The night of the 2016 election, as it became clear Trump was the winner, I looked around at my friends’ ashen faces — some crying, some enraged — and thought: ‘I’d really love a shot of tequila right now. Badly. Actually, I need 12 shots. In fact, I want to be blacked out for the next four to eight years.’ Mind you, this had very little to do with who was in the Oval Office and everything to do with the fact that I’m an alcoholic.
That November, I’d recently celebrated three years of sobriety without drugs and alcohol. It had been a challenge to stay on the wagon in the year leading up to the election. My libertarian editor at Playboy had been laid off, and I increasingly felt at odds with the rest of the editors for what I thought were my pretty moderate views.
I knew my job was in danger, but even more stressful than the economic anxiety was an increasing sense of ideological isolation in the liberal bubble of Los Angeles. My sobriety felt tenuous. In that moment, as the reality of a Trump presidency settled in, I decided that the only way I’d make it through eight years of #Resistance vs #MAGA was by smoking weed.
You might be rolling your eyes and thinking, ‘Calm down, crybaby.’ And you’d be right. But I’m an alcoholic. A part of my brain is perpetually searching for an excuse to drink — and what better excuse than half the country descending into a collective existential crisis with a lunatic at the helm?
Luckily, I didn’t have time to act on my thoughts. Obsessive craving triggers warning bells, and I realize I’m in danger. After years of working a program, I have what we refer to as ‘smart feet’. This concept means that, even when my brain resists, my feet will get me to a meeting or on the phone with someone or reading the literature. I’m reminded that there are tools laid out for me in the 12 steps — and I can use this very simple solution any time, on any problem.
On that fateful Tuesday night in November 2016, I mentally start going down the list. Admit that I’m powerless: check. I can’t control this situation — but I can control how I respond. Turn it over and understand that life has a plan: OK, I might disagree with the plan, I might not even be so sure there is one — but this is where faith comes in. More importantly, why do I think I know better than life?
Take a personal inventory: who and what am I resentful at? Trump, the media, Hollywood elites. Why? I don’t think a boorish conman should run the country, but I also don’t think he or his supporters are evil, and I dislike the way they’re portrayed. What instincts does this threaten? My finances. My friendships. My sanity. My faith. What character defects are being revealed? Arrogance. Distrust. Nihilism. Self-pity. I could go on…
Then I get to the most powerful question in the 12 steps. What is my part? When I drill down, my part is a refusal to accept what reality is presenting me. This is almost always the case, no matter what the problem or perceived problem is: I’m not getting what I want.
A central tenet in recovery is acceptance. You hear it over and over again: ‘Acceptance is the key.’ This idea also permeates Buddhism so much that Buddha claims the root of all suffering is desire and attachment.
Fifteen minutes into the process on election night 2016 and I’m already feeling better. The day after the election, I’m ashamed to be OK with the results. I call a friend. ‘You’re an alcoholic,’ she says. ‘You can’t get carried away with emotional hysteria because it means death for you.’ I still think about her wise response.
Nearly three years later, I wrote ‘An open letter to the Democratic party’ for The Spectator’s inaugural issue. I pondered how I went from lifelong Democrat to registered Independent and why that matters. I talked a lot about the current state of the Democratic party and its move to the far left — leaving some voters behind. I didn’t talk about how concepts like ‘principles before personality’ and a deep fear of relapsing influence my near-pathological attempts to see things from both sides.
The truth is, I never wanted any of this. I’m riddled with self-doubt. It would have been much easier socially to choose between Team Red or Team Blue. But I don’t have the luxury of living in a constant state of rage and resentment or, conversely, smug certainty. That doesn’t mean I don’t fight for what I believe in or against injustice. It just has to come from a place of love and compassion — or it can spell self-destruction for me.
When ‘An open letter to the Democratic party’ dropped digitally, I got this direct message on Twitter: ‘You are living through the cultural equivalent of the Civil War and refusing to choose a side. Whether we win or whether we lose, future generations will read about the last stand of America. No one is going to remember the people who laughed at both sides while the world burned.’ That’s fine with me. I don’t need to be remembered. I just need to stay sober today.
This article is in The Spectator’s March 2020 US edition.