Candle light. Barry White. And my Fifth Step.
I thought, “I’m building intimacy!” He called it stalking. I said I was sharing. He said oversharing. Through ten years of sober dating in New York City on the heels of a devastating divorce, I tried it all—from celibacy to the polyamory scene to IRL meetups. Along the way, I made every mistake possible. To my surprise, I’ve landed in a happy marriage, but I will never forget the stories that brought me here. Such tales are at the heart of My Dinner with Steve.
As someone with long-term sobriety, I never tire of addiction stories. Likewise, I’m always interested in stories about flawed women. When I sat to write my own film, I wanted to see these two worlds come together. There are so many movies that deal with battling addiction, but there are very few that portray the experience of living in recovery. If the recent #WeDoRecover challenge is any indication, I’m not alone.
The hashtag was born during the first presidential debate, when the incumbent spewed a poisonous—and untrue—tirade about Hunter Biden, a recovering addict. His father, former Vice President and current presidential candidate, Joe Biden, was not rattled. Instead, he rallied to support his son, and all of us recovering from addiction, by first affirming Hunter’s recovery and then stating, “I’m proud of my son.” In the wake of that, there’s been an avalanche of support for people recovering from addiction, much of it in the form of people sharing their own #WeDoRecover stories.
Into this hunger for content comes the short I wrote and starred in, My Dinner with Steve. The film tells the story of Jen, a newly sober, 40-something woman whose divorce has left her shattered. She’s finally landed a date with her teacher crush, but mistakes Googling with familiarity and turns their dinner into an addict’s confessional. We shot it in St. Petersburg, FL, over two days in March, just before the Covid-19 lockdown. Already the movie has been seen all over the world in festivals, with more to come.
My approach to the film was something I’d learned through recovery—I asked for help. I’d never written a film before, let alone acted in and produced one, so I turned to people in the industry for guidance. I’m lucky that several key team members, notably our director Eugenie Bondurant, were early supporters of the project.
The work has been so gratifying that I’ve already written more, a series with recurring characters offering humorous tales to convey serious messages—primarily, that overcoming addiction is not only possible, but just the beginning. One of my greatest fears about getting sober was that it would mean the end of fun. As the recent #WeDoRecover challenge has shown, that’s been far from true for me and countless others. And it made me reflect on why I felt compelled to write these episodes.
First, the longer I’ve stayed sober, the more clearly I’ve seen that sobriety is a gift. It wasn’t bestowed upon me through some kind of deserving behavior, far from it. It was grace alone. Through my recovery, I’ve met many wise, humble, and generous people. Many have given freely of themselves to show me a better life, one free of blackouts, institutions, health crises, destroyed relationships, and enslavement. These interactions are at the heart of the films I want to write. Because no one recovers alone. There is no single wise influencer, leading us all to an Instagram-worthy photo shoot. Our lives continue, in all the mess and glory. But if we stick together, we do recover.
These experiences are what I want to commemorate in film, and My Dinner with Steve is the first outing in that effort. While the story is based on actual experiences, it’s not a true story. And as much as this short speaks to the recovery community, I see these stories as having a broader audience, in the same way that a film like Requiem for a Dream – just now celebrating its 20th anniversary with a re-release – wasn’t intended for drug addicts only.
We all experience obstacles in life, but those of us in recovery need to refrain from using our drug of choice to cope, whether that’s sugar, sex, or a substance. So, it’s important that this film look like others out there, and speak to a broad audience. And there’s no better way to foster empathy than through storytelling.
For more information and to see the trailer, visit the website for My Dinner with Steve.