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Miracles in the Madness

By Amber Tozer 06/23/16

After weeks of feeling completely fucked up, I ended up at Barnes and Noble in my pajamas with tears rolling down my face looking for a miracle in a book. Happy to say, I'm still sort of fucked up but at least I put on some pants and stopped crying. 

Miracles in the Madness
“Hello, I’m looking for the book A COURSE IN MIRACLES. I need to learn how to create a miracle.”

In November of 2014, I had a mild nervous breakdown. Okay, I’m exaggerating because I didn’t go to the hospital or do anything manic, like get a short haircut or elope with a foreigner.

All I know is, after weeks of depression, I ended up at Barnes & Noble in my pajamas with tears rolling down my face. I went up to the sweet old lady who was working at the customer service desk and said, “Hello, I’m looking for the book A Course in Miracles. I need to learn how to create a miracle.” She looked at me with soft, kind eyes, as if I were her very own troubled child and said, “Oh, sweetie.” She walked around the desk, and said, “Come with me.” Before I knew it, we were holding hands. I could tell she had dealt with many suffering customers, she was good at this. I pictured all of the people before me, desperately asking her where they could find a life-changing book. As we walked hand-in-hand across to the self-help section, she asked if I was okay. I told her, “No, I don’t think so.” 

Thanks to a few years of sobriety, I had experienced a little bit of success and I think it fucked with my head a little bit. In 2013, I sold a TV show pilot. It was a silly animated series that I had poured my heart into. The network said, “We love it. There will be at least six episodes of this.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “FINALLY." I had been writing comedy for many years and I’d get little gigs here and there, but my own TV show? Holy shit. This is the ultimate. This is the number one, gold medal, biggest trophy prize! Sobriety was really working for me. My mind shot into the future and I fantasized about living in a big house and having nice-smelling hair and skin, traveling the world with industrial strength luggage, and everyone loving all of the pictures I’d post. But, like many other situations in showbiz, this “deal” wasn’t real. It was a possibility, but in this case it was more of a fantasy—your typical and very common Hollywood delusional experience. After re-writing the pilot (based on their notes and direction) and waiting six months for them to get back to me, they called and said, “We’re going to pass. It just doesn’t fit what we do here.” I was like, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. YOU TOLD ME WHAT TO WRITE AND HOW TO WRITE IT. BASICALLY YOU TOLD ME HOW TO WRITE A SHOW THAT ISN’T A FIT FOR YOU? OKAY THANK YOU VERY MUCH YOU FUCKING IDIOTS. That was the dialogue I had in my mind, but the words that came out of my mouth were, “Okay. I really appreciate you giving me a shot in the first place.” Then I hung up the phone and cried and felt sorry for myself for a very long time.  

I was full of resentment and fear. I NEEDED that show to happen for many reasons—the most immediate was money. I was flat broke, and a few months prior to pitching this show, my car engine went up in smoke and I couldn’t afford to fix it, so I was taking a bus to a babysitting job. “Thirty-six years old, thirteen years writing comedy, five years of sobriety, and you’re taking a fucking bus to a babysitting job? You have fifty seven dollars in your bank account. You would have seventy dollars but you went to Chipotle and just had to get guacamole on your burrito. Idiot.” The self pity man who lives in my head would say stuff like this very loud everyday in my head. More than needing money, I needed validation and attention. I needed to know if I was good enough to stick around and keep trying to be a writer in Hollywood. It’s such an awful place to be where you NEED something. Like when you’re in a relationship and you NEED them to love you or act a certain way. Gah-ross. These situations can cover you in layers of anxiety and paranoia caused by someone or something you have no control over.   

I was aware that I was feeling sorry for myself and living in a world of self-obsession, and tried to change my behavior. I kept writing and trying to trust that things would be okay, but it seemed like no matter how much self-awareness I had, or action I took, I just could not shake the funk. I went to meetings, I made phone calls...nothing was working! I looked back at all of the other times I felt like giving up in my life, and everything always turned out okay. I knew that my circumstance would change at some point, but I think what was weighing on me was my age. Thirty-six  When I was in my twenties and struggling, I always had a safety net with my thinking, “I’m still young. I have time to make stuff happen.” That thought gave me a lot of comfort. Sometimes I would take a shitty job just out of curiosity to see what it was like, to experience it, to learn. I’d do the most bizarre things for money (no sexual favors, but I have considered it many times). The gift of youth inspired me to take time away from comedy and do weird shit. I was also drunk all of the time and that probably had something to do with the fact that, in my late twenties, for a full two years, I ran a shady mattress business on Craigslist with my lesbian neighbor. We’d sell and deliver mattresses that we bought from a wholesaler named Frank. It was so fun and hilarious, until I NEEDED to do that. It was my only source of income and, finally, after delivering six-hundred-and-something mattresses (yes, we sold and delivered over 600 mattresses) my last delivery was to a woman who made us take our shoes off before we carried a king double pillow top up two flights of stairs. After that, I quit.

The years went on, and I got sober and older and very clear on what I wanted to do—write. It’s a blessing and a curse to know what you want to do in life. The blessing is clarity and focus and feeling passionate about your craft, and the curse is not wanting to do anything else. In my experience, the willy nilly approach of taking a “whatever” job to pay the bills became less and less of an option. This stubbornness has both plagued and rewarded me. I had clarity about what I wanted my path to be, but there was no path, or maybe I just couldn't see it. I had put all of my eggs in that animated series, and those eggs broke and tiny little chickens popped out and pecked my eyes out in the self-pity city I was living in! 

The months leading up to my typical American white girl breakdown at Barnes & Noble were filled with existential dilemmas and crippling thoughts. I seriously had no idea why any of us were born and why planet Earth had so much life on it. WHY???? After I started to read A Course in Miracles, which is very dense and a lot of work, a tiny shift happened in me. I didn’t even read the entire book but here is a powerful quote from it: "Everything you perceive is a witness to the thought systems you want to be true" and "Every thought you have makes up some segment of the world you see. It is with your thoughts then, that we must work, if your perception of the world is to be changed." Whoa. I started to trust that the world was not what I thought it was, a big shit hole where you sit around and wait to die, but more of a place of opportunity, like a shit hole that you can climb out of and maybe have some fun. I became aware that my perception of the world was a little bit fucked up. I had learned some of these lessons from the work I did to get sober, but my mind needs constant reminders and strategies to shift from negative to positive. Although I wasn’t pouring booze, that tricky liquid depressant, into my body anymore, my thinking patterns were still taking me to a very a dark place where I hit an emotional rock bottom—and this was where I had to dig fucking deep and accept my life as it was and examine the bullshit that was piling up in my mind. 

There was no quick fix for this. It would have be nice to have a few glasses of wine, just to get a few hours of relief, but that is no longer an option for me. GODDAMMIT. When I questioned the negative thoughts, they didn't have as much power over me and it broke up my negative thinking patterns. It felt just like a couple of glasses of wine, okay not really, but it was still pretty powerful. I also wrote gratitude lists and the things I loved in life, and I began to REALLY love. Like blueberries and soft toilet paper and the fact that my family wasn't lost at sea or anything crazy like that. A positive shift took place in my thoughts and actions and I experimented with kindness, tried to soften up a little bit. I was still an asshole, but a smaller one. I went from being like a big horse's asshole to a tiny rabbit asshole. 

I slowly crawled out of the hell I created in my mind. On a daily basis, I had to refuse to sit in the huge pile of shit my alcoholic mind created. I wish it didn't take so much work to get to this state of mind, but I guess when you have alcoholism you have to be on high alert when it comes to negative thinking. There is war in my mind at all times—positive thinking versus negative thinking—and then I have to figure out what is real or not. It's work, but it's worth it. And I'm happy to say that today, my life is very different than it was the day I broke down in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble. I'm still sober, I wrote a book, and I shower more. To me, these are miracles. I know a year from now, my life will be different than it is now—maybe good, maybe bad. It's always changing. I'm pretty sure at some point, I'll be depressed or filled with rage and go to the dark side, but hopefully those spells will pass quickly, instead of ruling my life and suffocating me for years like they used to. Depression, especially in sobriety, is very scary and confusing and feels so real. I want to keep questioning negative thoughts and always be reminded that the dark times are just a "time" and not "forever." Sometimes problems go away naturally without much effort on our part, and other times we have to go to Barnes & Noble in our pajamas and find information that might help us. Or, even more annoying—we have to ask others for help. I love the idea of not being pulled under by negative thinking, but I also have to be honest about my actions and intentions that might be influencing my demise. This takes work, but when I'm in a certain state of awareness that separates me from my bullshit thinking and moves me towards honesty and gratitude, it feels like I just did four lines of blow. Okay, maybe not, but it feels good without a suicidal hangover. All I know is, life is fucked up and beautiful, and I guess when you're depressed and scared and freaking out, maybe don't believe your thoughts and love everything you have. Then, no matter how old and tired you are, maybe (just maybe) more of the stuff you love will start to show up, possibly even a miracle.  

Amber Tozer is the author of Sober Stick Figure, a dark and funny story about alcoholism. Follow her on Twitter @AmberTozer and buy her book here.

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Amber Tozer is the author of Sober Stick Figure, a really funny book about alcoholism. She lives in London with her husband and they are thinking about getting a dog. Find Amber on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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