The Orangutan on Living The Sober Dream

By Colin Broderick 06/16/15

Happy eighth anniversary to memoirist and filmmaker Colin Broderick!

via Author

Today, Tuesday, the 16th of June 2015, I will be sober, God willing, for eight years. Eight years without a drink or a drug. The last four without so much as a cigarette.  

The thing about being sober a long time is, you start to meet people who have never known you any other way than you are now—clean, clear eyed, somewhat pleasant to be around, reliable.

It would be hard for many of them to fully comprehend how bad I looked at my worst; 114 pounds of rancid skin and bone, my teeth rotted black from the carnage of two decades of addiction, ill fitting clothes, unkempt hair, reeking of cigarette smoke, alcohol seeping from every pore. But that’s where alcoholism will bring you in the end. Alcoholism is a journey peppered with warning signs: “JAIL JUST UP AHEAD,” “HOSPITAL ON THE RIGHT,” and finally, “DEATH." I was fortunate enough to heed that last billboard on the highway just before the final crash. Many I know weren’t so lucky. 

I have a daughter now who’s six and a half years old. She’s never known the old me. She’s never had to wake up in the night because Daddy’s yelling and wrecking the house. I’ve never once scared her. When she needs me, I am there. I tell her I love her at every opportunity. When she talks, I listen. She has taught me the meaning of unconditional love. She revealed to me a well of love that I didn’t even know existed in me. 

Once I understood what real love felt like, I was finally able to really fall in love for the first time. Really fall in love. How can you love another when you can’t love yourself? How can you let another love you if you feel unworthy of love? You can’t. Not really. A glance over my past love life reveals the wreckage of an addict in full swing; three divorces, numerous failed relationships, relationships that fed on drama, relationships enacted like some stage play where I was the misunderstood genius suffering at the hands of a tyrant wife. There was one common denominator in all my failed relationships: me.

I have a wife now. A wonderful woman I met when I was finally in a place where I liked myself a little better, where I finally liked the life I was living, where I was worthy. Rachel is a yoga guide. I started practicing yoga with her and another piece of my recovery puzzle fell into place. Yoga was the perfect match for my recovery program, it’s a physical, mental and spiritual way of being in the world. Another tumbler had fallen into place. 

Then, a year and a half ago, a great sober friend of mine invited me to join a gratitude list. It’s an email chain. There are five of us on it. Five men in recovery. Two of them I’ve never even met. Each of us writes a list every day detailing in brief all the things that we are grateful for in this 24-hour period. The list has become an invaluable tool in my recovery. Another action I take to help me feel complete.  

Being complete does not mean that I exist in the world bathed in a bright ectoplasm of eternal joy. I am human. I wake up in the morning with the same dreads as everyone else; money, health, work, the occasional argument with my wife. She’s human, too, it turns out. But I am no longer running away. What I have learned to do is to take life on life's terms, the best I can. Some days are easier than others. But I am finally an active and grateful participant in the journey.

I am finally following my dreams. I’ve published two memoirs with Random House in the past eight years. I’ve directed two of my own plays in New York. Three years ago, I met with two dentists, Dr. Tabib and his wife Dr. Mello, who gave me my smile back, literally, for free. It was a gift that finally allowed me to open my mouth and smile with all the joy that was in me when I was on a crowded subway car with my daughter and not have to feel self-conscious about how the inside of my mouth looked to the other passengers. If you are someone who has suffered from traumatic dental issues you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I felt liberated.

Getting my smile back inspired me to make my first short movie. A 10-minute movie, appropriately called Smile. It’s a movie that captures the physical transformation aspect of my return to life. Miraculously, I made it entirely for free. Everyone who contributed to it in some way felt inspired by the generosity of Dr. Tabib and Dr. Mello. There was something magical about how it came together. It renewed my faith in the world. There are still lots of good people out there it turns out, in fact, they’re everywhere, once you open yourself up to it. In the spirit of generosity in which it was conceived I, too, gave it away for free. I posted it to YouTube. You can watch it here:

The movie opened another door for me creatively. I wrote two other movie scripts. One, The Rising, an Irish historical movie, is in production and slated for release sometime next year in time for the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.    

The other, Emerald City will be my directorial debut as a feature filmmaker. It is loosely based on my memoir, Orangutan, where I detailed my life as an Irish construcion worker in New York City struggling with alcoholism and addiction whie trying to form my life as a writer.

You could say it’s based on a dream I had.

One that is coming to me, one day at a time.

If you’d like to watch the promo trailer and support the movie you can visit it here.

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Colin Broderick, writer at large, is the author of the addiction memoirs Orangutan and That's That. You can find Colin on Twitter or Linkedin