Drugs and Drink And God: An Interview with Sarah Katherine Lewis

Back in the glorious 1990s, Sarah-Katherine published a 'zine called Pasty. It was one of the best ones of the perzine genre. She talked about coffee and food and a sex party and checking out the jail and getting drunk for science. We got to know each other via mail. Yours truly published a 'zine called Angry Young Woman. We traded 'zines, and I also got 'zines from other talented writers.

Well, Sarah-Katherine got a legit publishing deal and went on to publish Indecent: How I Fake it and Make it as a Girl For Hire and Sex and Bacon: Why I Love Things That are Very, Very Bad For Me  .
A review on Sex and Bacon will be coming from me. Indecent sounds awesome too, and as a repressed Catholic girl, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

Sarah-K's latest publishing venture is about being in rehab. If you loved her 'zine, you'll love Rehab A Go-Go. I know I did. Sarah-Katherine is a hell of a writer. Entertaining, funny, philosophical. She's talented and sounds like a great cook, to boot. We're trying to rustle up a conversation that we're fixing to do as a podcast. We're both Catholic, we're both writers, but she's way more interesting than I am. Anyway, here's the interview. Go buy her books and make her wealthy. She deserves it. She really, really does.

I found Rehab a Go-Go very entertaining. How hard was it to write?

It wasn't hard to write.  I wasn't doing any drugs or alcohol so all of a sudden my time accordianed out and I had so many more hours in every day to be awake and aware through.  The really tricky thing is  snapping into consciousness at 2pm, realizing you have like HALF A DAY LEFT OVER TO LIVE THROUGH, and not having any idea what normal people do to fill their time.  I ended up exercising a lot (there were exercise machines in the garage of the rehab where I could be blessedly alone) and writing a lot (another excuse to be by myself instead of in a group, doing stupid group stuff).  I remember when I first got to rehab the director kept coming to check on me in the garage and I was annoyed—really highly annoyed—because I just wanted to be left alone, you know?  So he'd come to make sure I was okay and the garage door would go up really slowly and there I'd be in the 19-degree Denver weather, panting away in my tank top on the treadmill, trying to run...and the first couple of times I'd stop and chat but as it kept happening, I'd just wave from the treadmill. 

It was only later that I realized that they were worried about me going into a complete physical collapse from withdrawal, and that the guardian angel who had gotten me in to that rehab had had to give them his personal credit card in case they'd needed to call an ambulance to take me to a local hospital...see, I didn't know any of that, I just knew I wanted to be left alone to work out by myself. 

In retrospect. I wish I'd been a little kinder—as far as they knew, they'd be opening the garage door and finding me slumped over an exercise machine with a shallow heartbeat, and they'd have to rush me to a hospital instead of supervising my detox and withdrawal themselves.  They took a chance on me that I had no way of appreciating at the time.  What I found out later is that a number of rehabs had turned me down because they didn't want to deal with the possibility of me needing medical care.

How long have you dealt with addiction? I remember a survey you participated in and wrote for Pasty back in the day and your description of the girl that served you the drinks. Was alcohol a problem back then?
I don't know that alcohol has ever been a problem for me, in that I've never had a problem stopping it or having less when I've wanted to.  I still drink but way less, and that's not because I'm in some kind of bogus recovery, but because I just have way more stuff to do and way less interest in spending my time sitting around, drunk off my ass.  I kind of feel like the worst possible poster-child for this!  I don't know—I really think it's all habit-based, and when you get in a habit rut that isn't serving you, it's a good idea to establish new habits—that's what rehab was supposed to do for me, and in that, I think, it succeeded. 
My understanding of addiction is that it's relatively impervious to new habits, and that (for instance) if you decide you're going to run six miles but you're an addict, you end up doing drugs or drinking alcohol instead of running that six miles.  I think my own particular personality makes setting a goal and then NOT doing it incredibly uncomfortable to me...so I'd much rather run the six miles (if that was my goal) than to blow it off and spend that time getting way high.  There's always time to get high, but if you set a goal for yourself, you'd better f*cking do it!  Rehab takes away the option to get drunk or high, so the only thing left is doing the stuff you say you're going to do.
Why do you think creative types have problems with drugs and/or alcohol?
I think that most creative people tend to work alone, on their own schedules, in their own private spaces, and if you're prone to substance abuse, all of the usual checks and balances that you'd find in a normal job (surrounded by normal people and normal bosses), have been removed.  So there you are all alone with zero accountability to anyone else—and nobody will know if you start drinking at 10am instead of waiting til late afternoon—so why wait?  I mean really, why wouldn't you, if that was what you wanted and nobody would find out?  In other words I think it's the lifestyle that goes with creative work that creates the space for a predilection to grow into a true addiction, not any specific personality flaw. 
Addiction is a side effect—you can't be addicted to a drug you don't take often due to the presence of other people (coworkers, bosses, family members, spouses, children, etc.).  But if you're all alone and the drug is there, and your feeling is “WHY NOT?”, then you're probably gonna develop a little habit, right?  Why say no to the one sure thing you know, especially when saying “yes” feels so good?  So I think you're right—creative performers are more at risk for substance abuse than the so called “normal” folks just because they tend to be alone and unsupervised, and also because they spend their lives deciding what is right for themselves then forcing the world to give that to them on their own terms.

How hard was it to be in group with younger people?
Not hard.  There were younger people and older people there.  The commonality was the desire to create some new habits in lives that had become overtaken by bullsh*t, and I think that desire tends to be universal.  We all get caught up in bullsh*t if we don't really fight against it, right?  The people at the rehab I went to were there to fight and to get some new ideas about what they wanted their lives to look like.  Of course, the younger kids were the ones flirting with each other...but that was pretty easy to work around and ignore.  Definition of old:  you no longer care who's cute, who likes you... you just don't.  I didn't.  I just wanted to work out, get stronger, write, and get some habits in place that would serve me when I went home.
How much of a problem was it to go to the AA meetings?
For me, that was actually a pretty substantial problem because I had (and have) absolutely no patience with the whole G-d-based recovery espoused by AA.  They say Oh, it doesn't have to be G-d—it can just be your Higher Power—but you know, the wording of the Big Book (the text that every AA meeting is based on) makes G-d and Higher Power fairly interchangeable, both of them being a force greater than you that you beseech to help you stop doing whatever it is you want to stop doing.  To “admit you're powerless”--well, if you were truly powerless, wouldn't you be home getting high instead of attending a meeting designed to support your own abstinence?  I mean, that looks pretty f*cking power-FULL to me, to make a decision about your substance use then to take steps to change the use you're not happy with.  I don't understand why it's so important to AAers to remove any belief in individual strength from the practice of recovery when in my experience, individual strength was the only thing keeping me from being a total f*ck-up.  If I truly believed myself powerless, why not stay home and cry and drink a bottle of whiskey because after all, I'M POWERLESS OVER THIS SH*T, right? 
I mean, what is so wrong with telling people they already have what they need to stop using substances permanently?  That being, the will and the strength to have looked at their lives and decided they wanted them to be different, and for those lives to stop including the things that were getting them in trouble?  Why is this so mystical magical?  And why would G-D really care if you're high or not—the assumption is He wants you sober, but really, why should He?  If He really wanted you sober, wouldn't He have made you immediately and violently allergic to drugs and alcohol?  The fact that He made drugs and alcohol feel good and act as a relief to so many people makes me think that on the contrary, like anything else nice, G-d just doesn't want you to be stupid with them.  He wants you to use them sensibly, and to not run around being a total d*ck.  I don't see how going along with the AA party line about getting down on your knees and begging G-d (oh excuse me, I meant your HIGHER POWER) to help you stay completely abstinent to all of the nice things He provided human beings to take the edge off being human is anything but insulting to the Christian G-d-concept AA  mistakenly refers to.  I mean, right?  “Use it sparingly, but use it, my child, because here it is, and here's the knowledge of how to distill and smoke and separate the good stuff from the bad stuff”—and all of a sudden everyone's pouring their booze down their sinks and tossing out their medications and defoliating their weed patches and stuff, and I can just picture G-d with His hands on His Head going “You stupid m*therf*ckers, that ISN'T WHAT I MEANT AT ALL...now STOP BURNING DOWN THAT BAR, you assh*les!  I LIKED THAT BAR!”  If there is a Christian G-d I can only imagine how sick of us He is—we take everything he says and we F*CK IT UP, and I wouldn't blame Him for fantasizing about another massive flood and a global reset just to get everyone back on the same page again, drinking and using drugs for pleasure or to enhance community or as medical practice or to get in touch with our own spirituality, not tossing them all into the same big bad category and pretending that's what G-d meant when He told us to use everything in the Garden of Eden, that nothing was limited to us but the Tree of Knowledge. 
Is the Tree of Knowledge beer?  Is it weed?  What is it?  Well, it turns out it was SHAME, right?  As far as I know things like weed, alcohol, morphine, hallucinogens, coca leaves, etc. exist in nature for us to use, to use our knowledge to refine and to be careful with...but not to completely stomp out just because it's too hard to figure out what “careful” means.  Man, that's like becoming a vegan because once upon a time you ate some meat and it was really good, and you wanted more so you ate more, and eventually you puked.  Isn't the solution figuring out how much meat makes you feel strong and good and sticking to that, not admitting you are powerless over meat and going to meetings where everyone tells you you're right, meat is bad?  I mean, is it?  Or was our own gluttony the problem?  I picture G-d, at this point, walking around with permanent *facepalm*.  We must look so stupid to Him with all this AA crap.  No wonder He tries to make it hard for people to stay abstinent—I would!  Because maybe once they figured out that drugs and alcohol are not the enemy, that in fact sometimes they're a G-d-given relief...well maybe then they'd finally get a clue and start doing what I said, which was USE CAREFULLY, assh*le.  Don't use all the time.  USE CAREFULLY.  And leave that f*cking bar alone!

I think there is an organization called Rational Recovery, which is like AA, but without the God element. When I had polyps and had to have surgery, I mentioned to a co-worker it would have been easier if God had not given my polyps in the first place. The co-worker said I’d brought the polyps on myself; and God “saved my life.” Since I’m eating better, is that God guiding me towards more fruits and veggies, or is that my own free will?
Sorry, this is running long—please cut as you see fit in order to shoehorn this interview into your allotted space.  Don't let me be boring!  That's your job!  I'm just the writer; my job is to throw human sh*t at your walls and see how much actually sticks, then your job is to push the stuck bits of poo into a pretty picture, then my job is to stand there and say “HURRAH, LOOK AT HOW AWESOME I AM,” and then your job is to make a buttload of money off my sh*t-picture because G-d knows, you've earned it.  So okay, right?  Cut, add, subtract, whatever, I don't care, just make me look not completely foolish and be sure to send me my tiny royalties so I can throw new sh*t at new walls and complain about “sophomore slump” and say people aren't buying actual books anymore because of the Internet, when in reality, they're buying books...maybe just not YOUR books, right, loser?  As far as I know Fifty Shades of Grey is doing just fine in paperback, and so is everything ever extruded into immediate hardcover by J K Rowling.  Stop complaining and either write what other people want to buy or accept that you're lucky to have gotten your words out there at all.  So anyhow, sorry, there was a question I need to respond to here:
Ohh, okay.  The “Thank G-d that when little Timmy ran off, G-d brought him back” argument, which begs the question, WHY THE F*CK WOULD G-D LET LITTLE TIMMY RUN OFF IN THE FIRST PLACE IF HE WAS JUST GONNA BRING HIM BACK??  I'll defer to the idea of free will up to a certain point—that the Christian idea of G-d is of someone who doesn't want a bunch of humans running around who are forced to be good, He wants them to have the option to choose poorly but still, all things being equal, to make up their puny little human minds to choose goodness.  By taking that decision away from them, He ends up with a bunch of boring little suckups—but by allowing them to choose good OR evil it's endless soap operas for G-d (plus the opportunity to come in at key times and set everyone straight with a rain of frogs or something, which—admit it—would be totally cool to do to a bunch of tiny people who have no choice but to do their best to understand WTF you want, right?  I mean...”Heads-up, f*ckers, here comes a plague!”  “Oh NOES!  What did we do???”  “Hahahahahahahah...that's for me to know and you to find out.  Anyhow, enjoy the locusts!”  “Um...thanks...wow, that was f*cked.”  “I'm still here, you f*cking twerp!”  “Oh sorry.”  etc. 
I mean, either G-'d a total f*cker or He's got some kind of plan where you get to try stuff out and decide what you think He'll like best, right?  Because maybe G-d Himself doesn't even know what He likes best—anyone ever thought of that?  Maybe He's just like a bad boyfriend, where you dance around and try different stuff to be cute and charming and he still sits there giving you the meanest stare in the world, and just when you're sweating it the hardest he goes “Okay, that was pretty awesome” and then takes you out to Burger King for dinner.  In other words, maybe G-d's the same kind of mindf*cker we all are as we move through the world and try to see what we can get away with, trying to err on the side of the most autonomy for the little f*ckers you could blow away with a single can of hairspray and one blow-dryer, versus figuring out when we're gonna have to step in and intervene so they don't actually kill themselves off entirely (which is about a million times less fun, just ask any kid with a magnifying glass who says he's looking for ants). 
Maybe the first part where Timmy runs away, you get polyps, other people get cancer, and still other people continue to gain weight on high-carb diets is just the part where G-d's going “Okay, you f*cks, figure it out, FIGURE IT OUT...ohh!  No, that's not—I didn't say—oh F*CK, you stupid, stupid assholes!” and sometimes He lets you die and other times, He rescues you but to you it's not all just random, so based on your assumption of causality you start trying to decide how to be “good” when in reality it wasn't that you were being good or bad, you were just being stupid, and G-d got tired of watching you continually walk into magic walls that weren't there and brought you back out of sheer ennui.  So yeah—G-d let Timmy run away, and after a whole, G-d brought him back.  He doesn't seem like such a hero now, does He?  Considering He was f*cking with you just to f*ck with you?
I tend to think gratitude in that case is a little overblown—it might be cooler just to give G-d the bro nod and mutter, “Yeah, baby” in acknowledgment—you got me, Big G!--and just move the f*ck on to the next thing, because clearly he wasn't into watching that brat little Timmy suffer and die in some old storage shed but who knows what the next plot-point will be, maybe something with late-stage syphilis? so you'd better just lay low and stop being such a kiss-ass and that includes all of you fruit and veggie proselytizers who want me to turn perfectly good side dishes into beverages or soups.  God isn't pro-soup or anti-soup, but when you slip on a carrot peel and fall down you'd better believe He's gonna laugh His big cosmic ass off before He decides whether to help you up and give you some relief (“Hey, is that a poppy field over there?  NO WAY!”) or whether you're paralyzed from the neck down as long as you live.

Does it make you think that God is just controlling everyone on the planet as if they are marionettes?
See above.  I don't think that would be as much fun as watching us f*ck up, do you?
Having been raised Catholic, the newer churches, particularly the one you described in Rehab a Go Go seem very foreign and strange to me. Here’s an excerpt from your book: “Compared to Catholic Mass, the whole production seemed as bloated, slick, and insincere as a weeping televangelist. Speaking of Catholic Mass—the speaker surprised me by making a few pointed anti-Catholic jokes at the beginning of the service. I’m not going to repeat them, but he was making fun of some outdated pre-Vatican II conventions and of our belief in transubstantiation during Eucharist. I wasn’t as much offended as I was baffled. Why would he do that during a supposedly non-denominational service?” Barbara Ehrenreich makes a similar observation (she’s not as funny as you) in her book Brightsided. Why do you think all the positive, happy, happy, happy vibe at these kinds of churches, and why do you think he did some Catholic bashing?
Let me just start by saying Catholicism and Judaism are like the two big religions of the Bible with seriously heavy, heavy balls—the Jews rule the Old Testament and the Catholics kind of gave the New Testament to the Protestants because it turned out, well, most of the early Catholics couldn't read, so whatever, plus there was a lot of freaky sh*t in the last part of the Bible that just seemed to your average Catholic, a little over-dramatic--and remember, we were the folks who invented the Inquisition, so it's not that we're not down with the freaky sh*t but come on, Revelations, I'm calling you out—really?  Wheels in the sky, Four Horsemen, the dead returning to life?  It's like a bad Scifi Channel movie starring Jeff Goldblum as the scientist who has to Save Everything, and sorry but us Catholics like our weird sh*t a little more mystical, like the way communion actually changes bits of bread into JESUS'S ACTUAL MEAT-BODY, but if that's true then WHO'S COOKING IT?, because it never tastes bloody!  I mean, WHAT THE F*CK IS UP WITH THAT?
So anyway, I'm pretty sure all the other, newer religions have a lot of envy of those kind of chops.  I mean if you're not Jewish and you're not Catholic, and in fact your church just got its charter in 1991, how are you gonna compete with all the heavy, heavy sh*t the other, bigger guys up the street have?  How are you gonna set your little church apart?  Well, you're not gonna outdo the Jews with their history of education and reverence for the laws of G-d and man, and you're sure as hell not gonna outdo the Catholics with our freaky mystical mortification of the flesh, innovative torture, and our water-to-wine, bread-to-meat alchemy—and face it, we have the market cornered on Confession and Reparation, if you're feeling guilty (and who isn't?)--but if you're a little, brand new church looking to offer something new, why not offer optimism and good cheer?  I mean...heavy's been done, man!  Why not, you know, make people feel happy about themselves the way they are, instead of telling them they suck for a bunch of things they haven't done?  Why not sell the idea that instead of helping the poor and downtrodden, F*CK the poor and downtrodden, because if they were going to the right church they'd know that G-d wants them to be healthy, wealthy, and wise!  So those stupid downtrodden are really just doing it to themselves!  I think the churches of the 90s looked around and decided to stop trying to terrorize people into church, and instead, decided to attract folks into church by offering them a bunch of feel-good rhetoric and catchy tunes played by professional musicians, almost like they're attending the taping of a fancy evening talk show instead of paying their obeisance to G-d.  Why not?  Going to church is cheaper than going to a feel-good movie!  Why not gamble that if they're not paying $12 for a movie ticket, they'll be more likely to donate $4 or 5 at a sermon that gives them the same kind of universal feeling of beneficence?  And friends, $4 or 5 once or twice a week times 1000—a number that's actually quite low for all the so-called megachurches that began in the 90s—that adds up quite nicely, and pays for a lot of professional sheet music.  And I'm not anti-megachurch because honestly, it keeps those happy bastards off the street and away from my creaky, falling-down parish, where me and my Catholic homies are free to gobble up Jesus's body by ourselves.  I'm sure the Jews don't want 'em either.

I miss the days of ‘zineing too! I know posting it online is more tree-friendly, but I still have some of your issues of Pasty and other ‘zines which I adored. I met some cool people through my ‘zine, and generally, I just miss the 1990s. It seemed like a happier era. Do you see it that way?
Somewhat.  I miss the Clinton 90s because everyone I knew had more work and more money than they knew what to do with!  I had my choice of jobs, named my own salary, and had enough extra work as a moonlighter to keep things interesting.  And those days are over, I'm sad to say...able-bodied workers are stuck being idle or taking work that's far beneath their actual ability level, workers are stuck in jobs they've outgrown, and nobody's making the kind of money we used to make back when Clinton was getting his d*ck sucked in the White House and all was quiet and prosperous in the US. 
I miss those 90s a lot.  And I want to give props to Monica Lewinsky:  she was a hot little fox and if she showed me her thong, I'd balance our country's budget, pay off all our debts, stay out of war, and usher in an unprecedented period of contentment and prosperity in the United States too!  I kind of like the Obamas but they have nowhere near the chemistry as First Family that the Clintons had, and that chemistry blew up and made everything cool back when rents were low, Kurt was alive, and all of us were either starting bands or making zines.  Do you remember making your rent in a few days of waiting tables, and spending the rest of your time screwing around and making art?  I do.  It happened.  I was there.  My rent was under $200 in the city of Seattle, WA, and now it's almost a thousand.  None of this happened by mistake—the Bush dynasty blew in and f*cked everything up, and now jobs are scarce and the lucky ones who have jobs are doing the work of five people, and every time we turn around things are more and more expensive, and our brothers and fathers and friends are going off to war to come back quiet and crazy, and it's just no good at all. 
I do miss the 90s, and I miss them a lot.  I don't know if Hilary's gonna run in 2016 but I hope she is, because I'd like a chance to vote for the two of them—we need them now more than ever, and if that means we need to start hiring curvaceous interns wearing berets and thong panties, well let's get those resumes in.  Because nothing was easier or better than the Clinton years, y'all.  Nothing.  And if you think you're better off now, tell me how many days it takes to pay your rent, and the last time you hung out with your friends plunking around on musical instruments or laying out a publication that will be sent to 40 people.  Tell me the last time you had days and days and days of leisure to create art.  Was it back in the 90s?  I figured.
You mentioned your cooking triumphs while at the rehab center. Have you ever thought about becoming a chef or going into culinary arts?
I like cooking for myself and for people who are my friends, but punching a clock and feeding wealthy strangers holds no appeal for me.
What’s next for Sarah-Katherine?
Oh prolly another book—maybe marriage—trying to stay out of the nut hatch—and hoping like hell that you and I and all of us will come to our senses and decide that the 90s weren't just a fluke, and that we'll all start insisting on time to create art or just lay around without that time being carved away from us in strips affecting our rent, our work, and our access to healthcare.  Because it doesn't have to.  We CAN have more than enough—we just have to want it enough to throw out all the scarcity clowns in Washington DC and insist on a new regime based on prosperity, and on gentleness, and on respect. 
And on blowjobs, don't forget blowjobs.


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