Nico Tortorella On How Going Sober Was The Best And Hardest Breakup Of His Life

I have an ex-boyfriend who almost killed me. I loved him more than anything in the whole world. We spent a decade together. January 13th, 2017 will mark two years since the clean break. Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss him. He made me a happy man for so long, until he didn’t. He was electric, high voltage, still is. An escape. A poison that once ran through my veins. No one person to blame. Oh, I forgot to tell you his name. Alcohol, his name is alcohol.

“He was one of the cool kids. Friends with the jocks, the theater kids, the punks, the hippies and everything in between.”

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Matt Martin

I first met him when I was a kid. He was good friends with everyone in my family. I literally grew up in a bar, it was the family business. I had seen his power first hand as well as his weaknesses. I remember our first kiss like it was yesterday. When no one was looking I snuck one sip, one fucking sip of that Pabst Blue Ribbon and I knew. I was in love. However, it wasn’t until high school that we really started to get to know one another well.

He was one of the cool kids. Friends with the jocks, the theater kids, the punks, the hippies and everything in between. Verse. A Switch hitter. All the girls loved him, all the guys wanted to be him. That’s probably why I immediately took a liking. A loving. Easy on the eyes with a bad boy reputation. Then it happened. We made love. Fucked.

I was out late with him one night, way past my curfew. So late, that even my mom knew what was up. I opened the front door after our lustful night together, properly buzzed on his love, to her aggressively awaiting my arrival. Arms crossed. Pissed. She knew him well. In hindsight I think she was more afraid than angry. Disappointed even. She reprimanded me, but our lives together continued.

What can I say? He took me to a different place. Unlike anything I had ever experienced. Not a care in the world. Every issue a kid experiences going through puberty, he made easier. Better. More fun. An outlet for creative exploration. He made me more confident and made everyone else look better. We spent years really getting to know each other. Early on, most of the time was incredible. A real honeymoon phase. I learned more about myself through his Coke bottle glasses than any class could have taught me. He was pure joy. But definitely an asshole. It was my senior year when things started to get messy.

“I wound up in the emergency room, and have a pretty epic X-Ray to prove it.”

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Matt Martin

One late night he and I were downtown Chicago (I grew up in the northern suburbs) getting lit. He sure did always have a way of lighting up a room. We were playing one of his favorite games – quarters. The object is to slam a quarter on the table and try to perfectly float it in the cup. For some reason that night we were playing it with bottle caps instead of coins. I went to chug what was left in his cup and unknowingly swallowed the bottle cap. The metal ridges sliding down my throat, I was terrified. I immediately went to try and throw up but the pain was to extreme.

I decided it would be fine, all I had to do was wait a couple days for it to pass. Might as well keep drinking. Well, 3 days went by and with no sign of said bottle cap, the fear set in. I wound up in the emergency room, and have a pretty epic X-Ray to prove it. Worst case scenario, the bottle cap could have ripped my intestines and I would have internally bled to death. Best case scenario, it would pass all by itself. Needless to say, I’m fine. It was definitely a warning sign, but there was no way I was ready to quit him.

He got me arrested twice my senior year: once on a private beach in Glencoe, and once at my graduation. Yes. I got arrested at my High School graduation. Went to court and everything. A real winner. I got off easier than I should have. It was one close call after the next but the real problems started once I moved out of the house.

Let it be said, there were more good times than bad up to this point. We had a fucking blast together. Long nights and even longer days. Real conversations. Bodies entwined. Pure joy. Cosmic adventures. But I always knew he had a dark side.

“My ex-boyfriend was different in Hollywood. He was suddenly famous.”

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Matt Martin

The next few years of our relationship are blurry. My life has always been blessed. My friendships important. My career was taking off and I was happy. We had broken up a few times and somehow always wound up getting back together. I found California and the beauty of cannabis (that’s an entirely different essay altogether). It was during this time that I drastically changed my way of life. I had long wavy hair, worked at a raw food restaurant and was genuinely coming into myself. Shit was good for a long time. Then I booked one of my first television shows and was introduced to Hollywood.

My ex-boyfriend was different in Hollywood. He was suddenly famous. Flashier than ever. Bottle service in clubs, so many celebrations, a way of life. He was best friends with everyone that was anyone. And if everyone loved him as much as I did, what was the problem? Two nights a week quickly turned into six, seven, fuck, sometimes eight.

“I’ve hurt myself, contemplated suicide, and had some of the best nights of my life.”

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Matt Martin

Then I moved to New York City. I hated him in New York City. 90% of our fights went down in the Big Apple. This city breeds an obsession with him. Anyone that lives here knows what I’m talking about. Transportation is second nature and the bars are open till 4:00 in the morning. Oh and after hour spots. Every hour is happy hour in Manhattan. If I told you about every night we spent together this essay would very quickly turn into a novel (perhaps one day.) But for the sake of this piece let’s do the CliffsNotes version, shall we?

With him, I’ve embarrassed myself and the people I love more times than I can count. I’ve been locked out of my house, passed out in places no one should ever see, been arrested for public urination, and pissed the bed weekly. I fell off the boardwalk on Fire Island and was covered in poison oak, got a head full of dread lock extensions, terrible tattoos and been thrown out of respectable establishments, hotels, and family members’ homes. I’ve brought people down with me, broken hearts and destroyed some incredible relationships. He introduced me to cocaine who is actually the Devil himself. With his bare hands he ripped my heart out of my chest and spit on it. I’ve hurt myself, contemplated suicide, and had some of the best nights of my life. That’s his problem, one minute he’s the sexiest person in the world. Statuesque. The next you want him dead.

“There were times we beat the shit out of each other. Toxicity in relationship form. He was abusive but told me he loved me.”

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Matt Martin

He came in waves. Some years were better than others. There were times we were happy, had amazing sex, felt like kings. There were times we beat the shit out of each other. Toxicity in relationship form. He was abusive but told me he loved me. Convinced me even, then punched me in the face. Sid and Nancy. Obsessed. Addicted. Volatile. Violent. Highs and lows. Ebbs and flows. The last year was the worst. We started spending time alone together which is never a good idea. I hated the come down so I just kept drinking. I consumed all of him. Then came the shakes, the sweats, the hangovers and the depression. I’m getting anxious even talking about it. I hit rock bottom. Hard. If I didn’t do something about it, he was going to kill me.

After a long 10 years together, much of which I don’t remember as I am a blackout pro, I ended the relationship. Kicking and screaming. It was the single most important decision I’ve ever made. January 13th, 2015 is the day I was born again. My life, my career, myself, love and acceptance, my truest form became. Arrived. I have arrived and you’re crazy if you think I’m going anywhere but up. I didn’t go to AA more than a couple of times. I instead I turned to literature, specifically Helen Schuman’s A Course in Miracles. I turned to friends, the ones I had left. I turned to family members and I turned inwards. I turned to juice cleanses, to working out, and to taking care of myself. I turned to love. I returned to me. Thank God I did. Thank fucking God I did.

On my one year anniversary I posted this on Instagram:

It reads:

“today. today is a very special day for me. today i am one year sober from alcohol. today i am home in my body. today i am safe in my mind. today alcohol will not hurt me. today i will not hurt myself. today i am free. today i will not hide. today i am truly vulnerable. today if you or anyone you know is fighting addiction please stand up. today be free. today i am loved. today i am brave. today i love deeply. today i am more the person I’ve always wanted to be. today i am proud. today i am me. #niconiconico”

“If you take one thing from this essay let it be this: I don’t hate him.”

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Matt Martin

I’m excited to continue celebrating anniversaries and reflecting on time spent together, more importantly time spent apart. If you take one thing from this essay let it be this: I don’t hate him. I don’t hate alcohol. I love him and always will. And I sure as hell don’t regret a single day I spent with him. I am the man I am today because of him. He introduced me to some of the most influential people I’ve ever met. He taught me everything I needed to know. There’s is simply nothing more to learn. We had a tumultuous relationship is all. I really wish we didn’t . Everyone has their own relationship with alcohol. If you are cool with each other, that’s awesome. But I can promise you this: you don’t need him to be cool. You don’t need him to feel important. You don’t need him to have fun and you certainly don’t need him to be happy. Let him serve you until he no longer does. You are not alone. If you or anyone you know is struggling with an alcohol addiction, let me be a perfect example of how much better it can get. Help exists and it is beautiful. I love you all. Good luck out there. Cheers to that.


All photos taken by Matt Martin

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