Brad Shreve [00:00:01]:
This is Queer We Are. Before I get going, I want to give you a heads up that this episode is a wild ride that includes a story of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide ideation. If those are triggers for you, then you may want to pass and come back next week. I don’t have to tell you that we’ve been getting hit by so much bad news and negative stories these days that it can feel like that’s all there is, but that is not true. There are great LGBTQ people and allies doing great things, but we don’t hear enough about them. I’m doing my share to change that. Here on Queer We Are, you’ll hear guests sharing outstanding stories of the good they’re doing to make a difference or how they’re hanging on to hope when many of us are struggling to do that. This week is a bit different. It’s my story. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but the formats I’ve come up with have been awkward and self serving. Rebecca Singleton with The Unexpected Guest podcast resolved that for me. The description of her show is it brings the listeners firsthand stories from people who may have experienced addiction, perpetrated, violence, or committed an act that many would consider unforgivable. The podcast will take the listener on a journey through each guest’s incredible life story, leaving you wondering whether people can change. It’s an interesting format given most episodes have the guest giving a monologue about their experiences for 30 minutes to an hour. I had the honor of being her guest to tell my tale a couple of months ago, and that made my job easier by playing it here for you. Before I begin, I normally don’t tell you what’s coming up in the next episode because I don’t always air the episodes in the order that I interview people. But I want to ensure you know about the next episode next week. My guest is Judy Shepherd. If her name doesn’t ring a bell, her son’s name may. Unfortunately. He was Matthew Shepherd. Matthew was brutally murdered for being gay 25 years ago, and the news went global and led to some good legislation. If you need motivation from someone who kept moving forward in the darkest of times, this is one you don’t want to miss. Judy is incredible. For now, here we go. It’s just me today, but the name of the show stays the same. Welcome to Queer We Are
Brad Shreve [00:03:04]:
I was born in Michigan in a small town in the early 60s. It was an idyllic little town, about 12,000 people, and we had a nice little downtown. We had a Woolworths. We had an incredible yard. It’s like a yard any kid would dream to have. There was a giant woods behind our house, and I just spent so much time outside. I spent so much time playing alone in the woods. Sometimes I would sneak down. There was a larger river in town. I would sneak down to see that. It was an area that people would dream of living. It was just like something you would see in the movies. It was in Michigan. So we went sledding our friend all the time. Friends of ours had a large hill in the back of their house that we were always going down, like any good neighborhood we had a haunted mansion that had a creepy cemetery that the family had been buried in across the street. And people that looked in the peephole of the mausoleum died instantly. I never had a friend that tried it. I doubt that ever really happened, but that was the story. And my friends and I would get on the bicycles, and we would ride all the way into downtown, which turns out only is about two and a half miles. But back then it just seemed like a long, long trip on our bicycles. And we were so cool that we got to get away from the house that far. And we would go to the movie theater, the one movie theater that we had in town that unfortunately is closed today, like most small towns. But we would go and we’d watch Godzilla movies and Planet of the Apes like it was a dream come true outside of the house. Once I stepped inside, it was a whole different world. It was not so ideal and unfortunately there’s so much of my memory that’s blocked out. I don’t remember a lot of details from that era. I only remember lots and lots of yelling and lots and lots of screaming and lots of demeaning put downs. Mostly between my father demeaning my mother, she wasn’t a saint either. She said there were nasty things to him as well. There were seven kids in my family, and me and my next older brother would just be in our bunk beds and crying at night listening to this going on.
The earliest signs that I knew I was gay, oh my God. It must have been when I was eight or nine years old. So I already felt really outside of the world because even though this town and my neighborhood just seemed ideal, I didn’t feel like I belonged with the other kids. There were a few that I did. They were girls. The boys scared me and weren’t very nice to me. So I always kind of felt outside of the world. When I started to discover that I was gay. I’m going to guess around eight years old, and I’m the youngest of seven kids. So my oldest sister, she was 14 years older than I am. So when I was around eight, she was bringing boyfriends home or her husband’s after she got married. And I was looking at them and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I was attracted to them. Was it lust? Probably not, I don’t think. I certainly didn’t know it was lust, because I didn’t know what lust meant. But I knew I really liked looking at them. And the same thing. I went to basketball camp every summer, and the basketball camp was held at the high school, and the older boys playing basketball and playing football, and I would see them in the showers, and again, I didn’t know what it was, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.
And then about ten, we moved away from Michigan and moved to Pennsylvania. And it was then that I really started to know what it was and was talk shows in the 70s that I think I learned it from. And they were never very nice about gay people. They were always brought in and introduced as kind of freaks, and the audience would yell at them, and I knew that’s what I was. And that’s when I really started this internal hate. I didn’t want to be the way I was, and I didn’t know how to make that change. And it made me feel more alone and made me feel less a part of the world and made it very difficult to make friends. Now, in Pennsylvania, I did make friends with my next door neighbors. At school, not so much. My next door neighbors did. And it’s funny, to this day we’ve remained friends and met recently, and they did a great thing for a kid to do. They taught me. I drank my first beer and smoked my first joint. That was a ten. I hated the joint, and I still don’t like pot. I don’t like the taste of it, and all it does is put me to sleep. I never got this whole high thing, but man, I love the alcohol. I love getting out of my head.
And then by 13, I was living in North Carolina and I was in middle school. I was buying joints regularly in school. I said I don’t like them, but it was cool, so I had to look cool. So I was buying them and sometimes smoking them, hating every minute of it. And I was beginning to really understand more that I was gay and what that meant, because this was getting in the late 70s, early 80s, where gay culture was becoming more well known. It wasn’t accepted, of course, but becoming more well known. And then the AIDS crisis hit in1981, and then everybody knew more about the gay community, unfortunately not in a good light. And actually it happened before that. There were a lot of evangelicals in the late 70s that were on television all the time. Every time there was a hurricane, it was because of the gays. Every time there was an earthquake, it was because of the gates. God was always punishing us. It’s amazing. Looking back, I’m like, wow, we sure had a lot of power. And some people still think we do. During that time that I was in middle school and buying those joints, occasionally I would get alcohol one way or another through somebody, or I actually looked much older than I did. So occasionally, if I could find some little rinky dink store that an old man ran that didn’t care, he would sell me alcohol. But most of the time I drink a lot of cough syrup. I could buy it and my God, there’s an incredible amount of alcohol and cough syrup. I would just drink it till I was a mess. And we had a big basement where we had a pool table, and my parents always stayed upstairs, so it was just my haven to do whatever I wanted.
Now, during this time, I still struggled with making friends. I still felt outside of it. And I know every kid feels, even the most popular kids feel like they don’t belong. It’s just a high school or a kid thing. But I knew that mine was a little more than that, or at least looking back, I know it was a little more than that. It was way more than that. But by drinking junior high school, I was drinking regularly all the time. It was just my norm continued into high school, and when I say it was my norm, it became my identity. That’s how I was cool. That’s how people were going to know me. That’s how I got attention. And that’s how when after the weekend and we were back in school Monday, everybody was talking about what Brad did at the party. I’m sure it wasn’t done in the nicest manner, but I liked the attention. And my drinking got worse and worse. I used to do speed before typing class, so drugs started early on, too. And then, boy, I’ll tell you, I could type up a storm. You couldn’t read a damn thing on the page, but I was typing like crazy. But then in high school, alcohol really, really took over because I did look a lot older. And we had a small stream behind the house. And even though it was North Carolina, it must have bubbled up from way underground because it was always cold, and North Carolina is pretty cold in the winter, even though there’s not a lot of snow. So it was really convenient for me to keep a bottle of vodka and a bottle of orange juice in that little stream. So in the morning, like any teenager, I would make myself a screwdriver before going to school, I mean, pour myself a drink and get in the car. And that’s how I went to school. I didn’t think it was normal, but I also didn’t think it was that abnormal. I knew maybe I was a little crazier than most kids, but I thought everybody just always would drink it and partying and having nonstop craziness for whatever reason I was really well known in school. I think I wasn’t as much of an outsider as I thought I was, but I never had dates. I did occasionally fool around with some girls, some kissing, maybe touching their breasts. That was a big deal. But for the most part, my buddies made fun of me because I just couldn’t get a date to save my life. I think a lot of it was because I was more awkward than most kids because I don’t know if I really wanted a date that all that badly, just feeling awkward. In general, I just knew I was going to be turned down to begin with anyway. And my buddies and I, during throughout high school, every summer, we would put our money together and we would go to the beaches of North Carolina and rent a house at the beaches I would pretend to be interested in the girls just like they did. They would hook up with the girls, though I wouldn’t, I would just get drunker. And that became our norm again. It got worse in my senior year in high school because I was 18 my entire senior year. And that was back when you could still buy alcohol at the age of 18 in in the US. That was fantastic for me. Not only was I buying alcohol constantly for myself, I got to buy alcohol for everybody. And that got me a lot of tension. I knew everybody loved me for that. During these times that I couldn’t hook up with girls and had the problems at the beach houses, I also knew more and more that not only was I gay, I wasn’t going to be able to shake it. I didn’t come from a religious household in any way, but literally I would pray to please stop, please stop being gay.
But come that senior year, being 18, I was able to go to adult bookstores and hang out and those kind of things. And for those not familiar with how adult bookstores work, men go into a room, they leave the door cracked open so you know that they want you to enter and have a little fun. Being young and 18, even though I thought it was extremely ugly, I was very, very popular amongst the guys there. And so in one night, I would be very, very busy. I did lose what I consider losing my virginity only because it wasn’t just this hookup in a dirty bookstore. One of my friends and I in high school did have sex together. I will say I had a much different viewpoint at them because it was beautiful. And I kept a journal at that time. I tried different journals throughout my life and I had one at that time. And I remember writing in that journal how it didn’t feel dirty. It was wonderful. It just was. And that was the first inkling, first inkling that I had. It was okay. But it didn’t last very long. Now, after high school, I continued to meet men secretly. I started working in the hotel business, and that was my career for 20 years. And that took me around across the country. In the hotel business, at least where I worked, it was known that you drank every night and the kitchen staff was the place to go get drugs. It was nonstop, partying there all the time. Some people knew in the hotel that I was gay. I didn’t find this out two years later, but people that I had hooked up with secretly either worked there and I didn’t know it or had friends that knew. And so in some of the back channels, people kept it discreet, but they knew. But during that whole time period, I had lots and lots of sex. And the thing that amazes me when I look back, never ever did I have protective sex. It was not even something that I would even consider or even thought about. So the fact that I’m not HIV positive today is pure luck.
Brad Shreve [00:16:37]:
There was a point where I did start to come out,and I wanted to accept who I was. So being in the hotel industry for a major hotel chain, I started looking at opportunities of where could I move to. I moved to Omaha, Nebraska. So I went from bad to worst when it comes to being open minded, very conservative. Here I was about to get out of the closet, and I went further back in. Now, the odd thing in in Nebraska, was that I wasn’t drinking as much part, I think I lived alone. I didn’t know anybody for the longest time, didn’t have access to drugs. I didn’t know where to go. And one day at work, I met this woman. We were attracted to each other. We joked around. We laughed. It was just fun to be around her. I don’t know if I fell in love, because looking that’s hard for me. Imagine that. Because I am gay. I’m not bisexual in any way. At least I don’t feel today. But I loved her. And I’ll even say I did fall in love with her. There’s no other word for it. Here I was just inches away. In fact, I had talked to a friend and told her I was going to come out moments away. And then I met this woman and fell in love with her. And my desire for men did not go away. But my desire for her was very strong.
I don’t know how long that would have lasted, but we had this need. I had to find an apartment immediately at the exact same time that she had to find an apartment immediately. So within two to three months of when we first started dating, we moved in together, and we very quickly became a very tight, close couple. And I look back on those days we had no money, but just had a lot of fun and set up our place. It was great. We did together start drinking too much because she was a heavy drinker, but I was functioning and that was a little different than back when I was younger where I did function to get through school. But man, there were so many times I couldn’t function. I never got that completely plastered drunk. It’s very common. I talked to other alcoholics that went through that same process and they’re like, yeah. I thought during that time period, oh, I’m not an alcoholic after all, and that’s the way I thought. Okay. I knew in the past I had a drinking problem, but obviously I’m over it. We did get married after we’d been together two or three years. I can’t remember. Immediately at that same time that I got a promotion and we moved to Arizona and my career was advancing and she was my biggest fan. She was so supportive and so proud of me and how I was doing, and I was getting so much attention from management, yet it was so fucking hard. Every moment was a struggle. I had impostor syndrome in the sense that I knew no matter how good they think I’m doing, they were going to eventually figure out I was a fake and had no clue and was just an idiot going through the motions and doing that.
My career continued to grow, I was winning awards and we eventually had a daughter. We made the decision to have a daughter. I remember the day distinctly that we decided to have a daughter, and we knew the exact day that we conceived. I was in town for a day. That’s the only day that it could have happened. The day my daughter was born is still the best day of my life. I know so many parents say that. Well, my career got better. I continued to advance, I got a promotion and moved to Las Vegas. This was in the early ninety s at this time, and I really wanted more and more to come out. I was going to a gay bar on my way home very frequently. Traffic was terrible. I worked right near the convention center in Vegas, so it was very easy for me to say traffic was backed up and I would go there and I would sit and I would play poker, electronic poker, just enough to pay for my drinks. So I usually had maybe three drinks and I’d go home, but I got to be in that environment. So more and more of these desires were just really pulling at me and I deeply loved her at the same time, I was so conflicted and Las Vegas had a gay lesbian center, which today is a beautiful center. At that time it was a shack, if they were lucky to call it a shack, but they were able to get a funding to have a therapist on staff. And so I started meeting him regularly every week to talk about being gay and being in the closet. And I also started going to men’s groups at night and I was talking to men in their eighty s and ninety s who waited till their wives died to come out and I kept thinking, do I want that to happen? Do I want on my 50th wedding anniversary to her to find out that I was gay? The whole time it was eating at me and more and more I was thinking, this has got to end.
Brad Shreve [00:21:53]:
But it ended quicker than I anticipated. A friend I had from Arizona came into town and fortunately for me yeah, fortunately for me, it happened to be the same time that my wife had gone back to visit her family back east and we spent the week to get weekend together. I’m almost certain we didn’t have sex again. Remember, I have this very cloudy memory, but I’m almost certain we didn’t have sex. But what we did, we went bar hopping. And I wasn’t getting drunk, but bar hopping. And it wasn’t the first time I was ever in a gay bar. And it wasn’t the first time I was around gay people, but this was the first time. It wasn’t sneaky, it wasn’t dirty, it wasn’t seedy. I was around men like me and I was laughing and we were joking and I knew that night I was never going to be able to go back. That was the night I said, this has got it’s got to stop. I have to let her know. And I don’t know exactly how long. I think it was with a few days after that that she came home and I sat at the table and I said, I’ve got something to tell you. And I told her I was gay. I didn’t expect the reaction. She laughed. She laughed and said, oh, thank God. I thought you were going to tell me you were having an affair. Now, that was the initial reaction. Once it seeped in, it wasn’t that easy for her. Obviously she was devastated. I told her, would you like me to go check into a hotel for the night? And she said, Please, I need time to myself. As difficult as it was for her, this woman is incredible because she used to be a nanny and she loved and adored children. And children are the most important thing in her life. And obviously our daughter was the most important thing in her life. So soon after I came out to her, before she moved away, she went with me and my daughter and we went to a National Coming Out Day celebration in Las Vegas. And most cities don’t have it, but this was an event in a park with games for kids and everything else. And the reason she said that she wanted to do it is because she said, if we want our daughter to be proud of who we is, we have to be proud of who we are. And then she said, if we didn’t have a kid, I would probably move and we’d never speak to each other again, just get on with our lives. But we’re stuck together the rest of our lives, whether we like it or not, so we might as well be friends. So it reminded me why I fell in love and married this woman. On the one hand, her attitude made it much easier to break away and much harder for me to hurt her in that same manner.
Now, after that coming out, everything changed. She moved back east, and boy, I made up for a lost time. I moved to a small town in California that was only 80 miles from San Francisco. WE had one gay bar. I was there all the time, parties at my house at least once a week. And at that time, I was in executive level. And when you’re at an executive level, you really aren’t supposed to mingle that much on a friendly level with people that are, for lack of better word, lower end employees that’s newer employees that I’ve reached a higher level of management. But, boy, they were at my house, and we were partying like crazy. I was depressed because obviously divorce and going through all this change. And my boss one day, who happened to be gay, said, you need to go to a bathhouse. You need to cheer up. So I drove the 80 miles into San Francisco. Bathhouses are only legal outside the city, but there were a couple of them, and oh, my God, it was like I was a kid in a candy store. The partying just continued and continued, and not only was I driving into San Francisco, I was hooking up with guys. At that time. The computers weren’t really big, but you hooked up with guys on these anonymous phone sites, and my bedroom was a revolving door. I mean, literally, there were there were times I would have three guys a night over one after another after another. And my roommate, who also happened to be gay, he actually owned the house I lived in at that time. He said, you are my idol. And what he didn’t understand is how empty I felt. I’m not going to say I wasn’t having a good time. Boy, I was having a good time. But it also hurt a lot, too. I was so empty. And I realized very quickly the reason why.
When one guy left, I had to get back on that phone and get somebody over within the next hour. It was a drug. I needed somebody to get that empty feeling away from me again. I needed somebody to care about me. I needed to touch somebody. But as soon as that guy would Leave, another one would come back. And that just was my cycle.
Brad Shreve [00:27:04]:
I met this guy in Los Angeles online. I started going down and seeing him. It was pretty exciting. He was incredibly handsome. He was very popular, very charming. So I felt glamorous when I went into LA. And I started going once or twice a month to go down and see him. Now at this time, also my drug and alcohol and everything because he started giving me cocaine for my drives home so I wouldn’t be tired. So drugs came back into my life after been gone for a while, but with all the drinking and all the drugs and I was dealing with major depression all the time, as well as being just plain confused and obsessive all the time, my job performance went way down. My vice president flew out to meet me and she said, we’ve invested in you. We don’t want to lose you. Tell me where you want to go and I’ll make it happen. I said, I’ll think about it. So two weeks later I called up and I said, I’m giving you my notice. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no job lined up here. I had my expenses, I was paying child support, I was paying alimony. I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew I was going to move to LA.
I got lucky. A company that I’d worked with through my company found out that I’d given my notice and they reached out. They were in the LA area and said, we would like you to come work for us. So I was in LA now with my gorgeous model boyfriend. He was a DJ, very popular, so never did we have to wait in line at the clubs. We just walked by the lines and heard people grumbling that we were doing this and would walk right in the door. And we rarely ever paid for drinks. Bartenders loved having us there. They loved the way we socialized and worked the room. We also had an open relationship, so every night we were working the room, not just friends, we were trying to always scout somebody out so that each of us could go home. It was also during this time that I decided it was time to come out with my family. My ex wife told me, she said, I’m not going to tell anybody. It’s for you to do it on your own terms. So for several years, whenever my family would say, like, what happened? She just had to say it just didn’t work. Very difficult for her, but she was a woman of her word. So finally I decided to come up and with there being seven kids of my family and my dad still alive, we lived in eight different states. I didn’t want to tell one person and have it go through the grapevine. So I wrote a letter, a form letter, and changed the wording just a little bit to personalize it for each individual. And I paced in the post office for at least an hour, I think longer than an hour, back and forth, back and forth. And I dropped the letters in the mail drop, finally, and I took this huge deep breath. I didn’t hear from anybody in my family for over a year. When I did finally hear from them, it was never a discussion, just never talked about it.
Sounds like I was out having a gay old time. Indeed. But I got to say, through all of this, as much as I was loving it, I still hated being gay. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like the rest of the world. And I didn’t want to be an outcast in society, being with a DJ and going to the clubs. And I’ll tell you, DJs, I don’t know why I’ve always had the hot for DJs, but boy, they make bad relationships because they work terrible hours and they have total access to drugs and alcohol. And crystal meth came into my life. So I was heavily on meth all the time. My partner was on cocaine all the time. He was always getting at me because cocaine was natural and I was taking this chemical, which is absurd. And now that we were doing meth, we were dealing, we were small time dealers only to pay for our own drugs. And the other thing was, if we did go to a bar where we didn’t get free dreams, we were able to leave little stashes in the bathroom for the bartenders, which, meant again, we never paid for a drink. It was also during this time that this relationship that I really should have seen signals. It wasn’t all that great as I thought it was. It really started seeing the light of day. I started getting beaten on a regular basis. I would make him angry, whatever reason, and he would beat the shit out of me. I would go into work and I’d be bloody black eyes. And they always wondered what happened. They figured out. Years later they told me they figured out, but I guess it took a while. Even harder than the physical. He really fucked with me emotionally. He would do things like I would be in the shower and he’d open up the shower curtain to talk to me with a giant meat cleaver in his hand. Or I’d be in bed and I’d wake up and he’d have a pillow over my face. And because I’m going to say to protect my dignity, the only reason he got away with it is because I was so messed up on drugs and alcohol and he was able to constantly convince me that I was hallucinating and that I was crazy and that’s the reason why all this was going on. Friends kept telling me to leave. Doctors kept telling me, leave. A friend of ours was an emergency surgeon, emergency room surgeon. He sat me down and said, Look, I see people coming in all the time, dead sometimes. I don’t want that to be you. I didn’t listen to any of them.
Well, 9/11 happened. As much as it damaged so many people’s lives, it devastated the hotel industry. Nobody traveled afterwards, even on business, if they could help it. Hotels were empty. I worked in the hotel industry. Massive waves across the country and probably across the world, people were being laid off. And so we had one wave of employees laid off at the company. A second wave, a third wave, but finally the fourth wave they put on my record. I had to leave because of the cutbacks, for the real reason I was fired, because I was a mess. This is when things became dangerous, because I was 100% dependent on my partner at the time. And, boy, he loved that. He took full advantage of that. He demanded things of me, and if I didn’t follow through, I got beaten. If I didn’t do what he wanted to, I got abused. It was total control on his end. Well, one night after beating, I think, for the third time, I called the police, and I had some blood coming out my nose, which was a sign that they could see something happened. And I got to watch him drive away in a police car. And that was the last day we were together as a couple.
I moved out in what we call tweaker Luggage and tweaker Luggage because I was scared to death. I didn’t know they were going to hold him for three days. I thought he would be home with an hour. I was going to be killed. Tweaker Luggage is garbage bags full of your clothing and your best belongings. I moved everything in those and I took off. And I slept on one friend’s couch after another. Everybody said, Be sure not to let him know where I was. So occasionally I would meet him. It was a very sick relationship. I left him because he abused me. He went to jail, yet we would get together and he would buy me food. It was a very sick situation for a while, but I could never tell him where I lived. And I went from one friend’s couch to another till all of them. Nobody could put up with me any longer. I didn’t have money. I was doing drugs one way or another. I don’t know how I got the money, but I was doing those, and I had nowhere else to stay. So I ended up living in three places every night. I had a place to sleep. I slept on a bench at the Santa Monica Pier. I also knew the longest bus route in Los Angeles. So when I took the bus, I knew which bus was going to give me the longest sleep before the bus had to turn around and go back. This was the worst part. I would run out of money when I was downtown in skid row Los Angeles, and those nights I didn’t sleep because I was terrified. I would just hold my duffel bag so nobody would steal from me and wait, stay, keep my eyes open so nobody would stab me.
Brad Shreve [00:36:23]:
The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center at that time was the first and only gay and lesbian center to have a domestic violence program. It was brand new. I hope to God it’s not the only anymore, but it was fantastic. They had a sliding scale, so for $1 a week, I got to see a therapist. The pitiful thing is, some weeks I didn’t have that dollar. And they like, we’ll have to put. It on a tab. You have to pay it. And sometimes after three weeks, they’re like, if you don’t bring your $3 in next week, you’re not going to be able to see your therapist. Well, it didn’t last that long anyway, because after I saw my therapist a. Few times, I went into his office. And he started telling me this story. And he was talking about he hung out with gangsters and famous gangsters that I’d heard of and did these major cocaine deals, and how he became so addicted to meth. He would become so paranoid. He’d sit in his house with swords in his hands, and he kept going. On, and I’m like, what the hell. Is this guy doing this? I paid the dollar here. He’s taking up my hour. I don’t want to hear about him. And he finally stopped, and he said “That was my life before. Now I am a therapist. I have a beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills with my husband. That’s where I am. Look where you are.” And then he said something that people can’t believe. My therapist said to me, “I can’t help you with that shit swirling in your brain. You need to get the fuck out of my office.”
Brad Shreve [00:37:49]:
He then got out a map and a bus schedule, and he said, here’s where you need to go to get sober. And I did it. I had a bus token. I went. It was an AA meeting. The woman that spoke, her late, her accent was so thick, I had no idea what she said. I cried that whole hour that I was there, and I got sober. I still had no job. I was still struggling. But because of people I was getting to know, I was getting places to sleep again. Now, the sad thing is, just because people get sober doesn’t make them angels. And you have people that like to take advantage of people anywhere. Kind of like I was doing before, but more so this time. I was giving up my ass for a place to sleep every night. And later, when I was in recovery, house, “They said, you know you were a whore, don’t you?” And I’m like, what are you talking about? I never took money. They said, “You took food, you had a place to sleep, and we’re betting sometimes you were given money.” That was a bitter pill to swallow, and it’s still a bitter pill to swallow nowadays. Not as bad as it used to be, but that was something I had to accept. Eventually, I got to know the people that were really good people. I’m making it sound like it was a horrible environment. I just was reaching out to the wrong people. And once I started reaching out to the people that had what I wanted, things really started to get better. And then all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. I don’t know what happened. I was at a meeting. It wasn’t a meeting, it was a party. And I don’t know what I said to somebody. I have no clue. But there was a psychiatrist there at the party, and they went to tell him what I said, and he said, Get him to an emergency room as soon as possible before he kills himself. So I was sent to Cedar Sinai, which doesn’t have a psych ward anymore. But I got to tell you, it was an incredible place. I voluntarily checked in. It was like being in the movie one Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. People just wandered aimlessly. My roommate was a really nice guy. We talked, but he would keep me up all night tearing, literally tearing up the broom apart, because he said, the voices aren’t real, I know that, but they’re so real. I got to stop them. I’ve got to make them stop, and I’ve got to find them. I was there for three days, and I sat down with a psychiatrist, and he said, we’re not going to let you leave. Suicide watch is three days. We can’t let you go. We want you to sign this paper that says you’ll stay. And he said, if you don’t sign it, you’re still not going. But we have a whole lot of red tape we have to go through to keep you. Just make it easy on us. And I’m like, I’m not ready to go anywhere. So I signed on the dotted line. Well, after I’d spent my seven days, then they couldn’t find anywhere to send me because I didn’t have any money, and they couldn’t find a mental health clinic that would accept me. So I was there for ten days till they found a place that was a six hour trip, round trip, for me to go to, to get my medicine, see a psychiatrist. So that lasted for me maybe a month at most. And I was back on the streets, and I knew I knew I needed help. They said I had depression. I knew it was more than that. I was sober. My friends lives were getting better. I was trying so hard to find a job. I was looking at people under the benches, blistered from the sun, and I envied them. I envied them because I thought, they’re not fighting anymore. They’re just giving up and allowing themselves to die. If I could just give up, it would be so much easier. But I didn’t want to give up, and I couldn’t. I knew there was something wrong. It had me more than depression, like the hospital said. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I needed help. No matter where I went, I couldn’t get it. I kept being turned away. I went to the LA County Mental Health Department, where I got on my hands and my knees and in tears, I begged them to accept me as a patient. I bawled. And their words to me were, “We can’t take you in. You’re too high functioning. When you get worse, come back.”
Brad Shreve [00:42:18]:
I did start turning things around in all of this. Something wonderful was happening. After I left my ex, after I got sober, I said, you know, I don’t need a relationship. I can’t have one right now. What I’m going to do is I’m going to date. I’m just going to meet a few guys. We’ll go out on dates. If sex happens, wonderful. If sex doesn’t, we just have dinner, that’s wonderful. No expectations, just whatever. And it was good, and I was happy. And then one night, I was online. I was on a hookup site, and. I was just about to log off. And I got a “Hi.”
Brad Shreve [00:43:01]:
And that’s kind of an answer you really don’t respond to, but I did, and I started chatting with this guy, and I liked his pictures, and he asked, Where do you live? At this time, I lived in Brentwood, which very upscale part of Los Angeles, people may remember it’s, where OJ. And Nicole lived. And he said, Would you like to meet for coffee? And I said, I didn’t have a car but there’s one two blocks from me. So he came and picked me up. I have one rule, one rule for every date. And that is if during the date, the cell phone comes but comes out, I won’t make a scene, I won’t say a word, but there will never be a second date. As soon as I met him, he said, I have to tell you something. I take care of my grandmother, and she has Alzheimer’s. She’ll call me every 15 minutes and not remember she had called me 15 minutes ago. I said okay. I understand. Well, fortunately for me, this Starbucks, it was during midterm exams, so every college student in the world was in this place. And he’s like, well, what do you want to do? And I said, Well, I live close to the beach, and for some reason, I’ve never been to the beach in this area of town. I always go somewhere else. But it’s right down the road. Let’s go to the beach. He’s like, okay, let’s do that. And it was a windy road and so we got lost. We both didn’t care. We laughed. We found the beach. His grandmother did call every 15 minutes. And every 15 minutes she called him to tell him to be sure to bring a hamburger back from McDonald’s. And every time she called, he was as kind and sweet and gentle as the last time. I kept thinking, this is a nice guy. He’s like, really a nice guy. So we got down to the beach. Full moon in the sky. You could see every star. And we sat on the beach and talked for 5 hours under a full moon. As my now husband says, we talked for 5 hours and we haven’t stopped talking since. We had a few dates and we knew it was a done deal. So again, after a very short time, we moved in together and it worked out.
And it wasn’t long, maybe six months after that, I stopped showing up for work. It was a real struggle up to that point. Real struggle. Money was always off in the store. And I wasn’t stealing, I don’t think. I was so confused. Could never get the books to balance. Orders were wrong. It was just a disaster. One day I just stopped showing up. I could not get up and go. Company couldn’t get a hold of me. The employees had no way to reach me. They had no idea if I was coming in. And I just fell into this state of deep, dark depression. But I also was kind of I can say it crazy. If you’re having mental illness, you can call yourself crazy other people can’t. So I was kind of going crazy and didn’t know what was going on. And it just kept getting worse and worse and worse to the point that I couldn’t even talk. Barely. Virtual online worlds are becoming popular right now. One of them that’s existed for a number of years was Second Life. It was very popular back then, early 2000s. But you can meet somebody online and you can chat with them and dance. My husband would be in the living room and I would be on the bedroom on a separate computer. And that was the only way I could talk to him. To chat. We belonged to a church, obviously. Very, very liberal church. And I would go there and if somebody talked to me for more than two minutes, I would be in physical pain because it felt like they had reached into my skull and were ripping my brain to pieces. And then other times I couldn’t get out of bed. I had no idea what’s going on.
The couple of times I started becoming more and more agoraphobic where I couldn’t leave the house. A few times my husband got me to go to the supermarket and I would go in and be inside. And suddenly every color on every box was shooting in my eyes. Every light was shooting in my eyes. Every voice, every sound, everything in that environment was shooting me at once to the point that I was going to scream. I was so overwhelmed, I would run out the store hyperventilating. And that happened three times before we said, I can’t go to the store anymore. And that’s when I totally became agoraphobic. And again, we knew something was wrong. And I couldn’t get up. We didn’t have the money. It was very early in a relationship. We were both struggling. And a friend of ours that was a minister, she said, we’re going to take you to the hospital and you’re going to tell him you’re suicidal because you kind of are. And because I’m a minister, I’m going to go with you. I think that’ll get you in quicker. I said, okay. So we went to the hospital and because they said I was suicidal, they put me in the psych ward immediately. And they came and evaluated me. And I was left on a bench for probably 2 hours before the psychiatrist came back. And when the psychiatrist came back, she said, I’m sending you home. I said, what do you mean? She said, you have your husband, you have your good friend. You’re in a safe environment. You can go home. I said, I’m not going home. She said, what do you mean? I said, I’m not budging from this bench. You’ll have to either call security or you’re going to do one thing for me. You’re going to find me somewhere to go tomorrow where I can get help because I can’t live like this any longer. And she was confused and she walked away. And it was probably 2 hours later and she came back and she said, here’s a number. Call them tomorrow and they’ll help you.
Within a few days after that, I was checked in. And I was very quickly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And for the first time in my life, things made sense. That was literally the best day of my life. I said it was my daughter. But no, that day when they said you have bipolar disorder, it had a name. The shit that had happened to me my whole life, my brain, everything, it had a name. And I knew what it was. I didn’t know how they were going to take care of it, but I knew what it was. It can be a very long process, and it was a very long process for me. You try one med, it doesn’t work. This one does. But you still need this med. Still need this med. But I finally got more stable and. I started to understand really what bipolar was. And bipolar was there were days I was depressed. I would go days and days with being depressed. I couldn’t get out of bed. And then when there were days I couldn’t stop.
Brad Shreve [00:50:29]:
I went nonstop, I couldn’t sit down for a second. A lot of people tell me when they’re in these states, they do a lot of cleaning, they get a lot of stuff done. I couldn’t because I was so distracted all the time. I would be busy from first thing in the morning to the end of the night nonstop. But I couldn’t get anything done because within 15 minutes, I was onto the next project. So I had 10,000 projects started, but I couldn’t finish any of them. And again, I would get frustrated and geandssed. As I was getting better this good number of years, I started to become more stable. I was quite a bit more stable. I wasn’t stable enough to go and get a job. I was on disability. But I knew that I wanted to do something. This was life changing. We had a coffee table book called Men Together. In that book, it’s a picture book, mostly pictures of male couples, and then just a brief story of their lives and their relationships. And one of those stories, one of the individuals, was bipolar disorder. And he said almost I’m paraphrasing, but it’s almost verbatim. He said, “When I realized I was never going to be able to work for someone else, I was going to have to decide what I could do for myself.” He chose to be an antique dealer. I thought about it and I thought what have I always wanted to do? And I started writing because I knew since I was a kid I wanted to be a writer.
Brad Shreve [00:52:00]:
As crazy as it sounds, I was crazy enough that I had the opportunity to be a writer. So, I tried writing for a good amount of time. I really struggled. I didn’t do well. And then discovered something that most people don’t even know exist. And it’s called LGBTQ Mystery suspense and thrillers. It’s actually a category on Amazon. It’s a category on Amazon I didn’t know existed. I loved mysteries my whole life. I found that and I could write queer characters. My book that I spent years working. On was done within a year. And not only was it done, but. It immediately went to number one in its category, not number one on Amazon. I wish I’d be retired right now.
Brad Shreve [00:52:35]:
And it was so well received. I started a podcast soon after that. It was called Queer Writers of Crime, where I interviewed authors of mystery, suspense, and thriller novels that are LGBTQ, because I figured if I didn’t know such a thing existed, nobody else did. And I wrote a second book, and it did really well too. During this time, my life just kept improving. I still can’t work. I still can’t work. I tried a few times to work for friends or even other jobs. My body just can’t handle an individual telling me what to do. And then I get confused and disoriented or go into depression or a manic state. It’s hard to keep a job that way. Now, when I say I go into depression and manic states, that never has gone away. What has happened with the medications I’m on? They still happen, but not to a debilitating degree. So I can say I’m depressed today. And you know what? Every time I get depressed, it passes. So I’m just going to sit still today and let it go. And it may take a day, it may take two days, but just like I know it goes. And the same thing when mania happens. Now, I don’t always catch when I’m manic. My husband does. He’s like, you’re just going everywhere today. So again, I just do what I can, and I know it passes. So I was able to do this podcast, and I interviewed only authors. I loved talking to people, loved talking to authors. Working from the and talking to people from the other side of the microphone is so much easier. And then I said, you know what? I’m talking to authors, and I love talking to authors, but I want to talk to all kinds of people. What can I do? And I thought, why don’t I talk to other kinds of people? And why don’t I make a podcast based on everything I learned? Which everything I learned was, I never gave up. I never gave up. So what if I talk to people who are successful, talk about the obstacles they overcame and what did they learn from it?
And so I started a podcast. Now, what’s important on my show is it’s not a business podcast. I’m not talking to entrepreneurs. Sometimes I am. I’m not talking to famous people. Sometimes I am. I ask, what does success mean to you? And sometimes it’s just as simple as, I survived the AIDS crisis and it was all good. Other times, I’m a major newscaster with a major network. Everybody has their own definition. What kept me going through all that was the reason of my deepest, darkest despair that I didn’t let go is there was one positive. I kept seeing it. No matter how bad it got, I knew it wasn’t going to last forever. And I kept telling myself, I’m the luckiest man in the world because everything I’ve had is lost. I have a blank slate. How many people in the world get a blank slate and get to start all over again? And that was really how I survived. And that’s what the people I talked to, that’s what it’s all about. So am I successful? I’m so incredibly successful, it’s unbelievable. I live in the desert 2 hours outside of Los Angeles. Do I want to live in the desert? No. I love the desert, but the town sucks. I live with my mother in law. Do I want to live with my mother in law? No. But she’s older. She needs our help. I do live with my incredible husband, who I love and adore more every day. And I have a life. I’m taking care of my mother in law. That’s something I never dreamed was possible. So, no, I don’t have a lot of money. Sometimes we struggle to make a payment. We don’t have the big house. But I have things. I get to meet people. I’m doing something I love to do. I love to write. I found I love podcasting just as much as writing. In fact, to the degree that I’m not getting writing done and it’s all because I kept saying, what am I going to fill with that blank slate? And the good thing is, I know that slate is still clean. And it’s always there for me to continue, to paint whatever I want it to be ahead. And it’s so good after that life to be in that space.
Rebecca Singleton [00:57:23]:
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