Category Archives: Crystal Meth
Ugly inside of me
Taught me of beauty
I wouldn’t trade that work of art
for all the silk of perfect skin…
i’m a scarlover too
and I’m full of scars like you
– Maria Mckee, “Scarlover”
I stare at it in the bathroom mirror, using the back of my hand to clear the fog from the glass. It stares back at me: a slight, pink vertical line starting just below my navel and disappearing into the unruly thatch of pubic hair, where it continues for another inch or so, invisible save for periods when I’ve been a little over-enthusiastic with my manscaping chores.
Or, more accurately, one of my scars.
I have several, each one a pockmarked or discolored reminder that I was once a daily user of crystal methamphetamine. There’s the small depression near my chin, nearly invisible now thanks to regular injections of Juvaderm to plump up the crater. I can still see it, though, and each time I shave I am reminding of the weekend I spent holed up in my bedroom, smoking crystal meth and trying to ignore the gradually increasing chin-itch that seemed to come out of nowhere. Within hours it had blossomed into an inflamed lump resembling an engorged and angry zit. The next twenty-four hours were spent squeezing it, compressing it, scratching at it – trying to express the contents – to no avail. The lower right side of my face burned and swelled so large there was no longer any definition between my jaw line and my neck. I pressed bag after bag of frozen peas against the hot skin, seeking relief. I continued to smoke my meth pipe, though, and by the time I sought medical help and learned it was a MRSA (staph) infection, the damage had been done.
There are also several dime-shaped patches on my left thigh that refuse all attempts at tanning, also the result of a staph infection I left untreated for far too long, picked up repeatedly from my drug dealer’s sheets, those times I traded sex for drugs in his filthy, worst-episode-of-hoarders-ever apartment. Repeated hospitalizations and IV Vancomycin treatments (the “antibiotic of last resort,” my doctor called it) were required to bring the MRSA super-bug into submission. Yet, each time the infection would be vanquished, while the abscess would still be healing, I’d score more meth and continue my marathon of self-destruction.
The Juvaderm and time have faded these scars perceptibly, and though they are reminders of a past that I do not, as we say in recovery “wish to shut the door on,” they are my lesser scars that are very rarely commented on by others.
It’s the stomach scar that remains the greatest reminder of my life of addiction, the most profound physical memento of a life lived selfishly, a life not worth living at all, a life that were it not for the grace of God and the love of those who were still able to love me when I most needed it, would have been extinguished long ago.
When I was still relatively new to using meth, just before entering my second stint at rehab at Glendale Adventist Alcohol and Drug Services, my appendix ruptured. Being high on meth constantly, however, dulled any warning pain I should have felt. Instead, I entered rehab filled with shit not only metaphorically, but literally. As the toxins from my intestines seeped into my bloodstream, I developed headaches of increasing intensity, reaching a point where any source of light would bring me to near blindness and induce excruciating, head-crushing pain. My inability to focus, my temper exacerbated by physical agony, I was eventually asked to leave due to a pain-induced verbal outburst I directed at the head of the facility.
It took several more days after leaving to be diagnosed, and incorrectly at that. I was given a spinal tap, and meningitis was discovered. I was hospitalized, antibiotic treatments were begun. Late at night, my first night at Huntington Memorial in Pasadena, I began to feel feverish. My stomach, which oddly had not given me much pain at all until this point, began to swell, harden, and turn a deep shade of blue. Peritonitis had set in, the ruptured appendix having gone completely unnoticed until this point. I was rushed into surgery with a 104 degree fever, and my family was told there was a chance I would not survive.
I did survive, obviously. I remember the surgeon standing over me in the recovery room, telling Patrick that after removing my internal organs from my abdominal cavity, it had taken six liters of fluid to clean the toxic sludge from them. I discerned a look of disgust on his face as he said this, and to this day am not sure if he was disgusted by the procedure, or by me, this filthy meth addict whose filthy insides he had just been forced to root around in for several hours.
I came to suspect the latter, as the wound began to heal. He had done a piss-poor job at sewing me up, though in more charitable moments I’m willing to forgive him since the surgery was unplanned, and of course, because it saved my life. In less spiritually evolved moments, I hate him for his brutal handiwork: an incision that looked like it had been done with a bottle opener, and rough stitching that appeared to have been done using packing twine, creating the appearance of a dress shirt with one of the lower buttons in the wrong hole.
It’s faded somewhat over the last ten years, of course, but it still troubles me. Sometimes I shudder, it appears so grotesque to me. When I point it out to people, usually when I catch them noticing it, they invariably tell me it’s not nearly as bad as I think it is, yet I rarely believe them.
I stared at it again this morning, this twelve-year old scar, reaching down and pulling the bisected sides of my lower belly taut, re-creating the flat, smooth stomach of my pre-addiction years, the sliced-in-two abdomen that no amount of dieting or sit-ups will ever be able to fully flatten and smooth again. Many times, I’ve contemplated cosmetic surgery to enhance its appearance. I have always discarded the idea, eventually.
Because underneath the revulsion, another feeling usually surfaces, pushing the revulsion aside, at least temporarily. It’s a feeling instigated by my program of recovery, a feeling I rarely had regarding much in my life, even with the multitude of blessings that have always surrounded me, even in my darkest hours: gratitude.
I’m grateful I survived.
I’m grateful to understand that I have never been perfect, I never will be perfect, and that perfect is no longer an ideal I need to strive for.
I grateful I’m alive.
I’m grateful to be surrounded by love and friends and family. My days are spent helping others dealing with far more pressing issues than the vanity of looking good in a swimsuit. I have God in my life, I wield love with the same passion I once wielded a glass pipe, and I am so very grateful for every bleak moment of my addiction, because having lived in darkness for so long, I am uniquely qualified to help others find their way out of it, too.
I can point to my scar, this souvenir from my trip to hell, and I can talk to others about where addiction took me. I can then speak to how recovery saved me.
At this moment, as I write this, I am grateful even for my scar.
Take me with all of my beautiful scars
I love you the way that you are
I come to you with all my flaws
With all my beautiful scars
With all my beautiful scars
Love me with all of my flaws
My beautiful scars
“I’d like a single room. Upstairs, if possible.”
The desk clerk, a thin, pale man with shoulder length, scraggly hair rose from the chair behind the counter and moved toward me.
“I’ll need your driver’s license, and also the plate number from your car if you’re parked in our lot,” he said..
I fished my license out of wallet and handed it to him, and he began punching my information into a computer.
“How many nights?”
I was flying pretty high, and my hands had trembled when I had handed him my license, small beads of sweat dotting my forehead and upper lip. I avoided eye contact, and instead pretended I was surveying the small lobby: tiled floor, small rattan couch with flowered padding, two dusty plastic Ficus trees in the corners. Having been here many times before, there really was nothing new to learn from looking around the room. I turned and focused my gaze through the glass front doors, watching traffic stream by on Western avenue.
“Okay, sign here” he said. “And put your license plate number here. That’ll be 145 dollars for the two nights.”
I turned back to face him, scratching my signature onto the small card he was proffering. I added the license plate number of my white Ford Explorer, and handed it back to him along with my credit card.
He punched some more information into the computer, and then produced a small white keycard.
“I put you in room 233,” he said, handing my credit card back to me.
“Great. Thanks,” I said, and offered a smile that my muscles made but my mind didn’t feel, then hoisted my backpack onto my shoulder and turned towards the door on the left. A moment before I reached it, the clerk pressed a button and the door automatically unlatched. I gripped the knob, turned it, and walked through into Tweakerland.
The Coral Sands hotel sits on a long, deep lot situated on busy Western Avenue in Hollywood, just north of Hollywood Boulevard. Its two-story, brick façade has only one notable design feature: the six white columns that support a faux lattice-railed sundeck running the length of the top of the structure. These columns have the look of a design afterthought, giving the Coral Sands the appearance of an institutional building trying, and failing miserably, to look like a plantation house. Sandwiched between two large, bland stucco apartment complexes, it is relatively unknown to the general Los Angeles population, although it has stood here for decades, sixty rooms filled to capacity on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday night.
Amongst the L.A. gay community, however, the Coral Sands is infamous..
The hotel has long walked a duplicitous line in terms of marketing, advertising itself as a “semi-resort.” Its website describes “sixty spacious rooms surrounding a landscaped private courtyard, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, daily maid service, direct dial telephone and color televisions. All of this is true, and the grounds of the Coral Sands are actually rather lovely, well manicured, with palm trees and blankets of flowering Bougainvillea filling the long, deep courtyard, which is lined on all four sides by two stories of rooms. The pool, though small, is sparking blue, and the Jacuzzi, situated dead center, is large. Everything in this sunny, tropical themed courtyard speaks of diligent maintenance.
It is however, what goes unsaid on the website that makes the Coral Sands notable. This establishment may call itself a “semi-resort,” but almost every gay man in Los Angeles knows that this place is, crude as it may sound, is a drug and fuck den, the establishment equivalent of a skid-row crack whore masquerading as a librarian.
I walked into the sun-filled courtyard, taking in the lushness of my surroundings. A few men lay on the chaise lounges that flanked the pool, wearing either towels or small.. too-small… speedos. As part of the attempt to make the hotel appear respectable, small signs expressly forbade nudity in the courtyard. This made little difference, however, since a quick scan of the rows of rooms lining it revealed men standing just inside their rooms, fully naked, peering out and shooting glances of invitation to those outside or standing in other doorways. A small parade of men, some dressed, some with towels around their waists, slowly made their way around the walkways on both levels, occasionally stopping at an open door, sometimes entering, sometimes stopping to watch whatever spectacle was taking place inside, and sometimes moving on.
I found my room on the second floor, entered and closed the door behind me, securing the safety latch. Tossing my backpack on the bed, I went into the small bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face, then filled one of the small plastic cups with tap water and drank it down, knowing that hydration is an oft-neglected requirement of extended meth-use sessions. I returned to the room.
For all the implied luxury evident in the courtyard, the rooms of the Coral Sands were decidedly Spartan. Grey, industrial grade carpet, mismatched wall hangings, and garish, blue-grey swirled patterned bed covering. Stiff, bland curtains covered the large window overlooking the courtyard, a small mini-fridge in the corner, an ancient wall-unit air conditioner. A chipped veneer table and two chairs with worn orange padding in front of the window. An equally distressed night table sporting cigarette burns next to the bed. A smallish TV mounted to the wall near the ceiling, a long mirror mounted at on the wall at bed level. The air was redolent with stale cigarette smoke and some disinfectant cleaning product. There were no non-smoking rooms at the Coral Sands Hotel.
There had been a time in my life, not so long ago, when I had regarded this place with disdain. “Coral Sands” had existed in my lexicon as a punch line, synonymous with losers and the truly pathetic. “He probably lives at the Coral Sands,” I’d say in regards to a particularly lecherous person hitting on me at a bar, and my friends would laugh. We all knew what it meant, though none of us, as far I as knew, had actually been there.
Now, here I was, and rather than disgust, I felt a strange form of comfort. In the way that derelicts gather and form community on the downtown streets of skid row, so did we, this band of tweakers and sex-addicted gay men. The only difference is that we could still afford to shell out money to stay here, this ersatz sex-clubhouse. Having lived with guilt and shame and self-loathing for so long now, being in a place with others just like myself provided a sense of peace, a judgement-free zone. Here, I could indulge my addiction with impunity, I could lock the world outside, and I could do what I did best: get high.
Opening my backpack, I pulled out my swimsuit, then quickly stripped my clothes off. I studied my body in the mirror, liking what I saw. The speed had meticulously chiseled away all the excess fat from my body, which tended towards stockiness, and the muscles underneath were revealed, chiseled in a way that only speed, steroids or starvation were capable of. A few speed bumps – angry red welts – dotted my thighs and my forearms, but I wasn’t too concerned about these, since most committed tweakers got them and there was little judgement from others about these blemishes. Also, I had taken to packing a cover-up stick with me wherever I went. It is a by-product of heavy meth use, and the euphoric, disjointed, distortion of perception, that I could look in that mirror and not be horrified by what was truly reflected back at me. Years later, I would look at photos of myself from that time, shocked to see how I really appeared. I weighed no more than 155 lbs (I had weighed 165 in high school), the skin of my face hollow and sagging from the precipitous weight loss, my eyes bloodshot and filled with some indefinable emptiness, as if they were looking not at the camera, but through it and past it. At the time, though, I honestly thought I looked good.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I pulled my stash from the side pocket of the back pack, laying out the almost complete 8-ball, the thick stemmed glass pipe and the butane torch on the night stand. I fished around and found the refill canister of butane and placed it in the drawer.
After several deep, thick hits from the pipe, I got up, grabbed a stiff, scratchy towel from the bathroom, and exited the room to join the slow parade of the undead.
It is dark now, a day later, and I have spent the previous hours hooking up with numerous men of all description. When I’m using, I don’t have a “type”….the two requirements being that they are not physically repulsive and that they are also tweaking. Another preference is that they have their own stash of drugs, as sharing allows my own party to continue for a longer period of time. At the Coral Sands, there are enough candidates who match these fairly low standards to keep me busy for days on end.
I am sitting, nude and cross-legged, on the bed. A man, close to my own age, also unclothed, sits across from me. He is thin, though not as thin as I, his muscles almost comically defined. His fairly handsome head is shaved, and tattoos litter his body. I am leaning forward, holding the torch to the glass bowl he is inhaling from. I don’t know his name, and frankly, don’t care.
“Roll it,” I say.
He gently rolls the bowl back and forth, the liquefied meth sloshing gently inside the glass bubble.
When I’m sure he his lungs are full, I pull the torch back, and turn it off, set it down at my side. I lean in towards him, and he immediately recognized the gesture and obliges me by putting his mouth and against mine and exhaling the vapor into my mouth, which I suck down into my lungs. Our faces stay pressed together, and when I can no longer hold it, I release it back into his mouth, his lungs. This ritual, called shotgunning, continues for a few more inhale/exhales until there is no more to share.
The pipe carefully set aside….god knows the number of glass pipes I’ve broken by stepping or rolling onto them…we move towards each other and begin giving in to the sexual firestorm that the speed has ignited. Our bodies writhe against one another, gripping, stroking, humping, our skin wet with speed sweat and hot to the touch. It is all-consuming, this kind of sex, so much different from the act that normal people call “lovemaking,” so much different from the kind of sex I remember once having. There is no love here, obviously, only two men reduced to the status of rutting animals, each aware only of his own twisted desires, yet chemically duped into feeling as if we’d known each other forever.
His hand slides down my back, and he asks, his voice guttural, “do you get fucked?”
“No,” I reply, reaching back and moving his hand away from my ass.
“No,” in this instance, means “not by you, not now.”
Although I had been almost ludicrously hell-bent on self-destruction for several years now, three suicide attempts and numerous overdoses to my credit, I still retained a primal fear of AIDS. Yes, it was true that there were many times I wanted to die, to end this fucking nightmare that seemed to go on and on. But I certainly didn’t want to die THAT way. I’d watched too many friends in the eighties and nineties succumb to the horrible plague, and even in moments of the most clouded judgement, I’d tried to exercise some basic precautions against infection. The fact that even minus the HIV virus I was currently emaciated, spotted with sores and addled by recurring drug-induced psychosis didn’t occur to me. I wasn’t going to die of AIDS, period.
“Come on, let me fuck you” he cajoled. “I’m negative, I promise.” There were no rubbers available, and this stranger was not going to fuck me in the ass.
“I’m negative too,” I say, “and it’s because I don’t get fucked without a condom. Sorry.”
He didn’t persist, and I was grateful that it didn’t seem to be a deal-breaker for him. We continued for a while, until the rush from our last hits from the pipe began to subside, at which point we disengaged and pulled back from each other, complete strangers once more.
“Want another hit?” I asked.
“I’ve got a better idea,” he said, wiping beads of sweat from his shaved head.
“Yeah?” I asked, anticipating that he was going to find an excuse to depart, having been denied his request to fuck me.
“I’ve got some G in my room,” he said instead, and grinned at me. “You want to do some?”
I’d done G – short for Gamma Hydroxybutric acid – many times before, and loved the way it made me feel.. A compound that has been used in medical settings as an anasthetic, it worked as a perfect compliment to the heady, speedy rush of the meth. It took the already amped-up sensation of raw carnality and brought it to an altogether new level, turning the acute, frenetic hyper-awareness of tweaking into a warm, fireball of intense sensuality.
“Sure” I said. “Would you mind bringing it back here?”
“No problem,” he said.
“And would you grab some orange juice for us to take it with?”
The Coral Sands had a small table set up near the courtyard entrance, free stale donuts and a large urn filled with orange juice. This served the dual purpose of appearing at once as a complimentary amenity and at the same time allowing the tweaking residents of the hotel to keep their blood sugar up. I’m sure the management of the hotel had dealt far too often with the results of meth users forgetting to eat for several days.
“Sure,” he said, wrapping his towel around his waist and slipping out the door, closing it behind him.
Alone in the room, I took the opportunity straighten out the bedcovers, which had become dislodged and disheveled. I rinsed off quickly in the shower, soaping my body clean of the rank smell of metabolized meth, dried off quickly and went back to the bedroom to wait, half expecting the stranger to not return, knowing how easily distracted tweakers can be.
Using a remote, I flicked on the tv and perused the only channels that were offered: three closed-circuit hardcore gay porn flicks. Unlike Los Angeles bathhouses, the hotel, by presenting itself as a legitimate “semi-resort,” seemed unconcerned about presenting even the illusion of mandating safe sex practices. At bathhouses: Flex, The Melrose Spa, The Hollywood Spa, signs hung on walls throughout lecturing patrons to engage in safe sex practices only. Those engaging in unsafe practices, these signs warned, would be ejected from the premises. Large bowls of condoms were available everywhere, each room supplied with several upon check-in. These rules, of course, were never enforced, but at least a pretense was made. At the Coral Sands, there were no such warnings. The porn that played on all sixty televisions in all sixty rooms were, for the most part, the hardest of the hardcore, what is known as bareback porn in gay parlance. No rubbers, no protection of any kind.
Two sharp knocks on the door, and the guy is back.
He is carrying a large, clear plastic Dixie cup of orange juice, and has his own backpack slung over his shoulder.
I take the juice from him, and re-distribute it evenly using the plastic cup from the bathroom.
As I stand next to the bed holding the cups, He fishes through his backpack and finds a clear plastic vial that is about the size of a small can of Red Bull, and half-filled with a clear liquid. I’ve never seen such a large amount of G before, and make the fairly safe assumption that this guy is dealing the stuff here at the hotel.
“It’s not too strong,” he says, and I watch him measure out a dose using the bottle’s cap, dropping it into one cup of orange juice, refilling, and dropping another dose into the second cup.
I hand him his his, and use a finger to stir the juice in my own, knowing from experience how unpleasantly bitter GHB can taste.
“Cheers,” I say, and we click our plastic cups together, then down the contents in one long draught.
I climb onto the bed with him, and we hold on to each other, and wait for the ride to begin.
I am eight years old. I walk out into the sunshine of a beautiful Long Island summer, my eight-year old legs jumping off the side porch and carrying me around to the back of the house, my playground of trees and shrubs and frogs and caterpillars and all things loved by eight year old boys everywhere. I spend a lot of time alone, being painfully shy, and in this yard, filled with trees and shrubs and damp, dark places, I create whole fantasy worlds in which to get lost for hours on end. I collect caterpillars, I throw bullfrogs into the swimming pool to watch them swim. I am eight years old.
It takes about twenty minutes for the G to take effect, and I am suddenly engulfed in wave after wave of incredible warmth, my body literally writhing with pleasure. The room grows smaller, my sense of space diminishing until my entire world is limited to what I can feel, what I can touch, what is touching me. My eyes close, and I hang onto this stranger beside me and ride the electric current pulsing through my body, fireworks of red and orange exploding behind my closed lids. I force my eyes open, hold them open through sheer force of will, trying to cling to consciousness. The intial rollercoaster drop gives way for a moment, and I manage to croak:
“Not too strong…are you kidding me?”
And then the next wave hits and all I can do is groan and undulate uncontrollably.
The room, lit only by the flickering porn on the tv, suddenly begins to darken even further, and I realize that I am beginning to go under. I panic, my body’s undulations turn into spastic jerking, trying to find purchase as I slip headlong into the darkness of the g-hole. It is futile, and I capitulate, my small world twirling in upon itself until all is black, all is silent, and I am gone. Absolutely gone.
I am eight years old. The back wall of our small house in Smithtown is lined with thick hedges, and because the house overhangs the basement by a few feet, a natural tunnel exists…a long, fairly dark crawlspace, basement windows on one side and thick hedge on the other, on two feet high. This is my secret hiding place, sixty long feet of dark, east-coast humid earth through which I can crawl, exploring, fantasizing. I am Gilligan, leading the other castaways from the headhunters to safety through a volcanic tunnel. I am Captain Kirk, buried alive and with only a few minutes of oxygen remaining. I crawl, hunched over, the knees of my tough skins blackened by the moist earth and rotting leaves. I feel safe here, in this, my first dark place. I am eight years old.
I return to consciousness slowly, pulling myself out of the g-hole with much effort. My body is rocking, though I don’t know why, can’t see or hear clearly enough to fully comprehend my surroundings.
My vision slowly coalesces, and mere inches from my face is the face of the stranger, this man who minutes (or was it hours?) before had been laying next to me. Now he is on top of me. He is IN me.
I am eight years old. I shuffle, hunching thorugh the tunnel, approaching the sunlight at the end. “Almost there!” I say to myself, or perhaps to Ginger, to the Professor, or to Mr. Spock. I emerge from the overhang of the house, stand up, squinting as my eyes adjust to the sunlight. Suddenly, I notice movenmnet on my chest. I look down, and see, clinging to the fabric of my white hanes t-shirt, a monster. A praying mantis, a prying mantis of a size that only someone who grew up in the moist environs of the east coast, could appreciate. Fully six inches long, The gargantuan creature stares up at me, waving giant pincers, its long, mottled gray body perfectly still. I try to scream, but I am too scared. I want to run, but I know it will go with me. I want to flick it off, but I’m terrified to touch it. I am eight years old, and there is a monster on my chest. I close my eyes, waving my arms about , until my mother notices, and comes out the side door and knocks the giant insect from my chest with the bristle end of a kitchen broom. I am eight years old, and I have just met my first monster in my first dark place.
I wrench myself out from under him, confused, terrified, panicked. It is not until I am crouched, pressed back against the headboard, pillow clutched defensively and pathetically in front of my bent knees, that I realize there are others in the room.
Two other men, naked, stand next to the bed, watching, touching themselves. Another sits in the shabby chair by the window, smoking a cigarette.
I want to scream “I told you NO!!,” but even before it I know how ridiculous it would sound coming from a tweaker like me, how very Meredith Baxter-Birney Lifetime Movie ridiculous.
Instead, keeping my voice measured and trying not to betray panic or distress, I simply say, avoiding any eye contact, “I think I’m done….would you mind leaving?”
Two of the men dress, pulling on their clothes from where they had discarded them on the floor. The other two simply wrap towels around their waists and depart, the sun from the open door pouring into the room, blinding my drug-sensitized eyes momentarily.
It is not until they have all left, until I am alone in room 233, that I let the panic overtake me.
I scramble from the bed and into the bathroom, turn on the shower and jump in without waiting to adjust the temperature. I use the small bar of soap to scrub furiously between my legs, my head still pounding from the G. I scrub myself until the small bar of disinfectant hope is fully dissolved, until dizziness overtakes me, and I slide down against the plastic wall of the small shower. My body shaking with sobs, my mind filled with visions of Kaposi sarcoma lesions and hollow faces wasted away by disease. My fear escalates as I wonder how many of those men had used me while I was unconsciousness. And though I pray to a God I don’t yet believe in that it was only the one, I know one is enough: I’ve absorbed the letter if not the spirit during my multiple rehab stints and am keenly aware of the grim statistics regarding HIV infection in methamphetamine users.
When the water has begun to run cold, and there are no more tears, I dry off zombie-like and go back to the room.
Kneeling next to the bed, I retrieve my backpack and find my cellphone and turn it on. There are over 20 messages from Patrick. I don’t listen to them, don’t want to hear the panic or disappointment in his voice. I’ve had many messages from him of this sort, his voice trembling with either fear or anger. “Andy, where ARE you?”
I dial our home number, and he answers on the second ring.
At first, I can not speak, my crying beginning anew. I can’t get words past the sobs.
“Andy?” I hear Partick’s voice, sounding simultaneously relieved and angry. Still, his voice reminds me of what I have lost, what used to be. It reminds me of goodness and kindness, clean sheets, honesty and morality. It reminds me that I am 39 years old, and still crawling into dark, God-less places and emerging with monsters on my chest.
My crying intensifies.
He listens, says nothing, and finally I’m able to get the words out:
“Patrick, I’m in trouble.”
Today is day 97.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I’ve struggled with sobriety for a long time. Since 2002, specifically. During that time, I’ve been both a chronic…ie, daily…user, and I’ve also been a binge user (using for short periods of time, then stopping for either years or months).
Therefore, I’ve had many “97 days” in the past, each of them a different experience: some relatively easy, others that were much more difficult.
THIS 97 days has been, without exaggeration, the longest and most difficult 97 days of my life. Not because of the persistent delusional thinking and paranoia my meth use induced, not because of the fear those symptoms inspired, and not because of the physical side effects of the psychiatric medications I’ve been taking to deal with all of it.
It’s been the most difficult because this time around, I truly value recovery. Remembering the joy I took in simple sober existence before my catastrophic relapse makes this experience of trying to regain my health all the more frustrating. Having had…just a little over three months ago… the gifts of self-confidence and lightened spirit has made this current fumbling and clawing towards inner peace all the more bitter and frustrating.
The paranoia lasted a good portion of those 97 days. The irrational feeling that I was being observed at all times, that I was being followed by cars everywhere I went via some tracking device implanted either on my person, on my vehicle…or just via my cellphone’s GPS…is exactly the same each and every time I use crystal meth. In the past, however, this delusion has waned after several days off the drug, several weeks at most. This time, the terror persisted for almost three months.
Initially, I was prescribed the anti-psychotic Risperdal to deal with the psychosis. In the past, this has been my go-to drug for these symptoms: very few side effects, and very fast-acting. This time however, it made barely a dent in the paranoia. I kept taking it, though, praying it would kick in and begin to ease my body out of its constant flight-or-fight state of anxiety and tension.
The paranoia grew to such a fever pitch that I would stand inside my doorway before leaving the house, saying a prayer of protection, quoting scripture: “There is no fear in (God’s) love. (God’s) perfect love casts aside all fear,” before venturing down the stairs, to the car port and into my Honda CRV. I’d grip the steering wheel and pray my way to a recovery meeting, arriving a nervous wreck, literally shaking with fear. I did this almost every night, and early on, each and every drive was a new experience in terror. Everything I saw on the road applied to me, somehow. One night, on the way home from a meeting, a car pulled in front of me and began driving slowly…far too slowly to not be trying to annoy me, it seemed. A bumper sticker ran the length of its rear, reading “Slow as Fuck.” A message to me, obviously, that I had not and could not learn my lesson: that each time I relapse, these cars will be there to torment me. Cars with one headlight were suddenly everywhere, and there was a stretch of time when I could not drive anywhere at night without being tailed by a truck with its brights on, blinding me until I would finally flip the rear-view mirror up towards the roof liner and continue driving without being able to see behind me. On the day I celebrated 30 days of sobriety, another car pulled in front of me, driven by an older man. The car was red, a nondescript sedan of some sort, with two silver, melted-soldering-material numbers affixed to its trunk: a three, and of course, a zero. 30. Helicopters were suddenly constantly overhead, and fire emergency vehicles seemed to be everywhere as well. It felt like some secret society had decided that I was an undesirable of some sort and needed to be tormented.
While I knew, intellectually, that I was in psychosis, it felt absolutely as if it were really happening. It still feels as if it really happened, if I’m to be completely honest. And as anyone who has experienced methamphetamine psychosis will tell you, it always will to some degree.
Websites claiming the existence of citizen vigilante/surveillance groups…(like this one)…did not help. Other recovering addicts recounting, almost exactly, the same types of experiences also made it difficult to eschew them as pure delusion.
I felt wracked with shame for a while, for my meth-fueled sexual indulgences, and it seemed as if all of these people in these cars were trying to further shame me. It was debilitating. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically.
In the midst of this insanity, an angel in human form stepped into my life. A friend, who I’d only ever communicated with via text messages and who lived primarily in Las Vegas, came to Los Angeles to deal with some business concerns. Also in recovery, he saw immediately the scared look in my eyes, my tensed body posture. I could barely communicate, being on the verge of tears or rage or an emotional breakdown almost constantly. For almost two weeks, while my brain healed, Rob would drive me to recovery meetings every night. He would check in on me every morning. Initially, in the throes of paranoia, I suspected he might be one of “them,” charged with gathering further intelligence that could be used to torture me psychologically. Like a seasoned delusional stalking victim, however, I played along, occasionally feeding him misinformation in order to confuse my tormentors. What he thought about me during that time, barely two months ago, would probably embarrass me to no end today if he were to be completely honest with me about it. Eventually, of course, we forged a friendship out of this crucible of insanity, recovery meetings and the drives to and from them.
I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for this man. My suicidal thoughts would come and go back then, appearing suddenly from nowhere and then disappearing again, just as fleetingly, to be replaced by a flicker of hope. The flicker was usually lit by Rob, whose sense of humor is not only ribald but absolutely irrepressible. I’d find myself laughing at something ridiculous he would say, my mind temporarily diverted from the fear and the hopelessness.
I can never repay Rob for the gift he gave me: taking a paranoid psychotic meth addict and friending him almost by force. I believe he saved my life, and he joins the ranks of others who have given of themselves to help me: my husband Patrick, my friends Mykee, Phillip, Le Maire and Maria, my recovery guru Jonathan, my mother, and a small handful of others who have tolerated my insanity and walked with me through the darkest corners of my self-created shadow world.
The paranoia lasted so long this time that I actually began to get used to it. After two months, the fear was mostly gone. I still felt like I was being followed, still noticing things that seemed beyond mere coincidence, but I just didn’t care anymore. Abject fear melted into apprehension. Much of that had to do with the shame beginning to dissipate. Yes, I’d engaged in dark behaviors, but nothing that isn’t going on in a hundred thousand households even as I type these words.
Last week, I switched anti-psychotic medications, and am now on a small dose of a drug called Abilify. It began working almost immediately. With those results, however, came some profound side-effects: dizziness, sleeplessness, and…disappointingly, for someone dealing with sex addiction issues…increased libido. It also makes writing difficult, and this blog entry has taken me hours to write when before it would have taken twenty minutes. It’s all worth it, of course.
The entire episode, the full three months of terror, has been worth it in some ways.
I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that even in my most fearful moments, I am brave. I am not the type of person who is prone to self-compliments, I am definitely more of the self-effacement variety. Yet, somehow, during these months of hell, I managed to face my fear each and every day (sometimes with the help of Rob, God bless him) and drive to a meeting. I refused to give in, refused to give up. I still do. I know from past experience that the paranoia will continue to return when least expected, but that doesn’t scare me. This feeling of being hunted, real or imagined, no longer bothers me. I’m a human being, fallible as every other human being. I’m a sexual being, and I no longer feel shame about that fact. God made me the way I am, and God makes no mistakes. I will eventually learn from my fuckups, even if I am a slow learner…(yes, slow as fuck sometimes)…and I will continue to make new mistakes. But I am committed to making them in sobriety, and to dealing with the repercussions promptly.
I have also learned even at my sickest, I am valuable, I am lovable. Thank you, Rob, for all you have done and continue to do for me. Maintaining sobriety can sometimes feel like a never-ending war, and I am so grateful to you for being at my side for the duration of the first great battle of this..hopefully my last…period of sobriety.
I have 97 days today of honest recovery, and I am proud of each and every fucking one of them.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog entry, and because of that I’ve received quite a few messages of concern from readers wondering how I’m doing .
The answer is “I’m doing as well as can be expected.”
I have 83 days of recovery under my belt this (and God willing, my last) go-round.
It’s not been easy this time: I did so much damage to my mental health that it’s been a long, slow slog back to sanity. I have some great days, I have some good days, I have some bad days, and I have some truly awful and terrifying days. Fortunately, the great and good days are growing in number as I slowly regain my traction in the world of the living, in the sunlight of the spirit.
I’m still on a strong dose of anti-psychotic medication, which is working…though not as quickly as I’d hoped. This medication has helped alleviate much of the paranoia, though not all of it. The downside is that it makes me feel a little slow, a little mind-muddled. Writing, one of the things I do to maintain sobriety and process my thoughts, is supremely difficult.
The good news is that I’ve been rigorously honest with myself these past 83 days, laying the foundation for a new kind of sobriety, one that will hopefully withstand the seismic force of my newly admitted triggers and compulsions.
Also promising: my newfound reliance on prayer, and the keen awareness that I am surrounded by love and support. There have been many days when I’ve been so tightly gripped by fear that it was difficult to walk through my front door and out into the world. Even this, it seems, has provided a benefit for me: I’ve learned that I am a man of courage. There have been so many days when I’ve wanted nothing more than to just curl up in bed and pull the covers over my head, yet for these past 83 days I’ve forced myself to attend recovery meetings almost every day, sometimes more than once. The drive to and from them has frequently been filled with paranoid terror, yet I’ve gripped that steering wheel and prayed my way to the safety of the meeting and then home again. That may not seem like much to anyone who hasn’t experienced post-meth paranoia, but for me it has been like climbing Everest every single day. Yet, I’ve done it…and on the bad days, I continue to do it.
Today, I am grateful for the hard lessons learned from the consequences of my relapse, and grateful for everyone who has made me feel safe with their love and their friendship.
Today, unlike a month ago, I no longer feel suicidal. Today, I have hope that my mental health will return.
Today, I feel confident that I can maintain my sobriety…a stronger, deeper sobriety than my previous attempts: one forged in the crucible of honesty and sheer terror.
Today, I feel worthy of love. Today, I have put aside my shame. Today, I feel brave even when I feel scared.
Today, I feel God working in my life.
Eighty-three days and counting.
Sometimes it’s a bitch, sometimes it’s a breeze.
Well I’ve run through rainbows and castles of candy
I cried a river of tears from the pain
I try to dance with what life has to hand me
My partner’s been pleasure…my partner’s been pain
There are days when I swear I could fly like an eagle
And dark desperate hours that nobody sees
My arms stretched triumphant on top of the mountain
My head in my hands…down on my knees
Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze
Sometimes love’s blind…and sometimes it sees
Sometimes it’s roses…and, sometimes it’s weeds
Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze
I’ve reached in darkness and come out with treasure
I’ve laid down with love and I woke up with lies
What’s it all worth only the heart can measure
It’s not what’s in the mirror…but what’s left inside
I currently weigh 192 pounds. 45 days ago, at the end of my last meth binge, I weighed 165 pounds. That’s a substantial weight gain in a very short period of time, and it’s freaking me out, so I’m doing what I now do to deal with feelings that scare me: I’m going to write about them, humiliation be damned.
I discovered bingeing and purging back in the early 90’s, when alcohol was still my drug of choice.
It happened by accident, sort of…following a wild night of sweaty, shirt-off dancing at West Hollywood clubs like Rage or the now-defunct Studio One, I’d cruise through a Taco Bell drive through on the way home and hunger-order a bag full of food. Back at my apartment, I’d gorge myself on the carb-fest, trying to soak up some of the alcohol still in my stomach.
The first time, I vomited because I had to. Just too much to keep down while in a horizontal sleeping position. I noticed, however, that in the morning I felt better physically then I usually did following my previous booze and taco supreme over-indulgences. Less bloated, less headache-y. And remembering how easily it had all come up the night before, with just a minimum of effort on my part, I wrote a brain-note to myself: try that again next weekend.
And I did.
My addict brain assured that within weeks, I was bingeing and purging with alarming frequency, and not just following nights out at the bar.
I was twenty-seven years old, and was just beginning to discover that my body could no longer live on a diet of Pepsi and fast food without gaining weight, the way it had done in the past.
I was also in the midst of dating, and frequently. As an insecure gay man shopping in the frequently appearance-is-everything meat market of Southern California, I fretted and obsessed (more addict behavior) about every pound that I would gain, certain that my love handles would be the one obstacle that would prevent me from finding the true love I was sure I deserved.
And so it went, crash dieting, failing at the crash diet, bingeing, eating gluttonous quantities of McDonald’s french fries and Hostess Sno-balls and anything else I could get my mouth on, an alternating out-of-control ,savory-sweet-savory-sweet mastication orgy of self-loathing and despair, followed by the violent, shameful but “I’m back in control” retch of the purge.
This went on for years, though, like much of my addictive behavior, it would subside for periods, often for several months in duration. But it would always return when the insecurities resurfaced.
I became obsessed with the unattainable goal of physical perfection, and the shallowness of that pursuit gradually replaced any concept of spiritual evolution that might have existed before. I began to value myself more for how I looked than for how I behaved.
In other words, my body became more important than my soul.
Even after I was officially rescued from the choppy waters of the dating pool by my wonderful partner Patrick, the old bulimia demon would occasionally pay me a visit during times of intense stress or when I went to pull on a pair of pants that were suddenly so tight they’d make my legs feel like giant polish sausages. That feeling of disgust at myself, that inner monologue would assert itself, loud and on repeat:
“you’re disgusting. You’re fat. You eat too much, you eat more than normal people eat. You are so weak, did you have to have three helpings of macaroni and cheese last night? What are you, a fucking child?”
“GET RID OF IT.”
I went to therapy, at Patrick’s insistence, and it provided a measure of relief, though never total remission. I learned some tools that I would occasionally utilize, and more frequently ignore. My weight would fluctuate from bone-thin to stout to chubby, and back again, over and over. I fucked up my body in profound ways, my metabolism never quite being able to assess its base line and constantly trying to compensate for my self-destructive behavior.
At one point, I even resorted to undergoing liposuction: one of the most painful and truly unnecessary tortures I’ve ever put my body through. I can barely write about that ordeal without cringing, both from embarrassment and recalled discomfort.
Finally though, I found a cure for my bulimia: crystal meth.
I didn’t start using meth as a method of controlling my bingeing and purging, it was simply a positive side-effect of not having any appetite at all. The pounds dropped away, I would pick like a finicky child at any food on my plate.
While my weight stayed low, and the voice of the binge and purge demon was temporarily muffled, other…and more vicious…demons took its place, setting in motion the chain reaction of decades-long damage that inspired this blog in the first place.
The nature of meth abuse is that one rarely eats at all while using, so when one ceases using, the body is in starvation mode and instantly begins to cling to every calorie, every drop of moisture, and bloat and instant weight gain is the result.
Today, I have 45 days of recovery under my belt following my last relapse. They’ve been 45 incredibly difficult days, filled with residual fear and paranoia, self-hatred over my seeming inability to grasp my programs of recovery, and a sense of desperate clarity that this is perhaps my last chance to get it right.
They’ve also been filled with a new sense of God in my life, of hope, of rigorous honesty, and of an often-overwhelming sense of gratitude for those around me who have supported me – and continue to support me – regardless of my cataclysmic fuck-ups.
I am also now battling the binge-and-purge demon once again: that voice that is telling me that the 160 pound, meth-addled Andy is the better, more attractive Andy. The voice that is telling me that I have no self-control, that I will never amount to anything If I can’t even control my eating. The voice that silently whispers to me “do a little speed. no one has to know, and you’ll be able to fit into those jeans again in no time. You’ll be fine, just manage it a little better this time.” Of course, that voice is lying to me, because I am utterly incapable of doing speed without anyone knowing, and of course I have absolutely zero ability to manage my meth use. I am powerless over that addiction, and manageability is the very hallmark of my drug use, whether I’m using it to get high, to lose weight, or for any other bullshit reason my tricky brain comes up with.
I’ve been steadily climbing up out of the pit of relapse, hand over hand, feet finding tentative purchase from which to push myself up higher towards the Sunlight of the Spirit. I will not let the binge-and-purge demon drag me back down.
I still have the tools I learned in therapy a long time ago that will help me deal with my body issues today, to find peace with this nearly 25 pound weight-gain I’ve achieved in only forty-five days off the pipe. I’ve been reading voraciously the stories of those who have also battled eating disorders, and am currently in the middle of actress Maureen McCormick’s brave memoir, “Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding my True Voice.” These stories, and the inspiration I glean from them, are another of my tools to combat my bulimia.
But I have an even better tool, one that I’ve learned in the programs of recovery I use for my other addictions: prayer.
Today, I pray that I can love myself exactly as I am. Today, I pray that I can set myself free from the bondage of self. Today, I pray that I can stop comparing myself to others negatively. Today, I pray for the ability to recognize that I am fine just the way I am, and to understand that there are those who struggle with weight because of medical conditions, genetic pre-dispositions or other factors, and that my obsession with body-image is just as self-destructive as any chemical I put into my body.
I pray for constant appreciation of the fact that who I am far outweighs what I look like.
Today, I offer a prayer of gratitude that I still have a body that functions, that is healthy and that has not only been the mode of conveyance for my spirit for 49 years, but has also weathered and survived the punishments I’ve long inflicted upon it.
Today, I am 192 pounds of pure gratitude.
I loudly proclaimed, “I am a meth addict.” I proclaimed with equal fervor, “I am an alcoholic.”
Friends would inquire why I was so open about these addictions, and I would faux-nobly claim that “I am only as sick as my secrets, so telling the world that I am and addict/alcoholic helps keep me sober.” And there was a kernal of truth in that. Actually, more than a kernal…there was a lot of truth in those words.
But I used that truth as camouflage to mask the deeper, darker truth I have always been far too ashamed to reveal: I am a sex addict.
I tried to evade dealing with this fact by using the programs of recovery for my other addictions, hoping that the effects of being free of drugs and alcohol would somehow also carry over and miraculously mute that equally dark and insidious addiction.
For me, admitting that I’m a sex addict is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do in these last twenty-nine days of post-relapse “rigorously honest” introspection.
Saying I’m a meth addict was easy, by comparison: Janis Joplin was a meth addict. Jimi Hendrix was a meth addict. Edie Sedgwick was a meth addict. Even Frances Farmer, my counter-culture idol was addicted…and driven insane…by her reliance on Benzedrine, the 1940’s incarnation of meth. So, it was easy to admit to that particular darkness. One need look no further than the Saint of the Underground Charles Bukowski to glean insight into why I felt it easy to identify as an alcoholic.
But sex addiction? Who are the role models of that particular compulsion? David Duchovny? Great actor, but no thanks. Assorted family-values spouting congress people? Sexting Political aspirants? Ugh, no way.
Yet, there it is: the ugliest of ugly truths: I am addicted to sex. Namely, pornography…unless I’ve combined that with my other drug of choice, crystal meth. At which point my rusty old moral compass…which functions to some degree, though it often requires a little shaking to get it to point due north….begins spinning out of control like a child’s pinwheel on a breezy day.
I’ve lied to myself for years about my consumption of pornography. It doesn’t hurt anyone. It doesn’t hurt me. It keeps me from acting out with people other than my husband sexually.
All lies. Lies I knew I was telling myself, but chose to believe anyway.
Watching porn, I realize, opens up a chasm in my better nature…one that I am prone to fall headlong into…a spiritual pit that can take me days to climb up and out of. And it has never kept me from acting out sexually, particularly when combined with the chemicals I am also addicted to.
This last, most brutal relapse of my long and storied relapsing career was triggered by sexual compulsion, as have pretty much all of my returns to active using and drinking.
I can’t pretend any longer that porn hurts no one: I’ve heard too many shares in the rooms of recovery from former or current porn performers who have spoken of the pain, the degradation, and the darkness that enveloped them while working in that medium. I no longer want to satisfy my own carnal desires by soaking in the pain and poor choices of another lost child of God.
Certainly there are some free spirits who do porn who have no spiritual compunction about doing so, but I doubt any of them are doing this as a first choice. Some have probably felt they have run out of other options, some are desperate, and some see no problem with it until the demons of drug addiction and alcoholism sneak up on them. And some, of course….like me…are sex addicts acting out. To view even ONE of these people degrading themselves…to derives pleasure from this degradation….no longer sits well with me. I dated a porn “star” prior to my relationship with my husband, and I saw first-hand the exploitation of the spirit that particular career engenders.
I am certainly no anti-porn crusader…many people can view pornography without it being a precursor to sexual and behavioral darkness, but I’ve decided that for me…personally…I can no longer watch any of it.
I know where my sex addiction came from, and I’ve written about some of it on this blog before as a way of explaining the dark, sexual places I’ve ended up in from using meth.
My first introduction to sex, in any form…that I’m aware of, at least….came from a tattered brown grocery bag in a relatives house. In that bag were magazines and small paperback books of intensely hardcore pornography. I’m not talking Hustler Magazine hardcore, I’m talking Nazis. Women being raped. Dogs tearing at the flesh of bound women while their captor leered on. I was probably ten years old at the time, and it was both horrifying and titillating, this sudden glimpse into the grownup world of erect penises and this thing…all twisted, no beauty…called sex. I hadn’t gone looking for this bag of darkness, it had been absent-mindedly left next to couch in the house of a relative when I was spending the night on that couch. Or perhaps it had been placed there, intentionally. I won’t ever be sure. Either way, though, it stole my innocence from me with the force of an anvil dropped on my head. There was no gradual dawning of my sexuality, there was no gentle slide into the awakenings of puberty. I knew it all, and somehow I knew I had to keep that knowledge to myself. The great shame manifested itself for the first time that night, and has never gone away completely.
When, a couple of years later, the notorious Father Oliver O’Grady took certain liberties with me, I felt that I had asked for it somehow, that the darkness of the images I had seen a few years before (and would feverishly search my relatives house to get yet another look at those books) had marked me as someone who deserved to be touched by him, as if I were marked by sin. There was, God help me, even a part of me that enjoyed it because it was yet another sexual secret that I could re-hash in my mind while masturbating.
And so it went, a lifetime of seeking out the dark side of sexuality…until I met my husband, Patrick, in 1993. My immediate attraction to him was his sense of humor: watching him perform improv…he’s a genius of the medium, all personal biases aside…I was doubled over with laughter during my first trip to LA’s legendary Groundlings Theatre. As I got to know him, though, I saw a gentle soul, a patient soul…a good soul. His soul felt to me like the antidote to my own with its own dark, troubling secrets.
Though for the first seven years of our relationship I continued to battle my sex addiction (though I would never have admitted to that affliction back then, not even with a gun pointed at my head), and engaged in periodic anonymous infidelities, I knew for the first time a feeling of love, of what sex could be without shame and without guilt. I have never felt more loved, more like a good and decent person, than when I am with my husband, a man who loves me unconditionally, who understands the origins of my shame and my compulsive sexual behavior.
It was in 2001 that I first began using meth. And from the beginning, the hypersexuality caused by the drug…coupled with the temporary obliteration of shame and conscience…made me fall in love with it.
And so I began my true descent into darkness: God-less hours spent smoking my meth pipe and watching increasingly hardcore and spirit-demeaning pornography, random animal-like assignations with other meth users, sordid sexual risk-taking of epic proportions.
Last year, before I entered recovery following another bout of psychosis…the kind I am currently experiencing….I had a moment of addled honesty, and wrote in my journal:
Friday, July 6, 2012
This has been going on for years. There was never a lot of guilt about it until it involved cheating on Patrick to get my fix, even back when absolute fidelity was expected. AND THATS WHEN THE METH ADDICTION BEGAN. Because with the addition of the meth, not only was the sex more intense and more….enduring? ….it also erased..temporarily, of course, any feelings of shame or regret. And i could indulge in that fantasy of being sexually desirable for hours and hours and HOURS. SO yes… I think i’m addicted to meth, obviously. But I don’t think treatment for it will ever work if I don’t address the Sex Addiction part. Because frankly, that’s what’s always led to a relapse…the desire to be bad sexually.
I found a ___ meeting in Pasadena next tuesday. I’ll be finished with the meth i currently have tonight, most likely…so i’ll be clean for almost three days when I attend. I hope I have the nerve to actually walk through those doors, because it seems so much more shameful to me than admitting I’m a drug addict, which bad as THAT is, at least carries with it an air of artistic decadence or..I don’t know, I’m not articulating this well….it’s just that so many great artists and cool people are also drug addicts. Admitting I’m a sex addict puts me in the same league as…i don’t know, date rapists? Ugh. But I have to do it. The whole Higher Fucking Power thing makes my skin crawl. Maybe it will be different in this kind of group. Or, maybe I’ll be different in this kind of group. Who fucking knows. We’ll see, i guess. I just hope I have the courage to walk into that room and say those words.
Yet, I never found the courage to walk into that room. I started attending a recovery group for my drug and alcohol addiction, and left it at that. And leaving it at that, I now understand with absolute clarity (and with the guidance of a loving Higher Power, which for the record, no longer freaks me the fuck out) that I will never get better unless I address this core issue that I can no longer pretend is only a by-product of my meth addiction. It’s a real problem, all on it’s own, with it’s own mental zip code, and it needs real solutions.
I feel God with me now, who has always been with me even when I didn’t understand that, and I am following his lead. And tonight, he is leading me to a recovery meeting for sex addicts.
I want a healthy relationship with sex, with my husband, with myself. I’ve been blessed, once again, with the grace of negative STD and HIV results that frankly, I don’t feel I deserve considering my actions. The sunlight of the spirit is far too easily damped out by the shame of sexual compulsion, and I will have no more of it. I am tired of blaming the past for my mistakes of today. Time to get out the courage fan and blow away the storm clouds of shame, once and for all.
As always, please keep me in your prayers.
Love and recovery to all seeking it,
So, the struggle continues. Paranoia, fear….battling daily…no, hourly…the consequences of my relapse.
I’m fighting them, however, with a sturdy well-stocked arsenal of love, prayer, recovery and fellowship.
I’m also fighting them with songs that uplift my spirit, that keep me in touch with all that is good in the world.
This song, but the amazing Sinéad O’Connor, is one of my favorites at the moment. The title is a reference to an obscure Arabic expression meaning, loosely translated, “the sun shining through a break in the clouds.”
The lyrics apply, as well, and with little of the twisting and contortion often necessary to fit them to one’s current circumstances.
This song, for me, represents my feelings about my recovery…this journey I’m taking with my Higher Power, and with my trudging buddies, my vast network of friends in the Los Angeles recovery community.
Pre-recovery, before I learned that there’s a better way to live than by numbing myself and my pain with drugs and alcohol:
I used to have no walls around me
I was too free, if that’s possible to be
No safety, is what I mean
No solid foundation to keep me
Now, still in fear, but finding glimpses of light…my Higher Power, my friends, and tiny bit of hope:
But the sun’s peeping out of the sky
Where there used to be only gray
The wolf is getting married
And he’ll never cry again
The gentle lifting of my spirit when I’m embraced by another in a recovery meeting, the hope I have found in those who have found freedom from the bondage of drugs and alcohol:
Your smile makes me smile
Your laugh makes me laugh
Your joy gives me joy
Your hope gives me hope
And, finally, the dark humor I share with other recovering addicts and alcoholics regarding my plight, their plight, their journey, my journey. No darkness of mine goes unmatched in the rooms of recovery, and the laughter we share over things the rest of the non-addicted world would find either humiliating or unsuitable for public discussion:
Even if something terrible is happening
You laugh and that’s the thing I love about you most
The additional fact that this song is sung by Ms. O’Connor, someone who has battled numerous demons of her own, and who was one of the earliest to speak truth to power regarding the Catholic Church and its protection of child molesting priests – makes it all the more poignant for me. Ms. O’Connor once took a moment to answer an email I sent to her, and it touched me deeply that she would do so.
Today, I am grateful for 27 hard-won days of sobriety, for God, and my programs of recovery that keep me in touch with my better self by providing me an opportunity…even at only 27 days, to be of service to another addict or alcoholic.
Bless you all.
Twenty-five days clean and sober, yet still neck-deep in paranoia, shame and remorse.
I’ve been avoiding writing about this, praying it will begin to fade as it has in the past. However, there seems to be no end in sight to the consequences of this past relapse and the drug-fueled plummet into the darkness of mind and spirit it entailed.
I am writing about it, in case God answers my prayers and begins to filter out the insanity from my obviously damaged brain. I don’t ever want to forget these past weeks…though every fiber of my being would prefer doing just that.
I need to remember it all: the sense of being followed by vehicles everywhere I go, the blackened feeling of my soul when I first emerged from the deep pit of meth use, the pain i’ve caused my husband and those around me. I need to remember how, once again, I felt that God could never love me…this sick, fucked up human being who chose to convert my output of positive energy into an intake fan that pulled in only the choking fumes of the negative.
I need to remember this so it doesn’t happen again, should God see fit to make the fear go away.
A few days ago, I was in suicidal despair, and pocketed a handful of my psych meds and sleeping pills and prepared to walk to West Hollywood Park and end it all, just make the fear and the shame and the despair go away once and for all.
And that is when God intervened, by way of a phone call from my friend Le Maire.
Lovely Le Maire, along with my equally lovely friends Maria and Phillip, have been telling me for over a year now that God loves me no matter what I’ve done, that he loves me even though I turned my back on him for over thirty years, refusing to acknowledge gifts and blessings that were so obviously given to me: Love. Shelter. Food. Friends.
My friend picked me up and drove me to Plummer Park…also in West Hollywood…and in a quiet-ish corner of the park she reassured me…once again…that everything would be okay, that God does love me. We read from the Bible, and it was the first comfort I’d felt in weeks. We then attended a prayer seminar at a church in the Korea Town section of our city, where I once again cried like a baby…not from shame, but from the sensation of much of the shame I’ve been carrying being flushed from my body. It was a surreal experience, to say the least, for someone who was so anti-church, anti-religion, and for a long, long time, also anti-God.
Yet, it helped.
It didn’t fix the paranoia, it didn’t completely wash away the shame and guilt. But it helped because for the first time in ages I felt like God was listening to me. I felt a connection, and it was beautiful.
As much as I’m still suffering, I’ve come to appreciate that without this suffering I might never have found firm footing in my relationship with Him again. Yes, I am prone to doubt His existence….thirty-something years of the self-programming of an ex-Catholic turned semi-atheist do not make for a wrinkle-free transition to Believer…but something has changed. I can feel God with me, and the solace is comforting. That connection waxes and wanes, but when I feel that I’m losing touch with Him, I pray, and I feel renewed. The shame and self-hatred rise up in giant waves still with alarming regularity, but I can pray and push them back before they inundate me completely.
I still loathe myself frequently and deeply, but I no longer feel God is disgusted by me. I know now that I’m his Child, not just the sick, sad person I feel like when I’m out of touch with Him. He loves me as much now as he did when I was a young boy, before I was introduced to darkness via hardcore porn and ill-intentioned hands.
I’m still battling fear and paranoia, but I’m not doing it alone.
I have my family, who never give up on me.
I have my friends in recovery supporting me, checking in on me, letting me know that I am loved.
I have my amazing husband, who despite my checkered history of incomprehensible and demoralizing relapsing, still loves me fiercely.
I have my friends Le Maire, Phillip and Maria, who continue to help me strengthen my connection to God.
And, most of all, I have God himself, who may not be working as quickly as I’d like Him to, but has kept me safe from harm thus far.
Even in my diminished state, my God wants me to help others, and I’m doing so wherever I can with my limited resources. I’m also reaching out for help…asking for rides to meetings, prayer requests…which for me is among the most difficult things to do.
I have little idea of who the 1,500 people are who read this blog, but if any one of you is considering using crystal meth…or using it again if you have already…hear my plea: do not do it. Not even once. The repercussions, the damage, the despair and the soul-sickness it causes can never be justified, not even once. Once is all it takes to get hooked on that insidious bitch of a chemical.
You trust me on this, just as I’m trusting God with my continued recovery.
(God’s) Perfect love casts out fear.
Please keep me in your prayers.
It wants me to be sick. It wants to put me in compromising positions. It wants me, quite frankly, dead.
I spent several hours yesterday in a waiting room at the Gay & Lesbian Center (God bless them and the work they do) after having what seemed like gallons of blood drawn, before finally being summoned into a counselors office where I was told that the test for HIV antibodies had come back negative. While I’m not out of the woods completely on the HIV front (a more definitive test that was also done…one that tests for the presence of the actual virus…will not yield results for approximately two weeks), it’s still a very good sign.
Today, I am filled with gratitude that there’s the possibility I’ve been given yet another reprieve on the health front. I am so grateful for my beautiful friends, for my wonderful “prayer posse,” and particularly my beautiful friend Le Maire, who prayed with me on the phone before my appointment, helping bring me into alignment with my Higher Power, the same Higher Power I lost touch with weeks ago, prior to my relapse.
So, my disease is furious today. All that work it did, all those machinations designed to trick me into destroying my sanity, my spirituality, my health, my very existence…were most likely for naught.
And by surviving, yet again, I’ve gained further insight into its devious methods. I’ve come to understand where the weaknesses are in my walls of defense, and I’ve begun the work needed to shore them up against future attacks.
A week ago, I felt isolated. I felt like my sanity was gone, perhaps forever this time. A week ago, I was filled with self-loathing and self-recrimination.
Last night, I spent several hours with a group of beautiful human beings, and heard others share stories of their own battles against their own disease, stories that were painful to hear but so very similar to my own. I was hugged, I was loved, I was told explicitly that I was amongst family, and that I was missed while I was gone. I sat between friends who held my hand, and who embraced me after I shared my own story of how my disease snuck up on me, and the damage it did to me in such a short amount of time. I spoke of how I had stopped praying at some point, how my conscious connection to my God had gradually slipped away without my even noticing it, until it was too late.
Today, I feel optimism seeping back into my bones. Today, I feel loved and to a small extent, worthy of that love.
I can not let my disease have any sort of victory, ever again. Each time I allow it to advance, it does so with even more anger, more viciousness, more commitment to seeing me degraded, humiliated….and ultimately, dead, once and for all. No do-overs. Gone.
It’s biding its time, having been forced into retreat, gathering strength in its dark fortress, waiting to blind side me again and finally achieve the sick, sad victory it’s been chasing for eleven years.
With my Higher Power by my side, however, I am invincible.
So very , very grateful today. Thank you to all my friends and family, sober or otherwise. Thank you to my Tuesday night recovery family…you truly light a Burning Desire in my heart to stay sober and see the beauty in life. Thank you to my sobriety “guru,” Jonathan…just seeing you fills me with hope. Thank you to my amazing trudging buddies Phillip and Mykee, who I believe quite literally saved my life. Thank you to everyone who sent messages of love and support. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read these postings, because writing them helps keep me sane. And sober.
Love and thanks to all of you.
So, the personal wreckage cleanup begins again. Does anyone have a backhoe I can borrow for a few days…or weeks…perhaps months?
I wonder how my husband tolerates this. I know there must be those (myself included), who occasionally view him as one of those residents of Tornado Alley, post-devastation, scrunching their faces against grief on the TV news, vowing to stay right where they are and rebuild, dammit…while the nation watches and wonders just what the fuck is wrong with his logic. Why would you stay and rebuild…haven’t you learned yet that the odds are pretty darned good another twister is gonna come along and fuck up the very foundations of your existence?
Yet, he keeps loving me. He sees something lovable in me that I’m unable to see myself at this moment.
This morning, this man of incredible patience and tolerance accompanied me to the Gay and Lesbian Center here in Los Angeles so that I can be tested for STD’s and for exposure to HIV. Throughout my 11 years of off and on drug abuse, I’ve put myself at risk numerous times, and somehow my higher power has protected me. I am a rare creature, a hardcore meth and sex addict who has somehow managed to avoid HIV infection. It would be ludicrous to expect that i’d have escaped the virus one more time.
Unfortunately, perhaps because it was the first day of resumed testing after a long, holiday weekend, the waiting room was a mob scene, and I had to reschedule my appointment for this afternoon. Disappointing and a little nerve-wracking, because I really just wanted to get it over with, but also grateful because it gives me more time to pray. Not for a negative result, though that would be wonderful. But for the strength to handle the news should it be bad.
One of my dearest friends…one of many friends who has loved me unconditionally… the singer/songwriter Maria McKee once sang on her beautiful song My Girlhood Among the Outlaws ( from her album titled You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, appropriately), “I took a leap of faith, and I stumbled…I tried to live outside Grace, and I was humbled.” That song is what I’m listening to right now…though it’s a romantic love song, I’m listening to it in a different way: as love song to my Higher Power, to God.
My girlhood among the outlaws was salty, bittersweet
The things I did, ah I could just kick myself now
Through nights of lousy dreams
As visions gather in my head
I find it hard to live with the things I did and said
But for you my friend, I’d live it all again
And love you in the end
Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you
Took a leap of faith and I stumbled
Tried to live outside grace and I was humbled
But I’d like to bet if I’d lived to fear regret
Then we never would’ve met
Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you
So here we are and I don’t know what we call it
‘Cause love is such a funny promise
Commitment is impossible and forever is a lie
But that still leaves you and I
Anything for you baby anything for you
If it took those years to get me here
I’d do it again for you
My appointment is at 4:30, and I am not expecting good news. But I am expecting to handle it with grace, knowing that my God is not a punishing one, and that He will give me the strength to deal with whatever needs dealing with. He’s kept me alive through these dark years, and He’s even shown me a way to live that is so bright and shining I have to squint in the glare of it. He’s given my husband the strength to keep loving me, even when I’m unable to love…or even like…myself.
After the appointment, I will go to my primary recovery meeting, in a lovely backyard in Hollywood filled with tiki torches, votive candles, a bonfire and so much recovery and lovingkindness it is absolutely impossible to let self-loathing surface. Regardless of the news I get, I know I’ll be surrounded by at least 80 human beings, all struggling themselves one way or another, who really do love me and want only the best for me.
Back inside the arms of Grace. I want to stay there this time.
I know what needs to be done, and I’m going to do it. I’ve learned some things about myself, I’ve admitted some things to myself I already knew but didn’t want to confront.
And if this relapse is what it took for me to finally address these issues…and if being HIV positive like so many of my recovering brothers is part of that lesson, so be it.
If all of my struggling and falling and climbing up and falling again is what it takes to get me to a place of true recovery, a place of brutal honesty with myself and those in my life, so be it too.
If it took those years to get me here….
I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has sent me private messages of concern following my relapse.
I don’t have the time to write a full blog entry today, since relapses have the weird side effect of making one’s house very, very messy….and my husband returns home on Friday. He has been very supportive regarding my relapse, but coming home after a month to a six-foot deep pile of dirty…very dirty…laundry might finally send him right over the fucking edge.
In the short amount of time I have to write this, I think I want to share one of the main things I’ve learned from this relapse:
If you’ve done meth in the past and it ended really badly, if you do it again it will end even worse for you.
This was really surprising to me, which is why I’m sharing that information with you so you can share it with others. It’s the least I can do to atone for my stupidity and the pain and worry i’ve caused so many people who love me. I like to think of myself as an intelligent man, but I’m still learning things every day. I’m going to quickly share some other things I’ve learned recently so you can avoid the consequences I’ve endured from engaging in these seemingly harmless activities:
1. Some floor cleaners smell a lot like a Lemon Drop cocktail, but taste really fucking bad and will give you a sore throat.
2. Certain glass items are really shiny like hard candy but – strangely – they will make your mouth bleed if you eat them. Weird, right?
3. You will cut yourself approximately 65% of the time if you use scissors to open tuna cans.
4. Rattlesnakes may look all cuddly and snuggly and shit, but they hate being kissed on the mouth.
5. Those bug fogger things will only make your head cold worse if you try to use them as a vaporizer.
6. It’s really awesome that God made so many metal items that will fit into power outlets, but if you stick a cocktail fork into one it will be super painful.
7. Pomegranate juice is a really great anti-oxidant, but you should only use water with a neti-pot.
I hope you find all of this helpful, especially the don’t do meth one. I’ll continue to report to you as I discover additional things that aren’t good or safe activities.
Have a lovely day….off to get the garden hose so I can clean the hardwood floors for my husband. He’s going to be so happy with how shiny I’m going to get them!
And again, thank you ALL for your concern. I’m struggling, but at least I’m still moving. Have a beautiful day.
I’m no kid in a kid’s game
I did what I did, I’ve got no one to blame
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
It’s all I’ve got, it’s my claim to fame
I’m no fighter but I’m fighting
This whole world seems uninviting
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
I fall down sometimes, sometimes I come back flying
I haven’t eaten for days and my stomach is flatter than it’s been in a long, long time. If the lighting is just right, I believe there’s an actual six-pack happening there.
Unfortunately, that’s about the best I can muster on the positive-thinking front.
There, it’s been said. Or rather, typed, for the pedantic among you.
I’m not sure how to begin writing about this. So much shame, so much sadness. My head is still clouded from a week-long crystal meth binge, so maybe I’ll start with more recent events and work backward.
I spent Sunday alone in my bedroom (my husband is in Scotland doing his show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), smoking meth and watching porn. Pretty much par for the course, except that I wasn’t getting quite as high as I wanted to. Something wasn’t working. I added poppers (amyl nitrate inhalant) to the mix. That helped, but only a little. I smoked more, and tried exhaling into a plastic bag and sucking the vapor back into my lungs…out again, in again, the bag inflating and deflating like some strange medical device. That did it. My head was now swimming in a sea of meth fog, and it felt amazing. My dick, however, was not feeling it. Shriveled and cold, it refused to respond to the lurid images on the television screen.
More poppers. Nothing.
I retrieved a packet of those over-the-counter male “enhancement” pills, and popped them both.
I sat back and waited.
Nothing again. Dammit.
Then, I recalled a trick that someone had told me about, long ago during a previous relapse.
I pulled out the baggie of meth and retrieved a small sliver of the glass-like crystal. Grimacing with disgust and apprehension, I gently inserted the tiny shard into a very, very small orifice that should NEVER have anything described as a shard inserted into it. I’m far too embarrassed to say where I put that piece of crystal, but I’ll help you figure it out by telling you it was not a nostril, it was not my ass, it was not my ears, eyes nor mouth.
I’ll give you moment.
Okay, good. You’ve got it.
Now, I’ll give you a moment so you can blanch like I am right now remembering it, maybe even vomit a little if you are of a sensitive disposition.
Back with me? okay.
I lay back in my bed, and waited to see what would happen.
I didn’t have long to wait: almost immediately, a feeling of cold washed over my body, and I shuddered. Next, a uniform sheen of sweat covered my skin from head to toe. I got out of bed and put a heavy bathrobe on, pulling it closed around myself. I got back into bed and waited for this weird feeling to pass.
It didn’t. Instead, it escalated until I was shaking so hard from chills that I had to clench my teeth closed to keep from biting my tongue.
My body went from cold to hot, back to cold and then back to hot again like a fucking thermostat with faulty wiring. My head was filled with the sound of my heart beating: Whoosh….Whoosh….Whoosh.
At this point, I suspected I was dying. I should have used my remaining strength to dial my cell phone, call 911, call a friend, ask for help.
But I didn’t want help. I wanted to die. I hadn’t intended for this to happen, but this seemed a very fitting way for someone like me to go out. Obvious, yes. Predictable, yes. But fitting. The thought of looking into yet another pair of disappointed eyes was completely unbearable to me.
I thought of my husband in Scotland, and of all I’ve put him through in our years together. I scrawled a barely intelligible goodbye note to him, pathetic as all the other ones in the past, and then somehow managed to put down a large bowl of water and another of food for my dogs, who seemed very stressed out watching their daddy stumble around the house trying to take breaths that were increasingly harder to muster. I was nervous it would take a couple of days for my body to be found, and I didn’t want my dogs going hungry during that time. I also didn’t want them snacking on my toxic corpse, if I’m completely honest.
That’s pretty much the last thing I remember, until waking up a couple of hours later on the daybed under the giant tree in our garden, still shivering, my hands and feet cold and numb, the rosary that usually hung over our bed inexplicably around my neck. I’m not sure why I went outside, but if past experience is any indication, I probably didn’t want to die inside the house Patrick would be living in when he returned from Europe. Kinda funny how I can muster tiny bits of respect when necessary, but completely disregard the big-picture respect that would have kept me from doing meth in the home we share. Funny, but absolutely not funny at the same time. Kinda like a Benny Hill episode, I suppose.
I lay there for another hour or so, waiting to see which way this was gonna go. Still shaking uncontrollably, still covered in goose-flesh despite the warm night air. Forcing myself to slow down my breathing, crying from the guilt and the shame and that feeling of complete despair.
Finally, I texted my a good friend from the rooms of recovery: I’m in trouble. I need your help.”
He was by my side in under an hour, despite not having a driver’s license or a vehicle, his arm around me and comforting me in soothing tones that began to steady my breathing. Two hours later, around midnight, another friend, alerted by the first, arrived, enveloping me with even more love that I felt completely undeserving of. As I lobbed comments filled with self-hate in their direction, they would each bat them away with the expertise of a Billie Jean King or a John McEnroe.
“I’m so ashamed.” (“there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing has changed except a date.”)
“I’m so sorry I lied to you.” (“that’s what we addicts do…we lie. It’s normal.”)
I love these men so much. I still can’t believe what they did for me Sunday night: calming me down, reassuring me that I was not going to die. One of the benefits of sobriety, besides sobriety itself, is the close friendship I’ve formed with these men. It pains me so much to know I’ve lied to their faces, not to mention my beautiful husband, my mentor Jonathan, and the two beautiful young people I was helping with their own sobriety.
Right now, two days later, I feel sick. Physically and mentally. Crystal meth use creates a brain fog that allows entire days…weeks, even…to roll by without solidly imprinting on the brain memories of the events that occurred. It is only when one stops using, and the drug fades from the bloodstream, that these shameful memories begin to emerge, flickering into my consciousness like a horror movie footage spliced randomly into a sitcom.
I’m scared. I’m disappointed in myself. I feel hopeless.
I’ve already made the initial round of painful phone calls: my sobriety mentor, my husband, my mother, and my two dear friends I mentored until this relapse. Now, I’m doing the other thing I’m ready to do at this point: write about it.
The coming weeks are going to be filled with much rebuilding, much introspection and a lot of humility. I’m still too foggy to place my finger with any certainty on the reasons for this relapse, though I can say with some certainty that sex probably had a lot to do with it. The specifics, the underlying feelings that triggered it, are going to take some time and some clarity to ascertain. But I will ascertain them, and I will use that information to make sure this never happens again.
I’m not sure what benefit this post offers anyone aside from myself. But right now, writing about this is going to take a huge weight of guilt and shame and secrets off of my shoulders. Maybe, perhaps, someone who is thinking of relapsing….or who has relapsed but things haven’t gotten too ugly yet….will read this and recommit to sobriety.
Part of me wants to give up, throw in the towel…but I know I need to get back on the recovery horse. That the horse seems to be staring at me with contempt, disgust and judgement is only a figment of my imagination. I’ve been here before, many times. And I’m tired of it. I hate this fucking place, and that fucking horse is the only way out of here.
I’m sorry. Yup, that’s me, saying “sorry” again. I’m sorry for lying to my husband. I’m sorry for lying to my friends. I’m sorry for bailing on commitments with lame or zero explanations. I’m sorry for ignoring my higher power, and I’m sorry I stopped praying. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.
This written mea culpa is my first boot in the stirrup.
I have a lot of work to do now. Please keep me in your prayers. I’ll need as many as I can get.
Oh we never know where life will take us
I know it’s just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel
Saturday night, over 75 beautiful sober men and women gathered in my backyard to help me usher in my one year birthday in sobriety.
The swimming pool was heated to 110 degrees, and the evening was filled with fun, love, friendship and so much emotional and spiritual support it was almost overwhelming. At midnight I was presented with a beautiful birthday cake by Jonathan, my amazing “guru” on this journey of recovery, and Mykee, my dearest friend who is also in recovery. It was almost too much to bear, and I cried like a baby as each of those two men spoke about me, using words that a year ago would never have been associated with me: generous. loving. spiritual. kind. A year ago, the adjectives that best described me would have been: selfish. irresponsible. godless.
This morning, however, the waterfall of joy dried up quite suddenly: Patrick and I had to make the decision to euthanize one of our dogs. He hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months, his back legs weak and his mind beginning to cloud. In the mornings, on the way out to the backyard to relieve himself, he’d often circle the coffee table and end up facing the wall, seeming to have forgotten that he had to go around the couch to get to the door.
Steve was a slightly overweight, black and white Tibetan Terrier. Our friend Heather had rescued him from a yard where he was chained to a pole and had wrapped himself around it to the point of near-choking. Since, at the time, we were one of the few in our group of friends who had a house with a yard, we agreed to foster him until a home could be found for him. The problem was, however, that Steve didn’t seem to want another home. And as we came to understand over the years, what Steve wanted, Steve got. He was, to be blunt, a very strange…and rather dull… dog. Often mistaken for a very old dog even as a puppy, what he lacked in energy and personality he made up for with stubbornness. We learned quickly that calling Steve into the house from the far end of the yard was pure futility, unless Steve actually wanted to come inside. Believe me, we tried training him. We tried hard, for a long time. Useless. Steve called his own shots, and eventually we learned to live by his rules, for the most part. Patrick and I were never quite able to decide whether Steve had some form of brain damage inflicted before we met him, or if he was actually smarter than we were.
But we loved him, despite the difficulties he often presented (chewing on his own tail was a favorite pastime of his for a couple of years, forcing us to put a giant plastic cone around his head for the duration of that particular hobby of his, earning him the nickname “King Cone.”) And when he felt like showing us some love, we appreciated it even more because it was so unlike him.
I’m ashamed to say that I did not treat Steve…or any of our dogs, for that matter…very well when I was using drugs. While there were probably several instances where I probably kicked him out of my way or screamed at him (and this, to be honest, is often harder for me to live with than the horrible things I did to the people in my life), most of the abuse was in the form of just not paying attention to him. He was a barker, and could be set off by any number of innocuous things: a raccoon scuttling across the car port roof, the too-loud closing of a door or drawer, or…most annoyingly, the ring of a doorbell on the television (which was a little weird, considering we’ve never had a doorbell in any of the homes we’ve lived in.) I have many memories of having to interrupt my bad behavior while smoking meth in our home of to 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.
Rapidly approaching my one-year sobriety “birthday,” I’m overwhelmed by feelings.
Gratitude, because I’ve learned this year how to actually sit with these feelings and not seek to dull or obliterate them with drugs or alcohol.
Anxiety, because this means that I will have to speak…if only briefly…in front of large gatherings of the recovery community when I acknowledge this accomplishment. I’m a writer, not a speaker. Anyone who has heard me fumble my way through my very infrequent “shares” in my recovery groups is probably painfully aware of how awkward I am when trying to construct a spoken sentence. The keyboard is my friend, my mouth is often my worst nemesis.
Melancholy, because it took me so long to “get” the concept of recovery. Ten years of beating my head bloody against a wall, trying to break out of the prison of addiction, when I’d had the key to the door all along. I just had to be willing to use it. I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” when I was young. I was always struck by the ending, when Glinda tells Dorothy…after all that walking, all that flying-monkey bullshit, all that witch-melting…that she could have gone home at any time. Punch her, I used to think. Sadistic bitch…NOW you tell her? It’s taken me years, but I finally understand Glinda’s reasoning: “She had to find it out for herself.” No one could have sold me on the concept of recovery until I was ready to embrace it. Like Dorothy, I feel like I’m finally home again. But better….I’ve not returned to the gray tones of my pre-addiction metaphorical Kansas, I’m in a brand new, Technicolor home surrounded by love and support and stocked with the tools of recovery.
Mostly, though, I’m feeling joy. Joy at finally feeling like I belong, at having found a group of people who, like myself, are struggling to make their lives better. It stuns me sometimes, the beauty of these people I get to walk with now. Our own yellow brick road of sorts, each of us seeking courage and insight into our own hearts and brains, doing battle with our own dark internal forces. We’re all so different…used different substances, come from vastly varying economic situations, some hit rock bottom and some only saw it coming…yet, we’re all the same in the ways that really matter. A huge community of men and women who have decided to make their own lives better by helping others. God is there, and easily co-exists with the agnostics and atheists among us. And most importantly, there is love.
There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery.
(clicks heels three times)
Let the countdown commence.
I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go
Reading of the NSA domestic spying scandal, and of the fiery Highland Avenue 4 AM car-crash death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings – who was reportedly writing an expose on the FBI and NSA – that old, familiar shiver of fear riffled its way down my spine.
Oh shit, I thought. Is it back?
By it, I meant paranoid psychosis, with which I was diagnosed in 2008, after nearly six months of living in constant fear, feeling like I was being constantly surveilled, and trying to rationalize multiple strings of coincidences that would have probably gone unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t entrenched in a years-long crystal meth addiction.
It subsided quickly, but it did leave behind some residual feelings that I associate with those long-ago days: anxiety, paranoia, and the biggest of all, plain old fear. I truly believe that a large number of meth-related suicides are instigated not primarily by the overwhelming hopeless feelings of addiction, but by fear.
I remembered my attempts at suicide…most fairly half-hearted, since I never truly wanted to die. I only knew I was too scared to keep living. I remember the time in our pool shed, where voices from unseen people directed me to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, place a large plastic bag over my head, and to then bind my own hands together with plastic cable-ties.
Obviously, it didn’t work. I vomited into the plastic bag and somehow, in my drugged stupor, managed to break out of the ties and rip the bag from my head…though I remember nothing except waking up on the floor of the pool shed, woozy and sticky in my own mess.
My last attempt was slightly more effective: downing every pill in the house (and after years of psychotherapy and addiction, there were quite a few of them lying around), writing a paranoid and ridiculous “they forced me to do this!” suicide note, and then collapsing on our bed. Patrick had been working, taping an episode of the cable comedy show (wait for it…) Head Case, and returned home from work to find me unconscious, barely breathing, covered in blood and (yes, again), vomit. Paramedics pulled me back, and a weeklong stay at the House of Horrors that is the County USC Psych Ward (6 crazy men to a room and wet, stained bandages covering the shower floor tiles, anyone?) ensued.
I’ve been sharing about these feelings of residual fear with sober friends, and it helps, though it’s difficult at times. Anyone who hasn’t experienced extreme paranoid psychosis finds it hard to understand the depth of the sheer terror of being in that state of mind, and most people who have experienced it are extremely reluctant to revisit it…understandably. Even though it was years ago, the feelings that my brain registered at the time were real, even if the situations that inspired those feelings were not.
It certainly doesn’t help matters much right now that my paranoia involved being targeted for surveillance by some shadowy civilian security entity…I was under the delusion that my large number of anti-Bush-era policy emails and postings on internet bulletin boards had made me a target. I also thought that…wait for it, this part’s funny…because I’d had an article published in a national magazine, and because my husband was a fairly prominent television character actor, I had somehow made the list of those who needed to be “monitored.” Funny, I know, but at the time…in the throes of post-meth-psychosis, it all seemed completely rational. Of course, there were some things I simply couldn’t explain: cars that seemed to constantly swarm me, headlights on bright even in the middle of the day, strange hang-ups on my cellphone, just a whole host of things that terrified me beyond belief but might have seemed perfectly normal if I hadn’t been operating from a place of drug-compromised intelligence.
So, reading about secret domestic surveillance and wiretapping programs, and the death of a reporter who was reportedly working on a story to expose government secrets, there was a weird sense of deja vu.
Fortunately, today I’m clean and sober, almost a year now. I’m sane. The paranoid psychosis has been gone for years. My head is on straight. Though I remember those thoughts and feelings I no longer believe an y of them. I can fully appreciate the fact that there is nothing about me that would warrant surveillance by anyone. Delusions of grandeur, my therapist had referred to it. Grandiosity.
Today, I still suffer from feelings of grandiosity, but in a different way: today, I love myself, I love God. I take care of my mind and my body. I no longer live crippled by fear of things real or imagined.
Today, I not only don’t want to die, I want to live.
And as my friend Maria told me the other day when I shared these feelings with her, “it’s different now, honey. You have people who love you, you have a support group.”
So, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who is dealing with paranoid psychosis, and you’re feeling like it’s never, ever going to end…trust me, it does. Find recovery, find the right meds, find a safe place among friends who are also recovering. It will end. The wait will be hard, but it will go away.
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict,” people will often say.
There was a time when I would hear these words and cringe. Who in their right mind would be grateful for this disease? Maybe, I thought, poor communication skills was the issue: a sub-par public school education combined with too many hits off the crack pipe. Perhaps what they meant to say was, “I’m grateful to be a recovering drug addict.” That, at least, would make some sense, even though I still couldn’t understand why anyone would be grateful to be any kind of drug addict.
In my head, I’d have to add words to that sentence so that I could process it:
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict….(and that I didn’t die while I was using.)”
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict…(who finally found a job and is working again.)”
“I’m grateful to be a drug addict..(who isn’t homeless any more.)”
That was the kind of gratitude I could get behind: the specific, the detail-oriented. Gratitude just for being an addict? Insane, I thought. Why the fuck would I be grateful for a disease that took my soul, dipped it in kerosene and set it aflame? I could tolerate a lot of the bumper-sticker-esque slogans of recovery, but that one…I’m grateful to be an addict…just set my jaw on edge.
There’s another saying in the recovery community: “More will be revealed.”
That particular saying didn’t bother me as much, possibly because it smacked of sage mysticism, a sly Harry Potter-ism for the semi-addled.
More has been revealed, it turns out:
Eleven months and five days into my recovery, I am grateful to be a drug addict.
I am grateful to be a drug addict because without this disease I may never have found a new way to live my life. Without the disease of addiction I’m certain I’d never have regained a sense of spirituality and begun my journey towards regaining my faith. Without the disease of addiction, I would have never have met so many beautiful and loving people…most of them damaged in ways similar to myself, and most of them working hard to shed the hard shells of scar tissue the disease of addiction left us covered with…leaving many of us as vulnerable and frightened as tiny, featherless birds. Without the disease, I would probably never had set out on a journey of never-ending steps to right the wrongs I’ve done people, I would never have found the courage to examine myself and my behaviors. Without the disease, I would never have rediscovered one of my true passions in life: writing.
I am even grateful for the occasional pain that recovery brings. Before I became active in my disease, when I thought I was on my way to ruling the world, when status and money were my two primary goals….I lacked empathy for others. I cared about a lot of things a little, but cared about few things a lot. Today, I can feel my feelings without reflexively seeking to obliterate them. Today, I help others, and I do it gratefully.
My world is different now, and it gets better every day. Recovery didn’t give me my life back, as I’d originally hoped it would.
It gave me a better life than the one I had before I found crystal meth. Such an amazing, unexpected surprise.
Almost as surprising as finding myself saying that I’m grateful to be a drug addict.
I look forward to even more being revealed.
It only takes a sunny day / To find a way / It only takes a little time / To open up your mind
It was an interesting day: I spent much of it volunteering for a recovery-oriented organization: setting up and decorating this organization’s booth, stringing twinkle lights, handing out pamphlets. It hardly felt like work, though, being surrounded by so many also-recovering friends and making so many new ones.
It was all going well until around 3 PM, when my husband called from home to ask me a question.
I had to strain to hear him over the din of the crowd and the thumping bass from multiple DJ’s scattered all over West Hollywood Park, but by hunching over behind a tree and cupping both hands around the phone and my ear, I could make out what he was asking:
“Andy, why is there a can of butane on the shelf in the service porch?”
I knew exactly what can he was talking about. It was yellow with red printing, and was about as tall as a thermos but much thinner. I’d purchased it last spring, while I was still using, to refill the torch I used when smoking crystal meth. I had kept it hidden…though easily accessible…under my desk, in a box of receipts and other paperwork, and I’d forgotten it when I finally got clean and sober on July 7th, 2012. It had remained there, in hiding, until this recent cleaning spree, at which point I discovered it. My initial, reflexive instinct, upon finding this can of butane, was to throw it away before Patrick saw it: If he sees this can of butane, he’ll think I’m using again.
That was followed by another thought: “What if he sees this bright yellow can of butane in the trash? He’ll think I’m hiding something from him.”
Mind you, all of this went through my head in less than ten seconds. Ultimately, realizing that I have nothing to hide, I decided to place the almost-full can of butane on the shelf in the service porch with all the other cans and bottles of cleaners, solvents and miscellaneous toxic chemicals. I continued cleaning my office and didn’t give it another thought.
Until yesterday at 3 PM, when Patrick asked what it was doing there. I could tell from his voice that he was trying to sound light-hearted, like it was just a casual question along the lines of, “did you pick up the bread from supermarket on your way home?” But having known this man for twenty years, I could also hear the slight note of dismay under the lightness of tone.
I responded in a reassuring voice, explaining how I’d come across the butane while cleaning my office not long ago, and that he didn’t have to worry, I hadn’t relapsed…I’d purchased the can last year when I was using and that it had just been taken out of hiding. Nothing to worry about.
I waited for him to sigh with relief.
Instead, however, he dropped a bombshell: “Then why does the manufacture date say October 4, 2012?“
I was dumbfounded. This had to be a joke. I even asked him if he was joking.
“No, I’m not joking. There’s a stamp on the bottom of the can, and it says “Manufactured on October 4, 2012.”
“But…I got clean in July. That’s not possible. I bought it last year. I swear to God, Patrick.”
Even in the face of seemingly incontrovertible evidence, Patrick held out hope that I wasn’t, yet again, lying: “I’m sure there’s some logical explanation,” he offered. I could actually feel the hope in his voice, the wanting to believe me.
But the date was there, stamped onto a can, screaming “he’s lying again!”
I started shaking, standing there in West Hollywood Park, surrounded by people celebrating.
The rest of the conversation is already a blur in my memory. There was panic, there was a feeling akin to having relapsed, there was the old self-loathing and shame of having been caught in a lie. I’d lied to Patrick so many times about being clean when I was actually back on the pipe, and now it was happening again. I felt nauseated, I wanted to cry. I began to get angry the way I used to when I’d been caught out and knew the jig was up. But there was a difference:
This time, I knew I hadn’t relapsed.
Which made it worse, because no matter how loudly or angrily or tearily I proclaimed my innocence…the fact remained: The can of butane I’d retrieved from under my desk had not even been manufactured until four months AFTER i’d stopped using all drugs and alcohol. It was my word versus some factory date-stamping machine, and I already knew which of us had the most credibility on this particular issue. It was like Gay Pride and The Twilight Zone had converged suddenly, and I was wracking my brain for some explanation.
The idea of Patrick at home, listening to me rambling on asking ridiculous questions like, “maybe they post-dated the can? do they do that?” made me so sad I could barely stand it. I knew I hadn’t lied to him, yet I knew that as long as that fucking can with that fucking date existed, he would never be able to believe me.
And that is when things got really strange.
As I’ve written about in detail, 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 image staring up at me from my iPhone, and I momentarily considered not answering. But that’s called avoidance and that’s old behavior. So I picked up.
“Yes?” I said, expecting more accusations, in the manner that they would seem to pile on in the past. First he finds the butane, then he goes looking for something else to back up his theory that I’m using again. I’m half expecting to hear him demand I take a drug test when I get home, and I’m ready to tell him to go buy one and I’ll take a drug test any damned time he wants me to, when I hear his words:
“Honey, I made a mistake.”
“This butane was manufactured in Asia…they do their dates differently, like in Europe. It wasn’t manufactured on October 4, it was manufactured on April 10. The date on the can is 10.4.2012, but in China that means it was made in April. Not October. I’m so, so sorry.” I hear the pain in his voice, his sadness at having freaked me out so badly.
The Twilight Zone episode ends so suddenly my breath is almost taken away. I burst into tears, and start blubbering a bunch of stuff I can’t remember. Stuff about being mad at Patrick, but not being mad at Patrick, because Patrick was reacting the way anyone who’s been lied to consistently about this kind of thing would react. Stuff about being angry with myself for doubting my own brain…my own memory…my own sobriety. Then, came relief that this bizarre mystery was solved. Relief that even though it had felt akin to a relapse, my sobriety was still solid.
I told Patrick I’d talk to him later, and called my friend Jonathan, who helps guide me through this recovery. I explained what had happened, and his calm approach to the situation calmed me further. As I always do when I get off the phone with this man, I felt much more centered.
I went home, then to the gym, and later….the stress gone from my system, I returned to pride and resumed my shift at the booth i’d volunteered to work. From that vantage point, I got to witness the full drug and alcohol spectrum: sober people, people who can drink but aren’t alcoholics, and the severely alcoholic or drug addicted…the latter group stumbling sloppy and slurring along the path in front of our booth, looking both sad and ridiculous and presenting a better argument for sobriety than any pamphlet could ever hope to do.
When I got home late last night, my husband had posted a mea culpa via his Facebook status:
“I earned a gold medal in conclusion jumping today. To be fair, I got thrown by the different Gregorian dating systems used in the world today. (mm/dd/yyy vs dd/mm/yyyy). Learn from my error and never assume foreign dates follow our system.”
I am so blessed to have this man in my life. When I told some people about the incident last night, there were a couple who responded by saying, “um, you have eleven months clean and sober..he should trust you by now.” I disagree. After so many years of constant, bold-face lies, the fact that he is still here and he still loves me and that he still hopes for the best for me and has provided me with support and love when I’ve most needed it gives him a pass in the ‘absolute trust’ department.
I’m the recovering addict, I’m the recovering liar. The burden of proof, the responsibility of mounting a defense, even when it comes to stupid fucking Chinese butane can manufacturing dates, is on me. And just like that long-forgotten butane can, I’m sure there are other buried secrets I’ve forgotten about that may rear their ugly heads unexpectedly. But I’ll deal with them as they arise, and hopefully I won’t let them freak me out as badly as this one did.
I’m just happy to have been acquitted, and so quickly.