An interview with Claudia Lonow.
You’ve been sober for like a million years. Do you feel any less sober than you did, say 20 years ago? Because I think our current political and technological climate has to fuck with people in a severe way.
I think because I’m severely Gen X, I don’t let myself get too worked up about our current political climate. Boomers have been fucking up my life since I was a kid. I’ll be 35 years sober in April, which I hate to admit because it’s so aging. But I feel WAY more sober now than I did 20 years ago. I mean, I was addicted to the internet as soon as it came out and I had access to it immediately because my ex husband was a computer guy. The smartphone makes it worse, obviously…but to me it mostly seems like a replacement for cigarettes (and books, sadly, though I am being more diligent about making myself read them).The upside of aging and longevity in sobriety is you really do know you’ve been through something similar to whatever you’re going through currently, and with the recognition that you survived it sober, each new calamity is met with greater confidence and skill, at least for the most part. Then again, I’m not sure I really achieved true emotional sobriety until my other issues were correctly diagnosed, and that happened just five years ago. Whatever stage of sobriety anyone is at, the only answer is to persistently attempt (attempt) to grow tiny (tiny) bits at a time. And try (try) to be patient with yourself.
What was 80’s LA sobriety like? What’s the main difference you recognize between now and then?
Well, look, I was 22 when I got sober so I’d say 80’s sobriety was more fun, because your 20’s are more fun. But, objectively, there was a real sobriety boom in the 80’s, probably in the aftermath of cocaine, so the meeting scene was vibrant.I got sober in West Hollywood; there were famous people and people who were so ‘fantastic’ they were standouts in the rooms. Amazing outfits. Very hot guys. Lots of sober dance parties. Lots of hooking up and drama around that. Ripped jeans over fishnet stockings, flowery dresses and combat boots. There were more BIG meetings that felt like you were going to a show. On Friday nights there was Rodeo, on Rodeo Drive right above Santa Monica. I heard some of the best, funniest, most talented speakers there. People came to that meeting dressed to BONE. Then, Saturday at noon, there was an Artists Living In Sobriety meeting on Fountain and Fairfax that was like the tear-stained aftermath of whatever had happened at Rodeo.
I was in a sober choir called the Serenity Singers, and our choir director had been a pretty major 60’s folk-rock guy. I went to a meeting every night and then my core group of friends and I would hang out at the Improv. A lot of the people I knew back then are still sober, so even though it was a ‘scene,’ people took their sobriety very seriously. Well, some of them. I mean, a lot of the people are dead.
It’s an ego-driven industry and you’re in an ego-squashing program so how do you navigate that?
Early in my sobriety, I had a lot of humbling experiences. I failed a lot. It took me a very long time to realize that the career I’d had before I got sober wasn’t the career I was going to have anymore. The point is, I didn’t have any escape from the ego-squashing, although that wasn’t the term I related to. I was being humbled. I tried to embrace the humbling experiences, but mostly I just felt like my higher power was punishing me. Eventually, the seemingly never ending ‘humbling of Claudia’ got funny. Like, I couldn’t believe how long it was taking to humble me, who wasn’t that big a fucking deal to begin with. I came to look at this 14-year humble-thon as my own “time in the desert” (like I”m Moses, so apparently I never became that humble). By the time anything good started happening, I was pretty grateful. The delusional, grandiose parts of me were quieter. And when they reappear…for instance when I’m picking out my Emmy outfit in my head…I laugh at myself.
In 35 years, were you ever close to relapsing?
The truth is, I don’t think I’ve been close to relapse, and I say this as someone whose late ex relapsed oh…about a couple of months after we got married. If anything, his relapse probably made me less likely to relapse than anything else, because we had a kid together so it’s like he ruined that for me, too. (Joke).
My brain appears to work mathematically, even though I suck at math. When I came to the program, I learned this one very important equation: no matter what is happening, whatever problem I’m facing…drinking and using will make it worse. Whatever success I celebrate will go away, too. The math is easy: Drinking + me = bad.
When was the last time you recognized your decision-making was a little selfish?
Before my ex husband died, I’d been working on a screenplay about our family with my daughter. As he was dying, all I could think about was that she wouldn’t want to work on the screenplay anymore, ’cause she’d be too sad. And I was mad at him. I mean…Jesus Fucking Christ, right?
Are there any Hollywood learning experiences that could double as sober learning experiences?
On my last show (which I’d been trying to make happen for, like, 12 years), I again hit trouble getting stories approved right out of the gate. Again, we struggled to catch up. Midway we had to throw out a script and I just lost my shit. It was my dream project, but I didn’t know how to fight for it.My friend, with whom I shared a deep love of Star Trek, said: “Claudia, most things fail. It’s amazing you’ve made it this far. But this is the Kobayashi Maru–the unwinnable scenario.” Now, in Trek lore, the Kobayashi Maru is the final test that Star Fleet gives you before you can be the captain of a ship. It’s a computer simulation that you will definitely lose, and the test is how you face death.My friend continued: “So…how do you face death?”
I calmed down. He was right. Most shows fail. It was a mathematical truth. Just because we’re in this “ego squashing” program doesn’t mean we’re crushing everything about ourselves. I really misinterpreted this at the beginning. I thought everything that I was needed to be cast aside, but I realized there were good parts of me I needed to keep. Being addicted doesn’t mean we’re worse than other people. It means that we treated our human issues with substances that we were either already predisposed to become addicted to, or we developed an addiction to them. But we’re not bad people. Well, most of us aren’t. There are bad people everywhere and, as one of my sponsors said: “stay away from creepy people, Claudia.”
Rob Ford, Gawker, Hulk Hogan, and the truth about everything and nothing whatsoever.
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