The Anti-AA Writer Who’s Really Not Anti-AA At All (Part II)
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The Anti-AA Writer Who’s Really Not Anti-AA At All (Part II)

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The Anti-AA Writer Who’s Really Not Anti-AA At All (Part II)Mishka Shubaly is the gloriously talented man-child who has played in punk bands like the Freshkills, run
ultra marathons and is the bestselling author of six Kindle Singles including his latest, Of Mice And Me. Last week, Susanna Brisk talked to him about advice for struggling alcoholics, recommending AA even though he doesn’t participate himself and blue meth (seriously!). In this second part of the interview, they discuss emotional sobriety, making amends, resentments and why no one should ever call Shubaly inspirational. 

Susanna: Do you know about this AA concept of emotional sobriety?

Mishka: Yeah, I know a little bit about it and part of it I agree with, and part of it I think is a bunch of crap. I mean sobriety is sobriety is sobriety. If you don’t drink, you’re sober and also, if you’re sober and you’re angry all the time, then you’re a fucking drag to be around. I’m not going to tell someone that they’re not sober because they’re angry all the time, but I might say, “You need to lighten up” or “You need to find a way to process this.”

Susanna: Do you ever say, “Maybe you should go run 50 to 100 miles”?

Mishka: (laughs) No I’ve never said that to somebody, but maybe I should start. The best and worst thing about AA is that a lot of it involves people telling you what to do, and telling other people what to do and I hate being told what to do, and I hate telling other people what to do.

Susanna: Then don’t have children. 

Mishka: Exactly. If you want to go and destroy your life, then have a blast and have one for me, you know? If you want to get your shit together and get sober, then by all means, you should do that. I can’t help you with either one of those. I wish everybody good luck with their ventures, but I don’t think sobriety is the answer for everyone. If your problem is that you’re an asshole, sobriety won’t cure that. You’ll just be a more articulate asshole who’s awake more hours of the day. The way that I explain it to people is it’s like a bee sting. For some people getting too drunk three times a year and feeling horrible is a minor inconvenience, and then there are other people who are allergic to bee stings. And I’m one of those people with alcohol. Or like peanuts; for some people they’re a food, for some people, they’re poison. With alcohol, I fall into the latter category.

Susanna: Where the fuck do you get the motivation to run these ultra marathons? Are you still running?

Mishka: Not recently, but I’m still running, I mean I’m working on a book right now, so I’m running less or in a different fashion, a little bit every day. I don’t particularly enjoy running, I just hate it less than I fear my old life. Exercise is the anti-depressant; when you’re depressed, it’s really difficult to exercise, but if you can get over the hump and do it, you will always feel better. I used to go out and get drinks with people; now I have a buddy in AA, his name is Bill W. believe it or not, and we go box together. And I have a reporter friend I hang out with, and we’ll go running. And my other buddy and I will meet at the gym. Where I used to go drinking with people, now I go exercise.

Susanna: What do you think about this concept of making amends?

Mishka: I think AA encourages people to take all the blame themselves. Tatyana (my older sister) played a role in the Cold War of our conflict and there was a period of six years when we didn’t talk while I was bottoming out and getting my shit together; while alcohol was kicking the piss out of me, having four small children and living in Japan was kicking the piss out of her. So we both got taken down in two radically different ways. But we both came to the same realization that like “Eh, it’s not such a big deal—like after vomiting blood, if you knock the coffee over onto your pants, it’s not such a big deal.”

Susanna: Actually having kids totally parallels the experience of having your ass handed to you by alcoholism. Having kids is exactly like throwing up blood every single day, except the blood is walking around and giving you shit at the same time.

Mishka: (laughs) Make sure you write that down.

Susanna: Okay I will.

Mishka: That’s a good one. Also my dad has grown up and matured and processed and he’s become less uptight and more forgiving and he has a different perspective than he did 10 years ago, even five years ago.

Susanna: For me, the most devastating part of Of Mice and Me was when your dad admitted that he never wanted kids. That scene was brutal to read. Do you understand the difference between your dad loving you and not loving the job of parenting?

Mishka: Yeah, now I do. I didn’t at the time. And uh…if it’s devastating to read that moment, it was pretty devastating to live that moment too. But also it was a huge relief, because when the thing that you fear most happens, you’re set free since you don’t have anything to fear anymore. Like if you fear a secret getting out, once it’s out, you don’t have to worry anymore.

Susanna: So you don’t resent your dad?

Mishka: Of course I do. Any guy who says that he doesn’t resent his father is lying to you or to himself. My dad probably resents me a little bit too. But mostly we love the shit out of each other! I mean he’s a rocket scientist. He can fix shit. He’s one of the old breed. He can drive the nail in with one strike of the hammer.

Susanna: You sounded like you resented your sister too. In AA they talk about resentment being the luxury of “normal men.”

Mishka: I resent everybody. I resent my mother for giving birth to me. I resent everybody just a little bit.

Susanna: (laughs) But with what you wrote in this particular story, you’re sort of making up for the damage you caused when you were drinking and using—like what we call a “living amends.” I’d hate to tell you this, but you’re kind of doing that.

Mishka: Everyone should make amends whether you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict or not; you learn that in kindergarten: if you hurt someone, say you’re sorry. That’s not exclusive to AA or alcoholics, just part of being a human being in a civilized society. When I feel like I’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, I try to apologize, but I did it when I was drinking too. Still, I don’t call it an amends, and here’s why. If I punch someone in the face and say I’m sorry, I can’t subtract the pain that I caused the person. I can’t negate the experience. You just have to learn to live with the fact that you’ve done bad things; don’t fool yourself that paying back the 20 bucks you ripped off from someone makes it all equal. The balance will never be zero, you just have to live with the ambiguity, and try to do more good things than bad things. But don’t go questing for perfection.

Susanna: The idea of living amends is that you don’t just say sorry once, but change your behavior, and the way you conduct yourself in the future with people. The concept is that for 20 years of drinking, you’re going to have to be “not an asshole” for 20 years.

Mishka: In some regard I feel like for me it’s too close to certain religious orders where they’re trying to hold people to an unreasonably high standard. If they’re going to apply the concept of living amends to every human being on earth, then I’m okay with that, but if it only applies to alcoholics who are already doing the noble and very difficult thing of trying to stop drinking and trying to be better people, then that’s not fair, man. I mean being a sober alcoholic is hard, and that just makes it harder.

Susanna: No shit.  You’ve always been kind of a badass tough guy, and like you said “hard-headed.” In Of Mice and Me, you find a mouse, nurse it back to health, and it splits your heart wide open. Do you think you’re getting softer the longer you are sober?

Mishka: I’m trying to get softer but I fear the opposite is true. When you lose people you love, either through death or disappearance or just a relationship failing, the temptation is to shut down and shut people out. That’s a mistake. It sounds counterintuitive, but you kind of have to fight to stay vulnerable. I like to deliberately misunderstand a Stooges lyric—”Been hurt/ and I don’t care.” Avoidance of pain isn’t strength; it’s cowardice. Another great rock lyric from the Makebelieves—”Knock me down/ I’m getting back up.” Being “soft” may be the hardest thing out there, but it’s worthwhile because that’s how you engage with the world. And when you get hurt, well, there’s tons of great lyrics to keep you company.

Susanna: Now, veering in a different direction: You occasionally eat mushrooms, but still consider yourself sober. I know this is a weird question, but do you feel a responsibility to be some kind of a role model, both to your readers and maybe to your nephews and nieces? And is it bizarre that anyone would ever think of you as a role model?

Mishka: Let me answer that last question first. Yes, it is bizarre. You know there’s a list of words you’re never supposed to say like “cunt” or now you’re not supposed to say “retard”? For me, the word you’re never supposed to say is “inspirational.” I never set out to write anything inspirational. I didn’t put that in there. 

Susanna: (laughing) It’s the “I” word. 

Mishka: I take the role model thing very seriously when it comes to my nephews and nieces. I love those horrible children so much. And I would do anything and everything for them—except take them to the mall. I’ve spoken to my nephew about my alcoholism and when the time comes, I’m going to talk to each of them about alcohol and drugs and smoking.

Susanna: And what are you going to tell them?

Mishka: That they will drink and they should be careful with it, and it’s the kind of thing that if you’re careful with it, can be fun and a positive thing for your life. Like my dad and his wife will sit down and have a glass of wine and it’s fine. I would tell my nephews and nieces never to do cocaine because that makes you annoying, and people are sufficiently annoying without it. And that women in particular have to be careful with alcohol, because horrible things can happen to women with alcohol. I would tell the kids that marijuana is not heroin, and don’t confuse the two—that not all drugs are in the same category.

Susanna: Maybe you should just give them the it’s-like-being-allergic-to-peanuts speech.

Mishka: That’s way shorter and way more to the point. Do I feel I have any obligation to be a role model for sober folks? Absolutely not. I got sober as I got myself fucked up—alone, without any encouragement—and my sobriety is my own invention. Do I want every person struggling to get sober or stay sober to succeed? Absolutely—with all my heart and every fiber of my being.

Susanna: That’s beautiful. You almost sound like you’re ready to live in California.

Mishka: Every time I’m ready to leave California I have to check myself and make sure I don’t have crystals hanging off me, that I’m not wearing yoga pants or something. It is contagious out here. I feel like I have to go through a decompression chamber when I go back to New York, where I scrub off all the clean air and sunshine to get a nice dusting of the grime and bad vibes that I get in Brooklyn.

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About Author

Susanna Brisk is a writer and Sexual Intuitive® who has over a decade’s sobriety from alcohol. Her tell-it-like-it-is missives on sex, love, dating, divorce, parenting, mental health, recovery, and BDSM have been read by the better part of a million people on Medium, Dame, sexpert, thoughtcatalog, yourtango, Sexual Health Magazine, and Real Sex Daily. Her latest book “How to Get Laid Using Your Intuition” went to #1 on Amazon in the Sexual Health category.