Category Archives: 12 steps

A Phone Call From Who I Used to Be

photoshop-iphoneThe 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.

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Goodbye, King Cone

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. 

andysteve

Me and Steve, Christmas 1998.

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.

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Welcome to Coney Island: Ingrid and Steve, tail-chewers both.

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.

Better Every Day

IMG_1729Once 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.

Sick F@ck

DSC01596

2006:

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, a plate with a few remnants of toasted bread in front of me.  This is one of my props, because as usual I have no appetite. One of my more clever tricks: toast the bread, butter it, break it into pieces – biting some for authenticity – and placing a few pieces in the garbage disposal. The remainder, arranged haphazardly on the plate, creates the illusion that I have eaten breakfast.  If Patrick believes I’ve eaten, he’s less likely to suspect I’m using.

(No appetite: one of the warning signs that I’m using meth again.)

I hear the bedroom door open. Shuffling into the living room on his way to the bathroom, he pauses briefly in the hallway to survey me.  I can tell he hasn’t even clocked the crumb-littered plate in front of me.  I’m not sure if he’s even slept since catching me masturbating at the computer at 5 AM. My bloodstream still full of speed, I certainly haven’t.

(Late night/ early morning masturbation…another sign that I’m smoking speed again.)

He doesn’t waste time with preliminaries: “I’m giving you a drug test.”

Well, there it is.

“Okay”, I say briskly, “not a problem,” trying not to betray myself with a dry-throated croak or fear-induced waver in my voice.  Objecting to a drug test is a tacit admission of guilt. Of course, taking the drug test will be solid proof of it.

So I try to buy time, and add – with forced cheerfulness:

“I just peed, so next time I have to go I’ll let you know.”

He stands in the hallway, continuing to regard me for a moment, his eyes too puffy with sleep…or maybe lack of it… for me to discern his thoughts, before heading into the bathroom.  I hear the door close with a loud click. The early morning is so silent I can hear him peeing through the heavy wooden door. Flush, the door opens, and Patrick returns to the bedroom, which means he’ll be getting back into bed and, if I’m lucky, falling asleep again for at least an hour, and if I’m lucky, maybe three or four. He’s been known to sleep past noon on some days, and I can only hope he’ll do so this morning.

thc-drug-test-marijuanaImmediately, a light surge of panic courses through me, and I rack my brain to figure out a way around this.  I feel trapped. How the fuck am I going to get out of this one? I’m certain he’s going to kick me out again if I test positive. My mind goes to the cardboard box in Patrick’s desk, full of mail-order, white cellophane wrapped drug testing kits.  Sabotage?  Maybe I can carefully open the test kit at the top and figure out a way to make those two lines representing a negative test appear.  Food dye? No, too difficult.  Magic marker?  That could work, provided Patrick doesn’t first look at the test strip before dipping it in the plastic cup of urine.   And how to seal the cellophane wrapper up again in a way that won’t be noticed?  Glue?  Maybe. Perhaps glue with a hot clothes iron applied to it would simulate a factory seal?  Too many risks, too many variables, I finally decide, and my mind moves on to other options.

Our three dogs, Jane, Steve and Sherman, are circling the table. Jane is yapping sharply. They want to be let outside to pee.  As I get up from the table to release them into the back yard, the idea arrives fully formed, stunning in it’s simplicity.

“Hang on, you guys” I say to them, opening a cupboard above the microwave and retrieving a medium-sized Tupperware bowl.  I peel the lid off, take the bowl and move to the sliding glass door that opens to the backyard.

I let Jane out first, using my leg to impede Steve and Sherman, slide the door closed trapping them inside, faces pressed against the glass in their eagerness to expel the contents of their bladders. I follow Jane, a small rust colored spaniel into the yard, my red-rimmed eyes squinting against the assault of the bright morning light.  Jane bolts for the lawn to the right of the pool, and I hurry after her.

I stay just a few feet behind her as she sniffs the lawn, circling, stopping, changing her mind, moving to a new spot.  After several false starts, she assumes a crouching posture, her chin tilted up, eyes squinted shut, her standard peeing posture.

Quickly, I squat beside her and try to leverage the edge of the plastic bowl under her hindquarters.  She startles at the intrusion, however, looking back at me with an expression of obvious irritation, scuttling away before releasing a single drop.

We repeat this awkward routine several times before Jane makes mad dash for the other side of the pool, where she squats, face twitching, and with panicked backward-looking eyes staring at me…relieves herself before I can reach her. “Dammit, Jane! Bad dog!” I snap at her, before heading back to the sliding door for attempt number two, leaving Jane in the yard to decipher this sudden episode of inconsistent discipline.

I choose Sherman next, cursing my drug-fogged mind for not realizing earlier that – obviously, duh – catching the urine of a large, male dog in a Tupperware bowl would be far less complicated than catching the urine of a small, female one.

Sherman the Akita, wangly and twitchy from holding his bladder, barrels out of the house and past me the minute I slide the door open, and Steve, a fat, low slung black and white terrier mix, manages to bulldoze his way between Sherman’s legs and makes it outside too.

Cursing silently…knowing that two options for pee collection have been reduced to one, I watch as Steve heads to one side of the pool, and Sherman to the other.  I make a quick decision and take off after Sherman, trying to hold my  bathrobe closed with one hand, clutching the plastic bowl in the other. I stub my bare foot on the uneven brick of the patio, and unleash a torrent of hissed “fuck, fuck, fucks“.

I catch up to Sherman, who is sniffing around the overgrown tangle of vines lining the lawn, but for all his enthusiasm for getting out here, he is annoyingly slow at getting to the point.  I’m stalking him from behind, trying appear as  casual and uninterested as possible, when I spy Steve, across the yard, begin to lift his leg at the base of a large wild rose-bush.  Quickly calculating the distance, I make a decision and race towards him, bowl held out in front of me like a relay racer preparing to hand off his baton.

I’ve miscalculated, however, and by the time I’ve traversed the length of the yard, the rose-bush is dripping urine, and Steve has begun toddling off back toward the house, blissfully unaware that he has just totally fucked me.

I do an about-face and begin sprinting back to Sherman, who is now watering the lawn with his own steady stream of precious, meth-free urine.

I’m almost at him, bowl outstretched, bathrobe flopping open behind me like giant plaid wings, when I noticed two people on the road above our hillside home, out for an early morning walk silently surveying the Fellini-esque spectacle below them, four eyes and two mouths all wide open.

I do a another quick about-face, pull my robe closed around my nakedness, and trot quickly to the visual cover of our gazebo.

I wait several minutes until I’m sure the walkers have moved on, then screech out another guttural “fuck,” hurling the Tupperware bowl into the yard.

As I head back to the house to begin formulating plan b, words I’ve heard in my half-assed visits to places of recovery run through my head, the way such words often show up at the most inopportune times, totally killing a buzz or inspiring sudden guilt over being so absolutely incapable of grasping even the simplest mechanics of recovery.

The words that  come to me now are the same ones that have been floating into my consciousness with the annoying regularity of all those ignored jury duty summons piling up on my desk:

Pitiful.

Incomprehensible.

Demoralization.

Those word sting me with their truth, and stay in my thoughts the entire day: ten minutes later, while I’m composing a Craigslist ad, offering to buy clean urine for $50.

They will still be with me an hour after that, when I’m deep in the San Fernando Valley at a stranger’s home – Patrick still asleep in our bed –  standing in a shag-carpeted living room scattered with children’s toys, walls adorned with several Jesus portraits, watching a bearded man piss into a mason jar while verbally belittling me.

“What kind of sick fuck,” he says, “pays someone for their piss?”

(pitiful)

“Are you a sick fuck?” he asks, sneering at me, over the sound of bubbling urine.

(incomprehensible)

He’s enjoying this. I hang my head, clenching and unclenching the cash in my hand, wanting to run, but knowing I can’t leave without that jar and it’s disgusting yet incredibly valuable contents.

“Well, are you?”

(demoralization)

I don’t answer the question, because it’s clearly rhetorical.

God help me.  I am.

I am a very, very sick fuck.

Countdown

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.

ishot-1313151Melancholy, 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.

Die Another Day

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

paranoia, 2007.

paranoia, 2007.

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.

More; Revealed

gratitudeThere’s a saying in the recovery community that used to perplex me:

“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

Like a Book I Wouldn’t Read

“I wish that confidence was all you could see in my eyes / Like those interviews in locker rooms with talented sports guys / I wish I had no self-awareness like the guys I know / Float right through their lives without a thought / And that I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought of me / That I was so relaxed you’d think that I was bored” – John Grant, “Silver Platter Club”

confidenceTwo weekends ago, at a recovery-related event, I was sitting outside smoking a cigarette and talking to a recently made friend.

The conversation turned to the topic of social anxiety, and I offered that I suffered from that particular affliction to an inordinate extent.

“Really?” my friend said. “I’d have never known, you seem so confident.”

I was taken aback for a moment, though pleased that I had managed to fool him, somehow.

I’ve been revisiting that conversation in my mind off and on since. If this man saw me as confident, did others?

The truth is, I’ve never had much confidence. Ego, hell yes. Confidence? never. At the far end of my 48th year, I still judge myself more harshly than anyone else ever could, and with astonishing frequency.

I’m not saying that there aren’t moments when I feel good about myself: I am proud of myself when I help other people, I can commend myself when I write something I believe to be worthwhile, and I even like the way I look on those rare days when skin, clothing, hair and body all coalesce to present an appearance I think looks pretty good. Those moments are sadly, few and far between, and they can be erased immediately by one misjudged look from another, a terrible photo of myself popping up on Facebook, or even the tiniest inadvertent criticism.

I’m also not saying that I am shy or retiring: Over the years, I’ve learned how to present the image of an alternate Andy, the Andy that I wish I could be organically. In my previous incarnation as a producer/production manager, it would have been career suicide to let my insecurities show. So I cultivated a brash, get-the-fucking-job-done personality that allowed me to progress without hindrance, job-wise,  until I was body-checked by my addiction in 2002. But it was mostly acting. I was as insecure about my performance…my legitimacy as a boss….as I may have often made the people who worked for me feel.

Now, having been humbled by my precipitous fall from grace, I can rarely muster that other Andy, the Andy of the False Bravado.  I sometimes feel like an actor who can no longer summon the motivations and mannerisms of a character he played a long time ago.  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I no longer want false bravado, I want real courage.

I want to learn how to love myself, to stop judging myself, to stop being my own harshest critic.

I’ve been working hard this year towards that objective. At this point…eleven months clean and sober…the best I can say is that there are moments when I like myself. I still hate my face. I hate my big nose (“you have a Roman nose,” my father used to say. “It’s roamin’ all over your face.”), I hate my thick, short torso, I hate my  giant legs that look like I was bred to pull carts through fields. I hate the long scar on my belly that is a direct result of my drug use.

ishot-0052171

I want to go back in time and tell this kid to stop worrying about the paint job and start focusing on the engine..advice i’m trying to follow now.

I’m terrified of aging: in my youth, I was told I was handsome. I didn’t believe it, but empirically I knew it had to be true on some level. Looking back at photos of myself in my twenties, I see a beautiful boy. I wish I could have thought that about myself then.  There’s a big difference between knowing something to be true and feeling that it’s true. So for years, I relied on that perception of others to validate myself. Now, nearing fifty, my skin sagging and it’s tone uneven with age, my crow’s-feet wrapping so far around my head and so deep into my skin that they look like knife wounds if I smile too broadly, I have had to forfeit even the luxury…or curse, perhaps…of false confidence.

So, it’s just me left. Without the smooth shiny skin and clear white eyes of youth, without the superficial  validation of others, I’m unarmed for the most part. Yes, I’m intelligent, though perhaps not as much so as before I addled myself with crystal meth. Yes, I’m compassionate towards others. Yes, I’m regaining the capacity to be honest, another virtue torn to shreds by addiction. I have many good qualities, yet somehow there are times when those don’t seem to be enough.

While I do have a good number of close friends I’m completely comfortable with, my social anxiety is particularly bad in large groups of people: I stand talking to someone I’ve just met, and I’m conversationally crippled by my own thoughts, my own self-absorption. Can it be called narcissism, this thinking of myself when I should be focused on someone else, if the thoughts about myself are entirely negative?  I smile at people a lot, and they smile back. I hug people a lot, and they hug back. From there, however, it’s a difficult road to continue down.

In the gay recovery community, beautiful boys abound. Youth is everywhere, and I can’t help but compare myself to them, to envy the attention they get from others not because they are decent, respectable, admirable human beings (though many of them are, of course), but because they are shiny and lovely and golden.  I often feel left out, relegated to the past-their-prime seats, feeling less-than and, because i’m an addict and it’s what we’re good at, sorry for myself.

I shoot my face full of Botox, get injections of filler to stave off the inevitable collapse of the flesh-girders holding up my face, and I torture my body at the gym, all so I can feel better about my exterior, and perhaps fool one or two people into believing that I have some semblance of confidence, and perhaps, in the right lighting, look a few years younger than I actually am.

I’ve battled an eating disorder (if you read this blog you already know I’m a hundred flavors of fucked-up, so this should hardly be a surprise), I put myself through insanely  awful liposuction surgery (“There will be some pain during the recovery,” my plastic surgeon said, which turned out to be the equivalent of saying “Auschwitz lacks many of the comforts of home”), and I could competently give guided tours of every tanning booth in Southern California….all in a vain attempt to like myself.

I’m writing about this not for reassurance about my appearance. I understand I’m not hideous. I even understand that I am sometimes perceived as handsome. I understand that there are so many unfortunates with deformities and injuries and who are dealing with real problems. I get this. I do NOT want anyone to comment on this blog post to validate me for my physical exterior. I’m writing this because I still often feel ugly, on the inside, and I need to start letting that feeling  out.

I’m writing this because I want people to understand that if I seem stand-offish, it’s not because I don’t want to know you. If I say hello, then seem to drift away before conversation ensues, I want you to know it’s because there’s a fairly good chance I’m feeling incredibly awkward and want to get the fuck out of the situation before you realize it. I don’t want to say something stupid, so often I say nothing at all.

Mostly, however, I’m writing this because I know there are other people who feel this way…this weird social anxiety. Perhaps theirs isn’t based in the same insecurities mine are, but I know for a fact that I share these feelings of occasional self-loathing with many others. I’ve heard others who are far braver than I talk about it publicly in the places I go for recovery, and it usually surprises me because I’ve already assessed these people as being beautiful and confident.

This social anxiety, this non-stop judgement of self, is one of the reasons I loved alcohol and crystal meth so much.  When I was high, all this discomfort in my own skin disappeared. I was suddenly funny (or so I thought), and my self-criticism diminished to such a degree that I could actually relax around other people.  Now, clean and sober, I have to begin addressing these character defects in a direct way, and it’s terrifying.  But it has to be done if I’m ever going to find peace living here in this aging body of mine.

I need to escape this overwhelming self-absorption and find peace. I need to address what’s lacking inside so I can start caring less about what’s on the outside. I need to continue helping others so that I can stay out of my own head.

There are probably a good number of people reading this and thinking, “God, what a self-obsessed asshole.” Don’t feel bad, because I’m thinking that myself. But I need to get this out. This is the kind of shit that has been in my head for years and blocks my path to any kind of spiritual advancement. So, i’m getting it out, as obnoxious and narcissistic as it might sound. I do like to think that I might be helping other people with this blog, but the truth is that this blog helps me, and that’s the reason I blurch this confessional shit out onto the internet (and apparently, into NSA storage facilities..oh well.)

The long and short of this post is that I want to love myself with the same sincerity that I love others. When I look in the mirror, I want to see..and feel like…the man my amazing husband says I am: good, decent, worthwhile. I’m done with feeling like a book I would never want to read.

I think I deserve it. I hope I do, anyway.

(Fuck that: I  know I do.  It’s gonna take a lot of work, but I’m up for it. Just please bear with me and these blog entries until I get there.)

Smoking on the Devil’s Johnson

June 1993, en route to SF Pride.

June 1993, en route to SF Pride.

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.

the closest I've ever come to doing drag: the wild days of Sin-a-Matic & Club Louis

the closest I’ve ever come to doing drag: the wild days of Sin-a-Matic & Club Louis

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.

 

Journal of a Lying Filthy Drug Addict

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.

______________________________________

ishot-0010321Well, 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.

IMG_1241

Me, one year ago: thirty pounds lighter and a hundred pounds more miserable.

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.

Diary of a Teenage Alcoholic

539857_4029166282634_278339798_n-1I came out of my mother’s womb a shy kid. Even the earliest photos of me as a toddler show me peeking out from behind my mother’s legs, one hand half-covering my face.  If there’s a yet-undiscovered ‘confidence gene,’ mine was certainly missing or at the very least, tragically mutated.

For a long time, I had believed that my pubescent encounter with the man the Central California newspapers dubbed “The Hannibal Lecter of Pedophile Priests” had  ‘turned’ me gay. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I began to understand that I had been born gay, and that feeling of being different was one of the root causes of my shyness. It was that shyness, not my gayness, that had painted a “molest this kid” target on my forehead.

I didn’t have many friends in high school. I knew a lot of people, and a lot of people knew who I was, because I was appointed co-editor of the Turlock High School newspaper, The Clarion, my sophomore year. I didn’t have anyone I could truly confide in, though.  My yearbooks are full of year-end wishes to “have a great summer” or “to a guy who doesn’t talk much but seems nice” kind of sentiments..but not one of them indicates that anyone during those four years knew me on a more than cursory level.

There was one notable exception, however: my girlfriend C____, who from my junior year on I paraded around campus in all her big-breasted, blond beauty like I was the Grand Marshall of my own “See, I love pussy!” parade.  Even C_____, however, didn’t really know me.  In retrospect, I did love her, and we dated for three years. The sex was frequent, but less a product of actual desire than a continued reflexive reaction to any homosexual feelings that might arise. A fantasy about a male classmate would illicit shame and self-disgust, so I’d use C_____ to prove to myself that I could, in fact, have ‘normal’ sex. I cared about her deeply…I’m not a sociopath…but I think I cared even more about protecting myself and my image (I’m sorry to this day for all the women I used in that manner, and where possible, I’ve tried to make amends for that behavior.)

8 copyBack then, on the outside, I tried (probably unsuccessfully) to exude confidence and masculinity – driving a Chevy Stepside pickup truck (replete with roach clip feather dangling from the rear view mirror) and growing a cheesy porno ‘stache – but on the inside I was a seething cauldron of anxiety, self-pity and rage. I hated myself, and every moment of my high school life felt like a charade. My only goal was to get through those years without my secret being discovered. The secret being that I was damaged goods, that I often fantasized about the other boys on campus, and the secret that not a week went by without my fantasizing about  killing myself.

diary 1979I recently found my high school diary. Reading it now, I realize that even though I kept this journal as a way of getting my feelings out (some pages are filled with nothing but raging expletives directed at schoolmates, my parents, pretty much the world), I was lying even to myself.  One typical over-dramatic entry laments the necessity of taking drugs to fit in with my classmates. I had to have known this was bullshit even as I wrote it. True, the small group of people I could have gained acceptance from were the potheads, but it wasn’t my lack of experience smoking weed that kept me ostracized, it was  my own inability to be authentic and to let my guard down.  In this same entry, I also express a desire to change schools.  I also must have known, intellectually at least, that starting over again at a new campus with an entirely new cast of strangers wouldn’t have solved anything, yet there it is, in my stupid loopy 14-year-old handwriting.

This particular diary entry reaffirms, more than anything else, the fact that I was an addict long before I discovered crystal meth in my late thirties. I’m already looking for excuses to escape my feelings, either via chemicals or, as it’s referred to in the recovery community, “pulling a geographic.”

“My parents said I couldn’t run away from everything,” I wrote in 1979.   How wrong they were. I could and did run away from everything, for a long, long, long time. Though I came to terms with my homosexuality in the mid-eighties, I continued to run from everything else for two more decades.  Had my parents said instead, “you CAN run from everything, but eventually your legs are gonna cramp and you’re going to get exhausted and fall down and everything you’re running from is going to catch up to you and beat the holy living shit out of you,” then that would have been completely accurate.

For the longest time, I had difficulty in recovery. I refused to admit I was an alcoholic (crystal meth was my only problem, after all, I’d never crashed and burned and ended up in a psych ward from too many Screwdrivers or Greyhounds, my drinks of choice), and I defiantly told anyone who would listen that I “became” an addict at the age of 37.

Of course, I’d conveniently forget that fact that when i’d work at my parent’s restaurant, as young as 13, I’d sneak into the walk-in refrigerator and chug Gallo Vin Rose straight from the gallon jug because it calmed me down.  I’d forget the time in my mid- twenties when my friend Rich and I got drunk at a party in San Jose and ended up being kidnapped by a gun-toting drug dealer (and subsequently driven, along with a van filled with drag queens in bridesmaids dresses to the End Up in San Francisco, where we were abandoned at 5 AM.) Or the time in my early twenties when two drunk friends and I spun out on the San Mateo bridge, almost crashing through the guardrail and into the  water below. Or the time….actually, there are too many times to recount here. The point being, I’ve always been an addict. I was probably born an addict.  I’m also an alcoholic, I’ve belatedly come to realize.  I know that if my drug of choice didn’t exist, if pills and coke and all other narcotics were not available, I’d be the biggest, swaggering, stumbling, beer-breathing, gin-blossomed alcoholic ever.

On July 7th, I will celebrate one year of sobriety, God willing.

The past eleven months have been about far more than not using drugs or drinking. They’ve been about working on conquering the self-hate. To stop keeping secrets. To stop lying to myself.

This year, I stopped running.  Out of breath, beat-to-shit, I stood still in my tracks, turned around, and faced the oncoming monsters. For eleven months, I’ve stared those fuckers down. They still want to chase me, to get me running – but as long as I stay perfectly still and do battle with each as they attack, I can defend myself (and my sobriety). Without all the running, my energy is returning, and the fighting gets a little easier each time.

Yesterday, the monster that tells me I’m fat and ugly and too old to have any value did a job on me, leaving me bruised and beaten.  I didn’t run, however….not to my dealer, not to self-medication, nor to seek validation through sex.

Instead, I stayed and took my lumps.

Today, I am planning my counter-attack.

I plan on knocking it senseless. With prayer. By helping others. With self-esteem via esteemable action. And though I may never actually kill this demon – I’ll probably battle it the rest of my life – recovery has given me the tools to outsmart it.

All I have to do is use them.

I’m Alive: Sober Musical Interlude #8

then and nowThe photo on the left was taken a little over a year ago, in the midst of my last methamphetamine relapse. The photo on the right was taken yesterday, ten and a half months into recovery.

A year ago, I thought I looked great. I was thin. My face had some angles. I could wear the same size pants I wore in high school. Sure, I was covered in tiny red speed bumps, and yeah, I’d shaved my head because I was convinced the CIA or the FBI or some other nefarious shadow organization was tracking me with tiny wire transmitters attached to my scalp, but who cared about that when all my jeans hung from my hipbones in that cool, sexy way?

Now, looking at that photo on the left makes me cringe. That guy looks like Nosferatu with stage 4 cancer.

Though I’m not thrilled with the way I look in the photo today – i’m far too self-critical, still – the difference is amazing. The guy on the left looks dead. The guy on the right is ALIVE.

The guy on the left lived in a world of darkness, deception, paranoia, anger, sadness, sexual depravity and absolute, overwhelming sadness.  The guy on the right wakes up to hope, lives in the sunlight, is healthy, is optimistic, and lives in a world filled with God, recovery, love, good friends, purpose, optimism and – on most days – joy.

I’ll be turning 49 soon, and though the thought of creeping so close to 50 years old is nerve-wracking, there’s also much gratitude. After more than a decade of off-and-on abuse of my body, spirit and mind, I am looking forward to celebrating a miracle: I’m Alive.

I’m alive – and the world shines for me today
I’m alive – suddenly I am here today
Seems like forever (and a day), thought I could never (feel this way)
Is this really me? I’m alive, I’m alive

Meth-Smoking Gun, or War of the Tug (NSFW)

addict

2006:       My addiction had long since chased away what had once been a fairly large circle of friends, even the most tolerant and empathetic among them having run for shelter. There are a finite number of late night, meandering phone calls about phantoms hiding in heating ducts or people living in the trees that a sane person can tolerate, and though their retreat pained me, the lack of interaction with the outside world seriously reduced the amount of acting I had to engage in to simulate sobriety.  The only notable exception was Rebecca, who, four years after meeting in my first rehab, was still sober.   Still, justifiably, even she was forced to maintain a distance that wouldn’t threaten her sobriety, sending an occasional email inquiring about my well-being.

As long as I kept my meth-smoking to a relative minimum, around six times a day rather than the previous 15 to 30 minute intervals, I was able to function fairly well, and would spend the day on the computer or meandering around the house and yard, slightly glassy eyed but otherwise presenting a countenance of relative normalcy.  After years of Patrick discovering my hiding places with the skill of drug-sniffing airline customs canine,  I now kept my pipe, torch and stash cleverly concealed on a small, inner ledge beneath the vanity in our bathroom.  To find it, one would have to open the cabinet doors below the sink and reach a hand up and in to find the hiding place that was just wide enough to hold the paraphernalia.   It was certainly my most clever hiding place to date.  Several times a day, I would lock myself in the bathroom and retrieve them, careful first to turn on the water to mask the sharp, pronounced clicking noise of the butane torch.  As an added precaution, I would set a pair of toenail clippers on the counter.  The sound of toenails being clipped mimicked almost exactly the sound of the torch, and I wanted this decoy ready to point to should Patrick overhear anything.   We had reached a point in our relationship where I fully expected him to have his ear pressed against the door, listening each time I used the bathroom.  I had also reached a point where I knew that there was nothing I could say to him about this, his lack of trust being completely justified by my continuing relapses and the accompanying lies and creative fabrications.

I looked forward to the days when Patrick would have some acting job or other that would get him out of the house, and I would use those times as an opportunity to smoke speed all day long with impunity, enjoying the liberating feeling of being able to lay my glass pipe, torch and little zip loc baggie of crystals on a glass plate next to the bed.  I would spend the day luxuriating in the sensual feelings that the speed engendered, seeking out and devouring the most graphic porn I could find, inhaling amyl nitrate and masturbating with frenzied, futile abandon.

 For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires.

Although I had always been comfortable with sex, and certainly never prudish about the act and its many variations, this sexually compulsive behavior was something of an entirely new order .  It is deeply embarrassing to admit to this particular obsession, and few meth addicts do.  I’ve read account after account written by the users of this drug, and very rarely have I read explicit accounts of this very common, albeit deeply shame-inducing activity.  Wikipedia, in fact, in its entry for Methamphetamine lists  “hypersexuality” first as a side effect of the drug’s use.  Admitting to homelessness, criminal activity in support of the habit, even insanity is far less embarrassing than confessing to behavior that most would consider lurid, at best.   Meth users, particularly gay meth users, often confess to being sexually indiscriminate, but few will cop publicly to the details of their wallowing in the murky shallows of depravity. Yet the proliferation of gay personal ads containing the acronym “PNP” demonstrates the  ubiquity of this phenomena.  For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play”.  For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires.  A search of the M4M  (men for men) section of Craigslist, using the term PNP will generally produce hundreds of results for the Los Angeles area alone.  Having participated In many of these “parties” over the past several years, the twisted logic of my  tweaker brain now pathetically rationalized these masturbatory marathons because they allowed me to stay faithful to Patrick.

Often, I would get so lost in the world of self-pleasure that I would lose track of time, jolting sharply back into reality with the realization that Patrick was due home momentarily.  The sense of time’s passage is drastically distorted by meth use, and I often found myself in this situation.  I would then wage a strange battle: attempting to reach climax and still have enough time left over to rid the house of all evidence of how I had spent my day.   Each jerk stole precious time from the forthcoming cleanup regimen, and this anxiety, coupled with the erection-diminishing nature of the speed, ensured that I’d invariably lose what I had come to think of as the War of the Tug.

On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the  Exxon Valdez . 

Sweaty, heart pounding, I’d admit defeat and leap from the bed in a panic that would scare all three dogs into a chorus of barking, running about the house cleaning in what I thought was a systematic way, trying to rid  it of any detectable residue of my solitary debauchery.  Most normal people understand that sex sometimes requires a little cleanup afterwards:  a greasy hand print on the headboard, a spot on the sheets that requires laundering.  The cleanup effort required following an extended tweaking session is a very different prospect altogether.

Heart pounding with the fear of discovery, expecting to hear Patrick’s key in the lock at any moment, the first step was to strip the bed of the lube and sweat stained sheets, and stuff them into the washer along with the clothes I was wearing, if any.  The next was to return the drugs and paraphernalia to their hiding place.  Following that was a frantic, room to room  Windex rub-down.  It is truly astounding the number of household surfaces a tweaker can touch in a five or six-hour period, and Patrick knew from past experience what a smear of lube on a doorknob most likely meant.  During the days spent alone like this, it seemed like every surface in the house became coated with a film of whatever water or oil based lube I had been using.  On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the  Exxon Valdez .  Windex in one hand, a wad of paper towels in the other, I’d proceed deliberately from one side of the house to the other, spraying and then wiping down everything my hands might have come in contact with during the day:  the telephone handsets, remote controls, doorknobs, thermostat, light switches.   This task completed, I’d turn on the bedroom ceiling and spray Fabreze to mask any lingering odor of amyl nitrate, then quickly jump into the shower and rinse the sweat, with its tell-tale cat-urine like odor of metabolized meth, from my body.  The final step was to floss and brush my teeth fanatically to remove the similarly rancid mouth odor caused by the drying effect of the speed.

Patrick would arrive home, tired from a long day at whatever he was doing, to find the house smelling perfumed, the washing machine churning away, and me sitting, fresh-scrubbed on the couch in the tv room, pretending to be fascinated by whatever show that happened to be on at the moment.   It is indicative of the level of deception I practiced that I also made sure I was watching a tivo’d show I’d already seen, in case he decided to join me.  That way, I’d be able to answer any questions about characters or plot should they arise. I would feel a wave of guilt for this deception, but that didn’t stop me from rising from the couch to give him a warm welcome, offering to make him dinner, or regaling him with made-up stories about how I had spent my day.

“I cleaned the whole house,”  I’d say, neglecting the part about having done it in a  10 minute, bug-eyed, speed-induced sprint.

“And I’ve got a load of laundry going.”

At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced.

One night, after having avoided using for several weeks, making a grand show for Patrick of my desire to once again clean up my act, I slipped into the bathroom just before bedtime. Earlier in the day, I had paid first a quick visit to my dealer on Croft Avenue in West Hollywood, and then to the Smoke Shop at Santa Monica and Vine. Now, I retrieved the teenager of meth and the thin glass pipe from their hiding place on a small ledge inside the cabinet below the sink.  At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced. Sitting on the closed toilet, I lit up, inhaling the white vapors.  After several deep tokes, I grabbed a wad of toilet paper, moistened it and rubbed it around the receptacle end of the pipe, or bubble, as it is often called.  This trick cooled the pipe and helped to quickly re-solidify the clear, liquid speed into a solid white mass that could not spill out the top, while also removing the layer of thick black residue the lighter had produced.  I re-hid the pipe, placed the Bic lighter in the pocket of my bathrobe that was hanging on the back of the door, flushed the toilet for effect, turned off the light and joined Patrick in the bedroom.

To the non-addicted, the act of using a drug that revs up energy levels and sends the mind into hyper-drive immediately before bedtime would seem irrational. Rational behavior was already a thing of the past for me, however.

I crawled into bed next to Patrick and turned off the bedside light. Whispering a “good night,” I turned away from him and onto my left side, letting the euphoric effect of the speed wash over me.  My eyes wide open, staring at drapes dimly backlit by an outdoor street lamp I began what promised to be an eight-hour ordeal that had, by now, become tortuously familiar.  One of the side effects of the speed was the tendency of my body to twitch or jerk involuntarily in it’s dopamine-jacked flight-or-fight state, and my solitary focus was to stay still, an almost impossible endeavor.  Too much movement, too much tossing and turning, and Patrick would certainly clue in immediately, blowing my cover of mimicked sobriety.

I laid there for hours, absolutely incapable of sleep, my body tensed and clenched from the physiological flight-or-fight response meth creates.  Fortunately, the speed also creates the ability to hyper-focus, which worked to my advantage in this situation as I studied the drapes in minute detail, refusing to even shift my legs for fear it would alert Patrick to the fact that I was still awake.  Finally, sometime around 1 AM, I was unable to resist the need to move, so I admitted defeat and slipped out of bed slowly, doing my best to keep the mattress still.  Once on my feet, I glanced back at Patrick and noted with relief that he was still sleeping deeply, snoring gently.  Moving stealthily around the bed and out of the bedroom, I closed the door behind me, putting resistance on the doorknob as it twisted closed to it mitigate the deafening sound of it clicking shut.

After a visit to the bathroom to retrieve my stash from its hiding place, I continued – light-headed – into my office, avoiding areas of the hardwood floor that I  knew would produce a groan or squeak.  Sitting down in the black Aeron chair in front of my desk, I gave the mouse of my iMac a shake, and squinted against the sudden flood of light as the monitor awoke from its slumber.  Activating an alarm clock program that would notify me silently at 6 AM and allow me to sneak back to bed before Patrick woke, I proceeded with the focus and single-mindedness of a cat stalking its prey to navigate my bookmarked porn sites, starting as usual with the aptly named Smutnetwork.com.   Once there, my senses began folding in upon themselves as my dopamine-saturated brain absorbed image after image, video after video, with hedonistic abandon.  Everything else, my surroundings, even the sense of my own physical presence, was surrendered to oblivion. Click, click, click, ad infinitum.  Images of sexual acts that, without the influence of the meth would be of absolutely no interest to me, or perhaps even mildly revolting, were scanned, registered and devoured as sustenance for my insatiable meth-propelled libido.

Page-view by page-view, the hours slipped by, my wide, red-rimmed eyes soaking up the porn like a sponge.  Periodically pausing to take a  hit from the pipe and then concealing it again in the top right hand drawer of the desk, my hand trembling and cramped, I worked the mouse around its pad, my synapses firing a hundred miles an hour. Time sped away from me and after what seemed like only twenty minutes, faint gleams of pre-dawn light began seeping through the louvers of the IKEA mini-blinds.

A faint breeze touched the overheated, yet clammy skin on the back of my neck, jolting me from my dark reverie.  Startled, I spun my desk chair around.  Patrick was standing in the darkened doorway, his eyes still thick with the confusion of sleep, watching, assessing.

For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications.  A meth-smoking gun, if you will. 

Although almost imperceptible, I clocked the changes in his face as he registered the situation, the almost undetectable change in his expression still clearly conveying shock, sadness, anger, and most worst of all: disappointment.  Catching one’s partner in the act of pre-dawn masturbation is, for most couples, simply an awkward moment, if that.  For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications.  A meth-smoking gun, if you will.  His eyes moved from my hand, still in my crotch, to the pornographic image glaring out obscenely from the computer monitor.

“I couldn’t sleep,”  I stammered.

“Apparently,” he said simply, his voice devoid of feeling.  He maintained uncomfortable, accusatory eye contact for a long, sad moment, before abruptly turning and walking back down the hall.

“I USED TO WORK FOR STEVEN SPIELBERG”

Moonlight, Machete & Madness Pt. 3 (conclusion)

read part one

read part two

Walking quickly, I soon reach the perimeter of the hospital.  Huntington Memorial is a fairly large complex, and I am unsure of exactly where I am.  The streets are dark, and very few vehicles are out.  There is a slight chill in the night air, but I barely feel it, my adrenaline-enhanced heartbeat keeping my body temperature slightly raised.

Looking around, I spy a row of single-story office buildings across the street, flanked by overgrown landscaping.  I scour the greenery carefully, looking for signs of tree people, and am relieved that I see none. I dart across the road and approach the building, duck-walking quickly under the low hanging branches of a large shrub, and scuttling back into a small clearing between the building and the bushes that line its brick side. I slide down the cool wall into a sitting position, completely concealed. Safe – at least temporarily.

Pulling the bag of crystal from my pocket, I hold it up to inspect the contents.  I am gratified to see that more than half of the teenager – the ridiculous slang name given a bag containing a 16th of an ounce – remains.  I suddenly remember a comic greeting card I once saw, with a cartoon lady waving a cartoon checkbook and exclaiming, indignantly: “I can’t be overdrawn…I’ve still got checks left!”   And so it is with me: despite my spiritual bankruptcy,  the binge can’t be over if there is still crystal in the bag.

My hand trembling, I reach my thumb and forefinger into the bag, pinching several large shards of the glass-like substance.  For a quick rueful second, I think of the pipe and torch I left behind in my bedroom.  I have always preferred smoking these crystals, which delivers the drug in a slower, more languorous fashion, as compared to the sudden jolt that accompanies snorting, slamming or ingesting it.  Careful not to drop any, I put my fingers into my mouth and deposit the bitter, tangy rocks at the back of my throat and swallow quickly, working my dry mouth in an attempt to build up enough saliva to get them down.

Carefully re-sealing the bag and pushing it back into my pocket, I slump back against the cold wall and wait.

It seems like only a few minutes before the freight train comes rumbling toward me.  My body, accustomed to the more gradual introduction of the drug, is overwhelmed by what is at least the equivalent of two full bowls.  This large quantity, which would normally take me many hours to smoke, is now being absorbed all at once by my long-empty stomach.

There is a roaring of white electricity in my head, and a multi-colored light show begins to dance behind my closed eyelids.  My extremities numb, while at the same time a ribbon of heat slowly unfurls itself through my core, starting in my groin and working its way up through my chest.  The heat engulfs my heart, and I can feel it pounding furiously against my ribs as I open my mouth, gasping for air.  The feeling of sexual euphoria that has played such a large part in my addiction usually builds slowly when smoking, but now it rolls over me in a tidal wave of dopamine-overloaded sensuality.

The heat ribbon continues up, past my chest into my brain, burning its familiar path to my pleasure receptors.  I begin to writhe slowly, twisting my neck and head in rhythm to the pulses of electricity that jolt from my brain back into my body.  Gasping for air, eyes clenched, I roll onto my side on the cold earth as my entire being is engulfed in primal spasms, as my libido is launched into hyper-drive and suddenly, utterly consumes me.  Completely unaware of where I am, who I am, I have been rocketed to a place of absolute, blind ecstasy, where once again I will take up extended residence on that small plateau that precedes orgasm.

After a period of time that feels like several hours, but past experience tells me has probably been closer to thirty minutes, the freight train finally rumbles past, and I begin to sense the cool air moving against my damp, heated body.  I slowly extract my hands from the waistband of my cargo pants, where they have, as always it seem these days, found themselves.  Despite the total sensual immersion, actual orgasm has not been achieved, nor will it anytime soon, part of the Faustian deal the tweaker makes with his drug of choice.  The very same drug that brings one to the height of sexual transcendence also impedes physiologically any release: erections are a thing of the past, orgasm a goal rarely achieved.

I open my eyes, attempting to regain my bearings.  Although the initial rush of the speed has passed, my disorientation continues. It is as if the brightness and contrast settings of the world have been adjusted to high. The dim, filtered glow from the streetlights that permeate the bushes is almost blinding in its intensity, and the shadows have become, deeper, darker, visually impenetrable.

As I lie there, the whispers soon reach my ears, originating somewhere deep within the now almost visually indecipherable tangle of branch and bush.  My peripheral vision detects a rippling of the shadows, and I realize that during my sexual reverie, the tree people have found me.

ishot-1558411Seconds later, I am stumbling my way down Pasadena Avenue, my gait loping and disjointed from the numbness in my legs, my only objective being to stay in the dim glow of the streetlights and away from the shadows beyond them, where I can sense the tree people gathering to watch this awkward, one-man parade.  I have no sense of direction or destination, I simply continue to move, turning left onto a residential street lined with upscale, old-money Pasadena homes.  Trees are everywhere, there is no escaping them, so I continue moving, tripping frequently on the imperfect panels of sidewalk lifted and cantered by the giant roots below. I have no idea what time it is, but the lack of cars on the street tell me it is probably well past midnight. The street curves through the wooded terrain, and eventually the houses on the left give way to a steep, tree and brush covered embankment, falling away to the Arroyo Seco riverbed at the bottom.

I immediately cross to the right side of the street, nearer the streetlights and the comparative safety of the homes that line it, their well-manicured lawns and neatly trimmed landscaping providing fewer hiding places for those who are hunting me.

I pause for a moment to rest, and through my blurred vision, I detect movement above me.  I look up, squinting, into the shadowy, branchy canopy of a huge live oak tree directly to my right.  The great tree sits dead center on the lawn of an elegant brick two-story home, it’ yard dimly but fully illuminated by expensive Malibu lighting.  The branches of the huge, ancient tree span far out over the roadside, joining up with the branches of other huge trees nearby.  Squinting upward, I struggle to decipher what I am seeing.  The whites and blacks of light and shadow, the organic shapes of branch and leaf slowly arrange themselves into sensibility, and suddenly, I see it.  I suck in my breath, and sink to my knees in front of the great tree, as if in prayer, and my wide eyes slowly scanning the terrible, terrible sight less than twenty feet above my head.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Note:   I am not the only person to have seen the Tree People.  Many meth addicts have observed them, and they are a well-documented hallucinatory phenomenon common to users of this drug.  In the past, following previous encounters, I have researched them on the internet and was stunned to discover the similarity of experience from one user to another.  I once saw a one-hour documentary about two Midwestern teenagers who, high on crystal meth, wound up lost in a snowstorm, completely disoriented.  Their ordeal was captured on several rambling, confused cell phone calls the couple made to 911.  The teenage girl, her voice panicked, pleaded with the operator to send help.

“There are lots of Mexicans and African Americans….and they’re all dressed up in these cult outfits!” she wailed.

“They’re taking the cars and hiding them in the trees!”

“Hiding what in the trees?”  asked the confused operator.

“There are hundreds of them! Two hundred!”  the teenage girl shrieked.  The couple, in the throes of the drug, were unable to provide accurate information to pinpoint their location, and soon froze to death after setting out on foot to evade the Tree People.

(listen to the tragic 911 calls)

In the past, having come down from the drug, I have tried to convince myself that I had hallucinated every terrifying thing.  However, I haven’t always been able to shake fully the feeling that what I have seen – these tree people – are real.  A small part of me believes that the drug has lifted some sort of veil between the physical realm and the spiritual one, and that what I am seeing, the same thing so many other meth addicts have seen, is truly and terrifyingly authentic.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, what I see above me seems to confirm the truth of this strange conviction.  The canopy above me is alive with the creatures, but what stuns me is something else, something I have never seen before, in all my many encounters with this bizarre race of people.  I am staring at a vast network of bridges and platforms set amongst the branches, spanning out on all sides, connected to adjacent trees, a huge masterpiece of engineering. I am looking up into a virtual city, stunning in its complexity.  I slowly move my gaze from treetop to treetop, realizing each of them harbors its own set of platforms, connected by wooden scaffolding and rope and plank bridges, a multitude of Swiss Family Treehouses of Terror.   It is as if another layer of the veiling between this world and theirs has been peeled back, revealing further, more elaborate details of their existence.

ishot-1625141A vast assembly of Tree People line these arboreal sidewalks, their twig-like fingers grasping conveniently placed, rough-hewn safety rails, looking down upon me.  As ever, their faces are judgmental, angry, yet motionless.  The sheer number of them, coupled with this crystal-clear view of their aerial, sylvan metropolis is so overwhelming that all fear is pushed out of the way by awe and amazement.

“Jesus Christ,” I  say too loudly, studying the incredibly intricate details of construction. “This is amazing.”

A dog begins barking and a just a few moments later, the front door of the house opens.  A woman, one hand at her chest clutching her white bathrobe closed, stands behind a screen door and peers out at me.

“Who are you?” she demands. “What are you doing?”

I look at her for a moment from my kneeling position on her lawn, and use a head gesture to indicate the veritable city in the treetops.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I ask her.

She is silent for a moment, studying me, and I turn my gaze back to the branches, marveling.

“Go away or I’m calling the police!” she says, as the small dog yaps near her feet.

I turn and look at her again, and she is wearing a mixed expression of concern and confusion.

“Don’t worry ma’am,” I say politely with what I hope is a reassuring smile, struggling for something to say, some piece of information about myself that might soothe her, let her know that I pose no danger.

I used to work for Steven Spielberg,” are the words that finally find their way out of my mouth.

The woman seems neither pacified nor impressed.  She stares dully at me for a moment before announcing, “I’m calling the cops,” then closing the door, muffling the continued barking of the dog.

I stay on the lawn, gaping up at the strange civilization hanging over me, and I feel defeated.  The complexity of these creatures and their feats of amazing engineering and magical concealment convey, finally, the absolute futility of trying to defeat or evade them.  I simply sit there, completely overwhelmed, waiting for them to engage, for them to slither down the great trunk and take me.  For reasons unknown, the creatures simply continue staring at me, but make no move.  Occasionally, a slight breeze moves the air, rippling their leafy robes and tunics.

Suddenly, I hear the sound of a car coming around the curve of the street, behind me.  I tear my gaze from the treetop and see a black and white police cruiser approaching, a bright beam of light from a side-mounted spotlight bathing the roadside as it approaches.  I jump to my feet and sprint across the street, leaping over a small, foot-high stone wall that runs along the top of the steep embankment.   I land on my feet on the sloping hillside, but they immediately tangle in the thick carpet of undergrowth. I lose a shoe, and go tumbling head over heels down the dark slope, tearing my pants and scraping my arms and face.  I land with a thud, deep in a thicket of wild ferns and ivy, and I lay there, panting, waiting to be discovered.   From my prone position, I can see the beams of flashlights at the top of the hill as they pan the ravine, passing over me without pausing. The voices of two policemen are barely audible over the watery rush of the small river below me, and I hold my breath, waiting for them to descend.   The flashlights work the hillside for long minutes, but finally, they are gone.

police+cruiser+at+nightI lie there, my heart racing, the meth almost completely numbing the sting of the wounds on my arms and face.  I feel trapped, the Tree People are everywhere, and I am again at a complete loss.  They seem to be making no move toward me, and the entire darkened ravine is ominously quiet, save for the sound of the moving water.

Overcome with a sense of hopelessness, I reach my hand into my pocket and find the packet of speed. It is too dark to see it, even with my fully dilated pupils, but I can feel the still fairly substantial contents through the plastic, hard and lumpy.  My mind fogged and my body already filled with the toxic substance, I consider the potential lethality of what I hold in my hands.  Despair, guilt, shame and self-loathing collide all at once, and I unseal it and bring it to my mouth, shaking the contents out and into the back of my throat. I’ve heard many times that suicide is option of the coward, but I don’t believe that’s always true.  Removing pain and suffering from the lives of loved ones by eliminating its source seems like a very practical, perhaps even slightly noble solution. I skim the inside of the bag with my finger, picking up the powdery residue, and lick it clean with my tongue.  Dropping the baggie, I close my eyes and wait for it to hit.

I think of my niece and nephews, of my mother, and of course, Patrick. Having long ago forsaken religion, I still attempt to recite a “Hail Mary”, but the prayer sounds strangely disjointed to me, and I’m certain I’ve left out a line or two.    My last conscious thought is the realization that my body will be probably be eaten by scavenging animals before it is discovered, and then I am sucked back under the wheels of the freight train as it returns.  There is no pleasure this time, only great, racking full-body spasms and the certainty that my heart is about to explode in my chest.

Then, nothingness.

In what I am now certain is a dream, I find myself standing shakily on the embankment, surrounded by a legion of bushes and trees and the strange smallish, tree people inhabiting them.  They stare at me solemnly, watching and observing my attempts to stay upright.  The hillside is gently bathed in the pre-light of approaching dawn. “Have you seen my other shoe?”  I ask a short, squat bush whose resident tree person seems, somehow, less judgmental than the others.   It remains silent, and I move on, the dreamscape shifting in the rapidly increasing golden light.  I begin to move up the hill, but am again suddenly overwhelmed by spasms, my body tightening in a cramp that seems to start at my feet, jerking its way through my entire body. I begin to retch, great hacking waves that produce nothing.  I am overcome by a wall of lightheadedness as the hazy dreamworld around me rocks and rolls in undulating rhythm.

Then, in an almost filmic smash-cut, I am running down a long corridor paved with asphalt, following a white line past tromp l’oeil murals of suburban orderliness lining the long walls on either side of me.  Huge, metallic prehistoric beasts race down the corridor in both directions, blaring terrible trumpet sounds as they zoom past.  Somewhere, a dimmer switch is slowly turned up and the corridor grows brighter with each moment, illuminating a beautifully painted ceiling of bright blue and gray.  As I move forward down this surreal hallway,I pass a man walking a dog on my left, and he calls out to me, his words unintelligible.  I wave to him, smile and keep running, one-shoed, squinting into the ever-increasing light that grows in intensity until I am blinded by the whiteness.

The dream jump-cuts suddenly, and I am now sitting, inexplicably, in the back seat of my mother’s minivan.  Patrick is driving.  My mother is riding shotgun, her hand pressed against her forehead, sobbing softly while Patrick caresses her arm soothingly with his right hand.  On the seat beside me, reinforcing the bizarre, dreamlike nature of my current state, sits our wire-haired terrier mix, Shekel, who looks rapidly from me, to Patrick, and back again.  The bright glare of the morning sun glints sharply off the car window, blinding me again.

I turn to look at Shekel, who is staring at me.

“You fucked up again, didn’t you?” says the dog. Despite his harsh words, I am grateful to see compassion in his watery black eyes.

self pics copyA flash of light and he dream shifts once more to a kaleidoscope of chrome and white and glare. I suddenly become aware of pressure on left arm. In the distance, I hear an agonized, hoarse screaming, echoing as if shouted into a canyon.  A small circle of color in the center of my bright, white field of vision grows wider and then wider still, until it becomes a woman’s face – dark complexion, stern –  hovering over my own.  The field widens even further again to include a strange man, in some sort of uniform.  The man is tying my arm to a silver bar of some sort, and I suddenly recognize the screaming voice as my own, hurling obscenities.   I note that my body is thrashing, bucking and jerking against the hold of four-point restraints.  The woman’s mouth moves, and the words seem strangely out of synch with the movements of her lips.

“Hold his arm still.”

A sharp pricking of my left forearm, and within moments, the dream begins to fall in upon itself, the alternating concentric rings of reality and delusion constricting and expanding, until they eclipse each other fully, and I slide back into darkness.

PLEASE DON’T DIE: sober musical interlude #7

Generally, the sobriety-related songs I post on this blog are ones that I find inspirational, the kind of songs that I listen to as encouragement as I live my life, one day at a time, as a clean and sober man. “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone…” and “ooh child, things are gonna get easier,” are the kind of lyrics that fill me with hope and joy, and give me strength to continue this oftentimes challenging adventure in sobriety.

Sometimes, however, I need to hear a song that reminds me of what it was like when I was using, when I was the anti-Midas:  turning everything I touched into giant piles of shit and sadness.  This song, “Commercial for Levi,” by the alternative band Placebo, perfectly captures the sadness, the darkness, and the indiscriminate hyper-sexuality that I experienced when using crystal meth.

As I’ve written before, I’m a chronic forgetter: in the past, when I’ve managed to put together some clean time, I had a propensity to conveniently forget what it was REALLY like out there, and would find myself continually relapsing because I’d romanticize my relationship with speed. For all it’s dangers, my crystal meth binges felt like some fast-paced, edge-of-my-seat paranoia themed NC-17  thriller movie. In which, of course, I was the star.  Sobriety, however, can sometimes feel less like a sexy action thriller and more like C-Span 2 with its frequent lack of drama and pervasive chaos.

At these times, when I find myself longing to be back in Crazy Town: The Movie, I listen to this song and it’s dark, dirty lyrics. Its cryptic title is a nod to the band’s sound technician, who once saved lead singer Brian Molko’s life when Molko stumbled – drunk and stoned – into the path of an oncoming car.

So, for all my friends (and  all the people I don’t know) who continue to struggle with addiction – and recovery – I echo the song’s simple sentiment: Please don’t die.

(lyrics below video)

You’re the one who’s always choking Trojan
You’re the one who’s always bruised and broken
Sleep may be the enemy
But so’s another line
It’s a remedy
You should take more time
You’re the one who’s always choking trojan
You’re the one whose showers always golden
Spunk & bestiality well it’s an Assisi lie
It’s ahead of me 
You should close your fly
I understand the fascination
The dream that comes alive at night
But if you don’t change your situation
Then you’ll die, you’ll die, don’t die, don’t die
Please don’t die
You’re the one who’s always choking trojan
You’re the one who’s always bruised and broken
Drunk on immorality
Valium and cherry wine
Coke and ecstasy
You’re gonna blow your mind
I understand the fascination
I’ve even been there once or twice or more
But if you don’t change your situation
Then you’ll die, you’ll die, don’t die, don’t die
Please don’t die x 4

I Think I Can Make it Now: Sober Musical Interlude #6

Last night, I dropped acid with my buddy Brett.

Okay, that’s not technically true: we grilled some chicken, drank Italian sodas from Trader Joe’s and watched Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element – but in sobriety, watching that film totally counts as an acid trip.

I can’t speak for Brett, but I know I had a great time.  Great conversation, great company, a mind-trip of a movie. AND I got to bed at a decent hour. AND I remembered the entire evening when I woke up this morning. Even more astounding, I didn’t do or say anything last night that I need to be ashamed of today. I kept my clothes on. I didn’t accidentally or intentionally break anything. I didn’t humiliate myself or offend my guest in any way. And perhaps best of all, it was a one hundred percent vomit-free evening.

I had a good time last night and woke up today without a headache. Before 9 AM.

When I opened the sliding door into our backyard to let the dogs out for their morning pee, this is what greeted me:

IMG_1417

Bright sunshine, the smell of jasmine, and the knowledge that I am blessed beyond comprehension. It truly is springtime: in my backyard, and in my heart.

Tomorrow will mark nine months of complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and my world just keeps getting brighter.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way 
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind 
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) 
Sun-Shiny day. 

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone 
All of the bad feelings have disappeared 
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for 
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) 
Sun-Shiny day. 

Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies 
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies 

Follow Jesus or Go to Hell

 

BillboardJesusNOVEMBER 2006:

The Ford Explorer glides down the Grapevine, the nickname given the last giant slope of the mountain range that separates Southern California from the state’s Central Valley.  We dive  headlong down through the perennial blanket of grey clouds that hang, depressingly, over this place in the winter months.  It is late November, and I am headed back into  a cultural and emotional wasteland of vineyards, orchards, endless pastures and bland, uninspiring towns with bland, uninspiring names like Earlimart and Goshen.  I am heading into the valley of my youth, the place I struggled for years to escape.  I am heading into this place that evinces only feelings of hopelessness, despair and floundering restlessness.  But perhaps most agitating of all: my mother is driving the car that is taking me there, against my will.

My head resting against the passenger window, my tired eyes half-register the still-familiar scenery as it passes by: the angled furrows of plowed fields creating a strobe-like visual effect: grain silos, occasional clusters of cattle, and an abundance of weathered Christian and Pro-Life billboards, one of which proclaims block-letter loudly:  “Follow Jesus or Go to Hell.”  With its wealth of agriculture – endless expanses of orchards, cattle ranches and vineyards – a stranger might find this part of the Golden State charming, at the very least.  There is nothing remotely charming about it to me, though, having grown up gay and closeted in this dust-bowl-migration-settled, ultra conservative, west coast buckle of the bible belt. To me, living here had always felt like being involuntarily enrolled in an intensive, years-long study of The Art of Not Belonging.

I steal a surreptitious glance at my mother, studying her through a thick haze of lingering antipsychotic medication and simple exhaustion.  I see a nearly sixty-year old woman who I love dearly, and my heart breaks for a moment as I think of the pain and worry I have caused her.  The sadness is immediately replaced by a bitter resentment, and I realize that I blame her, on some level, for this journey I do not want to be taking.

If she hadn’t been so willing to agree…no, collude with Patrick’s demand that I go directly to live with her instead of coming home with him, I might have been able to convince him, once again, that I would change. I’d get clean, I’d go back to program, I’d do anything. I promise. I promiseI mean it this time, I’ve learned my lesson!  Instead, upon being released from the Psych ward at Glendale Memorial just a little over an hour ago, walking through the parking garage with Patrick and trying to tear the plastic ID band from my wrist, I noticed my mother up ahead, standing next to our Explorer.

Which, strangely, was parked next to our CRV. Why were both of our cars here? Confused at first, happy in that moment to see her, I started to speak.

“Mom? What are…”  Then, I noticed that the back of the Explorer was packed to the roof liner with my  belongings. I saw, among the hastily stuffed-in piles of clothing pressed against the back window, the grey power cord of my iMac snaked along the glass like some bizarre modern art meets herpetology exhibit.

So, it was done. After 13 years together, our home was no longer going to be my home.

I had thought about resisting, about gathering some of my clothes and belongings that were within arms reach (why, thank you – so convenient!) stuffing them into a bag and heading out on foot to Sycamore Park near our Mount Washington home. I’d slept on occasion in a small gully at the back of the park that backed up to the 110 freeway a few of the times when Patrick had grown frightened of my behavior and changed the locks.   Even in the summer, though, it was a noisy, sad, uncomfortable existence, and I had little desire to seek refuge there on a cold winter night.

I turned and faced Patrick, and said icily, “Fuck you.”

I waited for the pain to show on his face, the usual sharp flinch, the heart-breaking “please, I love you, don’t talk to me that way” crinkle of his eyes. By now we were both fairly  used to this routine. But this time, all I saw was steely resolve in his eyes, in the angry set of his jaw.

Shit, I thought. He’s serious this time.

Then his eyes had suddenly welled up, and as he opened his arms and took a step forward,  I had my words ready: another “fuck you,” for certain, and  maybe a “don’t you fucking touch me, you bastard.”

Then, I realized he was moving to hug my mother, not me. Then suddenly they were  both crying, holding each other tight, shaking and sobbing and annoying the living hell out of me.

They’re crying?  I’m basically being kidnapped…yes, kidnapped – freshly freed from a weeklong lunatic pajama party – and  forced to move back to fucking shithole Turlock with my mother and they’re crying? What kind of bullshit was this?

I wanted to punch them both, grab them each by the hair and clank their heads together hard, three stooges-style. Instead, I climbed angrily into the passenger seat, started to pull the door closed, then stopped to yell hoarsely, “you’d better have all my stuff in here or I will drive back and fucking steal every fucking thing you own, you stupid motherfucker!” 

______________________________________

Now, as the Explorer forges north into the valley, I feel another surge of anger at this woman who has been interfering for so long in my private life.  Every relapse, every hospitalization lately has ended with a visit from my mother. Her visits are so frequent that I’ve become jealous of the close relationship she has formed with my partner, even as my relationship with him has deteriorated. Huddled at the kitchen table, talking in whispers, a clearing of throats and sudden silence when I’d enter the room. Conspiracy, it felt like. Still feels like.

Fortunately, in this moment, I am  too numb to lash out at her.  The last three weeks – the meth binge, the psychosis, the police, the involuntary commitment and the inundation with sedatives and antipsychotics have been so completely enervating, so absolutely soul-destroying, that there is no fight left in me. Finally, I am out of options, I have burned every bridge, and I am too depleted even for tears.

I redirect my gaze to the two lanes of Highway 99 as they fly by under the hood, and my hazy consciousness drifts,  fighting off the panic and despair that threaten to overwhelm me completely.  I can’t beat back the feeling that I am heading in the wrong direction, in every sense.  Literally,  figuratively, metaphorically, emotionally, physically.  The sense of failure, the sense of loss, grows with every mile that we place between this vehicle and Los Angeles…and Patrick.  But I can’t think about Patrick right now, because I know that what he is feeling at this very moment is not despair.  I am as certain as I am of anything right now that what he is experiencing is a feeling of relief.  Relief that I am now someone else’s problem, relief that he can focus on putting the building blocks of his life back together – without fear that the giant, ham-fisted toddler I’ve become will knock them over again.

Turlock gets closer with every minute and it is almost too much to comprehend that I am going back there, involuntarily, to live with my mother.  I am returning in disgrace to a place I’ve regarded with resentment and distaste for as long as I can remember.  I am broke, I am sick, and I feel like I will never be right again.  Too much has happened, too many people have been hurt, and I have disgraced and debased myself far beyond the human spirit’s capacity to heal.  It feels as if I am being driven to my own death, and the greatest sadness I feel is the knowing that death probably won’t come, that I might actually have to live through whatever it waiting for me at the end of this drive.

I’ve learned over the last few years that even death doesn’t take me seriously: I’ve courted it, pleaded for it, smoked, slammed, fucked and sucked my way  towards it.  I’ve fallen into comas on it’s doorstep, but have always been pulled back at the last minute by some intervention, some quirk of circumstance: Patrick arrive home a moment before the flatline, a crack team of paramedics, a skilled surgeon, or the simple genetic factor of a former runner’s horse-strong heart.

I startle as I see a face in the reflection of the sunlight in the windshield, glaring at me, gently shimmering along with the light.  I close my eyes, open them again, and it is gone.  The faces have been with me for years now, watching, judging, condemning.  Always silent and vaguely malevolent, they have stared back at me from mirrors and other reflective surfaces.  Gradually, over the years of my methamphetamine use, these faces have grown more threatening, and have slowly become more three-dimensional, more solid in form, often half-human, half-animal.  Recently, I have begun to hear them whispering to me. Urging me to suicide, reaffirming my worthlessness, heartily concurring that I have no good reason for which to live.  The antipsychotics dished out in the mental ward over the past couple of weeks – the Seroquel, the Risperdal – successfully diminish these apparitions and their voices, but have not eradicated them completely. 

The drive continues in silence, and at some point I fall asleep, lulled into slumber by the continued monotony of the landscape.

I wake up when the vehicle stops, three hours later, and I realize we are home.  More precisely, we are at my mother’s house, the house I grew up in and which I still reflexively refer to as home even though I’ve not lived there for over 20 years. I silently vow that I will never, ever make the mistake of calling this place home. Home is the house in Mount Washington, home is the house where my dogs Jane and Steve and Sherman live.

As she turns off the ignition, my mother looks over at me, and she makes an obvious attempt to mask her concern with an overenthusiastic smile.

“We’re here,” she says, a little too brightly.

“Yup,” I reply grimly, looking away from her and back at the green, nondescript tract house.

“I know your brother is looking forward to seeing you,” she almost chirps, a cartoon Disney bluebird terribly out-of-place in this sordid pulp fiction reality.

structurally, the house is exactly as it has always been, since it was built in 1976.  The contents have changed over the years, walls repainted, floors re-laid, but the essence of this house and the people, situations and emotions it held are still stunningly intact.  The presence of my father, who was divorced from my mother years ago and has since moved to Louisiana, is still apparent in the some of the disturbingly bad Do It Yourself work.  Small things – crooked bookshelves, an unevenly tiled bathroom floor – still provide stark evidence of his apparent inability to wield a level or read a tape measure correctly.

My younger brother, Rob, greets me in the living room.  He and his fiancé have temporarily moved back in with my mother while they save money to buy a house, converting the two-car garage into a large living space.  His welcome is almost too cheerful, as if he’s been practicing it in the mirror to make it sound convincing. I study his eyes, and I discern immediately that the figurative “Golden Boy” sash I’d worn for so many years is no longer just stained and frayed, but has vanished completely.  I have always been the one in the family who tried everything, and succeeded at most of it. I was the individualist, the non-conformist, the sexual adventurer, the one who shared  exciting stories of a life lived without fear or provincial, prudish limitations.

Now, I am the sick one, the jobless one; the one who makes our mother cry.

My almost-two-decades parole from this place – my own personal hell –  has been rescinded , and it is time to begin paying for my sins.

You Are The Light: sober musical interlude #5

Rebirth, resurrection, renewal.  As I approach the end of my third trimester of sobriety, I can’t help but note that the timing of this holy day…my first wholehearted celebration of Easter Sunday  since the age of thirteen….seems absolutely perfect.

I too feel reborn.  I’m learning to experience real joy for the first time in years, without drugs or alcohol.

I am so grateful today.

This song should require no explanation.  Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, meet my beautiful friend Maria:

 

I Love You, Jonathan Bierner

The man who helps me stay clean and sober every single day has begun his own blog. Please give it a read, and perhaps a follow: http://jonathanbierner.com

Though I can’t talk specifically about how I’ve stayed clean and sober for nine months, I can say that after ten years of failed attempts, THIS time around, miracles started happening almost immediately even before my sobriety date of July 7, 2012.  It actually began months before, when my lovely friend Maria introduced me to her friend, Phillip. Phillip and I quickly became friends as well, and when just a few months later I found myself drowning – yet again – in a meth-induced ocean of psychosis and despair, Phillip is the person I reached out to for help.

Sequoia Camping Trip, August 2012: Jonathan B. (left), Me, and Mykee B (right)….these guys help keep me clean and sober every single day, and have been there for me without fail when I’ve needed a shoulder, a sounding board, or just a hug. I love them both more than words can express.

Phillip then introduced me to what I call my Tuesday night family, where I found people like myself, people who are facing the same struggles and who will love me until I am able to love myself. (I’m getting there, btw. After nine months, I’m starting to feel the relief of liking myself.  Loving myself is close on its heels, though, I can feel it.)  Not long after meeting this amazing group of people, Phillip needed help moving out of his home in the Hollywood Hills, and one day in late July of this year, I met Jonathan for the first time. We were charged with moving a refrigerator out of the basement of the house and up an incredibly small, rickety wooden outdoor stairway to street level.  The stairs jogged back and forth three times at sharp right angles, making it a nearly impossible task (The 110 degree temperature and 6,000% humidity that day didn’t help a bit either, nor did the fact that I was borderline emaciated and a bit addled, having so recently abandoned the pipe.)

It was the most unpleasant of circumstances, but this guy Jonathan, wiry and handsome, made it tolerable with his sense of humor and hilarious, wry asides.  Later, riding in the U-Haul truck together to a storage facility deep in the San Fernando Valley, boundaries worn away the exhaustion of a day of intense heat and physical labor, we  began to talk.

The commonality of experience was almost mind-blowing, and before the day was over I had asked him to be my guide as I began to navigate the choppy waters of early sobriety.

He’s walked beside me these past nine months every step of the way, and has quickly become more than just a friend. He is my family: taking my phone calls whenever I need his guidance, sharing his wisdom and strength with me, and calling me out on my bullshit when it’s necessary. Also of great importance is his ability to make me laugh, even when crying feels like the more logical option. The truth is that I couldn’t do this sobriety thing if I couldn’t laugh about it on occasion, or find a bit of over-the-shoulder amusement in some of the pitiful and incomprehensible situations my crystal meth addiction placed me in.

Yesterday, Jonathan celebrated eight years of clean and sober living. He marked the occasion with an incredibly honest, brave and intensely personal Facebook post and blog entry of his own. I want all of you to know this amazing man who has played a large part in not only saving my life, but enriching it and opening my eyes to the joys of living a clean and sober existence Please give it a read and leave a comment of encouragement, and follow it if you enjoy reading smart, brave writing.  Also, if you enjoy my blog even a tiny bit, you could also thank him for that, because without him I would never have found my way back to my creativity.

I love you, Jonathan.

http://jonathanbierner.com

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