Flipping the Script Intro (Part 2/3)
I’d like to introduce you to a little place that many of you may recognize: a place I like to call “rock bottom.” Here, nothing seems to go right—EVER. For me, this place represents the deepest kind of despair, the type that stirs up every bit of insecurity or self-doubt I’ve ever experienced in life. This place makes me feel like I am unworthy of unconditional love, that maybe I am, in fact, too tall to be on TV or too broken to be successful at anything for any significant period of time. Here, in this place, I wonder if maybe God really is punishing me for being gay, and if maybe somewhere along the line, I actually did make this lifestyle choice. In this place, I believe that my dad never wanted a relationship with me because I embarrassed him and my mom only loves me because she has to (it’s what moms do). My rock bottom revealed an AJ who was terrified of failure, but even more terrified of what life would look like and how others would judge him if he actually found success. To me, rock bottom represents both absolute failure AND the possibility of being able to rebuild. Until recently, I’d always accepted the failure narrative. Failing in life had always been my story because I was too afraid to choose another path until now.
Now, I’m ready to rebuild.
This time, I’ve decided to shake things up. This time I’ve made the bold, life-changing, universe-shifting decision that the bounce back will finally be different. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to let my life fall completely apart and to not only hit rock bottom but then allow myself to drag across the pavement, getting bruised and bloodied, until eventually, slowly but surely, I would kinda-sorta pull myself back up again. This was a pattern I had both mastered and accepted as my personal narrative. I was really good at playing the part of a victim in my own life and even better at justifying it to myself and others.
Everyone’s idea of rock bottom looks a little different, so let me be really clear about mine. They say that tragedies come in threes, and while I’m not trying to call my rock bottom moments tragedies, they were tragic, traumatic, and not much fun AT ALL!
To kick off the worst fifteen months of my life, my baby sis came at me with some crazy new thoughts on my sexuality and knocked the wind right out of me. As the words she used to invoke Christ and judge my sexuality settled on my heart, I fell into a tailspin of despair. Not only did she judge who I am, which is the worst kind of judgment, she also judged what I was doing with my life. That was awesome! (I use sarcasm to cope, so be prepared for lots of it.) I felt awful about my soul, and now, I felt awful about the fact that after thirty-three years of struggling to find success, I’d managed to land a gig as the host of a brand-new entertainment news show on Fox. It was my dream job. I was really proud of that accomplishment and believed it was a gift from God, right up until she told me that my show was “shit” and that I was “doing nothing for Christ!” Not words you want to hear from your best friend.
Five months later I got fired from that show.
As the host of Hollywood Today Live, I’d felt important for the first time in my career. I had a platform to spread joy and have conversations that were meant to entertain and occasionally inspire. The excuse I was given for why I was getting the ax was that I was “all icing and no cake.” I was devastated. Immediately after being told that I was basically too shallow, my replacement was publicly announced on Variety.com and other entertainment news sites: Ross Mathews.
Getting fired sucks, but getting fired publicly and seeing the guy’s face who is replacing you at the top of an article straight-up blows, especially since I’d naively suggested he fill in for me. I adore Ross immensely and have been a fan for years. He’s wildly intelligent and passionate about people, and he’d been a guest on our show a few times. When I told my executive producer I was taking one day off to fly home for a long weekend and attend an Ohio State football game, I suggested they bring Ross in to fill in for me. I assumed it would be just for that one day. I assumed wrongly.
That was my second real rock bottom moment, and it was humiliating. In my mind, I was being told, “This guy is better than you.” And my best friend in the world had judged both me and my show, and now I was left asking myself, “Was she right?”
Then, not long after getting canned, Uncle Sam paid me a visit, brought me to my knees, and almost sent me out the tenth story of my bathroom window. ALMOST. I’d been living off of a rapidly dwindling savings account and some residual checks from the show, all of which were disappearing quickly. I was alone, scared, and vulnerable and could not see a way out. It wasn’t pretty.
So, in one tumultuous fifteen-month period, I’d learned that my sister suddenly thought I needed to pray the gay away, I had lost the job I’d worked my entire life to get, and now, because I didn’t know how to manage the money I’d made while I’d been working at that job, I was in debt up to my eyeballs and alone in my bathroom, desperate to make it all end. I could take the easy way out, or I could make the decision to fight for my life. As a child, my sexuality, along with my small-town Catholic upbringing and some not-so-encouraging moments with family and friends, had all made me contemplate some pretty dark stuff more times than I can count.
But this time was different.
After some divine intervention and what I call my “Man in the Mirror” moment (I love Michael Jackson), I decided that the only way I could rewrite my story was by actually physically REWRITING my story.
I’m chatty as hell. I’ve been blessed with the gift of communication. For thirty-seven years I was able to get myself out of just about any situation or deflect attention from every one of my shortcomings by using some witty language and a little charm. However, without my own willingness to step up and take ownership of my life, my words were only a “get out of jail free” card. Sometimes I used them to get others to come to the rescue (they often struck a chord with my parents, for instance, who bailed me out when I was broke), but I wasn’t using my words to better myself or the world around me. I was basically a young Peter Parker at the beginning of the 372 reboots of Spider Man that have been made so far. (Seriously, why are there so many?) He had a gift and he was reckless until his soon-to-be-dead uncle taught him that with great power comes great responsibility. Spider Man is obviously way cooler than I am, and I’m definitely not in the business of fighting crime, but words are powerful, and I was not using mine to the best of my ability. I’m deeply ashamed of the way I’ve coasted on my abilities my entire life.
You see what I did there? I made myself just vulnerable enough so that you’d relate to me and then I showed you that I want to do better. I just weaseled my way out of the hole I just dug, all in an attempt to avoid your judgment. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s what I mean when I say words were a crutch. They’ve won me more arguments than I’ve deserved, and my words have also helped me to slither out of all sorts of accountability in my life.
I’m either a complete sociopath OR a guy who’s felt judged his entire life who is finally ready to let his guard down in hopes of becoming the best version of himself that he can be. I really hope the latter is the truth because my mom would be really disappointed to find out that her son’s a sociopath. Also, I think it would bum me out a little too. I want to be the nice guy with the bright future!
Which brings me to this exact moment in my life. I’m at a crossroads and I’m shaking things up! I’m Flipping the Script on my life, rewriting my story, and inviting you to do the same wherever you see fit.
(COME BACK FRIDAY FOR THE FINAL PORTION OF THE INTRODUCTION TO MY BOOK, FLIPPING THE SCRIPT)