Category Archives: spirituality
“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
As a gay man of a certain age (f@ck it, I’m 48) who is feeling rather emotional today, I ask your forgiveness in advance for what promises to be a sappy, overly sentimental post.
This song, from the 1972 film “The Poseidon Adventure,” has…like so many other songs…taken on new meaning for me in recovery.
The film itself also seems like a metaphor for recovery…a group of people whose lives have literally been turned upside down, struggling against all odds to climb from the wreckage and reach the sunlight again. We extend our hands to those coming up behind us, and we accept the hands held out to us by those above us. Some of us make it, others don’t. There’s no telling by appearances who will survive. In this film – as in recovery – being a star is no guarantee of making it out alive.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s been a rough week for many in the Los Angeles recovery community. One of our own did not survive, a man I didn’t know well but have hugged and spoken to on Monday nights for the last few months. He was a man who had, forgive the expression, star power. A leading-man appearance. And , like Gene Hackman in the film, we were shocked and stunned by his unexpected death.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with your addiction, if your day feels dark with that tidal wave of hopelessness bearing down on you, if the water is rising quickly around your ankles, hang on. Call someone. There’s no shame in reaching out. If you know me, call me.
There really is a morning after…so keep climbing.
It’s not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It’s not too late, not while we’re living
Let’s put our hands out in time
There’s got to be a morning after
We’re moving closer to the shore
I know we’ll be there by tomorrow
And we’ll escape the darkness
We won’t be searching anymore
Last night, I dropped acid with my buddy Brett.
Okay, that’s not technically true: we grilled some chicken, drank Italian sodas from Trader Joe’s and watched Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element – but in sobriety, watching that film totally counts as an acid trip.
I can’t speak for Brett, but I know I had a great time. Great conversation, great company, a mind-trip of a movie. AND I got to bed at a decent hour. AND I remembered the entire evening when I woke up this morning. Even more astounding, I didn’t do or say anything last night that I need to be ashamed of today. I kept my clothes on. I didn’t accidentally or intentionally break anything. I didn’t humiliate myself or offend my guest in any way. And perhaps best of all, it was a one hundred percent vomit-free evening.
I had a good time last night and woke up today without a headache. Before 9 AM.
When I opened the sliding door into our backyard to let the dogs out for their morning pee, this is what greeted me:
Bright sunshine, the smell of jasmine, and the knowledge that I am blessed beyond comprehension. It truly is springtime: in my backyard, and in my heart.
Tomorrow will mark nine months of complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and my world just keeps getting brighter.
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies
Rebirth, resurrection, renewal. As I approach the end of my third trimester of sobriety, I can’t help but note that the timing of this holy day…my first wholehearted celebration of Easter Sunday since the age of thirteen….seems absolutely perfect.
I too feel reborn. I’m learning to experience real joy for the first time in years, without drugs or alcohol.
I am so grateful today.
This song should require no explanation. Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, meet my beautiful friend Maria:
The man who helps me stay clean and sober every single day has begun his own blog. Please give it a read, and perhaps a follow: http://jonathanbierner.com
Though I can’t talk specifically about how I’ve stayed clean and sober for nine months, I can say that after ten years of failed attempts, THIS time around, miracles started happening almost immediately even before my sobriety date of July 7, 2012. It actually began months before, when my lovely friend Maria introduced me to her friend, Phillip. Phillip and I quickly became friends as well, and when just a few months later I found myself drowning – yet again – in a meth-induced ocean of psychosis and despair, Phillip is the person I reached out to for help.
Phillip then introduced me to what I call my Tuesday night family, where I found people like myself, people who are facing the same struggles and who will love me until I am able to love myself. (I’m getting there, btw. After nine months, I’m starting to feel the relief of liking myself. Loving myself is close on its heels, though, I can feel it.) Not long after meeting this amazing group of people, Phillip needed help moving out of his home in the Hollywood Hills, and one day in late July of this year, I met Jonathan for the first time. We were charged with moving a refrigerator out of the basement of the house and up an incredibly small, rickety wooden outdoor stairway to street level. The stairs jogged back and forth three times at sharp right angles, making it a nearly impossible task (The 110 degree temperature and 6,000% humidity that day didn’t help a bit either, nor did the fact that I was borderline emaciated and a bit addled, having so recently abandoned the pipe.)
It was the most unpleasant of circumstances, but this guy Jonathan, wiry and handsome, made it tolerable with his sense of humor and hilarious, wry asides. Later, riding in the U-Haul truck together to a storage facility deep in the San Fernando Valley, boundaries worn away the exhaustion of a day of intense heat and physical labor, we began to talk.
The commonality of experience was almost mind-blowing, and before the day was over I had asked him to be my guide as I began to navigate the choppy waters of early sobriety.
He’s walked beside me these past nine months every step of the way, and has quickly become more than just a friend. He is my family: taking my phone calls whenever I need his guidance, sharing his wisdom and strength with me, and calling me out on my bullshit when it’s necessary. Also of great importance is his ability to make me laugh, even when crying feels like the more logical option. The truth is that I couldn’t do this sobriety thing if I couldn’t laugh about it on occasion, or find a bit of over-the-shoulder amusement in some of the pitiful and incomprehensible situations my crystal meth addiction placed me in.
Yesterday, Jonathan celebrated eight years of clean and sober living. He marked the occasion with an incredibly honest, brave and intensely personal Facebook post and blog entry of his own. I want all of you to know this amazing man who has played a large part in not only saving my life, but enriching it and opening my eyes to the joys of living a clean and sober existence Please give it a read and leave a comment of encouragement, and follow it if you enjoy reading smart, brave writing. Also, if you enjoy my blog even a tiny bit, you could also thank him for that, because without him I would never have found my way back to my creativity.
I love you, Jonathan.
Last night my niece sent me a chat message on Facebook, asking how she should respond to a schoolmate who is opposed to gay marriage based on..get this..the belief that allowing gay people to get married poses a threat to the world’s population. I’m currently on painkillers for a kidney stone the size of a buick, so my response was less than coherent. This is the letter I’m sending her today – before I take my Norco – to expand upon my sad efforts last night:
I want to take some time to respond properly to your question, now that I’m wide awake. But before I do, I just want to let you know that you are one of the brightest, sweetest, prettiest – and even more importantly – compassionate human beings I’ve ever known.
It saddens me that your incredibly evolved spiritual and humanistic views put you in direct conflict with many of your schoolmates who have been taught by their parents that being gay is either a sin, an illness or some form of depravity. When you listen to these other kids blathering on with their incredibly stupid viewpoints (like the one you asked me about, regarding the threat to ‘future population’ if gays are allowed to marry), I need you to remember this:
Do you see those signs with the words “nigger” and “God demands Segregation?” Those signs were created by the past’s equivalent of your misguided friends. Do you see those white people standing up for the civil rights of the black people? That’s the past’s equivalent of YOU. What your ignorant friends are doing is called “taking a stand on the wrong side of history.” You, on the other hand, are firmly planted on the right side. And the reason it’s the right side is not just because you’re on MY side, it’s because you have facts, research, empathy and compassion to back your position up.
What your friend said was so completely devoid of critical thought that I’m almost embarrassed at having to respond to it, but I will. Allowing gay people to marry will have no impact on the future population of the world. Allowing gays to marry does not make more gay people. It just allows those of us who are gay and in committed relationships – like your Uncle Patrick and me – to celebrate our commitment to each other (it will also allow us a whole bunch of rights and financial benefits gay couples have long been denied, but we’ll save that for another message.) People who are not gay won’t suddenly TURN gay just so they can get gay-married. The idea itself is, well, idiotic. The very fact that your friend is concerned with population dwindling in a world that’s already severely overcrowded shows that she either has no grasp on reality, or perhaps was dropped on her head by her (straight) parents when she was but a wee homophobe.
Arguing with these kinds of people serves no purpose. It certainly feels good at times, for me anyway, to call neanderthals on their idiocy. It rarely changes their minds, however. It just makes them take a firmer stand and cling even more tightly to their antiquated and indefensible beliefs. You can point out facts all day long, quote study after study that shows that children of gay parents are just as well-adjusted – sometimes even more so – than those with straight parents (though let’s be clear, ANYONE can be a terrible parent or enter into an ill-advised union…being an idiot or an a-hole is not the exclusive bailiwick of the heterosexual, I’ve known MANY gay people I wouldn’t trust to care for a chia pet). You can go on and on and on with facts, and while some might be receptive to them, many will just ignore them. Because they’re not dealing with facts, they’re dealing with feelings. And feelings, fortunately, are not even distantly related to facts.
It can be frustrating to know that you are on the side of right when you are surrounded by ignorance and bigotry. But take some satisfaction that you stand not only on the right side of history, but with some amazing people who were persecuted for beliefs that challenged the status quo: Martin Luther King, JFK and perhaps the most radical progressive liberal of all time, Jesus Christ. To name just a few.
Do me a favor: write about the experiences you’re having right now. Write about the stupid things people are saying, and how you feel about it. I want you to be able to look back in, say, twenty years and see how absolutely right you are, and how absolutely disgusting the viewpoints of your contemporaries are. When I was very little, black people could not marry white people. And that was just fine with a whole lot of the US population. Now, however, only the most rabid of racists still espouse that view. I guarantee you that in 20 years, very little will have changed: the fabric of society will not have been torn apart by gay marriage, Heterosexual marriage will still exist, and the world will not have been destroyed by some cataclysmic hellfire act of God (well, those things might happen, but not because of gay marriage. I think global warming would be a more likely culprit. Which is semi-ironic because that’s another thing many stupid people don’t believe in.) The one thing that will be different is that two men or two women getting married will just seem, well, normal. In twenty years, mark my word, the country will be looking back at today and saying, “I can’t believe gay people weren’t allowed to get married!”
I guess that’s all I have to say, except hang tight and just try to surf right over the stupidity, because wading through it can get EXHAUSTING. Trust me. Stay on the right side of history – with this issue and ANY other civil rights issue – and you’ll be just fine. It’s not always the safest place to be, but it’s where most of the good people hang out. And the good people always prevail..though it can take a lot of work, a lot of fighting, and a lot of sticking to your guns even when it seems hopeless. So glad you’re fighting alongside us. To quote your sign-off last night on our FB chat, “I’ve got your back, Jack.”
PS: Oh, and the next time one of your schoolmates tells you something as (I’m trying really hard not to use the ‘R’ word) dumb as “gay marriage will destroy the population,” I want you to recite…word for word…the following:
As part of my recovery, I try to find songs that inspire me and provide a sense of hope for the future. I add them to my “recovery playlist” on my ipod, and occasionally share them here. There are times, though, when I need to hear a song that reminds me of what it was like when I was using. As author/philosophist George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
I am a chronic forgetter: in the past, when I’ve been clean and sober for a respectable amount of time, I ‘ve tended to forget how bad it was when I was “out there.” I’d begin to regain a sense of power over my drug use. I’d stop investing in my recovery, and slowly (or sometimes at the speed of light) slip back into my disease.
With Table for One, the typically provocative singer/songwriter Liz Phair eschews controversial lyrics and viewpoints, crafting instead a first-person account of one man’s life as an active alcoholic. Though crystal meth was my drug of choice, the feelings this song elicits are pretty much the same ones any addict feels when living in their disease: loneliness, shame, hopelessness.
This time, I’m going to remember to not forget.
Give it a listen (lyrics below):
I’m walking down in the basement
I’m leaning on the washing machine
I’m reaching back through a hole in the wall’s insulation
I’m pulling out a bottle of vodka
Replacing that with a pint of Jim Bean
I’m lying down on the floor until I feel better
It’s morning and I pour myself coffee
I drink it til the kitchen stops shaking
I’m backing out of the driveway
And into creation
And the loving spirit that follows me
Watching helplessly, will always forgive me
Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those demons who drank with me
On my desperation
I hide all the bottles in places
They find and confront me with pain in their eyes
And I promise that I’ll make some changes
But reaching back it occurs to me
There will always be some kind of crisis for me
Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring back all those moments they stole from me
In my reverie
Darkening days end
Oh, I want to die alone
With my memories inside me
I want to live that life
When I could say people had faith in me
I still see that guy in my memory
Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those people who drank with me
“My life, it don’t count for nothing / When I look at this world, I feel so small / My life, it’s only a season / A passing September that no one will recall”
In just a few short years, I went from working for the great Steven Spielberg and touring with The Red Hot Chili Peppers to sleeping in public parks. Now, as I begin rebuilding my life, I have a tendency to judge what the future might hold for me by comparing it to the accomplishments of my past. Though I’ve mostly reconciled myself to the fact that I may never live that kind of heady life again (and perhaps that’s for the better), there are still days when I look back with intense regret about the career I singlehandedly destroyed. There are also days when I wistfully ponder where life’s travels would have taken me if I hadn’t hijacked myself and set a course straight for the gutter. On those days, today being one of them, I listen to this song. Her gorgeous warble sounding like some strange breed of angel, Iris Dement brings me back to reality, and keeps me focused on the one thing that truly matters in this frequently troubling world: love.
My life, it’s half the way travelled,
And still I have not found my way out of this night.
An’ my life, it’s tangled in wishes,
And so many things that just never turned out right.
But I gave joy to my mother.
And I made my lover smile.
And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting.
And I can make it seem better,
I can make it seem better,
I can make it seem better for a while.
Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things’ll get brighter
Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things’ll be brighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
When the world is much brighter
A long time ago, when I was very young, Jesus was my closest friend. I went to church every Sunday: first at Christ the King in Commack, New York, and later, after moving to California at the age of 10, Sacred Heart Church in dusty, then-rather-backwoods Turlock in the Central Valley.
I can’t say I ever sat patiently through mass, or that I ever fully involved myself with what the priests were saying up there on those altars. I do, however, remember being in awe of the bright, stained glass windows, the pungent smell of incense, and the trinkle, trinkle sound of the bells during the presentation of the eucharist. Of particular fascination was Jesus himself, hanging on the giant cross behind the Sacred Heart altar: sinew-taut swimmers body, head on stretched-ligament neck lifted as if searching for something in the dark recesses of the giant, steeped ceiling. There was something about that Jesus that stirred fantasies that I couldn’t quite give a narrative to at that innocent age, before I understood that I was one of those children who were, as I would eventually be told ad nauseam, damned to hell for all eternity.
My Irish-Catholic grandmother, my favorite person in my entire world aside from my mother, was the keeper of the family bible, a humongous leather-clad edition with hand-written dates of birth and sacraments received. The pages were tissue-paper thin, save the florid illustrations that were bordered in gold leaf. I remember the pages always felt cool to the touch, and smelled vaguely of mothball and some spice I still can’t identify. I’d sit in the leather chair next to my grandmother’s credenza (there really was a piece of furniture called a ‘credenza’ back then) and thumb through the pictures, fascinated. Handsome Jesus always looked so sad, save for the one illustration of that big moneychanger/temple brouhaha, where he looked downright peeved.
After my first communion, while still in my little man sport suit, my grandmother gave me a scapular, which had illustrations of St. Joseph on either end of the black cord. The way my grandmother pronounced it, with her heavy Brooklyn accent, made it sound like “scapuluh.” (Which, of course, was easy to remember since it rhymed with spatula, which was a word I heard quite a bit, since my grandfather was a chef and always seemed to be searching for one. ) As she presented it to me, and then placed it over my head so that one St. Joseph rested on my chest and the other St. Joseph was lying against my back, she told me, solemnly: “Honey, if you die and you are wearing your scapuluh, you will go straight to heaven.” This puzzled me for a moment. Why all the talk in church about Heaven, and Hell, and Purgatory and that silly sounding Limbo place I never quite understood if all I actually had to worry about was keeping these scratchy sharp-edge pieces of plastic hanging around my neck? I didn’t question it, I just counted my good fortune at receiving this amazing, magical, straight-past-Saint Peter- pass.
That scapuluh..er, scapular…stayed on my body for the next two years. The only time I would take it off was when I’d shower. Until, of course, the time i’d taken a nasty spill on the slippery tub bottom, at which point I began wearing it even while bathing (how horrible would it be to crack my head open on the porcelain, and as I lie there, the life ebbing from my ten-year-old, sin sodden body, seeing the scapular hanging just out of reach on the towel hook?)
That scapular made me feel somewhat invincible, sin-wise. I could make my confession and leave out as much as I wanted to. I could even lie outright, knowing my Heaven Direct pass was sandwiching my body. I felt like I could talk freely, even conversationally, to Jesus. Before Scapular, I would only talk to him if I needed something…sometimes trivial things like “please let my school catch on fire tomorrow so I don’t have to go”, and “please make my dad stop giving me those boring yellow Tonka construction trucks and Erector sets for Christmas.”
After scapular, I kind of felt that I could talk to him about anything, that I could even make requests that were probably inappropriate, if not downright unsavory. I was certain Jesus wasn’t thrilled with these kind of requests, but the fact was, I had a scapular. So I’d talk to him about the kids at school I hated, the ones who picked on me – who called me ‘faggot’ and ‘fatty’ – and I’d ask him to please kill them – preferably in a gory accident of some kind, or at the very least some painful terminal illness that would require them to leave Sacred Heart immediately.
Before scapular, I’d never have been so bold as to ask Jesus to break one of the commandments he brought down from the mountain (yes, I went to Catholic school, but I never did well in the religious studies part). Now, the cool plastic square pressed against my back as I lay in bed, staring up at the giant, lacquered and framed jigsaw puzzle of The Last Supper my grandmother had given me, I felt like I could pretty much do as I pleased. I guessed my boldness probably irked Jesus a little, but hey…I’m wearing a scapular. Jesus was awesome, because he was everywhere. I liked that I had an invisible friend who would protect me, sometimes do what I asked him do. The “everywhere” thing got to be a little much, though, so when I’d sit down to relieve myself in the bathroom I took to running the water in the sink to mask sound, and folding a bath towel over my lap for a tiny semblance of privacy.
About a year into my scapular addiction, when I discovered masturbation, I would finish every furtive hiding-from-Jesus-under-the-covers jerkoff with a whispered, “sorry, Jesus.” Still, I considered him my friend, even though I sensed he was repulsed by this disgusting thing I was doing with my babymaker. Again, though, I was wearing my scapular, so…free pass to Heaven regardless of how many cotton tube socks I violated, right?
A couple of years later, I had an unfortunate encounter with Father Oliver O’Grady (often referred to as “The Hannibal Lecter of Pedophile Priests) that finally rendered my scapular absolutely useless to me. Jesus, my everywhere friend, had been right there when it went down, and to add insult to injury he was also hanging right there on a cross on the wall of the room it happened in. Granted, his head was looking away, more toward the ceiling than towards the event taking place below, but still. Afterwards, I tried making a few excuses for him, but eventually it dawned on me there were only two options as regards my friend Jesus. The first option was that Jesus was a total dick. This supposed friend could pretty much do anything, I mean, he was curing fucking cancer left and right and making statues cry blood in South American countries but he couldn’t step in and bitch-slap Father Feeley-Grabby’s hands away from my privates? The other option was that he just wasn’t real, that it was all just a bunch of bullshit, that everyone had lied to me just like they had about Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, and that cheap bitch The Tooth Fairy.
I never wore my scapular again, and cursed myself for putting up with those sharp plastic edges for as long as I had. I went to church still, because my parents made me, but I made clear that I was attending under duress and never sang along with another hymn again.
Once I knew it was all a bunch of lies, that Father Holier-than-thou up there on that hideous, modern, red-carpeted altar preaching about sins of the flesh was actually a living, breathing cocksucker, I figured out that people were no more than a bunch of not-to-be-trusted hypocrites, and people in positions of authority were the most hypocritical of all. I went from being a shy, introverted, but somewhat happy child to an angry, sullen adolescent. I began trying desperately to sublimate my homosexuality…not because of anyone in “heaven” looking down on me and judging, but because I did not want to be the thing that O’Grady was, and I thought, mistakenly, that he had planted this seed (no pun intended) in me. I had forgotten, somehow, that before that incident I would masturbate and think about other boys, and it took a long time for me to understand that he didn’t make me gay, he saw that I was already gay. Also friendless and shy to the point of being almost non-verbal. in other words, a fairly safe choice.
My anger grew as the years went by, and I became not only an atheist, but a defiant, challenging, in-your-face atheist. If you had a God, well, then you were a fucking moron sheep being herded around by superstition and fear of dying. Eventually, this almost unbearable anger found the only relief that worked for me: drugs. The first time I smoked marijuana, it was like my heart had been punctured and all the bitterness had drained out of me for the time that I was high. I smiled. I laughed. I made friends.
Unfortunately, to maintain the happiness required more and more – then, harder and harder – drugs. And those hard drug eventually led to…well, everything you read on this blog, I suppose.
It was only recently, just this past year in fact, that I started talking to Jesus again. A few friends of mine re-introduced me, and it’s kind of funny that I had no idea that these three people i’d known for a while were such good friends of my ex-friend. They just seemed full of life, free of judgment, and funny as hell. Starting to talk to Jesus was weird at first, just like talking to any friend you left on bad terms thirty-five years ago would be. I’ll be honest…I cried a little and called him a few names early on, but we eventually agreed to give friendship another tentative go.
Almost immediately, the floating, gauzy, phantom monsters that would invade my field of vision at night…or in any darkened room…and the horrible nightmares that followed, began to subside. I began to sleep fully and deeply for the first time in years. His doing? Or my brain just healing itself from years of drug abuse? I don’t really care.
This time, I got to set a few of the parameters of our relationship: There would be NO RELIGION INVOLVED, not in any way, shape or form. This time, if I begin thinking that he’s some kind of magical wizard who fixes shit upon request or spends his days constantly righting human being’s fuckups, he’s gonna let me know that i’m giving him too much credit. This time, I can masturbate and watch porn all I want (though he’s agreed to let me know if it ever gets too excessive.) I can have sex with my husband any way I want and he’s just going to have to be okay with it (Jesus, I mean, not my husband.) He’s also given me his permission to imagine that he looks like Jean-Paul Belmondo in “Breathless,” because he thinks it means i will pray more (he’s absolutely right.)
MY Jesus is encouraging of my homosexuality, since he made me this way and would hate to see his special modifications not put to good use. The fact that I found my amazing partner of almost twenty years – and that we’ve remained firmly committed, even during the tumultuous years of my meth addiction, is proof enough for me that he smiles upon our union.
MY Jesus doesn’t give a shit about swearing, as long as it’s not used to hurt or demean someone. Which is a big, fucking relief, because i’m an inveterate swearer. I do feel uncomfortable when I reflexively growl out a “Jesus F_____ Christ,” and I’m working to curb that completely. MY Jesus thinks “Jesus H. Christ” is hilarious, though, which also shows you that my Jesus has a sense of humor.
MY Jesus has no issues with his theological counterparts…The Buddha, Mohammed, or the others…he assures me there’s no competition going on, despite what a bunch of loudmouth miscreants might claim. MY Jesus has no problem when those who don’t know him call him by other names…like Love, or The Universe, or even Positive Energy.
MY Jesus despises hypocrites, and rolls his (big-sleepy-Belmondo) eyes at pompously religious (ugh) people who make a grand public show of knowing him.
MY Jesus, as the Irish band In Tua Nua so eloquently put it, is in the innocent and the honest ones.
MY Jesus loves me no matter what mistakes I’ve made, or will make. And I will make many, many more. I have no problem calling myself a sinner, because My Jesus doesn’t think of sin as some horrible act of dark transgression. My Jesus believes sinning merely means missing the mark…basically, falling short of my own expectations of what a moral, compassionate, honest, spiritual life should look like.
My Jesus promised me that if I keep talking to him, keep asking him for guidance, and basically, just let him love me, he’ll help keep me clean and sober and make clear the path upon which I should be traveling. I’m counting on it.
And finally, MY Jesus speaks to me the way John Grant writes songs:
This pain it is a glacier moving through you
And carving out deep valleys
And creating spectacular landscapes
And nourishing the ground
With precious minerals and other stuff
So don’t you become paralyzed with fear
When things seem particularly rough
Don’t you pay them f*ckers as they say no never mind
They don’t give two sh*ts about you, it’s the blind leading the blind
What they want is commonly referred to as theocracy
And what that boils down to is referred as hypocrisy
Don’t listen to anyone, get answers on your own
Even if it means that sometimes you feel quite alone
No one on this planet can tell you what to believe
People like to talk a lot and they like to deceive
Late in 2004, my then-partner (now husband) Patrick – a minor celebrity of sorts in the gay community – and I were asked to write an article for the gay publication “The Advocate.” The angle of the article was to be parallel stories: mine would be about my struggles with addiction, and Patrick’s would detail what it had been like – as someone who had never used hard drugs – to love and live with a meth addict.
Since I had been off the pipe for several months and felt “cured” of my addiction, I agreed to the proposal, and Patrick also acquiesced. We both knew how crystal meth was devastating not just our own home, but the community at large. We felt that perhaps by sharing honestly the struggles we had faced thus far with my addiction, we might potentially help someone, somewhere, feel less alone.
Unfortunately, I had failed to take into consideration the serious toll my recently-ended, months-long meth run had taken on my ability to remember words, let alone put together sentences. Paragraphs seemed too gargantuan an undertaking, so this article, on my part, is so poorly written it makes me cringe when I read it now. I’d pulled some nice florid passages from my journals, tried to tie that together with a basic narrative, and failed miserably in my estimation. That, however, is not what I need to apologize for..though I do.
What I’ve shared with only very few people is that by the time our story hit the newsstands (and the internet, which I’d completely forgotten to consider, and which has since made employment very, very difficult – *slaps own face*), I’d already relapsed big-time. I end the article by telling the world of my Miraculous Deliverance From Addiction! Like it was just that easy, anyone should be able to do it.
Then and now, I felt like I was lying to the world, and every letter we received thanking us for telling our story was like being stabbed in the heart with a shame-spike.
In fact, by the time the photographer for the magazine showed up at our home to take the photos to accompany the article, I’d already been back on the pipe for two or more weeks.
Years later, when I finally reached the point of desperation…the point where I knew I would die if I used even one more time…. it took real work to get clean and sober. It took surrender, it took humility, it took some mighty fear-conquering. It meant forcing myself to talk to people like myself, and it took being willing to admit to them that I knew very little about staying clean, and then…the hardest part of all…it took asking them for help. In other words, it took some serious fucking work. And it still does, every single day. And it will for the rest of my life. I know that now.
So I want to offer this long-delayed apology to anyone I might have hurt or misinformed (or kept in their disease for even a minute longer than they should have stayed there) by implying that salvation is something that just, you know, happens. Maybe it does, on occasion…but as regards meth addiction, or any addiction I suppose, please believe me now when I recommend that you not sit around and wait for it to show up, as I put it, “miraculously, and out of nowhere.” That ending was total bullshit. That wasn’t deliverance, it was a momentary break between binges. If you’re struggling with addiction, ask for help. Please.
I am really, truly sorry.
(CLICK HERE to read the embarrassing original Advocate article)
If you follow this blog (and thank you SO much if you do) you know that I write dark, depressing stuff full of angst and anger and, well, as my husband puts it: “meth, death and bated breath.” The reason for this is because it’s the way I process feelings like guilt and shame for all the wreckage i’ve caused in my life and the lives of those who care about me. And believe me, there’s been so much wreckage I could tattoo “brought to you by Irwin Allen” on my forehead. But here’s the thing: I don’t want anyone getting the impression that I am a depressed, miserable person. Even in the midst of the melodrama I write about were many, many moments of joy. My dogs, my husband, long walks, time spent with family and friends.
I also want to let you know that the last eight months have been the happiest of my existence. I’m restricted by tradition, so I can’t provide specifics as to why or how, but let me say this: I am learning, at the bruised-fruit age of 48, to like myself. I’m not talking about my looks, or my career, or my belongings…all the things I have mistakenly thought were me and which caused great despair as one by one, they began to disappear. I’ve learned to let myself be loved even on the days when I feel utterly hideous and unloveable. I’ve learned that being kind to others is a far more uplifting and productive pursuit than sitting around hoping others are going to be kind to me. There are still days when the thorn-bush has roses, but overall, I’m feeling extremely optimistic.
Which brings me to a favorite of what I call my “sobriety songs,” The Wolf is Getting Married by the amazing Sinéad O’Connor, who became one of my personal heroes the moment she tore up that photo of the pope on Saturday Night Live (I have my issues, as does she, with the roman catholic church). The title is an obscure Arabic expression meaning, loosely translated, “a break in the clouds.” The song seems to have been written for, perhaps, a love interest. When I listen to it, I think of a collective of people: my family and old friends who have always loved and supported me (even when I was stumbling around like an early Walking Dead prototype.) I also think of all the new people in my life: the sober ones – particularly my new Tuesday night family – friends who are guiding me and helping me and crying with me and rooting for me and loving me, until I can transition from mostly liking myself to actually full-on loving myself. I also think of my trio of spiritual advisors who brought me home to my higher power.
Their smiles make me smile. Their joy gives me joy. Their hope gives me hope. I am so absolutely surrounded by love these days. Maybe I always have been. But I’m actually able to register it now, and it’s powerful. There’s been a break in the clouds, and the sun feels fucking amazing.
I used to have no wolves around me
I was too free, if that’s possible to be
No safety, is what I mean
No solid foundation to keep me
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
Your smile makes me smile
Your laugh makes me laugh
Your joy gives me joy
your hope gives me hope