Speak: Even in a Room Full of Alcoholics It’s Not Easy
Matty Kerr is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. He is also a filmmaker and published author. Listen to our podcast on iTunes and Spotify and visit our website: theworkingexperience.com for videos, merchandise and more. You can also find us on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, and Twitter.
It sounds ridiculous, but it took me three months before I could raise my hand at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and say, “Hi, I’m Matt and I’m an alcoholic.” I didn’t want to tell anyone; I didn’t want anyone to know. And that was in a room full of alcoholics. I was already there; what was the big secret? Everyone in that room had had their lives fall apart and came to AA, of their own volition or not, to try and pull some semblance of a recovery together. Why was I so terrified? Who was going to judge me? These people didn’t even know my last name.
The reason was that if I said it out loud it then it would then be out there in the world as a truth, a fact. I would have to accept it as a fact. And then I would have to do something about it. And that was truly terrifying.
Alcoholics hate the truth.
Fact was, I couldn’t figure out with was more terrifying: to stop drinking or to keep on drinking. You get to that point of no return. Every alcoholic reaches it. You can’t keep drinking but you can’t stop. That is truly rock bottom. It looks different for each individual; someone may have lost their job, their house and their family. Some may have been locked up. And some just have had enough. They were, as the saying goes, “Sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
DASH: A Short Film by Matt Kerr
The camera surveys a drug corner. Cars are pulling up and people are coming to their windows and they drive off.
MARCUS JONES, A LATE TWENTY SOMETHING AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN, walks up to one of the cars. He has none of the street dealer swagger to him. His shirt is dirty, ragged sneakers, disheveled, unkempt hair and beard. He sells drugs so he can use them.
He suddenly bolts from the car. Two plain clothed cops chase him, badges swinging from the chains around their necks. The three of them disappear around the corner.
In the opening scene, the audience is supposed to think that Marcus is a crack addict. He has reached the point, as many addicts do, where he is selling drugs for someone else to support his habit. He is then arrested by some undercover police. In the following scene, which takes place a year or two later, he is cleaned up and delivering for Door Dash.
The opening scene is a misdirection. Marcus is playing a role in a short film in which he has been cast, which is not revealed until the end of the actual film. In the original version of the script, Marcus had actually been a crack addict and now he is playing one.
Drugs have never been part of my story, certainly not crack. Which is why Louis and Marcel, the owners of the production company with whom I wanted to make the film, weren’t buying my story, my script. It was not authentic. They, and other people who had read the script, couldn’t see a crack addict who had fallen so far having this remarkable recovery and now wanting to pursue an acting career. Louis and Marcel wanted me to explore another avenue for Marcus.
I’ve never wanted to write a script or a novel or a memoir about being a recovering alcoholic. That genre seems to have been beaten to death. But that is a story I can tell with authenticity.
I rarely talk about my alcoholism outside of meetings and I still find it uncomfortable to discuss even in a meeting with other alcoholics. So I really didn’t want to tell Louis and Marcel. I didn’t want them to think less of me.
But if I wanted to film an authentic movie, I had to. So I did. And we rewrote the script with Marcus as a recovering alcoholic.
I’m not sure if they think less of me.
At AA they tell you that jails, institutions or death are where we will end up if we do not stop drinking. We are all going to die. And we can rarely choose how we die. I don’t want to die from drinking. Marcus does not want to die from drinking. But that doesn’t mean he, or I, won’t drink again. Alcoholic brains are sneaky; they convince us alcoholics that we are okay; that we can have one or two.
That is a lie.
And alcoholics love the lie, knowing full well that it is a lie.
We hate the truth.
Louis had the idea for a scene in which Marcus sees an old man sitting outside of a liquor store, on a milk crate, drinking from a bottle. The man has clearly done years of drinking and is very far gone. And Marcus sees himself, literally sees his own face for a few seconds (we will have the actor playing Marcus sit on the milk crate in the old man’s clothes, a bit of movie magic) on that crate. He realizes that that will be his future if he does not stop drinking.
It is still his choice.
This script is not about Marcus’ recovery. It is about choice. Marcus needs to decide if he will drink again or not. If he decides to drink, then that is all he can have. He cannot drink and go on auditions and become an actor. He cannot drink and be with his girlfriend and raise their child with her. None of that will happen.
Marcel, the producer, asked me why Marcus is an alcoholic. It is a fair question but there is no why, there is no reason. He is just an alcoholic. It is true that some people use drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with trauma. But this is told from my reality as an alcoholic. There really is no reason for me to have a drinking problem; I just do. I cannot drink alcohol in safety. If I have one drink, the fire is lit and I will not stop until something, usually some terrible occurrence, happens to intervene. And if I ever start drinking again, I’m not sure anything short of death or prison could force me to stop.
If I ever start drinking again I have no idea how I would stop.
Why? I do not know. Some chromosome thing.
I have to make choices about what to include in the script and what has to be left out. DASH is a short film, less than fifteen minutes. I do not have time to get into why Marcus is an alcoholic. We just have to take him as he is.
A family member once said to me, “You can’t drink.”
Of course I can. This is America. I can go to the liquor and buy as much booze as I want and go home and drink it until I am incapacitated. There is no law to stop me. I can drink myself to death if I so choose.
Or I can be sober and live.
It’s my choice.