Cover Story: Seamus Kirst is No Longer Sh*tfaced
I first discovered Seamus Kirst in a roundabout way. I saw a post on Facebook from a family friend from my hometown about a book written by his friend’s son. Then I see another post about it from Seamus’ dad Sean who is another family friend from our hometown and is a longtime, highly regarded journalist and writer. So I thought to myself, “Self, you need to read this.” The book is entitled Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk by Seamus Kirst.
The book chronicled Seamus’ struggle with addiction and mental illness through his high school and college years. The book knocked my socks off. Extremely well-written and was written in obvious 20/20 hindsight, meaning “He got it.” At just 28 years old he seems to have acquired the wisdom of… let’s just say someone much older with a lot of wisdom. He seems to have lived several lifetimes already.
In the midst of his addiction struggles he managed to become valedictorian of his high school class in Syracuse, NY and subsequently graduate from Ivy League heavy weight, Brown University. In that time he was also working through mental health issues, an eating disorder, and coming out as a gay man. Now on the other side of his addiction he has written a book, is a standup comedian, is a mental health advocate, and working on launching his own web series.
Seamus is my hero because he has already had so many struggles and is still going full speed ahead. He’s figuring out his goals and dreams as he goes along and is tackling them one by one. On a personal note he reminds me a bit of myself but I waited to try writing a book and standup in my 40’s and 50’s, he’s gotten a head start in his 20’s and I’m cheering on the hell out of it.
The following is my interview with Seamus Kirst…
When and how did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
“I decided I wanted to be a writer after spending a year working at a nonprofit in Brooklyn, just after graduating from Brown. I was working with men and women who were leaving prison and “reentering” society. I went into the job thinking that I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, but as the year went on I realized that law was not the direction in which I wanted to go.
Of course, part of that was because I started to study for the LSAT, and I was like WTF is this?! But, I also realized that I was much more interested in entertainment and media than I’d thought.
At that point, I decided I wanted to be a talk show host, and be a blend of someone more serious – like Anderson Cooper, who talks about the issues I’d wanted to focus on as a lawyer, like human rights – and someone who is more opinionated and uses humor, like a Chelsea Handler.
In college, my last semester, I’d taken a creative nonfiction class, but it’s now laughable to read what I wrote. I literally wrote an essay about how I WASN’T an alcoholic!
Anyway, during my year at the nonprofit, I started using my social media to not just post pictures, but to experiment with humor. I got a lot of good reception, so I started doing a little bit of essay writing, as well.
I went to journalism school at Newhouse (Syracuse University), thinking I would do more broadcast work in hopes of going down the talk show route. But at Newhouse, I fell in love with writing, though more journalistically.”
Can you tell us how your blog post about the 2 year anniversary of your sobriety went viral and how it inspired you to write your book Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk?
“After graduating from Newhouse, I went backpacking in Southeast Asia, and then came back to Syracuse, and was basically like, “Oh, shit.” I didn’t have a plan, or money, or a job. I started TAing (Teacher Assistant) at Newhouse for the summer, and also worked at Barnes & Noble for a couple of months.
Since becoming sober in August of 2013, I’d spent a lot of time in therapy and talking to people about sobriety. I’d also spent a lot of time in my own head unpacking my experiences, and kind of being like “WTF just happened over the last decade of my life.”
While in high school, and at Brown, I’d never really fully grasped how extreme my experiences were, in so many ways. When I started to talk about my life and my struggles, people seemed interested, I think especially because I blended rawness with humor.
I decided to write an essay on the 2 year anniversary of becoming sober, and the essay is basically just verbal diarrhea of all the experiences I’d had that I’d put so much emotional energy into hiding for years.
I published the essay on my blog, and posted it to Facebook, and it took off. It was pretty crazy. People were messaging me like, “My cousin in Wyoming who has no idea who you are just shared your essay, and I didn’t send it to them.” It went on to be republished by HuffPost, Upworthy, The Advocate, The Las Vegas Sun, and publications in India, Taiwan, etc.
People were SO receptive to the essay. So many people reached out to me telling me that my story resonated with them, even if they weren’t alcoholics. I’m a liberal, gay man who lives in New York, and I was getting messages from like parents who belonged to megachurches. It was wild to see how much we can be united by vulnerability, especially when it comes to mental health.
Essentially, people kept asking me questions, and it seemed like they wanted more. I decided to write the book, and received so much support from so many people along the way.”
I couldn’t even pass physics sober, how in the hell did you become your high school class valedictorian when you had already been hospitalized a few times for alcohol poisoning and had done a few rounds of rehab?
“Well, for one thing, I love school! I also knew that I wanted to go to Brown, and that I wasn’t going to get in if I didn’t work my ass off.
I am also very competitive. I think that some of my academic success came from a good place, but a lot of it came from a feeling of needing to prove something, or to be the best. I think it’s amazing to have goals, and to achieve them, and to push yourself, but I think you should also always evaluate why something is your goal.
In retrospect, I was not taking care of myself, in many ways, during that period. I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, and I am sure it correlated with being unhappy and feeling like a fuckup, and wanting to ‘be the best’.”
Tell us about your mental health advocacy.
“Most of my mental health advocacy is focused on creating platforms that allow people to have open and honest conversations. One of the biggest issues in mental health is that so many conversations about illnesses, behaviors, feelings, etc. are taboo. And if people aren’t comfortable to communicate about mental illness, then we will never really understand mental illness or treatment.
In that sense, I do talk to groups about my book and about addiction, suicide, eating disorders, etc. I also often speak about how depression, anxiety, substance misuse, suicide, impacts the LGBTQ community disproportionately.
Beyond that I try to use my platforms in the media world to create more dialogue. For example, I interviewed Congressman Joe Kennedy about the opioid epidemic for Teen Vogue, and I interviewed a psychiatrist at Stanford about Xanax addiction, while also discussing my own experiences with Xanax.
I also have my podcast, Mental Health Hangouts, on which we interview people who are advocates and activists in the mental health field, and we also interview people who have a mental illness and just want to share their own experiences.
One of the messages I am constantly pointing out is that mental health is just as important as physical health, and therefore mental healthcare is also just as important as physical healthcare. The healthcare system in America is so fucked up, and I think its super important to make affordable and accessible mental healthcare a priority in healthcare conversations. To that end, we need Medicare for All <3.”
You have also had a foray into standup comedy (You are hilarious, btw). How did that come about and have you gotten any flack because your comedy is so in your face about being sober and a member of the LGBTQ Community? And has it gotten you any dates?
“Lol, I have definitely gotten feedback from some people that my standup is too crude, but I don’t care!!! I have also gotten that feedback about my writing. I think many people inherently read descriptions of gay sex as being more crude because of internalized homophobia. If one gay person reads my writing, or listens to my standup, and feels more comfortable as a gay person, or feels more empowered to be themselves, or have a better sex life, then frankly, I don’t give a flying fuck about the 20 other people who are standing around clutching their pearls and feigning offense.
Lawlz, I am actually going to move away from the question just for one second, but I am currently in the process of creating a comedy web series, called Modern Day Gay, which will have a lot of gay themes, characters, and ACTORS. I am very frustrated with Hollywood as a gay man. It is annoying as hell to constantly see gay roles be played by straight actors, and to have gay plot lines, or depictions of gay intimacy, be watered down aka STRAIGHTWASHED.
Hollywood is constantly being called out for this practice, and they don’t really seem to be learning their lesson, so I want to create my own show that doesn’t do this. When the show comes out, I plan on challenging straight people to watch it. It is obnoxious when I hear straight people talk about something being a “gay show” like they can’t watch. Like, I have watched THOUSANDS of movies depict straight sex over the years, and my eyeballs have not melted. I assure you, straight people of the world, the same will hold true the other way around.
BACK TO STAND UP. In terms of sobriety, I haven’t gotten much pushback. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of sober comics out there.
I have definitely been hit on a decent amount from my standup, but I haven’t yet gotten any dates!!!”
What is coming up next for Seamus Kirst? Another book? More comedy?
“I recently wrote a children’s book that my agent is working on selling. I will continue to do stand-up, though my heart is really in creating my web series, Modern Day Gay, right now. I am also working on novel, though it’s not happening very quickly, lololol. Follow me on social media to stay up to date!”
To contribute to Seamus’ IndieGoGo fund for Modern Day Gay click HERE
Yes, indeed follow Seamus Kirst on almost all social media as @SeamusKirst. And you can find his book Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk here…