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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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Dear Danny:

god_is_watching_sign_boxDear Danny,

Our mutual friend told me this morning that you’re struggling with your sobriety.

I know reaching out via this blog may be presumptuous, maybe even a bit annoying or over-reaching, because I have never even met you in person.  But one of the things I do know about you is that you have read my posts in the past. I hope you’re reading this one.

I just want you to know that you helped save my life early on in this most recent, very difficult sobriety. You did that by telling me that my blog helped you. As an addict, I often feel like I am of no use to anyone, and hearing that you read my writings…and that they helped you with your recovery…gave me the strength to continue fighting this battle at a time when I truly felt like throwing in the towel and giving in to the dark urges to use crystal meth.

I truly believe that it was God who brought us together. Discovering, while chatting on Facebook, that you are my high school girlfriend’s nephew was both a shock and a beautiful surprise.  I remember your father very well, and I remember your Aunt  telling me about your birth.

You are an incredible young man: I was stunned by the insight you have into your disease, and I was bowled over by your profound faith. Your faith strengthened mine that day, at a moment when I needed it.  You shared your story with me, and I was so incredibly impressed by the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome at such a young age.  I wish I had, at your age, even one iota of your faith and strength.

I know it’s hard. I’m struggling too at the moment. I just want you to know that even though I’ve never met you I care about you enormously. I am so grateful for your support when I needed it. I am so grateful for inspiring me with your faith.  You helped me.

I am praying for you, my young friend. The world…and the recovery community in particular…needs your experience, strength and hope.

I am asking God to watch over you and help you find your way back to His light.  I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through right now, or what particular demons you’re wrestling with.  I can tell you that I’ve wrestled with many, many demons myself.  You have to win, Danny, so that God can continue working through you to help others who are struggling. The way you helped me, probably without ever even knowing how much.

God has great plans for you, I’m sure of it.

I heard him speaking to me through you.

Prayers and love,

Andy

PS: listen to this song by my friend Maria. It’s helped me so much when things have been really rough.

Sometimes it’s a Bitch

600px-US_83.svgHello, all.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog entry, and because of that I’ve received quite a few messages of concern from readers wondering how I’m doing .

The answer is “I’m doing as well as can be expected.”

I have 83 days of recovery under my belt this (and God willing, my last) go-round.

It’s not been easy this time: I did so much damage to my mental health that it’s been a long, slow slog back to sanity. I have some great days, I have some good days, I have some bad days, and I have some truly awful and terrifying days.  Fortunately, the great and good days are growing in number as I slowly regain my traction in the world of the living, in the sunlight of the spirit.

I’m still on a strong dose of anti-psychotic medication, which is working…though not as quickly as I’d hoped.  This medication has helped alleviate much of the paranoia, though not all of it. The downside is that it makes me feel a little slow, a little mind-muddled. Writing, one of the things I do to maintain sobriety and process my thoughts, is supremely difficult.

The good news is that I’ve been rigorously honest with myself these past 83 days, laying the foundation for a new kind of sobriety, one that will hopefully withstand the seismic force of my newly admitted triggers and compulsions.

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photo by Rob M.

Also promising: my newfound reliance on prayer, and the keen awareness that I am surrounded by love and support. There have been many days when I’ve been so tightly gripped by fear that it was difficult to walk through my front door and out into the world.  Even this, it seems, has provided a benefit for me: I’ve learned that I am a man of courage.  There have been so many days when I’ve wanted nothing more than to just curl up in bed and pull the covers over my head, yet for these past 83 days I’ve forced myself to attend recovery meetings almost every day, sometimes more than once.  The drive to and from them has frequently been filled with paranoid terror, yet I’ve gripped that steering wheel and prayed my way to the safety of the meeting and then home again.  That may not seem like much to anyone who hasn’t experienced post-meth paranoia, but for me it has been like climbing Everest every single day. Yet, I’ve done it…and on the bad days, I continue to do it.

Today, I am grateful for the hard lessons learned from the consequences of my relapse, and grateful for everyone who has made me feel safe with their love and their friendship.

Today, unlike a month ago, I no longer feel suicidal. Today, I have hope that my mental health will return.

Today, I feel confident that I can maintain my sobriety…a stronger, deeper sobriety than my previous attempts: one forged in the crucible of honesty and sheer terror.

Today, I feel worthy of love. Today, I have put aside my shame. Today, I feel brave even when I feel scared.

Today, I feel God working in my life.

Eighty-three days and counting.

Sometimes it’s a bitch, sometimes it’s a breeze.

Well I’ve run through rainbows and castles of candy
I cried a river of tears from the pain
I try to dance with what life has to hand me
My partner’s been pleasure…my partner’s been pain

There are days when I swear I could fly like an eagle
And dark desperate hours that nobody sees
My arms stretched triumphant on top of the mountain
My head in my hands…down on my knees

Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze
Sometimes love’s blind…and sometimes it sees
Sometimes it’s roses…and, sometimes it’s weeds
Sometimes it’s a bitch…sometimes it’s a breeze

I’ve reached in darkness and come out with treasure
I’ve laid down with love and I woke up with lies
What’s it all worth only the heart can measure
It’s not what’s in the mirror…but what’s left inside

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

sex-addictionFor many years now I have lied to myself.

I loudly proclaimed, “I am a meth addict.”  I proclaimed with equal fervor, “I am an alcoholic.”

Friends would inquire why I was so open about these addictions, and I would faux-nobly claim that “I am only as sick as my secrets, so telling the world that I am and addict/alcoholic helps keep me sober.”  And there was a kernal of truth in that. Actually, more than a kernal…there was a lot of truth in those words.

But I used that truth as camouflage to mask the deeper, darker truth I have always been far too ashamed to reveal: I am a sex addict.

I tried to evade dealing with this fact by using the programs of recovery for my other addictions, hoping that the effects of being free of drugs and alcohol would somehow also carry over and miraculously mute that equally dark and insidious addiction.

For me, admitting that I’m a sex addict is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do in these last twenty-nine days of post-relapse “rigorously honest” introspection.

Saying I’m a meth addict was easy, by comparison: Janis Joplin was a meth addict. Jimi Hendrix was a meth addict. Edie Sedgwick was a meth addict.  Even Frances Farmer, my counter-culture idol was addicted…and driven insane…by her reliance on Benzedrine, the 1940’s incarnation of meth. So, it was easy to admit to that particular darkness.  One need look no further than the Saint of the Underground Charles Bukowski to glean insight into why I felt it easy to identify as an alcoholic.

But sex addiction? Who are the role models of that particular compulsion? David Duchovny? Great actor, but no thanks. Assorted family-values spouting congress people? Sexting Political aspirants? Ugh, no way.

vs

Yet, there it is: the ugliest of ugly truths: I am addicted to sex. Namely, pornography…unless I’ve combined that with my other drug of choice, crystal meth. At which point my rusty old moral compass…which functions to some degree, though it often requires a little shaking to get it to point due north….begins spinning out of control like a child’s pinwheel on a breezy day.

I’ve lied to myself for years about my consumption of pornography. It doesn’t hurt anyone.  It doesn’t hurt me. It keeps me from acting out with people other than my husband sexually.

All lies. Lies I knew I was telling myself, but chose to believe anyway.

Watching porn, I realize, opens up a chasm in my better nature…one that I am prone to fall headlong into…a spiritual pit that can take me days to climb up and out of.  And it has never kept me from acting out sexually, particularly when combined with the chemicals I am also addicted to.

This last, most brutal relapse of my long and storied relapsing career was triggered by sexual compulsion, as have pretty much all of my returns to active using and drinking.

I can’t pretend any longer that porn hurts no one: I’ve heard too many shares in the rooms of recovery from former or current porn performers who have spoken of the pain, the degradation, and the darkness that enveloped them while working in that medium.  I no longer want to satisfy my own carnal desires by soaking in the pain and poor choices of another lost child of God.

Certainly there are some free spirits who do porn who have no spiritual compunction about doing so, but I doubt any of them are doing this as a first choice. Some have probably felt they have run out of other options, some are desperate, and some see no problem with it until the demons of drug addiction and alcoholism sneak up on them. And some, of course….like me…are sex addicts acting out.  To view even ONE of these people degrading themselves…to derives pleasure from this degradation….no longer sits well with me. I dated a porn “star” prior to my relationship with my husband, and I saw first-hand the exploitation of the spirit that particular career engenders.

I am certainly no anti-porn crusader…many people can view pornography without it being a precursor to sexual and behavioral darkness, but I’ve decided that for me…personally…I can no longer watch any of it.

I know where my sex addiction came from, and I’ve written about some of it on this blog before as a way of explaining the dark, sexual places I’ve ended up in from using meth.

My first introduction to sex, in any form…that I’m aware of, at least….came from a tattered brown grocery bag in a relatives house. In that bag were magazines and small paperback books of intensely hardcore pornography. I’m not talking Hustler Magazine hardcore, I’m talking Nazis. Women being raped. Dogs tearing at the flesh of bound women while their captor leered on.  I was probably ten years old at the time, and it was both horrifying and titillating, this sudden glimpse into the grownup world of erect penises and this thing…all twisted, no beauty…called sex.  I hadn’t gone looking for this bag of darkness, it had been absent-mindedly left next to couch in the house of a relative when I was spending the night on that couch. Or perhaps it had been placed there, intentionally. I won’t ever be sure. Either way, though, it stole my innocence from me with the force of an anvil dropped on my head.  There was no gradual dawning of my sexuality, there was no gentle slide into the awakenings of puberty.  I knew it all, and somehow I knew I had to keep that knowledge to myself. The great shame manifested itself for the first time that night, and has never gone away completely.

When, a couple of years later, the notorious Father Oliver O’Grady took certain liberties with me, I felt that I had asked for it somehow, that the darkness of the images I had seen a few years before (and would feverishly search my relatives house to get yet another look at those books) had marked me as someone who deserved to be touched by him, as if I were marked by sin. There was, God help me, even a part of me that enjoyed it because it was yet another sexual secret that I could re-hash in my mind while masturbating.

And so it went, a lifetime of seeking out the dark side of sexuality…until I met my husband, Patrick, in 1993.  My immediate attraction to him was his sense of humor: watching him perform improv…he’s a genius of the medium, all personal biases aside…I was doubled over with laughter during my first trip to LA’s legendary Groundlings Theatre.  As I got to know him, though, I saw a gentle soul, a patient soul…a good soul.  His soul felt to me like the antidote to my own with its own dark, troubling secrets.

Though for the first seven years of our relationship I continued to battle my sex addiction (though I would never have admitted to that affliction back then, not even with a gun pointed at my head), and engaged in periodic anonymous infidelities, I knew for the first time a feeling of love, of what sex could be without shame and without guilt.  I have never felt more loved, more like a good and decent person, than when I am with my husband, a man who loves me unconditionally, who understands the origins of my shame and my compulsive sexual behavior.

It was in 2001 that I first began using meth. And from the beginning, the hypersexuality caused by the drug…coupled with the temporary obliteration of shame and conscience…made me fall in love with it.

And so I began my true descent into darkness: God-less hours spent smoking my meth pipe and watching increasingly hardcore and spirit-demeaning pornography, random animal-like assignations with other meth users, sordid sexual risk-taking of epic proportions.

Last year, before I entered recovery following another bout of psychosis…the kind I am currently experiencing….I had a moment of addled honesty, and wrote in my journal:

Friday, July 6, 2012

This has been going on for years.  There was never a lot of guilt about it until it involved cheating on Patrick to get my fix, even back when absolute fidelity was expected.  AND THATS WHEN THE METH ADDICTION BEGAN.  Because with the addition of the meth, not only was the sex more intense and more….enduring? ….it also erased..temporarily, of course, any feelings of shame or regret.  And i could indulge in that fantasy of being sexually desirable for hours and hours and HOURS.  SO yes… I think i’m addicted to meth, obviously.  But I don’t think treatment for it will ever work if I don’t address the Sex Addiction part.  Because frankly, that’s what’s always led to a relapse…the desire to be bad sexually.  

I found a ___ meeting in Pasadena next tuesday.  I’ll be finished with the meth i currently have tonight, most likely…so i’ll be clean for almost three days when I attend. I hope I have the nerve to actually walk through those doors, because it seems so much more shameful to me than admitting I’m a drug addict, which bad as THAT is, at least carries with it an air of artistic decadence or..I don’t know, I’m not articulating this well….it’s just that so many great artists and cool people are also drug addicts.  Admitting I’m a sex addict puts me in the same league as…i don’t know, date rapists? Ugh.  But I have to do it.   The whole Higher Fucking Power thing makes my skin crawl.  Maybe it will be different in this kind of group. Or, maybe I’ll be different in this kind of group.   Who fucking knows.  We’ll see, i guess. I just hope I have the courage to walk into that room and say those words.

Yet, I never found the courage to walk into that room. I started attending a recovery group for my drug and alcohol addiction, and left it at that.  And leaving it at that, I now understand with absolute clarity (and with the guidance of a loving Higher Power, which for the record, no longer freaks me the fuck out) that I will never get better unless I address this core issue that I can no longer pretend is only a by-product of my meth addiction.  It’s a real problem, all on it’s own, with it’s own mental zip code,  and it needs real solutions.

I feel God with me now, who has always been with me even when I didn’t understand that,  and I am following his lead.  And tonight, he is leading me to a recovery meeting for sex addicts.

I want a healthy relationship with sex, with my husband, with myself.  I’ve been blessed, once again, with the grace of negative STD and HIV results that frankly, I don’t feel I deserve considering my actions. The sunlight of the spirit is far too easily damped out by the shame of sexual compulsion, and I will have no more of it.  I am tired of blaming the past for my mistakes of today.  Time to get out the courage fan and blow away the storm clouds of shame, once and for all.

As always, please keep me in your prayers.

Love and recovery to all seeking it,

Andy

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.

God’s Perfect Love

love-fear-1-john-4-18-red-bible-lock-screens-christian-iphone-wallpaper-background-home-screen-158753_260x315So…here I am again.

Twenty-five days clean and sober, yet still neck-deep in paranoia, shame and remorse.

I’ve been avoiding writing about this, praying it will begin to fade as it has in the past. However, there seems to be no end in sight to the consequences of this past relapse and the drug-fueled plummet into the darkness of mind and spirit it entailed.

I am writing about it, in case God answers my prayers and begins to filter out the insanity from my obviously damaged brain. I don’t ever want to forget these past weeks…though every fiber of my being would prefer doing just that.

I need to remember it all: the sense of being followed by vehicles everywhere I go, the blackened feeling of my soul when I first emerged from the deep pit of meth use, the pain i’ve caused my husband and those around me. I need to remember how, once again, I felt that God could never love me…this sick, fucked up human being who chose to convert my output of positive energy into an intake fan that pulled in only the choking fumes of the negative.

I need to remember this so it doesn’t happen again, should God see fit to make the fear go away.

A few days ago, I was in suicidal despair, and pocketed a handful of my psych meds and sleeping pills and prepared to walk to West Hollywood Park and end it all, just make the fear and the shame and the despair go away once and for all.

And that is when God intervened, by way of a phone call from my friend Le Maire.

Lovely Le Maire, along with my equally lovely friends Maria and Phillip, have been telling me for over a year now that God loves me no matter what I’ve done, that he loves me even though I turned my back on him for over thirty years, refusing to acknowledge gifts and blessings that were so obviously given to me: Love. Shelter. Food. Friends.

My friend picked me up and drove me to Plummer Park…also in West Hollywood…and in a quiet-ish corner of the park she reassured me…once again…that everything would be okay, that God does love me. We read from the Bible, and it was the first comfort I’d felt in weeks.  We then attended a prayer seminar at a church in the Korea Town section of our city,  where I once again cried like a baby…not from shame, but from the sensation of much of the shame I’ve been carrying being flushed from my body.  It was a surreal experience, to say the least, for someone who was so anti-church, anti-religion, and for a long, long time, also anti-God.

Yet, it helped.

It didn’t fix the paranoia, it didn’t completely wash away the shame and guilt. But it helped because for the first time in ages I felt like God was listening to me. I felt a connection, and it was beautiful.

As much as I’m still suffering, I’ve come to appreciate that without this suffering I might never have found firm footing in my relationship with Him again. Yes, I am prone to doubt His existence….thirty-something years of the self-programming of an ex-Catholic turned semi-atheist do not make for a wrinkle-free transition to Believer…but something has changed. I can feel God with me, and the solace is comforting. That connection waxes and wanes, but when I feel that I’m losing touch with Him, I pray, and I feel renewed. The shame and self-hatred rise up in giant waves still with alarming regularity, but I can pray and push them back before they inundate me completely.

12354_10201789142865376_999522833_nI still loathe myself frequently and deeply, but I no longer feel God is disgusted by me. I know now that I’m his Child, not just the sick, sad person I feel like when I’m out of touch with Him.  He loves me as much now as he did when I was a young boy, before I was introduced to darkness via hardcore porn and ill-intentioned hands.

I’m still battling fear and paranoia, but I’m not doing it alone.

I have my family, who never give up on me.

I have my friends in recovery supporting me, checking in on me, letting me know that I am loved.

I have my amazing husband, who despite my checkered history of incomprehensible and demoralizing relapsing, still loves me fiercely.

I have my friends Le Maire, Phillip and Maria, who continue to help me strengthen my connection to God.

And, most of all, I have God himself, who may not be working as quickly as I’d like Him to, but has kept me safe from harm thus far.

Even in my diminished state, my God wants me to help others, and I’m doing so wherever I can with my limited resources.  I’m also reaching out for help…asking for rides to meetings, prayer requests…which for me is among the most difficult things to do.

I have little idea of who the 1,500 people are who read this blog, but if any one of you is considering using crystal meth…or using it again if you have already…hear my plea: do not do it. Not even once. The repercussions, the damage, the despair and the soul-sickness it causes can never be justified, not even once.  Once is all it takes to get hooked on that insidious bitch of a chemical.

You trust me on this, just as I’m trusting God with my continued recovery.

(God’s) Perfect love casts out fear.

Please keep me in your prayers.

The Innocent and Honest Ones

In the eighties, when I was still a rabid atheist, there was a song I used to listen to when I was feeling lost.

It was a beautiful ballad by the Irish band In Tua Nua called “The Innocent and Honest Ones.”  I’d listen to this song, often after a night of raucous, drunken debauchery (this was when alcohol was still my primary drug of choice), whatever random coupling that had just occurred only serving to intensify the constant ache of loneliness. My raging hatred towards God, dulled by countless screwdrivers, would subside for a while, and I would take in the lyrics:

“I wanna believe in you, If I can find a way

I see signs of you each and every day

You’re in the Innocent and the Honest ones

The liberators and the selfless ones

In the forests and the air they give

the few oceans where life still lives

I wanna believe in You, not corrupt institutions

You’re a feeling inside, not rules or regulations

You gave us sexuality, desire is no sin

You gave us common sense, but not in a catechism

You’re in the Innocent and the Honest Ones

In retrospect, I was a terrible atheist. One can not be angry with something one doesn’t actually believe in. So perhaps I was never truly an atheist, rather, I was just someone who was so angry at God that I chose to ignore Him, the way a fifth-grader will suddenly cold-shoulder a classmate they’ve been friends with for years over some schoolyard slight.

Yet, drunk and lonely, I found myself wanting to believe. The song encapsulated everything that I felt about religion: anger, frustration, and a belief that God…if he existed…was – to quote the song – in the innocent and the honest ones.

The problem was, I stopped feeling “innocent” around the age of eleven, thanks to the Catholic church and its policy of protecting child molesters. I certainly didn’t feel “honest,” either…by that time in my twenties I already had a closet full of secrets I’d been holding on to for years. Lies kept me safe. Lies kept me from being judged. Lies allowed me to walk around safely in a time when an admission of homosexuality could be extremely dangerous. Lies kept me from having to let anyone know how dirty, how damaged, how very sick and tainted and dark I felt inside, thanks to early exposure to hardcore pornography and the truly evil Father Oliver O’Grady.  Lying…outright or by omission…was my defense mechanism, almost reflexive at times. Every word, before it left my mouth, had to be weighed and assessed before it could be spoken to make sure it wouldn’t accidentally betray the bright, shiny, wholesome, blond and tan golden boy image I had so carefully cultivated.

And so it went, into my thirties, and into my forties. As I matured, I did learn how to be honest about things I’d lied about in the past. And when I began seeking recovery for the first time in earnest 14 months ago, I began talking honestly about my feelings and my secrets on this blog…and it was liberating.

Honesty, however, still doesn’t always come to me as quickly or as reflexively as lying does. It’s ingrained. And that lack of honesty is what aids and abets my disease of addiction.  Not just lying to you, but the lying I do to myself.  

rush_poppersLast night, I attended a recovery meeting with about 60 other recovering crystal meth addicts. These are people I have come to care about deeply over the past fourteen months, people who have supported me, loved me, even celebrated my one-year milestone of “recovery” in my backyard swimming pool.  The gentleman who shared his story last night could have been reciting my own.  He shared openly and honestly about having lied during his initial experience in recovery – how he had used amyl nitrate (a sex-enhancing inhalant, aka poppers) during the period he had claimed to be sober.  He actually made eye contact with me…and held it…while he related this information. It was disturbing, it was like he was looking into my eyes and seeing my own lies swimming inside them.

I felt horrible. I felt ashamed. I understood in that moment that I can not keep lying to myself, to others, to anyone…if I want to live. And I want to live. I want to beat this disease. I want to kick it, strangle it, wrestle it to the ground and choke it into submission, tear out its fangs and humiliate it the way it’s humiliated me.

So, I stood up and told the truth.

I told the room that during the 13 months I had claimed to be sober, I had actually used inhalants as well, despite the fact that doing so clearly constitutes a relapse in this recovery program. I had justified using them: they weren’t really a mind-altering substance (the truth: they are), they kept me from using meth, so what’s the problem? (the truth: they didn’t keep me from using meth, obviously), and I’d been using them since my early twenties and they weren’t a problem then, so why should I consider them a problem now? (the truth: then, I hadn’t found crystal meth, now meth and poppers are both inextricably tied in to the twisted relationship I have with sex).

It was, perhaps, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I felt dirty, I felt like I’d disappointed every person in that room, I felt exposed for the liar that I am. The liar I don’t want to be any more.

After I shared that information, I fled the room: partially because I needed to call my sobriety “guru” (euphemism required) and tell him before anyone else in that room had a chance to text or call him, and partially because I felt humiliated.

Since that admission, just last evening, I’ve received a flood of emails and texts from recovery friends telling me how “brave” I was to stand up and be honest.  I so deeply appreciate each and every one of those messages, but the truth is, I don’t consider what I did brave. What I consider brave is the ability to live honestly each and every day…being honest with myself, and with others. What I did last night was an act of desperation, not an act of bravery. Because I AM desperate.

I’ve received some messages from friends in recovery, basically saying that I don’t have to tell everyone, that when it comes to poppers there’s some wiggle room as to whether it constitutes a relapse. For me, though, there is no wiggle room. That wiggle turns to writhing, the writhing ultimately turns to relapse on crystal meth. No wiggling allowed, at least not for me.

My friend DC has a saying he uses frequently: “Some people are too busy trying to save face that they forget to save their ass.”

I want to save my ass, not my face.

Because the next relapse will kill me. I’m absolutely certain of it.

I’ve always cared too  much about what people think about me. I want people to like me. But I’m done with that. If my telling the truth about the fact that I lied about my sobriety makes you hate me, so be it.

I’m done beating myself up. I’m no longer going to aid and abet the world’s…and my disease’s…propensity to do that on its own.

Because I want to live far more than I want to be liked.

I’m done with shame. I’m done with the lying. I’m done caring what anyone thinks of me, unless it’s because I’ve transgressed against them in some way that requires amends.

I have twelve HONEST days of sobriety today, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

I’m grateful for my friends who have shown me so much love, even in the face of this recent admission.

I’m grateful for my sobriety guru Jonathan, who told me last night, “I’ve never been more proud of you.”

I am grateful for my husband Patrick, who loves me unconditionally, even when he’s had to lay down appropriate boundaries to protect himself.

I’m grateful for the presence of God in my life today.

If you read this, and you see me in person after, please don’t tell me that I’m brave. You can tell me that you’re proud of me, and that you love me, if in fact you feel those things. But direct the bravery comments to those who have earned them by maintaining an honest recovery in the face of trying circumstances.

I will never again be innocent, but today – thus far – i’ve been honest.

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.

Testing Grace

So, the personal wreckage cleanup begins again. Does anyone have a backhoe I can borrow for a few days…or weeks…perhaps months?

I wonder how my husband tolerates this.  I know there must be those (myself included), who occasionally view him as one of those residents of Tornado Alley, post-devastation,  scrunching their faces against grief on the TV news, vowing to stay right where they are and rebuild, dammit…while the nation watches and wonders just what the fuck is wrong with his logic. Why would you stay and rebuild…haven’t you learned yet that the odds are pretty darned good another twister is gonna come along and fuck up the very foundations of your existence?

Yet, he keeps loving me. He sees something lovable in me that I’m unable to see myself at this moment.

This morning, this man of incredible patience and tolerance accompanied me to the Gay and Lesbian Center here in Los Angeles so that I can be tested for STD’s and for exposure to HIV.  Throughout my 11 years of off and on drug abuse, I’ve put myself at risk numerous times, and somehow my higher power has protected me. I am a rare creature, a hardcore meth and sex addict who has somehow managed to avoid HIV infection. It would be ludicrous to expect that i’d have escaped the virus one more time.

Unfortunately, perhaps because it was the first day of resumed testing after a long, holiday weekend, the waiting room was a mob scene, and I had to reschedule my appointment for this afternoon.  Disappointing and a little nerve-wracking, because I really just wanted to get it over with, but also grateful because it gives me more time to pray. Not for a negative result, though that would be wonderful. But for the strength to handle the news should it be bad.

One of my dearest friends…one of many friends who has loved me unconditionally… the singer/songwriter Maria McKee once sang on her beautiful song My Girlhood Among the Outlaws ( from her album titled You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, appropriately), “I took a leap of faith, and I stumbled…I tried to live outside Grace, and I was humbled.”   That song is what I’m listening to right now…though it’s a romantic love song, I’m listening to it in a different way:  as love song to my Higher Power, to God.

My girlhood among the outlaws was salty, bittersweet 
The things I did, ah I could just kick myself now 
Through nights of lousy dreams 
As visions gather in my head 
I find it hard to live with the things I did and said 
But for you my friend, I’d live it all again 
And love you in the end 

Anything for you baby anything for you 
If it took those years to get me here 
I’d do it again for you 

Took a leap of faith and I stumbled 
Tried to live outside grace and I was humbled 
But I’d like to bet if I’d lived to fear regret 
Then we never would’ve met 

Anything for you baby anything for you 
If it took those years to get me here 
I’d do it again for you 

So here we are and I don’t know what we call it 
‘Cause love is such a funny promise 
Commitment is impossible and forever is a lie 
But that still leaves you and I 

Anything for you baby anything for you 
If it took those years to get me here 
I’d do it again for you

My appointment is at 4:30, and I am not expecting good news. But I am expecting to handle it with grace, knowing that my God is not a punishing one, and that He will give me the strength to deal with whatever needs dealing with.  He’s kept me alive through these dark years, and He’s even shown me a way to live that is so bright and shining I have to squint in the glare of it.  He’s given my husband the strength to keep loving me, even when I’m unable to love…or even like…myself.

After the appointment, I will go to my primary recovery meeting, in a lovely backyard in Hollywood filled with tiki torches, votive candles, a bonfire and so much recovery and  lovingkindness it is absolutely impossible to let self-loathing surface.  Regardless of the news I get, I know I’ll be surrounded by at least 80 human beings, all struggling themselves one way or another, who really do love me and want only the best for me.

Back inside the arms of Grace. I want to stay there this time.

I know what needs to be done, and I’m going to do it. I’ve learned some things about myself, I’ve admitted some things to myself I already knew but didn’t want to confront.

And if this relapse is what it took for me to finally address these issues…and if being HIV positive like so many of my recovering brothers is part of that lesson, so be it.

If all of my struggling and falling and climbing up and falling again is what it takes to get me to a place of true recovery, a place of brutal honesty with myself and those in my life, so be it too.

If it took those years to get me here….

That I Would Be Good

sunshine-through-treesIt’s Labor Day, and it’s broiling hot outside.

I only know this because when I opened the door to let the dogs out this morning, a wall of heat almost knocked me over.

I’m staying inside today. Not because of the air conditioning (though I thank God for that), but because I’m still in a fairly dark place.  One doesn’t submit to the darkness of crystal meth for several weeks and then suddenly, upon cessation, immediately break back through into the sunlight of the spirit. It’s more like being submerged in a murky pond, swimming for the sun-dappled surface with all one’s might, heavy weights strapped to the ankles.

The spirit stays wounded for a long, long time.  The nature of my addiction is that, upon taking that first hit from the pipe, I forfeit my soul in its entirety. Regaining it is a slow and intensely arduous process that can last far longer than the relatively short amount of time I spent using.

I am a deeply shame-based human being.  I have been since childhood, when inappropriate touches and unconcealed paper bags filled with hardcore pornography in a relative’s home sexualized me long before I was ready for it.  I’ve lived my entire life believing that I am damaged, that I am sick, that I am beyond redemption. The dark fantasies those experiences inspired in me have continued to live in the deepest, innermost part of my brain, whispering to me that I am a depraved human being and that regardless of how much good I try to do in this world, it will never be enough to cleanse the shame from my stained soul.  They want out, those fantasies, and the only thing that provides them the liberation they demand is crystal meth. And once released, those fantasies turn even darker, quickly transitioning from sex for validation to sex as self-punishment. This probably makes little sense to anyone who hasn’t experienced sexual trauma, but it’s my own dark, sad truth, the sinister demon I’ve lived with for so many years.

Last year, I found my way back to God, though it wasn’t easy. A friend told me that God loves me no matter what, and there have been times in this last bout with sobriety when I actually believed that. Today, I’m not so sure.

I do know that when I’m not using crystal meth, I have a great capacity to behave like a decent, moral human being.  But that’s a far cry from actually feeling like one.

I know all addicts travel to a place of spiritual oblivion when they’re in the depths of their disease. I feel, though, that my dark places are among the darkest of all.   Empirically, of course, I know that this isn’t true, as evidenced by occasional dark and disturbing news stories.  I’ve never put a baby in a microwave when high on meth, I’ve never molested a child while high on meth. There are a lot of places far darker than the basement of sexual promiscuity I consign myself to while using.  Still, this is my own shame, my own spiritual bankruptcy, and there really is no way to compare it with the shame or spiritual vacuum of another human being.

I’ve been clean of all substances for four days now, and a cloud of darkness is still swirling around me. There are momentary respites…seeing my friend Jonathan last night and holding him and crying and telling him how sorry I am for having lapsed back into my disease, the hugs I received at meetings from people who say they love me, the concern my husband shows me when I feel like I deserve only to be kicked to the curb.

Just a couple of months ago, I was on top of the world: praying every night..and frequently throughout the day…helping other people maintain their sobriety, feeling proud of myself for having achieved something I thought was beyond my grasp: inner peace, moments of tranquility, and occasional unexpected stumbles into wide meadows of self-love amidst the shadowy forest of self-loathing. Today, is Labor Day. Today, I am thinking about my Great Grandmother, who survived the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist sweatshop fire. My great-grandmother, a very young woman at the time, had always maintained that she was carried to safety from the roof of the burning building by an angel.  When I was younger, when I was a militant atheist, I would mock the very idea. Obviously, it had been one of the students from the adjacent NYU building who had rescued her.

Today, as I struggle to regain my footing, as I do battle with the shame and sadness of having betrayed and worried so many people I love dearly, I am also praying for an angel: one to carry me out of this abyss of self-recrimination and lingering sadness, back to a place of sunlight, self-forgiveness, friendly smiles and helping others.

I need to get to a place where I am able to see clearly that my capacity for goodness far outweighs my capacity for self-destruction and causing grief.  I need to feel close to God again, if he’ll have me. I need to find a way to love myself again, if only intermittently.

I need to believe that I am a good person fighting a horrible disease.

I am a survivor, a fighter. I will get there, but I will need your love and your support.

I need my angels.

“That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing

That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy

That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be good whether with or without you”

Read more: http://artists.letssingit.com/alanis-morissette-lyrics-that-i-would-be-good-fdqvjrc#ixzz3G9WV82r8
LetsSingIt – Your favorite Music Community

Some Things I’ve Learned

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has sent me private messages of concern following my relapse.

I don’t have the time to write a full blog entry today, since relapses have the weird side effect of making one’s house very, very messy….and my husband returns home on Friday.  He has been very supportive regarding my relapse, but coming home after a month to a six-foot deep pile of dirty…very dirty…laundry might finally send him right over the fucking edge.

In the short amount of time I have to write this, I think I want to share one of the main things I’ve learned from this relapse:

If you’ve done meth in the past and it ended really badly, if you do it again it will end even worse for you.

This was really surprising to me, which is why I’m sharing that information with you so you can share it with others. It’s the least I can do to atone for my stupidity and the pain and worry i’ve caused so many people who love me.  I like to think of myself as an intelligent man, but I’m still learning things every day.  I’m going to quickly share some other things I’ve learned recently so you can avoid the consequences I’ve endured from engaging in these  seemingly harmless activities:

1.  Some floor cleaners smell a lot like a Lemon Drop cocktail, but taste really fucking bad and will give you a sore throat.

2. Certain glass items are really shiny like hard candy but – strangely –  they will make your mouth bleed  if you eat them. Weird, right?

3. You will cut yourself approximately 65% of the time if you use scissors to open tuna cans.

4. Rattlesnakes may look all cuddly and snuggly and shit, but they hate being kissed on the mouth.

5. Those bug fogger things will only make your head cold worse if you try to use them as a vaporizer.

6.  It’s really awesome that God made so many metal items that will fit into power outlets, but if you stick a cocktail fork into one it will be super painful.

7. Pomegranate juice is a really great anti-oxidant, but you should only use water with a neti-pot.

I hope you find all of this helpful, especially the don’t do meth one.  I’ll continue to report to you as I discover additional things that aren’t good or safe activities.

Have a lovely day….off to get the garden hose so I can clean the hardwood floors for my husband. He’s going to be so happy with how shiny I’m going to get them!

And again, thank you ALL for your concern. I’m struggling, but at least I’m still moving.  Have a beautiful day.

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.

You Are The Light: sober musical interlude #5

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:

 

My Jesus Looks Like Jean-Paul Belmondo

jesus-wallpapers-0114A 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.

nanandandyMy 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 scapularBrownScapular.S2, 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?

ImageA 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.

breathless8This 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

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