Author Archives: andy nicastro
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….
I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has sent me private messages of concern following my relapse.
I don’t have the time to write a full blog entry today, since relapses have the weird side effect of making one’s house very, very messy….and my husband returns home on Friday. He has been very supportive regarding my relapse, but coming home after a month to a six-foot deep pile of dirty…very dirty…laundry might finally send him right over the fucking edge.
In the short amount of time I have to write this, I think I want to share one of the main things I’ve learned from this relapse:
If you’ve done meth in the past and it ended really badly, if you do it again it will end even worse for you.
This was really surprising to me, which is why I’m sharing that information with you so you can share it with others. It’s the least I can do to atone for my stupidity and the pain and worry i’ve caused so many people who love me. I like to think of myself as an intelligent man, but I’m still learning things every day. I’m going to quickly share some other things I’ve learned recently so you can avoid the consequences I’ve endured from engaging in these seemingly harmless activities:
1. Some floor cleaners smell a lot like a Lemon Drop cocktail, but taste really fucking bad and will give you a sore throat.
2. Certain glass items are really shiny like hard candy but – strangely – they will make your mouth bleed if you eat them. Weird, right?
3. You will cut yourself approximately 65% of the time if you use scissors to open tuna cans.
4. Rattlesnakes may look all cuddly and snuggly and shit, but they hate being kissed on the mouth.
5. Those bug fogger things will only make your head cold worse if you try to use them as a vaporizer.
6. It’s really awesome that God made so many metal items that will fit into power outlets, but if you stick a cocktail fork into one it will be super painful.
7. Pomegranate juice is a really great anti-oxidant, but you should only use water with a neti-pot.
I hope you find all of this helpful, especially the don’t do meth one. I’ll continue to report to you as I discover additional things that aren’t good or safe activities.
Have a lovely day….off to get the garden hose so I can clean the hardwood floors for my husband. He’s going to be so happy with how shiny I’m going to get them!
And again, thank you ALL for your concern. I’m struggling, but at least I’m still moving. Have a beautiful day.
I’m no kid in a kid’s game
I did what I did, I’ve got no one to blame
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
It’s all I’ve got, it’s my claim to fame
I’m no fighter but I’m fighting
This whole world seems uninviting
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
I fall down sometimes, sometimes I come back flying
I haven’t eaten for days and my stomach is flatter than it’s been in a long, long time. If the lighting is just right, I believe there’s an actual six-pack happening there.
Unfortunately, that’s about the best I can muster on the positive-thinking front.
There, it’s been said. Or rather, typed, for the pedantic among you.
I’m not sure how to begin writing about this. So much shame, so much sadness. My head is still clouded from a week-long crystal meth binge, so maybe I’ll start with more recent events and work backward.
I spent Sunday alone in my bedroom (my husband is in Scotland doing his show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), smoking meth and watching porn. Pretty much par for the course, except that I wasn’t getting quite as high as I wanted to. Something wasn’t working. I added poppers (amyl nitrate inhalant) to the mix. That helped, but only a little. I smoked more, and tried exhaling into a plastic bag and sucking the vapor back into my lungs…out again, in again, the bag inflating and deflating like some strange medical device. That did it. My head was now swimming in a sea of meth fog, and it felt amazing. My dick, however, was not feeling it. Shriveled and cold, it refused to respond to the lurid images on the television screen.
More poppers. Nothing.
I retrieved a packet of those over-the-counter male “enhancement” pills, and popped them both.
I sat back and waited.
Nothing again. Dammit.
Then, I recalled a trick that someone had told me about, long ago during a previous relapse.
I pulled out the baggie of meth and retrieved a small sliver of the glass-like crystal. Grimacing with disgust and apprehension, I gently inserted the tiny shard into a very, very small orifice that should NEVER have anything described as a shard inserted into it. I’m far too embarrassed to say where I put that piece of crystal, but I’ll help you figure it out by telling you it was not a nostril, it was not my ass, it was not my ears, eyes nor mouth.
I’ll give you moment.
Okay, good. You’ve got it.
Now, I’ll give you a moment so you can blanch like I am right now, maybe even puke if you are of a sensitive disposition.
Back with me? okay.
I lay back in my bed, and waited to see what would happen.
I didn’t have long to wait: almost immediately, a feeling of cold washed over my body, and I shuddered. Next, a uniform sheen of sweat covered my skin from head to toe. I got out of bed and put a heavy bathrobe on, pulling it closed around myself. I got back into bed and waited for this weird feeling to pass.
It didn’t. Instead, it escalated until I was shaking so hard from chills that I had to clench my teeth closed to keep from biting my tongue.
My body went from cold to hot, back to cold and then back to hot again like a fucking thermostat with faulty wiring. My head was filled with the sound of my heart beating: Whoosh….Whoosh….Whoosh.
At this point, I suspected I was dying. I should have used my remaining strength to dial my cell phone, call 911, call a friend, ask for help.
But I didn’t want help. I wanted to die. I hadn’t intended for this to happen, but this seemed a very fitting way for someone like me to go out. Obvious, yes. Predictable, yes. But fitting. The thought of looking into yet another pair of disappointed eyes was completely unbearable to me.
I thought of my husband in Scotland, and of all I’ve put him through in our years together. I scrawled a barely intelligible goodbye note to him, pathetic as all the other ones in the past, and then somehow managed to put down a large bowl of water and another of food for my dogs, who seemed very stressed out watching their daddy stumble around the house trying to take breaths that were increasingly harder to muster. I was nervous it would take a couple of days for my body to be found, and I didn’t want my dogs going hungry during that time. I also didn’t want them snacking on my toxic corpse, to be completely honest.
That’s pretty much the last thing I remember, until waking up a couple of hours later on the daybed under the giant tree in our garden, still shivering, my hands and feet cold and numb, the rosary that usually hung over our bed inexplicably around my neck. I’m not sure why I went outside, but if past experience is any indication, I probably didn’t want to die inside the house Patrick would be living in when he returned from Europe. Kinda funny how I can muster tiny bits of respect when necessary, but completely disregard the big-picture respect that would have kept me from doing meth in the home we share. Funny, but absolutely not funny at the same time. Kinda like a Benny Hill episode, I suppose.
I lay there for another hour or so, waiting to see which way this was gonna go. Still shaking uncontrollably, still covered in goose-flesh despite the warm night air. Forcing myself to slow down my breathing, crying from the guilt and the shame and that feeling of complete despair.
Finally, I texted my friend Mykee: Mykee, I’m in trouble. I need your help.
He was by my side in under an hour, despite not having a driver’s license or a vehicle, his arm around me and comforting me in soothing tones that began to steady my breathing. Two hours later, around midnight, my friend Phillip showed up, enveloping me with even more love that I felt completely undeserving of. As I lobbed comments filled with self-hate in their direction, they would each bat them away with the expertise of a Billie Jean King or a John McEnroe.
“I’m so ashamed.” (“there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing has changed except a date.”)
“I’m so sorry I lied to you.” (“that’s what we addicts do…we lie. It’s normal.”)
I love these men so much. I still can’t believe what they did for me Sunday night: calming me down, reassuring me that I was not going to die. One of the benefits of sobriety, besides sobriety itself, is the close friendship I’ve formed with these men. It pains me so much to know I’ve lied to their faces, not to mention my beautiful husband, my mentor Jonathan, and the two beautiful young people I was helping with their own sobriety.
Right now, two days later, I feel sick. Physically and mentally. Crystal meth use creates a brain fog that allows entire days…weeks, even…to roll by without solidly imprinting on the brain memories of the events that occurred. It is only when one stops using, and the drug fades from the bloodstream, that these shameful memories begin to emerge, flickering into my consciousness like a horror movie footage spliced randomly into a sitcom.
I’m scared. I’m disappointed in myself. I feel hopeless.
I’ve already made the initial round of painful phone calls: my sobriety mentor, my husband, my mother, and my two dear friends I mentored until this relapse. Now, I’m doing the other thing I’m ready to do at this point: write about it.
The coming weeks are going to be filled with much rebuilding, much introspection and a lot of humility. I’m still too foggy to place my finger with any certainty on the reasons for this relapse, though I can say with some certainty that sex probably had a lot to do with it. The specifics, the underlying feelings that triggered it, are going to take some time and some clarity to ascertain. But I will ascertain them, and I will use that information to make sure this never happens again.
I’m not sure what benefit this post offers anyone aside from myself. But right now, writing about this is going to take a huge weight of guilt and shame and secrets off of my shoulders. Maybe, perhaps, someone who is thinking of relapsing….or who has relapsed but things haven’t gotten too ugly yet….will read this and recommit to sobriety.
Part of me wants to give up, throw in the towel…but I know I need to get back on the recovery horse. That the horse seems to be staring at me with contempt, disgust and judgement is only a figment of my imagination. I’ve been here before, many times. And I’m tired of it. I hate this fucking place, and that fucking horse is the only way out of here.
I’m sorry. Yup, that’s me, saying “sorry” again. I’m sorry for lying to my husband. I’m sorry for lying to my friends. I’m sorry for bailing on commitments with lame or zero explanations. I’m sorry for ignoring my higher power, and I’m sorry I stopped praying. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.
This public mea culpa is my first boot in the stirrup.
I have a lot of work to do now. Please keep me in your prayers. I’ll need as many as I can get.
The phone rang after midnight, just a couple of hours ago, a rare occurrence in our home – and I ran to answer it, wondering who the hell would be calling at that hour, irritated but worried that something unfortunate had befallen a family member.
I recognized the name on my iPhone immediately. It was the name of a friend of mine I’d met in recovery, someone who had more clean time that I did when I began my own getting-sober process. When I met this man, he scared me a little, but not in a bad way. Rather, his energy and enthusiasm made me nervous, mostly that he’d notice me and I’d be forced to actually speak at my recovery meetings. Early on, staying silent in the back of the room was my modus operandi.
This man, quite a bit younger than myself, eventually became my friend. As I gained confidence in myself, I began to participate more at meetings, I’d eventually introduced myself to him and confessed that I had been put off by his wide smile and almost frenetic friendliness. We became friends fairly quickly, and I started to get to know this man in the way that only people getting honest in the rooms of recovery can.
Then, suddenly, he disappeared.
I’d heard he’d “gone out,” the recovery parlance for relapse, and I worried about him.
But he returned soon after the holidays, a little worse for the wear, skinnier by far, but still as friendly as always.
It didn’t last. A month later, he was gone again.
He’d come back, go back out, come back. Each time looking more emaciated, his eyes sad but still trying to cover up his personal wreckage with jokes and smiles, even while he’d relate sad tales of suicide attempts, conflicts with the police, or other drug-fueled behaviors that I just couldn’t bring myself to join him in laughter over.
At one point, he stopped his goof-ball routine and looked me in the eyes, perplexed.
“Are you crying?”
“Yes, I’m crying,” I said, probably too harshly.
“Why?” he asked, his too-thin face looking puzzled.
“Because I’m afraid you’re going to die,” I snapped at him. “I’m afraid you’re going to die and all you want to do is laugh and make jokes about it. I love you, and It’s not fucking funny.”
He seemed touched by my concern, but per usual, tried to put me at ease with more jokes about his fucked-up behaviors outside of recovery.
After having disappeared once again, after more legal run-ins and another suicide attempt, he showed up at a meeting last week, and I was happy to see him, but approached him tentatively, having finally decided that I needed to protect myself from his instability and the way it was making me feel.
Selfish? probably. What I have to do to take care of myself and my sobriety? Abso-fucking-lutely.
Yet, I answered the phone tonight, despite it being after midnight and despite the almost certain knowledge that what I’d hear on the line was going to be crazy talk. And of course, it was.
He sounded scared, told me he was at his boyfriend’s house, told me that he was hiding. I asked to speak to the boyfriend…who I also know… but he told me he couldn’t do that right now.
“Things went wrong,” he said, “really bad things happened.” I immediately imagined a horrible Sid and Nancy scenario, the boyfriend dead in another room and my tweaked-out friend talking to me with one hand on his iPhone and the other with a gun to his own head.
My stomach knotted up, I started to sweat.
“Put _______ on the phone,” I asked gently. “Please.”
“I can’t,” he replied, his voice going from frantic to flat calm in a heartbeat. That calm was actually more terrifying than the panic, for some reason.
“Things went really, really wrong,” he said, with a note of sadness creeping into his steady inflection. “I need you to call the police, or an ambulance.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Give me the address,” I said, and he gave it to me.
Before I could say another word, we were disconnected.
I called 911, only to learn that an ambulance had already been dispatched to the address. I hung up, my heart racing and sweat beading on my brow.
I called a mutual friend, who reassured me that I did the right thing, and that there is only so much I can do for this person. I told him that I was feeling shaken up, how hearing our friend’s voice had scared the shit out of me and left my stomach knotted..
My friend, who is extremely wise, and has many more years of recovery than myself, replied “You know why that is, don’t you?”
“Because I’m afraid he’s going to die?” I answered, tentatively.
“It’s because that’s what YOU used to sound like, Andy.”
And, of course, he was right. It IS what I used to sound like on the telephone when I was delusional and paranoid for so many years. The way Patrick heard me when I’d call from some dark place, scared out of my wits about some imaginary monster. The way my very dear (and at the time very pregnant) friend Cynthia heard me when I called her at 4 AM, holed up in the West Hollywood Ramada and convinced people were scaling the outside wall and trying to break into my room. When I made those phone calls, I didn’t give a shit about the terror and confusion I was causing others..I was out of my mind, too caught up in my own meth-induced terror to even think about things like other people’s nerves or the possibility of causing a miscarriage (there was no miscarriage, thank Jesus.)
The part of me that still wants to punish myself for my years of horrible behavior wants to label this incident as payback. But the part of me that is desperately seeking to heal myself is choosing to view it as a window into the damage I caused others, and as a tool to measure and finally understand the depth of despair and heartache all my freaked-out, drug-induced late night calls caused them.
I can’t help my friend, just as no one could really help me until I decided to get serious about my recovery. I’m still scared he’s going to die. I’m not even sure if he’ll still be alive when I post this.
But just as I’m powerless over alcohol and crystal meth, I’m powerless to save this beautiful boy who, like myself not too long ago, is caught in the quicksand of addiction, turning this way and that, fighting recovery, causing himself to be sucked deeper still into the muck.
I’m going to pray now for this man. I’m going to pray that he finds the strength to get serious about rooting out his demons and getting them to submit to recovery, to sobriety, to sanity.
I can’t save him, but I can pray for him.
And I can cry for him, too.
I want my friend back.
I stood in the dim, cobwebby Chicago basement with my friend Mamie, gently…respectfully…turning the pages of the palm-sized pad of paper she had just handed me.
“When the men took Bobo,” she said, “this was left behind on the dresser at his Uncle Mose’s house.”
I also remember thinking, “why isn’t this in a museum somewhere?”
There were other artifacts in that basement: Bobo’s bicycle, dusty but in mint condition, and a 1950’s television set from an old black and white photo I’d seen with the boy standing in front of it. This was the same television set that, over 40 years ago, had been broadcasting an episode of I Love Lucy when reports of the boy’s kidnapping and murder had interrupted the show.
Fascinated, I could have spent hours more in that melancholy basement time-capsule, but a delicious smell was wafting down from the tiny kitchen, and Mamie suddenly announced,
“Seems like Gene’s almost done with that catfish.”
I closed the notebook and handed it back to her – gingerly…almost reverentially – then followed her up the stairs, which she climbed nimbly despite her considerable size and advanced years.
Over a supper of fried catfish (with Louisiana Hot Sauce, which Mamie insisted I try) and collard greens, I found myself wanting to ask more questions about her dead son, but restrained myself. Instead, we talked about more mundane topics: southern style cooking, her husband Gene’s starting-to-fail-health, how different the Chicago weather was from the weather in my hometown, Los Angeles. Tomorrow would be the day for questions, when my camera crew would arrive and I’d begin my interview with her. Tomorrow, I’d ask all the questions that still haunted me about her only son, fourteen-year-old Emmett…nicknamed Bobo…who had traveled from Chicago in 1955 to visit his cousins in rural Money, Mississippi, and had returned in a wooden box, his body tortured and disfigured beyond all recognition.
Mamie and I had been telephone friends since 1992. I’d found her name in the Chicago telephone directory after watching the PBS civil rights documentary series, “Eyes on the Prize,” and had been deeply touched by her story. Dialing her number from my small office in Century City, I’d been surprised when she answered the phone.
“Hello?” she’d said, in a lovely voice.
“Hello,” I had stammered. “Is this Mamie Till-Mobley? You don’t know me. My name is Andy and I just watched “Eyes on the Prize” and I wanted to tell you how much your story touched me.”
I immediately felt ridiculous. Some stranger…some white stranger…calling her out of the blue and reminding her that her fourteen-year-old son had been lynched and tortured and murdered almost forty years ago, simply for having (allegedly) wolf-whistled at a white woman.
I waited for her to hang up. I expected her to say, “how did you get my number?”
Instead, she said sweetly: “Well, that was very nice of you. Tell me your name again, honey?”
We talked a little bit about Emmett, we talked a bit about her life, her work with The Emmett Till Players, which over the years had taught hundreds of young black children the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King. We also talked a little about my life: I was twenty-seven years old, and I knew very little about the state of race relations in the United States. What little I did already know was from that PBS documentary, which had shocked me to tears with its black and white images of dogs and fire hoses being used on people in the South. I’m ashamed to say that I’d really had only a scant idea that this savagery had gone on, and so recently. I’d either missed that lesson entirely in grade school or high school, or I just hadn’t paid attention. Either way, Mamie was incredibly patient with me and my great, yawing pit of ignorance, answering questions that, at the time, seemed logical, but now make me cringe with embarrassment.
“Did they really have separate drinking fountains for black people and white people…I mean, like, really?”
Even typing that remembered, incredibly dumb question makes me blush red with shame. Ugh. How could I know so little about all this? Of course, I knew blacks had, and sometimes still were, treated abysmally, I wasn’t a total idiot. I’d watched every episode of Roots. I’d heard people throw the “N” word around. But back then, it had never seemed real to me, having never actually known a black person when I was growing up in my all-white suburb in California’s Central Valley. It was all just stuff in the history books, like the Pilgrims and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Stuff that happened a long time ago and was done and finished for the most part. It was history.
Mamie was patient, though, and after we hung up I resolved to learn more. And I did. Periodically, I’d phone her with questions on any number of topics: Rosa Parks. Brown Vs. Board of Education. The SCLC. She was always kind, her sweet-honeyed voice telling me what she knew of these things – and she knew much – and helping nurture the seed of indignation that Eyes on The Prize had planted in me.
This was before the internet, and I had to order a copy of Jet Magazine from a rare books and magazine company to view the photos of Emmett’s mangled corpse, a much-younger Mamie standing beside the open coffin, her face contorted with pain. We discussed the open coffin itself: her decision to defy the state of Mississippi and their edict that the box containing her son’s remains not be opened. Open it she did, and when she saw what had been done to her only son, she decided that the world needed to see “what hate looks like.” Thousands of people viewed Emmett’s terrifyingly damaged remains (he’d been tortured, shot in the head, tied to a heavy piece of machinery and dumped in the Mississippi river, where it had stayed for days before being discovered.) Photos were taken and published in the aforementioned Jet Magazine, and the resulting national outrage is credited by many as being among the earliest galvanizing moments of the Civil Rights Movement, pre-dating even Rosa Parks’ courageous stand by several months.
In 1994, I left ABC Productions and began working as Director of Global Production for a massive documentary project, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Founded by Steven Spielberg in the wake of Schindler’s List, the Foundation’s mission was to record full-length interviews with survivors of the nazi Holocaust. Though it had been a bit of a culture shock transitioning from a gig where the most emotional requirement might be viewing dailies of the current episode of “My So -Called Life” to one in which every single interview (and we conducted almost 50,000 of them) could instigate an emotional breakdown, I loved the work. I felt like I was contributing to something that mattered. Our interview subjects were initially Jewish survivors, but almost immediately grew to include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others persecuted by Hitler’s army of hate.
It was while doing this work that I pitched the idea of interviewing my friend Mamie, as an example of how the cutting-edge protocols for conducting these interviews could be utilized by other groups seeking to document their history. My executive Producers, James Moll and June Beallor….amazing people, both….agreed to the idea, and before I traveled to Chicago I began doing further research on Emmett’s case.
When I arrived at Mamie and Gene’s house on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, I was nervous.
I shouldn’t have been: Mamie and Gene made me feel at home, the same warmth I’d known on the phone for six years was even warmer in person.
We spent the day together, reviewing artifacts of that dark time in 1955 that would be videotaped for posterity following the next day’s interview.
The interview itself went on for hours, Mamie patiently and bravely answering questions with a level of detail that required little of me in the probing department. She was eloquent, she was dignified, even when I saw tears begin to well up in her eyes when we reached the part of the interview about Emmett’s murder. She’d spoken about this for the last forty years, determined to keep his memory alive, but the pain of her recall was still seemed deep and immediate, as though it had happened only yesterday. She described in minute detail the arrival of the box containing her son’s body: the room, the emotions, the smell.
I returned to Los Angeles the following day, Emmett’s notebook safely tucked away in my briefcase. The small artifact was on the verge of decay, and Mamie had asked me if there was any way to preserve it. I told her the first thing that needed to be done was to have it digitally scanned, and she insisted I take it back with me and do so. It felt strange, carrying with me this small notebook that had been held by the hand of young boy, so long ago, on the very day he was brutalized and killed, simply for being black and for having the audacity to whistle at a white woman (if, in fact, that had actually happened.)
I saw Mamie only once after that, when she and Gene…and a cadre of her young Emmett Till Players…came to Los Angeles for some event and stopped by Universal Studios to tour the Shoah Foundation. We spoke on the phone a few more times before my addiction to crystal meth kicked in and I lost touch with her…with everything, and everyone, actually. She passed away in 2003, but I was so far gone down the rabbit hole of substance abuse that I didn’t even find out she had died until sometime in 2005.
She never saw justice for her son’s murder…the all-white, all-male southern jury had deliberated for slightly more than an hour (One juror said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long”) before acquitting the proudly racist pair of Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam of murder. A few months later, in an interview with Look Magazine, the pair openly admitted to…bragged about, even…murdering the young boy.
In addition to the stupid questions I remember asking Mamie, I also remember some incredibly ignorant statements. One of which stands out in my mind today:
“It must make you feel good to know that you…and Emmett…played a part in making the world a better place today, knowing that what happened to Emmett couldn’t happen now.”
I remember, clear as day, the look that clouded her eyes, magnified behind her big glasses, as she responded, carefully, skillfully avoiding the condescension that oblivious comment deserved:
“Things are better. But what happened to my boy still happens, honey. Don’t forget that.”
I haven’t. And today, with the decision that just came down in Ferguson, I was reminded yet again.
Oh we never know where life will take us
I know it’s just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel
Saturday night, over 75 beautiful sober men and women gathered in my backyard to help me usher in my one year birthday in sobriety.
The swimming pool was heated to 110 degrees, and the evening was filled with fun, love, friendship and so much emotional and spiritual support it was almost overwhelming. At midnight I was presented with a beautiful birthday cake by Jonathan, my amazing “guru” on this journey of recovery, and Mykee, my dearest friend who is also in recovery. It was almost too much to bear, and I cried like a baby as each of those two men spoke about me, using words that a year ago would never have been associated with me: generous. loving. spiritual. kind. A year ago, the adjectives that best described me would have been: selfish. irresponsible. godless.
This morning, however, the waterfall of joy dried up quite suddenly: Patrick and I had to make the decision to euthanize one of our dogs. He hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months, his back legs weak and his mind beginning to cloud. In the mornings, on the way out to the backyard to relieve himself, he’d often circle the coffee table and end up facing the wall, seeming to have forgotten that he had to go around the couch to get to the door.
Steve was a slightly overweight, black and white Tibetan Terrier. Our friend Heather had rescued him from a yard where he was chained to a pole and had wrapped himself around it to the point of near-choking. Since, at the time, we were one of the few in our group of friends who had a house with a yard, we agreed to foster him until a home could be found for him. The problem was, however, that Steve didn’t seem to want another home. And as we came to understand over the years, what Steve wanted, Steve got. He was, to be blunt, a very strange…and rather dull… dog. Often mistaken for a very old dog even as a puppy, what he lacked in energy and personality he made up for with stubbornness. We learned quickly that calling Steve into the house from the far end of the yard was pure futility, unless Steve actually wanted to come inside. Believe me, we tried training him. We tried hard, for a long time. Useless. Steve called his own shots, and eventually we learned to live by his rules, for the most part. Patrick and I were never quite able to decide whether Steve had some form of brain damage inflicted before we met him, or if he was actually smarter than we were.
But we loved him, despite the difficulties he often presented (chewing on his own tail was a favorite pastime of his for a couple of years, forcing us to put a giant plastic cone around his head for the duration of that particular hobby of his, earning him the nickname “King Cone.”) And when he felt like showing us some love, we appreciated it even more because it was so unlike him.
I’m ashamed to say that I did not treat Steve…or any of our dogs, for that matter…very well when I was using drugs. While there were probably several instances where I probably kicked him out of my way or screamed at him (and this, to be honest, is often harder for me to live with than the horrible things I did to the people in my life), most of the abuse was in the form of just not paying attention to him. He was a barker, and could be set off by any number of innocuous things: a raccoon scuttling across the car port roof, the too-loud closing of a door or drawer, or…most annoyingly, the ring of a doorbell on the television (which was a little weird, considering we’ve never had a doorbell in any of the homes we’ve lived in.) I have many memories of having to interrupt my bad behavior while smoking meth in our home of having to stop and scream, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, STEVE!”
If at this point you’re thinking, “Jesus, what a horrible person,” you’re absolutely correct. I was a horrible person. I’m a meth addict. Horrible is what I was good at.
And today, remembering all those years of being thwacked out on speed and screaming at that poor dog, I feel terrible guilt and shame, coupled with deep grief at his passing.
But that’s the thing that’s important here: I’m feeling those feelings. Right now. As I type these words. And it’s fucking awful.
A year ago, this would have been the perfect excuse to visit my dealer, score some crystal and set about ‘making myself feel better’ by obliterating those feelings. And because I chose to stay present, I also get to remember this past year of sobriety, when I had the opportunity to make some amends to Steve. I got to tell him I love him, I got the chance to periodically let him sleep next to me in bed (despite his HIDEOUS breath), I got to rub his belly until he’d make those almost obscene grunting noises of pleasure, and I got the chance to tell him he was a good boy, a very good boy (even though he often wasn’t.)
I got the chance to say goodbye to him this morning, unlike our other pets who passed while I was in the throes of addiction, having been too fucked up to even consider dealing with the concept of goodbye, forever, leaving Patrick to face the vet’s office and that great, final needle-stick all by himself.
Today, I will feel all those feelings, good and bad. I won’t wallow in them, because that helps no one. But I will honor them and begin to process them, and when I’ve got a grip on them I’ll get back to helping other people, I’ll go to a recovery meeting and I’ll share about those feelings. And for every shameful memory of how I treated old Steve, I will show kindness to someone. Because that’s how I live life today, and it’s how I heal myself: by helping others. Just by writing these words, I can feel the joy-water start to trickle again.
Goodbye, Steve. You will be missed, but you will never be forgotten.
Once I believed that when love came to me
It would come with rockets, bells and poetry
But with me and you it just started quietly and grew
And believe it or not
Now there’s something groovy and good
’bout whatever we got
And it’s getting better
Growing stronger, warm and wilder
Getting better everyday, better everyday
I’ve recently fallen in love. And it’s not with Patrick, my amazing partner (now legal husband, yay!) of 20 years.
I am completely head-over-heels, schmaltz-and-all in love with my sobriety.
We actually began courting back in 2002, but it just wasn’t a love match at the time. I just couldn’t see how me and sobriety could work together. Sure, sobriety seemed like it had it all together, seemed steady and dependable, but I just wasn’t ready to commit. We went on a few dates, but it just never panned out. I was too self-obsessed, too selfish, too arrogant. Now, years later, after putting myself through the wringer and humbled by my years-long, off and on relationship with Crystal Meth, I can finally appreciate what sobriety has to offer.
This past year has been an amazing journey of self-discovery; as sobriety and I approach our one-year anniversary, I can honestly say our relationship gets better, and stronger, with each passing day.
I am smitten.
Rapidly approaching my one-year sobriety “birthday,” I’m overwhelmed by feelings.
Gratitude, because I’ve learned this year how to actually sit with these feelings and not seek to dull or obliterate them with drugs or alcohol.
Anxiety, because this means that I will have to speak…if only briefly…in front of large gatherings of the recovery community when I acknowledge this accomplishment. I’m a writer, not a speaker. Anyone who has heard me fumble my way through my very infrequent “shares” in my recovery groups is probably painfully aware of how awkward I am when trying to construct a spoken sentence. The keyboard is my friend, my mouth is often my worst nemesis.
Melancholy, because it took me so long to “get” the concept of recovery. Ten years of beating my head bloody against a wall, trying to break out of the prison of addiction, when I’d had the key to the door all along. I just had to be willing to use it. I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” when I was young. I was always struck by the ending, when Glinda tells Dorothy…after all that walking, all that flying-monkey bullshit, all that witch-melting…that she could have gone home at any time. Punch her, I used to think. Sadistic bitch…NOW you tell her? It’s taken me years, but I finally understand Glinda’s reasoning: “She had to find it out for herself.” No one could have sold me on the concept of recovery until I was ready to embrace it. Like Dorothy, I feel like I’m finally home again. But better….I’ve not returned to the gray tones of my pre-addiction metaphorical Kansas, I’m in a brand new, Technicolor home surrounded by love and support and stocked with the tools of recovery.
Mostly, though, I’m feeling joy. Joy at finally feeling like I belong, at having found a group of people who, like myself, are struggling to make their lives better. It stuns me sometimes, the beauty of these people I get to walk with now. Our own yellow brick road of sorts, each of us seeking courage and insight into our own hearts and brains, doing battle with our own dark internal forces. We’re all so different…used different substances, come from vastly varying economic situations, some hit rock bottom and some only saw it coming…yet, we’re all the same in the ways that really matter. A huge community of men and women who have decided to make their own lives better by helping others. God is there, and easily co-exists with the agnostics and atheists among us. And most importantly, there is love.
There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery.
(clicks heels three times)
Let the countdown commence.
I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go
Reading of the NSA domestic spying scandal, and of the fiery Highland Avenue 4 AM car-crash death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings – who was reportedly writing an expose on the FBI and NSA – that old, familiar shiver of fear riffled its way down my spine.
Oh shit, I thought. Is it back?
By it, I meant paranoid psychosis, with which I was diagnosed in 2007, after nearly six months of living in constant fear, feeling like I was being constantly surveilled, and trying to rationalize multiple strings of coincidences that would have probably gone unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t entrenched in a years-long crystal meth addiction.
It subsided quickly, but it did leave behind some residual feelings that I associate with those long-ago days: anxiety, paranoia, and the biggest of all, plain old fear. I truly believe that a large number of meth-related suicides are instigated not primarily by the overwhelming hopeless feelings of addiction, but by fear.
I remembered my attempts at suicide…most fairly half-hearted, since I never truly wanted to die. I only knew I was too scared to keep living. I remember the time in our pool shed, where voices from unseen people directed me to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, place a large plastic bag over my head, and to then bind my own hands together with plastic cable-ties.
Obviously, it didn’t work. I vomited into the plastic bag and somehow, in my drugged stupor, managed to break out of the ties and rip the bag from my head…though I remember nothing except waking up on the floor of the pool shed, woozy and sticky in my own mess.
My last attempt was slightly more effective: downing every pill in the house (and after years of psychotherapy and addiction, there were quite a few of them lying around), writing a paranoid and ridiculous “they forced me to do this!” suicide note, and then collapsing on our bed. Patrick had been working, taping an episode of the cable comedy show (wait for it…) Head Case, and returned home from work to find me unconscious, barely breathing, covered in blood and (yes, again), vomit. Paramedics pulled me back, and a weeklong stay at the House of Horrors that is the County USC Psych Ward (6 crazy men to a room and wet, stained bandages covering the shower floor tiles, anyone?) ensued.
I’ve been sharing about these feelings of residual fear with sober friends, and it helps, though it’s difficult at times. Anyone who hasn’t experienced extreme paranoid psychosis finds it hard to understand the depth of the sheer terror of being in that state of mind, and most people who have experienced it are extremely reluctant to revisit it…understandably. Even though it was years ago, the feelings that my brain registered at the time were real, even if the situations that inspired those feelings were not.
It certainly doesn’t help matters much right now that my paranoia involved being targeted for surveillance by some shadowy civilian security entity…I was under the delusion that my large number of anti-Bush-era policy emails and postings on internet bulletin boards had made me a target. I also thought that…wait for it, this part’s funny…because I’d had an article published in a national magazine, and because my husband was a fairly prominent television character actor, I had somehow made the list of those who needed to be “monitored.” Funny, I know, but at the time…in the throes of post-meth-psychosis, it all seemed completely rational. Of course, there were some things I simply couldn’t explain: cars that seemed to constantly swarm me, headlights on bright even in the middle of the day, strange hang-ups on my cellphone, just a whole host of things that terrified me beyond belief but might have seemed perfectly normal if I hadn’t been operating from a place of drug-compromised intelligence.
So, reading about secret domestic surveillance and wiretapping programs, and the death of a reporter who was reportedly working on a story to expose government secrets, there was a weird sense of deja vu.
Fortunately, today I’m clean and sober, almost a year now. I’m sane. The paranoid psychosis has been gone for years. My head is on straight. Though I remember those thoughts and feelings I no longer believe an y of them. I can fully appreciate the fact that there is nothing about me that would warrant surveillance by anyone. Delusions of grandeur, my therapist had referred to it. Grandiosity.
Today, I still suffer from feelings of grandiosity, but in a different way: today, I love myself, I love God. I take care of my mind and my body. I no longer live crippled by fear of things real or imagined.
Today, I not only don’t want to die, I want to live.
And as my friend Maria told me the other day when I shared these feelings with her, “it’s different now, honey. You have people who love you, you have a support group.”
So, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who is dealing with paranoid psychosis, and you’re feeling like it’s never, ever going to end…trust me, it does. Find recovery, find the right meds, find a safe place among friends who are also recovering. It will end. The wait will be hard, but it will go away.
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict,” people will often say.
There was a time when I would hear these words and cringe. Who in their right mind would be grateful for this disease? Maybe, I thought, poor communication skills was the issue: a sub-par public school education combined with too many hits off the crack pipe. Perhaps what they meant to say was, “I’m grateful to be a recovering drug addict.” That, at least, would make some sense, even though I still couldn’t understand why anyone would be grateful to be any kind of drug addict.
In my head, I’d have to add words to that sentence so that I could process it:
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict….(and that I didn’t die while I was using.)”
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict…(who finally found a job and is working again.)”
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict..(who isn’t homeless any more.)”
That was the kind of gratitude I could get behind: the specific, the detail-oriented. Gratitude just for being an addict? Insane, I thought. Why the fuck would I be grateful for a disease that took my soul, dipped it in kerosene and set it aflame? I could tolerate a lot of the bumper-sticker-esque slogans of recovery, but that one…I’m grateful to be an addict…just set my jaw on edge.
There’s another saying in the recovery community: “More will be revealed.”
That particular saying didn’t bother me as much, possibly because it smacked of sage mysticism, a sly Harry Potter-ism for the semi-addled.
More has been revealed, it turns out:
Eleven months and five days into my recovery, I am grateful to be a drug addict.
I am grateful to be a drug addict because without this disease I may never have found a new way to live my life. Without the disease of addiction I’m certain I’d never have regained a sense of spirituality and begun my journey towards regaining my faith. Without the disease of addiction, I would have never have met so many beautiful and loving people…most of them damaged in ways similar to myself, and most of them working hard to shed the hard shells of scar tissue the disease of addiction left us covered with…leaving many of us as vulnerable and frightened as tiny, featherless birds. Without the disease, I would probably never had set out on a journey of never-ending steps to right the wrongs I’ve done people, I would never have found the courage to examine myself and my behaviors. Without the disease, I would never have rediscovered one of my true passions in life: writing.
I am even grateful for the occasional pain that recovery brings. Before I became active in my disease, when I thought I was on my way to ruling the world, when status and money were my two primary goals….I lacked empathy for others. I cared about a lot of things a little, but cared about few things a lot. Today, I can feel my feelings without reflexively seeking to obliterate them. Today, I help others, and I do it gratefully.
My world is different now, and it gets better every day. Recovery didn’t give me my life back, as I’d originally hoped it would.
It gave me a better life than the one I had before I found crystal meth. Such an amazing, unexpected surprise.
Almost as surprising as finding myself saying that I’m grateful to be a drug addict.
I look forward to even more being revealed.
It only takes a sunny day / To find a way / It only takes a little time / To open up your mind
It was an interesting day: I spent much of it volunteering for a recovery-oriented organization: setting up and decorating this organization’s booth, stringing twinkle lights, handing out pamphlets. It hardly felt like work, though, being surrounded by so many also-recovering friends and making so many new ones.
It was all going well until around 3 PM, when my husband called from home to ask me a question.
I had to strain to hear him over the din of the crowd and the thumping bass from multiple DJ’s scattered all over West Hollywood Park, but by hunching over behind a tree and cupping both hands around the phone and my ear, I could make out what he was asking:
“Andy, why is there a can of butane on the shelf in the service porch?”
I knew exactly what can he was talking about. It was yellow with red printing, and was about as tall as a thermos but much thinner. I’d purchased it last spring, while I was still using, to refill the torch I used when smoking crystal meth. I had kept it hidden…though easily accessible…under my desk, in a box of receipts and other paperwork, and I’d forgotten it when I finally got clean and sober on July 7th, 2012. It had remained there, in hiding, until this recent cleaning spree, at which point I discovered it. My initial, reflexive instinct, upon finding this can of butane, was to throw it away before Patrick saw it: If he sees this can of butane, he’ll think I’m using again.
That was followed by another thought: “What if he sees this bright yellow can of butane in the trash? He’ll think I’m hiding something from him.”
Mind you, all of this went through my head in less than ten seconds. Ultimately, realizing that I have nothing to hide, I decided to place the almost-full can of butane on the shelf in the service porch with all the other cans and bottles of cleaners, solvents and miscellaneous toxic chemicals. I continued cleaning my office and didn’t give it another thought.
Until yesterday at 3 PM, when Patrick asked what it was doing there. I could tell from his voice that he was trying to sound light-hearted, like it was just a casual question along the lines of, “did you pick up the bread from supermarket on your way home?” But having known this man for twenty years, I could also hear the slight note of dismay under the lightness of tone.
I responded in a reassuring voice, explaining how I’d come across the butane while cleaning my office not long ago, and that he didn’t have to worry, I hadn’t relapsed…I’d purchased the can last year when I was using and that it had just been taken out of hiding. Nothing to worry about.
I waited for him to sigh with relief.
Instead, however, he dropped a bombshell: “Then why does the manufacture date say October 4, 2012?“
I was dumbfounded. This had to be a joke. I even asked him if he was joking.
“No, I’m not joking. There’s a stamp on the bottom of the can, and it says “Manufactured on October 4, 2012.”
“But…I got clean in July. That’s not possible. I bought it last year. I swear to God, Patrick.”
Even in the face of seemingly incontrovertible evidence, Patrick held out hope that I wasn’t, yet again, lying: “I’m sure there’s some logical explanation,” he offered. I could actually feel the hope in his voice, the wanting to believe me.
But the date was there, stamped onto a can, screaming “he’s lying again!”
I started shaking, standing there in West Hollywood Park, surrounded by people celebrating.
The rest of the conversation is already a blur in my memory. There was panic, there was a feeling akin to having relapsed, there was the old self-loathing and shame of having been caught in a lie. I’d lied to Patrick so many times about being clean when I was actually back on the pipe, and now it was happening again. I felt nauseated, I wanted to cry. I began to get angry the way I used to when I’d been caught out and knew the jig was up. But there was a difference:
This time, I knew I hadn’t relapsed.
Which made it worse, because no matter how loudly or angrily or tearily I proclaimed my innocence…the fact remained: The can of butane I’d retrieved from under my desk had not even been manufactured until four months AFTER i’d stopped using all drugs and alcohol. It was my word versus some factory date-stamping machine, and I already knew which of us had the most credibility on this particular issue. It was like Gay Pride and The Twilight Zone had converged suddenly, and I was wracking my brain for some explanation.
The idea of Patrick at home, listening to me rambling on asking ridiculous questions like, “maybe they post-dated the can? do they do that?” made me so sad I could barely stand it. I knew I hadn’t lied to him, yet I knew that as long as that fucking can with that fucking date existed, he would never be able to believe me.
And that is when things got really strange.
As I’ve written about in previous entries, my drug use brought me to some dark places: hallucinations, paranoia, delusions….not to mention great swaths of memory that seem to have been completely erased. Which means that even though I’ve been (mostly) in my right mind for many, many months now, I still have trouble trusting my own perceptions. Confronted with that “manufactured date,” I began to doubt myself and my own memory: Had I relapsed on meth and forgotten about it? Was that possible? Is my brain that fucked up?”
The only thing I knew for certain was that I had to get home and try to figure out how the fuck a can of butane I purchased in the spring of 2012 had a manufacturing date of October, 2012 stamped on its bottom. I made some hasty goodbyes to my friends, fought my way through the crowds and back to my car.
Driving home down Melrose Avenue, I burst into tears. I knew in my heart I hadn’t relapsed. And even though I have a brain that deceives me sometimes, I started to realize intellectually as well that I hadn’t relapsed, and here’s how I knew: I am not capable of using meth “just once.” Or even just a few times. If I had relapsed at some point, I could not have forgotten it, because that one relapse would have stretched on for weeks or months, or until I crashed and burned in a fiery cloud of secrets and psychosis. I have never used meth just once or just a few times and then stopped. I’d proven that to myself and everyone who knows me time and time and time again for ten years straight. I am a meth addict, and a hardcore one.
Just as confidence in my own recollection and in the integrity of my sobriety was slowly returning, my cellphone rang. I saw Patrick’s face staring up at me from my iPhone, and I momentarily considered not answering. But that’s called avoidance and that’s old behavior. So I picked up.
“Yes?” I said, expecting more accusations, in the manner that they would seem to pile on in the past. First he finds the butane, then he goes looking for something else to back up his theory that I’m using again. I’m half expecting to hear him demand I take a drug test when I get home, and I’m ready to tell him to go buy one and I’ll take a drug test any damned time he wants me to, when I hear his words:
“Honey, I made a mistake.”
“This butane was manufactured in Asia…they do their dates differently, like in Europe. It wasn’t manufactured on October 4, it was manufactured on April 10. The date on the can is 10.4.2012, but in China that means it was made in April. Not October. I’m so, so sorry.” I hear the pain in his voice, his sadness at having freaked me out so badly.
The Twilight Zone episode ends so suddenly my breath is almost taken away. I burst into tears, and start blubbering a bunch of stuff I can’t remember. Stuff about being mad at Patrick, but not being mad at Patrick, because Patrick was reacting the way anyone who’s been lied to consistently about this kind of thing would react. Stuff about being angry with myself for doubting my own brain…my own memory…my own sobriety. Then, came relief that this bizarre mystery was solved. Relief that even though it had felt akin to a relapse, my sobriety was still solid.
I told Patrick I’d talk to him later, and called my friend Jonathan, who helps guide me through this recovery. I explained what had happened, and his calm approach to the situation calmed me further. As I always do when I get off the phone with this man, I felt much more centered.
I went home, then to the gym, and later….the stress gone from my system, I returned to pride and resumed my shift at the booth i’d volunteered to work. From that vantage point, I got to witness the full drug and alcohol spectrum: sober people, people who can drink but aren’t alcoholics, and the severely alcoholic or drug addicted…the latter group stumbling sloppy and slurring along the path in front of our booth, looking both sad and ridiculous and presenting a better argument for sobriety than any pamphlet could ever hope to do.
When I got home late last night, my husband had posted a mea culpa via his Facebook status:
“I earned a gold medal in conclusion jumping today. To be fair, I got thrown by the different Gregorian dating systems used in the world today. (mm/dd/yyy vs dd/mm/yyyy). Learn from my error and never assume foreign dates follow our system.”
I am so blessed to have this man in my life. When I told some people about the incident last night, there were a couple who responded by saying, “um, you have eleven months clean and sober..he should trust you by now.” I disagree. After so many years of constant, bold-face lies, the fact that he is still here and he still loves me and that he still hopes for the best for me and has provided me with support and love when I’ve most needed it gives him a pass in the ‘absolute trust’ department.
I’m the recovering addict, I’m the recovering liar. The burden of proof, the responsibility of mounting a defense, even when it comes to stupid fucking Chinese butane can manufacturing dates, is on me. And just like that long-forgotten butane can, I’m sure there are other buried secrets I’ve forgotten about that may rear their ugly heads unexpectedly. But I’ll deal with them as they arise, and hopefully I won’t let them freak me out as badly as this one did.
I’m just happy to have been acquitted, and so quickly.
As a gay man of a certain age (f@ck it, I’m 48) who is feeling rather emotional today, I ask your forgiveness in advance for what promises to be a sappy, overly sentimental post.
This song, from the 1972 film “The Poseidon Adventure,” has…like so many other songs…taken on new meaning for me in recovery.
The film itself also seems like a metaphor for recovery…a group of people whose lives have literally been turned upside down, struggling against all odds to climb from the wreckage and reach the sunlight again. We extend our hands to those coming up behind us, and we accept the hands held out to us by those above us. Some of us make it, others don’t. There’s no telling by appearances who will survive. In this film – as in recovery – being a star is no guarantee of making it out alive.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s been a rough week for many in the Los Angeles recovery community. One of our own did not survive, a man I didn’t know well but have hugged and spoken to on Monday nights for the last few months. He was a man who had, forgive the expression, star power. A leading-man appearance. And , like Gene Hackman in the film, we were shocked and stunned by his unexpected death.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with your addiction, if your day feels dark with that tidal wave of hopelessness bearing down on you, if the water is rising quickly around your ankles, hang on. Call someone. There’s no shame in reaching out. If you know me, call me.
There really is a morning after…so keep climbing.
It’s not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It’s not too late, not while we’re living
Let’s put our hands out in time
There’s got to be a morning after
We’re moving closer to the shore
I know we’ll be there by tomorrow
And we’ll escape the darkness
We won’t be searching anymore
Yesterday was a day of mourning for so many of my friends in the recovery community in Los Angeles. Another beautiful light snuffed out by a disease that can lie dormant for days, months, even years before rearing its ugly head and…more virulent than ever…killing its victim without the slightest compunction.
Late last night, after the gathering of the Tuesday evening group of men and women who have become my second family – where the loss of this bright light hung quite tangibly over the proceedings – I came home full of feelings: There was sadness for this man and his family and friends. There was also fear, that this might someday be my own fate, and there was anger that so many beautiful men and women suffer from the disease of alcoholism.
Sitting down at my computer, I found my friend Mykee B. online, and reached out. Within moments I was LOL’ing over our private chat conversation. In the program of recovery I’ve chosen, there is a saying about traveling a road to a place of future happiness, and Mykee B. has been my walking partner on this road since almost the very beginning of this journey.
I met Mykee on a camping trip I took with a group of men (and one woman) from the aforementioned Tuesday night second family. At the time, I was barely six weeks off the pipe, and the idea of traveling to the Sequoia National Park with twenty-nine almost-strangers was terrifying to me. However, I followed direction given by the person who guides me through this program of recovery, and agreed to go along for the three day event. I’m glad I did…though I barely spoke the entire time (except for the nightly gatherings around the campfire, where I inarticulately…and through tears….tried to convey my sense of not belonging, of feeling too damaged to ever feel human again. It wasn’t pretty.)
My now-dear friend Stephen B. noticed my discomfort, and on a group hike to a waterfall…during which I was walking with my head down, feeling ugly and old and damaged in comparison to all the beautiful younger boys in our group….began to engage me in conversation, putting his arm around me, and did his best to make me feel a part of. I will always owe this man a debt of gratitude for that simple action. It’s taken almost a year, but that simple gesture was the beginning of my evolution from reticent recovery bystander to active participant in my own salvation.
On the morning we were to return to Los Angeles…I had caught a ride with my friend Jonathan (my also aforementioned recovery program ‘guide’)…we were packing up his Scion when someone asked if we had room for Mykee B. in our car. I’d noticed him around the campfire, and had been moved by one of his tearful shares, however we’d only spoken cursorily over the previous few days. Despite the sleeping bags, tents and luggage, we did have some extra room in Jonathan’s car, and so the three of us set out to make the drive home together.
But first, there was a surprise in store for me.
The previous evening, the majority of our group of campers had made a sunset field trip to the majestic Moro Rock, a giant granite dome formation from which spectacular views of the California’s Central Valley can be seen. I had stayed behind, however, having volunteered to help with dinner preparation. So, on the drive home, Jonathan and Mykee had colluded to make sure I got to see Moro Rock before we left. I was touched deeply, and the three of us climbed to the top of this rock mountain together. It was a profoundly spiritual experience, and I will always treasure that memory as one of the more profound ones of my early sobriety.
When we returned to the base, it was decided we’d stay in the park a little longer, and we hiked around a gorgeous meadow, just the three of us: my guru, my new friend and myself…all at different stages of recovery but so very similar in many other ways.
It was on the ride home that I really fell in love with Mykee. He was brilliant but not obnoxious about it, he was one of the funniest men I’d ever met (and I’ve met some funny people, trust me), and he was politically astute and passionate about social justice issues. His small frame (if you know Mykee, then you know he has the highest personality to body mass index of anyone on this planet) gave him an impish quality that could make me convulse with laughter, even back then when the slightest chuckle felt hard-won.
Since that weekend last August, I’ve counted this man among my closest friends. Though recently he’s been extremely busy (the man is a true entrepreneur, and I have no doubt fabulous wealth and success are imminent for my little friend/dynamo) with a number of startup businesses (see www.hprlcl.com), I know he will alway be there for me when I need him. And vice/versa.
Like he was last night, when I needed to laugh more than I’ve needed to in a long time.
If you read this blog, you know that I’ve gone from rabid atheist to praying man in a very short period of time. And every night, when I say those prayers, I thank God for bringing Mykee B…friend, little brother, partner in (healthy) crime…. into my life. As the Russ Meyer fantasy band The Carrie Nations sang in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”…. “In the long run, you’ll need someone to trust and count on…come a rainy day.”
Yesterday, it was drizzling, and Mykee was there for me.
I’m in a sad place today.
I was going to write about this last night, but changed my mind. This morning, still sad, I changed my mind again: I’m going to write about this because I need to write about this.
I learned last night that a man I knew in recovery died after relapsing this past weekend.
I’m not going to pretend I knew him well: Several hugs, some shared smiles, and things I learned about him from when he’d share with our Monday night group. That’s all, really. He was around my age, handsome, very physically fit, and had a 100-megawatt smile. If I had been forced at gunpoint to choose the next person amongst our group to relapse…let alone die….he would not have been anywhere near the top of the list.
So, I’m shaken. I know others who have been in recovery longer than I have dealt with this frequently…that’s just the nature of being part of a large fellowship of people with an insidious, cunning, baffling and powerful disease…so it might not hold the same level of shock for others that the passing of this man does to me. Or perhaps it does. I don’t know. I can’t imagine these things get any easier, regardless of how long one has been clean and sober.
I’ve always known that my next relapse could be the end of me, and this brutal reminder, this “there but for the grace of God” tragedy drives that fact home. I’m so, so saddened for his family, and for our mutual friend who shared the news of his passing last night. So much senseless pain. Such a waste of a glorious human being.
As our mutual friend said last night while imparting this horrible news to all of us, it is sadder than sad that this gentlemen did not reach out to someone before he relapsed. I hope and I pray that if I ever find myself on shaky ground, that I will do just that. Call my friend Jonathan, call my friend Mykee, call my friend Phillip. Call anyone.
I have to remember at all times that the foundation of my sobriety, while strong at the moment, is built upon a fault line. As someone who lives in earthquake territory, I know how to prepare for a temblor of the literal kind. I also need to focus on being prepared for an upheaval of the other kind, remaining ever-vigilant.
I hope my friends in recovery know that I’m always here for them, and that there is no shame in reaching out for help. Please, just do it BEFORE you pick up that pipe, that needle, that bottle. Can we just make that deal now? I’ll call you, and you can call me?
I plan on honoring the memory of this man by stepping up my program of recovery and making sure I never, ever become complacent….and by picking up the damned phone and calling people, even when it’s the last thing I want to do.
RIP, Todd. You were beautiful.
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 waters 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
In June of 1993, my friend Eddie and I made a road trip to San Francisco to attend that city’s Gay Pride festival.
The night before the festivities kicked off, we discovered that a favorite new band of ours, the industrial/alternative ‘Ethyl Meatplow’ was playing a gig in a small venue in Berkeley (or was it Oakland? doesn’t matter, I suppose.)
During the show, we pushed our way to the front of the crowd, pressing ourselves against the lip of the stage, enjoying the highly sexual, often vulgar antics of co-lead singers John Napier and Carla Bozulich (later of “The Geraldine Fibbers.”)
During the performance of one of my favorite songs of theirs (they only released one album during their short-lived career, the epic “Happy Days, Sweetheart,” so there really weren’t too many to choose from), the extremely handsome Napier climbed down from stage, mic in hand, and began simulating fellatio on me in front of the crowd. Fortunately, this was when I was in my twenties when alcohol was still my drug of choice, so rather than blushing I drunkenly went along with the obscene pantomime, enjoying every second of it. I have no idea if Napier was gay or bisexual or straight…the whole idea of Ethyl Meatplow seemed to be pansexual hedonism…but it was a fitting kick-off to the debauchery that was to follow that weekend: lots of cocaine, my friend Eddie and I strapped to motorcycles wearing only g-strings as if we were captured ‘trophies’ during the parade lead-off procession of the legendary “dykes on bikes” contingent, and – on my part at least – several raucous sexual encounters.
Since then, my musical tastes have evolved (or devolved, my younger self might say), but “Happy Days, Sweetheart” still remains one of my favorite touchstones of that insane early 90’s era where pretty much everything was a go: dancing beside Madonna and her posse at the semi-underground Club Louis, taking off my clothes and having my ass whipped in public at the dance/fetish club “Sin-a-Matic,” and partying as if there were no such thing as Monday morning.
The track i’ve attached below, the cautionary tale “Devil’s Johnson,” was my favorite Meatplow song, the one to which I received that mock-blowjob so long ago. It details the plight of a drug user…crystal or crack…who devolves into paranoia and insanity. I had no idea at the time of the album’s release that the scenario in this song would, in fact, be my own life in less than a decade’s time.
Today, I discovered that John Napier died last year of a drug-related cause. That brief interaction in that tiny club seems strange to me now, like some foreshadowing event. There really isn’t much to read into it, I suppose, most clubs are chock-full of either current or incipient drug addicts…but my narcissistic, terminally-unique, addicted brain keeps trying to tell me that there was some bizarre passing-of-the-mantle going on.
I’m going to go to the gym now, and focus on getting my body back into alignment with my mind and my spirit. Still, I’m going to allow myself to feel sad for the passing of this beautiful man who succumbed to the same fate I am now working my ass off to avoid.
RIP, John Napier.
This was written almost a year ago, while on meth, two weeks before I began my recovery. It’s probably the most brutally honest thing I’ve ever written about my addiction, and I’m sharing this very personal journal entry because it shows so clearly the desperate state of my mind and soul at the time. In this, I ask myself a lot of questions that, at the time, I had no answer for. I feel so sad for this guy and his clueless self-pity, but because I know that two weeks after he wrote this he’s going to start finding the answers he’s so desperately looking for, I also feel great happiness reading this again for the first time since it was written. Today, I have the answers for most of the questions I asked myself when I wrote this..or at least, some insight into my addict behaviors. I’ll soon be marking the one-year anniversary of the beginning of what has been the most amazing year of my life, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone and everything that has been a part of my recovery.
If you’re still struggling, just STOP. Breathe. You don’t have to drink or use or punish yourself in other ways ever again. Surrender to recovery. I wish I’d done it years ago. The view from here is breathtaking. Trust me. I have a long way to go still, but it’s been an amazing journey thus far.
Well, here I am again. Five months of continued use, and I’m already beginning to feel that strange disconnect from reality. Strange things that probably aren’t even that strange…that sub-current of paranoia that indicates the effect this drug is having on my brain. The voices are just starting to whisper again in the damned shower and sinks. Cars following me. Not to mention the damage that I’m doing to myself and to my relationship. And to my new “career.” I’m finally at the very beginning of the path to regaining financial stability..the very beginning, I should emphasize…and i’m jeopardizing it as carelessly as if my past experiences have taught me nothing. Lying to everyone, acting like the sage, wise recovered person when, in fact, I’m living the life of a failure and a fucking liar.
It’s not just the drugs, it’s the sexual compulsions I’ve been battling all my life. I don’t know why sexual gratification, even in its ugliest forms, acts as some weird kind of sedative of sorts for me. Maybe there isn’t anything complex about it at all, perhaps I’m just completely id-driven, a person who enjoys the control of my lower self.
I do know that being thin is part of it, and again, I don’t completely understand what that’s all about. I’ve got a partner (that he’s still here is a miracle of sort) who truly couldn’t care less if I’m thin or fat. So why do I care so much? Sometimes I think it’s because that lonely teenager I used to be is still fighting for attention or popularity or just to NOT be the chubby kid with the braces and those awful Buddy Holly glasses (back when Buddy Holly glasses weren’t cool at ALL.) Other times I have to admit it’s probably just rampant narcissism , as all the naked photos and videos of myself on my hard drive would seem to indicate. How narcissism and horrible self-esteem manage to co-exist in this fucked up head eludes me completely.
The thing about meth…okay, one thing among many things, is that it erodes my estimation of what is simply pleasure…the kind of pleasure everyone seeks and needs…and what is profoundly dark, compulsive and damaging to the psyche. There’s been too much of that in my life, and I know that it all stays in my brain whether i remember it or not. The way a song lyric I haven’t heard for years suddenly reappears. That dark callback of memory is part of my ritual of relapse: The memory is most strongly associated with feelings of pleasure and sensuality, NOT with the ramifications of disease or hurt or insanity I’ve had. If I could have those meth memories appear and have them trigger the self-loathing I feel today, then I suspect my relapsing would be much more infrequent. I suspect, anyway. But no, when I think of meth I think of wild, intense pleasure.
I still have a bag of meth I bought yesterday, and smoked far too much of last evening, to the point where Patrick even inquired as to whether or not I was using. I so badly want to tell him that I’ve relapsed, but I don’t feel ready. Not because I want to keep using (I do, believe me I DO), but because he will freak out and it will cause chaos in his life again because he’ll be dealing not only with his shows and the financial distress (another guilt item), but also with being preoccupied about my losing control again.
I’m going to try to get off the stuff again. I’m so sick of being a lying, filthy, fucking drug addict.
I’m going to start walking again, this afternoon, and hopefully I won’t pass out from exertion since I haven’t really exercised rigorously in six months. I think back to when I was happiest, last year, during those long stretches of time between my short infrequent relapses. I was getting my body healthy, I looked okay without purging, and Patrick and I were just beginning to reestablish trust. I’ve fucked that up yet again, and he deserves so much better. I say that all the time, yet I never seem to live as if I believe it. That has to change. I either have to clean up for good, or I have to leave him. This is completely unfair and, to be honest, absolutely evil behavior on my part.
I have to find a way to get beyond hating myself and punishing myself through sexual situations, which of course, is impossible with a drug that seems as if it were designed specifically to cause those types of behaviors. I used to use sex to make myself feel good about myself, and now it feels like i’m using it to punish myself. I think I need to focus on things that I am good at, and exercise those muscles. I need to think of myself as a good person, because somewhere under all this self-caused scar tissue, I know I’m a decent human being. I do care about others, even as I lie to them and cause them misery. Yet I have such a problem with accepting that it’s okay to just be me, average and mediocre Andy from the boring fucking Central Valley. I don’t know where this need to be perceived as interesting…or sexually desirable…or hip or cool or whatever….comes from. Truly, I’m not fooling anyone who really knows me, and i’ll never fucking believe it myself, so what’s the big imperative???
I’m lost right now, but I’m going to write in this journal every day. I think I need to write for ME, not as a showing off mechanism, a “look at me, I’m a battle-scarred survivor and these are my lurid, graphic stories that hopefully make me seem a little more Charles Bukowski and a little less average dork.” I need to work towards being in the middle of the road…where I actually DO reside…and feeling okay with it. I need to find ME again, if that’s even possible after all of this chaos and lying and alternate realities I’ve been manufacturing and then wallowing in for so fucking long. Even before I met Patrick. Even before I moved to Los Angeles, quite frankly. Who AM I? WHY do I do these terrible things to myself and to those around me? I want the answer to be, “because I was molested and because I was raised in a chaotic, unstable environment with occasional violence, and this is how I deal with it.” But I fear that may be a complete cop-out. In fact, I suspect it is. The more probable answer is the one that terrifies me the most, and that would be “because you are a conscienceless narcissist who is beyond redemption.”
I want to say, “Time will tell,” but I also fear that time has already spoken, and it didn’t fucking say what I wanted it to say.