Sober But Never Dry

Sam Lansky opens up to us on recovery, dating sober, and Madonna.
March 31, 2016

Two 20-something gay men walk into a bar and order seltzer water with lime. This isn’t the beginning of a corny joke but the beginning of an intimate conversation between two men who have honestly labeled themselves as addicts, as depicted in Sam Lansky’s recently released memoir, The Gilded Razor. The book honestly reveals the debut author’s tumultuous affair with alcohol, drugs, and older men during his late teens in New York. Praised as “the addiction memoir for the next generation,” the acclaimed memoir has been featured in People magazine, Vanity Fair, and on Entertainment Weekly’s Must List. Lansky is also the cultural editor at Time, interviewing celebrities like Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Adele.

I didn’t have the opportunity to walk into a gay bar with Lansky, but I did have the opportunity to chat intimately with the 27-year-old author. During our hour-long chat, we discussed recovery, dating sober, and what happens when you say no to Madonna.

You and I actually have something in common. I stopped drinking two and a half years ago myself.

Oh wow. Congrats.

I had a really bad problem.

I’m sorry to hear that. Been there. As you know.

I know. What did your journey into sobriety look like?

I sort of document towards the end of my book my experiences in substance abuse treatment and ultimately getting sober when I was 19. Looking back on it - what I can see I didn’t even realize how much every step along the way for me, everything I learned, every rehab I ended up in, every false start, every relapse was bringing me to this point where I could finally be ready to let that go. To let that part of my life go now so I could step into this new sober identity. So much of my identity was wrapped up in being this messed up kid that was a really hard thing for me to let go of. Once I was ready, I was really, really ready.

There is no one-size fits all approach to addiction treatment or recovery. A lot of different things work for a lot of different people. I am not an advocate, necessarily, for being completely sober. It’s what’s worked for me. It’s what’s allowed me to have what feels like a really truthful and gratifying life. I can only speak from my experience and say what has worked for me.

I think there are pressures facing young gay men especially in relation to drugs and alcohol and also body image, which I write a lot about in my book. For me it was really important to be a voice to come through from the other side of that stuff. Even in my 20s, I have seen my friends grapple with substances abuse, addiction, and body image issues. To be on the other side —  to have come through a pretty gnarly addiction to now be in this place where I have been able to (knock on wood) stay sober for almost eight years. It’s really cool to be able to share my experiences of how bad it was. How gruesome it really got for me. To be on this side of it saying you can get to this side. No matter what you've done. No matter how screwed up your experiences were. No matter how dark or gnarly it got. You can still have a really great life.

I totally agree. I think that’s the reason I have been so drawn to this story is because it is incredible that you are living this moment out loud. I feel that a lot of people come to this realization that they need to make a change and that change is rehab or recovery or sobriety or whatever it is. But then I feel that there is a shameful silence associated with that process. I think our community needs more of an example of this — to see someone young who they can relate to and see that there are multiple paths.

That is something I really wanted to project with my story. I do know for me being young and gay and living in New York, it felt like the way to establish my identity was to go out a lot and party and do a lot of drugs and sleep with older guys and that made me feel cool and edgy. Ultimately, I feel so much stronger in my identity now. You know? That’s not saying everybody needs to be sober. You can still have your own path and make your own mistakes. But I didn’t see a lot of examples or role models doing it a different way. If I am able to do or be that for people now, that is an incredibly moving thing.

What about your dating life? How is that?

Well I think it’s pretty good. I don’t at this point think in my life it’s not an impertinent to get me to date or go out and have a good time. The one thing I do hate about being sober is I can never make a move and then blame it on being drunk. You know? I can never send a send a text and then apologize for it the next morning. I have to own everything I do all the time. I never have that excuse.

You should blame it on something else - like sugar. Blame it on Red Velvet Cake.

Right. Like, “I’m on a juice blend. I was not thinking straight. I’m so embarrassed. Please forgive me.” But besides that, being sober – I am sure there are dudes out there who are like, “I don’t want to deal with having a sober boyfriend because he is not going to be any fun.” But that’s not someone I probably would be interested in to begin with.

Do you have any incredible stories from any of your celebrity interviews?

When I went to interview Madonna before Rebel Heart, she was playing a drinking game with all of the reporters she was meeting with. So she had shot glasses set out and a bottle of tequila. So I go and sit down with her and she is like, “Here’s the deal. If you ask a terrible question and I say it is a terrible question, I have to take a shot. And if I give a terrible answer and you say it is a terrible answer, then you have to take a shot.” I totally panicked. Here I am in this room with Madonna on camera and she is telling me to drink. I was like, “What I am going to do?” I have been sober for so long I can’t blow that now. Even for Madonna. So I looked at her and just said, “I’m really sorry. I don’t drink so I can’t play this game.” She then asked,” What do you mean you don’t drink?” I just said,” I stopped drinking a long time ago.” And then I saw in her eyes that she got it. She just instantly got it. I didn’t have to say anything else. I could tell it made her warm up to me. We ended up having a really good conversation because I told her. It was one of the most intense moments of my life, though. Telling Madonna no.

Last question: what would your Real Housewives tag line be?

Let me think about this. I want to get the phrasing exactly right. Ok. I would say, “For me the party might be over, but the drama’s just begun.”