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This Isn’t Everything I Am

despairToday, I have fifty days of recovery: 1,191 hours of hard-won, rigorously honest, Higher-Power driven recovery.

And yet, my disease continues to whisper inside my head, trying to shake my confidence and make me throw it all away. My disease is trying to make me believe that I am useless, and since my disease knows me so very well, it knows exactly what words to use to cause despair:

“You are a total fuck-up. You’ve never contributed anything to this world of any value. Why don’t you just give up on this recovery bullshit and go do what you do best…get loaded?”

“You’ll never have a career again. You fucking burned your last one to the ground with a goddamned butane torch, what person in their right mind would ever hire you again as a Producer? The only thing you produce is misery.”

“Jesus Christ, why are you going to all these meetings? Meetings, meetings, meetings. What a colossal waste of time. Those may work for other people, but you and I both know you’re far too fucked up for that recovery shit. It’s too late.”

“Just kill yourself. Do it now and stop prolonging the agony for all those people who love you but who would actually hate you if they really knew what goes on in that sick head of yours. You know you’re just going to end up dying alone with a needle in your arm or a pipe in your hand. Get it over with, you fucking pussy.”

I’ve done a lot of walking the last few days, taking the train out to Pasadena and traveling the five and half-mile return trek to Mount Washington by foot.  During this time, I have inadvertently done something that is required of me in the program of recovery I use, but that I’m really, really bad at: meditating.

esalen-institute A little over ten years ago, following my first stint in rehab at Glendale Alcohol and Drug Services (GAADS), I was invited by a friend to attend a three-day “mindful meditation retreat” at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, and it was an abysmal failure.  Though we arrived at the beautiful compound with the best of intentions, it soon became clear we were in way over our tiny-attention-span heads.

The first day, after eight hours of lying in a solarium doing not much more than breathing and listening to our co-participants stomachs gurgle, we were beginning to question the importance of this extremely boring activity in our lives. By the middle of day two, after suffering a bout of the church giggles following another meditator’s accidental flatulence, we were asked by the seminar leader to leave. Of course, he asked us very politely, with a serene long-haired grace that reminded me of a combination of a deadhead hippie and a trappist monk.  Still, we were mortified, if only for a few minutes. The rest of the weekend was spent goofing around naked in the hot sulfur water of the cliff side hot tubs.

So much for meditation, I thought, and washed my hands of it.

But just like with prayer, I’m beginning to understand the need for meditation in my life and in my recovery.  I’ve attempted it again, mostly in group settings, like the time on my sober group camping trip when a dozen of my cohorts and I sat silently on a fallen sequoia branch in a beautiful meadow, my friend Jonathan’s gentle voice guiding us along, encouraging us to be still, to breathe, to just be.

It was a lovely moment, but still, I remember focusing not on my breathing, but on the discomfort of the rough bark against my ass, and the fear that the giant bumblebee sniffing at the beautiful wildflowers by my feet might change its trajectory and land on my face. So I sat there, trying to shift my butt covertly and without making any noise, one eye half-open and keeping an eye on that bee, understanding the concept of the meditation but realizing no direct benefit from it.

Several days ago, my Los Angeles recovery community lost another of its own. A dear, gentle man who seemed to have it all. Multiple years of sobriety, what seemed like a successful business, physical beauty, and seemingly surrounded by love and support.

He shot himself.

I’m not sure if his suicide followed a relapse, or if despair overtook him without the aid of drugs and alcohol.

Either way, I do know one thing: that this man, who I’d spent significant amounts of time with at meetings, after meetings, at parties, and one weekend in particular at a recovery-related convention, had found himself in a place beyond hope.

It’s a place I know well, and visited recently.

It’s the place those voices in my head want me to return to, permanently.

The memory of this man, of our interactions, and the knowledge that even with years of sobriety he could find himself in a place so dark truly fucked with my already tenuous state of well-being.

My disease said to me:

“He had five years of sobriety and his disease took him. Why are you even trying to get away from me? You’re mine, you’ll always be mine, so stop fucking running and go get high.”

I was a mess inside: so sad and heartbroken over the passing of this truly beautiful and inspiring man, and so scared that…but for the grace of God…that could have been me just several weeks ago, when suicide seemed like the only way out of the paranoid, psychotic mess I found myself in.

So I did what I’ve trained myself to do: I went to a meeting.  It helped, but not much. It was good to be around other alcoholics and addicts, and someone else shared about my friend’s passing. I cried a little, then came home, still feeling out of sorts.

When those feelings jangling around in my head became too much, I knew I had to do something.

So I took a walk.

And without meaning to, I discovered a way of meditating that works for me, a way of de-clouding my brain, allowing positive thoughts and affirmations to fill my head instead of the dark whisper of my addiction.  Perhaps it’s just the endorphins, but when I arrived home that day after three hours of hoofing it across town, the angst-y fog in my head had cleared a bit.  I could focus.

pulga1952_01935 Today was my third walk in as many days. At one point, I stood on an overpass in a sort of reverie, watching the stream of traffic on the 110 freeway below me, feeling the warm sun baking my forehead, feeling very strange indeed.  After a few moments of trying to assess exactly what this feeling was, it came to me:

I felt calm.

It had been at least an hour since the screeching voice of my disease had spoken to me, and the silence was beautiful.

You are going to make it,” I told myself. “You are a valuable human being. You are kind and caring, and you deserve love and you deserve a beautiful life. A sad ending is not guaranteed, nor is a happy one. It’s up to you.”

And I believed it.

Fuck you, disease.

Even in my darkest moments, even when my disease is screaming at hurricane pitch, I am surrounded by love.  I always have been.

This is how I’m feeling now, after my three-hour meditation walk, and it feels great.

There is hope for me still, and when I quiet my mind and open my heart, it becomes almost tangible.

As the lyrics in the following song say (a song I was introduced to by my friend Rob M., yet another sober guardian angel in my life), I may be an addict, I may have caused pain, I may be in pain frequently…but that isn’t everything I am.

And in one little moment
It all implodes
But this isn’t everything you are

Breathe deeply in the silence
No sudden moves
This isn’t everything you are

Just take the hand that’s offered
And hold on tight
This isn’t everything you are

There’s joy not far from here, right
I know there is
This isn’t everything you are 

RIP, Max. You were loved by so many. I wish you could have felt it when you most needed it.

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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.

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