Choose to Live
This blog will be airing out some of my own dirty laundry. I may share some personal things about me that I am not always okay with admitting, but in my mind, especially when trying to get heard by other artists, honesty is what speaks to people. Honesty is brave. Honesty is real. So I’m sticking with it.
I’m writing this from the San Francisco International Airport getting ready to head back to NYC for more work, more adventure, and more learning. I’m not exactly sure what it was that made me certain I needed to write this blog today… perhaps the rage in my belly when I ate a soggy, overpriced sandwich from an airport eatery, or perhaps it was the rage in my belly when my stomach told my brain “Just a heads up… there’s no way that expensive sandwich isn’t going to give us diarrhea later.” Either way, I find it very important for me and for you that it be written, so… party on, Garth. Here we go.
Lately I’ve become all too aware of the cynicism in our theater community, particularly in NYC. I notice it in strangers, students I teach, friends, and even myself. It’s hard not to be a cynic. We are all getting beaten down day in and day out, so needless to say negativity starts to overwhelm our thoughts. Those thoughts turn into sadness and that often leads to what feels like unexplained depression. It’s not just saying “man, this show sucks.” Or “I don’t get how this world works.” It’s saying things like “I suck.” Or “Am I worth it?” Or “Am I doing this right?” I have all these same thoughts far more often than I’d care to admit. This shit isn’t easy. I’m beyond thankful for the success that I’ve had and for all the awesome things that are about to happen for me, but even still, I get bogged down by the voice in my head saying I’m not enough as a person.
Almost two years ago I unexpectedly up and left New York. I came back to live with my parents in San Francisco for a couple months. I had just released my album “I COULD USE A DRINK” which was doing great on the iTunes pop charts month after month. I had had an amazing year career-wise what with SMASH, performing my stuff at the Kennedy Center, winning my first awards as a musical theatre writer… it all looked good. It all should’ve felt great. I was moving up quickly. I was starting to do the things I had dreamed of. I was fulfilling my “why I moved to NYC” criteria. Even though the momentum of greatness had begun, I still couldn’t get out of my own head. I felt sad all the time. Everyday. I began to self medicate in order to fake my smiles everywhere I went. This developed into a routine. A cycle. One that I’m so happy to not be in anymore. The routine went a little something like this:
- Wake up around 7 or 7:30.
- Skip breakfast, but instead pour myself a vodka on the rocks.
- Write from 8-12 noon all the while drinking much more and smoking pot or taking drugs.
- Leave the house in a completely altered state of mind for collaborative writing meet ups or, even more frightening, meetings with huge theater/tv production companies.
- Avoid any contact or communication with the girlfriend I was living with at the time.
- Any time I started feeling low, I would go to a bar, usually by myself.
- At night I’d either find a theater event to go to because I knew people would know me and I could feel safe, and perhaps feel some form of validation.
- If I didn’t go out, I’d sit at a bar by myself till about 12 or 1am before heading home to write more (not sure what I was writing for exactly… it all started sounding like garbage).
- Fall asleep around 3 to 5am, then wake up at 7 or 7:30 to do it all again.
I was trapped in this cycle and it was eating me up. This lasted about 3 months. The day I decided I needed to go home was after my second failed suicide attempt. I told you… dirty laundry being aired out.
The scary part about all of this is that all my friends and family thought I was just fine. The (M)orons and I wrote and filmed a TV pilot during this time and I never once showed up sober for filming… No one said a word. I would be baked and drunk in public and no one had a clue I was so low and essentially hating myself every single day. I let any rejection get me down. I started hating myself for the sacrifices I made and the friends I pushed away just trying to make sure that my career would happen. I watched how quickly the excitement surrounding SMASH happened, and then how quickly it was taken away. How people’s memories in this business are short, and you can (if you let yourself) be easily forgotten.
And I noticed how the songs I was writing then were turning into crap, because the artistic side of me wasn’t allowed to explore so much, but it was asked to do something specific and fit someone else’s format. My agent would say “This isn’t ‘show art,’ it’s show business.” He’s right. Now that I’m back to health I’m writing better than I ever have before, I’m focused and I’m getting amazing jobs and opportunities, and remembering why I love what I do… I understand what my agent means when he says that, and I appreciate it. It’s a job, so sometimes you have to compromise artistic integrity in order to make rent, and other times, you don’t. It does go both ways, but at this dark time I was just seeing everything as a negative blow to my creativity. Needless to say, it sucked.
I would ask myself “why am I even here?”- sarcastically at first. Then, the more time I spent alone, abusing drugs and alcohol, reflecting on the negative, and looking at the future as one that didn’t hold anything special for me, I started asking it seriously. I truly had internal thoughts along the lines of “if I wasn’t here, would it even change things? Have I made an impact?” I sat on these thoughts for a long time. Through therapy I learned that suicide, or the thought of dying is actually a very instinctive and human thought. Trying to follow through with it isn’t. It is a hard thing to follow through with. When most people have the thought of dying or taking their life, the second they get even close, they chicken out and rightfully so! It becomes so real. I tried twice, and I can’t believe I did. I can’t imagine what this would’ve done to the people who love me and the people I love.
When I had a meltdown in front of one of my best friends in NYC about 2 years ago, that’s when I put things into perspective and got my flight home to rehabilitate and start seeing a therapist. The best decision I’ve ever made.
Anyway… not to make this whole thing about me. This is actually about all of you. So please read on. We are all in this together. Not everyone believes that. Some people are cutthroat in this business, and you know what? Good. Let them be. But I’m telling you, with the harsh winters, and the slow months, and the scrambling to scrape by, and the being confused, and the not remembering why you’re here in the first place, you all need to know that when you have those dark thoughts to stop, look around and remember, we are all in this together. I know sometimes it’s hard to explain sadness. It’s hard to explain why you feel defeated even when things are going GREAT. It’s hard to tell someone this, because it suddenly makes you vulnerable. But I also know that life, as long as you choose to live it, is full of choices. I made two choices. I chose to take my life, and when my attempts failed I started listening to the world around me. I put things into perspective. Then I made a second choice. I chose to live. It took a lot of convincing at first. It took a lot of love from a lot of people, and it’s the love and those people who I am thankful for every single day.
So to all of you, I say this… please, try to find that reason that helps you choose to live. We ARE all in this together. Do not be negative just to be negative. Don’t be a cynic just to be a cynic. It isn’t the best you you can be. If you are a NYC resident, chances are you moved here to pursue a dream. It also probably means that your family isn’t here with you. We are all from all over the country, so it is your privilege to make a new family in NYC. These friends will be there for you because there’s a good chance they are going through the same struggles. Cynicism doesn’t get you anywhere. Love does. The love for the people you choose to surround yourself with and the love for what you are passionate about. Don’t you ever forget why you’re here. Stay hungry. Keep believing in you. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then use your family or your NYC family as a sounding board. Because you’re awesome. And I don’t mind doing this, because depression and sadness in general are both things that I still battle with here and there, so I know the importance of feeling heard or understood… if you can’t bring yourself to be vulnerable face to face with the people you’re comfortable with, and you just need to get things off your chest, I’m happy to share my email address with you and I guarantee a response to those who need it. Let’s remember to keep changing the world. Keep creating because it is the best way to recover, to spill yourself, to feel like you’re contributing, and to be heard. You are making a difference. For all those sad moments you experience, let’s make sure to laugh about them one day when we all win our TONYs.
Drew Gasparini drewgasparini [at] gmail.com