Getting My Act Together

By Shauna Lane 08/26/16

After years of drinking at work, getting high every day and even marrying a heroin addict club door-guy, a sober and peaceful morning feels good.

This Morning, I Meditated With My Boyfriend

I woke up this morning and meditated with my boyfriend. It was glorious listening to the birds and whatever those chirping insects are around here. I moved in six months ago, and even though the beginning was a little rough—having just left living in New York City for 17 years—we are good and enjoying our sober life together.

I could not judge how the audience was receiving jokes—thinking I killed when I bombed and the unexpected laughter was traumatizing (as if they were laughing at me, not with me).

NYC is where I hit my bottom and it took almost a decade for me to land—starting with 9/11 and slowly drifting and floating to my bottom in 2009. In the fall of 2005, I made a big swoop towards my bottom, marrying a bisexual heroin addict who was a door guy at a club I performed at. I had formed a plan earlier that summer: get married, buy a computer, grow up. I was drinking every day at work and getting high all day long, I didn’t have a boyfriend and my comedy career was sliding away from me. But marriage was what was going to help! I met him at the door one night at the club, and after the third time we had sex, he proposed! The Laws of Attraction in action!

I started doing stand-up late in 1999 and had done fairly well, but by 2005 I had gone from doing 6-8 sets a week to a few, and sometimes none. Some weeks were good and I got lots of sets in, but most of the time I was getting wasted before the show or during the show, waiting to go on. If my spot wasn't early enough, I was half gone by the time I went up and it was awful.

After 9/11, my comedy had taken a punch, but the hard work I had done the two years before that kept me going. That was the beginning of my bottom but I was still producing shows and doing shows. I got a couple of TV acting spots and I was writing. As I know now, this is a progressive disease and it slowly got worse. Drinking before shows, during shows, and so much after, kept getting more frequent. And the marijuana! Getting high was the worst way for me to perform—it completely disconnected me from the audience and made me so self-conscious. I could not judge how the audience was receiving jokes—thinking I killed when I bombed and the unexpected laughter was traumatizing (as if they were laughing at me, not with me). The laughter would hurt my feelings! I just couldn't stop myself from getting high in the morning, during the day and at shows. Sometimes I could keep from doing it, and I guess that's how people kept putting me on stage. I would rally some weeks and get myself together, not get drunk and high during the day, and stay sober till my sets were over.

I really was only able to perform sober—I didn’t need to drink to perform. In fact, when I did, it ruined it. I couldn’t stay sober for that long, so I needed to go up early in the show. If I had to wait and go up late in the show, I had to drink—not being able to sit and listen because I was crawling OUT of my skin, getting drunk at the bar and writing myself notes—little blurbs like "My back pack has a zipper—who am I?" When my ex-husband and I had the debut of our new band at our "wedding party" at the Bowery Poetry Club, we made that ditty into one of our first songs. MY PLAN WAS IN ACTION! My whole family thought I was crazy, but it did give me pause when even COMEDIANS thought I was losing my mind.

That marriage/band was the beginning of the end of my comedy. By the end of 2006, I was doing shitloads of coke with my husband, trying to save the marriage, and I had basically stopped doing comedy. He left one night in December of 2006 and put a note on the floor saying bye and that he hoped one day we could be friends. My plan had failed. I moved to Harlem from Williamsburg and spent all of 2007, 2008 and half of 2009 drinking myself into the ground. I was a waitress at a comedy club, worked a couple nights a week, bought pot and drank. Sometimes I walked to work for exercise! I'd walk along Central Park West briskly, smoking cigarettes, to keep up my health.

After work, I would drink and get high with the comics and wait staff, get a 6 pack of bud, and finish myself off at home. If I wasn’t wasted enough after that, I would take my one-eyed Chihuahua, walk to Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and go to one of the closed bodegas that had a walk-up bulletproof turnstile opened. I would order two 40s of Budweiser (my favorite!) and put my money in the turnstile. He would turn it around, take the cash and give me my booze, and turn it back around. Two times he told me he “wanted pussy tonight” as he took my money, and I acted like I had something on my shoes both times and pretended not to hear. I remember thinking “Wow, he really threw that out there twice!”

I quit smoking cigarettes at the end of 2008 when my divorce was final, and the drinking and pot smoking just got WORSE. In late spring of 2009, an old comic friend got in touch and we started hanging out and having sex. He didn’t have much to offer except “sex and creativity,” and I was like “sign me up!” He started to help me work out at the gym. I was waking up early, getting high and going to the gym. Another comedy buddy joined us and saw fairly quickly that I had a problem. He brought me to a meeting, turned me over to the ladies, and by September 3, 2009, I was finally able to get one day clean and start on the sober journey I'm still on.

In 2011, I started to painfully do an open mic once a week. I had spent seven years out of comedy, was older and way out of the loop. It was awful—I felt worthless—everyone I had started doing comedy with was doing well and I was an angry cocktail waitress at a comedy club watching them every night I worked. Filled with shame and regret, I was still detoxing from my bottom. It took me years to feel healthy again. In January of 2012, I started taking an acting class twice a week and I began to melt from my frozen creative place. I was terrified and in the class for over a year before I started to feel like I could get back into comedy again. At the beginning of 2013, I got in touch with the owner of one of the clubs I had worked at as a comedian, and told him I was getting back into stand-up and could I call in my avails again? He said yes. I cried. A couple of weeks later, he started to put me into the late-night rotation, doing spots and hosting. I started doing spots at another club and started to write with a comedy friend I had met at the club where I was a waitress.

I started going to seminars and auditions in the spring of 2013, and by September, I had an acting manager. I stopped cocktailing at the club I was working at. A lovely director got in touch with me, who knew my comedy from ten years earlier, and gave me a small role in a film. Things shifted. I started doing lots of open mics and bar shows, plus spots in the clubs I was working at. I got a small TV role. In December of 2014, I co-produced my first comedy show in 8 years and then kept right on producing. I have a monthly show that I run and a few months ago, my comedy buddy and I started a podcast—The Gone Girls (available for free on iTunes). We have continued to write together since 2013. A third writer joined us in 2014. We help support and guide each other.

It’s a slower pace than it was 15 years ago, but I am building momentum. It is such a relief to not slither away from the bar to the stage, and back to the bar again. As I approach seven years sober, I am more grateful than ever to be doing what I love. I’m on day three of a juice cleanse—not eating used to be so I could drink more! Now, not eating is to be healthy (even though I’m starving). It’s been a good day.

Shauna Lane lives in Westchester, NY next to a lovely couple who like to blow-dry their driveway after it rains. She is an actress and a comedian.

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