"I See Nothing, I Hear Nothing."
The Fix's exclusive excerpt of Kristen Johnston's new memoir, Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster.
Sometimes people’s lives change because of the smallest thing: a song, a comment, a ﬁght, a dark night of the soul, or simply a decision.
I’m just a wee bit denser than that. I’m sure that there were many, many signs that I was killing myself, and I probably was given thousands of opportunities to change my life and make it wonderful, but once you’ve washed down a handful of Vicodin with a bottle or two of a full-bodied Cabernet, even reading stop signs while driving a car becomes a tad tricky.
I remember going for week after week to some poor therapist, sobbing about how shitty I felt, how awful my life had become, how alone I was. It did occasionally occur to me that perhaps I should clue her in to the fact that I was a raging alcoholic and drug addict, but I quickly banished that ridiculous thought. That stuff is “private.” I learned that a long, long time ago. Instead, I wasted hundreds of her hours (not to mention my cash), asking her (and anyone else stupid enough to be my friend at the time) the one question no one seemed able to answer: “Why, oh why I am so unhappy?”
On the long, bleak nights when my sorrows and fears were so unbearable that no amount of pills or booze would knock me out, I would stare wide-eyed into the darkness, begging it for an answer. Sometimes a blurry clue would start to form, but just as it started to come into focus, it would disappear, like a ghost. It teased me, always sneakily crawling way back deep inside to snuggle in the dark cavern I hid all things I deemed “unpleasant” “scary” or a “bummer."
My father used to be obsessed with the TV show "Hogan’s Heroes" (alas, now you know the secret inspiration of my subtle comedic choices). There was a stupid fat German guard named Schultz who would nervously sing, “I see nothing, I hear nothing” whenever he was accidentally made privy to the prisoners’ weekly escape plans.
Basically, the small remaining part of myself that was still sane became Schultz. Which is not saying all that much for my sanity. I avoided thinking too much about the fact that, no matter what I did, or how many times I managed to wean myself off pills, eventually I couldn’t go more than a few excruciating days without them. Or that I was feeling worse and worse every day, suffering from agonizing bouts of searing heartburn. Or, that I was starting to look really, really bad.
You know, it just occurred to me - I think I was beginning to look like Schultz. Oh my god. Listen, I wasn’t always this way, dammit! I wasn’t always some fat Nazi’s doppelgänger. I used to be the rowdy fun girl at the bar, or the dinner party, who was chock full of sassy dry witticisms you might chuckle at the next day. I was just very, very social, that’s all.
Who could’ve imagined that the totally together, funny, ambitious, generous and smart girl would slowly morph into a lonely couch potato who spent her free time hiding her wine and pill bottles from her cleaning lady?
I’m pretty sure I’ve been an addict since I was born, but my love affair with chemicals started in high school. “I can totally slam that bottle of Wild Turkey faster than you, entire basketball team!” But, because it ebbed and ﬂowed throughout the years hiya Schultz I convinced myself that everything was ﬁne.
Or sort of ﬁne. Kind of. Sometimes.
I mean, when you’re in a play and all you care about is where you’re getting loaded afterwards, that’s slightly worrisome. But if you can’t fucking wait for the fucking audience get over it and stop giving you a standing ovation already, because you’re dying to get to the bar? Well, then - that’s just a whole other kettle o’ crazy.
But it was all I knew, really. Plays were simply a conduit, an appetizer to the most important event of the entire day: getting hammered. Endless, sometimes heated arguments between the cast over which place had the best martinis would continue right up until entrances. (And sometimes even beyond.)
Nowadays when I’m in a play, the very ﬁrst thing I do when we move into the theater is to grab a dark red lipstick (frosty pink just doesn’t have the same panache), and scrawl in my dressing room mirror my new mantra:
"THIS IS THE MAIN EVENT"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Shakespeare, ‘tis not. But that’s not the point. You see, it means something to me. Besides, “One Day At A Time”, while an excellent motto, doesn’t really work for me. I can’t help but picture Bonnie Franklin screaming “Schneider!” for the umpteenth time, to canned laughter. You’re more than welcome to borrow my mantra, but to be fair I must warn you about a very scary potential mind fuck - which really only applies if you’re a gay male and over forty. Whatever you do, please try not to think of the poster for the ﬁlm The Main Event, which showcases an tightly permed Barbra Streisand in one of the most nauseating costumes in all of celluloid history: boxing shorts over thick nude pantyhose.
Or, if you are gay and over 40, perhaps that would help?
Wait. Hold up. Am I Gay and over 40?
Regardless, I make sure to write “THIS IS THE MAIN EVENT” as big as I can, so that as I get ready to go onstage, I will never again forget how lucky I am to be alive and that I get to do something I love with all my heart.
But, back when I was bat shit crazy, I grew used to waking up having absolutely no recollection of the night before. Every morning, any triumphant performance I may (or may not) have had was consistently diluted by a queasy stomach and the grim fear of the unknown. However, it was far, far worse when I wasn’t in a play. Because then, I was bored. And boredom and addiction are not friends. In fact, they are each other’s mortal enemy. It was right around 2001 when every night became lost to me, never to return. Of course, I never blacked-out. I left that to tacky people and frat boys. I simply drank until I fell asleep. And on really naughty nights perhaps I’d oh-so-elegantly pass out. And yes, there’s an enormous difference, I’m just still a bit unclear as to what it is.
Soon, I found myself pushing “cocktail hour” earlier and earlier until 3 o’clock in the afternoon seemed perfectly reasonable. I wisely took great pains to avoid calling anyone back after 8pm, realizing that if I couldn’t say “Hi, it’s Kristen” without it sounding like “HizzKrissen”, returning my LA agent’s call would perhaps not be a good career move.
Unfortunately, as some of you may already know, one of the glorious gifts of alcoholism and addiction is a severe lack of discernment. Thankfully, another gift is memory loss, so I’m spared most of my more mortifying drunk dialing moments.
However, I wasn’t spared the daily ritual of waking up in the morning only to be slammed with the terrible knowledge that I had called SOMEONE, and try as I might, I had no recollection of WHO that may have been nor what the FUCK I had said to them.
- Kristen Johnston