How Shanley Saved My Life
I mean that literally. I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for my working on John Patrick Shanley’s, THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW. Great title isn’t it. I was where I believed Tommy was in the play. Lost, just lost. Like Tommy I was looking for answers anywhere and everywhere. Like Tommy I was looking for myself in the beers in my refrigerator. I needed to change. I could not continue in the direction that I was going and the truth is I wanted to change, but I didn’t have the tools. I didn’t know how. Because I was working on the play, it brought a lot of issues in my life to a head. I found a great therapist, Joan Bellefontaine. Like Tommy I thought painting what I was feeling inside would help me identify my problem and move on from it. I bought canvases, paints and brushes, and like Tommy, I began to paint. It wasn’t working for me. I just became frustrated by how bad I painted. This only gave me another thing to be upset about. I can’t paint. I knew that I had to get to the source of my life in struggle.
I began to write, “I was born March 11th, 1956…” And I wrote every day for 6 weeks. I didn’t edit myself. I wrote without thinking what I could remember from my earliest memories. I didn’t try to be kind to myself. I just wanted to get to the truth. Each week, I would bring what I had written to Joan for her to read and for us to discuss the following week. I thought she’d be able to look at it and say to me, “Here’s your problem right here on page 36. Just tear that out of your book and you’re good to go.” It didn’t work like that. By the end of the 6 weeks I had written out 203 pages single space and I read it once.. just once. I’ve got to tell you, that it was the best therapy that I have ever done. Our lives really do read like a book, When I got up to certain events in my life, I realized that I could never have had done anything but what I did at the time, with the tools that I had. For years I judged myself for things that I had done, and I realized I was doing the best that I could do. We all do the best that we can do with the tools that we have. It was the first time I had ever liked myself. I felt sorry for the kid, teenager, young man that was me. I was 37 1/2 years old when I did this. In reading it, I was forced to recognize things about my self. I was becoming what I never wanted to become.. My father.
So, I drove to Zuma Beach and drew a line in the sand with the heal of my foot and then I screamed out over the ocean, “I don’t take any responsibility for anything that I have ever done in my life! It’s all my father’s fault!” Then I crossed the line and and screamed, “From this day forward, whatever I do, I do. It’s on my me!” As a walked away from the beach, I thought of my father and I forgave him. I couldn’t look at my life and say that I was doing the best with the tools that I had when I did things that I did in my life, without realizing that, that philosophy would have to apply to him too. He was doing the best that he could do with the tools that he had. I felt this tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. Another realization that I had, as I got into my car was, I was using drinking and drugs as a way of dulling the pain. I had always gotten into a lot of fights, just looking for someone to take me out of my misery.
If I was serious about not wanting to become my father, I would have to stop with drinking & the drugs. And I did. I didn’t think I was an alcoholic, I was drinking to dull the pain but maybe that’s the definition of an alcoholic, I didn’t know, but this is what I thought. I went to an AA meeting in Beverly Hills, but I didn’t feel that I belonged there. Then I went to a meeting in Van Nuys and I didn’t feel like I belonged there either. For me, I knew what I had to do, I just had to do it. And I did. I stopped drinking and taking drugs for 14 1/2 years. Things didn’t get easier for me because my social life centered around drinking and drugs and by the end of the first week sober, I was invited to a birthday party for my friend Freddie, who’s Uncle was Danny DeVito. We went to Wolfgang Pucks in Malibu, and first Rhea offered me a glass of red wine that came from a bottle that cost $400… I was dying to know what a $400 bottle of red wine tasted like, but I knew that if I took it, I would keep making excuses to drink. Later in the evening Danny, offered me a glass, and though I was tempted, I refused.
My life did get better, and I deal with the difficulties of life differently. Today I can enjoy a glass or 2 of wine and I’m not using it to kill the pain. I would recommend that everyone, especially actors, write out their lives and get to know yourself. I believe it to be true though, that if I hadn’t come across that play when I did, I can guarantee that I wouldn’t be here today, and that is how John Patrick Shanley, saved my life.