Special Feature: Supporting Recovery in the Burlesque Community

The burlesque community is driven and exuberant. We push ourselves to bring our fabulous visions to life. We entertain audiences well into the wee hours of the morning at bars, theatres and performance spaces around the world. We work hard and we’re known to party hard.

Sometimes too hard. And sometimes, too often. And sometimes, for some of us, it’s out of control.

Hi. My name is Kay Sera and I’m an alcoholic. (“Hi, Kay.” “Hi.”) I’ve been sober, one day at a time, for a little over five years.

For those struggling with addiction, know this: You are not alone. There is experience, strength and hope in our burlesque community. Anonymity is the foundation of most recovery programs, but sometimes people choose to come forward as a way to help. I spoke with three such people — renowned performers Bella Blue, Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon and The World Famous *BOB* — whose stories of addiction and recovery may help you or someone you know on their path.

“Feelings of insecurity, of not being good enough, and the ultimate fear of being unlovable… I think a lot of ‘fabulous’ people share these fears.  Why else would we need people to cheer us on in the spotlight?” muses *BOB*.

Kay Sera on the Key West Burlesque Festival party boat 1 month sober.
Kay Sera on the Key West Burlesque Festival party boat 1 month sober.

We’ve all heard it: Admitting you have a problem is the first step. So how does a person take that first step? And what’s to be gained?

“I remind myself that the desire to drink or use is not as rare as I might think. That I am not the only one who feels that way,” says Jo. “Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are everywhere today. It’s not hard to find a meeting, to get there and to hear what you need to hear.”

A desire to stop drinking or using is the only requirement for AA. And you don’t have to worry about being clean and sober tomorrow — only today.

“I died. Literally, I died and had to be revived.”

“It really is just one day at a time. You only have to commit to that. You hope for progress, but all you have to do is not drink one day at a time,” confirms Jo. “Any sobriety you can get is one less fight with your friend, one less passive-aggressive tweet, one less DUI. Every day sober is a good day or at least a better day.”

Bella Blue would agree. Her drinking was smothering her productivity and creativity. And that’s not all.

“My time on stage was suffering. It wasn’t fair to my audience and fellow performers. In my personal life, I was letting my friends down. The worst part was that I felt like I was not being the mother that I could be to my kids. I was essentially doing everyone a disservice; not just myself. I just felt something inside of me was telling me that I needed to change before it was too late.”

World Famous *BOB* realised that need to make a change after a doctor told her that her drinking — which she’d described falsely as “moderate” — was still, by general standards, excessive. It hit her when she was walking back to her rehearsal that she needed to stop.

“That night, I asked my sober performing partner to take me to an NA meeting. I went and saw so many of my heroes and sheroes of the East Village art scene that it helped me stay interested. I got sober because I was scared of not knowing how to live. And I’ve stayed sober by attending 12 step meetings and giving myself permission to not be perfect.”

World Famous *BOB* is loud and proud about sobriety.
World Famous *BOB* is loud and proud about sobriety.

“Progress not perfection really rings true for me,” says Jo, who is enjoying her third round of sobriety. “Alcohol was my drug of choice, but I used as much as I could for as long as I could. Someone would offer something and I’d take it then ask what it was. I stopped for six months then relapsed — bad. I died. Literally, I died and had to be revived.”

Her next period of sobriety lasted over 10 years, but she started abusing prescription medications and relapsed again. “I was being sneaky about it and lying about my use. But when I realised what I was doing and what I was losing, I went back to AA seriously.”

Given that our workplace is often a bar, how do you stay on that path and make that next right choice not to drink or use?

For *BOB*, the answer is a simple one. “I go home. Seriously, it’s a job and I’m really good at my job. I go into the crowd after every show and say thank you, pose for pictures, shake hands — without them, there IS no show! I bond with co-stars while packing up backstage. Then after enjoying a seltzer in a champagne glass with a cherry and splash of pineapple — I call it an ‘Aloha’ — I go home and cuddle with my poodle and Husbear. It’s a great way to keep things professional as well as avoid drama.”

“Six months after getting sober I was asked to do my first tour and it was no accident that I was sober BEFORE those opportunities presented themselves.”

Bella says that for her, knowing herself and her triggers are important. “I began to have a really good feel for when the ‘cut off’ time is for me. Sometimes, I’ll text a sober friend and just express that I am having a hard time. They will help me stay focused. But, most of the time what helps me is thinking ahead. When I think about all that will be affected by drinking or what I have to lose by taking a drink, that is what keeps me on track the most. None of that is worth losing.”

Recovery can open up new worlds. You might think, “What’ll I do if I can’t drink?” The answer is — ANYTHING. The only thing you “can’t” do in recovery is drink or use.


Jo 'Boobs' Weldon works her recovery program so she can teach her burlesque program
Jo ‘Boobs’ Weldon works her recovery program so she can teach her burlesque program

“I didn’t even realise that my drinking was stopping me from going further in my career until I quit!” says *BOB*. “I didn’t feel using drugs and drinking impaired my abilities but I was wrong.  Six months after getting sober I was asked to do my first tour and it was no accident that I was sober BEFORE those opportunities presented themselves.”

“I could never have written The Burlesque Handbook when I drank,” says Jo. “I’m in better health, I have more compassion for people, and I’m not as mean. I have all the same character defects I’ve always had, I just manage them better! When I point a finger at a person, three point back at me. I can listen to what people are asking for rather than telling them what they need. Being sober makes me a better teacher, a better performer and a better friend.”

“I am a better mother, friend, and partner. I communicate better. I make all of my decisions, good or bad, in sound mind and spirit,” Bella affirms.

If you know someone who is in recovery — or who is struggling — there are ways to help.

“The best way to help someone who is sober or trying to be is by being honest with them if they come to you,” says *BOB*. “If you love someone and think they might have a problem, start the conversation by acknowledging their strengths. Use examples of how their strengths have helped them in the past and then bring up your concerns and offer support. After that, it is all up to them.”

“Your friends and partners appreciate when you take the time to learn a bit of the vocabulary of recovery,” recommends Jo. “It’s a lot about identifying with others and breaking down feelings of isolation. Just being there to listen is important. You’re not responsible for their sobriety, but you can make their recovery more pleasant. Jokes about their recovery may make them feel uncomfortable.”

Bella Blue in an introspective moment learning about a sober life
Bella Blue in an introspective moment learning about a sober life

“If a friend tells you that they are sober or trying to get sober, you need to honour that and help them in their quest,” asserts Bella. “There’s nothing worse than getting a barrage of pressure from your friends when you decide to cut out your vices. It’s never a bad thing when someone is trying to take the steps to better themselves. It’s our job as humans to support those positive changes for each other.”

“If a friend tells you that they are sober or trying to get sober, you need to honour that and help them in their quest…”

You are the only one who can decide if you need help—and if you’re ready to get help. Both BurlyCon and Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend include meetings to welcome and support those in recovery, and more and more festivals are doing the same. The Twitter handle @BHoFBill sends daily messages from AA-approved literature to serve as gentle reminders of the path to progress; following and retweeting is a great way to share the message, whether you’re in recovery or not. Here are some additional links to online resources.

Take that first step. You are worth it. And you are not alone.

Not sure if you have a problem? Answer a few questions here

Learn more about Alcoholic Anonymous

Find an AA meeting near you (US & Canada)

Find an AA meeting near you (outside US & Canada)*

Check out online AA meetings

Learn more about Narcotics Anonymous

Find an NA meeting near you

Al-Anon offers strength and hope for friends and family of problem drinkers

*This is not an official AA page; some of the information may be out of date, but it includes many links to country-based programs.

Many thanks to post author Kay Sera, Jo Weldon, Bella Blue and World Famous *BOB*.

21st Century Burlesque Magazine
21st Century Burlesque Magazine

Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.

  1. I have two weeks of sobriety under my belt today after four years of being able to refrain from inbibing for one night out of 30. It has taken two of those four years of having the desire to embrace life to finally jump off that cliff and this article was the diamond several months back that helped me feel less alone in my struggle. I’ve currently made it through my first two shows sober. It was tough, but a dear performer friend said ‘You think you want to have a drink right now, but you really don’t.’. That is all she needed to say. Thank you.

  2. This was a really great read! I would love to see a similar article about performers who have overcome eating disorders.

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