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Happy Birthday, Tina

I need other addicts and alcoholics.

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

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

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

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

And, there is Tina.

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

sober buddies out on Melrose Ave.

sober buddies out on Melrose Ave.

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

Happy One Year of Recovery

Happy One Year of Recovery

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

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

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

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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

The Weight-ing Game

scale

photo by Rob Meese

I currently weigh 192 pounds.  45 days ago, at the end of my last meth binge, I weighed 165 pounds.  That’s a substantial weight gain in a very short period of time, and it’s freaking me out, so I’m doing what I now do to deal with feelings that scare me: I’m going to write about them, humiliation be damned.

I discovered bingeing and purging back in the early 90’s, when alcohol was still my drug of choice.

It happened by accident, sort of…following a wild night of sweaty, shirt-off dancing at West Hollywood clubs like Rage or the now-defunct Studio One, I’d cruise through a Taco Bell drive through on the way home and hunger-order a bag full of food.  Back at my apartment, I’d gorge myself on the carb-fest, trying to soak up some of the alcohol still in my stomach.

The first time, I vomited because I had to. Just too much to keep down while in a horizontal sleeping position.  I noticed, however, that in the morning I felt better physically then I usually did following my previous booze and taco supreme over-indulgences.  Less bloated, less headache-y.  And remembering how easily it had all come up the night before, with just a minimum of effort on my part, I wrote a brain-note to myself: try that again next weekend.

And I did.

My addict brain assured that within weeks, I was bingeing and purging with alarming frequency, and not just following nights out at the bar.

I was twenty-seven years old, and was just beginning to discover that my body could no longer live on a diet of Pepsi and fast food without gaining weight, the way it had done in the past.

I was also in the midst of dating, and frequently. As an insecure gay man shopping in the frequently appearance-is-everything meat  market of Southern California, I fretted and obsessed (more addict behavior) about every pound that I would gain, certain that my love handles would be the one obstacle that would prevent me from finding the true love I was sure I deserved.

And so it went, crash dieting, failing at the crash diet, bingeing, eating gluttonous quantities of McDonald’s french fries and Hostess Sno-balls and anything else I could get my mouth on, an alternating out-of-control ,savory-sweet-savory-sweet mastication orgy of self-loathing and despair, followed by the violent, shameful but “I’m back in control” retch of the purge.

This went on for years, though, like much of my addictive behavior, it would subside for periods, often for several months in duration. But it would always return when the insecurities resurfaced.

I became obsessed with the unattainable goal of physical perfection, and the shallowness of that pursuit gradually replaced any concept of spiritual evolution that might have existed before. I began to value myself more for how I looked than for how I behaved.  

In other words, my body became more important than my soul.

Even after I was officially rescued from the choppy waters of the dating pool by my wonderful partner Patrick, the old bulimia demon would occasionally pay me a visit during times of intense stress or when I went to pull on a pair of pants that were suddenly so tight they’d make my legs feel like giant polish sausages.  That feeling of disgust at myself, that inner monologue would assert itself, loud and on repeat:

you’re disgusting. You’re fat. You eat too much, you eat more than normal people eat. You are so weak, did you have to have three helpings of macaroni and cheese last night? What are you, a fucking child?”

GET RID OF IT.

I went to therapy, at Patrick’s insistence, and it provided a measure of relief, though never total remission. I learned some tools that I would occasionally utilize, and more frequently ignore. My weight would fluctuate from bone-thin to stout to chubby, and back again, over and over.  I fucked up my body in profound ways, my metabolism never quite being able to assess its base line and constantly trying to compensate for my self-destructive behavior.

body-fat-percentageAt one point, I even resorted to undergoing liposuction: one of the most painful and truly unnecessary tortures I’ve ever put my body through. I can barely write about that ordeal without cringing, both from embarrassment and recalled discomfort.

Finally though, I found a cure for my bulimia: crystal meth.

I didn’t start using meth as a method of controlling my bingeing and purging, it was simply a positive side-effect of not having any appetite at all. The pounds dropped away, I would pick like a finicky child at any food on my plate.

While my weight stayed low, and the voice  of the binge and purge demon was temporarily muffled, other…and more vicious…demons took its place, setting in motion the chain reaction of decades-long damage that inspired this blog in the first place.

The nature of meth abuse is that one rarely eats at all while using, so when one ceases using, the body is in starvation mode and instantly begins to cling to every calorie, every drop of moisture, and bloat and instant weight gain is the result.

Today, I have 45 days of recovery under my belt following my last relapse. They’ve been 45 incredibly difficult days, filled with residual fear and paranoia, self-hatred over my seeming inability to grasp my programs of recovery, and a sense of desperate clarity that this is perhaps my last chance to get it right.

They’ve also been filled with a new sense of God in my life, of hope, of rigorous honesty, and of an often-overwhelming sense of gratitude for those around me who have supported me – and continue to support me – regardless of my cataclysmic fuck-ups.

I am also now battling the binge-and-purge demon once again: that voice that is telling me that the 160 pound, meth-addled Andy is the better, more attractive Andy.  The voice that is telling me that I have no self-control, that I will never amount to anything If I can’t even control my eating. The voice that silently whispers to me “do a little speed. no one has to know, and you’ll be able to fit into those jeans again in no time. You’ll be fine, just manage it a little better this time.”  Of course, that voice is lying to me, because I am utterly incapable of doing speed without anyone knowing, and of course I have absolutely zero ability to manage my meth use. I am powerless over that addiction, and manageability is the very hallmark of my drug use, whether I’m using it to get high, to lose weight, or for any other bullshit reason my tricky brain comes up with.

I’ve been steadily climbing up out of the pit of relapse, hand over hand, feet finding tentative purchase from which to push myself up higher towards the Sunlight of the Spirit.  I will not let the binge-and-purge demon drag me back down.

I still have the tools I learned in therapy a long time ago that will help me deal with my body issues today, to find peace with this nearly 25 pound weight-gain I’ve achieved in only forty-five days off the pipe. I’ve been reading voraciously the stories of those who have also battled eating disorders, and am currently in the middle of actress Maureen McCormick’s brave memoir, “Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding my True Voice.” These stories, and the inspiration I glean from them, are another of my tools to combat my bulimia.

But I have an even better tool, one that I’ve learned in the programs of recovery I use for my other addictions: prayer.

Today, I pray that I can love myself exactly as I am. Today, I pray that I can set myself free from the bondage of self.  Today, I pray that I can stop comparing myself to others negatively.  Today, I pray for the ability to recognize that I am fine just the way I am, and to understand that there are those who struggle with weight because of medical conditions, genetic pre-dispositions or other factors, and that my obsession with body-image is just as self-destructive as any chemical I put into my body.

I pray for constant appreciation of the fact that who I am far outweighs what I look like.

Today, I offer a prayer of gratitude that I still have a body that functions, that is healthy and that has not only been the mode of conveyance for my spirit for 49 years, but has also weathered and survived the punishments I’ve long inflicted upon it.

Today, I am 192 pounds of pure gratitude.

A Phone Call From Who I Used to Be

photoshop-iphoneThe phone rang after midnight, just a couple of hours ago, a rare occurrence in our home – and I ran to answer it, wondering who the  hell would be calling at that hour, irritated but worried that something unfortunate had befallen a family member.

I recognized the name on my iPhone immediately. It was the name of a friend of mine I’d met in recovery, someone who had more clean time that I did when I began my own getting-sober process.  When I met this man, he scared me a little, but not in a bad way. Rather, his energy and enthusiasm made me nervous, mostly that he’d notice me and I’d be forced to actually speak at my recovery meetings. Early on, staying silent in the back of the room was my modus operandi.

This man, quite a bit younger than myself, eventually became my friend. As I gained confidence in myself, I began to participate more at meetings, I’d eventually introduced myself to him and confessed that I had been put off by his wide smile and almost frenetic friendliness. We became friends fairly quickly, and I started to get to know this man in the way that only people getting honest in the rooms of recovery can.

Then, suddenly, he disappeared.

I’d heard he’d “gone out,” the recovery parlance for relapse, and I worried about him.

But he returned soon after the holidays, a little worse for the wear, skinnier by far, but still as friendly as always.

It didn’t last.  A month later, he was gone again.

He’d come back, go back out, come back. Each time looking more emaciated, his eyes sad but still trying to cover up his personal wreckage with jokes and smiles, even while  he’d relate sad tales of suicide attempts, conflicts with the police, or other drug-fueled behaviors that I just couldn’t bring myself to join him in laughter over.

At one point, he stopped his goof-ball routine and looked me in the eyes, perplexed.

“Are you crying?”

“Yes, I’m crying,” I said, probably too harshly.

“Why?” he asked, his too-thin face looking puzzled.

“Because I’m afraid you’re going to die,” I snapped at him.  “I’m afraid you’re going to die and all you want to do is laugh and make jokes about it. I love you, and It’s not fucking funny.”

He seemed touched by my concern, but per usual, tried to put me at ease with more jokes about his fucked-up behaviors outside of recovery.

After having disappeared once again, after more legal run-ins and another suicide attempt, he showed up at a meeting last week, and I was happy to see him, but approached him tentatively, having finally decided that I needed to protect myself from his instability and the way it was making me feel.

Selfish? probably. What I have to do to take care of myself and my sobriety? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Yet, I answered the phone tonight, despite it being after midnight and despite the almost certain knowledge that what I’d hear on the line was going to be crazy talk. And of course, it was.

He sounded scared, told me he was at his boyfriend’s house, told me that he was hiding. I asked to speak to the boyfriend…who I also know… but he told me he couldn’t do that right now.

“Things went wrong,” he said, “really bad things  happened.”  I immediately imagined a horrible Sid and Nancy scenario, the boyfriend dead in another room and my tweaked-out friend talking to me with one hand on his iPhone and the other with a gun to his own head.

My stomach knotted up, I started to sweat.

“Put _______ on the phone,” I asked gently. “Please.”

“I can’t,” he replied, his voice going from frantic to flat calm in a heartbeat. That calm was actually more terrifying than the panic, for some reason.

“Things went really, really wrong,” he said, with a note of sadness creeping into his steady inflection. “I need you to call the police, or an ambulance.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“Give  me the address,” I said, and he gave it to me.

Before I could say another word, we were disconnected.

I called 911, only to learn that an ambulance had already been dispatched to the address. I hung up, my heart racing and sweat beading on my brow.

I called a mutual friend, who reassured me that I did the right thing, and that there is only so much I can do for this person. I told him that I was feeling shaken up, how hearing our friend’s voice had scared the shit out of me and left my stomach knotted..

My friend, who is extremely wise, and has many more years of recovery than myself, replied “You know why that is, don’t you?”

“Because I’m afraid he’s going to die?” I answered, tentatively.

“It’s because that’s what YOU used to sound like, Andy.”

And, of course, he was right. It IS what I used to sound like on the telephone when I was delusional and paranoid for so many years. The way Patrick heard me when I’d call from some dark place, scared out of my wits about some imaginary monster. The way my very dear (and at the time very pregnant) friend Cynthia heard me when I called her at 4 AM, holed up in the West Hollywood Ramada and convinced people were scaling the outside wall and trying to break into my room.  When I made those phone calls, I didn’t give a shit about the terror and confusion I was causing others..I was out of my mind, too caught up in my own meth-induced terror to even think about things like other people’s nerves or the possibility of causing a miscarriage (there was no miscarriage, thank Jesus.)

The part of me that still wants to punish myself for my years of horrible behavior wants to label this incident as payback.  But the part of me that is desperately seeking to heal myself is choosing to view it as a window into the damage I caused others, and as a tool to measure and finally understand the depth of despair and heartache all my freaked-out, drug-induced late night calls caused them.

I can’t help my friend, just as no one could really help me until I decided to get serious about my recovery.  I’m still scared he’s going to die. I’m not even sure if he’ll still be alive when I post this.

But just as I’m powerless over alcohol and crystal meth, I’m powerless to save this beautiful boy who, like myself not too long ago, is caught in the quicksand of addiction, turning this way and that, fighting recovery, causing himself to be sucked deeper still into the muck.

I’m going to pray now for this man. I’m going to pray that he finds the strength to get serious about rooting out his demons and getting them to submit to recovery, to sobriety, to sanity.

I can’t save him, but I can pray for him.

And I can cry for him, too.

I want my friend back.

More; Revealed

gratitudeThere’s a saying in the recovery community that used to perplex me:

“I’m grateful to be a drug addict,” people will often say.

There was a time when I would hear these words and cringe. Who in their right mind would be grateful for this disease?  Maybe, I thought, poor communication skills was the issue: a sub-par public school education combined with too many hits off the crack pipe.  Perhaps what they meant to say was, “I’m grateful to be a recovering drug addict.” That, at least, would make some sense, even though I still couldn’t understand why anyone would be grateful to be any kind of drug addict.

In my head, I’d have to add words to that sentence so that I could process it:

“I’m grateful to be a drug addict….(and that I didn’t die while I was using.)”

“I’m grateful to be a drug addict…(who finally found a job and is working again.)”

“I’m grateful to be a drug addict..(who isn’t homeless any more.)”

That was the kind of gratitude I could get behind: the specific, the detail-oriented. Gratitude just for being an addict? Insane, I thought. Why the fuck would I be grateful for a disease that took my soul, dipped it in kerosene and set it aflame? I could tolerate a lot of the bumper-sticker-esque slogans of recovery, but that one…I’m grateful to be an addict…just set my jaw on edge.

There’s another saying in the recovery community: “More will be revealed.”

That particular saying didn’t bother me as much, possibly because it smacked of sage mysticism, a sly Harry Potter-ism for the semi-addled.

More has been revealed, it turns out:

Eleven months and five days into my recovery, I am grateful to be a drug addict.

I am grateful to be a drug addict because without this disease I may never have found a new way to live my life. Without the disease of addiction I’m certain I’d never have regained a sense of spirituality and begun my journey towards regaining my faith. Without the disease of addiction, I would have never have met so many beautiful and loving people…most of them damaged in ways similar to myself, and most of them working hard to shed the hard shells of scar tissue the disease of addiction left us covered with…leaving many of us as vulnerable and frightened as tiny, featherless birds. Without the disease, I would probably never had set out on a journey of never-ending steps to right the wrongs I’ve done people, I would never have found the courage to examine myself and my behaviors. Without the disease, I would never have rediscovered one of my true passions in life: writing.

I am even grateful for the occasional pain that recovery brings. Before I became active in my disease, when I thought I was on my way to ruling the world, when status and money were my two primary goals….I lacked empathy for others. I cared about a lot of things a little, but cared about few things a lot. Today, I can feel my feelings without reflexively seeking to obliterate them. Today, I help others, and I do it gratefully.

My world is different now, and it gets better every day.  Recovery didn’t give me my life back, as I’d originally hoped it would.

It gave me a better life than the one I had before I found crystal meth. Such an amazing, unexpected surprise.

Almost as surprising as finding myself saying that I’m grateful to be a drug addict.

I look forward to even more being revealed.

It only takes a sunny day / To find a way / It only takes a little time / To open up your mind

Like a Book I Wouldn’t Read

“I wish that confidence was all you could see in my eyes / Like those interviews in locker rooms with talented sports guys / I wish I had no self-awareness like the guys I know / Float right through their lives without a thought / And that I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought of me / That I was so relaxed you’d think that I was bored” – John Grant, “Silver Platter Club”

confidenceTwo weekends ago, at a recovery-related event, I was sitting outside smoking a cigarette and talking to a recently made friend.

The conversation turned to the topic of social anxiety, and I offered that I suffered from that particular affliction to an inordinate extent.

“Really?” my friend said. “I’d have never known, you seem so confident.”

I was taken aback for a moment, though pleased that I had managed to fool him, somehow.

I’ve been revisiting that conversation in my mind off and on since. If this man saw me as confident, did others?

The truth is, I’ve never had much confidence. Ego, hell yes. Confidence? never. At the far end of my 48th year, I still judge myself more harshly than anyone else ever could, and with astonishing frequency.

I’m not saying that there aren’t moments when I feel good about myself: I am proud of myself when I help other people, I can commend myself when I write something I believe to be worthwhile, and I even like the way I look on those rare days when skin, clothing, hair and body all coalesce to present an appearance I think looks pretty good. Those moments are sadly, few and far between, and they can be erased immediately by one misjudged look from another, a terrible photo of myself popping up on Facebook, or even the tiniest inadvertent criticism.

I’m also not saying that I am shy or retiring: Over the years, I’ve learned how to present the image of an alternate Andy, the Andy that I wish I could be organically. In my previous incarnation as a producer/production manager, it would have been career suicide to let my insecurities show. So I cultivated a brash, get-the-fucking-job-done personality that allowed me to progress without hindrance, job-wise,  until I was body-checked by my addiction in 2002. But it was mostly acting. I was as insecure about my performance…my legitimacy as a boss….as I may have often made the people who worked for me feel.

Now, having been humbled by my precipitous fall from grace, I can rarely muster that other Andy, the Andy of the False Bravado.  I sometimes feel like an actor who can no longer summon the motivations and mannerisms of a character he played a long time ago.  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I no longer want false bravado, I want real courage.

I want to learn how to love myself, to stop judging myself, to stop being my own harshest critic.

I’ve been working hard this year towards that objective. At this point…eleven months clean and sober…the best I can say is that there are moments when I like myself. I still hate my face. I hate my big nose (“you have a Roman nose,” my father used to say. “It’s roamin’ all over your face.”), I hate my thick, short torso, I hate my  giant legs that look like I was bred to pull carts through fields. I hate the long scar on my belly that is a direct result of my drug use.

ishot-0052171

I want to go back in time and tell this kid to stop worrying about the paint job and start focusing on the engine..advice i’m trying to follow now.

I’m terrified of aging: in my youth, I was told I was handsome. I didn’t believe it, but empirically I knew it had to be true on some level. Looking back at photos of myself in my twenties, I see a beautiful boy. I wish I could have thought that about myself then.  There’s a big difference between knowing something to be true and feeling that it’s true. So for years, I relied on that perception of others to validate myself. Now, nearing fifty, my skin sagging and it’s tone uneven with age, my crow’s-feet wrapping so far around my head and so deep into my skin that they look like knife wounds if I smile too broadly, I have had to forfeit even the luxury…or curse, perhaps…of false confidence.

So, it’s just me left. Without the smooth shiny skin and clear white eyes of youth, without the superficial  validation of others, I’m unarmed for the most part. Yes, I’m intelligent, though perhaps not as much so as before I addled myself with crystal meth. Yes, I’m compassionate towards others. Yes, I’m regaining the capacity to be honest, another virtue torn to shreds by addiction. I have many good qualities, yet somehow there are times when those don’t seem to be enough.

While I do have a good number of close friends I’m completely comfortable with, my social anxiety is particularly bad in large groups of people: I stand talking to someone I’ve just met, and I’m conversationally crippled by my own thoughts, my own self-absorption. Can it be called narcissism, this thinking of myself when I should be focused on someone else, if the thoughts about myself are entirely negative?  I smile at people a lot, and they smile back. I hug people a lot, and they hug back. From there, however, it’s a difficult road to continue down.

In the gay recovery community, beautiful boys abound. Youth is everywhere, and I can’t help but compare myself to them, to envy the attention they get from others not because they are decent, respectable, admirable human beings (though many of them are, of course), but because they are shiny and lovely and golden.  I often feel left out, relegated to the past-their-prime seats, feeling less-than and, because i’m an addict and it’s what we’re good at, sorry for myself.

I shoot my face full of Botox, get injections of filler to stave off the inevitable collapse of the flesh-girders holding up my face, and I torture my body at the gym, all so I can feel better about my exterior, and perhaps fool one or two people into believing that I have some semblance of confidence, and perhaps, in the right lighting, look a few years younger than I actually am.

I’ve battled an eating disorder (if you read this blog you already know I’m a hundred flavors of fucked-up, so this should hardly be a surprise), I put myself through insanely  awful liposuction surgery (“There will be some pain during the recovery,” my plastic surgeon said, which turned out to be the equivalent of saying “Auschwitz lacks many of the comforts of home”), and I could competently give guided tours of every tanning booth in Southern California….all in a vain attempt to like myself.

I’m writing about this not for reassurance about my appearance. I understand I’m not hideous. I even understand that I am sometimes perceived as handsome. I understand that there are so many unfortunates with deformities and injuries and who are dealing with real problems. I get this. I do NOT want anyone to comment on this blog post to validate me for my physical exterior. I’m writing this because I still often feel ugly, on the inside, and I need to start letting that feeling  out.

I’m writing this because I want people to understand that if I seem stand-offish, it’s not because I don’t want to know you. If I say hello, then seem to drift away before conversation ensues, I want you to know it’s because there’s a fairly good chance I’m feeling incredibly awkward and want to get the fuck out of the situation before you realize it. I don’t want to say something stupid, so often I say nothing at all.

Mostly, however, I’m writing this because I know there are other people who feel this way…this weird social anxiety. Perhaps theirs isn’t based in the same insecurities mine are, but I know for a fact that I share these feelings of occasional self-loathing with many others. I’ve heard others who are far braver than I talk about it publicly in the places I go for recovery, and it usually surprises me because I’ve already assessed these people as being beautiful and confident.

This social anxiety, this non-stop judgement of self, is one of the reasons I loved alcohol and crystal meth so much.  When I was high, all this discomfort in my own skin disappeared. I was suddenly funny (or so I thought), and my self-criticism diminished to such a degree that I could actually relax around other people.  Now, clean and sober, I have to begin addressing these character defects in a direct way, and it’s terrifying.  But it has to be done if I’m ever going to find peace living here in this aging body of mine.

I need to escape this overwhelming self-absorption and find peace. I need to address what’s lacking inside so I can start caring less about what’s on the outside. I need to continue helping others so that I can stay out of my own head.

There are probably a good number of people reading this and thinking, “God, what a self-obsessed asshole.” Don’t feel bad, because I’m thinking that myself. But I need to get this out. This is the kind of shit that has been in my head for years and blocks my path to any kind of spiritual advancement. So, i’m getting it out, as obnoxious and narcissistic as it might sound. I do like to think that I might be helping other people with this blog, but the truth is that this blog helps me, and that’s the reason I blurch this confessional shit out onto the internet (and apparently, into NSA storage facilities..oh well.)

The long and short of this post is that I want to love myself with the same sincerity that I love others. When I look in the mirror, I want to see..and feel like…the man my amazing husband says I am: good, decent, worthwhile. I’m done with feeling like a book I would never want to read.

I think I deserve it. I hope I do, anyway.

(Fuck that: I  know I do.  It’s gonna take a lot of work, but I’m up for it. Just please bear with me and these blog entries until I get there.)

Journal of a Lying Filthy Drug Addict

This was written almost a year ago, while on meth, two weeks before I began my recovery.  It’s probably the most brutally honest thing I’ve ever written about my addiction, and I’m sharing this very personal journal entry because it shows so clearly the desperate state of my mind and soul at the time. In this, I ask myself a lot of questions that, at the time, I had no answer for. I feel so sad for this guy and his clueless self-pity, but because I know that two weeks after he wrote this he’s going to start finding the answers he’s so desperately looking for, I also feel great happiness reading this again for the first time since it was written.  Today, I have the answers for most of the questions I asked myself when I wrote this..or at least, some insight into my addict behaviors. I’ll soon be marking the one-year anniversary of the beginning of what has been the most amazing year of my life, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone and everything that has been a part of my recovery.

If you’re still struggling, just STOP. Breathe. You don’t have to drink or use or punish yourself in other ways ever again. Surrender to recovery. I wish I’d done it years ago.  The view from here is breathtaking.  Trust me. I have a long way to go still, but it’s been an amazing journey thus far.

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ishot-0010321Well, here I am again.  Five months of continued use, and I’m already beginning to feel that strange disconnect from reality.  Strange things that probably aren’t even that strange…that sub-current of paranoia that indicates the effect this drug is having on my brain. The voices are just starting to whisper again in the damned shower and sinks. Cars following me.  Not to mention the damage that I’m doing to myself and to my relationship. And to my  new “career.”   I’m finally at the very beginning of the path to regaining financial stability..the very beginning, I should emphasize…and i’m jeopardizing it as carelessly as if my past experiences have taught me nothing.  Lying to everyone, acting like the sage, wise recovered person when, in fact, I’m living the life of a failure and a fucking liar.

It’s not just the drugs, it’s the sexual compulsions I’ve been battling all my life. I don’t know why sexual gratification, even in its ugliest forms, acts as some weird kind of sedative of sorts for me. Maybe there isn’t anything complex about it at all, perhaps I’m just completely id-driven, a person who enjoys the control of my lower self.

I do know that being thin is part of it, and again, I don’t completely  understand what that’s all about. I’ve got a partner (that he’s still here is a miracle of sort) who truly couldn’t care less if I’m thin or fat.  So why do I care so much?  Sometimes I think it’s because that lonely teenager I used to be is still fighting for attention or popularity or just to NOT be the chubby  kid with the braces and those awful Buddy Holly glasses (back when Buddy Holly glasses weren’t cool at ALL.)  Other times I have to admit it’s probably just rampant narcissism , as all the naked photos and videos of myself on my hard drive would seem to indicate.  How narcissism and  horrible self-esteem manage to co-exist in this fucked up head eludes me completely.

The thing about meth…okay, one thing among many things, is that it erodes my estimation of what is simply pleasure…the kind of pleasure everyone seeks and needs…and what is profoundly dark, compulsive and damaging to the psyche.  There’s been too much of that in my life, and I know that it all stays in my brain whether i remember it or not.  The way a song lyric I haven’t heard for years suddenly reappears. That dark callback of memory is part of my ritual of relapse: The memory is most  strongly associated with feelings of pleasure and sensuality, NOT with the ramifications of disease or hurt or insanity I’ve had.  If I could have those meth memories appear and have them trigger the self-loathing I feel today, then I suspect my relapsing would be much more infrequent.  I suspect, anyway.  But no, when I think of meth I think of wild, intense pleasure.

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Me, one year ago: thirty pounds lighter and a hundred pounds more miserable.

I still have a bag of meth I bought yesterday, and smoked far too much of last evening, to the point where Patrick even inquired as to whether or not I was using.  I so badly want to tell him that I’ve relapsed, but I don’t feel ready. Not because I want to  keep using (I do, believe me I DO), but because he will freak out and it will cause chaos in his life again because he’ll be dealing not only with his shows and the financial distress (another guilt item), but also with being preoccupied about my losing control again.

I’m going to try to get off the stuff again. I’m so sick of being a lying, filthy, fucking drug addict.

I’m going to start walking again, this afternoon, and hopefully I won’t pass out from exertion since I haven’t really exercised rigorously in six months.   I think back to when I was happiest, last year, during those long stretches of time between my short infrequent relapses.  I was getting my body healthy, I looked okay without purging, and Patrick and I were just beginning to reestablish trust. I’ve fucked that up yet again, and he deserves so much better.  I say that all the time, yet I never seem to live as if I believe it.  That has to change.  I either have to clean up for good, or I have to leave him.  This is completely unfair and, to be honest, absolutely evil behavior on my part.

I have to find a way to get beyond hating myself and punishing myself through sexual situations, which of course, is impossible with a drug that seems as if it were designed specifically to cause those types of behaviors. I used to use sex to make myself feel good about myself, and now it feels like i’m using it to punish myself.  I think I need to focus on things that I am good at, and exercise those muscles.  I need to think of myself as a good person, because somewhere under all this self-caused scar tissue, I know I’m a decent human being. I do care about others, even as I lie to them and cause them misery.  Yet I have such a problem with accepting that it’s okay to just be me, average and mediocre Andy from the boring fucking Central Valley. I don’t know where this need to be perceived as interesting…or sexually desirable…or hip or cool or whatever….comes from.   Truly, I’m not fooling anyone who really knows me, and i’ll never fucking believe it myself, so what’s the big imperative???

I’m lost right now, but I’m going to write in this journal every day.  I think I need to write for  ME, not as a showing off mechanism, a “look at me, I’m a battle-scarred survivor and these are my lurid, graphic stories that hopefully make me seem a little more Charles Bukowski and a little less average dork.”  I need to work towards being in the middle of the road…where I actually DO reside…and feeling okay with it.  I need to find ME again, if that’s even possible after all of this chaos and lying and alternate realities I’ve been manufacturing and then wallowing in for so fucking long.  Even before I met Patrick. Even before I moved to Los Angeles, quite frankly.  Who AM I? WHY do I do these terrible things to myself and to those around me?  I want the answer to be, “because I was  molested and because I was raised in a chaotic, unstable environment with occasional violence, and this is how I deal with it.”  But I fear that may be a complete cop-out.  In fact, I suspect it is. The more probable answer is the one that terrifies me the most, and that would be “because you are a conscienceless narcissist who is beyond redemption.”

I want to say, “Time will tell,” but I also fear that time has already spoken, and it didn’t fucking say what I wanted it to say.

‘The Advocate’ of Total Bullshit

me and pThis is something that has been bothering my conscience for a long, long time. For eight  years and one month, to be precise.

Late in 2004, my then-partner (now husband) Patrick – a minor celebrity of sorts in the gay community – and I were asked to write an article for the gay publication “The Advocate.”  The angle of the article was to be parallel stories: mine would be about my struggles with addiction, and Patrick’s would detail what it had been like – as someone who had never used hard drugs –  to love and live with a meth addict.

Since I had been off the pipe for several months and felt “cured” of my addiction, I agreed to the proposal, and Patrick also acquiesced. We both knew how crystal meth was devastating not just our own home, but the community at large. We  felt  that perhaps by sharing honestly the struggles we had faced  thus far with my addiction, we might potentially help someone, somewhere, feel less alone.

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Unfortunately, I had failed to take into consideration the serious toll my recently-ended, months-long meth run had taken on my ability to remember words, let alone put together sentences. Paragraphs seemed too gargantuan an undertaking, so this article, on my part, is so poorly written it makes me cringe when I read it now. I’d pulled some nice florid passages from my journals, tried to tie that together with a basic narrative, and failed miserably in my estimation. That, however, is not what I need to apologize for..though I do.

What I’ve shared with only very few people is that by the time our story hit the newsstands (and the internet, which I’d completely forgotten to consider, and which has since made employment very, very difficult – *slaps own face*), I’d already relapsed big-time.  I end the article by telling the world of my Miraculous Deliverance From Addiction!  Like it was just that easy, anyone should be able to do it.

Then and now, I felt like I was lying to the world, and every letter we received thanking us for telling our story was like being stabbed in the heart with a shame-spike.

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In fact, by the time the photographer for the magazine showed up at our home to take the photos to accompany the article, I’d already been back on the pipe for two or more weeks.

Years later, when I finally reached the point of desperation…the point where I knew I would die if I used even one more time…. it took real work to get clean and sober. It took surrender, it took humility, it took some mighty fear-conquering. It meant forcing myself to talk to people like myself, and it took being willing to admit to them that I knew very little about staying clean, and then…the hardest part of all…it took asking them for help. In other words, it took some serious fucking work. And it still does, every single day. And it will for the rest of my life. I know that now.

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So I want to offer this long-delayed apology to anyone I might have hurt or misinformed (or kept in their disease for even a minute longer than they should have stayed there) by implying that salvation is something that just, you know, happens. Maybe it does, on occasion…but as regards meth addiction, or any addiction I suppose, please believe me now when I recommend that you not sit around and wait for it to show up, as I put it, “miraculously, and out of nowhere.”  That ending was total bullshit. That wasn’t deliverance, it was a momentary  break between binges. If you’re struggling with addiction, ask for help. Please.

I am really, truly sorry.

(CLICK HERE to read the embarrassing original Advocate article)

 

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