Author Archives: andy nicastro
We’re outside at his patio table, the hub of conversation in Thom’s household. We’ve just sat down, post-dinner, for a smoke, Thom to my left and his partner Tom G. to my right.
Thom is very fragile, and his oxygen cannula has been removed from his nostrils and placed on top of his head so that his cigarette doesn’t cause the pure oxygen to catch fire. He draws slowly on his Marlboro, eyes closed, his face awash in calm.
I, on the other hand, am a bundle of energy. Not for any particular reason, it’s just the way my chemistry works. My leg bouncing up and down would drive him nuts, as would my proclivity for frenetically tapping my cigarette on the side of the ashtray.
I notice his eyes are open, and he’s watching my over-enthusiastic ashtray assault.
“I’m sorry,” I say quickly, pulling the cigarette back. “I was tapping my cigarette like an angry Bette Davis.” He smiles at this.
Because I’m generally put in charge of what we’ll watch on TV each evening, I ask my friends what they’d like to watch that night. I offer a few comedy suggestions (Thom, when he’s not watching Lester Holt or CNN News, has a penchant for broad comedy…The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are among his recent favorites), so I’m surprised when he says, “Let’s watch a Bette Davis movie.” Thom and Tom have recently watched the finale of the series “Feud,” about Davis and Joan Crawford, which they both enjoyed.
“I know,” I blurt, “Let’s watch Dark Victory. My favorite Bette Davis movie.”
“Sounds good,” says Thom, and Tom G. concurs.
Suddenly, it occurs to me. Bette Davis dies at the end of that film. From Cancer.
“Guys, I don’t think we should watch that movie.”
“Why?” the boys ask.
“Because…um…she dies of cancer at the end.”
Silence, for a moment. It’s slightly awkward.
Then Thom looks at me and says, “Let’s watch it.” He’s smiling softly. I marvel at his sense of humor, intact as ever despite his failing health and the quickly spreading cancer inside of him.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yes,” says Thom, smiling more broadly now. “I want to see how it’s done.”
“Are you seriously going to make us watch a movie about someone dying of cancer?” I ask.
“Yup,” he says, with that million-dollar smile. I can’t help but laugh at his enthusiasm.
An hour later, the three of us are seated in his living room in front of his giant tv screen, watching Bette Davis over-emote her way through her cancer diagnosis in a melodramatic frenzy. Thom, Tom and I are practically guffawing at the over-the-top nobility of the dying Judith Traherne.
Finally, the ending of the film arrives, and Bette ascends the stairs to her bedroom, gazes with melancholy out her window, then retires to her bed where she expires in a haze of soft focus, a smile playing on her lips, one hand poised gently on the pillow next to her head.
I look over at Thom, who is looking at me.
“That’s how it’s done, Thom,” I say, smiling. “Do you think you can manage that?”
He laughs, and affirms that he can. He mimics Bette’s death scene to perfection.
“Okay,” I say. “We let you make us watch this movie, but if you make us listen to Seasons in the Sun I’m just going to end you right now.”
Though we don’t know it at the time, Thom has less than two weeks to live. On occasion, while helping his family and other friends nurse him, I’ll stare into his eyes, hoping he can still see me, and say, “Remember how Bette Davis did it.”
And while he does not pass with a smile on his face, nor with his hand positioned next to his head on his pillow, in the days leading up to his death he had definitely matched Bette scene for scene for dignity and courage in the face of the coming unknown. Barely complaining though in great pain, and with more concern for his caretakers than for himself.
While I seriously doubt that Thom modeled his last weeks after Bette Davis’ in Dark Victory, I do know that he showed all of us who were blessed to be with him those final weeks how to die with dignity and grace.
But before that, of course, he showed many of us how to live. With humor, with graciousness, with an appreciation of life that few could compete with. “Life begins when you say yes,” he would say. Or, “Sometimes life makes better decisions for us than we would for ourselves.” He filled the lives of those who loved him with joy.
And that in itself is a victory.
“Close your eyes,” I say.
I’m lying on a chaise lounge on his patio, and he’s sitting in his favorite chair at his glass-topped patio table, smoking a Marlboro Special Blend, his brand of choice.
“Maria just posted this on Facebook. She says it’s her favorite vocal performance that she’s recorded.”
The singer Maria Mckee, one of my dearest friends, is one of the several artists I’ve introduced Thom to over the years. He’s grown to love her beautiful voice as much as I do.
Thom adjusts his favorite white terry cloth bathrobe in the slightly chilled Palm Spring evening air and closes his eyes. I hit play on my phone, and the song begins to spill out of the Bose portable speaker on the table in front of him, courtesy of Bluetooth.
The song begins with an organ dirge, and soon Maria’s silky vocals attack the lyrics to the John Cale song “If You Were Still Around.”
If you were still around
I’d hold you
I’d hold you
I’d shake you by the knees
Blow hard in both ears
If you were still around
There is silence when the song ends until Thom simply says:
The silence continues, and I lie on the chaise gathering my whirlwind thoughts. It’s been little more than a month since Thom’s cancer returned, and though we both know what’s coming, I’ve yet to confront him directly about the dreadful truth that is so frighteningly imminent.
The silence continues until it’s almost painful, the emotion generated by the song still lingering in the air. It’s a song about death, and here we are, the spectre of death hanging silently between us, a dreadful elephant in the room. Or on the patio, to be precise.
Thom continues to smoke his cigarette, occasionally sipping at the iced coffee I made for him earlier. He’s come to love these drinks, which I make for him using the leftover morning coffee, some half-and-half and more sugar than any responsible dietician would recommend.
I stare up at the darkening Palm Springs sky, and the desert breeze ripples the palm fronds above me, circulating down onto the patio, and caressing the wind chimes that hang just outside his bedroom window. Those chimes, coupled with the sound of the fountain in his garden and the waving palm fronds, creates a dissonant natural orchestra that is almost indescribable in its beauty.
I get up and move to the patio table and sit down opposite him.
“Close your eyes,” I say again. I do not have to explain this request to him, he immediately intuits why I’m asking.
I watch him as he closes his beautiful blue-gray eyes, and tilts his head up slightly, beginning to register the gorgeous cacophony. A soft smile plays around his lips.
Thom and I have always been on the same wavelength, ever since we first met. He is kind, he is funny, and he understands me in a way few others ever have. Words are often extraneous in our relationship, which is a good thing since Thom has a tendency to mumble…particularly when he is stoned, which he is quite often… and I have some hearing loss.
I get up and move to the chair next to him, and place my hands on his knees. His eyes open slowly, and we stare at each other for a long moment.
“How do you feel about dying?” I ask suddenly, and it sounds ridiculous the minute it leaves my mouth. I’m attempting to be matter-of-fact about all of this, to show him that I’m not scared of death and that our relationship still has the same “talk about anything and everything” kind of rapport to it.
Before he can answer, however, a great heaving sob escapes me, and within seconds my head is in his lap, and I’m crying so hard I can barely catch my breath. I feel his hand stroking my hair, and he does this until I’m able to regain some semblance of control.
I sit up, drying tears that won’t stop leaking out of me, and look into his face. There’s a mixture of sadness and something else I can’t identify. Resignation? I can’t be sure.
“I’m so sorry,” I say through hiccups. “I didn’t want to do that.”
“I’m glad you did,” he says. “It’s important we talk about this.”
“I’m going to miss you so much,” I say, and the sobbing begins anew.
When I’ve caught my breath again, I blurt out “I want your wind chimes. When you’re gone, I want your wind chimes. I want them because every time I hear them, I’ll be hearing what you heard. I’ll be hearing what we both heard all these nights we’ve talked on this patio. I want to think of you every time the wind blows.” I suddenly feel ridiculous, like some sort of ghoulish scavenger.
“Thank you,” he says.
“For what?” I’m confused.
“For being able to ask. Of course, you can have them. You have no idea how happy it makes me.”
He’s smiling now, taking another drag on his ever-present Marlboro.
I see them every day: rambling, paranoid, desperate Facebook posts from an acquaintance I barely know. He’s being followed, he’s being stalked by secret agencies, even a prominent tech company. His phone is being hacked, members of an alcohol recovery fellowship are enticing him to suicide, going so far as to name these people; people I know for a fact to be decent and caring and concerned primarily for his well-being.
I think about trying to help him, but I know it’s pointless to even extend the most tentative of hands.
He’s deep in psychosis, as I’ve been many times in my life. As ludicrous as it may sound to those on the outside of it, it is absolutely, incontrovertibly, horrifying real to him. There is no argument, no sane presentation of fact that can change this for him. A mere acquaintance reaching out would be perceived as “one of them,” frightening him even more. No, this is something for close friends and family to deal with.
I read the insensitive comments some people post in reply to his ramblings:
“Why do you think you’re so special that (said tech company) would waste their time following you?”
“Get a grip. You sound insane.”
“Um…the government has a lot better things to do than spy on you.”
And the most egregious of all, in my opinion: “Stop using meth and get back to a meeting.”
He swears up and down in his angry responses to this last suggestion that he is not using meth, and that anyone who wants to drug test him can come over and have at it. While it is certainly possible that he is currently in a meth psychosis, as I know him to be a fellow recovering addict, there is an equal possibility that he is not. I would never presume to diagnose anyone’s psychiatric condition, but I can speak from my own experience and say that a psychotic break, while usually triggered by meth use, is something that can occur completely independently of drug abuse, particularly for those who are bipolar and primarily among those of us with type 1 of the disorder.
My first major break occurred back in 2008, when I had been six months clean from crystal meth. It began slowly, a strange feeling of being watched, being followed…nothing that felt concrete, but merely a…I don’t know…suspicion that something wasn’t quite right. A rustling in the bushes at night while sitting on the patio was no longer regarded out of hand as the foraging of nocturnal critter. The thought that maybe, just maybe, it was a person crawling around in there seemed just as logical. A light buzz in my head…a strange frisson of anxiety… began to grow, and along with it the paranoia. It escalated rapidly to what I can only describe in retrospect as an electrical crackling as everyday occurrences suddenly had sinister implications: a man hired to install a water heater had planted an electronic listening device somewhere in the electrical panel, as evidenced by the occasion strange flicker of our thirty-year old house wiring. Helicopters began flying over our house with disturbing regularity, firetrucks with sirens wailing would drive by, sirens blaring, firemen staring into my car with what seemed to be threatening gazes.
That crackling in my brain eventually escalated to a full-blown electrical conflagration as I was consumed with fear and paranoia to the point of almost helplessness: refusing to leave the house unless absolutely necessary, which cost me my job at the time. When I did leave the house, I mounted a video camera in the back of my SUV to record the vehicles I was certain were tailing me. I drove recklessly, trying to snap photos of license plates for later download and comparison, certain that if I could capture two of the same plate on different days, I would have incontrovertible proof of my harassment.
I installed video cameras, trying to capture the people I was sure were crawling on the hillside behind our home, beaming microwave frequencies into my skull, causing that strange aforementioned brain-fire. I spent hours trying to force my husband to watch the surveillance tapes, pointing at any moving shadow as proof that the secret cabal was closing in on me.
I was certain that I was being secretly recorded, had been being recorded for years during my episodes of meth-induced promiscuity, and that these videos were being distributed amongst this group of what I came to believe were “gang stalkers.” (A quick youtube search will explain what this is, the residual terror of this memory still prevents me from describing it in any detail.)
Early on, my husband Patrick accused me of being back on meth. I vigorously denied it, as does my Facebook acquaintance. Of course, he didn’t believe me, even when a drug test confirmed it. Additional tests were administered, all of which were negative. Still, my behaviors were so similar to the times I’d actually been in a meth psychosis that he had a hard time believing the negative results. I was, as stated above, as clean as a whistle, not a trace of meth in my system.
It grew worse, and worse…and when I thought it couldn’t get any more horrific…it got worse still. I took to putting aluminum foil inside my pillow and sleeping with it over my head to reflect the microwaves, a much more practical idea than the laughably stereotypical tinfoil hat. I accosted strangers on the street, accusing them of following me. I once scrambled up a hill to the street above our home and physically threatened a couple having a makeout session in their parked car. I began communicating with Patrick only through handwritten letters, as I was certain I was being electronically eavesdropped upon.
There were other horrifying memories of things I did that are still only now coming back to me, that still make me cringe with shame and guilt.
The psychosis lasted close to six months, the most horrific time of my entire life, ending with a suicide attempt and a stay in a psychiatric facility where I spent most of my time staring out the dayroom window at parked cars, trying to figure out which ones where there to observe me. Their intention all along, I believed, was to drive me to suicide. They knew I was a sick, sad, depraved meth addict and that getting rid of me would be a gift to society. But they wouldn’t dirty their own hands, they had to get me to do the job myself. And, though of course this was all delusion, they came very, very close.
My psychotic break didn’t end suddenly with the administration of powerful antipsychotics, rather, the fire in my head was slowly extinguished over a period of what I recall to be several months.
Just two years ago, I would finally learn the reason for this break. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder – type 1 since I had already had a psychotic break – and while going over my history with my new (amazing) psychiatrist, remembered that a few months prior to the psychosis I’d been prescribed an antidepressant: Wellbutrin to be specific. For those with bipolar disorder, antidepressants can kick off a manic episode, which can turn to mania. During the entire six months of my psychosis, I was still taking that antidepressant. It almost killed me. I want to blame the idiot psychiatrists who tossed meds at me with careless abandon, not bothering to learn anything about my history other than my crystal meth abuse, but I also have to take responsibility for the fact that my drug use made it difficult to diagnose me with anything, made it almost impossible to get a baseline on my brain chemistry. Still, if one psychiatrist had seen me as more than just a drug addict and had bothered gathering more than a cursory mental health history, he or she would have asked the right questions. The questions that would have determined that i’d been prone to hallucinations my entire life, even before drugs entered the picture. They’d have learned that I’d always had prolonged bursts of inexplicable energy, hyper sexuality, and compulsive behavior followed by long bouts of debilitating depression, long before I put a meth pipe to my lips.
I have also had psychotic breaks triggered by my meth use, but was with many bipolar people, they last longer and are often much more extreme than those experienced by those without pre-existing mental illness.
Fortunately for me, I found that miracle psychiatrist who finally prescribed the correct medication: a mood stabilizer. For a year, it was a miracle. Absolute calm, without any of the constant ups and downs i’d experienced my whole life, though somewhere in the back of my mind was a tiny fear that they would stop working…and eventually that fear came to pass. Mania creeped up on me, that slow fire of excess energy in my head burning brighter and brighter every day. But, caught up in the sheer pleasure that mania induces, I ignored the signs and attributed it to the joy that I’d been feeling since being prescribed the meds. I deserved to feel this good after all those years of tumult, it was summer and the sun and swimming and tanning and vacations were why I felt so amazing, and a hundred other rationalizations. Yet, I knew deep inside something was starting to go very wrong again. And then, it happened: another relapse. Though very brief, less than twelve hours in duration to be specific, it was devastating to me.
I went back to my psychiatrist, and my dosage was upped. Since then, things have leveled off again, though it’s been nowhere near the magic of that first year. I’ve come to understand that i’ll never be cured, that i’ll always have a propensity for depression and mania, and that I have to stay vigilant if I want to stay sober. The signs of impending depression are fairly easy to identify, but the onset of mania is less so. I’ve come to recognize some of the signs, though: tapping my foot frantically, a strange humming sound I find myself making almost as if excess energy is trying to expel itself from my mouth, and a generalized feeling of restlessness. It is at these moments I know to lie down on the couch, try to quiet my mind, take the medication I’ve been prescribed for anxiety, and most importantly…tell my husband so he can keep an eye on me. I’ve only had one instance of severe mania with it’s attendant psychosis in the past six months, and I did all the right things: stayed home, told my husband what I was feeling, and asked friends to watch out for me (Thank you, Ashley Aoki for babysitting me and taking me to a meeting, and Robb Meese for the excruciating ride home from Vegas I put you through) and most important of all, stayed compliant with my psych meds.
I know my sobriety will always be tenuous because of this mental illness, and though I have a hard time taking responsibility for any relapse brought on while in psychosis, I take full responsibility for ignoring any warning signs that send me there in the first place. I shared at a recovery meeting recently that it’s frustrating when so many of my fellows are playing on one fairly level playing field, while those of us with mental illness are playing on a field that often feels like a navy seal training obstacle course. I, and those like me, have to work extra hard to maintain our sobriety, and have to be willing to get back up again and keep trying, recognizing that we’re much more likely to keep falling, and moving past the shame that that entails.
My heart breaks for my Facebook friend, and all I can do is pray that he finds relief, that his psychotic break doesn’t end in a suicide attempt. Or that if it does, it’s unsuccessful and he gets the help he needs. Again, I don’t know if he’s still using, or if he’s suffering a bipolar break. However, telling to stop using without being absolutely certain he is using is not only pointless, it can actually increase his terror and alienation. Telling him all the things he’s experiencing aren’t real is also pointless. It’s real to him, just like it was absolutely real to me. It still feels real sometimes, and there are still times I look over my shoulder for a car with one headlight, or hear a noise outside my window and shudder with reflexive memory.
So, pray for my Facebook friend. Pray that his family and close friends can find a way to get him to accept psychiatric help, and that he survives this.
Today is World Bipolar Day, so whileyou’re at it, perhaps you can say another prayer for all of us living with bipolar disorder; with all mental illnesses. Pray for the eradication of stigma surrounding mental illness, and pray that they get the correct diagnosis and the proper medication when they do.
And she’s wound up shooting off burning out
Tearing up the midnight heart
Stayed alive stayed alive so far
We know what we are
Absolutely barking stars
The bitch is quick I’ve tried to trip her up
She is full of tricks and blends so sticky in my blood
But she can fly and I can only run from everything and after her
I’m wired and tired and full of holes
And she plays Pandora with my soul
I’ll never let her go
It’s so quiet here without her
I don’t wanna feel myself
- – Maria Mckee
Ugly inside of me
Taught me of beauty
I wouldn’t trade that work of art
for all the silk of perfect skin…
i’m a scarlover too
and I’m full of scars like you
– Maria Mckee, “Scarlover”
I stare at it in the bathroom mirror, using the back of my hand to clear the fog from the glass. It stares back at me: a slight, pink vertical line starting just below my navel and disappearing into the unruly thatch of pubic hair, where it continues for another inch or so, invisible save for periods when I’ve been a little over-enthusiastic with my manscaping chores.
Or, more accurately, one of my scars.
I have several, each one a pockmarked or discolored reminder that I was once a daily user of crystal methamphetamine. There’s the small depression near my chin, nearly invisible now thanks to regular injections of Juvaderm to plump up the crater. I can still see it, though, and each time I shave I am reminding of the weekend I spent holed up in my bedroom, smoking crystal meth and trying to ignore the gradually increasing chin-itch that seemed to come out of nowhere. Within hours it had blossomed into an inflamed lump resembling an engorged and angry zit. The next twenty-four hours were spent squeezing it, compressing it, scratching at it – trying to express the contents – to no avail. The lower right side of my face burned and swelled so large there was no longer any definition between my jaw line and my neck. I pressed bag after bag of frozen peas against the hot skin, seeking relief. I continued to smoke my meth pipe, though, and by the time I sought medical help and learned it was a MRSA (staph) infection, the damage had been done.
There are also several dime-shaped patches on my left thigh that refuse all attempts at tanning, also the result of a staph infection I left untreated for far too long, picked up repeatedly from my drug dealer’s sheets, those times I traded sex for drugs in his filthy, worst-episode-of-hoarders-ever apartment. Repeated hospitalizations and IV Vancomycin treatments (the “antibiotic of last resort,” my doctor called it) were required to bring the MRSA super-bug into submission. Yet, each time the infection would be vanquished, while the abscess would still be healing, I’d score more meth and continue my marathon of self-destruction.
The Juvaderm and time have faded these scars perceptibly, and though they are reminders of a past that I do not, as we say in recovery “wish to shut the door on,” they are my lesser scars that are very rarely commented on by others.
It’s the stomach scar that remains the greatest reminder of my life of addiction, the most profound physical memento of a life lived selfishly, a life not worth living at all, a life that were it not for the grace of God and the love of those who were still able to love me when I most needed it, would have been extinguished long ago.
When I was still relatively new to using meth, just before entering my second stint at rehab at Glendale Adventist Alcohol and Drug Services, my appendix ruptured. Being high on meth constantly, however, dulled any warning pain I should have felt. Instead, I entered rehab filled with shit not only metaphorically, but literally. As the toxins from my intestines seeped into my bloodstream, I developed headaches of increasing intensity, reaching a point where any source of light would bring me to near blindness and induce excruciating, head-crushing pain. My inability to focus, my temper exacerbated by physical agony, I was eventually asked to leave due to a pain-induced verbal outburst I directed at the head of the facility.
It took several more days after leaving to be diagnosed, and incorrectly at that. I was given a spinal tap, and meningitis was discovered. I was hospitalized, antibiotic treatments were begun. Late at night, my first night at Huntington Memorial in Pasadena, I began to feel feverish. My stomach, which oddly had not given me much pain at all until this point, began to swell, harden, and turn a deep shade of blue. Peritonitis had set in, the ruptured appendix having gone completely unnoticed until this point. I was rushed into surgery with a 104 degree fever, and my family was told there was a chance I would not survive.
I did survive, obviously. I remember the surgeon standing over me in the recovery room, telling Patrick that after removing my internal organs from my abdominal cavity, it had taken six liters of fluid to clean the toxic sludge from them. I discerned a look of disgust on his face as he said this, and to this day am not sure if he was disgusted by the procedure, or by me, this filthy meth addict whose filthy insides he had just been forced to root around in for several hours.
I came to suspect the latter, as the wound began to heal. He had done a piss-poor job at sewing me up, though in more charitable moments I’m willing to forgive him since the surgery was unplanned, and of course, because it saved my life. In less spiritually evolved moments, I hate him for his brutal handiwork: an incision that looked like it had been done with a bottle opener, and rough stitching that appeared to have been done using packing twine, creating the appearance of a dress shirt with one of the lower buttons in the wrong hole.
It’s faded somewhat over the last ten years, of course, but it still troubles me. Sometimes I shudder, it appears so grotesque to me. When I point it out to people, usually when I catch them noticing it, they invariably tell me it’s not nearly as bad as I think it is, yet I rarely believe them.
I stared at it again this morning, this twelve-year old scar, reaching down and pulling the bisected sides of my lower belly taut, re-creating the flat, smooth stomach of my pre-addiction years, the sliced-in-two abdomen that no amount of dieting or sit-ups will ever be able to fully flatten and smooth again. Many times, I’ve contemplated cosmetic surgery to enhance its appearance. I have always discarded the idea, eventually.
Because underneath the revulsion, another feeling usually surfaces, pushing the revulsion aside, at least temporarily. It’s a feeling instigated by my program of recovery, a feeling I rarely had regarding much in my life, even with the multitude of blessings that have always surrounded me, even in my darkest hours: gratitude.
I’m grateful I survived.
I’m grateful to understand that I have never been perfect, I never will be perfect, and that perfect is no longer an ideal I need to strive for.
I grateful I’m alive.
I’m grateful to be surrounded by love and friends and family. My days are spent helping others dealing with far more pressing issues than the vanity of looking good in a swimsuit. I have God in my life, I wield love with the same passion I once wielded a glass pipe, and I am so very grateful for every bleak moment of my addiction, because having lived in darkness for so long, I am uniquely qualified to help others find their way out of it, too.
I can point to my scar, this souvenir from my trip to hell, and I can talk to others about where addiction took me. I can then speak to how recovery saved me.
At this moment, as I write this, I am grateful even for my scar.
Take me with all of my beautiful scars
I love you the way that you are
I come to you with all my flaws
With all my beautiful scars
With all my beautiful scars
Love me with all of my flaws
My beautiful scars
The first time I attempted suicide I was eleven years old.
I took a swig from a bottle of Mr. Clean, scrambled under my bed with my mother in pursuit, and refused to come out despite the intense burning in my throat. My uncle, who lived next door, was called over and forcibly pulled me out, kicking and screaming. Obviously, I did not die, only scorched my esophagus a bit.
The last time I attempted suicide was in 2009. I swallowed every pill in our house, ate a large quantity of crystal meth, and washed it down with a bottle of some kind of alcohol. My husband returned home, found me in our bed covered in blood and vomit, and called the paramedics who arrived in time to get me to a hospital, where I awakened hours later with a tube down my throat and my thighs coated with shit and the charcoal that had been pumped into my stomach to absorb the poisons.
There were, between these two attempts, quite a few others…some closer to successful than others. Bags over my head, GHB or crystal meth ingested in mass quantities, and one lame attempt involving a wooden gazebo beam and a cheap extension cord completely ill-suited to the task.
The truth, however, is that I never really wanted to die, exactly. I just didn’t want to go on living.
“Suicide is such a selfish act,” say callous cunts all over the internet, completely unaware of the pain living in such unrelenting darkness engenders. What they don’t understand is that often, suicide feels more like a selfless act to those who are contemplating it. We who have witnessed the constant stress and anguish our depression has foisted onto the lives of our loved ones often believe, whilst in the deepest of our despair, that removing ourselves from this thing called life could only benefit those who suffer because of us. A couple of years of grief, I would think, and then my loved ones could move on with life without the constant worry, anxiety and grief I was causing them. They’d be sad for a while, of course, but could then finally begin to get on with their own lives. Suicide often felt like the kindest thing I could do for them.
During most of my 13 year battle with addiction, I felt hopeless far more than I ever felt hopeful. I would do what was suggested in my program of recovery, following direction to the letter: being of service, going to meetings, working the program that was prescribed and that was said to set me on what was referred to as a road to happy destiny. It would work, for a while. I’d feel something like hope, if not hope exactly. Perhaps it was hope that I might eventually feel hope. No matter how hard I threw myself into recovery, no matter how hard I worked (particularly during the last two years, when I attacked my program with a fierce determination), I could not sustain any kind of joy. One day, I’d be feeling that thing close to hope, I’d be working with other addicts, I’d be praying my ass off, and I’d go to bed thinking that tomorrow would be even better if I continued doing what I was doing.
Then, out of the blue, I’d wake up with those feelings of despair washing over me, almost unable to get out of bed. I’d lie there, trying to figure out what had changed during the brief eight hours i’d been sleeping, and couldn’t find anything that could account for this sudden re-immersion in misery. And the suicidal ideation would return, stronger than ever. I’d plan out my demise, carefully: a trip to Target to purchase a helium container in their party section, then a trip to Home Depot for plastic bags, zip ties and rubber tubing. Then, thoughts of my mother, of my husband, and the pain my death would cause them would force me to push those feelings aside, at least temporarily. I’d get a better idea: crystal meth. And it almost always worked, at least in the short term, before the insanity of that drug would send me spinning into the abyss of paranoia and delusion. So, as ludicrous as this statement might sound, I honestly believed crystal meth saved my life countless times. Of course, it progressively diminished the quality of my life in the process, but it did short-circuit the “kill myself now ” impulse rather effectively.
Six months ago, I finally found a therapist and a psychiatrist who actually listened to me, which can be a rare thing in this age of candy-dispensing, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks brain pharmacology. After a full hour of listening to my personal history, my psychiatrist announced, “you are clearly bi-polar, type one. Sometimes it’s difficult to diagnose, but in your case, it’s pretty obvious.” I suppose that non-bipolar people don’t attempt suicide at age 11, and at least once every five years for the next 39 years. Non-bipolar people don’t, i’ve learned, hallucinate even without the assistance of drugs. Non-bipolar folk don’t necessarily work for three days straight without sleeping (I just thought I had an amazing work ethic.)
I was put on a medication called Lamictal, a mood stabilizer, and within a week my life began to change. I could think clearly. I slept deeply, my brain’s chronic mania reduced to a tolerable level. I no longer flew into rages over perceived slights or minor inconveniences. Best of all, I no longer saw the shadow people who had been a part of my life since childhood, and became omnipresent and terrifying when crystal meth entered my bloodstream. Calm. I have moments of pure calm, and I have not woken up to debilitating despair once in the past six months. I still feel sadness, when appropriate, and great joy when also appropriate. But the constant back-and-forth, up-and-down patterns i’d been dealing with for as long as I can remember seem to be a thing of the past, and for the first time in my entire life I know what hope feels like.
Because I’m not constantly battling mania or depression, I’ve been able to work a consistent program of recovery. And it’s been stunningly easy. I used to look at other alcoholics and addicts who had acquired significant sober time and think, “how the fuck do you do that?” Now I understand how. “When someone is happy ” says my therapist Larry, “they don’t feel the need to use drugs.” Yes, it was that simple.
Today, I read that Robin Williams committed suicide by asphyxiation, the method I held in reserve for my next attempt should it become necessary. I am heartbroken.
A man who has brought so much light, love and laughter into the world is gone, a victim of mental illness. That he was also in recovery, and that I have frequently been mistaken for this comedy legend (I don’t see a resemblance, personally) only makes this news so much harder to bear.
It also resurrects a feeling of anger I’ve been harboring regarding the rooms of recovery.
For years, I’ve heard recovered addicts and alcoholics (primarily old-timers, or members of more regimented groups), state from podiums that psychiatric medications should be considered a relapse. “I don’t take ANYTHING that affects me from the neck up,” they pontificate with cocksure pride in their ability to live a perfectly happy life, any psychological problems they may be facing cured miraculously by the wonders of their program.
Fuck you, I say. Fuck you hard, you fucking fucker.
This kind of talk is not only dangerous, it can be construed as attempted murder in my book. Too many people…in recovery and out….already fear the stigma of mental illness, and resist diagnosis.
Magnifying that stigma by advising impressionable newcomers not to take psychiatric medication is deadly hubris, and I don’t doubt that these arrogant – if well-meaning – program purists have been the cause of innumerable suicides during the course of the many years the recovery program I use has existed.
Anyone who advocates against psychiatric medication in recovery has clearly never experienced the utter black hopelessness of real depression. I’m sure they’ve felt deep sadness at times, but that is a very different experience.
I don’t know if Robin Williams relapsed before deciding to end his life, I don’t know if it was depression alone that caused him to act, and I don’t know if….as a long-time member of the recovery community – he subscribed to the “no psych meds” bullshit edict.
But if this hilarious, troubled, talented human being WAS told that psych meds constituted a relapse, someone, somewhere…perhaps multiple someones…have blood on their hands.
My program is one that emphasizes compassion, love and tolerance of others. I try to be kind to everyone, I see myself in every other struggling alcoholic and addict, and I help to the best of my ability. However, the next time I hear someone share the anti-psych med position from a podium, I will not remain silent. My share that will follow will be direct, it will be blistering, and it will contain the phrase “attempted murder.” I’ve lost too many friends to suicide in the last few years to tolerate this bullshit anymore. If you’re reading this, and you disagree with me, at least consider yourself warned. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, you have no right to tell others to avoid life-saving medications, just as anyone without a uterus has no right to an opinion on the use of birth control pills.
My psychiatric medications do not supplant my program of recovery, they simply make it possible for me to work that program that also saves my life on a daily basis. It levels the playing field for me.
Because I still see so much shame regarding mental illness of any kind, I wear my dual-diagnosis (addiction and mental illness) status with pride in the rooms of recovery. Stigma kills. Psychiatric medication saves lives.
Happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, I’m living proof of that.
“I’d like a single room. Upstairs, if possible.”
The desk clerk, a thin, pale man with shoulder length, scraggly hair rose from the chair behind the counter and moved toward me.
“I’ll need your driver’s license, and also the plate number from your car if you’re parked in our lot,” he said..
I fished my license out of wallet and handed it to him, and he began punching my information into a computer.
“How many nights?”
I was flying pretty high, and my hands had trembled when I had handed him my license, small beads of sweat dotting my forehead and upper lip. I avoided eye contact, and instead pretended I was surveying the small lobby: tiled floor, small rattan couch with flowered padding, two dusty plastic Ficus trees in the corners. Having been here many times before, there really was nothing new to learn from looking around the room. I turned and focused my gaze through the glass front doors, watching traffic stream by on Western avenue.
“Okay, sign here” he said. “And put your license plate number here. That’ll be 145 dollars for the two nights.”
I turned back to face him, scratching my signature onto the small card he was proffering. I added the license plate number of my white Ford Explorer, and handed it back to him along with my credit card.
He punched some more information into the computer, and then produced a small white keycard.
“I put you in room 233,” he said, handing my credit card back to me.
“Great. Thanks,” I said, and offered a smile that my muscles made but my mind didn’t feel, then hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder and turned towards the door on the left. A moment before I reached it, the clerk pressed a button and the door automatically unlatched. I gripped the knob, turned it, and walked through into Tweakerland.
The Coral Sands hotel sits on a long, deep lot situated on busy Western Avenue in Hollywood, just north of Hollywood Boulevard. Its two-story, brick façade has only one notable design feature: the six white columns that support a faux lattice-railed sundeck running the length of the top of the structure. These columns have the look of a design afterthought, giving the Coral Sands the appearance of an institutional building trying, and failing miserably, to look like a plantation house. Sandwiched between two large, bland stucco apartment complexes, it is relatively unknown to the general Los Angeles population, although it has stood here for decades, sixty rooms filled to capacity on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday night.
Amongst the L.A. gay community, however, the Coral Sands is infamous..
The hotel has long walked a duplicitous line in terms of marketing, advertising itself as a “semi-resort.” Its website describes “sixty spacious rooms surrounding a landscaped private courtyard, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, daily maid service, direct dial telephone and color televisions. All of this is true, and the grounds of the Coral Sands are actually rather lovely, well manicured, with palm trees and blankets of flowering Bougainvillea filling the long, deep courtyard, which is lined on all four sides by two stories of rooms. The pool, though small, is sparking blue, and the Jacuzzi, situated dead center, is large. Everything in this sunny, tropical themed courtyard speaks of diligent maintenance.
It is however, what goes unsaid on the website that makes the Coral Sands notable. This establishment may call itself a “semi-resort,” but almost every gay man in Los Angeles knows that this place is, crude as it may sound, is a drug and fuck den, the establishment equivalent of a skid-row crack whore masquerading as a librarian.
I walked into the sun-filled courtyard, taking in the lushness of my surroundings. A few men lay on the chaise lounges that flanked the pool, wearing either towels or small.. too-small… speedos. As part of the attempt to make the hotel appear respectable, small signs expressly forbade nudity in the courtyard. This made little difference, however, since a quick scan of the rows of rooms lining it revealed men standing just inside their rooms, fully naked, peering out and shooting glances of invitation to those outside or standing in other doorways. A small parade of men, some dressed, some with towels around their waists, slowly made their way around the walkways on both levels, occasionally stopping at an open door, sometimes entering, sometimes stopping to watch whatever spectacle was taking place inside, and sometimes moving on.
I found my room on the second floor, entered and closed the door behind me, securing the safety latch. Tossing my backpack on the bed, I went into the small bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face, then filled one of the small plastic cups with tap water and drank it down, knowing that hydration is an oft-neglected requirement of extended meth-use sessions. I returned to the room.
For all the implied luxury evident in the courtyard, the rooms of the Coral Sands were decidedly Spartan. Grey, industrial grade carpet, mismatched wall hangings, and garish, blue-grey swirled patterned bed covering. Stiff, bland curtains covered the large window overlooking the courtyard, a small mini-fridge in the corner, an ancient wall-unit air conditioner. A chipped veneer table and two chairs with worn orange padding in front of the window. An equally distressed night table sporting cigarette burns next to the bed. A smallish TV mounted to the wall near the ceiling, a long mirror mounted at on the wall at bed level. The air was redolent with stale cigarette smoke and some disinfectant cleaning product. There were no non-smoking rooms at the Coral Sands Hotel.
There had been a time in my life, not so long ago, when I had regarded this place with disdain. “Coral Sands” had existed in my lexicon as a punch line, synonymous with losers and the truly pathetic. “He probably lives at the Coral Sands,” I’d say in regards to a particularly lecherous person hitting on me at a bar, and my friends would laugh. We all knew what it meant, though none of us, as far I as knew, had actually been there.
Now, here I was, and rather than disgust, I felt a strange form of comfort. In the way that derelicts gather and form community on the downtown streets of skid row, so did we, this band of tweakers and sex-addicted gay men. The only difference is that we could still afford to shell out money to stay here, this ersatz sex-clubhouse. Having lived with guilt and shame and self-loathing for so long now, being in a place with others just like myself provided a sense of peace, a judgement-free zone. Here, I could indulge my addiction with impunity, I could lock the world outside, and I could do what I did best: get high.
Opening my backpack, I pulled out my swimsuit, then quickly stripped my clothes off. I studied my body in the mirror, liking what I saw. The speed had meticulously chiseled away all the excess fat from my body, which tended towards stockiness, and the muscles underneath were revealed, chiseled in a way that only speed, steroids or starvation were capable of. A few speed bumps – angry red welts – dotted my thighs and my forearms, but I wasn’t too concerned about these, since most committed tweakers got them and there was little judgement from others about these blemishes. Also, I had taken to packing a cover-up stick with me wherever I went. It is a by-product of heavy meth use, and the euphoric, disjointed, distortion of perception, that I could look in that mirror and not be horrified by what was truly reflected back at me. Years later, I would look at photos of myself from that time, shocked to see how I really appeared. I weighed no more than 155 lbs (I had weighed 165 in high school), the skin of my face hollow and sagging from the precipitous weight loss, my eyes bloodshot and filled with some indefinable emptiness, as if they were looking not at the camera, but through it and past it. At the time, though, I honestly thought I looked good.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I pulled my stash from the side pocket of the back pack, laying out the almost complete 8-ball, the thick stemmed glass pipe and the butane torch on the night stand. I fished around and found the refill canister of butane and placed it in the drawer.
After several deep, thick hits from the pipe, I got up, grabbed a stiff, scratchy towel from the bathroom, and exited the room to join the slow parade of the undead.
It is dark now, a day later, and I have spent the previous hours hooking up with numerous men of all description. When I’m using, I don’t have a “type”….the two requirements being that they are not physically repulsive and that they are also tweaking. Another preference is that they have their own stash of drugs, as sharing allows my own party to continue for a longer period of time. At the Coral Sands, there are enough candidates who match these fairly low standards to keep me busy for days on end.
I am sitting, nude and cross-legged, on the bed. A man, close to my own age, also unclothed, sits across from me. He is thin, though not as thin as I, his muscles almost comically defined. His fairly handsome head is shaved, and tattoos litter his body. I am leaning forward, holding the torch to the glass bowl he is inhaling from. I don’t know his name, and frankly, don’t care.
“Roll it,” I say.
He gently rolls the bowl back and forth, the liquefied meth sloshing gently inside the glass bubble.
When I’m sure he his lungs are full, I pull the torch back, and turn it off, set it down at my side. I lean in towards him, and he immediately recognized the gesture and obliges me by putting his mouth and against mine and exhaling the vapor into my mouth, which I suck down into my lungs. Our faces stay pressed together, and when I can no longer hold it, I release it back into his mouth, his lungs. This ritual, called shotgunning, continues for a few more inhale/exhales until there is no more to share.
The pipe carefully set aside….god knows the number of glass pipes I’ve broken by stepping or rolling onto them…we move towards each other and begin giving in to the sexual firestorm that the speed has ignited. Our bodies writhe against one another, gripping, stroking, humping, our skin wet with speed sweat and hot to the touch. It is all-consuming, this kind of sex, so much different from the act that normal people call “lovemaking,” so much different from the kind of sex I remember once having. There is no love here, obviously, only two men reduced to the status of rutting animals, each aware only of his own twisted desires, yet chemically duped into feeling as if we’d known each other forever.
His hand slides down my back, and he asks, his voice guttural, “do you get fucked?”
“No,” I reply, reaching back and moving his hand away from my ass.
“No,” in this instance, means “not by you, not now.”
Although I had been almost ludicrously hell-bent on self-destruction for several years now, three suicide attempts and numerous overdoses to my credit, I still retained a primal fear of AIDS. Yes, it was true that there were many times I wanted to die, to end this fucking nightmare that seemed to go on and on. But I certainly didn’t want to die THAT way. I’d watched too many friends in the eighties and nineties succumb to the horrible plague, and even in moments of the most clouded judgement, I’d tried to exercise some basic precautions against infection. The fact that even minus the HIV virus I was currently emaciated, spotted with sores and addled by recurring drug-induced psychosis didn’t occur to me. I wasn’t going to die of AIDS, period.
“Come on, let me fuck you” he cajoled. “I’m negative, I promise.” There were no rubbers available, and this stranger was not going to fuck me in the ass.
“I’m negative too,” I say, “and it’s because I don’t get fucked without a condom. Sorry.”
He didn’t persist, and I was grateful that it didn’t seem to be a deal-breaker for him. We continued for a while, until the rush from our last hits from the pipe began to subside, at which point we disengaged and pulled back from each other, complete strangers once more.
“Want another hit?” I asked.
“I’ve got a better idea,” he said, wiping beads of sweat from his shaved head.
“Yeah?” I asked, anticipating that he was going to find an excuse to depart, having been denied his request to fuck me.
“I’ve got some G in my room,” he said instead, and grinned at me. “You want to do some?”
I’d done G – short for Gamma Hydroxybutric acid – many times before, and loved the way it made me feel.. A compound that has been used in medical settings as an anasthetic, it worked as a perfect compliment to the heady, speedy rush of the meth. It took the already amped-up sensation of raw carnality and brought it to an altogether new level, turning the acute, frenetic hyper-awareness of tweaking into a warm, fireball of intense sensuality.
“Sure” I said. “Would you mind bringing it back here?”
“No problem,” he said.
“And would you grab some orange juice for us to take it with?”
The Coral Sands had a small table set up near the courtyard entrance, free stale donuts and a large urn filled with orange juice. This served the dual purpose of appearing at once as a complimentary amenity and at the same time allowing the tweaking residents of the hotel to keep their blood sugar up. I’m sure the management of the hotel had dealt far too often with the results of meth users forgetting to eat for several days.
“Sure,” he said, wrapping his towel around his waist and slipping out the door, closing it behind him.
Alone in the room, I took the opportunity straighten out the bedcovers, which had become dislodged and disheveled. I rinsed off quickly in the shower, soaping my body clean of the rank smell of metabolized meth, dried off quickly and went back to the bedroom to wait, half expecting the stranger to not return, knowing how easily distracted tweakers can be.
Using a remote, I flicked on the tv and perused the only channels that were offered: three closed-circuit hardcore gay porn flicks. Unlike Los Angeles bathhouses, the hotel, by presenting itself as a legitimate “semi-resort,” seemed unconcerned about presenting even the illusion of mandating safe sex practices. At bathhouses: Flex, The Melrose Spa, The Hollywood Spa, signs hung on walls throughout lecturing patrons to engage in safe sex practices only. Those engaging in unsafe practices, these signs warned, would be ejected from the premises. Large bowls of condoms were available everywhere, each room supplied with several upon check-in. These rules, of course, were never enforced, but at least a pretense was made. At the Coral Sands, there were no such warnings. The porn that played on all sixty televisions in all sixty rooms were, for the most part, the hardest of the hardcore, what is known as bareback porn in gay parlance. No rubbers, no protection of any kind.
Two sharp knocks on the door, and the guy is back.
He is carrying a large, clear plastic Dixie cup of orange juice, and has his own backpack slung over his shoulder.
I take the juice from him, and re-distribute it evenly using the plastic cup from the bathroom.
As I stand next to the bed holding the cups, He fishes through his backpack and finds a clear plastic vial that is about the size of a small can of Red Bull, and half-filled with a clear liquid. I’ve never seen such a large amount of G before, and make the fairly safe assumption that this guy is dealing the stuff here at the hotel.
“It’s not too strong,” he says, and I watch him measure out a dose using the bottle’s cap, dropping it into one cup of orange juice, refilling, and dropping another dose into the second cup.
I hand him his his, and use a finger to stir the juice in my own, knowing from experience how unpleasantly bitter GHB can taste.
“Cheers,” I say, and we click our plastic cups together, then down the contents in one long draught.
I climb onto the bed with him, and we hold on to each other, and wait for the ride to begin.
I am eight years old. I walk out into the sunshine of a beautiful Long Island summer, my eight-year old legs jumping off the side porch and carrying me around to the back of the house, my playground of trees and shrubs and frogs and caterpillars and all things loved by eight year old boys everywhere. I spend a lot of time alone, being painfully shy, and in this yard, filled with trees and shrubs and damp, dark places, I create whole fantasy worlds in which to get lost for hours on end. I collect caterpillars, I throw bullfrogs into the swimming pool to watch them swim. I am eight years old.
It takes about twenty minutes for the G to take effect, and I am suddenly engulfed in wave after wave of incredible warmth, my body literally writhing with pleasure. The room grows smaller, my sense of space diminishing until my entire world is limited to what I can feel, what I can touch, what is touching me. My eyes close, and I hang onto this stranger beside me and ride the electric current pulsing through my body, fireworks of red and orange exploding behind my closed lids. I force my eyes open, hold them open through sheer force of will, trying to cling to consciousness. The intial rollercoaster drop gives way for a moment, and I manage to croak:
“Not too strong…are you kidding me?”
And then the next wave hits and all I can do is groan and undulate uncontrollably.
The room, lit only by the flickering porn on the tv, suddenly begins to darken even further, and I realize that I am beginning to go under. I panic, my body’s undulations turn into spastic jerking, trying to find purchase as I slip headlong into the darkness of the g-hole. It is futile, and I capitulate, my small world twirling in upon itself until all is black, all is silent, and I am gone. Absolutely gone.
I am eight years old. The back wall of our small house in Smithtown is lined with thick hedges, and because the house overhangs the basement by a few feet, a natural tunnel exists…a long, fairly dark crawlspace, basement windows on one side and thick hedge on the other, on two feet high. This is my secret hiding place, sixty long feet of dark, east-coast humid earth through which I can crawl, exploring, fantasizing. I am Gilligan, leading the other castaways from the headhunters to safety through a volcanic tunnel. I am Captain Kirk, buried alive and with only a few minutes of oxygen remaining. I crawl, hunched over, the knees of my tough skins blackened by the moist earth and rotting leaves. I feel safe here, in this, my first dark place. I am eight years old.
I return to consciousness slowly, pulling myself out of the g-hole with much effort. My body is rocking, though I don’t know why, can’t see or hear clearly enough to fully comprehend my surroundings.
My vision slowly coalesces, and mere inches from my face is the face of the stranger, this man who minutes (or was it hours?) before had been laying next to me. Now he is on top of me. He is IN me.
I am eight years old. I shuffle, hunching thorugh the tunnel, approaching the sunlight at the end. “Almost there!” I say to myself, or perhaps to Ginger, to the Professor, or to Mr. Spock. I emerge from the overhang of the house, stand up, squinting as my eyes adjust to the sunlight. Suddenly, I notice movenmnet on my chest. I look down, and see, clinging to the fabric of my white hanes t-shirt, a monster. A praying mantis, a prying mantis of a size that only someone who grew up in the moist environs of the east coast, could appreciate. Fully six inches long, The gargantuan creature stares up at me, waving giant pincers, its long, mottled gray body perfectly still. I try to scream, but I am too scared. I want to run, but I know it will go with me. I want to flick it off, but I’m terrified to touch it. I am eight years old, and there is a monster on my chest. I close my eyes, waving my arms about , until my mother notices, and comes out the side door and knocks the giant insect from my chest with the bristle end of a kitchen broom. I am eight years old, and I have just met my first monster in my first dark place.
I wrench myself out from under him, confused, terrified, panicked. It is not until I am crouched, pressed back against the headboard, pillow clutched defensively and pathetically in front of my bent knees, that I realize there are others in the room.
Two other men, naked, stand next to the bed, watching, touching themselves. Another sits in the shabby chair by the window, smoking a cigarette.
I want to scream “I told you NO!!,” but even before it I know how ridiculous it would sound coming from a tweaker like me, how very Meredith Baxter-Birney Lifetime Movie ridiculous.
Instead, keeping my voice measured and trying not to betray panic or distress, I simply say, avoiding any eye contact, “I think I’m done….would you mind leaving?”
Two of the men dress, pulling on their clothes from where they had discarded them on the floor. The other two simply wrap towels around their waists and depart, the sun from the open door pouring into the room, blinding my drug-sensitized eyes momentarily.
It is not until they have all left, until I am alone in room 233, that I let the panic overtake me.
I scramble from the bed and into the bathroom, turn on the shower and jump in without waiting to adjust the temperature. I use the small bar of soap to scrub furiously between my legs, my head still pounding from the G. I scrub myself until the small bar of disinfectant hope is fully dissolved, until dizziness overtakes me, and I slide down against the plastic wall of the small shower. My body shaking with sobs, my mind filled with visions of Kaposi sarcoma lesions and hollow faces wasted away by disease. My fear escalates as I wonder how many of those men had used me while I was unconsciousness. And though I pray to a God I don’t yet believe in that it was only the one, I know one is enough: I’ve absorbed the letter if not the spirit during my multiple rehab stints and am keenly aware of the grim statistics regarding HIV infection in methamphetamine users.
When the water has begun to run cold, and there are no more tears, I dry off zombie-like and go back to the room.
Kneeling next to the bed, I retrieve my backpack and find my cellphone and turn it on. There are over 20 messages from Patrick. I don’t listen to them, don’t want to hear the panic or disappointment in his voice. I’ve had many messages from him of this sort, his voice trembling with either fear or anger. “Andy, where ARE you?”
I dial our home number, and he answers on the second ring.
At first, I can not speak, my crying beginning anew. I can’t get words past the sobs.
“Andy?” I hear Partick’s voice, sounding simultaneously relieved and angry. Still, his voice reminds me of what I have lost, what used to be. It reminds me of goodness and kindness, clean sheets, honesty and morality. It reminds me that I am 39 years old, and still crawling into dark, God-less places and emerging with monsters on my chest.
My crying intensifies.
He listens, says nothing, and finally I’m able to get the words out:
“Patrick, I’m in trouble.”
I need other addicts and alcoholics.
That’s it, plain and simple. My recovery would be nothing without the friends I’ve made in recovery; so many people who are dealing with their own struggle with sobriety, yet still take the time to counsel, care about, or simply hug another who needs it.
There are people in my life who have gone to extraordinary lengths to help save my life, and I’ve spoken about them frequently on this blog: Mykee, Phillip, Rob, Jonathan, and others.
And, there is Tina.
I met Tina when she was on her very first day of recovery, and when my own sober days numbered less than thirty following a brutal relapse. I had made a rare excursion over the hill to the San Fernando valley to attend a recovery meeting I’d never been to before, and following that meeting we smoked a cigarette together and talked a bit. In an act that was completely unlike myself, particularly in that state of paranoia, I invited her to come back to my house and sit by the pool. We talked for hours, fraintically and anxiously chain-smoking in the manner of newly sober addicts and alcoholics. There was a connection, and for the first time since I’d stopped using meth I felt comfortable talking about my relapse. In the days following that time spent by the pool, while I struggled with suicidal ideations caused by paranoid psychosis, and she battled the depression of very early sobriety, I would reach out to Tina via texts or phone calls.
She would always take those calls or return those texts, and we forged a relationship based on our common goal: sobriety. Our friendship has continued to grow with each passing day, and we’ve helped each other through a couple of very rough patches. Still, each time I see her lovely face, my heart fills with joy. This woman helped save my life, and I’ve told her this. Yet I’m not sure if she fully understands how non-hyperbolic that statement is. During those early days of texting and phone calls, I was teetering…almost hourly…between wanting to die and wanting to know how to live. The love this young woman showed me would always push me back toward the side of hope, even when things seemed darkest. On the days when I lived in fear that this state of paranoid psychosis would never abate, I could reach out to Tina and it would calm me. She says that I helped her too, and I believe her. I only know that now, when I see her, I can not hug her or thank her enough.
Just a few days ago, at a sober retreat in Palm Springs, Tina celebrated 365 days of continuous sobriety. Holding that birthday cake in front of her while she blew out the candle was an honor like no other. She cried, and I cried, of course. Because in sobriety, I cry a lot. But it’s good crying. Crying because I’ve never felt the love I feel in the rooms in recovery, crying because I get to give that love back to others who are struggling. Crying because I get to watch amazing men and women like Tina rebuild their lives, watch the light come back into their eyes. I’ve watched Tina transform from an always-lovely but sometimes barely-there-at-times girl to a vibrant, strong, honest, absolutely incredible young woman who has spent the last year not only helping herself, but helping others without compunction and with the rigorous honesty that is a vital component of sobriety. I am so proud to be her friend and to be walking the road of happy destiny with her.
Tina, you may know, is also one of the common street names for my drug of choice, crystal meth. To have been brought to my knees by one Tina – and then helped back to my feet by another – seems to be irony in it’s most delicious form.
I am so grateful for Tina and for all my friends in recovery. I am grateful for the love, the support, the hugs, the encouragement. Because (as my brilliant, dear and also incredibly supportive friend Maria sings in the following song) I can’t make it alone.
How do I even begin to write about Patrick, my amazing husband?
For twenty years he’s stayed by my side, fulfilling our vows to stay together for better or worse, long before we actually spoke those words at our wedding ceremony in 2010.
He’s seen me at my best during the ten years before I found crystal meth, and he’s seen me at my worst during the second decade of our relationship when my addiction took me to places darker than I’d previously imagined even existed.
As a former television producer, I’d once sworn I’d never date an actor. I’d had too many dealings with that particular combination of low self-esteem and extreme ego. Yet, here I am married to a man who has proven himself over the years to be an exception to that generalization. Patrick has shown himself to be one of the most spiritually evolved people I’ve ever known. He has remained steadfast in his loyalty to me despite circumstances that would have driven lesser, more selfish men away. He continues to make me laugh even when I only feel like crying. He is my biggest fan and most ardent cheerleader, and I am his. He has saved my life countless times, both literally and figuratively.
When I am berating myself, beating myself up emotionally for all the havoc I’ve caused in our lives, I can look into his beautiful blue eyes and see myself as a person of value. The fact that this amazing man still loves me after all the drama i’ve instigated is often the only evidence I can find that i am worthy of love and a good and decent life.
I am so proud of my husband, both for who he is and what he does. A comic actor with an incredibly sharp yet profoundly silly wit, he is rarely credited with his contributions to the gay community over the years. He has never been celebrated for “coming out of the closet” because he was never IN the closet in the first place. His character Peter on the now-historically significant sitcom “Ellen” was a litmus test for Ellen’s own emergence as the pre-eminent out gay celebrity of our time. He was fearless then, as a young man, and he is fearless now. He always spoke proudly of our relationship in interviews, and it was never a case of “do I mention this or not?” He has always spoken his truth, and that is something that he also does in our relationship. That same courage carries over into our lives together.
He has protected me, he has encouraged me, he has stayed by my side. Yet he has never been a doormat, and learned early on in my addiction to set boundaries. He has changed locks on our doors, has sent me away to live with my mother when things became too crazy. Yet, anytime I’ve been willing to work on my sobriety, he has made it clear that he is rooting for me. That he continues to have faith in me after my chronic relapsing is a testament to his courage, his faith, his strength, and the love we share.
It is also testament to the fact that I am still a man who remains lovable despite my forays into the darkness of drug addiction and insanity.
Friends, understandably worried about him, frequently urged him to leave me, to move on with his life without me and my hurricane of drama. Yet he refused. His commitment has remained steadfast, and because of that I am still alive and able to write these words:
I love you, Patrick Bristow. I only need look at you to know I am the luckiest man alive.
Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the water’s getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you
When it don’t come easy
I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction
But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you
When it don’t come easy
Today is day 97.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’ve struggled with sobriety for a long time. Since 2002, specifically. During that time, I’ve been both a chronic…ie, daily…user, and I’ve also been a binge user (using for short periods of time, then stopping for either years or months).
Therefore, I’ve had many “97 days” in the past, each of them a different experience: some relatively easy, others that were much more difficult.
THIS 97 days has been, without exaggeration, the longest and most difficult 97 days of my life. Not because of the persistent delusional thinking and paranoia my meth use induced, not because of the fear those symptoms inspired, and not because of the physical side effects of the psychiatric medications I’ve been taking to deal with all of it.
It’s been the most difficult because this time around, I truly value recovery. Remembering the joy I took in simple sober existence before my catastrophic relapse makes this experience of trying to regain my health all the more frustrating. Having had…just a little over three months ago… the gifts of self-confidence and lightened spirit has made this current fumbling and clawing towards inner peace all the more bitter and frustrating.
The paranoia lasted a good portion of those 97 days. The irrational feeling that I was being observed at all times, that I was being followed by cars everywhere I went via some tracking device implanted either on my person, on my vehicle…or just via my cellphone’s GPS…is exactly the same each and every time I use crystal meth. In the past, however, this delusion has waned after several days off the drug, several weeks at most. This time, the terror persisted for almost three months.
Initially, I was prescribed the anti-psychotic Risperdal to deal with the psychosis. In the past, this has been my go-to drug for these symptoms: very few side effects, and very fast-acting. This time however, it made barely a dent in the paranoia. I kept taking it, though, praying it would kick in and begin to ease my body out of its constant flight-or-fight state of anxiety and tension.
The paranoia grew to such a fever pitch that I would stand inside my doorway before leaving the house, saying a prayer of protection, quoting scripture: “There is no fear in (God’s) love. (God’s) perfect love casts aside all fear,” before venturing down the stairs, to the car port and into my Honda CRV. I’d grip the steering wheel and pray my way to a recovery meeting, arriving a nervous wreck, literally shaking with fear. I did this almost every night, and early on, each and every drive was a new experience in terror. Everything I saw on the road applied to me, somehow. One night, on the way home from a meeting, a car pulled in front of me and began driving slowly…far too slowly to not be trying to annoy me, it seemed. A bumper sticker ran the length of its rear, reading “Slow as Fuck.” A message to me, obviously, that I had not and could not learn my lesson: that each time I relapse, these cars will be there to torment me. Cars with one headlight were suddenly everywhere, and there was a stretch of time when I could not drive anywhere at night without being tailed by a truck with its brights on, blinding me until I would finally flip the rear-view mirror up towards the roof liner and continue driving without being able to see behind me. On the day I celebrated 30 days of sobriety, another car pulled in front of me, driven by an older man. The car was red, a nondescript sedan of some sort, with two silver, melted-soldering-material numbers affixed to its trunk: a three, and of course, a zero. 30. Helicopters were suddenly constantly overhead, and fire emergency vehicles seemed to be everywhere as well. It felt like some secret society had decided that I was an undesirable of some sort and needed to be tormented.
While I knew, intellectually, that I was in psychosis, it felt absolutely as if it were really happening. It still feels as if it really happened, if I’m to be completely honest. And as anyone who has experienced methamphetamine psychosis will tell you, it always will to some degree.
Websites claiming the existence of citizen vigilante/surveillance groups…(like this one)…did not help. Other recovering addicts recounting, almost exactly, the same types of experiences also made it difficult to eschew them as pure delusion.
I felt wracked with shame for a while, for my meth-fueled sexual indulgences, and it seemed as if all of these people in these cars were trying to further shame me. It was debilitating. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically.
In the midst of this insanity, an angel in human form stepped into my life. A friend, who I’d only ever communicated with via text messages and who lived primarily in Las Vegas, came to Los Angeles to deal with some business concerns. Also in recovery, he saw immediately the scared look in my eyes, my tensed body posture. I could barely communicate, being on the verge of tears or rage or an emotional breakdown almost constantly. For almost two weeks, while my brain healed, Rob would drive me to recovery meetings every night. He would check in on me every morning. Initially, in the throes of paranoia, I suspected he might be one of “them,” charged with gathering further intelligence that could be used to torture me psychologically. Like a seasoned delusional stalking victim, however, I played along, occasionally feeding him misinformation in order to confuse my tormentors. What he thought about me during that time, barely two months ago, would probably embarrass me to no end today if he were to be completely honest with me about it. Eventually, of course, we forged a friendship out of this crucible of insanity, recovery meetings and the drives to and from them.
I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for this man. My suicidal thoughts would come and go back then, appearing suddenly from nowhere and then disappearing again, just as fleetingly, to be replaced by a flicker of hope. The flicker was usually lit by Rob, whose sense of humor is not only ribald but absolutely irrepressible. I’d find myself laughing at something ridiculous he would say, my mind temporarily diverted from the fear and the hopelessness.
I can never repay Rob for the gift he gave me: taking a paranoid psychotic meth addict and friending him almost by force. I believe he saved my life, and he joins the ranks of others who have given of themselves to help me: my husband Patrick, my friends Mykee, Phillip, Le Maire and Maria, my recovery guru Jonathan, my mother, and a small handful of others who have tolerated my insanity and walked with me through the darkest corners of my self-created shadow world.
The paranoia lasted so long this time that I actually began to get used to it. After two months, the fear was mostly gone. I still felt like I was being followed, still noticing things that seemed beyond mere coincidence, but I just didn’t care anymore. Abject fear melted into apprehension. Much of that had to do with the shame beginning to dissipate. Yes, I’d engaged in dark behaviors, but nothing that isn’t going on in a hundred thousand households even as I type these words.
Last week, I switched anti-psychotic medications, and am now on a small dose of a drug called Abilify. It began working almost immediately. With those results, however, came some profound side-effects: dizziness, sleeplessness, and…disappointingly, for someone dealing with sex addiction issues…increased libido. It also makes writing difficult, and this blog entry has taken me hours to write when before it would have taken twenty minutes. It’s all worth it, of course.
The entire episode, the full three months of terror, has been worth it in some ways.
I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that even in my most fearful moments, I am brave. I am not the type of person who is prone to self-compliments, I am definitely more of the self-effacement variety. Yet, somehow, during these months of hell, I managed to face my fear each and every day (sometimes with the help of Rob, God bless him) and drive to a meeting. I refused to give in, refused to give up. I still do. I know from past experience that the paranoia will continue to return when least expected, but that doesn’t scare me. This feeling of being hunted, real or imagined, no longer bothers me. I’m a human being, fallible as every other human being. I’m a sexual being, and I no longer feel shame about that fact. God made me the way I am, and God makes no mistakes. I will eventually learn from my fuckups, even if I am a slow learner…(yes, slow as fuck sometimes)…and I will continue to make new mistakes. But I am committed to making them in sobriety, and to dealing with the repercussions promptly.
I have also learned even at my sickest, I am valuable, I am lovable. Thank you, Rob, for all you have done and continue to do for me. Maintaining sobriety can sometimes feel like a never-ending war, and I am so grateful to you for being at my side for the duration of the first great battle of this..hopefully my last…period of sobriety.
I have 97 days today of honest recovery, and I am proud of each and every fucking one of them.
Our mutual friend told me this morning that you’re struggling with your sobriety.
I know reaching out via this blog may be presumptuous, maybe even a bit annoying or over-reaching, because I have never even met you in person. But one of the things I do know about you is that you have read my posts in the past. I hope you’re reading this one.
I just want you to know that you helped save my life early on in this most recent, very difficult sobriety. You did that by telling me that my blog helped you. As an addict, I often feel like I am of no use to anyone, and hearing that you read my writings…and that they helped you with your recovery…gave me the strength to continue fighting this battle at a time when I truly felt like throwing in the towel and giving in to the dark urges to use crystal meth.
I truly believe that it was God who brought us together. Discovering, while chatting on Facebook, that you are my high school girlfriend’s nephew was both a shock and a beautiful surprise. I remember your father very well, and I remember your Aunt telling me about your birth.
You are an incredible young man: I was stunned by the insight you have into your disease, and I was bowled over by your profound faith. Your faith strengthened mine that day, at a moment when I needed it. You shared your story with me, and I was so incredibly impressed by the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome at such a young age. I wish I had, at your age, even one iota of your faith and strength.
I know it’s hard. I’m struggling too at the moment. I just want you to know that even though I’ve never met you I care about you enormously. I am so grateful for your support when I needed it. I am so grateful for inspiring me with your faith. You helped me.
I am praying for you, my young friend. The world…and the recovery community in particular…needs your experience, strength and hope.
I am asking God to watch over you and help you find your way back to His light. I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through right now, or what particular demons you’re wrestling with. I can tell you that I’ve wrestled with many, many demons myself. You have to win, Danny, so that God can continue working through you to help others who are struggling. The way you helped me, probably without ever even knowing how much.
God has great plans for you, I’m sure of it.
I heard him speaking to me through you.
Prayers and love,
PS: listen to this song by my friend Maria. It’s helped me so much when things have been really rough.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog entry, and because of that I’ve received quite a few messages of concern from readers wondering how I’m doing .
The answer is “I’m doing as well as can be expected.”
I have 83 days of recovery under my belt this (and God willing, my last) go-round.
It’s not been easy this time: I did so much damage to my mental health that it’s been a long, slow slog back to sanity. I have some great days, I have some good days, I have some bad days, and I have some truly awful and terrifying days. Fortunately, the great and good days are growing in number as I slowly regain my traction in the world of the living, in the sunlight of the spirit.
I’m still on a strong dose of anti-psychotic medication, which is working…though not as quickly as I’d hoped. This medication has helped alleviate much of the paranoia, though not all of it. The downside is that it makes me feel a little slow, a little mind-muddled. Writing, one of the things I do to maintain sobriety and process my thoughts, is supremely difficult.
The good news is that I’ve been rigorously honest with myself these past 83 days, laying the foundation for a new kind of sobriety, one that will hopefully withstand the seismic force of my newly admitted triggers and compulsions.
Also promising: my newfound reliance on prayer, and the keen awareness that I am surrounded by love and support. There have been many days when I’ve been so tightly gripped by fear that it was difficult to walk through my front door and out into the world. Even this, it seems, has provided a benefit for me: I’ve learned that I am a man of courage. There have been so many days when I’ve wanted nothing more than to just curl up in bed and pull the covers over my head, yet for these past 83 days I’ve forced myself to attend recovery meetings almost every day, sometimes more than once. The drive to and from them has frequently been filled with paranoid terror, yet I’ve gripped that steering wheel and prayed my way to the safety of the meeting and then home again. That may not seem like much to anyone who hasn’t experienced post-meth paranoia, but for me it has been like climbing Everest every single day. Yet, I’ve done it…and on the bad days, I continue to do it.
Today, I am grateful for the hard lessons learned from the consequences of my relapse, and grateful for everyone who has made me feel safe with their love and their friendship.
Today, unlike a month ago, I no longer feel suicidal. Today, I have hope that my mental health will return.
Today, I feel confident that I can maintain my sobriety…a stronger, deeper sobriety than my previous attempts: one forged in the crucible of honesty and sheer terror.
Today, I feel worthy of love. Today, I have put aside my shame. Today, I feel brave even when I feel scared.
Today, I feel God working in my life.
Eighty-three days and counting.
Sometimes it’s a bitch, sometimes it’s a breeze.
Well I’ve run through rainbows and castles of candy
I cried a river of tears from the pain
I try to dance with what life has to hand me
My partner’s been pleasure…my partner’s been pain
There are days when I swear I could fly like an eagle
And dark desperate hours that nobody sees
My arms stretched triumphant on top of the mountain
My head in my hands…down on my knees
Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze
Sometimes love’s blind…and sometimes it sees
Sometimes it’s roses…and, sometimes it’s weeds
Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze
I’ve reached in darkness and come out with treasure
I’ve laid down with love and I woke up with lies
What’s it all worth only the heart can measure
It’s not what’s in the mirror…but what’s left inside
I currently weigh 192 pounds. 45 days ago, at the end of my last meth binge, I weighed 165 pounds. That’s a substantial weight gain in a very short period of time, and it’s freaking me out, so I’m doing what I now do to deal with feelings that scare me: I’m going to write about them, humiliation be damned.
I discovered bingeing and purging back in the early 90’s, when alcohol was still my drug of choice.
It happened by accident, sort of…following a wild night of sweaty, shirt-off dancing at West Hollywood clubs like Rage or the now-defunct Studio One, I’d cruise through a Taco Bell drive through on the way home and hunger-order a bag full of food. Back at my apartment, I’d gorge myself on the carb-fest, trying to soak up some of the alcohol still in my stomach.
The first time, I vomited because I had to. Just too much to keep down while in a horizontal sleeping position. I noticed, however, that in the morning I felt better physically then I usually did following my previous booze and taco supreme over-indulgences. Less bloated, less headache-y. And remembering how easily it had all come up the night before, with just a minimum of effort on my part, I wrote a brain-note to myself: try that again next weekend.
And I did.
My addict brain assured that within weeks, I was bingeing and purging with alarming frequency, and not just following nights out at the bar.
I was twenty-seven years old, and was just beginning to discover that my body could no longer live on a diet of Pepsi and fast food without gaining weight, the way it had done in the past.
I was also in the midst of dating, and frequently. As an insecure gay man shopping in the frequently appearance-is-everything meat market of Southern California, I fretted and obsessed (more addict behavior) about every pound that I would gain, certain that my love handles would be the one obstacle that would prevent me from finding the true love I was sure I deserved.
And so it went, crash dieting, failing at the crash diet, bingeing, eating gluttonous quantities of McDonald’s french fries and Hostess Sno-balls and anything else I could get my mouth on, an alternating out-of-control ,savory-sweet-savory-sweet mastication orgy of self-loathing and despair, followed by the violent, shameful but “I’m back in control” retch of the purge.
This went on for years, though, like much of my addictive behavior, it would subside for periods, often for several months in duration. But it would always return when the insecurities resurfaced.
I became obsessed with the unattainable goal of physical perfection, and the shallowness of that pursuit gradually replaced any concept of spiritual evolution that might have existed before. I began to value myself more for how I looked than for how I behaved.
In other words, my body became more important than my soul.
Even after I was officially rescued from the choppy waters of the dating pool by my wonderful partner Patrick, the old bulimia demon would occasionally pay me a visit during times of intense stress or when I went to pull on a pair of pants that were suddenly so tight they’d make my legs feel like giant polish sausages. That feeling of disgust at myself, that inner monologue would assert itself, loud and on repeat:
“you’re disgusting. You’re fat. You eat too much, you eat more than normal people eat. You are so weak, did you have to have three helpings of macaroni and cheese last night? What are you, a fucking child?”
“GET RID OF IT.”
I went to therapy, at Patrick’s insistence, and it provided a measure of relief, though never total remission. I learned some tools that I would occasionally utilize, and more frequently ignore. My weight would fluctuate from bone-thin to stout to chubby, and back again, over and over. I fucked up my body in profound ways, my metabolism never quite being able to assess its base line and constantly trying to compensate for my self-destructive behavior.
At one point, I even resorted to undergoing liposuction: one of the most painful and truly unnecessary tortures I’ve ever put my body through. I can barely write about that ordeal without cringing, both from embarrassment and recalled discomfort.
Finally though, I found a cure for my bulimia: crystal meth.
I didn’t start using meth as a method of controlling my bingeing and purging, it was simply a positive side-effect of not having any appetite at all. The pounds dropped away, I would pick like a finicky child at any food on my plate.
While my weight stayed low, and the voice of the binge and purge demon was temporarily muffled, other…and more vicious…demons took its place, setting in motion the chain reaction of decades-long damage that inspired this blog in the first place.
The nature of meth abuse is that one rarely eats at all while using, so when one ceases using, the body is in starvation mode and instantly begins to cling to every calorie, every drop of moisture, and bloat and instant weight gain is the result.
Today, I have 45 days of recovery under my belt following my last relapse. They’ve been 45 incredibly difficult days, filled with residual fear and paranoia, self-hatred over my seeming inability to grasp my programs of recovery, and a sense of desperate clarity that this is perhaps my last chance to get it right.
They’ve also been filled with a new sense of God in my life, of hope, of rigorous honesty, and of an often-overwhelming sense of gratitude for those around me who have supported me – and continue to support me – regardless of my cataclysmic fuck-ups.
I am also now battling the binge-and-purge demon once again: that voice that is telling me that the 160 pound, meth-addled Andy is the better, more attractive Andy. The voice that is telling me that I have no self-control, that I will never amount to anything If I can’t even control my eating. The voice that silently whispers to me “do a little speed. no one has to know, and you’ll be able to fit into those jeans again in no time. You’ll be fine, just manage it a little better this time.” Of course, that voice is lying to me, because I am utterly incapable of doing speed without anyone knowing, and of course I have absolutely zero ability to manage my meth use. I am powerless over that addiction, and manageability is the very hallmark of my drug use, whether I’m using it to get high, to lose weight, or for any other bullshit reason my tricky brain comes up with.
I’ve been steadily climbing up out of the pit of relapse, hand over hand, feet finding tentative purchase from which to push myself up higher towards the Sunlight of the Spirit. I will not let the binge-and-purge demon drag me back down.
I still have the tools I learned in therapy a long time ago that will help me deal with my body issues today, to find peace with this nearly 25 pound weight-gain I’ve achieved in only forty-five days off the pipe. I’ve been reading voraciously the stories of those who have also battled eating disorders, and am currently in the middle of actress Maureen McCormick’s brave memoir, “Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding my True Voice.” These stories, and the inspiration I glean from them, are another of my tools to combat my bulimia.
But I have an even better tool, one that I’ve learned in the programs of recovery I use for my other addictions: prayer.
Today, I pray that I can love myself exactly as I am. Today, I pray that I can set myself free from the bondage of self. Today, I pray that I can stop comparing myself to others negatively. Today, I pray for the ability to recognize that I am fine just the way I am, and to understand that there are those who struggle with weight because of medical conditions, genetic pre-dispositions or other factors, and that my obsession with body-image is just as self-destructive as any chemical I put into my body.
I pray for constant appreciation of the fact that who I am far outweighs what I look like.
Today, I offer a prayer of gratitude that I still have a body that functions, that is healthy and that has not only been the mode of conveyance for my spirit for 49 years, but has also weathered and survived the punishments I’ve long inflicted upon it.
Today, I am 192 pounds of pure gratitude.
I loudly proclaimed, “I am a meth addict.” I proclaimed with equal fervor, “I am an alcoholic.”
Friends would inquire why I was so open about these addictions, and I would faux-nobly claim that “I am only as sick as my secrets, so telling the world that I am and addict/alcoholic helps keep me sober.” And there was a kernal of truth in that. Actually, more than a kernal…there was a lot of truth in those words.
But I used that truth as camouflage to mask the deeper, darker truth I have always been far too ashamed to reveal: I am a sex addict.
I tried to evade dealing with this fact by using the programs of recovery for my other addictions, hoping that the effects of being free of drugs and alcohol would somehow also carry over and miraculously mute that equally dark and insidious addiction.
For me, admitting that I’m a sex addict is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do in these last twenty-nine days of post-relapse “rigorously honest” introspection.
Saying I’m a meth addict was easy, by comparison: Janis Joplin was a meth addict. Jimi Hendrix was a meth addict. Edie Sedgwick was a meth addict. Even Frances Farmer, my counter-culture idol was addicted…and driven insane…by her reliance on Benzedrine, the 1940’s incarnation of meth. So, it was easy to admit to that particular darkness. One need look no further than the Saint of the Underground Charles Bukowski to glean insight into why I felt it easy to identify as an alcoholic.
But sex addiction? Who are the role models of that particular compulsion? David Duchovny? Great actor, but no thanks. Assorted family-values spouting congress people? Sexting Political aspirants? Ugh, no way.
Yet, there it is: the ugliest of ugly truths: I am addicted to sex. Namely, pornography…unless I’ve combined that with my other drug of choice, crystal meth. At which point my rusty old moral compass…which functions to some degree, though it often requires a little shaking to get it to point due north….begins spinning out of control like a child’s pinwheel on a breezy day.
I’ve lied to myself for years about my consumption of pornography. It doesn’t hurt anyone. It doesn’t hurt me. It keeps me from acting out with people other than my husband sexually.
All lies. Lies I knew I was telling myself, but chose to believe anyway.
Watching porn, I realize, opens up a chasm in my better nature…one that I am prone to fall headlong into…a spiritual pit that can take me days to climb up and out of. And it has never kept me from acting out sexually, particularly when combined with the chemicals I am also addicted to.
This last, most brutal relapse of my long and storied relapsing career was triggered by sexual compulsion, as have pretty much all of my returns to active using and drinking.
I can’t pretend any longer that porn hurts no one: I’ve heard too many shares in the rooms of recovery from former or current porn performers who have spoken of the pain, the degradation, and the darkness that enveloped them while working in that medium. I no longer want to satisfy my own carnal desires by soaking in the pain and poor choices of another lost child of God.
Certainly there are some free spirits who do porn who have no spiritual compunction about doing so, but I doubt any of them are doing this as a first choice. Some have probably felt they have run out of other options, some are desperate, and some see no problem with it until the demons of drug addiction and alcoholism sneak up on them. And some, of course….like me…are sex addicts acting out. To view even ONE of these people degrading themselves…to derives pleasure from this degradation….no longer sits well with me. I dated a porn “star” prior to my relationship with my husband, and I saw first-hand the exploitation of the spirit that particular career engenders.
I am certainly no anti-porn crusader…many people can view pornography without it being a precursor to sexual and behavioral darkness, but I’ve decided that for me…personally…I can no longer watch any of it.
I know where my sex addiction came from, and I’ve written about some of it on this blog before as a way of explaining the dark, sexual places I’ve ended up in from using meth.
My first introduction to sex, in any form…that I’m aware of, at least….came from a tattered brown grocery bag in a relatives house. In that bag were magazines and small paperback books of intensely hardcore pornography. I’m not talking Hustler Magazine hardcore, I’m talking Nazis. Women being raped. Dogs tearing at the flesh of bound women while their captor leered on. I was probably ten years old at the time, and it was both horrifying and titillating, this sudden glimpse into the grownup world of erect penises and this thing…all twisted, no beauty…called sex. I hadn’t gone looking for this bag of darkness, it had been absent-mindedly left next to couch in the house of a relative when I was spending the night on that couch. Or perhaps it had been placed there, intentionally. I won’t ever be sure. Either way, though, it stole my innocence from me with the force of an anvil dropped on my head. There was no gradual dawning of my sexuality, there was no gentle slide into the awakenings of puberty. I knew it all, and somehow I knew I had to keep that knowledge to myself. The great shame manifested itself for the first time that night, and has never gone away completely.
When, a couple of years later, the notorious Father Oliver O’Grady took certain liberties with me, I felt that I had asked for it somehow, that the darkness of the images I had seen a few years before (and would feverishly search my relatives house to get yet another look at those books) had marked me as someone who deserved to be touched by him, as if I were marked by sin. There was, God help me, even a part of me that enjoyed it because it was yet another sexual secret that I could re-hash in my mind while masturbating.
And so it went, a lifetime of seeking out the dark side of sexuality…until I met my husband, Patrick, in 1993. My immediate attraction to him was his sense of humor: watching him perform improv…he’s a genius of the medium, all personal biases aside…I was doubled over with laughter during my first trip to LA’s legendary Groundlings Theatre. As I got to know him, though, I saw a gentle soul, a patient soul…a good soul. His soul felt to me like the antidote to my own with its own dark, troubling secrets.
Though for the first seven years of our relationship I continued to battle my sex addiction (though I would never have admitted to that affliction back then, not even with a gun pointed at my head), and engaged in periodic anonymous infidelities, I knew for the first time a feeling of love, of what sex could be without shame and without guilt. I have never felt more loved, more like a good and decent person, than when I am with my husband, a man who loves me unconditionally, who understands the origins of my shame and my compulsive sexual behavior.
It was in 2001 that I first began using meth. And from the beginning, the hypersexuality caused by the drug…coupled with the temporary obliteration of shame and conscience…made me fall in love with it.
And so I began my true descent into darkness: God-less hours spent smoking my meth pipe and watching increasingly hardcore and spirit-demeaning pornography, random animal-like assignations with other meth users, sordid sexual risk-taking of epic proportions.
Last year, before I entered recovery following another bout of psychosis…the kind I am currently experiencing….I had a moment of addled honesty, and wrote in my journal:
Friday, July 6, 2012
This has been going on for years. There was never a lot of guilt about it until it involved cheating on Patrick to get my fix, even back when absolute fidelity was expected. AND THATS WHEN THE METH ADDICTION BEGAN. Because with the addition of the meth, not only was the sex more intense and more….enduring? ….it also erased..temporarily, of course, any feelings of shame or regret. And i could indulge in that fantasy of being sexually desirable for hours and hours and HOURS. SO yes… I think i’m addicted to meth, obviously. But I don’t think treatment for it will ever work if I don’t address the Sex Addiction part. Because frankly, that’s what’s always led to a relapse…the desire to be bad sexually.
I found a ___ meeting in Pasadena next tuesday. I’ll be finished with the meth i currently have tonight, most likely…so i’ll be clean for almost three days when I attend. I hope I have the nerve to actually walk through those doors, because it seems so much more shameful to me than admitting I’m a drug addict, which bad as THAT is, at least carries with it an air of artistic decadence or..I don’t know, I’m not articulating this well….it’s just that so many great artists and cool people are also drug addicts. Admitting I’m a sex addict puts me in the same league as…i don’t know, date rapists? Ugh. But I have to do it. The whole Higher Fucking Power thing makes my skin crawl. Maybe it will be different in this kind of group. Or, maybe I’ll be different in this kind of group. Who fucking knows. We’ll see, i guess. I just hope I have the courage to walk into that room and say those words.
Yet, I never found the courage to walk into that room. I started attending a recovery group for my drug and alcohol addiction, and left it at that. And leaving it at that, I now understand with absolute clarity (and with the guidance of a loving Higher Power, which for the record, no longer freaks me the fuck out) that I will never get better unless I address this core issue that I can no longer pretend is only a by-product of my meth addiction. It’s a real problem, all on it’s own, with it’s own mental zip code, and it needs real solutions.
I feel God with me now, who has always been with me even when I didn’t understand that, and I am following his lead. And tonight, he is leading me to a recovery meeting for sex addicts.
I want a healthy relationship with sex, with my husband, with myself. I’ve been blessed, once again, with the grace of negative STD and HIV results that frankly, I don’t feel I deserve considering my actions. The sunlight of the spirit is far too easily damped out by the shame of sexual compulsion, and I will have no more of it. I am tired of blaming the past for my mistakes of today. Time to get out the courage fan and blow away the storm clouds of shame, once and for all.
As always, please keep me in your prayers.
Love and recovery to all seeking it,
So, the struggle continues. Paranoia, fear….battling daily…no, hourly…the consequences of my relapse.
I’m fighting them, however, with a sturdy well-stocked arsenal of love, prayer, recovery and fellowship.
I’m also fighting them with songs that uplift my spirit, that keep me in touch with all that is good in the world.
This song, but the amazing Sinéad O’Connor, is one of my favorites at the moment. The title is a reference to an obscure Arabic expression meaning, loosely translated, “the sun shining through a break in the clouds.”
The lyrics apply, as well, and with little of the twisting and contortion often necessary to fit them to one’s current circumstances.
This song, for me, represents my feelings about my recovery…this journey I’m taking with my Higher Power, and with my trudging buddies, my vast network of friends in the Los Angeles recovery community.
Pre-recovery, before I learned that there’s a better way to live than by numbing myself and my pain with drugs and alcohol:
I used to have no walls around me
I was too free, if that’s possible to be
No safety, is what I mean
No solid foundation to keep me
Now, still in fear, but finding glimpses of light…my Higher Power, my friends, and tiny bit of hope:
But the sun’s peeping out of the sky
Where there used to be only gray
The wolf is getting married
And he’ll never cry again
The gentle lifting of my spirit when I’m embraced by another in a recovery meeting, the hope I have found in those who have found freedom from the bondage of drugs and alcohol:
Your smile makes me smile
Your laugh makes me laugh
Your joy gives me joy
Your hope gives me hope
And, finally, the dark humor I share with other recovering addicts and alcoholics regarding my plight, their plight, their journey, my journey. No darkness of mine goes unmatched in the rooms of recovery, and the laughter we share over things the rest of the non-addicted world would find either humiliating or unsuitable for public discussion:
Even if something terrible is happening
You laugh and that’s the thing I love about you most
The additional fact that this song is sung by Ms. O’Connor, someone who has battled numerous demons of her own, and who was one of the earliest to speak truth to power regarding the Catholic Church and its protection of child molesting priests – makes it all the more poignant for me. Ms. O’Connor once took a moment to answer an email I sent to her, and it touched me deeply that she would do so.
Today, I am grateful for 27 hard-won days of sobriety, for God, and my programs of recovery that keep me in touch with my better self by providing me an opportunity…even at only 27 days, to be of service to another addict or alcoholic.
Bless you all.
Twenty-five days clean and sober, yet still neck-deep in paranoia, shame and remorse.
I’ve been avoiding writing about this, praying it will begin to fade as it has in the past. However, there seems to be no end in sight to the consequences of this past relapse and the drug-fueled plummet into the darkness of mind and spirit it entailed.
I am writing about it, in case God answers my prayers and begins to filter out the insanity from my obviously damaged brain. I don’t ever want to forget these past weeks…though every fiber of my being would prefer doing just that.
I need to remember it all: the sense of being followed by vehicles everywhere I go, the blackened feeling of my soul when I first emerged from the deep pit of meth use, the pain i’ve caused my husband and those around me. I need to remember how, once again, I felt that God could never love me…this sick, fucked up human being who chose to convert my output of positive energy into an intake fan that pulled in only the choking fumes of the negative.
I need to remember this so it doesn’t happen again, should God see fit to make the fear go away.
A few days ago, I was in suicidal despair, and pocketed a handful of my psych meds and sleeping pills and prepared to walk to West Hollywood Park and end it all, just make the fear and the shame and the despair go away once and for all.
And that is when God intervened, by way of a phone call from my friend Le Maire.
Lovely Le Maire, along with my equally lovely friends Maria and Phillip, have been telling me for over a year now that God loves me no matter what I’ve done, that he loves me even though I turned my back on him for over thirty years, refusing to acknowledge gifts and blessings that were so obviously given to me: Love. Shelter. Food. Friends.
My friend picked me up and drove me to Plummer Park…also in West Hollywood…and in a quiet-ish corner of the park she reassured me…once again…that everything would be okay, that God does love me. We read from the Bible, and it was the first comfort I’d felt in weeks. We then attended a prayer seminar at a church in the Korea Town section of our city, where I once again cried like a baby…not from shame, but from the sensation of much of the shame I’ve been carrying being flushed from my body. It was a surreal experience, to say the least, for someone who was so anti-church, anti-religion, and for a long, long time, also anti-God.
Yet, it helped.
It didn’t fix the paranoia, it didn’t completely wash away the shame and guilt. But it helped because for the first time in ages I felt like God was listening to me. I felt a connection, and it was beautiful.
As much as I’m still suffering, I’ve come to appreciate that without this suffering I might never have found firm footing in my relationship with Him again. Yes, I am prone to doubt His existence….thirty-something years of the self-programming of an ex-Catholic turned semi-atheist do not make for a wrinkle-free transition to Believer…but something has changed. I can feel God with me, and the solace is comforting. That connection waxes and wanes, but when I feel that I’m losing touch with Him, I pray, and I feel renewed. The shame and self-hatred rise up in giant waves still with alarming regularity, but I can pray and push them back before they inundate me completely.
I still loathe myself frequently and deeply, but I no longer feel God is disgusted by me. I know now that I’m his Child, not just the sick, sad person I feel like when I’m out of touch with Him. He loves me as much now as he did when I was a young boy, before I was introduced to darkness via hardcore porn and ill-intentioned hands.
I’m still battling fear and paranoia, but I’m not doing it alone.
I have my family, who never give up on me.
I have my friends in recovery supporting me, checking in on me, letting me know that I am loved.
I have my amazing husband, who despite my checkered history of incomprehensible and demoralizing relapsing, still loves me fiercely.
I have my friends Le Maire, Phillip and Maria, who continue to help me strengthen my connection to God.
And, most of all, I have God himself, who may not be working as quickly as I’d like Him to, but has kept me safe from harm thus far.
Even in my diminished state, my God wants me to help others, and I’m doing so wherever I can with my limited resources. I’m also reaching out for help…asking for rides to meetings, prayer requests…which for me is among the most difficult things to do.
I have little idea of who the 1,500 people are who read this blog, but if any one of you is considering using crystal meth…or using it again if you have already…hear my plea: do not do it. Not even once. The repercussions, the damage, the despair and the soul-sickness it causes can never be justified, not even once. Once is all it takes to get hooked on that insidious bitch of a chemical.
You trust me on this, just as I’m trusting God with my continued recovery.
(God’s) Perfect love casts out fear.
Please keep me in your prayers.
In the eighties, when I was still a rabid atheist, there was a song I used to listen to when I was feeling lost.
It was a beautiful ballad by the Irish band In Tua Nua called “The Innocent and Honest Ones.” I’d listen to this song, often after a night of raucous, drunken debauchery (this was when alcohol was still my primary drug of choice), whatever random coupling that had just occurred only serving to intensify the constant ache of loneliness. My raging hatred towards God, dulled by countless screwdrivers, would subside for a while, and I would take in the lyrics:
“I wanna believe in you, If I can find a way
I see signs of you each and every day
You’re in the Innocent and the Honest ones
The liberators and the selfless ones
In the forests and the air they give
the few oceans where life still lives
I wanna believe in You, not corrupt institutions
You’re a feeling inside, not rules or regulations
You gave us sexuality, desire is no sin
You gave us common sense, but not in a catechism
You’re in the Innocent and the Honest Ones
In retrospect, I was a terrible atheist. One can not be angry with something one doesn’t actually believe in. So perhaps I was never truly an atheist, rather, I was just someone who was so angry at God that I chose to ignore Him, the way a fifth-grader will suddenly cold-shoulder a classmate they’ve been friends with for years over some schoolyard slight.
Yet, drunk and lonely, I found myself wanting to believe. The song encapsulated everything that I felt about religion: anger, frustration, and a belief that God…if he existed…was – to quote the song – in the innocent and the honest ones.
The problem was, I stopped feeling “innocent” around the age of eleven, thanks to the Catholic church and its policy of protecting child molesters. I certainly didn’t feel “honest,” either…by that time in my twenties I already had a closet full of secrets I’d been holding on to for years. Lies kept me safe. Lies kept me from being judged. Lies allowed me to walk around safely in a time when an admission of homosexuality could be extremely dangerous. Lies kept me from having to let anyone know how dirty, how damaged, how very sick and tainted and dark I felt inside, thanks to early exposure to hardcore pornography and the truly evil Father Oliver O’Grady. Lying…outright or by omission…was my defense mechanism, almost reflexive at times. Every word, before it left my mouth, had to be weighed and assessed before it could be spoken to make sure it wouldn’t accidentally betray the bright, shiny, wholesome, blond and tan golden boy image I had so carefully cultivated.
And so it went, into my thirties, and into my forties. As I matured, I did learn how to be honest about things I’d lied about in the past. And when I began seeking recovery for the first time in earnest 14 months ago, I began talking honestly about my feelings and my secrets on this blog…and it was liberating.
Honesty, however, still doesn’t always come to me as quickly or as reflexively as lying does. It’s ingrained. And that lack of honesty is what aids and abets my disease of addiction. Not just lying to you, but the lying I do to myself.
Last night, I attended a recovery meeting with about 60 other recovering crystal meth addicts. These are people I have come to care about deeply over the past fourteen months, people who have supported me, loved me, even celebrated my one-year milestone of “recovery” in my backyard swimming pool. The gentleman who shared his story last night could have been reciting my own. He shared openly and honestly about having lied during his initial experience in recovery – how he had used amyl nitrate (a sex-enhancing inhalant, aka poppers) during the period he had claimed to be sober. He actually made eye contact with me…and held it…while he related this information. It was disturbing, it was like he was looking into my eyes and seeing my own lies swimming inside them.
I felt horrible. I felt ashamed. I understood in that moment that I can not keep lying to myself, to others, to anyone…if I want to live. And I want to live. I want to beat this disease. I want to kick it, strangle it, wrestle it to the ground and choke it into submission, tear out its fangs and humiliate it the way it’s humiliated me.
So, I stood up and told the truth.
I told the room that during the 13 months I had claimed to be sober, I had actually used inhalants as well, despite the fact that doing so clearly constitutes a relapse in this recovery program. I had justified using them: they weren’t really a mind-altering substance (the truth: they are), they kept me from using meth, so what’s the problem? (the truth: they didn’t keep me from using meth, obviously), and I’d been using them since my early twenties and they weren’t a problem then, so why should I consider them a problem now? (the truth: then, I hadn’t found crystal meth, now meth and poppers are both inextricably tied in to the twisted relationship I have with sex).
It was, perhaps, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I felt dirty, I felt like I’d disappointed every person in that room, I felt exposed for the liar that I am. The liar I don’t want to be any more.
After I shared that information, I fled the room: partially because I needed to call my sobriety “guru” (euphemism required) and tell him before anyone else in that room had a chance to text or call him, and partially because I felt humiliated.
Since that admission, just last evening, I’ve received a flood of emails and texts from recovery friends telling me how “brave” I was to stand up and be honest. I so deeply appreciate each and every one of those messages, but the truth is, I don’t consider what I did brave. What I consider brave is the ability to live honestly each and every day…being honest with myself, and with others. What I did last night was an act of desperation, not an act of bravery. Because I AM desperate.
I’ve received some messages from friends in recovery, basically saying that I don’t have to tell everyone, that when it comes to poppers there’s some wiggle room as to whether it constitutes a relapse. For me, though, there is no wiggle room. That wiggle turns to writhing, the writhing ultimately turns to relapse on crystal meth. No wiggling allowed, at least not for me.
My friend DC has a saying he uses frequently: “Some people are too busy trying to save face that they forget to save their ass.”
I want to save my ass, not my face.
Because the next relapse will kill me. I’m absolutely certain of it.
I’ve always cared too much about what people think about me. I want people to like me. But I’m done with that. If my telling the truth about the fact that I lied about my sobriety makes you hate me, so be it.
I’m done beating myself up. I’m no longer going to aid and abet the world’s…and my disease’s…propensity to do that on its own.
Because I want to live far more than I want to be liked.
I’m done with shame. I’m done with the lying. I’m done caring what anyone thinks of me, unless it’s because I’ve transgressed against them in some way that requires amends.
I have twelve HONEST days of sobriety today, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
I’m grateful for my friends who have shown me so much love, even in the face of this recent admission.
I’m grateful for my sobriety guru Jonathan, who told me last night, “I’ve never been more proud of you.”
I am grateful for my husband Patrick, who loves me unconditionally, even when he’s had to lay down appropriate boundaries to protect himself.
I’m grateful for the presence of God in my life today.
If you read this, and you see me in person after, please don’t tell me that I’m brave. You can tell me that you’re proud of me, and that you love me, if in fact you feel those things. But direct the bravery comments to those who have earned them by maintaining an honest recovery in the face of trying circumstances.
I will never again be innocent, but today – thus far – i’ve been honest.
Last week, in an attempt to pull myself out of the spiritual stupor I once again found myself in following my relapse, I posted what was an attempt at a light-hearted Facebook status update:
My husband is finally back in the states, in Chicago shooting his Transformers 4 scenes…he’ll be back home on Friday. Not a moment too soon, as I apparently require constant adult supervision. Until then, can someone nearby come over and help me make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Oh, and don’t stick metal stuff into power outlets, it really hurts.
In addition to a flurry of sweet responses from people who were quick to point out that they were glad I seemed to be resurfacing from my drug-induced isolation, I also received an instant message from my friend Chaim, who I haven’t seen in person since we both worked on the Spielberg Holocaust survivor project The Shoah Foundation back in the 90’s. We engaged in a lighthearted exchange, one in which…per usual…I thought I managed to hide how truly dispirited I still was:
That, I thought, was the end of that.
Except that half an hour later, there was a knock on my front door. My heart jumped into my throat…who was it? I scanned the house in a panic, looking for any residue of my relapse that might be lying around. Eventually, I couldn’t avoid it any longer and opened the front door. There, on the porch, was Chaim, proffering a bag from which the end of a loaf of white bread protruded.
Deeply touched, very much surprised, I invited him in and took the bag he gave me, which also contained a jar of strawberry preserves and the aforementioned, preferred Skippy brand peanut butter.
We sat on my back patio and caught up for a bit. He told me about his wife and his daughter (he was single when we last spoke in person, let alone the father of a now ten-year old), how he was studying to be a Rabbi, and I told him how overwhelmed I was by this incredible gesture he had made. The man lives across town, it’s not like he just drove a few blocks. I mean, this is Los Angeles, and he took an actual freeway…at a time approaching rush hour…. to bring me this gift of his company and of course, the PB&J fixings.
Still deep in self-loathing, still shell-shocked from the enormous repercussions of my relapse, I can’t remember exactly what I said to him about my current situation.
What I remember clearly is something he said to me when I thanked him for coming.
“You helped my father when the (Shoah) Foundation recorded his testimony. He was very, very nervous and you went to extra lengths to make sure it all went okay for him. I can’t thank you enough for that.” (I paraphrase).
“I did?” I said, trying to single out that particular testimony recording session from the almost 50,000 that we ultimately gathered.
“Yes, you did. And I’ve never forgotten that.”
I choked up. Because even though my memory is shot and I can’t remember that particular interview, I have to trust that Chaim is telling me the truth.
Eventually, we hugged goodbye, and I thanked him. Not just for coming by and for the food, but for reminding me that I’ve done good in my life.
Those who follow this blog (and thank you if you do) are most likely of the belief that my entire life has been one of addiction, failure, psychosis, and trauma. That’s understandable, because I often feel that way myself. But just like so many of the other lies I tell myself (I’m unlovable…i’m a failure….I’m weak) this just isn’t true.
Before my addiction kicked in full-throttle at the age of 37, I accomplished many things, had many beautiful experiences, achieved career goals I hadn’t even dared to dream for myself when I was a young man growing up in the agricultural wastelands of Central California (no offense to my friends who still live there…I’m sure you agree that in the 70’s..well, it was a very different place than it is now.) Even during my addiction, during the sometimes long stretches between binges, I still managed to do things that weren’t self-centered, that helped others.
So now, I’m going to take a moment and remember a few of them:
I was the Director of Production….at a minimum salary…on the world’s largest oral/visual history project, the previously mentioned Shoah Foundation. I was instrumental in the collection and preservation of those almost 50,000 full-length interviews with Holocaust survivors all over the world, and I, along with everyone else at that amazing project, worked my ass off for five years to accomplish it. This will always..no matter what else I do with my life…be one of the things I am most proud of.
I traveled with my amazing friends Bettina and Jill to New Orleans as an animal rescue volunteer after Hurricane Katrina, slept on a cot in a giant tent with hundreds of other rescue workers, and helped pull trapped animals out of houses filled with toxic, poisonous sludge.
I spent weeks in Joshua Tree, bored out of my mind and listening to a non-stop, extra loud Bill O’Reilly marathon while caring for my husband’s mother when her congestive heart failure was taking its final toll on her health.
I took care of my best friend when he was dying from cancer.
And a more general one: In sobriety, at least, I am always kind and respectful to people: friends, acquaintances, and strangers (well, at least once I was past the arrogance and hubris of my teens and early twenties, and with a few exceptions where I lost my temper with employees due to stress. Even then, I always apologized.)
There’s more, of course, but I’m going to focus on those things right now. Because even those five things are not the hallmarks of an innately selfish, self-centered person. If I had the capacity to do those things, to be that kind of person, I still do.
I still have worth.
I am not useless.
I have failed at things, but I am not a failure.
And I will stop now, before this turns into an Alanis Morissette song. The trick, now, is remembering those things.
Thank you Chaim, you are going to make an excellent Rabbi. Thank you for the gift you brought me last week, and I’m not referring to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Thank you for reminding me that I am a child of God, that God does not make worthless things, and that I am, in fact, a good person battling a terrible disease.
I truly DO live in the City of Angels.
It wants me to be sick. It wants to put me in compromising positions. It wants me, quite frankly, dead.
I spent several hours yesterday in a waiting room at the Gay & Lesbian Center (God bless them and the work they do) after having what seemed like gallons of blood drawn, before finally being summoned into a counselors office where I was told that the test for HIV antibodies had come back negative. While I’m not out of the woods completely on the HIV front (a more definitive test that was also done…one that tests for the presence of the actual virus…will not yield results for approximately two weeks), it’s still a very good sign.
Today, I am filled with gratitude that there’s the possibility I’ve been given yet another reprieve on the health front. I am so grateful for my beautiful friends, for my wonderful “prayer posse,” and particularly my beautiful friend Le Maire, who prayed with me on the phone before my appointment, helping bring me into alignment with my Higher Power, the same Higher Power I lost touch with weeks ago, prior to my relapse.
So, my disease is furious today. All that work it did, all those machinations designed to trick me into destroying my sanity, my spirituality, my health, my very existence…were most likely for naught.
And by surviving, yet again, I’ve gained further insight into its devious methods. I’ve come to understand where the weaknesses are in my walls of defense, and I’ve begun the work needed to shore them up against future attacks.
A week ago, I felt isolated. I felt like my sanity was gone, perhaps forever this time. A week ago, I was filled with self-loathing and self-recrimination.
Last night, I spent several hours with a group of beautiful human beings, and heard others share stories of their own battles against their own disease, stories that were painful to hear but so very similar to my own. I was hugged, I was loved, I was told explicitly that I was amongst family, and that I was missed while I was gone. I sat between friends who held my hand, and who embraced me after I shared my own story of how my disease snuck up on me, and the damage it did to me in such a short amount of time. I spoke of how I had stopped praying at some point, how my conscious connection to my God had gradually slipped away without my even noticing it, until it was too late.
Today, I feel optimism seeping back into my bones. Today, I feel loved and to a small extent, worthy of that love.
I can not let my disease have any sort of victory, ever again. Each time I allow it to advance, it does so with even more anger, more viciousness, more commitment to seeing me degraded, humiliated….and ultimately, dead, once and for all. No do-overs. Gone.
It’s biding its time, having been forced into retreat, gathering strength in its dark fortress, waiting to blind side me again and finally achieve the sick, sad victory it’s been chasing for eleven years.
With my Higher Power by my side, however, I am invincible.
So very , very grateful today. Thank you to all my friends and family, sober or otherwise. Thank you to my Tuesday night recovery family…you truly light a Burning Desire in my heart to stay sober and see the beauty in life. Thank you to my sobriety “guru,” Jonathan…just seeing you fills me with hope. Thank you to my amazing trudging buddies Phillip and Mykee, who I believe quite literally saved my life. Thank you to everyone who sent messages of love and support. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read these postings, because writing them helps keep me sane. And sober.
Love and thanks to all of you.
So, the personal wreckage cleanup begins again. Does anyone have a backhoe I can borrow for a few days…or weeks…perhaps months?
I wonder how my husband tolerates this. I know there must be those (myself included), who occasionally view him as one of those residents of Tornado Alley, post-devastation, scrunching their faces against grief on the TV news, vowing to stay right where they are and rebuild, dammit…while the nation watches and wonders just what the fuck is wrong with his logic. Why would you stay and rebuild…haven’t you learned yet that the odds are pretty darned good another twister is gonna come along and fuck up the very foundations of your existence?
Yet, he keeps loving me. He sees something lovable in me that I’m unable to see myself at this moment.
This morning, this man of incredible patience and tolerance accompanied me to the Gay and Lesbian Center here in Los Angeles so that I can be tested for STD’s and for exposure to HIV. Throughout my 11 years of off and on drug abuse, I’ve put myself at risk numerous times, and somehow my higher power has protected me. I am a rare creature, a hardcore meth and sex addict who has somehow managed to avoid HIV infection. It would be ludicrous to expect that i’d have escaped the virus one more time.
Unfortunately, perhaps because it was the first day of resumed testing after a long, holiday weekend, the waiting room was a mob scene, and I had to reschedule my appointment for this afternoon. Disappointing and a little nerve-wracking, because I really just wanted to get it over with, but also grateful because it gives me more time to pray. Not for a negative result, though that would be wonderful. But for the strength to handle the news should it be bad.
One of my dearest friends…one of many friends who has loved me unconditionally… the singer/songwriter Maria McKee once sang on her beautiful song My Girlhood Among the Outlaws ( from her album titled You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, appropriately), “I took a leap of faith, and I stumbled…I tried to live outside Grace, and I was humbled.” That song is what I’m listening to right now…though it’s a romantic love song, I’m listening to it in a different way: as love song to my Higher Power, to God.
My girlhood among the outlaws was salty, bittersweet
The things I did, ah I could just kick myself now
Through nights of lousy dreams
As visions gather in my head
I find it hard to live with the things I did and said
But for you my friend, I’d live it all again
And love you in the end
Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you
Took a leap of faith and I stumbled
Tried to live outside grace and I was humbled
But I’d like to bet if I’d lived to fear regret
Then we never would’ve met
Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you
So here we are and I don’t know what we call it
‘Cause love is such a funny promise
Commitment is impossible and forever is a lie
But that still leaves you and I
Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you
My appointment is at 4:30, and I am not expecting good news. But I am expecting to handle it with grace, knowing that my God is not a punishing one, and that He will give me the strength to deal with whatever needs dealing with. He’s kept me alive through these dark years, and He’s even shown me a way to live that is so bright and shining I have to squint in the glare of it. He’s given my husband the strength to keep loving me, even when I’m unable to love…or even like…myself.
After the appointment, I will go to my primary recovery meeting, in a lovely backyard in Hollywood filled with tiki torches, votive candles, a bonfire and so much recovery and lovingkindness it is absolutely impossible to let self-loathing surface. Regardless of the news I get, I know I’ll be surrounded by at least 80 human beings, all struggling themselves one way or another, who really do love me and want only the best for me.
Back inside the arms of Grace. I want to stay there this time.
I know what needs to be done, and I’m going to do it. I’ve learned some things about myself, I’ve admitted some things to myself I already knew but didn’t want to confront.
And if this relapse is what it took for me to finally address these issues…and if being HIV positive like so many of my recovering brothers is part of that lesson, so be it.
If all of my struggling and falling and climbing up and falling again is what it takes to get me to a place of true recovery, a place of brutal honesty with myself and those in my life, so be it too.
If it took those years to get me here….