Category Archives: support

That Thing Called Hope

40491_galThe first time I attempted suicide I was eleven years old.

I took a swig from a bottle of Mr. Clean, scrambled under my bed with my mother in pursuit, and refused to come out despite the intense burning in my throat.  My uncle, who lived next door, was called over and forcibly pulled me out, kicking and screaming. Obviously, I did not die, only scorched my esophagus a bit.

The last time I attempted suicide was in 2009. I swallowed every pill in our house, ate a large quantity of crystal meth, and washed it down with a bottle of some kind of alcohol. My husband returned home, found me in our bed covered in blood and vomit, and called the paramedics who arrived in time to get me to a hospital, where I awakened hours later with a tube down my throat and my thighs coated with shit and the charcoal that had been pumped into my stomach to absorb the poisons.

There were, between these two attempts, quite a few others…some closer to successful than others. Bags over my head, GHB or crystal meth ingested in mass quantities, and one lame attempt involving a wooden gazebo beam and a cheap extension cord completely ill-suited to the task.

The truth, however, is that I never really wanted to die, exactly. I just didn’t want to go on living. 

“Suicide is such a selfish act,” say callous cunts all over the internet, completely unaware of the pain living in such unrelenting darkness engenders.  What they  don’t understand is that often, suicide feels more like a selfless act to those who are contemplating it. We who have witnessed the constant stress and anguish our depression has foisted onto the lives of our loved ones often believe, whilst in the deepest of our despair, that removing ourselves from this thing called life could only benefit those who suffer because of us.  A couple of years of grief, I would think, and then my loved ones could move on with life without the constant worry, anxiety and grief I was causing them. They’d be sad for a while, of course, but could then finally begin to get on with their own lives. Suicide often felt like the kindest thing I could do for them.

During most of my 13 year battle with addiction, I felt hopeless far more than I ever felt hopeful. I would do what was suggested in my program of recovery, following direction to the letter: being of service, going to meetings, working the program that was prescribed and that was said to set me on what was referred to as a road to happy destiny. It would work, for a while. I’d feel something like hope, if not hope exactly. Perhaps it was hope that I might eventually feel hope. No matter how hard I threw myself into recovery, no matter how hard I worked (particularly during the last two years, when I attacked my program with a fierce determination), I could not sustain any kind of joy.  One day, I’d be feeling that thing close to hope, I’d be working with other addicts, I’d be praying my ass off, and I’d go to bed thinking that tomorrow would be even better if I continued doing what I was doing.

Then, out of the blue, I’d wake up with those feelings of despair washing over me, almost unable to get out of bed. I’d lie there, trying to figure out what had changed during the brief eight hours i’d been sleeping, and couldn’t find anything that could account for this sudden re-immersion in misery. And the suicidal ideation would return, stronger than ever. I’d plan out my demise, carefully: a trip to Target to purchase a helium container in their party section, then a trip to Home Depot for plastic bags, zip ties and rubber tubing.   Then, thoughts of my mother, of my husband, and the pain my death would cause them would force me to push those feelings aside, at least temporarily. I’d get a better idea: crystal meth. And it almost always worked, at least in the short term, before the insanity of that drug would send me spinning into the abyss of paranoia and delusion. So, as ludicrous as this statement might sound, I honestly believed crystal meth saved my life countless times. Of course, it progressively diminished the quality of my life in the process, but it did short-circuit the “kill myself now ” impulse rather effectively.

Six months ago, I finally found a therapist and a psychiatrist who actually listened to me, which can be a rare thing in this age of candy-dispensing, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks brain pharmacology.  After a full hour of listening to my personal history, my psychiatrist announced, “you are clearly bi-polar, type one. Sometimes it’s difficult to diagnose, but in your case, it’s pretty obvious.”  I suppose that non-bipolar people don’t attempt suicide at age 11, and at least once every five years for the next 39 years.  Non-bipolar people don’t, i’ve learned, hallucinate even without the assistance of drugs. Non-bipolar folk don’t necessarily work for three days straight without sleeping (I just thought I had an amazing work ethic.)

Lamictal200mgTabletI was put on a medication called Lamictal, a mood stabilizer, and within a week my life began to change. I could think clearly. I slept deeply, my brain’s chronic mania reduced to a tolerable level. I no longer flew into rages over perceived slights or minor inconveniences. Best of all, I no longer saw the shadow people who had been a part of my life since childhood, and became omnipresent and terrifying when crystal meth entered my bloodstream. Calm. I have moments of pure calm, and I have not woken up to debilitating despair once in the past six months. I still feel sadness, when appropriate, and great joy when also appropriate. But the constant back-and-forth, up-and-down patterns i’d been dealing with for as long as I can remember seem to be a thing of the past, and for the first time in my entire life I know what hope feels like.

Because I’m not constantly battling mania or depression, I’ve been able to work a consistent program of recovery. And it’s been stunningly easy. I used to look at other alcoholics and addicts who had acquired significant sober time and think, “how the fuck do you do that?”  Now I understand how. “When someone is happy ” says my therapist Larry, “they don’t feel the need to use drugs.”  Yes, it was that simple.

Today, I read that Robin Williams committed suicide by asphyxiation, the method I held in reserve for my next attempt should it become necessary. I am heartbroken.

A man who has brought so much light, love and laughter into the world is gone, a victim of mental illness. That he was also in recovery, and that I have frequently been mistaken for this comedy legend (I don’t see a resemblance, personally) only makes this news so much harder to bear.

It also resurrects a feeling of anger I’ve been harboring regarding the rooms of recovery.

For years, I’ve heard recovered addicts and alcoholics (primarily old-timers, or members of more regimented groups), state from podiums that psychiatric medications should be considered a relapse. “I don’t take ANYTHING that affects me from the neck up,” they pontificate with cocksure pride in their ability to live a perfectly happy life, any psychological problems they may be facing cured miraculously by the wonders of their program.

Fuck you, I say. Fuck you hard, you fucking fucker.

This kind of talk is not only dangerous, it can be construed as attempted murder in my book.  Too many people…in recovery and out….already fear the stigma of mental illness, and resist diagnosis.

Magnifying that stigma by advising impressionable newcomers not to take psychiatric medication is deadly hubris, and I don’t doubt that these arrogant – if well-meaning – program purists have been the cause of innumerable suicides during the course of the many years the recovery program I use has existed.

Anyone who advocates against psychiatric medication in recovery has clearly never experienced the utter black hopelessness of real depression. I’m sure they’ve felt deep sadness at times, but that is a very different experience.

I don’t know if Robin Williams relapsed before deciding to end his life, I don’t know if it was depression alone that caused him to act, and I don’t know if….as a long-time member of the recovery community – he subscribed to the “no psych meds” bullshit edict.

But if this hilarious, troubled, talented human being WAS told that psych meds constituted a relapse, someone, somewhere…perhaps multiple someones…have blood on their hands.

My program is one that emphasizes compassion, love and tolerance of others.  I try to be kind to everyone, I see myself in every other struggling alcoholic and addict, and I help to the best of my ability.  However, the next time I hear someone share the anti-psych med position from a podium, I will not remain silent. My  share that will follow will be direct, it will be blistering, and it will contain the phrase “attempted murder.” I’ve lost too many friends to suicide in the last few years to tolerate this bullshit anymore.  If you’re reading this, and you disagree with me, at least consider yourself warned. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, you have no right to tell others to avoid life-saving medications, just as anyone without a uterus has no right to an opinion on the use of birth control pills.

My psychiatric medications do not supplant my program of recovery, they simply make it possible for me to work that program that also saves my life on a daily basis. It levels the playing field for me.

Because I still see so much shame regarding mental illness of any kind, I wear my dual-diagnosis (addiction and mental illness) status with pride in the rooms of recovery. Stigma kills. Psychiatric medication saves lives.

Happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, I’m living proof of that.

 

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Happy Birthday, Tina

I need other addicts and alcoholics.

That’s it, plain and simple.  My recovery would be nothing without the friends I’ve made in recovery; so many people who are dealing with their own struggle with sobriety, yet still take the time to counsel, care about, or simply  hug another who needs it.

Tina, on her first day of sobriety and the day our friendship began.

Tina, on her first day of sobriety and the day our friendship began.

There are people in my life who have gone to extraordinary lengths to help save my life, and I’ve spoken about them frequently on this blog: Mykee, Phillip, Rob, Jonathan, and others.

And, there is Tina.

I met Tina when she was on her very first day of recovery, and when my own sober days numbered less than thirty following a brutal relapse. I had made a rare excursion over the hill to the San Fernando valley to attend a recovery meeting I’d never been to before, and following that meeting we smoked a cigarette together and talked a bit. In an act that was completely unlike myself, particularly in that state of paranoia, I invited her to come back to my house and sit by the pool. We talked for hours, fraintically and anxiously chain-smoking in the manner of newly sober addicts and alcoholics. There was a connection, and for the first time since I’d stopped using meth I felt comfortable talking about my relapse.  In the days following that time spent by the pool, while I struggled with suicidal ideations caused by paranoid psychosis, and she battled the depression of very early sobriety, I would reach out to Tina via texts or phone calls.

sober buddies out on Melrose Ave.

sober buddies out on Melrose Ave.

She would always take those calls or return those texts, and we forged a relationship based on our common goal: sobriety. Our friendship has continued to grow with each passing day, and we’ve helped each other through a couple of very rough patches. Still, each time I see her lovely face, my heart fills with joy. This woman helped save my life, and I’ve told her this. Yet I’m not sure if she fully understands how non-hyperbolic that statement is. During those early days of texting and phone calls, I was teetering…almost hourly…between wanting to die and wanting to know how to live.  The love this young woman showed me would always push me back toward the side of hope, even when things seemed darkest. On the days when I lived in fear that this state of paranoid psychosis would never abate, I could reach out to Tina and it would calm me. She says that I helped her too, and I believe her. I only know that now, when I see her, I can not hug her or thank her enough.

Happy One Year of Recovery

Happy One Year of Recovery

11800451_10205738112986556_951461337159970238_n (2)Just a few days ago, at a sober retreat in Palm Springs, Tina celebrated 365 days of continuous sobriety. Holding that birthday cake in front of her while she blew out the candle was an honor like no other. She cried, and I cried, of course. Because in sobriety, I cry a lot. But it’s good crying. Crying because I’ve never felt the love I feel in the rooms in recovery, crying because I get to give that love back to others who are struggling. Crying because I get to watch amazing men and women like Tina rebuild their lives, watch the light come back into their eyes. I’ve watched Tina transform from an always-lovely but sometimes barely-there-at-times girl to a vibrant, strong, honest, absolutely incredible young woman who has spent the last year not only helping herself, but helping others without compunction and with the rigorous honesty that is a vital component of sobriety. I am so proud to be her friend and to be walking the road of happy destiny with her.

Tina, you may know, is also one of the common street names for my drug of choice, crystal meth.  To have been brought to my knees by one Tina – and then helped back to my feet by another – seems to be irony in it’s most delicious form.

I am so grateful for Tina and for all my friends in recovery. I am grateful for the love, the support, the hugs, the encouragement. Because (as my brilliant, dear and also incredibly supportive friend Maria sings in the following song) I can’t make it alone.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

snap1309043 Today, my disease is incredibly angry.

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.

Countdown

Rapidly approaching my one-year sobriety “birthday,” I’m overwhelmed by feelings.

Gratitude, because I’ve learned this year how to actually sit with these feelings and not seek to dull or obliterate them with drugs or alcohol.

Anxiety, because this means that I will have to speak…if only briefly…in front of large gatherings of the recovery community when I acknowledge this accomplishment.  I’m a writer, not a speaker. Anyone who has heard me fumble my way through my very infrequent “shares” in my recovery groups is probably painfully aware of how awkward I am when trying to construct a spoken sentence.  The keyboard is my friend, my mouth is often my worst nemesis.

ishot-1313151Melancholy, because it took me so long to “get” the concept of recovery. Ten years of beating my head bloody against a wall, trying to break out of the prison of addiction, when I’d had the key to the door all along. I just had to be willing to use it.  I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” when I was young. I was always struck by the ending, when Glinda tells Dorothy…after all that walking, all that flying-monkey bullshit, all that witch-melting…that she could have gone home at any time. Punch her, I used to think. Sadistic bitch…NOW you tell her?  It’s taken me years, but I finally understand Glinda’s reasoning: “She had to find it out for herself.”  No one could have sold me on the concept of recovery until I was ready to embrace it.  Like Dorothy, I feel like I’m finally home again. But better….I’ve not returned to the gray tones of my pre-addiction metaphorical Kansas, I’m in a brand new, Technicolor home surrounded by love and support and stocked with the tools of recovery.

Mostly, though, I’m feeling joy. Joy at finally feeling like I belong, at having found a group of people who, like myself, are struggling to make their lives better. It stuns me sometimes, the beauty of these people I get to walk with now. Our own yellow brick road of sorts, each of us seeking courage and insight into our own hearts and brains, doing battle with our own dark internal forces.  We’re all so different…used different substances, come from vastly varying economic situations, some  hit rock bottom and some only  saw it coming…yet, we’re all the same in the ways that really matter.  A huge community of men and women who have decided to make their own lives better by helping others. God is there, and easily co-exists with the agnostics and atheists among us.  And most importantly, there is love.

There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery.

(clicks heels three times)

Let the countdown commence.

Die Another Day

I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go

paranoia, 2007.

paranoia, 2007.

Reading of the NSA domestic spying scandal, and of the fiery Highland Avenue 4 AM car-crash death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings – who was reportedly writing an expose on the FBI and NSA – that old, familiar shiver of fear riffled its way down my spine.

Oh shit,  I thought. Is it back?

By it, I meant paranoid psychosis, with which I was diagnosed in 2007, after nearly six months of living in constant fear, feeling like I was being constantly surveilled, and trying to rationalize multiple strings of coincidences that would have probably gone unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t entrenched in a years-long crystal meth addiction.

It subsided quickly, but it did leave behind some residual feelings that I associate with those long-ago days: anxiety, paranoia, and the biggest of all, plain old fear.  I truly believe that a large number of meth-related suicides are instigated not primarily by the overwhelming hopeless feelings of addiction, but by fear.

I remembered my  attempts at suicide…most fairly half-hearted, since I never truly wanted to die. I only knew I was too scared to keep living.  I remember the time in our pool shed, where voices from unseen people directed me to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, place a large plastic bag over my head, and to then bind my own hands together with plastic cable-ties.

Obviously, it didn’t work. I vomited into the plastic bag and somehow, in my drugged stupor, managed to break out of the ties and rip the bag from my head…though I remember nothing except waking up on the floor of the pool shed, woozy and sticky in my own mess.

My last attempt was slightly more effective: downing every pill in the house (and after years of psychotherapy and addiction, there were quite a few of them lying around), writing a paranoid and ridiculous  “they forced me to do this!” suicide note, and then collapsing on our bed. Patrick had been working, taping an episode of the cable comedy show (wait for it…) Head Case, and returned home from work to find me unconscious, barely breathing, covered in blood and (yes, again), vomit.  Paramedics pulled me back, and a weeklong stay at the House of Horrors that is the County USC Psych Ward (6 crazy men to a room and wet, stained bandages covering the shower floor tiles, anyone?) ensued.

I’ve been sharing about these feelings of residual fear with sober friends, and it helps, though it’s difficult at times. Anyone who hasn’t experienced extreme paranoid psychosis finds it hard to understand the depth of the sheer terror of being in that state of mind, and most people who have experienced it are extremely reluctant to revisit it…understandably.  Even though it was years ago, the feelings that my brain registered at the time were real, even if the situations that inspired those feelings were not.

It certainly doesn’t help matters much right now that my paranoia involved being targeted for surveillance by some shadowy civilian security entity…I was under the delusion that my large number of anti-Bush-era policy emails and postings on internet bulletin boards had made me a target. I also thought that…wait for it, this part’s funny…because I’d had an article published in a national magazine, and because my husband was a fairly prominent television character actor, I had somehow made the list of those who needed to be “monitored.”   Funny, I know, but at the time…in the throes of post-meth-psychosis, it all seemed completely rational.  Of course, there were some things I simply couldn’t explain: cars that seemed to constantly swarm me, headlights on bright even in the middle of the day, strange hang-ups on my cellphone, just a whole host of things that terrified me beyond belief but might have seemed perfectly  normal if I hadn’t been operating from a place of drug-compromised intelligence.

So, reading about secret domestic surveillance and wiretapping programs, and the death of a reporter who was reportedly working on a story to expose government secrets, there was a  weird sense of deja vu.

Fortunately, today I’m clean and sober, almost a year now.  I’m sane.  The paranoid psychosis has been gone for years.  My head is on straight. Though I remember those thoughts and feelings I no longer believe an y of them.  I can fully appreciate the fact that there is nothing about me that would warrant surveillance by anyone. Delusions of grandeur, my therapist had referred to it. Grandiosity. 

Today, I still suffer from feelings of grandiosity, but in a different way: today, I love myself, I love God. I take care of my mind and my body. I no longer live crippled by fear of things real or imagined.

Today, I not only don’t want to die, I want to live.

And as my friend Maria told me the other day when I shared these feelings with her, “it’s different now, honey. You have  people who love you, you have a support group.”

So, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who is dealing with paranoid psychosis, and you’re feeling like it’s never, ever going to end…trust me, it does. Find recovery, find the right meds, find a safe place among friends who are also recovering. It will end. The wait will be hard, but it will go away.

Life Giver, Life Saver

6818_1233541953773_7394085_nWhen I was ten, my mother walked me and my sister down to the small playground of the apartment complex we were living in. There, we witnessed two young boys…maybe five or six years old…. fighting, clumsily tugging at each other’s clothing and trying to land punches from the odd angles they were contorted into.

A woman in her late twenties stood nearby, yelling as if at a prize-fight.

“Hit him!” she yelled. “Hurt him!”
Her son, unfortunately, lost the fight, and came running back to his mother, sniffling and snotting into the cold air.
The boy’s mother walked a few yards and picked up a large stick from the ground, maybe a tree branch..perhaps a broomstick or part of a discarded child’s toy. With a  snarl on her face, she handed it to her son.
“Hit him,” she yelled. “Hit him or I’ll tell your father that you’re a sissy.”
“I don’t want to,” the boy whined. “I just want to go home!”
“Do it!” the woman yelled into his face. “Hit him!”
The boy reluctantly turned back toward the boy who had bested him, brandishing the stick, tears and snot still covering his face.
“Beat the shit out of him, Danny,” the woman…who somehow managed to look both flabby and scrawny at the same time….yelled.
Danny approached the other boy, stick held over his  head, menacingly.
I felt my mother’s hand release mine, and looked up to see her taking off her distinctive cat-eye glasses.
“Hold these honey,” my mother said, handing the delicate eyeglasses to my sister.
My lovely bug-eyed baby sister nodded, closing her hands around them.
And it was on.
My sister and I took several steps back as my twenty-five-year-old mother, her long auburn ponytail bouncing, strode quickly to  little Danny and yanked the stick from his grasp.
“Hey,” began Danny’s mother, “What do you think….”
My mother was on her before she could complete her question.
652_1088080997340_1361_nI could graphically describe what happened next, including the wrestling of the woman to the ground, the threatening to beat her with the stick, the “what kind of mother tells her son…” admonition. I could also describe in great detail the memory of the woman being dragged from the playground by her hair and maybe I could share some of the swear words that were used. But I won’t, because I don’t think it’s necessary.
But suffice it to say, my 5 foot 4 inch tall mother showed that other mother that it’s not wise to bully and force your child to hit another child…with a stick no less….when another mother is watching.  Particularly when that other mother is my mother: Supermom. Raised tough and Italian-Irish in Brooklyn, the descendent of a long line of lovely, loving, tough and funny women.
Flash forward almost thirty years.
I am being dragged by security guards into the emergency room of Glendale Adventist Hospital. It’s early dawn, and my husband Patrick and my mother have spent the last several  hours driving around South Pasadena trying to find me.  I’ve been on a colossal meth binge, and I’m completely out of my mind. I’d called home sometime during the night, and having gleaned my general whereabouts from my incoherent ramblings, they had set out in search of me.  Now, they are trying to get me admitted to the psych ward.  Having suddenly realized that I am about to be put in lock-down (not again!) I’ve tried to flee. The guards, roughly gripping my arms on either side, are trying to keep me from doing so.
They’re no match for me, the master of duplicity: I go limp, as if resigning myself to my fate. Their grips loosen slightly, just enough for me to suddenly yank free and go running down the sloped lawn of the hospital towards Chevy Chase Drive.  The guards, now pissed off in the very non-professional manner of the budget security professional, are in pursuit.  With a significant lead, I bend down quickly to yank off my one remaining shoe (don’t ask) and turn to throw it at the advancing men, their chubby faces contorted with the effort of chasing this crazed tweaker.
And that’s when I hear my mother scream.
“Andy!” she wails. “Oh my God, ANDY!” It’s more than a call to stop running. There’s a weird tone, like she’s being mugged or something.
“ANDY!” she yells again, and I look up at the top of the hill.
My mother, zaftig and in her late fifties, is clutching at her chest.
“I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK!” she screams, and falls to her knees, face contorted in pain.
Holy fuck. This stops me in my tracks. I pause, watching her sink to the ground. The security guards run back towards my mother, and I stand there, frozen, forgotten.
my mother, circa 1951

my mother, circa 1951

The meth haze clears for a moment, and tears form in my eyes. SHIT. Then, I’m running back up the hill to the emergency room entrance. I pass the security guards and get to my mother first.

I notice that Patrick seems fairly unconcerned about my mother, and it rankles me for a moment. Then, I notice Patrick silently indicating something to the security guards, who instead of tending to my mother, grab me by the arms and drag me forcefully inside. I’m absolutely confused.
As I’m being pulled into the hospital, I glimpse my mother standing up and brushing grass from her knees, picking up her purse, and hand in hand with Patrick, following me inside.
She’s crying, but it’s not from physical pain.
Now she’s talking, but it’s not about a heart attack.
“I’m sorry, honey!” she’s calling to me, “I knew you’d come back if you thought I was in trouble!”
That BITCH, I thought, as I was being put into four-point restraints. She fucking faked a heart attack.
And it worked.
301464_2247635465477_5301969_nFlash forward ten more years. I’m writing this with almost one year of solid recovery under my belt. Not just sobriety, but recovery. There’s a difference.  Today is mother’s day, and I can look back at that incident at Memorial Hospital and laugh. Of course she knew I’d come back if I thought she was in trouble.  Even at my craziest, my most self-involved, my most self-destructive moments, I’ve loved this woman more than anyone in my life. Even when I was swearing at her, debasing her with meth-fueled insults and making her life a living hell, I loved her.  I honestly believe there were times I hated her simply because I loved her so much. I hated myself, I hated everyone, I hated everything. Yet she just kept loving me. She just stayed.  She made it impossible for me to say “I don’t have anyone.” When everyone else had abandoned me….wisely, I’d say….this woman stubbornly continued to hold out hope that I’d get better, that I’d stop using, that I’d become the son she knew before I had  found crystal meth.
My mother gave birth to me when she was sixteen, her marriage to my physically and mentally abusive biological father annulled before I was even born. We’d survived intense violence together while I was still in her womb. She protected me then, jumping six-months pregnant from a moving car and hiding in a roadside snowbank while my raging “father” tried to run us over . We were threatened with a shotgun, and we survived. We formed a bond, similar to the typical overly protective Italian-American mother and her firstborn son, but more so.  We grew up together, a child raising a child.
She has loved me fiercely since the day I was conceived, and I have never, ever been in doubt of that fact.
When I came out to my parents in 1986, she was taken aback, perhaps because I’d spent so many years cultivating smokescreen…and highly sexually active… relationships with girls. However, it only took a couple of weeks for her to come around fully, and even during those two weeks she was nothing less than loving and concerned about what my future would hold for me as a gay man. In those years of the deadly plague, it was a very legitimate concern. After those two weeks, however, she became a fierce ally. Within a  year she was voting democrat instead of republican, and even accompanied me and some friends as we marched on Sacramento for some gay rights concern (my sister Theresa also followed suit, and I count her among some the finest mothers..and human beings…i’ve ever known.)
I know I made her life a living hell for the ten plus years I was hooked on speed. I remember too much of the shabby treatment I gave her. I remember making her cry, seeing her mouth tighten and her forehead crinkle as she’d hear the horrible words I’d say to her.
I remember the night, convinced the house was surrounded by armed intruders, that i’d made her lie on the hardwood floor beside my bed with me, keeping her awake with my incessant “look, see that shadow? that’s one of them” comments. She knew I was insane, but she stayed with me anyway, frightened that if she left I’d do something stupid, perhaps hurt myself.
14991_1428298988430_1744323_nI remember standing on the back porch, screaming into her face while she stood there in her bathing suit, trying not to cry. I can almost hear her thoughts, even now: “this is not my son. this is the meth. this is not my son” as I threw expletive after expletive at her.
I am a forty-eight year old man who is crying as I type these words. Some of the tears are of regret, of the pain I caused this wonderful woman. Most, however, are of gratitude.
I’m so grateful that i’ve never gone a day in my life without knowing that I’m loved. I’m grateful that my mother never let me go, even when she had every right to….even when she would have been commended by others for doing so.
I’m grateful that I have someone I can call when I need advice, and I’m grateful that my husband has forged a close relationship with this woman who thinks of him as one of her sons.
I’m grateful for my recovery. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue making amends to my mother. I’m grateful that with this new clarity I can appreciate the joy and happiness she brings to other’s lives…not to mention the fierce loyalty she displays for every person she loves, family or otherwise. I’m grateful for a mother who will speak out about injustice and unfairness, even if she’s past the age of beating those lessons into other mothers on playgrounds.
I’m grateful that I am now able to be present in her life again, to be of assistance, to be there for her when she needs support. Grateful it’s once again a two-way street.
I’m grateful for all the strong women in my life….the ones who have passed, and the women who continue to inspire me today with their fierce love and emotional strength: my sister Theresa, my Aunts, my nieces Taylor and Alexa and Kira,  all my cousins (particularly Amber and Kristi and Lisa and Gail and Denise and Denise and Nadine and Beth and Barbara and Cassandra and Brooke).
I’m grateful most of all today…Mother’s Day…for Ann Vacante Nicastro, who first saved my life, then gave me life, then saved my life again.  
Mom, you are the most amazing human being I have ever known. I love you.  I always have and I always will.

Dear Kira

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: 

a and p equalityDear Kira,

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.”

Love,

Uncle Andy

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:

Sober Musical Interlude #3

“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.

Sober Musical Interlude #1

Sinéad_O'Connor_-_How_About_I_Be_Me_(And_You_Be_You)

“The Wolf is Getting Married” can be found on Sinead O’Connor’s 2012 release “How About I Be Me and You be You?”

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

 

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