No matter how much you progress in life, there will always be people there to remind you of the times you were a piece of crap.
This is okay. Unfortunately, this is how the human brain works for some reason.
I’ve had a few days like that this week, but instead of dwelling on those memories, too, I made myself look in the mirror to remind me of who I am now and how far I’ve come and how I could have let those moments where I was a piece of crap consume and define me, but instead — I didn’t.
If you feel like a piece of crap today — I see you. You are so much more than your bad days and I hope every day you try to prove that person wrong. I hope today is your day.
I’ve been on-record as someone who is agnostic and wary of organized religion, but who is deeply spiritual regardless. It’s a weird juxtaposition, a multiversal worldview, but it works for me.
I preface this story with that statement because I do believe in gifts from gods and messages from the universe. I think that sometimes there are grand designs and there are things that just can’t be coincidental. This story is about that. And it begins with @jimmykimmel.
I am in my fifteenth month of sobriety, and things are going well. But before that I was an inconsistent mess, to put it politely. One night, I was watching Jimmy Kimmel, and he spoke to me. He told me that I had less than a week left to find out if I could qualify for health insurance, and he posted a website for me to check out. I had never had insurance in my adult life, and it was one of the many reasons I was in such disrepair. So I sent in the form and I forgot that I had.
Fast forward a few weeks: I decided to stop drinking, cold turkey, on my own. Two nights after that ingenious decision, I started hallucinating. It was one of the worst nights of my entire life; I imagined (and felt) every kind of horror my body and mind could mutually inflict on me and it broke me down. During a respite from the brutal fight, I had a conversation with God, or the universe at large. I told him that if he would just make this stop, I would stop. I would be done forever. I promised. I would never, ever do this to myself ever again. I pleaded. Please. Just make it stop.
He did not make it stop.
When the sun came up and I thought the battle was won, I was wrong and I was brought to the hospital. They were asking me questions, and when they asked me my name for insurance purposes, before I could explain I didn’t have insurance, they said, “Found you.” I had insurance. I did not know this. Jimmy Kimmel helped me get insurance.
I spent a week in the hospital getting to a more solid state, and the memories of my time there are larger than life and stranger than fiction. For a long time, I wondered why no one answered my prayer that night.
Until I started to figure out they did.
Because I ended up in the hospital, I survived. Statistics will tell you that the key to staying sober is to not die first; this is proven science. Because I ended up in the hospital, I was given resources to truly start to fix me, a spiritual toolbox that I would never have found otherwise. Because I didn’t get away with it this time, because I didn’t do it alone, I knew that it MATTERED.
Everything I asked for got answered in a language I did not understand yet. I used the insurance that I now had to repair the physical things I needed. I use my toolbox for everything else. This is a story to remind you to never stop speaking — because the universe, whether you believe it or not, is always listening.
Every time that you call someone a snowflake or an entitled millenial, or complain about people getting too easily offended and not being tough enough, the people in your life who are going through things see that, and you take yourself off the table as a kind and open person they can feel safe to go to.
People forget that with free speech comes consequences, and if you want to be that jerk who potentially loses someone because you really have something important to say about people today, then go for it. But don’t act confused when people out there are being hurt and hurting themselves when they don’t feel safe enough with the people in their life to ask for help.
Safe place over here. And I know a lot of folks who I feel safe talking to, too. Have a kind day and be nice to each other, Squirrels. I have more than enough room in my life for people who try.
And this dog. I have all of the room for this dog.
Hi. This is about me. I’m the guy in this photo. Not the Joker. The guy behind him working on a dream.
I was born in the 80’s and am a lifelong comics and pop culture fan. I’ve expressed myself artistically in a lot of different ways over the years — I released a trio of albums in my early twenties, I started publishing books in my late twenties with the help of Kickstarter — and I always wanted my journey to lead to comics. Last August, I released my first comic book, The Flying Squirrel, part of a flawed superhero series that will lead to a team book called The Weirdos. In February of this year, I’ll be releasing two more chapters of this series: The Sketch and The Blue-Ringer. I write, draw and produce all of my own work. I went to art school for a minute, but am mostly self-taught. I write books for adults that look like they were drawn by a child.
I’m always getting better, though! My books explore adult themes — alcoholism, depression, mental health, physical illness and more — with a hopeful, realistic and fantastical lens.
This is going to sound stupid, but at first I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to feel again.
When I finally started living in my own body full-time again, getting to know rooms and hallways I’d always seen but mostly avoided, I felt a numbness, a void. Like something had left me. Initially, I thought it was my ability to feel. Thankfully, what left me was something else.
When you’re under the influence of anything, you still experience the world, but under specifically-colored glasses. Everything is tinted by what you consume, and sometimes the shade consumes you. When I took the glasses off, for good, I saw and felt all of the grays, and I think that’s where my fear of never feeling again came from.
I expected a rainbow to burst through a stained glass window like a spiritual prism; I expected a lightning bolt from the cosmos to strike me instantly and show me the entirety of the universe, but instead I felt the vacuum and deep pull of space. I was me, but I was old, but I was new.
The singular color I was used to seeing in everything was the same thing that left me. Color was everywhere, but it all looked gray to me at first. Then — soon enough — every day, I discovered a new color. I learned a new tool, and there was blue. I apologized for something I did in the past, and there was green. I did something positive for another human being, and there was red. Slowly, and sometimes quickly, I was rediscovering the whole spectrum of the world, one day at a time. . There are no requirements for feelings. If you think I should go f— myself, you don’t really have to have a reason why. They are not a thing that need to be earned or substantiated. But to use something to feel something is a cheap way to feel, and I knew that, but I didn’t know that, too. It’s like furniture: if you buy an inexpensive piece and if it isn’t constructed well, it may look good and work for a second, but it will not last. It will fall apart. Whereas, if you invest in and build a good piece of furniture, you’ll not only have something that will last your lifetime and beyond, but you’ll find a feeling that will last, that will stay. I earn my feelings, like I earned my colors back, and they stay with me now. They’re richer and are rooted deeper inside me now.
In the Harry Potter world, the kids go to Hogwarts to learn spells. At first, they learn easy spells, because when you’re a kid the things you’re expected to fix are relatively easy. As you grow older, however, the complexity of the world reveals itself to you; because of this complicated world that adults create, you have to learn better spells, or suffer. I suffered, like I know a lot of us have and do. I had to learn better spells, and over the last year, that’s what I did. And that’s what I plan to do for the rest of my life, and if I can, to teach and cast any spells I know to help others.
So, I’m happy to say that my fear that I would never feel again was for nothing. It was a part of my past self that wouldn’t let go, not right away; like a miserable fish-person who is trying to drag your head back under the water with them. When I came back up, when I started to breathe the fresh, cool air again, that’s when I felt that loss; that dark thing inside of me staying behind, but still under the crystal clear water where I could see it.
That was my first year as a sober adult.
If you have ever been kind to me, thank you. If you have ever helped or tried to help me, thank you. If you have ever made me smile or laugh, thank you. If you have ever listened to me, thank you. If you have ever opened up to me, thank you. If you’ve ever said anything nice about me, thank you.
If you’ve ever said something I needed to hear, thank you. If you’ve ever shared anything with me, thank you. I owe everything I am to you, and I aim to pay that debt with every day I am alive.
When I arrived at work this morning, all the hubbub and hullabaloo was about the missing shovel. No one could find it. I offered my help. “EVERYONE already tried looking for it.” “Don’t even bother. We all looked. You’ll never find it.” “I thought I could find it, too. You won’t.” “Seriously, everyone in the restaurant tried.” Moments later, I emerged, shovel in hand.
There will be moments in your life, big and small, where people may not believe in you or will tell you that you can’t do something. Always try. Never give up.
I’m feeling a lot of feelings right now. Some of them okay, some of them fine and some of them the downright worst. It may sound absurd and naive, but I came to the internet to find solace. To find intimate words and feelings and thoughts that reflected how I’m feeling and thinking but maybe better. Instead, I found an impersonal wave of nothingness, a flood of links to cold facts that do an absolute disservice to Stan Lee and who he was and what he meant to people. What he meant to me. And that particular feeling is anger, and it’s an ugly one, but at least it’s a real, honest feeling, and not a bullshit headline that reads “Old Man Dead at 95.” Because Stan Lee wasn’t an old man. I’ve learned — through the wisdom of my friends like Dawn — what old means. Old is when you decide that you know everything, that there is nothing new in the world that you can possibly learn or change for the better you can make. You can be twenty-three and old as hell, or seventy-eight and young as spring.
My friends are not old, and he may not have known it, but Stan Lee was one of my best friends. He and his friends had been there for me in times that no one else was. You can tell me that Spider-Man is fake and fantasy, but the only thing about him that didn’t match up with what real people are like is that he was ALWAYS there for me, anytime I needed him. In that, he was better than real, and he and his kind gave people like me something to look up to, when real people too often let me down.
Stan’s enthusiasm is something I emulate without even consciously trying. My love and passion for stories and books and TV and film and pop culture are seeds from his immortal and forever youthful soul. I get too excited for normal people, but in Stan’s world I’m not too hot or too cold — I’m just right.
I met Stan last year. It was one of the most special and surreal days of my life. It was shortly before I quit drinking for good, and I remember, with the exception of a few beers throughout the day, just really being sober and in that magical moment. He made me want to be better, as did every character he ever helped create. I’ll probably never swing from building to building, but taking time out to cheer up a kid I can do, and it’s just one of a million little lessons Spidey and Stan instilled in me.
To be an Avenger is not to save the world from killer robots or an alien invasion; it’s about avenging yourself, and all the wrong choices you’ve ever made. In that sense, we can all be Avengers.
He was a forerunner of the American — and humanist — ideas of diversity and inclusion and unity. “Not to have diversity of different races and nationalities is ridiculous,” Lee told EW in June 2015. “Because the world is diverse. The more we can include everybody, the better it is.” An astounding lesson of compassion and love and humanity.
He was political without being political. He just believed in the right thing. And his passing — I’m sobbing at that word — leaves a vaccum. Of justice. Of morality. Of positivity. But worst of all, it leaves a vacuum in my heart. In my nature and in my being. And it feels like a vaccum, like nothingness being pulled out of my insides. This isn’t tragic or unexpected but like I said, he was one of my best friends and his leaving hurts just the same. So, no link to some bullshit news post about some old man dying. Just a link to all the feelings that I’m feeling, something Stan taught me was okay. Was more than okay — was essential to being a human. Was powerful.
And with even a little power, comes great responsibility.
In an attempt to help people get inside my characters’ heads, I’ll try to find simplified examples from the internet and use them to begin a discussion and illustrate certain behaviors or traits. Ashley Maypole has a lot going on — we’ll talk more about the other stuff later on — but something that both he and I suffer from is something called Imposter Syndrome. “I feel like a fake” — the first line in the diagram — is the clearest way to understand how this feels, and on a perpetual basis. Page 3 of issue #1, seen here, finds Ashley, hungover and strung out, laying down everything he’s thinking. It’s a quick, decisive sketch of who he is, as told by and to himself.
I’ve struggled my entire life to feel like anything I do is authentic or worth anything. It’s irrational, and not recognizing it as it is was damaging to me and others. As much as I feel, which is too much, and work hard at nearly everything I do, it often fails to appear to be or feel as real as when other people do it. I don’t know why, but at least I can recognize it now, and that helps. It helps to have a name for it and know that other people think and feel this way, too.
The second part of the diagram is even more important — ways to deal with it. Talking about your feelings is important, as is listening to the same people you vent to. I could for sure listen better — sometimes I get talking and I can’t stop and I think it’s just in my always vain attempt to show people that I’m smart and that I know stuff, too. And it makes me feel dumb and the cycle goes on.
The good news is that art helps. Whatever way you choose to express yourself can be a positive way to battle things like this in your own life. And if all else fails, get a cute dog. Cute dogs cure all ails.
I think, at the end of the day, that human beings just really need two things: to feel like they’re being heard, and to feel like they’re loved.
And I think that when a person isn’t getting either or both of those things is when they start acting not as themselves, or at least who they really want to be. When they start making irrational or bad choices. When they start digging holes because they can only see down.
Most people can listen. And most people have the capacity to love. If you’re one of those people, use that today and help other people see up. Because I think human beings really just need two things. And that isn’t a lot.