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SCARLOVER

Already using meth again, while carrying around my anti-biotic dispenser. Addiction: Cunning, baffling, powerful.

Already using meth again, while carrying around my anti-biotic dispenser. Addiction: Cunning, baffling, powerful.

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.

My scar.

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 

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The Wolf is Getting Married

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.

Better Every Day

IMG_1729Once I believed that when love came to me
It would come with rockets, bells and poetry
But with me and you it just started quietly and grew
And believe it or not
Now there’s something groovy and good
’bout whatever we got
And it’s getting better
Growing stronger, warm and wilder
Getting better everyday, better everyday

I’ve recently fallen in love. And it’s not with Patrick, my amazing partner (now legal husband, yay!) of 20 years.

I am completely head-over-heels, schmaltz-and-all in love with my sobriety.

We actually began courting back in 2002, but it just wasn’t a love match at the time. I just couldn’t see how me and sobriety could work together. Sure, sobriety seemed like it had it all together, seemed steady and dependable, but I just wasn’t ready to commit. We went on a few dates, but it just never panned out. I was too self-obsessed, too selfish, too arrogant. Now, years later, after putting myself through the wringer and humbled by  my years-long, off and on relationship with Crystal Meth, I can finally appreciate what sobriety has to offer.

This past year has been an amazing journey of self-discovery; as sobriety and I approach our one-year anniversary, I can  honestly say our relationship gets better, and stronger, with each passing day.

I am smitten.

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.

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

Last night, I dropped acid with my buddy Brett.

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

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

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

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

IMG_1417

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

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

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

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

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

Demons Who Drank With Me: Sober Musical Interlude #4

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

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

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

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

Give it a listen (lyrics below):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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