One Bit at a Time: Julia Ramos’ Story

Julia Ramos’ return to the stand-up scene has been one marked with the trials and tribulations of overcoming an addiction which could have easily ended her life and which makes every punchline that much sweeter that it didn’t.

Black. Concrete. Black. Grass. Black. Hospital.

Julia fidgets as she writes in her notebook. She bites her lip and taps her fingers on the page, cross-legged in a chair. Staring off in to nowhere, she scribbles ineligibly from back to front of the book, all entries dated, giving away some kind of cipher she hopes no one can decode if lost.

In the hours leading up to an open mic, jokes at the ready to be tested, the healthy tension can be excruciating, but the moments before she steps on stage after her oft mispronounced last name she is more confident than at any other point in the her day.

Julia tells jokes. When not working one of her many jobs, she’s up there trying material or jotting down ideas for riffs that lead to jokes, which lead to bits, which add up to sets. She’s back on the comedy circuit around Portland, and is even booking shows again.

Julia fell off of the circuit of open mics and local comedic fame because she wasn’t on the wagon. It wasn’t that she really wasn’t on it. She’d overslept and completely frickin’ missed that SOB. She was an alcoholic. It took a lot for Julia to arrive at saying the words, as is often the case with rock bottom. Like Tyler say, “Hitting bottom isn’t a weekend retreat.”

Her first DUI landed her in diversion. Sideswiping a car, lost during a blackout between SW and SE Portland might have knocked some sense in to your average drunk, but not Julia.

This was the girl with three to four minibar bottles in her purse and a water bottle filled with anything but water. This was the girl who snuck drinks at work while her boss was in the bathroom and whose body for months after getting sober went all pavlovian and still turned to her purse long after the booze was gone. The girl who had a seizure on the job after not drinking for a scant seventeen hours at one point.

After drinking her way through diversion with the knowledgable help from a friend, i.e. enabler, Julia was still bingeing. She never drank to be the life of the party or because it felt amazing. She drank because she needed that feeling. She never wanted to live while drinking, which drives you to drink, and the cycle continues.

While still drinking, she had tried her hand at stand-up. A comedy fan from an early age, Julia fell in love with Ellen stand-up, the then hilarious Paula Poundstone, and others. She wanted that. Not just the stage, but the camaraderie after in late night diners and the whole scene, the lifestyle.

She got on stage her first time after taking a stand-up class from a coworker, Gabe Dinger, who moonlighted as a decent comic. She had scoffed at first, but was eventually convinced. Julia saved up some cash and took the class with the promise to herself that she’d be “good” about her drinking, and after seven weeks in the class, she’d do that first mic.

Up to that point she’d just been an audience member. For the better part of two years every single Tuesday at Helium she sat just watching, studying, and smugly telling herself she could nail it.

When she finally took the stage, still drinking, she had a solid set. For a first time up, she relatively killed. Julia got an applause break and everything. Looking back, the jokes were terrible. Her first joke she ever told was about Whitney Houston’s death two weeks beforehand. Bobby Brown outlived her, who saw that coming?

She did two more sets while drinking. The third set before she, “Got in trouble,” she cannot recall.

She remembers a bit of getting on stage, can’t remember if she delivered her punchlines, lasted about a minute of a three minute set, and then shuffled off. She does remember thinking, “That’s good enough for me in my drunk brain. Well, at least I got up there and did it.” Her father witnessed that set.

Her second DUI came some time later. After refilling her waining vodka stash in her purse, depleted from having been drinking all day, she got in her aunt’s car and left for her dad’s house.

She remembers leaving the apartment after feeding her turtle, but after that, it’s all a blur. In a blackout stupor, she had crashed her aunt’s car at the intersection of 217 and 26 at Barnes Road.

When at the hospital as a precaution, her BAC came back. Her dad and the police officer heard what it was. The coherent and communicating Julia was looked at in shock.

“I don’t know how you are conscious and speaking right now.” Julia was blowing a cop’s mind, not easy to do in this county.
She was released from the hospital to jail, and then from jail to her father’s house that night.

It was to her father that night, after years of hiding, years of loving enabling, and two easily near-fatal DUIs that Julia said the words, “Dad, I’m an alcoholic.” She was still very drunk.

After her father went to bed, he had an early morning and it was easily 3am at this point, she went looking for more booze in his townhouse…every stash he kept was gone.

This wasn’t a family of drunks, but it certainly wasn’t a dry family by any means. Between the hospital and her coming home, it had all been removed…because of her. She knew then that this was very real and the people around her were concerned. It was a wake-up call for Julia. It was her rock bottom.

Her lawyer laid it out: It’s a minimum of six months in prison, maybe more; or you can join the Be Sober program for up to three years. Though prison was literally a shorter sentence, Julia knew she both needed and wanted the help. Drying out in county for six months wasn’t going to fix her want, need, and self-destructive path of alcoholism. She needed some professional help. Julia wanted to be sober.

After a year and a half in the Be Sober program and her moving to an Oxford House sober living facility; we have a bubbly, funny, sassy Julia back. A Julia she and others haven’t seen since high school, the time in her life she was the happiest. As of writing this, she’s almost two years sober and finally back to comedy.

She had to take that time off. Going to bars as a recently recovering alcoholic mixed with some chemical imbalances she’s leveled out with anti-depressants was not a good idea. She was having more bad days than good.

Ramos10Seventy percent of Julia’s material is alcoholic related. She can and wants to joke about it now. No alcoholic is ever out of the woods, but now she’s sober and that is making for a better comic. She jots her notes, practices her bits at open mics, and best of all she can remember her punchlines and recall her sets. She even booked a show in a showcase she did on April 7th; not an open mic, but a show.

She’s just now getting back to the routine. She can handle once again going to open mics in bars and now associates them with her work, her comedy, and not booze and blackouts. The pull is always there, and there are days where she skips a mic if she’s having a bad day, but she’s taking it one day at a time and not pressuring herself to get back to things as she defines her new, sober normal.

She can’t say whether she’ll ever drink again. Julia can’t predict the future any better than you or I. She still has days where she skips the mics because stressors have her on edge; she knows when to say no again. Her determination to indulge in her greatest love, comedy, motivates her to have more good days than bad now.

“It’s real cornball, real Hallmark Channel, but I get to live. I didn’t want to live anymore when I was drinking. I get to do comedy. Besides being sober, that is the greatest payoff.”

Check out a great set by Julia here: Video

For more stories of local Portlanders chasing their dreams and doing their own thing, check out the link to the free magazine: Poppycock Magazine

Where in Portland is Poppycock

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