Zero Coping Skills: How Jackie Monahan Found Peace of Mind for the First Time
By Jackie Monahan 03/28/19
Contrast in life is inevitable, but I'm learning that I don't have to have conflict. I don't have to flip out because I got in the wrong line; I don’t need to make my poor planning everyone else's emergency.
I grew up being told over and over, “We are only given what we can handle.” I took that to mean, “If I flip out about the little things, nothing really bad can ever happen to me.”
It has been said that if you have an alcoholic parent, the odds are good you will become an alcoholic. I had two. They say if you start drinking at 21, you might be okay. I did the inverse and started drinking at 12. I had a long run. I was surrounded by enablers. My mom still wants me to drink; she and my ex say things like “You weren't this temperamental when you drank.”
I want to be the best example of the program anyone has ever seen, but I am far from there yet. I have always been easily frustrated, and have always had zero coping skills, other than alcohol.
My soul wanted to solve problems without alcohol, but I didn't even know where to begin. If I got anxious for a second, everyone rushed to put a drink in my hand. It worked. I remember the one day in college that I didn't drink. I was mad and yelling at all my roommates, wanting them to be as quiet as a mouse because I wasn't drinking. Meanwhile, every other night I came home either with a party or from one, loudly.
I entered parties saying, “You can start now, I am here.” I would black out and then yell at everyone the next day for letting me drink so much. They would say they had no idea I was blacked out; I was so funny and fun, they didn’t see what the problem was. I did. My life was getting really busy with stuff I wanted to do, and when I did have free time I wanted to enjoy the moment and remember it.
My parents were functioning alcoholics. I say “were” because they are no longer functioning very well. My dad was far worse than my mother, but both are shells of what they could have been. They couldn't get rigorously honest if someone paid them all the money in the world. I had to accept that at a very young age.
There was never a way to know what I did to set my parents off. When either of them went into a rage, it was brutal. They were cheerful, cheerful, cheerful… then rage! They mostly raged when they were sober and it would come out of nowhere. I watched their tantrums work for them: with one another, with me, and with the unfortunate people who got my mother on the phone. You would think Colleen from Time Warner had stabbed her in the face. My mom unloaded all her marriage frustrations, alternately screaming at and belittling the customer service rep. And it worked every time — instead of getting overcharged, she got money off and reduced rates. She flew off the handle at everyone and got her way, then bragged about it.
My parents would always say, “God made whiskey so the Irish could not rule the world.” Then they would laugh and laugh like they had something over on the rest of us. Meanwhile, I remember thinking, “Rule the world? How about trying to get through the week without throwing a plate?”
With all this and more, it never even occurred to me not to drink. Of course I would drink, but I vowed to never be an alcoholic like you see on TV, or even a semi-functioning one like my parents. I could clearly see how their thinking was backwards, so backwards that my messed-up perception went undetected. They may have been successful financially, but their morals and values were out in space.
In 2011 I made an independent movie and was too busy to drink. My wife at the time pointed out that I didn't drink for two weeks. She was impressed with my work ethic. I was working 12-hour days because it took so long to put on and take off a bald cap for my role as an an alien. I couldn't be hungover, so I wasn't.
A few years later I thought, “I wish another 12-hour a day project would come along to quit drinking for.” Now I know this should have been a red flag. But nope, instead I had an idea: “Wait, why don’t I make me the project. I will be sober for a while for me.” I was just going to do 11 days, until the Independent Spirit Awards. I would have to drink then. There would be free expensive wine and celebrity parties.
The awards show came and went and I still didn't want to drink. I felt almost addicted to being clear-headed. It felt euphoric. Then I was determined to tape Last Comic Standing sober. I was 33 days sober and I did great, but I just wasn’t myself. I wasn't loose. I told a comic backstage who had five years sober that I didn’t feel comfortable. He said I was crazy, that he didn't feel normal on stage until he had a year sober, and that I should have just had a drink. Looking back, he was right and I knew it. But I couldn't drink. I liked being in my body so much. I hated blacking out.
And I refused to d