Category Archives: alcoholism

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.)

The Dating Game

meth freeYesterday, I attended Gay Pride in Los Angeles for the first time in over 12 years, and for the very first time completely clean and sober.

It was an interesting day: I spent much of it volunteering for a recovery-oriented organization: setting up and decorating this organization’s booth, stringing twinkle lights, handing out pamphlets. It hardly felt like work, though, being surrounded by so many also-recovering friends and making so many new ones.

It was all going well until around 3 PM, when my husband called from home to ask me a question.

I had to strain to hear him over the din of the crowd and the thumping bass from multiple DJ’s scattered all over West Hollywood Park, but by hunching over behind a tree and cupping both hands around the phone and my ear, I could make out what he was asking:

“Andy, why is there a can of butane on the shelf in the service porch?”

I knew exactly what can he was talking about. It was yellow with red printing, and was about as tall as a thermos but much thinner. I’d purchased it last spring, while I was still using, to refill the torch I used when smoking crystal meth.  I had kept it hidden…though easily accessible…under my desk, in a box of receipts and other paperwork, and I’d forgotten it when I finally got clean and sober on July 7th, 2012. It had remained there, in hiding, until this recent cleaning spree, at which point I discovered it. My initial, reflexive instinct, upon finding this can of butane, was to throw it away before Patrick saw it:  If he sees this can of butane, he’ll think I’m using again.  

That was followed by another thought:  “What if he sees this bright yellow can of butane in the trash? He’ll think I’m hiding something from him.”

Mind you, all of this went through my head in less than ten seconds. Ultimately, realizing that I have nothing to hide, I decided to place the almost-full can of butane on the shelf in the service porch with all the other cans and bottles of cleaners, solvents and miscellaneous toxic chemicals. I continued cleaning my office and didn’t give it another thought.

Until yesterday at 3 PM, when Patrick asked what it was doing there. I could tell from his voice that he was trying to sound light-hearted, like it was just a casual question along the lines of, “did you pick up the bread from supermarket on your way home?”  But having known this man for twenty years, I could also hear the slight note of dismay under the lightness of tone.

I responded in a reassuring voice, explaining how I’d come across the butane while cleaning my office not long ago, and that he didn’t have to worry, I hadn’t relapsed…I’d purchased the can last year when I was using and that it had just been taken out of hiding. Nothing to worry about.

I waited for him to sigh with relief.

Instead, however, he dropped a bombshell:  “Then why does the manufacture date say October 4, 2012?

I was dumbfounded. This had to be a joke. I even asked him if he was joking.

“No, I’m not joking. There’s a stamp on the bottom of the can, and it says “Manufactured on October 4, 2012.”

“But…I got clean in July. That’s not possible. I bought it last year. I swear to God, Patrick.”

Even in the face of seemingly incontrovertible evidence, Patrick held out hope that I wasn’t, yet again, lying: “I’m sure there’s some logical explanation,” he offered. I could actually feel the hope in his voice, the wanting to believe me.

But the date was there, stamped onto a can, screaming “he’s lying again!”

I started shaking, standing there in West Hollywood Park, surrounded by people celebrating.

butaneThe rest of the conversation is already a blur in my memory. There was panic, there was a feeling akin to having relapsed, there was the old self-loathing and shame of having been caught in a lie. I’d lied to Patrick so many times about being clean when I was actually back on the pipe, and now it was happening again.  I felt nauseated, I wanted to cry.  I began to get angry the way I used to when I’d been caught out and knew the jig was up. But there was a difference:

This time, I knew I hadn’t relapsed.

Which made it worse, because no matter how loudly or angrily or tearily I proclaimed my innocence…the fact remained: The can of butane I’d retrieved from under my desk had not even been manufactured until four months AFTER i’d stopped using all drugs and alcohol.  It was my word versus some factory date-stamping machine, and I already knew which of us had the most credibility on this particular issue.  It was like Gay Pride and The Twilight Zone had converged suddenly, and I was wracking my brain for some explanation.

The idea of Patrick at home, listening to me rambling on asking ridiculous questions like, “maybe they post-dated the can? do they do that?” made me so sad I could barely stand it. I knew I hadn’t lied to him, yet I knew that as long as that fucking can with that fucking date existed, he would never be able to believe me.

And that is when things got really strange.

As I’ve written about in previous entries, my drug use brought me to some dark places: hallucinations, paranoia, delusions….not to mention great swaths of memory that seem to have been completely erased.  Which means that even though I’ve been (mostly) in my right mind for many, many months now, I still have trouble trusting my own perceptions. Confronted with that “manufactured date,” I began to doubt myself and my own memory:  Had I relapsed on meth and forgotten about it?  Was that possible? Is my  brain that fucked up?”

The only thing I knew for certain was that I had to get home and try to figure out how the fuck a can of butane I purchased in the spring of 2012 had a manufacturing date of October, 2012 stamped on its bottom.  I made some hasty goodbyes to my friends, fought my way through the crowds and back to my car.

Driving home down Melrose Avenue, I burst into tears.  I knew in my heart I hadn’t relapsed. And even though I have a brain that deceives me sometimes, I started to realize intellectually as well that I hadn’t relapsed, and here’s how I knew: I am not capable of using meth “just once.” Or even just a few times. If I had relapsed at some point, I could not have forgotten it, because that one relapse would have stretched on for weeks or months, or until I crashed and burned in a fiery cloud of secrets and psychosis. I have never used meth just once or just a few times and then stopped.  I’d proven that to myself and everyone who knows me time and time and time again for ten years straight. I am a meth addict, and a hardcore one.

Just as confidence in my own recollection and in the integrity of my sobriety was slowly returning, my cellphone rang. I saw Patrick’s face staring up at me from my iPhone, and I momentarily considered not answering.  But that’s called avoidance and that’s old behavior.  So I picked up.

“Yes?” I said, expecting more accusations, in the manner that they would seem to pile on in the past.  First he finds the butane, then he goes looking for something else to back up his theory that I’m using again. I’m half expecting to hear him demand I take a drug test when I get home, and I’m ready to tell him to go buy one and I’ll take a drug test any damned time he wants me to, when I hear his words:

“Honey, I made a mistake.”

Excuse me?

photo“This butane was manufactured in Asia…they do their dates differently, like in Europe. It wasn’t manufactured on October 4, it was manufactured on April 10.  The date on the can is 10.4.2012, but in China that means it was made in April. Not October. I’m so, so sorry.”  I hear the pain in his voice, his sadness at having freaked me out so badly.

The Twilight Zone episode ends so suddenly my breath is almost taken away. I burst into tears, and start blubbering a bunch of stuff I can’t remember. Stuff about being mad at Patrick, but not being mad at Patrick, because Patrick was reacting the way anyone who’s been lied to consistently about this kind of thing would react.  Stuff about being angry with myself for doubting my own brain…my own memory…my own sobriety.  Then, came relief that this bizarre mystery was solved. Relief that even though it had felt akin to a relapse, my sobriety was still solid.

I told Patrick I’d talk to him later, and called my friend Jonathan, who helps guide me through this recovery.  I explained what had happened, and his calm approach to the situation calmed me further. As I always do when I get off the phone with this man, I felt much more centered.

I went home, then to the gym, and later….the stress gone from my system, I returned to pride and resumed my shift at the booth i’d volunteered to work. From that vantage point, I got to witness the full drug and alcohol spectrum: sober people, people who can drink but aren’t alcoholics, and the severely alcoholic or drug addicted…the latter group stumbling sloppy and slurring along the path in front of our booth, looking both sad and ridiculous and presenting a better argument for sobriety than any pamphlet could ever hope to do.

When I got home late last night, my husband had posted a mea culpa via his Facebook status:

“I earned a gold medal in conclusion jumping today. To be fair, I got thrown by the different Gregorian dating systems used in the world today. (mm/dd/yyy vs dd/mm/yyyy). Learn from my error and never assume foreign dates follow our system.”

I am so blessed to have this man in my life. When I told some people about the incident last night, there were a couple who responded by saying, “um, you have eleven months clean and sober..he should trust you by now.”  I disagree. After so many years of constant, bold-face lies, the fact that he is still here and he still loves me and that he still hopes for the best for me and  has provided me with support and love when I’ve most needed it gives him a pass in the ‘absolute trust’ department.

I’m the recovering addict, I’m the recovering liar. The burden of proof, the responsibility of mounting a defense, even when it comes to stupid fucking Chinese butane can manufacturing dates, is on me.  And just like that long-forgotten butane can, I’m sure there are other buried secrets I’ve forgotten about that may rear their ugly heads unexpectedly. But I’ll deal with them as they arise, and hopefully I won’t let them freak me out as badly as this one did.

I’m just happy to have been acquitted, and so quickly.

The Morning After: sober musical interlude #10

The-Poseidon-Adventure-006There’s got to be a morning after
If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let’s keep on looking for the light

As a gay man of a certain age (f@ck it, I’m 48) who is feeling rather emotional today, I ask your forgiveness in advance for what promises to be a sappy, overly sentimental  post.

This song, from the 1972 film “The Poseidon Adventure,” has…like so many other songs…taken on new meaning for me in recovery.

The film itself also seems like a metaphor for recovery…a group of people whose lives have literally been turned upside down, struggling against all odds to climb from the wreckage and reach the sunlight again. We extend our hands to those coming up behind us, and we accept the hands held out to us by those above us. Some of us make it, others don’t.  There’s no telling by appearances who will survive. In this film – as in recovery – being a star is no guarantee of making it out alive.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s been a rough week for many in the Los Angeles recovery community. One of our own did not survive, a man I didn’t know well but have hugged and spoken to on Monday nights for the last few months. He was a man who had, forgive the expression, star power. A leading-man appearance. And , like Gene Hackman in the film, we were shocked and stunned by his unexpected death.

If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with your addiction, if  your day feels dark with that tidal wave of hopelessness bearing down on you, if the water is rising quickly around your ankles, hang on.  Call someone. There’s no shame in reaching out. If you know me, call me. 

There really is a morning after…so keep climbing.

It’s not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It’s not too late, not while we’re living
Let’s put our hands out in time

There’s got to be a morning after
We’re moving closer to the shore
I know we’ll be there by tomorrow
And we’ll escape the darkness
We won’t be searching anymore

But For The Grace of God

I’m in a sad place today.

I was going to write about this last night, but changed my mind. This morning, still sad, I changed my mind again:  I’m going to write about this because I need to write about this.

I learned last night that a man I knew in recovery died after relapsing this past weekend.

I’m not going to pretend I knew him well:  Several hugs, some shared smiles, and things I learned about him from when he’d share with our Monday night group. That’s all, really. He was around my age, handsome, very physically fit, and had a 100-megawatt smile.  If I had been forced at gunpoint to choose the next person amongst our group to relapse…let alone die….he would not have been anywhere near the top of the list.

So, I’m shaken. I know others who have been in recovery longer than I have dealt with this frequently…that’s just the nature of being part of a large fellowship of people with an insidious, cunning, baffling and powerful disease…so it might not hold the same level of shock for others that the passing of this man does to me. Or perhaps it does. I don’t know. I can’t imagine these things get any easier, regardless of how long one has been clean and sober.

I’ve always known that my next relapse could be the end of me, and this brutal reminder, this “there but for the grace of God” tragedy drives that fact home.  I’m so, so saddened for his family, and for our mutual friend who shared the news of his passing last night. So much senseless pain. Such a waste of a glorious human being.

As our mutual friend said last night while imparting this horrible news to all of us, it is sadder than sad that this gentlemen did not reach out to someone before he relapsed. I hope and I pray that if I ever find myself on shaky ground, that I will do just that. Call my friend Jonathan, call my friend Mykee, call my friend Phillip. Call anyone.

I have to remember at all times that the foundation of my sobriety, while strong at the moment, is built upon a fault line.  As someone who lives in earthquake territory, I know how to prepare for a temblor of the literal kind. I also need to focus on being prepared for an upheaval of the other kind, remaining ever-vigilant.

I hope my friends in recovery know that I’m always here for them, and that there is no shame in reaching out for help. Please, just do it BEFORE you pick up that pipe, that needle, that bottle. Can we just make that deal now? I’ll call you, and you can call me?

I plan on honoring the memory of this man by stepping up my program of recovery and making sure I never, ever become complacent….and by picking up the damned phone and calling people, even when it’s the last thing I want to do.

RIP, Todd. You were beautiful.

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the waters getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

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.

Power On Little Star: sober musical interlude #9

“And if you only make it one more day
Well it’s one more day than you threw away
Power on, anyway “

This song, by the prodigiously talented Maria Mckee, is one of my go-to recovery songs. I listen to this on repeat on those particular days when it all seems like it might be too much, on those days when self-doubt creeps in. Those days when I wonder if I’ll be able to do this sobriety thing forever. If I’m worth the work. If there’s too much darkness imprinted on my cerebral cortex to ever really live fully in the light again. The days when the demons of self loathing swarm all over me, laughing at my crows feet and the beginnings of middle-age paunch.

This song gives me the strength to, well…power on.

Also, the fact that it’s the words and voice of Maria, a friend who inadvertently helped me find recovery after so many years of trying…makes it all the more sweet.

Power on with your dying breath,
Power on, no regret.
With the fuse that was lit,
By the breaking of your spirit,
Power on, don’t quit.

And the things that made you
Want to trade in your heart,
Are the very things that
Made you who you are.
Power on, little star.

Power on til you know yourself,
From the voices in your head,
From the bruises and welts,
Power on, like hell.

And if you only make it one more day,
Well it’s one more day,
Than you threw away.
Power on, anyway.

And though you may never make a mark
Or live your dream,
Well at least you may live
To make peace with the memories and defeat.

With a heart that will be slashed,
And your dreams that will be dashed,
Like a weather stain,
Like a sad refrain,
Power on, my little babe.

 

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.

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.

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

Demons Who Drank With Me: Sober Musical Interlude #4

As part of my recovery, I try to find songs that inspire me and provide a sense of hope for the future.  I add them to my “recovery playlist” on my ipod, and occasionally share them here. There are times, though, when I need to hear a song that reminds me of what it was like when I was using. As author/philosophist George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

I am a chronic forgetter: in the past, when I’ve been clean and sober for a respectable amount of time, I ‘ve tended to  forget how bad it was when I was “out there.”  I’d begin to regain a sense of power over my drug use. I’d stop investing in my recovery, and slowly (or sometimes at the speed of light) slip back into my disease.

With Table for One, the typically provocative singer/songwriter Liz Phair eschews controversial lyrics and viewpoints, crafting instead a first-person account of one man’s life as an active alcoholic. Though crystal meth was my drug of choice, the feelings this song elicits are pretty much the same ones any addict feels when living in their disease: loneliness, shame, hopelessness.

This time, I’m going to remember to not forget.

Give it a listen (lyrics below):

I’m walking down in the basement
I’m leaning on the washing machine
I’m reaching back through a hole in the wall’s insulation
I’m pulling out a bottle of vodka
Replacing that with a pint of Jim Bean
I’m lying down on the floor until I feel better

It’s morning and I pour myself coffee
I drink it til the kitchen stops shaking
I’m backing out of the driveway
And into creation

And the loving spirit that follows me
Watching helplessly, will always forgive me

Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those demons who drank with me
Feasting gleefully
On my desperation

I hide all the bottles in places
They find and confront me with pain in their eyes
And I promise that I’ll make some changes

But reaching back it occurs to me
There will always be some kind of crisis for me

Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring back all those moments they stole from me
In my reverie
Darkening days end

Oh, I want to die alone
With my memories inside me
I want to live that life
When I could say people had faith in me
I still see that guy in my memory

Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those people who drank with me
Watching happily
My humiliation

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