For years, WeHo News, a spunky online community newspaper, has been a must read for anyone interested in all things West Hollywood, with major news outlets often picking up its breaking stories. Recently, the operation shut down for several weeks, but started up again this week.
Readers have wondered what caused the hiatus, so founder and editor Ryan Gierach sets the record straight in this exclusive interview with L.A. Weekly about his recent struggles with alcohol, and his recovery.
L.A. Weekly: You took a sabbatical. Where were you? And why did you make the decision to take a leave?
Ryan Gierach: I went into a residential rehab to quit drinking and learn the skill set needed to remain sober.
Gierach (continued): As I finished seven years without a full week off, dealing with the stresses and strains of writing and editing WeHo News — not to mention selling the ads that kept it afloat — it became clear my drinking had made my life unmanageable.
Once I realized how alcohol prevented me from realizing the dream of financial stability, I admitted my powerlessness over drink, and surrendered.
Weekly: Do you feel better now?
Gierach: I drank myself into a stupor at the end there and now I feel like 150 bucks. I not only feel better, but lost almost 10 pounds in two months — just by not drinking 16 beers a day.
West Hollywood Mayor Jeff Prang, when I told him how much I'd been drinking, said, 'Anything over 13 is a little excessive.' He was right; that was a little too much and my mind is now far clearer than I can remember.
Weekly: What did you learn when you were away?
Gierach: I learned a new discipline for living. Back in the '90s when I sought a personal spiritual experience without a “god” — I was deeply anti-god and anti-religious — I settled on a blend of Taoism and paganism, only to find later that they lacked practical applications for leading a life.
Discovering the 12 Steps in rehab was a gob smack in that I quickly realized that I had not only already developed a “God of my own understanding,” as the Big Book puts it, but stumbled across a practical secular spiritual discipline by which anyone, drunk or high or not, can lead a life.
It's funny, but alcohol is mentioned only once in the 12 Steps, and to me the word could easily be removed altogether without harming the message. It truly seems to me to be a practical spiritual discipline for anyone and everyone.
My mentor Don Kilhefner says, “Religion is spirituality plus politics,” and because of my early realization of that, I have been anti-religious all my life, yet yearned to live spiritually.
I learned, while I was in rehab, the direction to that path I had always sought.
It'll make me a far better man, spouse, companion to my doggie WeHo, friend, contributor to my community, editor and businessman.
Weekly: What's the state of WeHo News?
Gierach: Ramping up for publication will be easy. We'll publish our first full issue this week. We'll publish weekly for a time until I settle back into permanent quarters and solidify the business side of things.
My contributors missed scratching their pencils to pads, and I'm told over and over again since my return that WeHo News' brand of coverage of West Hollywood has been missed.
Most people look forward to my return, and some people don't so much. I think that is as it ought to be.
Weekly: Are you going to do anything different with the paper?
Gierach: At first, no. We have some catching up to do, as I truly did not follow any of the happenings while I focused on my recovery.
In the late summer or early fall, however, a new partner and I plan to make a huge announcement about the publication. You might recall that I went through a failed partnership with Frontiers magazine and then with another private individual in 2010/11.
The publishing gods have recently sent to WeHo a man with deep publishing and turn around experience who hopes to work his publishing magic on my editorial magic.
Weekly: What do you look forward to doing at WeHo News now that you're back?
Gierach: My contributions to the community have thus far been in presenting the news in a raw, unvarnished format and providing important community figures a platform to give voice to their concerns and aspirations for West Hollywood.
Now that I have returned with new vigor, I plan to make additional contributions by creating venues, programs and activities for the further enhancement of civic life.
My first venture will be something that Cesar Millan of Dog Whisperer fame and I discussed a year ago — to bring his dog guardianship education pilot program to WeHo, the home to the highest number of dogs per capita in the U.S.
Anyway, he and I spoke again this week about it and I started the wheels turning today by connecting the folks who can make it happen.
I have long thought the city needs a film festival and made some tentative plans to create one a few years ago. Perhaps when my new publisher gets on board we can resurrect that idea, too.
On a personal note, I plan to resurrect my emotional support writing workshop based on the Shanti model of compassionate, non-judgmental presence.
I operated it for over seven years to tremendous success but dropped it when WeHo News overtook my life. I hope to once again serve the people who need a safe space to write out their emotions surrounding living with chronic or disabling illness.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.