My One Step Program

By Nick Dothée 10/16/14

When you start to realize that the life you’re living looks vastly different than the clear picture you’ve been painting since age six, the drinking is no longer fun, but rather necessary for survival, and then finally, just plain sad.


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9am- Corona extra tallboy: the first step I took today.

Twelve steps seems like eleven too many. They say you have to hit Rock Bottom and want to get better before you can really get to work on yourself. Getting better does sound nice, but breathing seems like a more immediate necessity. I’ve found myself at a few bottoms as of late, they were all rocky, though none quite heavy or jagged enough to induce real change.

My hands were shaking and my head reeling from the prior evening of “dealing” after I once again accepted my fate as a lifer at the “famous singing waiter” tourist trap of Times Square, the one mockingly titled Stardust. This wasn’t the plan for my thirty-somethings. I’m constantly feeling like my peers around me have it all figured out. I feel I’ve been duped somehow, and like I lost 10 years of my life in a world of make believe that nobody bothered snapping me out of. I can’t blame anyone; I know I can be very convincing.

My father came to see me this week. I was confident his trip from San Francisco all the way here to NYC would resemble an intervention of sorts. I suppose the visit did have some parallel sentiments to an intervention, only there happened to be Belvedere and Makers Mark involved, with very few middlemen in each of many martini glasses.

My mother arrives in a few days for a visit of her own. She’ll be with my stepdad whom I barely know since she remarried once I was already on the east coast away for college. I wonder what Mom’s intervention will be in the shape of.

I can count on one hand the collective amount of times both of my parents have flown across the country to see me. There is no judgment; it's just a little suspect is all. It makes me think that perhaps my ever-growing darkness and jaded apathy has set off some parental alert system in their brains forcing their fingers to type in NYC Airports on Priceline’s flight finder. (My mother, being the frugal one, will surely fly into Newark and take the train to Penn Station, whereas my Dad will spare no expense for the convenience of LaGuardia followed by a cab to the door of his mildly swanky hotel.)

I have some of the most loving and supportive parents a gay man could hope for, but I must say…it’s about fucking time they saw what I was up to, and perhaps more importantly, what I am not up to. What am I up to? Drowning. I’m drowning over here, have been for some time.

For the average functioning adult that would be somewhat acceptable and maybe even expected given the harsh realities of the real world, New York fucking City, and the entertainment industry. But you see, dear reader, I’m a man-child who was never told what to do when you aren’t allowed to be the lead in every play you go for or what being unsuccessful can look like. I know what you are thinking; “Woe is me.” Or “What a spoiled brat.” But hear me out.

Without really realizing what I was doing, I graduated from a competitive theatre conservatory and immediately through myself into this “career.” I always assumed success was a given, but when it didn’t “give,” I started numbing pain with drugs and alcohol. There wasn’t really a way for me to know that’s what I was doing at the time, but hindsight gives me perspective. I was no stranger to partying. I had my high school raver days and the rite-of-passage college drinking days. Then you arrive in NYC and everything is available at all times – including bad decisions and people to help you make them. These bad decisions are in the guise of life living and typical NYC doings.

But when you start to realize that the life you’re living looks vastly different than the clear picture you’ve been painting since age six, the drinking is no longer fun, but rather necessary for survival, and then finally, just plain sad. That pill doesn’t go down too easily. And in a city where misery is obsessed with company and so much of the everyday debauchery here moonlights as the standard, you must be hyper self-aware to even notice that you’re no longer 25 and you’re completely checked out.

My best friend is Alysha Umphress. She grew up just blocks from my father’s house. We did everything together. She’s a star, always has been. Not much has changed in our relationship. Not much has changed in her talent level. The only difference now is that we no longer share the stage. Alysha is now doing precisely what we both said we would do at this point in our lives, when we were driving to and from rehearsal for the Wizard of Oz in the East Bay of California as precocious 11-year-olds. As naive as I’m sure it sounds, there was zero percent doubt of our destinies. And it feels like as she is slowly embracing that inevitable life she was destined to lead, I crawl deeper into my shell and hide from a world I had once convinced myself would embrace me the way it has her. Now as an adult I am beginning to realize that perhaps it is I who failed to embrace myself. I have become so far removed from our 11-year-old dreams, yet the ghost of them still holds the tightest grip over me it feels almost like a physical counterweight to those dreams, keeping my life stagnant in what feels like some purgatory.

Alysha worked as a singing waiter in Times Square the year before I graduated and moved to NYC. She made sure I had a job secured alongside her. At that time, I was still very much under the a-plus-b-equals-c spell. In my mind it was all figured out, even while living in Woodside, Queens and taking the 7 train into the city to serve burgers while singing a Grease medley. When I wasn’t doing that I had two agents and a manager that filled my “free time” with Broadway and commercial audition appointments. Sometimes I had three or four meetings a day and then went to wait tables until 1am. Looking back, I can’t believe how good I had it. I didn’t even realize. It’s because it was all part of the plan. None of it seemed weird or even privileged because I had convinced myself at such a young age that this was what my life was. There was no need to overthink it. I just showed up.

On the Town marks Alysha’s fourth Broadway show. American Idiot, the Green Day musical, was the first. I was doing the whole singer songwriter soul searching in Portland Oregon when she scored that gig. I was so thrilled for her; honestly I was so far removed from what I was doing in my creative and personal life that there was no comparison whatsoever. Her triumph didn’t make me feel like a failure.

Not yet anyway.

After about two years and two EPs of my recorded original music later (EP meaning not having enough money to produce a full album) I moved back to NYC. Actually, the truth is that I had a CD release party scheduled at the reasonably reputable Canal Room in NYC on July 15th 2011 followed by a return flight to Portland. I never got on that plane. It may have been a combo of my Facebook friends statuses giving me FOMO (fear of missing out), a full six season Sex in the City binge watch, blended neatly together with my best friend in the whole world finally making her Broadway debut after all of these years seeing our lives as fairly parallel. I guess I wasn’t a lesbian flannel wearing indie singer-songwriter after all. Or if I was, the Broadway bug, so to speak, was far from squashed.

Now I wake up everyday wanting for it to be over. I look at the clock in dread hoping it’s a reasonable time to wake up and pretend to be human for a few hours before showering and getting back under the covers. I don’t want to scare anyone or make anyone uncomfortable with my profound sadness, or for lack of a better term, “depression.” (I don’t think anyone who has ever used that word flippantly knows the magnitude of just how crippling it can be.) When my eyes make their first crack open there is a moment when I feel my old self again and I get excited. I want to grab a button down shirt and a binder full of sheet music and show off my talent in an office that casts a Broadway show and show my loved ones the responsible adult I have become. Within seconds I am reminded that I am paralyzed with pain and fear from a life I wasn’t prepared to deal with…not today.

It seems silly that I’m not able to deal with it. The shame of not knowing how to take care of my basic needs as an adult is far greater than the shame I feel for not being King of All Media. I can finally accept I will not be King of All Media. I can finally accept that is something that was just in my childhood head.

Yes, I have done a lot; things I always said I would do, and things I didn’t even know I was capable of doing. It all probably looks quite impressive on paper, but there are still some facts that weigh overwhelmingly heavy on my heart and my dwindling spirit.

I still work at that job Alysha got for me in 2005. So somewhere along the line “the plan” went awry. But that’s life. I’m smart enough to know that. I’m also smart enough to know how lucky I am to still have that survival job, though “surviving” is a stretch.

I don’t begrudge Alysha, or any of my numerous “successful” friends a thing. I want only the best for them because I feel like I surround myself with only the best kind of people. It doesn’t surprise me when I watch my friends rise to the top, but I can honestly say that it is a harsh reality to see myself left behind and stuck in a life I no longer can cope with. It’s unnerving to feel like I’m stuck in place watching my peers moving forward in their lives and careers.

I know that I can figure it out. I know that morning beer isn’t the answer and I know that I can’t walk through the world numb in order to not only be the best version of myself for me, but for everyone I’ve decided to include into my life. What’s hard is no longer trusting in that light at the end of the tunnel, what’s hard is realizing this tunnel might be it and you might have to be okay with that.

So I think the only way I am going to survive is to fight, I need to fucking fight with all I’ve got and just breathe through each given moment, because most days that is all I am able to consciously do. And if there are twelve steps in recovery, I’m pretty sure breathing is a damn good first one. The other eleven are just decoration.

Nick has been acting and singing his whole life. He began writing his own pop music in 2008 and has two original EPs to show for it (available on iTunes). He began writing personal essays just this past year and has already gained attention from OUT magazine as well as other publications. Nick resides in NYC where he records his popular podcast Dirty 30 Something (also available on iTunes).

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Nick Dothée was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently lives in Hollywood, CA. He has been published in OUT magazine and had a successful podcast, Dirty 30 Somethingthat iTunes named new and noteworthy while he was living in NYC as an actor slash singer slash singing waiter in Times Square. Nick still writes and performs, but now his recovery has become number one because his life depends on it. You can follow Nick on Twitter.