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. No one is more surprised by his success than Shubaly himself, who is currently at work on his memoir. A sober alcoholic who doesn’t espouse the 12-step philosophy, Shubaly talked to Susanna Brisk about diagnosing people with alcoholism, what he tells those who reach out to him for help and the blue meth of the future, among many other topics. (Keep an eye out for part II of this interview next week.)
Susanna: Let’s start this off talking not about alcohol but about women. What is an erroneous impression that women have about you that you would like to correct?
Mishka: This is good; you’re making me think. It’s a little early to have to do that…
Susanna: Have you had coffee yet? Because I’ve only had tea.
Mishka: I was just opening an iced coffee just now! The most erroneous assumption women make about me is that I fixed myself so I can fix them. I didn’t fix myself; I just made myself suck less.
Susanna: (Laughs. Hard.)
Mishka: I still have faults and flaws, and the other thing is, I went through this transformation from being a hardcore drunk to being sober and productive. I only made that transformation once. I could probably give somebody good pointers on how to write a song, because I’ve written a ton of songs in my life, but I’ve only done this thing once. And I only did it for myself. I don’t know how to tell someone else how to do it. And I certainly can’t save anyone. I’m realizing that.
Susanna: I have to admit I find your work extremely triggering. It makes me think I didn’t drink and drug hard enough, that if I had, I would have better stories, and that perhaps I should go out, just to get some more stories. Have you ever felt like you’ve done something just to write about it?
Mishka: No. I got fucked up because I wanted to get fucked up. For years, that was the only thing I could muster any enthusiasm for. On the other hand, I do have an investment in narrative, I want my life to be entertaining, and I would absolutely rather be miserable than be bored. Torture me in the worst way possible, just don’t fucking bore me.
Susanna: Just don’t put you behind a white picket fence with 2.3 children and a dog?
Mishka: Well exactly, yeah, that would be the end of me…
Susanna: Tell me about it…
Mishka: I’ve certainly done stuff to keep myself entertained, but whenever I feel like I’m about to do something just to write about it, I stop myself in my tracks. My life is fucked up enough without me having to do something intentionally just to fuck it up so I can write about it.
Susanna: But as you’re doing something, you might be aware that you’re probably going to write about it. Still, that’s not why you’re doing it…
Mishka: You have to be wary of the collectors, you shouldn’t be one and you shouldn’t consort with people who say things like, “Well, I’ve never dated a woman who’s just gotten out of jail before, let me do that.” Like, no, if you want a novelty or something, go eat a deep fried Oreo. That woman who’s just gotten out of jail is a person.
Susanna: What’s your favorite of your Kindle Singles?
Mishka: If I were going to recommend one I would probably recommend The Long Run because it’s really my origin story. I was talking to my mom the other day and she said, “I hate how in the descriptions for all of your stories it says ‘addict or alcoholic Mishka Shubaly’ and I said, ‘But that’s who I am, I spent a lot of time hiding it and apologizing for it, and I’m over it.’”
Susanna: Do you feel like you can tell who the alcoholics are at the bar? Do you feel like we all know each other?
Mishka: I consciously try not to make that distinction, because I’ve had other people diagnosing me my entire fucking life and one percent of one percent of one percent of them were actually doctors qualified to make the diagnosis. People will say, “You’re a sociopath.” And, well you work at Dunkin’ Donuts, so you’re not qualified to make that diagnosis.
Susanna: Yeah, but if they’ve fucked you for a couple of years, maybe they are qualified. It’s not like they went, “Welcome to Dunkin’ Donuts, thank you for your order, you’re a sociopath.”
Mishka: (laughing) I would welcome that experience. With your iced coffee and your donut and your blueberry muffin, you get a free psychological evaluation. People read a fucking article about bipolar disorder on Buzzfeed and they feel like they’re qualified to diagnose people in their lives with bipolar disorder. And I don’t encourage it. For me, I really think every time somebody told me, “You’re an alcoholic, you need to slow down or you need to stop,” that probably added six months to my drinking career, because I was just like, “Well fuck you, I’m not going to stop.”
Susanna: And that’s not alcoholic at all.
Mishka: (laughs) Right, but what was helpful to me was hanging out with people who didn’t drink as much, seeing how much happier they were, how much less grey their faces were. The analogy I give people is if you put a bowl of water in front of your dog, it will go over and start drinking it. If I grab the dog and try to force the water down its throat, it will fight and fight and fight not to drink that water. It’s a question of free will, I am an alcoholic but that was a diagnosis I had to make. Other people couldn’t have that epiphany on my behalf and then cram it down my throat.
Susanna: You’ve written about believing the 12-step model is not right for you. Do you have a lot of friends in AA?
Susanna: Do you ever have to go and give them a cake?
Mishka: What? To go give them cake? No, is that an AA thing?
Susanna: Wow, holy shit. Yeah. In California, you get a cake for every year you’re sober.
Mishka: I wasn’t aware of that. I had no idea AA involved cake. Maybe I’ll go after all.
Mishka: A lot of times people have reached out to me and said, “I want to quit drinking and I want to do it how you did it,” and I’ve said to nine out of 10 people, “Go to AA every single day until you can book an appointment to see a therapist once a week, because if you’re serious about quitting drinking, you need some kind of support network and even if you hate and fear AA that much, it will force you to do the other thing you need to do, which is see a therapist.” I sent a buddy there like that and he ended up loving AA, and he’s a fan of it, and I’m super happy that worked out for him. Nine out of 10 times, the people who try to stop the way I did stop for a little while and then they go back.
Susanna: So what is it about you that made you able to stay sober for five years and change?
Mishka: I am incredibly hardheaded.
Susanna: Yeah that’s what I was going to say, but it’s good that you said it.
Mishka: That’s the kind of thing that kept me drinking for a long time, past the point where I absolutely should have stopped, but it’s also the thing that saved me because once I made the determination on my own that there was no future for me with alcohol, the fucking vault doors closed and for me it wasn’t “I’m going to try not to drink today.” It was “There is absolutely nothing that could ever make me take a drink ever again.
Susanna: So you don’t have a “gimme” clause like, “Oh well, if this ever happened, I would probably drink”?
Mishka: Well I do. I don’t intend to stay sober my entire life. I have five years, I plan to go another 45 years, at which point I will be pushing 90, and then I plan to get a brick of heroin, and maybe a couple of those $500 bottles of Scotch and…
Susanna: But you don’t even know the drugs that will be around at that point, maybe they will be fucking better than that!
Mishka: That’s a good point, thank you for pointing that out.
Susanna: Only another alcoholic could point that out.
Mishka: Yes, let me rephrase that then: I will get whatever the blue meth is of the time, and get truly fucked up. But until then, I have a lot of work to do.
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