PHOTOS COURTESY ALEX CATARINELLA. PORTRAIT BY ANDREW TESS.
ROCK BOTTOMS, REHAB & COURTNEY
Writer Alex Catarinella opens up to his friend about his sexual dependencies and his Buddhist savior.
As a bonafide fashion PR-boy, over-the-top industry events, celebrity run-ins, paid press trips, and pretty much non-stop mayhem summed up my twenties. Alex Catarinella, a journalist for outlets like Vogue, Elle, PAPER, and i–D, happens to be one of my very close friends who, like myself, paraded through those formative years wearing debauchery and glam as a uniform.
The only difference between us was that when I would turn in for the night, Alex’s night would just begin. When Alex finally decided to open up about his after-hours rendezvous, I sensed something darker was brewing underneath the face he wore out in the world. Disillusioned by my own need for a life out of the ordinary, I considered his strife all par for the course.
Now, in a series of essays for Dazed, Alex reveals his story of sex, drugs, and rock bottoms. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” he writes. “I survived the masochistic man bun, drill sergeant sides and all. It was the summer of 2014 when my insides were at their darkest, but my hair colour was at its bleached blonde brightest. The black roots aggressively powered through, though – darkness is attracted to light.” Surprisingly, it took one week in an LGBTQ rehab and Courtney Love introducing him to Buddhism to guide him away from the destruction towards a more purposeful life.
Ever-eager, I had a conversation with to Alex about the essays, his stint in rehab, Courtney Love (of course), mental health, and the stigma surrounding sexual addiction. Have a read below.
Jeff: You’ve been talking about these essays forever, what finally gave you the guts to have them published? Alex: I basically was so sick of talking about “my problems.” I felt all talked out after years in therapy. Plus, my Medicaid didn’t cover that shit, so I quit. I’ve been writing these kinds of essays forever with the intention of getting something published, but I’d always talk myself out of it. I really didn’t want to be pegged as yet another intolerably depressed downtown writer. But the voices screaming in my skull were progressively driving me fucking insane and it was just time to find a way to make them shut the fuck up for good. Drugs certainly weren’t working. Maybe these essays would ruin my “career” and/or me, but at least I could release all of this madness. So, I compulsively emailed the essays to my editor back in March when I was annoyed with myself for being sad and lonely while in Tokyo. My bipolar-related compulsive behavior finally resulted in something I’m not ashamed of!
These essays come across as funny but they are very dark. Are you masking your issues with humor? Well, yeah… It’s obviously a defense mechanism, but it’s also a form of protection. Most people don’t want to bring others down with their bad vibes. So you’ll put on a rehearsed happy face, make jokes about the mess going on in your head, suffer in silence… Or, in my case throughout my twenties when I most felt like a fraud. I’d get fucked up and fuck everything.
Social media can be used as a mask too — presenting your life through filters, literally turning up the brightness; Facetune-ing imperfections. You can create what you want to see and what you want your followers to see. I mask some darkness with humor in my essays just as I sometimes do in my everyday life, mostly to make myself feel a little less crazy. I’ve always loved a dark comedy.
You spent a week at PRIDE Institute. Do you regret not staying the full month? PRIDE is an LGBTQ mental health treatment center in Minnesota. It was both amazing and awful. I don’t regret leaving after a week, I don’t regret going for a week, and no, I haven’t returned. It was some Glee Gone Wild shit, but I think about my rehab peers almost every day. I have my “Personal Bill of Rights” I took home with me and cards friends and family sent me while I was there tacked onto what you’d call an inspiration wall above my desk, along with my framed Spice Girls Vogue cover that was once my favorite cocaine-snorting tray.
Can you please explain how Courtney Love introduced you to Buddhism? I know it sounds crazy, but Courtney majorly helped change my life for the better by introducing me to Nichiren Buddhism. I interviewed her several times over the years, but we weren’t best friends or anything. We’d text here and there. About two years ago, I went to see her star in a new musical, Kansas City Choir Boy. I texted her after the show to tell her she was amazing and congrats on all of her recent successes. She texted back something like “It’s all from chanting, man!” and then told me to come over in the morning and she’d teach me how to chant. At that point in my life, I’d try anything to get better.
I thought we’d be caressing crystals and swaying back-and-forth while chain-smoking or some weird celeb shit, but that wasn’t the case. She taught me how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and I eventually joined Nichiren Buddhist organization, Soka Gakkai International, where she’s been a long-time member. She’s legit my Buddhist sponsor. I’m not like enlightened or anything, but my life condition has greatly improved. Thanks, Courtney!
Some stories obviously couldn’t fit into the essays, any that would make for some fodder at Entertainment Weekly? I cannot afford to get sued at the moment as I still am a broke freelance writer. A tame anecdote might be when you and me got aggressively escorted out of a gay bar by security with a very famous pop star for sharing cigarettes. My job for the past decade has required me to interview celebs, so it’s all a blur at this point. Who hasn’t done a little coke with a Real Housewife?
In what ways does your homosexuality play a role in your life and writing? There’s obviously a ton in my writing that wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t gay — the third essay is all about my one week in an LGBTQ-only rehab. And I was once a closeted musical theater major… I must’ve been really fucked up to think I could pull that one off. But I’m just writing about my life, and I’m gay. Underneath the superficial and the salaciousness, these essays are about feeling alone and not okay; feeling guilty about not feeling okay, and hopefully eventually feeling okay. Depression fucks everyone.
There’s such a stigma around sexual addiction. Dr. Phil believes it’s a cover up to be unfaithful. Dr. Phil also made that cash me outside girl famous. People believe in astrology and that aliens exist more than sex addiction as a real diagnosis, and that’s fucked. Many people try to make it seem like all sex addicts are cheaters and just all-around bad people. At my worst, I was single and I wasn’t hurting anybody except for myself. I’d be sweating, barely breathing, heart pounding (basically experiencing symptoms of being terrified) while I sprinted in a trance to soul-murdering hook ups.
If you’re constantly self-medicating with meaningless sex and feel like it’s out of your control and it’s making your life hell, then that’s a problem, whether it’s considered a real diagnosis or not.
Has receiving diagnoses helped you in any way? I’ve always felt a bit “crazy,” but I figured everyone probably felt that way and I just had to deal with it. I didn’t get diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder until my twenties by multiple psychiatrists, but I didn’t want to believe them. I couldn’t deny the symptoms though: impulsivity, mood swings, hopelessness, euphoria, grandiosity, etc. I’m either on top of the world and no one can fuck with me, or I’m a sad piece of hopeless shit. I always say being bipolar for me is having no idea who I’ll wake up as tomorrow. But I’m actually pretty good and stable these days. I’d say that the chanting and writing about shit that means something to me has helped simmer the crazy. Medication helps a bit too!