I always liked The Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.” –Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Truer words were never spoken. Since quitting drinking nearly five years ago, every single one of these promises have come true for me. And it didn’t take that long either. Some of them happened within the first couple months of my sobriety. It’s amazing how quickly my life improved after I stopped putting those poisons in my body. I think a lot of it had to do with the overall improvement in my mental state. Back when I was drinking (fifths of liquor for breakfast), I was constantly depressed, insecure, fearful, sometimes even suicidal. But it wasn’t me. It was the substance; the alcohol. It was affecting my brain, my mood, my central nervous system…turning me from a confident, young, compassionate person into a scared, aging, narcissistic rodent. All I had to do was stop putting that poison in my body and, all of a sudden, everything became so much easier.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
I think I get a lot of my personality from my dad. A commercial airline pilot by trade, you could easily mistake him for a stand-up comic. Religion, war, politics, funerals—nothing’s so serious my dad can’t turn a joke out of it. He’ll talk your ear off about Charlie Sheen’s crack pipe and, in the same breath, make a joke about the death of Michael Jackson. Dark stuff. MaCabre humor. Nothing’s objectionable and nothing’s off limits. Any time something awful happened, like a fatal car accident or a death in the family, my dad would make a joke out of it, no matter how inappropriate. In fact, the hardest I ever laughed was when I first heard the story about what went down at my Grandpa’s funeral.
Apparently, my Grandma, or “Tubby” (as she was called on account of her generous proportions), demanded they stop for fried gizzards in the middle of my grandpa’s funeral procession. Supposedly, there was this gas station on the way to the cemetery that had “the best fried gizzards in all of South Carolina.” When the limousine driver told her they couldn’t stop, Grandma pulled out her cane and started whacking him upside the head and shouting “Grandpa would’nt-a-wanted us to bury him on an empty stomach!”
The driver had no choice but to pull over. It was either that or risk being knocked unconscious. So, they pull into this run-down Citgo on the edge of Charleston, ditching the Hearse and funeral procession in the process.
Ten minutes later, they were barreling down I-26, passing a bucket of country fried goodness between they’re greasy fingers. The limousine driver even joined in the festivities, though he was having trouble gripping the steering wheel on account of all the grease on his fingers. Grandma just handed him some napkins and told him to “Shut up and put pedal to the metal! We gotta git there before they close that dang casket!”
My mother, bless her heart, was mortified by the whole situation. She comes from a staunch Catholic conservative upbringing. She just shook her head in disgust, watching as my dad and his morbidly obese brothers smacked their lips and licked their fingers heartily.
I tell you, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was the funniest damn story I’d ever heard. Morbid, yes, but hilarious.
I think one day, I need to write a book about ‘ole Grandma Betty. She was quite a character. Really, that whole side of the family is pretty crazy. But then again, whose family isn’t?
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I always loved to write, ever since I was in grade school. Poems, short stories, plays, you name it. Aside from reading, it was one of the few ways I could escape from the dullness of life in suburbia. But, somewhere along the way, I lost that desire, and traded my pen for a liquor bottle. At first the drinking was a sort of congratulatory trophy at the end of a long night for a job well done at school, sports, whatever. After a few years, I became physically dependent, unable to stop for fear of shakes, hallucinations, even seizures. What resulted was a five year long struggle in and out of hospitals, rehabs, and detoxes all over the country.
For a while, I didn’t think I’d ever recover and even considered suicide as a possible way out of it. Fortunately, I had some people in my corner who never gave up on me, namely my mom and dad, Patty and Randy Seaward. Because of their unconditional love and their tireless devotion, I was eventually able to get the treatment I needed to recover. It’s been four and half years since I put the cap back on the bottle, and I haven’t once looked back. I’m loving my newfound freedom.
As you can see, I’ve even returned to my writing. In fact, this novel was one of the things that helped me stay sober. By exploring the insidiousness of addiction through the lives of my characters—Dave, Monty, and Angie—I was able to learn some things about myself that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. What I learned is that I still have a long way to go before I can say I’m truly recovered. But that’s okay. After all, it’s not a race. It’s a lifelong journey.
What inspires you to write and why?
Everything! Life! From the dullest trifles to the wildest, zaniest adventures, I can find the drama in just about anything. Of course, I get accused of being a great embellisher. But I disagree. I think most people just aren’t as observant. The drama is there. It’s right in front of us—at work, at home, at the grocery store, at the train station. I once saw two blind men bump into one another right outside of Whole Foods, they then have a sword fight with their canes right there on the frigging street corner! It was amazing. But I seemed to be the only one watching. Everyone else just kept passing by. Couldn’t they see what was happening!? As writers, we must open our eyes, sit, watch, and listen. Who knows what will be the inspiration for my next novel. It could be you.
What inspired you to write Some Are Sicker Than Others?
At first, I didn’t want to write this story. Having spent the better part of my twenties in and out of hospitals and rehabs all over the country, I wanted to get as far away from addiction and thinking about addiction as I possibly could. But I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I tried to forget all that had happened, the memories were right there, taunting me, teasing me, reminding me just how inadequate I was. So, I did what any stubborn alchoholic with only a year of sobriety would do; I decided to face my addiction head on. I turned off my cell phone, powered on my computer, made a pot of coffee, and locked the door.
But after a few weeks of staring at a blank monitor, I quickly began to realize…I wasn’t gonna remember much. As it turns out, I had drank so much and caused so much brain damage that I couldn’t really remember what had actually had occured. I remembered bits and pieces and fragments of images, like waking up in a hospital bed strapped down by my wrists and ankles while nurses in green uniforms scurried behind me and connected tubes to my arms. But how I got there and what happened after, are all just blurs of another place and time. So, a memoir was out of the question, unless I was gonna fabricate most of it, but we all remember what happened to James Frey.
So, instead of trying to portray the isidiousness of addiction through my own personal story, I decided to portray it through the lives of three fictional characters. This turned out to be a very good decision. Through my main protagonist, Monty, I was able to ask a very difficult question, that I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to ask otherwise. The question I’m referring to is this:
Who is your favorite author and why?
The late, great Hubert Selby Jr. His debut novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn, is what inspired me to first pick up the pen. Harsh, penetrating, and wildly imaginative, this book not only smashed down the walls of the conventional literary establishment, it was the subject of an obscenity trial upon its release in the UK. From dope addicts to prostitutes to transvestites and hoodlums, Selby gave captured the rage of his tragically flawed characters and gave them a voice that still resonates today. Requiem for a Dream, his follow up to “Brooklyn” was perhaps even more harrowing and heartbreaking in its unflinching portrayal of addiction. When I first read it, I was ironically sitting in a rehab in Memphis, wondering how I was going to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. Upon finishing, I remember having this revelation: Damn, it could be a hell of a lot worse. Like Harry, I could be sitting here with a stump for a shoulder. Or, like Tyrone, I could be getting raped in some prison.
I decided to take the lesser of two evils and, like Selby, I used my writing to share my pain. Adopting Hubert’s everyman prose and his uncanny ability to inhabit the voice of his characters, I told my own story of addiction, recovery, and hope. It was the best thing I ever did.
What are your current writing projects now?
Right now, I’m focused on the launch of my new website, Portraits of Addiction, a one-of-a-kind blog aimed at eliminating the unfair stigma of addiction.
Simply put, addiction’s a bitch, a horrible, demoralizing illness. And no one should have to walk through it alone. But, plenty of people do and many, unfortunately, end up dying from it. Why? Because it’s still very much a taboo subject. And there’s a whole faction of people out there who view it as a disgraceful weakness.
But I aim to change that. I aim to “Break the Stigma & Celebrate Recovery” by tearing down the walls of shame and stigma. Through portraits of addicts—both celebrities and everyday heroes—I’m hoping this blog will encourage people to celebrate their recovery, not hide from it. By sharing our stories of hope, strength, and courage, I believe we can encourage those still struggling with the denial of their problem to make that first step and get treatment.
Are you reading any interesting books at the moment?
Back to Blood by the master story-teller of our generation, Tom Wolfe.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out?
Digital publishing. Hands down. No doubt about it. Now-a-days, writers don’t need to get through the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. There’s absolutely nothing keeping them from reaching their target audience. If they want to get their work seen they can publish it on Amazon in as little at ten minutes, schedule a free promotion using KDP select, and within a couple hours have their book in the hands of a few hundred readers.
It’s a great thing, this e-publishing. Gone are the days of having to sit by the mailbox waiting for a literary agent’s rejection letter. You can become your own agent, your own publisher, your own marketer and distributor. Of course, once you start wearing all these different hats, you have a lot less time for actual writing. Then, it becomes an issue of time management. How much time should you spend on marketing and promotion versus writing? It’s actually a good problem to have. Without Amazon KDP, I have no doubt I’d still be waiting for that rejection letter. At least, now I can have people reading my work and giving me feedback. The best feeling in the world is when you get a five star, rave review from a Top 50 Amazon Reviewer. It’s better than sex. Well, almost.
What contributes to making a writer successful?
Discipline. Perseverance. Commitment. You can have all the talent in the world, but without discipline, none of that talent will ever get through.
Do you have any advice for writers?
Yes, I do. It’s very simple. Don’t be afraid to embrace your craft. I spent many years avoiding who I was and what I was, all because I didn’t think writing was a practical vocation. As a result, I spent five years on a degree I didn’t want, four years in a job I detested, all the while drinking myself to death, trying to dull the creative desire burning in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t until I stopped poisoning myself and embraced who I was that I was finally able to begin my life.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
After many years of self-doubt, I finally accepted myself as an artist. Since then, I have grown tremendously as a person. I am much more open and expressive than I used to be and I possess a lot more empathy for all walks of life, all shapes and sizes, all races and colors. As a writer, you have to possess empathy. How else can you portray someone accurately unless you’ve walked in their loafers? With this empathy, comes patience, open-mindedness, and understanding. Although I still need work, I’m not as quick to judge someone based solely on their appearance. Who knows what the bum begging for change on the corner has been through? Maybe he lost his wife and children to a car accident. Or, maybe he has PTSD from his service in Afghanistan. There’s no way of knowing unless we ask them. And that’s my job as a writer; to explore the unexplored, to chart new territory. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my young thirty years on this planet, it’s that everyone has a story. So, let’s hear it!
When you wish to end your career, stop writing, and look back on your life, what thoughts would you like to have?
I will never stop. They’ll have to take me out on a gurney before I ever retire.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? The best compliment?
The toughest criticism I’ve had as an author was not really a criticism as much as it was a sort of indirect insult. There are a couple people in the Colorado “art community” whose opinions I hold very high. These are people with whom I’ve worked on films, discussed my writing, and had many, many detailed conversations about art, literature, storytelling, etc. They’re also the people I expected to not only read my book, but help promote it through reviews and referrals. To this day, not one of them has taken the time to read my book, much less review it, which makes me very sad. Look, I get it. People are busy and reading takes time, but if you happen to be reading this interview, please know that it would mean the world to me if you read my book and tell me what you thought. As we say in the South, if ya’ll do this fur me, I’ll dance at you’re weddin’.
Now, on to the happy stuff. The best compliment I ever received was from my friend and former supervisor, William McMechen, who happened to be one of the people who helped me get sober. Not only did he drive me to the ER when I was having one of my “alcoholic fits”, he covered for me at work by telling HR I was suffering from the flu. He also picked me up from the “nut house” a few days later and drove me back to my apartment. I’m convinced that without him, I would’ve never gotten sober.
Now, William is what you would call, “cultured”. He’s not the type of guy you’ll see reading Tom Clancy or Elmore Leonard. He likes the classics; Faulkner, Tolstoy, Virginia Woolfe. If it’ not at least thirty years old, he probably won’t read it. So, I was a bit nervous when I gave him a copy of my manuscript. After all, there’s quite a lot of swearing, not to mention a pretty gnarly masturbation scene. But when he was finished, he said something to the effect of:
Although I’ve known a lot of addicts and alcoholics in my time, I’ve never fully understood the obsession with doing something that’s so harmful to yourself and everyone around you. But, I think now I do.
He then looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I think you might have something here, Andrew.”
Now, I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but coming from Bill, it’s the world.
What cause are you most passionate about and why?
Recently, I’ve made it my personal mission to eliminate the unfair stigma of addiction. I just launched a brand new blog, Portraits of Addiction, which is dedicated to sharing our stories of hope, strength, and courage. I believe that by talking about addiction in a public format, we can release that shame and move one step closer towards recovery. I realize this goes against the eleventh tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, which states: “We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and have come up with the following question: Why? Why is anonymity still such a crucial part of recovery? Why should I have to hide my sobriety? After all, it’s one of the best things about me. I mean, I can appreciate the reason for its inception—to protect people from the unfair stigma of alcoholism. Back when AA was formed, in the 1930’s, alcoholism was viewed as a “moral disgrace” or a “lack of willpower.” But that was over 80 years ago! We’ve come a long way since the Great Depression era. We now know that addiction is not a disgraceful weakness, but a serious medical condition manifested by a chemical imbalance in the central nervous system. Just like Cancer or Diabetes, there is an entire field of research dedicated to the pathology and treatment of the illness. But unlike Cancer, you’re not allowed to talk about it.
“Keep it to yourself. Remain quiet. Don’t admit to it. If you do, you’ll be jeopardizing your and other people’s recovery.”
How in the world can this be healthy? How does not talking about it, help my and other people’s recovery? What if the same discretion applied to HIV or Cancer? Could you imagine the consequences of such a travesty? For one, we wouldn’t have an entire month devoted to Breast Cancer Awareness. We wouldn’t have pink ribbons or “Walk for Aids Marathons.” Christina Applegate would only be “the hot girl from Married With Children” and not an inspiration to thousands of women suffering from breast cancer.
Look—addiction’s a bitch. It’s a horrible, demoralizing illness, and no one should have to walk through it alone. But, plenty of people do and many, unfortunately, end up dying from it. Why? Because it’s still very much a taboo subject, and there’s a whole faction of people who view it as a disgraceful weakness. And, believe it or not, many of these people are harboring an addiction themselves. They are just too ashamed to admit it. I should know. I did the same thing for many years with my alcoholism.
Quick story: The first time I went through alcohol withdrawal I thought there was something morally wrong with me. I thought my inability to stop drinking was some kind of weakness. I didn’t know about physical and psychological dependence. I didn’t know you could get shakes, seizures, even hallucinations by trying to go “cold turkey”. I didn’t know because no one ever told me. I’d never met an addict or knew of any in the family. They certainly existed. Hell—my grandfather was a raging alcoholic. But I didn’t find out until later on. Why? Because of the anonymity…’cause of the shame…’cause of the goddamn secrecy! If someone had just taken me by the shoulders and slapped some sense into me, I wouldn’t have wasted so many good years of my life trying to hide my dependence. I could’ve gotten into a recovery a lot earlier. I could’ve gone to detox. I could’ve avoided all that pain and suffering.
Fortunately, I had some people in my corner who never gave up on me, and I was eventually able to accept my illness and get treatment. I was one of the lucky ones. Most people don’t make it. They end up in jails, mental institutions, and sometimes coffins.
But I aim to change that. I aim to “Break the Stigma & Celebrate Recovery” by tearing down the walls of that stifling eleventh tradition. Through portraits of addicts—both celebrities and everyday heroes—I’m hoping this blog will encourage people to celebrate their recovery, not hide from it. By sharing our stories of hope, strength, and courage, I believe we can encourage those still struggling with the denial of their problem to make that first step and get treatment.
Genre – Literary Fiction
Rating – R