How BoJack Horseman saved my godfather from alcoholism

How BoJack Horseman saved my godfather from alcoholism

This is a very personal story of how animation can affect the real world and save human lives.

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  • 30 января 2020

Let’s put all the memes and jokes aside (for about 15 minutes, I promise it won’t take longer), and talk about some serious issues. For example, let’s talk about the real power of animation. If we dive deeper, we can clearly see that animation is not just a bunch of moving pictures. It’s a true form of art that can affect people just as much as cinema or music does. Or even more. Psychologists say it’s way easier to associate yourself with a cartoon character than with a real human.

Let me introduce myself — my name is Anna. I will tell you a story about my godfather and BoJack Horseman. Let’s start with the second one. BoJack is my favourite TV series ever. I can’t put into words how strong my love for this cartoon is. It helped me get out of the heaviest existential crises, it changed my perception of life entirely, and proved that life can be whatever it is and it’s all completely fine.

But I understood the true power of this series just recently. It so happens that I haven’t seen my godfather since I was 6. And just now, as I am about to turn 24, he appeared in my life, and he turned out to be an awesome friend. We had several really deep conversations. At some point we started talking about animation. We’ve discussed The Simpsons, Rick and Morty, Big Mouth. And then he said: «Oh, and I also love BoJack Horseman, it saved my life». Turns out this wasn’t even a metaphor. It really did save his life. From alcoholism.

The fact that a cartoon helped a real person is amazing as it is. But what is even more precious, is that my godfather is my only relative who cured himself of alcohol addiction. Alcohol killed my whole family. My father drank himself to death, my mother is doing it right now, and my grandmother died because she got drunk — and that’s it, no more relatives left alive. All of the sudden, my godfather appears, and he is not much of a difference compared to the whole family. But he is fighting. And this battle is a success thanks in large part to BoJack.

Below you will find the story of my godfather, told in first person. I added some comments to it. But beware of spoilers for all the seasons of BoJack Horseman.

I started drinking when I was 12. It was an act of escapism. Although, the first time I tried alcohol happened when I was 5. I drank some champagne and later woke up by my swimming pool with a strong headache. I didn’t understand a thing, but there was this distressing sense of shame which became my companion. At 16 my life turned into a non-stop drinking party. Routine made me feel constantly stressed and it all spiraled out of control.

Things got really bad. I started drinking and I couldn’t stop. Neither two bottles nor ten were enough. I could stay awake for several days and then find myself at some stranger’s house, realizing I’ve lost memory of half of the day. And nothing could stop me from drinking more. Mom and dad told me I was a real disappointment. I divorced my wife. Alcohol destroys your personality. Eventually I started borderlining myself because alcohol stopped working as an escape. I got fired, then I crashed my car at 80 mph. When you are drunk the whole world is an enemy to you. Everyone is saying: «You need help!» But you can’t hear them. Live fast, die young, you know.

As my godfather told me once, when you’re a drunk being sober hurts. It’s like your mind is no longer capable of living without alcohol and it can’t cope with the real world. BoJack shows that with his example. When he is sober he does his best to get drunk as soon as possible to get into his comfort zone — a place where no problems exist. The moment you get drunk all the problems go away. You just don’t give a shit. I’ve seen that in BoJack, and now my godfather proved this to be quite accurate.

All of my friends and family gave up on me. The only person who stood by me was my wife. She saw me burning alive. I did realize with the tiny sober mind I had left that it hurt her a lot, and yet she was fighting for me. She found a rehab in Germany and arranged for me to go there. She once caught me when I was semi-sober and told me: «You can go to rehab if you want to. I won’t make you, but if you don’t, we’re done». At this point, I remembered we’ve already signed the divorce papers, and it made me make the right decision.

The funny thing is that only when I got to rehab I realized how much I needed help.

German rehabs are boring. They just give you pills, you talk to a psychologist. We had art-therapy, fitness and gardening. Just as the show’s rehab. To be honest, the arts and crafts stuff was really helpful. When you do something with your hands your focus changes and you feel a little better.

For 12 days I was sober and calm and everything worked great for me. And then it got really tough. I wanted to hurt myself so much but I was holding off. And this is how I finished the 3-week rehab course.

The main thing rehab gave me was a vivid picture of what alcohol does to a person. To be honest, that’s the only thing that keeps me from drinking sometimes.

One can only imagine how poisonous alcohol is. It burns your brain completely, and then dementia strikes you. You start losing memory. All the happy years and bright events you’ve memorized through your entire life are all gone. And that’s just the beginning. Alcohol affects every single part of your body, and it can’t really cure itself on its own.

Spoiler alert: more than half a year of sobriety passed by before I realized that being drunk means having no future.

When it comes to statistics, the numbers are pretty depressing. 40 to 60 percent of those who went through rehab go back to their addictions within one year.

The thing is that when one leaves rehab he almost always gets depressed. The vacuum-like world of rehab is kind to you. Everyone is caring and they treat you like a child just so you don’t drink.

When you leave rehab, you get into the cruel and uncaring world where everything is designed to make you drink. At first you see no point of being sober. It physically hurts you.

You can see that in BoJack Horseman as well. After leaving rehab for the first time he instantly decides that he wants to go back. The way he felt at Jameson’s party is hard to call a pleasant memory. When he sees a bottle of vodka an anxiety attack strikes, and the whole world turns into the enemy. The only thing that can make you feel better and remember why you opted in for sobriety are your friends. Which is why the first thing BoJack does after leaving rehab is calling Diane, his personal space of mindfulness.

BoJack happened to be that very «Diane» for my godfather.

I started watching BoJack Horseman while I was constantly drunk and that was mind blowing. He is a forgotten TV Star that lives in Hollywood. I’ve been working on movie sets for 10 years. He has a tumultuous relationship with alcohol, and so do I. We’re about the same age. His hair went gray at the same time mine did. He drowned his car and I smashed mine. Long story short, we are very much alike, which is why I found my true friend in BoJack almost instantly.

My favourite cartoon characters were drunkards all the way: Roger from American Dad, Bender from Futurama, Homer from The Simpsons. But never have I found a true soulmate in any of them.

So when I was drunk, I watched BoJack with great pleasure. Everyone was telling me that I have issues and I need help. At the same time I was looking at BoJack who was at the same rock bottom as I was, and thought that everything’s alright. If someone else is at the same place where you are, then it’s all fine and you are not alone. I’ve seen BoJack doing the same shit as I did and it made me feel validated.

Then I got sober. After about a year and a half of sobriety I felt really weak. I thought of drinking again more and more often. It was right before the first part of season 6 of BoJack premiered. So I thought: «Well, why the hell not? I’ll drink my first beer with BoJack when those episodes come out».

I went to rehab exactly between seasons 5 and 6. And as you remember, at the finale of season 5 BoJack went to rehab himself. So we both went through the same experience. I felt so bad without alcohol and I was 100% sure that BoJack would go back to drinking in season 6.

And then… he doesn’t. He is holding on. And I watch him do it and sort of feel inspired. We are so much alike! I look at him and I think: «Well, if he is strong enough not to drink, why can’t I?»

By the way, I had the same thing with BoJack. In September 2018 my grandmother passed away. I loved her so much that I couldn’t imagine my life without her. It was incredibly hard for me to cope with it. Then season 5 of BoJack aired. When I got to the Free Churro episode… well, that was something.

For the 26 minutes of the episode I went through all the stages of grief except for the last one. And only when I saw BoJack coping with his loss, I thought: «Well, if he is strong enough to continue on living after his mother’s death, why can’t I?»

What shook me up the most was the way BoJack perceives alcohol. You know, that bottle with space inside it. It’s an incredibly accurate metaphor. Alcohol sort of transfers you to some other dimension, the one where everything is great and comforting. You can build your own world with the help of alcohol. Your own space. I remember saying «Wow» out loud when this bottle first appeared on the screen. I’m thinking of getting a tattoo of it as a symbol, so that I will never forget what it’s like.

There’s one more thing — when I was drunk, I was happy. It was some sort of euphory, I had soooo much energy! Other people looked at me and they wanted to go places I’ve been, they wanted to feel that happiness. And that’s the saddest part. Because when I was drunk, I didn’t realize how much it affected those around me.

For example, now I can clearly see how I’ve ruined a close friend of mine. She was doing good. But when she came to my parties that lasted for like 10 days of binge-drinking… Well, she used to run away from those parties in a couple of days, and she was terrified. It had a lasting negative psychological effect on her, but I never realized that. Not until I finally saw what BoJack did to Sarah Lynn.

It’s a common thing that movies about the damages of alcohol are focused on those who drink. Lives of those who surround the victim of alcohol abuse are usually a background topic. Movies rarely focus on friends and relatives of addicts. They don’t show how much they suffer. I doubt the creators of BoJack will ever read this text but my gratitude to them is beyond description. Anyone who gives up on themselves still has a chance for redemption if they realize it’s not just their life being ruined because of an addiction.

The thing that hit me really hard was when BoJack’s psychologist started drinking. BoJack himself becomes a lifeline for those in need. He’s trying to save them and to make them feel better. I watched him do it and decided to try it myself. Turns out it’s a great form of therapy. I thought for a moment, «If I was that good at destroying people, is there any chance I can be at least half good at bringing them back to life?» My friends now know they can ask me for help and I will be there for them. They actually do that a lot right now. One of them once called in the middle of the night crying «Help me, I’ve been drinking for a very long time». I put a lot of effort into saving him. Now he’s happily married and has a very strong motivation to stay sober.

I guess there’s a special group of people that find strength in helping others. There was a nurse in my rehab who had a semicolon tattoo on her arm. It’s a common symbol that shows that the person has been through some shit but it’s in the past. This nurse was incredibly kind to us, it helped a lot. She’s probably seen rock bottom, but she got back to normal. And now she helps others.

via Gfycat

BoJack Horseman is special because it tells you: «You are not alone». It gives you faith. Yes, you’ve made a lot of mistakes, but it’s never too late to change things for the better. And helping others is a good way to do this.

Fingers crossed BoJack stays sober. I think I will, at least. I’ve been sober for a long time now and turns out I can live like that. BoJack Horseman helped me by making me feel like I’m not alone out there. Even with all the shit I’ve done. And when I got out of rehab I felt so alone all the time. I felt like the whole world was against me. When you quit drinking you have to stay away from parties because they’re always about alcohol. You’ll surely feel depressed and lonely because of that. At first you think that you’ll never have friends anymore, they all drink. But I looked at BoJack and realized that he’s okay with his life, it all works just fine when he’s sober. It gives you so much hope. Time passes and you find yourself surrounded by the right people that found their way to you.

If we go deeper, it’s obvious that for BoJack rehab is not just about alcohol. He finally learns what it’s like to take responsibility for your actions. BoJack realizes there’s no good in blaming everyone, including your parents, ex-fans and so on. He acknowledges that, and it’s not always easy. It doesn’t always work out. For instance, he smashes Jameson dad’s car into pieces, blaming him for everything that is wrong with Jameson. That was a moment of weakness for sure. And it’s ok, that doesn’t undo your whole progress. But it doesn’t work the same way with alcohol. There’s no room for mistake there.

I am completely sober since October 2018. Now I realize how much work I’ve done. And waking up with a hangover is not what I want. Being sober when you were drunk for so long is really hard. But everyone is capable of it. Sobriety has its benefits.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who found inspiration in BoJack’s life. It’s an incredibly popular TV series, people all over the world watch it and get inspired by it in many ways. The show’s creators have a huge responsibility now with the series getting so close to the finale. I hope they realize how much is at stake depending on where BoJack ends up.

And that’s soooo true. I worry about the series finale more than I used to worry about my exams back in university. But I find some peace in this Free Churro quote:

«If everyone’s happy, the show would be over. There’s always more show until there isn’t»

And I hope when BoJack Horseman is over, everyone is happy.

I am incredibly proud of my godfather. He proved me wrong, since I was thinking that my family was weak and every single member would end up being a drunk. Including me, obviously. His sobriety is so inspiring. He’s a hero of mine. And when we meet up and talk, I find myself admiring him for what he’s been through and where he is now. And it’s even more exciting that he found support in BoJack.

If BoJack starts drinking, it will be too much for me. I’m sure there are millions of people who depend a lot on BoJack’s actions. But even if he drinks, I hope and I believe that I won’t make the same mistake. I’ve already seen the better part of life thanks to BoJack. And this is exactly where I want to stay.

Don’t leave your loved ones, when they need help.
Your 2×2.