, that was it,' - but that's a cop out. Failure isn't that easy.

But the most important thing I have realized about all this is that the real failure in my life is failing to realize how close I am to happiness and quitting just before I get it. Relapse is a pretty big QUIT to me.

The bottle still calls me sometimes, but now I am able to turn on my heel and walk away a little easier – I am armed with some good things to help me with all this.

So, I have been getting a lot of emails from people anxious to hear about the trip to Los Angeles to see Bonnie Hunt. I can tell you, it was everything I had hoped and more. I was exhausted, first of all. I had only two hours sleep the night before and we went straight to the show from the airport pretty much. Matt had never been on a plane or seen the ocean, so there was an awesome excitement with being able to provide this experience for a friend of mine who also is trying to regain some of the ground he lost on the slippery slope of addiction.

We got to the show, and were given a number – mine was ‘123’ – kind of a good luck number I would assume. We waited. Matt joked about the demographics of the studio audience – a lot of older house wives and me. What he may not have realized is that this show was at one time a lifeline to the rest of the planet. I spoke to my case manager about this, I asked him if he thought it was ridiculous that I lobbed onto a television show in the final dark days of my alcoholism. He assured me that, whatever it was that kept me afloat was not ridiculous – and that there was some kind of cosmic connection that was made way back then – that eventually brought me to the show in the unusual circumstances which marked the whole trip.

And I have spoken before that for a few months, the only two women I had any real relationship with and looked forward to were the Chinese woman at the liquor store and Bonnie Hunt. But, as I sat, exhausted, in that crowd of people waiting to get in, the impact of the experience was with me, but had not taken me. This is also due to the fact that I was starving.

I should have known when they started handing out hot dogs and root beer that the universe had something special in store for me. In my exhausted and famished state, that seemed like the greatest hot dog ever fed to a human being, and the root beer was the most thirst quenching root beer ever consumed in the history of earth. I was excited to learn that Bonnie is one of the few shows that feeds their guests. I lucked out.

The studio was amazing, Matt and I were seated in the middle row a few feet from the stage. Awesome seats! The set was so much larger, and the crew was much smaller than I imagined. She had studio drapes with her name emblazoned on them and I remember thinking that was a pretty interesting since I can’t imagine where you might ever need 1000 square yards of fabric with “The Bonnie Hunt Show” dyed onto it except right here in that studio. If I was Bonnie Hunt, I would have a comforter made from it and make all my guests sleep on ‘The Bonnie Hunt Show’ sheets when they stayed the night. I mean, c’mon, why not – and the show is going off the air in May, so what else are they going to do with them?

We sat in the audience and I got comfortable, knowing that the past year of my life was a cosmic launching pad for some amazing things yet to come. I had finally accepted that things were truly working out for the best, and this was proof. At one point when Bonnie Hunt was in commercial break, she purveyed the audience and our eyes met and briefly locked. I don’t know if she recognized me from the pictures in the blog or if she was shocked they let in someone who was so over the top tired looking anywhere near a TV camera!

After the first show was taped, guest was Jimmy Kimmel and some young magicians, Bonnie brought out a couple of the kids to take pictures with her. We all sat while the stage was reset for the next taping. And then it happened, Bonnie told the photographer, “Don’t leave yet, we have one more picture to take, where’s Roman who writes the blog?”

The rest was a bit of auto-pilot for me. I walked down to the stage to sit on the couch I had invited into my living room so many times – the same couch I saw while I was confined to MY couch, remote control in hand. I sat next to her and she said, “I read your blog, you are on a journey, and I pray for you.”

Bonnie Hunt prays for me. You just gotta let that sink in for a minute – consider for a minute how all this came about, how a year earlier I was dying from an addiction and Bonnie Hunt’s show was one of the things that injected some life into my decaying spirit each day – and now, she knew who I was and she even prayed for me.

We took some pictures, and I told her that this was pretty special to me. I made my way back to the seat, not really forming a real thought. The warm-up guy asked me ‘Whats your blog about,” and I think I said something WAY out of character like, “nothing, none of your business,” which was only a reaction to the fact that I couldn’t think. To do it over again, I might have told him what it was about…. Or said, “Redemption… and farming.”

After the show, she said good bye to everyone in the studio, she looked over at me and said, ‘Roman, you’re doing great, hang in there, I really do think about you and know you’re gonna be OK.”

If the story ended here, this would be more than enough. The fact that we got to tape two shows which were both, coincidentally, days which featured a segment called ‘Dessert of the Day,” so Matt and I were each treated to two delicious desserts. The guest on show 1 was Jimmy Kimmel, and on show 2 was Sara Silverman (think about THAT for a minute – what I would have given to be a fly on the wall in the green room that day).

But the story didn’t end there. In fact, one of the most important parts of the story hadn’t yet happened. As Matt and I were walking across the Culver City studio and back to the car, a voice from behind me was calling, “Excuse me, excuse me,” and I stopped and turned around.

Walking up to me, dressed in the standard Hollywood uniform for successful show biz men (blazer and turtle neck) was Larry. Larry caught up to me and said, “I read your blog, how long do you have [sober]?” I tried to do the math, came up with about 330 days. He smiled and said, “I have 21 years.”

I don’t think that Larry knew what part he was writing in the story of my life at the time. The four simple words, “I have 21 years,” almost eliminated the remaining fear that I detailed at the beginning of this blog. I mean, its one thing to have friends and family telling you that you can do it, but to have someone who’s survived this, who leads what I would consider a pretty happy life doing something he probably loves doing, tell me that he has not only read what I’ve written, but he has managed to build his life as a sober person – well, it’s the kind of thing that can only have some cosmic message behind it.

Larry is a producer for the Bonnie Hunt Show, and he gave me his card and wanted to make sure that I got the pictures. He said that his cell number was on it. As promised, he delivered, and they are at the end of this entry.

His introduction was pivotal to me. The fact that he took some time to catch up to me meant a lot. But there was more. Larry had an aura of contentment around him. It wasn’t the kind of contentment that is a result of settling – I am sure as a producer for a national television show, his life is far from settled. Instead, it was the kind of contentment that comes from living the right way. Larry is not shackled by addiction any longer, he is free from that fear, and it exudes from him. He didn’t give up before he got to where he needed to be.

What a shame it would have been if he had, for the both of us.

Ironically, I used to have a great job in television but was hesitant to pick it back up again because I didn’t know how I could manage sobriety in that environment. Larry made it clear that it wasn’t only possible, but damn it, there wasn’t an excuse for not going for it because of fear. And even if that doesn’t work out that way, there is an enormous value in just living the right way, and someday, in 21 years, I might be able to exude contentment to someone else embarking on this journey and my words might stay with that person as well.

Here are the morals of the story – To me, life’s biggest failure is failing to realize how close we get to success before we quit; You never know when the universe is going to send you the right message at the right time from the right person; It’s perfectly OK to hope for something that may seem ridiculous to other people because in the end, happiness and validation doesn’t come from the sophistication of experience, but in the joy of having it; Bonnie Hunt will feed you hot dogs and root beer and they are the bomb.

Peace all, have a good week.

Thanks Bonnie Hunt... and thank you, too, Larry.
comment to:

(That number was getting pretty high, eh?)


  1. I sit with tears in my eyes. I am proud of you and my long time friend Larry. I remember the beginning of his journey to sobriety and I know he is actually a very likely hero! I hope your journey to sobriety will continue to restore you and others.

  2. I am so overjoyed that you were able to make this dream a reality and that it was way more then you expected. Your journey has already been inspiring to others, your warmth, humor, and raw truth will continue to inspire many more. I am soooo friggin happy you got to meet Bonnie Hunt! This just made my day. Peace.

  3. Well, I am also very happy you were able to see the Bonnie Hunt show in person. I sent two very long emails to the show because I was so proud of you, and I wanted them to bring you on stage during taping. But, i think this was just as good, and knowing you, you would have wanted to prepare a little bit. But I am confident that you, too, will be able to count your sobriety in years, instead of days. And, I am writing my speech for your graduation this summer. Yes, I am one of the original fans of your blog, and dammit I deserve to say something. I am very proud of you and your recovery. You deserve to be happy.
    Your sister