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.
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
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,
PS: listen to this song by my friend Maria. It’s helped me so much when things have been really rough.
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.
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
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.
At 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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
Last 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.
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.
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.
I’m no kid in a kid’s game
I did what I did, I’ve got no one to blame
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
It’s all I’ve got, it’s my claim to fame
I’m no fighter but I’m fighting
This whole world seems uninviting
But I don’t give up, no, I don’t ever give up
I fall down sometimes, sometimes I come back flying
I haven’t eaten for days and my stomach is flatter than it’s been in a long, long time. If the lighting is just right, I believe there’s an actual six-pack happening there.
Unfortunately, that’s about the best I can muster on the positive-thinking front.
There, it’s been said. Or rather, typed, for the pedantic among you.
I’m not sure how to begin writing about this. So much shame, so much sadness. My head is still clouded from a week-long crystal meth binge, so maybe I’ll start with more recent events and work backward.
I spent Sunday alone in my bedroom (my husband is in Scotland doing his show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), smoking meth and watching porn. Pretty much par for the course, except that I wasn’t getting quite as high as I wanted to. Something wasn’t working. I added poppers (amyl nitrate inhalant) to the mix. That helped, but only a little. I smoked more, and tried exhaling into a plastic bag and sucking the vapor back into my lungs…out again, in again, the bag inflating and deflating like some strange medical device. That did it. My head was now swimming in a sea of meth fog, and it felt amazing. My dick, however, was not feeling it. Shriveled and cold, it refused to respond to the lurid images on the television screen.
More poppers. Nothing.
I retrieved a packet of those over-the-counter male “enhancement” pills, and popped them both.
I sat back and waited.
Nothing again. Dammit.
Then, I recalled a trick that someone had told me about, long ago during a previous relapse.
I pulled out the baggie of meth and retrieved a small sliver of the glass-like crystal. Grimacing with disgust and apprehension, I gently inserted the tiny shard into a very, very small orifice that should NEVER have anything described as a shard inserted into it. I’m far too embarrassed to say where I put that piece of crystal, but I’ll help you figure it out by telling you it was not a nostril, it was not my ass, it was not my ears, eyes nor mouth.
I’ll give you moment.
Okay, good. You’ve got it.
Now, I’ll give you a moment so you can blanch like I am right now remembering it, maybe even vomit a little if you are of a sensitive disposition.
Back with me? okay.
I lay back in my bed, and waited to see what would happen.
I didn’t have long to wait: almost immediately, a feeling of cold washed over my body, and I shuddered. Next, a uniform sheen of sweat covered my skin from head to toe. I got out of bed and put a heavy bathrobe on, pulling it closed around myself. I got back into bed and waited for this weird feeling to pass.
It didn’t. Instead, it escalated until I was shaking so hard from chills that I had to clench my teeth closed to keep from biting my tongue.
My body went from cold to hot, back to cold and then back to hot again like a fucking thermostat with faulty wiring. My head was filled with the sound of my heart beating: Whoosh….Whoosh….Whoosh.
At this point, I suspected I was dying. I should have used my remaining strength to dial my cell phone, call 911, call a friend, ask for help.
But I didn’t want help. I wanted to die. I hadn’t intended for this to happen, but this seemed a very fitting way for someone like me to go out. Obvious, yes. Predictable, yes. But fitting. The thought of looking into yet another pair of disappointed eyes was completely unbearable to me.
I thought of my husband in Scotland, and of all I’ve put him through in our years together. I scrawled a barely intelligible goodbye note to him, pathetic as all the other ones in the past, and then somehow managed to put down a large bowl of water and another of food for my dogs, who seemed very stressed out watching their daddy stumble around the house trying to take breaths that were increasingly harder to muster. I was nervous it would take a couple of days for my body to be found, and I didn’t want my dogs going hungry during that time. I also didn’t want them snacking on my toxic corpse, if I’m completely honest.
That’s pretty much the last thing I remember, until waking up a couple of hours later on the daybed under the giant tree in our garden, still shivering, my hands and feet cold and numb, the rosary that usually hung over our bed inexplicably around my neck. I’m not sure why I went outside, but if past experience is any indication, I probably didn’t want to die inside the house Patrick would be living in when he returned from Europe. Kinda funny how I can muster tiny bits of respect when necessary, but completely disregard the big-picture respect that would have kept me from doing meth in the home we share. Funny, but absolutely not funny at the same time. Kinda like a Benny Hill episode, I suppose.
I lay there for another hour or so, waiting to see which way this was gonna go. Still shaking uncontrollably, still covered in goose-flesh despite the warm night air. Forcing myself to slow down my breathing, crying from the guilt and the shame and that feeling of complete despair.
Finally, I texted my a good friend from the rooms of recovery: I’m in trouble. I need your help.”
He was by my side in under an hour, despite not having a driver’s license or a vehicle, his arm around me and comforting me in soothing tones that began to steady my breathing. Two hours later, around midnight, another friend, alerted by the first, arrived, enveloping me with even more love that I felt completely undeserving of. As I lobbed comments filled with self-hate in their direction, they would each bat them away with the expertise of a Billie Jean King or a John McEnroe.
“I’m so ashamed.” (“there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing has changed except a date.”)
“I’m so sorry I lied to you.” (“that’s what we addicts do…we lie. It’s normal.”)
I love these men so much. I still can’t believe what they did for me Sunday night: calming me down, reassuring me that I was not going to die. One of the benefits of sobriety, besides sobriety itself, is the close friendship I’ve formed with these men. It pains me so much to know I’ve lied to their faces, not to mention my beautiful husband, my mentor Jonathan, and the two beautiful young people I was helping with their own sobriety.
Right now, two days later, I feel sick. Physically and mentally. Crystal meth use creates a brain fog that allows entire days…weeks, even…to roll by without solidly imprinting on the brain memories of the events that occurred. It is only when one stops using, and the drug fades from the bloodstream, that these shameful memories begin to emerge, flickering into my consciousness like a horror movie footage spliced randomly into a sitcom.
I’m scared. I’m disappointed in myself. I feel hopeless.
I’ve already made the initial round of painful phone calls: my sobriety mentor, my husband, my mother, and my two dear friends I mentored until this relapse. Now, I’m doing the other thing I’m ready to do at this point: write about it.
The coming weeks are going to be filled with much rebuilding, much introspection and a lot of humility. I’m still too foggy to place my finger with any certainty on the reasons for this relapse, though I can say with some certainty that sex probably had a lot to do with it. The specifics, the underlying feelings that triggered it, are going to take some time and some clarity to ascertain. But I will ascertain them, and I will use that information to make sure this never happens again.
I’m not sure what benefit this post offers anyone aside from myself. But right now, writing about this is going to take a huge weight of guilt and shame and secrets off of my shoulders. Maybe, perhaps, someone who is thinking of relapsing….or who has relapsed but things haven’t gotten too ugly yet….will read this and recommit to sobriety.
Part of me wants to give up, throw in the towel…but I know I need to get back on the recovery horse. That the horse seems to be staring at me with contempt, disgust and judgement is only a figment of my imagination. I’ve been here before, many times. And I’m tired of it. I hate this fucking place, and that fucking horse is the only way out of here.
I’m sorry. Yup, that’s me, saying “sorry” again. I’m sorry for lying to my husband. I’m sorry for lying to my friends. I’m sorry for bailing on commitments with lame or zero explanations. I’m sorry for ignoring my higher power, and I’m sorry I stopped praying. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.
This written mea culpa is my first boot in the stirrup.
I have a lot of work to do now. Please keep me in your prayers. I’ll need as many as I can get.
Oh we never know where life will take us
I know it’s just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel
Saturday night, over 75 beautiful sober men and women gathered in my backyard to help me usher in my one year birthday in sobriety.
The swimming pool was heated to 110 degrees, and the evening was filled with fun, love, friendship and so much emotional and spiritual support it was almost overwhelming. At midnight I was presented with a beautiful birthday cake by Jonathan, my amazing “guru” on this journey of recovery, and Mykee, my dearest friend who is also in recovery. It was almost too much to bear, and I cried like a baby as each of those two men spoke about me, using words that a year ago would never have been associated with me: generous. loving. spiritual. kind. A year ago, the adjectives that best described me would have been: selfish. irresponsible. godless.
This morning, however, the waterfall of joy dried up quite suddenly: Patrick and I had to make the decision to euthanize one of our dogs. He hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months, his back legs weak and his mind beginning to cloud. In the mornings, on the way out to the backyard to relieve himself, he’d often circle the coffee table and end up facing the wall, seeming to have forgotten that he had to go around the couch to get to the door.
Steve was a slightly overweight, black and white Tibetan Terrier. Our friend Heather had rescued him from a yard where he was chained to a pole and had wrapped himself around it to the point of near-choking. Since, at the time, we were one of the few in our group of friends who had a house with a yard, we agreed to foster him until a home could be found for him. The problem was, however, that Steve didn’t seem to want another home. And as we came to understand over the years, what Steve wanted, Steve got. He was, to be blunt, a very strange…and rather dull… dog. Often mistaken for a very old dog even as a puppy, what he lacked in energy and personality he made up for with stubbornness. We learned quickly that calling Steve into the house from the far end of the yard was pure futility, unless Steve actually wanted to come inside. Believe me, we tried training him. We tried hard, for a long time. Useless. Steve called his own shots, and eventually we learned to live by his rules, for the most part. Patrick and I were never quite able to decide whether Steve had some form of brain damage inflicted before we met him, or if he was actually smarter than we were.
But we loved him, despite the difficulties he often presented (chewing on his own tail was a favorite pastime of his for a couple of years, forcing us to put a giant plastic cone around his head for the duration of that particular hobby of his, earning him the nickname “King Cone.”) And when he felt like showing us some love, we appreciated it even more because it was so unlike him.
I’m ashamed to say that I did not treat Steve…or any of our dogs, for that matter…very well when I was using drugs. While there were probably several instances where I probably kicked him out of my way or screamed at him (and this, to be honest, is often harder for me to live with than the horrible things I did to the people in my life), most of the abuse was in the form of just not paying attention to him. He was a barker, and could be set off by any number of innocuous things: a raccoon scuttling across the car port roof, the too-loud closing of a door or drawer, or…most annoyingly, the ring of a doorbell on the television (which was a little weird, considering we’ve never had a doorbell in any of the homes we’ve lived in.) I have many memories of having to interrupt my bad behavior while smoking meth in our home of to scream, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, STEVE!”
If at this point you’re thinking, “Jesus, what a horrible person,” you’re absolutely correct. I was a horrible person. I’m a meth addict. Horrible is what I was good at.
And today, remembering all those years of being thwacked out on speed and screaming at that poor dog, I feel terrible guilt and shame, coupled with deep grief at his passing.
But that’s the thing that’s important here: I’m feeling those feelings. Right now. As I type these words. And it’s fucking awful.
A year ago, this would have been the perfect excuse to visit my dealer, score some crystal and set about ‘making myself feel better’ by obliterating those feelings. And because I chose to stay present, I also get to remember this past year of sobriety, when I had the opportunity to make some amends to Steve. I got to tell him I love him, I got the chance to periodically let him sleep next to me in bed (despite his HIDEOUS breath), I got to rub his belly until he’d make those almost obscene grunting noises of pleasure, and I got the chance to tell him he was a good boy, a very good boy (even though he often wasn’t.)
I got the chance to say goodbye to him this morning, unlike our other pets who passed while I was in the throes of addiction, having been too fucked up to even consider dealing with the concept of goodbye, forever, leaving Patrick to face the vet’s office and that great, final needle-stick all by himself.
Today, I will feel all those feelings, good and bad. I won’t wallow in them, because that helps no one. But I will honor them and begin to process them, and when I’ve got a grip on them I’ll get back to helping other people, I’ll go to a recovery meeting and I’ll share about those feelings. And for every shameful memory of how I treated old Steve, I will show kindness to someone. Because that’s how I live life today, and it’s how I heal myself: by helping others. Just by writing these words, I can feel the joy-water start to trickle again.
Goodbye, Steve. You will be missed, but you will never be forgotten.
Once I believed that when love came to me
It would come with rockets, bells and poetry
But with me and you it just started quietly and grew
And believe it or not
Now there’s something groovy and good
’bout whatever we got
And it’s getting better
Growing stronger, warm and wilder
Getting better everyday, better everyday
I’ve recently fallen in love. And it’s not with Patrick, my amazing partner (now legal husband, yay!) of 20 years.
I am completely head-over-heels, schmaltz-and-all in love with my sobriety.
We actually began courting back in 2002, but it just wasn’t a love match at the time. I just couldn’t see how me and sobriety could work together. Sure, sobriety seemed like it had it all together, seemed steady and dependable, but I just wasn’t ready to commit. We went on a few dates, but it just never panned out. I was too self-obsessed, too selfish, too arrogant. Now, years later, after putting myself through the wringer and humbled by my years-long, off and on relationship with Crystal Meth, I can finally appreciate what sobriety has to offer.
This past year has been an amazing journey of self-discovery; as sobriety and I approach our one-year anniversary, I can honestly say our relationship gets better, and stronger, with each passing day.
I am smitten.
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.
Melancholy, because it took me so long to “get” the concept of recovery. Ten years of beating my head bloody against a wall, trying to break out of the prison of addiction, when I’d had the key to the door all along. I just had to be willing to use it. I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” when I was young. I was always struck by the ending, when Glinda tells Dorothy…after all that walking, all that flying-monkey bullshit, all that witch-melting…that she could have gone home at any time. Punch her, I used to think. Sadistic bitch…NOW you tell her? It’s taken me years, but I finally understand Glinda’s reasoning: “She had to find it out for herself.” No one could have sold me on the concept of recovery until I was ready to embrace it. Like Dorothy, I feel like I’m finally home again. But better….I’ve not returned to the gray tones of my pre-addiction metaphorical Kansas, I’m in a brand new, Technicolor home surrounded by love and support and stocked with the tools of recovery.
Mostly, though, I’m feeling joy. Joy at finally feeling like I belong, at having found a group of people who, like myself, are struggling to make their lives better. It stuns me sometimes, the beauty of these people I get to walk with now. Our own yellow brick road of sorts, each of us seeking courage and insight into our own hearts and brains, doing battle with our own dark internal forces. We’re all so different…used different substances, come from vastly varying economic situations, some hit rock bottom and some only saw it coming…yet, we’re all the same in the ways that really matter. A huge community of men and women who have decided to make their own lives better by helping others. God is there, and easily co-exists with the agnostics and atheists among us. And most importantly, there is love.
There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery. There is no place like recovery.
(clicks heels three times)
Let the countdown commence.
I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go
Reading of the NSA domestic spying scandal, and of the fiery Highland Avenue 4 AM car-crash death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings – who was reportedly writing an expose on the FBI and NSA – that old, familiar shiver of fear riffled its way down my spine.
Oh shit, I thought. Is it back?
By it, I meant paranoid psychosis, with which I was diagnosed in 2008, after nearly six months of living in constant fear, feeling like I was being constantly surveilled, and trying to rationalize multiple strings of coincidences that would have probably gone unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t entrenched in a years-long crystal meth addiction.
It subsided quickly, but it did leave behind some residual feelings that I associate with those long-ago days: anxiety, paranoia, and the biggest of all, plain old fear. I truly believe that a large number of meth-related suicides are instigated not primarily by the overwhelming hopeless feelings of addiction, but by fear.
I remembered my attempts at suicide…most fairly half-hearted, since I never truly wanted to die. I only knew I was too scared to keep living. I remember the time in our pool shed, where voices from unseen people directed me to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, place a large plastic bag over my head, and to then bind my own hands together with plastic cable-ties.
Obviously, it didn’t work. I vomited into the plastic bag and somehow, in my drugged stupor, managed to break out of the ties and rip the bag from my head…though I remember nothing except waking up on the floor of the pool shed, woozy and sticky in my own mess.
My last attempt was slightly more effective: downing every pill in the house (and after years of psychotherapy and addiction, there were quite a few of them lying around), writing a paranoid and ridiculous “they forced me to do this!” suicide note, and then collapsing on our bed. Patrick had been working, taping an episode of the cable comedy show (wait for it…) Head Case, and returned home from work to find me unconscious, barely breathing, covered in blood and (yes, again), vomit. Paramedics pulled me back, and a weeklong stay at the House of Horrors that is the County USC Psych Ward (6 crazy men to a room and wet, stained bandages covering the shower floor tiles, anyone?) ensued.
I’ve been sharing about these feelings of residual fear with sober friends, and it helps, though it’s difficult at times. Anyone who hasn’t experienced extreme paranoid psychosis finds it hard to understand the depth of the sheer terror of being in that state of mind, and most people who have experienced it are extremely reluctant to revisit it…understandably. Even though it was years ago, the feelings that my brain registered at the time were real, even if the situations that inspired those feelings were not.
It certainly doesn’t help matters much right now that my paranoia involved being targeted for surveillance by some shadowy civilian security entity…I was under the delusion that my large number of anti-Bush-era policy emails and postings on internet bulletin boards had made me a target. I also thought that…wait for it, this part’s funny…because I’d had an article published in a national magazine, and because my husband was a fairly prominent television character actor, I had somehow made the list of those who needed to be “monitored.” Funny, I know, but at the time…in the throes of post-meth-psychosis, it all seemed completely rational. Of course, there were some things I simply couldn’t explain: cars that seemed to constantly swarm me, headlights on bright even in the middle of the day, strange hang-ups on my cellphone, just a whole host of things that terrified me beyond belief but might have seemed perfectly normal if I hadn’t been operating from a place of drug-compromised intelligence.
So, reading about secret domestic surveillance and wiretapping programs, and the death of a reporter who was reportedly working on a story to expose government secrets, there was a weird sense of deja vu.
Fortunately, today I’m clean and sober, almost a year now. I’m sane. The paranoid psychosis has been gone for years. My head is on straight. Though I remember those thoughts and feelings I no longer believe an y of them. I can fully appreciate the fact that there is nothing about me that would warrant surveillance by anyone. Delusions of grandeur, my therapist had referred to it. Grandiosity.
Today, I still suffer from feelings of grandiosity, but in a different way: today, I love myself, I love God. I take care of my mind and my body. I no longer live crippled by fear of things real or imagined.
Today, I not only don’t want to die, I want to live.
And as my friend Maria told me the other day when I shared these feelings with her, “it’s different now, honey. You have people who love you, you have a support group.”
So, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who is dealing with paranoid psychosis, and you’re feeling like it’s never, ever going to end…trust me, it does. Find recovery, find the right meds, find a safe place among friends who are also recovering. It will end. The wait will be hard, but it will go away.
As a gay man of a certain age (f@ck it, I’m 48) who is feeling rather emotional today, I ask your forgiveness in advance for what promises to be a sappy, overly sentimental post.
This song, from the 1972 film “The Poseidon Adventure,” has…like so many other songs…taken on new meaning for me in recovery.
The film itself also seems like a metaphor for recovery…a group of people whose lives have literally been turned upside down, struggling against all odds to climb from the wreckage and reach the sunlight again. We extend our hands to those coming up behind us, and we accept the hands held out to us by those above us. Some of us make it, others don’t. There’s no telling by appearances who will survive. In this film – as in recovery – being a star is no guarantee of making it out alive.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s been a rough week for many in the Los Angeles recovery community. One of our own did not survive, a man I didn’t know well but have hugged and spoken to on Monday nights for the last few months. He was a man who had, forgive the expression, star power. A leading-man appearance. And , like Gene Hackman in the film, we were shocked and stunned by his unexpected death.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with your addiction, if your day feels dark with that tidal wave of hopelessness bearing down on you, if the water is rising quickly around your ankles, hang on. Call someone. There’s no shame in reaching out. If you know me, call me.
There really is a morning after…so keep climbing.
It’s not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It’s not too late, not while we’re living
Let’s put our hands out in time
There’s got to be a morning after
We’re moving closer to the shore
I know we’ll be there by tomorrow
And we’ll escape the darkness
We won’t be searching anymore
A year ago, I thought I looked great. I was thin. My face had some angles. I could wear the same size pants I wore in high school. Sure, I was covered in tiny red speed bumps, and yeah, I’d shaved my head because I was convinced the CIA or the FBI or some other nefarious shadow organization was tracking me with tiny wire transmitters attached to my scalp, but who cared about that when all my jeans hung from my hipbones in that cool, sexy way?
Now, looking at that photo on the left makes me cringe. That guy looks like Nosferatu with stage 4 cancer.
Though I’m not thrilled with the way I look in the photo today – i’m far too self-critical, still – the difference is amazing. The guy on the left looks dead. The guy on the right is ALIVE.
The guy on the left lived in a world of darkness, deception, paranoia, anger, sadness, sexual depravity and absolute, overwhelming sadness. The guy on the right wakes up to hope, lives in the sunlight, is healthy, is optimistic, and lives in a world filled with God, recovery, love, good friends, purpose, optimism and – on most days – joy.
I’ll be turning 49 soon, and though the thought of creeping so close to 50 years old is nerve-wracking, there’s also much gratitude. After more than a decade of off-and-on abuse of my body, spirit and mind, I am looking forward to celebrating a miracle: I’m Alive.
I’m alive – and the world shines for me today
I’m alive – suddenly I am here today
Seems like forever (and a day), thought I could never (feel this way)
Is this really me? I’m alive, I’m alive
2006: My addiction had long since chased away what had once been a fairly large circle of friends, even the most tolerant and empathetic among them having run for shelter. There are a finite number of late night, meandering phone calls about phantoms hiding in heating ducts or people living in the trees that a sane person can tolerate, and though their retreat pained me, the lack of interaction with the outside world seriously reduced the amount of acting I had to engage in to simulate sobriety. The only notable exception was Rebecca, who, four years after meeting in my first rehab, was still sober. Still, justifiably, even she was forced to maintain a distance that wouldn’t threaten her sobriety, sending an occasional email inquiring about my well-being.
As long as I kept my meth-smoking to a relative minimum, around six times a day rather than the previous 15 to 30 minute intervals, I was able to function fairly well, and would spend the day on the computer or meandering around the house and yard, slightly glassy eyed but otherwise presenting a countenance of relative normalcy. After years of Patrick discovering my hiding places with the skill of drug-sniffing airline customs canine, I now kept my pipe, torch and stash cleverly concealed on a small, inner ledge beneath the vanity in our bathroom. To find it, one would have to open the cabinet doors below the sink and reach a hand up and in to find the hiding place that was just wide enough to hold the paraphernalia. It was certainly my most clever hiding place to date. Several times a day, I would lock myself in the bathroom and retrieve them, careful first to turn on the water to mask the sharp, pronounced clicking noise of the butane torch. As an added precaution, I would set a pair of toenail clippers on the counter. The sound of toenails being clipped mimicked almost exactly the sound of the torch, and I wanted this decoy ready to point to should Patrick overhear anything. We had reached a point in our relationship where I fully expected him to have his ear pressed against the door, listening each time I used the bathroom. I had also reached a point where I knew that there was nothing I could say to him about this, his lack of trust being completely justified by my continuing relapses and the accompanying lies and creative fabrications.
I looked forward to the days when Patrick would have some acting job or other that would get him out of the house, and I would use those times as an opportunity to smoke speed all day long with impunity, enjoying the liberating feeling of being able to lay my glass pipe, torch and little zip loc baggie of crystals on a glass plate next to the bed. I would spend the day luxuriating in the sensual feelings that the speed engendered, seeking out and devouring the most graphic porn I could find, inhaling amyl nitrate and masturbating with frenzied, futile abandon.
For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires.
Although I had always been comfortable with sex, and certainly never prudish about the act and its many variations, this sexually compulsive behavior was something of an entirely new order . It is deeply embarrassing to admit to this particular obsession, and few meth addicts do. I’ve read account after account written by the users of this drug, and very rarely have I read explicit accounts of this very common, albeit deeply shame-inducing activity. Wikipedia, in fact, in its entry for Methamphetamine lists “hypersexuality” first as a side effect of the drug’s use. Admitting to homelessness, criminal activity in support of the habit, even insanity is far less embarrassing than confessing to behavior that most would consider lurid, at best. Meth users, particularly gay meth users, often confess to being sexually indiscriminate, but few will cop publicly to the details of their wallowing in the murky shallows of depravity. Yet the proliferation of gay personal ads containing the acronym “PNP” demonstrates the ubiquity of this phenomena. For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play”. For the uninitiated, PNP stands for “Party and Play.” Partying, in the meth lexicon, has nothing to do with the mainstream celebratory or cake-and-candle connotation. Rather, it is a euphemism for using speed: one, two or a cluster of jittery, clench-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by crystal meth to the status of animals, each desperately trying to satisfy his chemically-distorted, darkened, and amped-up sexual desires. A search of the M4M (men for men) section of Craigslist, using the term PNP will generally produce hundreds of results for the Los Angeles area alone. Having participated In many of these “parties” over the past several years, the twisted logic of my tweaker brain now pathetically rationalized these masturbatory marathons because they allowed me to stay faithful to Patrick.
Often, I would get so lost in the world of self-pleasure that I would lose track of time, jolting sharply back into reality with the realization that Patrick was due home momentarily. The sense of time’s passage is drastically distorted by meth use, and I often found myself in this situation. I would then wage a strange battle: attempting to reach climax and still have enough time left over to rid the house of all evidence of how I had spent my day. Each jerk stole precious time from the forthcoming cleanup regimen, and this anxiety, coupled with the erection-diminishing nature of the speed, ensured that I’d invariably lose what I had come to think of as the War of the Tug.
On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez .
Sweaty, heart pounding, I’d admit defeat and leap from the bed in a panic that would scare all three dogs into a chorus of barking, running about the house cleaning in what I thought was a systematic way, trying to rid it of any detectable residue of my solitary debauchery. Most normal people understand that sex sometimes requires a little cleanup afterwards: a greasy hand print on the headboard, a spot on the sheets that requires laundering. The cleanup effort required following an extended tweaking session is a very different prospect altogether.
Heart pounding with the fear of discovery, expecting to hear Patrick’s key in the lock at any moment, the first step was to strip the bed of the lube and sweat stained sheets, and stuff them into the washer along with the clothes I was wearing, if any. The next was to return the drugs and paraphernalia to their hiding place. Following that was a frantic, room to room Windex rub-down. It is truly astounding the number of household surfaces a tweaker can touch in a five or six-hour period, and Patrick knew from past experience what a smear of lube on a doorknob most likely meant. During the days spent alone like this, it seemed like every surface in the house became coated with a film of whatever water or oil based lube I had been using. On really bad days, having run out of personal lubricant options, I would use Vaseline, which required a chemical cleanup rivaling that of the Exxon Valdez . Windex in one hand, a wad of paper towels in the other, I’d proceed deliberately from one side of the house to the other, spraying and then wiping down everything my hands might have come in contact with during the day: the telephone handsets, remote controls, doorknobs, thermostat, light switches. This task completed, I’d turn on the bedroom ceiling and spray Fabreze to mask any lingering odor of amyl nitrate, then quickly jump into the shower and rinse the sweat, with its tell-tale cat-urine like odor of metabolized meth, from my body. The final step was to floss and brush my teeth fanatically to remove the similarly rancid mouth odor caused by the drying effect of the speed.
Patrick would arrive home, tired from a long day at whatever he was doing, to find the house smelling perfumed, the washing machine churning away, and me sitting, fresh-scrubbed on the couch in the tv room, pretending to be fascinated by whatever show that happened to be on at the moment. It is indicative of the level of deception I practiced that I also made sure I was watching a tivo’d show I’d already seen, in case he decided to join me. That way, I’d be able to answer any questions about characters or plot should they arise. I would feel a wave of guilt for this deception, but that didn’t stop me from rising from the couch to give him a warm welcome, offering to make him dinner, or regaling him with made-up stories about how I had spent my day.
“I cleaned the whole house,” I’d say, neglecting the part about having done it in a 10 minute, bug-eyed, speed-induced sprint.
“And I’ve got a load of laundry going.”
At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced.
One night, after having avoided using for several weeks, making a grand show for Patrick of my desire to once again clean up my act, I slipped into the bathroom just before bedtime. Earlier in the day, I had paid first a quick visit to my dealer on Croft Avenue in West Hollywood, and then to the Smoke Shop at Santa Monica and Vine. Now, I retrieved the teenager of meth and the thin glass pipe from their hiding place on a small ledge inside the cabinet below the sink. At night, because sound carried further, I would forego using the butane torch and use a regular Bic lighter instead, although it often resulted in both a burned thumb and a blackened pipe from the black carbon the smaller, less intense flame produced. Sitting on the closed toilet, I lit up, inhaling the white vapors. After several deep tokes, I grabbed a wad of toilet paper, moistened it and rubbed it around the receptacle end of the pipe, or bubble, as it is often called. This trick cooled the pipe and helped to quickly re-solidify the clear, liquid speed into a solid white mass that could not spill out the top, while also removing the layer of thick black residue the lighter had produced. I re-hid the pipe, placed the Bic lighter in the pocket of my bathrobe that was hanging on the back of the door, flushed the toilet for effect, turned off the light and joined Patrick in the bedroom.
To the non-addicted, the act of using a drug that revs up energy levels and sends the mind into hyper-drive immediately before bedtime would seem irrational. Rational behavior was already a thing of the past for me, however.
I crawled into bed next to Patrick and turned off the bedside light. Whispering a “good night,” I turned away from him and onto my left side, letting the euphoric effect of the speed wash over me. My eyes wide open, staring at drapes dimly backlit by an outdoor street lamp I began what promised to be an eight-hour ordeal that had, by now, become tortuously familiar. One of the side effects of the speed was the tendency of my body to twitch or jerk involuntarily in it’s dopamine-jacked flight-or-fight state, and my solitary focus was to stay still, an almost impossible endeavor. Too much movement, too much tossing and turning, and Patrick would certainly clue in immediately, blowing my cover of mimicked sobriety.
I laid there for hours, absolutely incapable of sleep, my body tensed and clenched from the physiological flight-or-fight response meth creates. Fortunately, the speed also creates the ability to hyper-focus, which worked to my advantage in this situation as I studied the drapes in minute detail, refusing to even shift my legs for fear it would alert Patrick to the fact that I was still awake. Finally, sometime around 1 AM, I was unable to resist the need to move, so I admitted defeat and slipped out of bed slowly, doing my best to keep the mattress still. Once on my feet, I glanced back at Patrick and noted with relief that he was still sleeping deeply, snoring gently. Moving stealthily around the bed and out of the bedroom, I closed the door behind me, putting resistance on the doorknob as it twisted closed to it mitigate the deafening sound of it clicking shut.
After a visit to the bathroom to retrieve my stash from its hiding place, I continued – light-headed – into my office, avoiding areas of the hardwood floor that I knew would produce a groan or squeak. Sitting down in the black Aeron chair in front of my desk, I gave the mouse of my iMac a shake, and squinted against the sudden flood of light as the monitor awoke from its slumber. Activating an alarm clock program that would notify me silently at 6 AM and allow me to sneak back to bed before Patrick woke, I proceeded with the focus and single-mindedness of a cat stalking its prey to navigate my bookmarked porn sites, starting as usual with the aptly named Smutnetwork.com. Once there, my senses began folding in upon themselves as my dopamine-saturated brain absorbed image after image, video after video, with hedonistic abandon. Everything else, my surroundings, even the sense of my own physical presence, was surrendered to oblivion. Click, click, click, ad infinitum. Images of sexual acts that, without the influence of the meth would be of absolutely no interest to me, or perhaps even mildly revolting, were scanned, registered and devoured as sustenance for my insatiable meth-propelled libido.
Page-view by page-view, the hours slipped by, my wide, red-rimmed eyes soaking up the porn like a sponge. Periodically pausing to take a hit from the pipe and then concealing it again in the top right hand drawer of the desk, my hand trembling and cramped, I worked the mouse around its pad, my synapses firing a hundred miles an hour. Time sped away from me and after what seemed like only twenty minutes, faint gleams of pre-dawn light began seeping through the louvers of the IKEA mini-blinds.
A faint breeze touched the overheated, yet clammy skin on the back of my neck, jolting me from my dark reverie. Startled, I spun my desk chair around. Patrick was standing in the darkened doorway, his eyes still thick with the confusion of sleep, watching, assessing.
For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications. A meth-smoking gun, if you will.
Although almost imperceptible, I clocked the changes in his face as he registered the situation, the almost undetectable change in his expression still clearly conveying shock, sadness, anger, and most worst of all: disappointment. Catching one’s partner in the act of pre-dawn masturbation is, for most couples, simply an awkward moment, if that. For Patrick, it had deeply sinister implications. A meth-smoking gun, if you will. His eyes moved from my hand, still in my crotch, to the pornographic image glaring out obscenely from the computer monitor.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I stammered.
“Apparently,” he said simply, his voice devoid of feeling. He maintained uncomfortable, accusatory eye contact for a long, sad moment, before abruptly turning and walking back down the hall.
Moonlight, Machete & Madness Pt. 3 (conclusion)
Walking quickly, I soon reach the perimeter of the hospital. Huntington Memorial is a fairly large complex, and I am unsure of exactly where I am. The streets are dark, and very few vehicles are out. There is a slight chill in the night air, but I barely feel it, my adrenaline-enhanced heartbeat keeping my body temperature slightly raised.
Looking around, I spy a row of single-story office buildings across the street, flanked by overgrown landscaping. I scour the greenery carefully, looking for signs of tree people, and am relieved that I see none. I dart across the road and approach the building, duck-walking quickly under the low hanging branches of a large shrub, and scuttling back into a small clearing between the building and the bushes that line its brick side. I slide down the cool wall into a sitting position, completely concealed. Safe – at least temporarily.
Pulling the bag of crystal from my pocket, I hold it up to inspect the contents. I am gratified to see that more than half of the teenager – the ridiculous slang name given a bag containing a 16th of an ounce – remains. I suddenly remember a comic greeting card I once saw, with a cartoon lady waving a cartoon checkbook and exclaiming, indignantly: “I can’t be overdrawn…I’ve still got checks left!” And so it is with me: despite my spiritual bankruptcy, the binge can’t be over if there is still crystal in the bag.
My hand trembling, I reach my thumb and forefinger into the bag, pinching several large shards of the glass-like substance. For a quick rueful second, I think of the pipe and torch I left behind in my bedroom. I have always preferred smoking these crystals, which delivers the drug in a slower, more languorous fashion, as compared to the sudden jolt that accompanies snorting, slamming or ingesting it. Careful not to drop any, I put my fingers into my mouth and deposit the bitter, tangy rocks at the back of my throat and swallow quickly, working my dry mouth in an attempt to build up enough saliva to get them down.
Carefully re-sealing the bag and pushing it back into my pocket, I slump back against the cold wall and wait.
It seems like only a few minutes before the freight train comes rumbling toward me. My body, accustomed to the more gradual introduction of the drug, is overwhelmed by what is at least the equivalent of two full bowls. This large quantity, which would normally take me many hours to smoke, is now being absorbed all at once by my long-empty stomach.
There is a roaring of white electricity in my head, and a multi-colored light show begins to dance behind my closed eyelids. My extremities numb, while at the same time a ribbon of heat slowly unfurls itself through my core, starting in my groin and working its way up through my chest. The heat engulfs my heart, and I can feel it pounding furiously against my ribs as I open my mouth, gasping for air. The feeling of sexual euphoria that has played such a large part in my addiction usually builds slowly when smoking, but now it rolls over me in a tidal wave of dopamine-overloaded sensuality.
The heat ribbon continues up, past my chest into my brain, burning its familiar path to my pleasure receptors. I begin to writhe slowly, twisting my neck and head in rhythm to the pulses of electricity that jolt from my brain back into my body. Gasping for air, eyes clenched, I roll onto my side on the cold earth as my entire being is engulfed in primal spasms, as my libido is launched into hyper-drive and suddenly, utterly consumes me. Completely unaware of where I am, who I am, I have been rocketed to a place of absolute, blind ecstasy, where once again I will take up extended residence on that small plateau that precedes orgasm.
After a period of time that feels like several hours, but past experience tells me has probably been closer to thirty minutes, the freight train finally rumbles past, and I begin to sense the cool air moving against my damp, heated body. I slowly extract my hands from the waistband of my cargo pants, where they have, as always it seem these days, found themselves. Despite the total sensual immersion, actual orgasm has not been achieved, nor will it anytime soon, part of the Faustian deal the tweaker makes with his drug of choice. The very same drug that brings one to the height of sexual transcendence also impedes physiologically any release: erections are a thing of the past, orgasm a goal rarely achieved.
I open my eyes, attempting to regain my bearings. Although the initial rush of the speed has passed, my disorientation continues. It is as if the brightness and contrast settings of the world have been adjusted to high. The dim, filtered glow from the streetlights that permeate the bushes is almost blinding in its intensity, and the shadows have become, deeper, darker, visually impenetrable.
As I lie there, the whispers soon reach my ears, originating somewhere deep within the now almost visually indecipherable tangle of branch and bush. My peripheral vision detects a rippling of the shadows, and I realize that during my sexual reverie, the tree people have found me.
Seconds later, I am stumbling my way down Pasadena Avenue, my gait loping and disjointed from the numbness in my legs, my only objective being to stay in the dim glow of the streetlights and away from the shadows beyond them, where I can sense the tree people gathering to watch this awkward, one-man parade. I have no sense of direction or destination, I simply continue to move, turning left onto a residential street lined with upscale, old-money Pasadena homes. Trees are everywhere, there is no escaping them, so I continue moving, tripping frequently on the imperfect panels of sidewalk lifted and cantered by the giant roots below. I have no idea what time it is, but the lack of cars on the street tell me it is probably well past midnight. The street curves through the wooded terrain, and eventually the houses on the left give way to a steep, tree and brush covered embankment, falling away to the Arroyo Seco riverbed at the bottom.
I immediately cross to the right side of the street, nearer the streetlights and the comparative safety of the homes that line it, their well-manicured lawns and neatly trimmed landscaping providing fewer hiding places for those who are hunting me.
I pause for a moment to rest, and through my blurred vision, I detect movement above me. I look up, squinting, into the shadowy, branchy canopy of a huge live oak tree directly to my right. The great tree sits dead center on the lawn of an elegant brick two-story home, it’ yard dimly but fully illuminated by expensive Malibu lighting. The branches of the huge, ancient tree span far out over the roadside, joining up with the branches of other huge trees nearby. Squinting upward, I struggle to decipher what I am seeing. The whites and blacks of light and shadow, the organic shapes of branch and leaf slowly arrange themselves into sensibility, and suddenly, I see it. I suck in my breath, and sink to my knees in front of the great tree, as if in prayer, and my wide eyes slowly scanning the terrible, terrible sight less than twenty feet above my head.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Note: I am not the only person to have seen the Tree People. Many meth addicts have observed them, and they are a well-documented hallucinatory phenomenon common to users of this drug. In the past, following previous encounters, I have researched them on the internet and was stunned to discover the similarity of experience from one user to another. I once saw a one-hour documentary about two Midwestern teenagers who, high on crystal meth, wound up lost in a snowstorm, completely disoriented. Their ordeal was captured on several rambling, confused cell phone calls the couple made to 911. The teenage girl, her voice panicked, pleaded with the operator to send help.
“There are lots of Mexicans and African Americans….and they’re all dressed up in these cult outfits!” she wailed.
“They’re taking the cars and hiding them in the trees!”
“Hiding what in the trees?” asked the confused operator.
“There are hundreds of them! Two hundred!” the teenage girl shrieked. The couple, in the throes of the drug, were unable to provide accurate information to pinpoint their location, and soon froze to death after setting out on foot to evade the Tree People.
In the past, having come down from the drug, I have tried to convince myself that I had hallucinated every terrifying thing. However, I haven’t always been able to shake fully the feeling that what I have seen – these tree people – are real. A small part of me believes that the drug has lifted some sort of veil between the physical realm and the spiritual one, and that what I am seeing, the same thing so many other meth addicts have seen, is truly and terrifyingly authentic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now, what I see above me seems to confirm the truth of this strange conviction. The canopy above me is alive with the creatures, but what stuns me is something else, something I have never seen before, in all my many encounters with this bizarre race of people. I am staring at a vast network of bridges and platforms set amongst the branches, spanning out on all sides, connected to adjacent trees, a huge masterpiece of engineering. I am looking up into a virtual city, stunning in its complexity. I slowly move my gaze from treetop to treetop, realizing each of them harbors its own set of platforms, connected by wooden scaffolding and rope and plank bridges, a multitude of Swiss Family Treehouses of Terror. It is as if another layer of the veiling between this world and theirs has been peeled back, revealing further, more elaborate details of their existence.
A vast assembly of Tree People line these arboreal sidewalks, their twig-like fingers grasping conveniently placed, rough-hewn safety rails, looking down upon me. As ever, their faces are judgmental, angry, yet motionless. The sheer number of them, coupled with this crystal-clear view of their aerial, sylvan metropolis is so overwhelming that all fear is pushed out of the way by awe and amazement.
“Jesus Christ,” I say too loudly, studying the incredibly intricate details of construction. “This is amazing.”
A dog begins barking and a just a few moments later, the front door of the house opens. A woman, one hand at her chest clutching her white bathrobe closed, stands behind a screen door and peers out at me.
“Who are you?” she demands. “What are you doing?”
I look at her for a moment from my kneeling position on her lawn, and use a head gesture to indicate the veritable city in the treetops.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I ask her.
She is silent for a moment, studying me, and I turn my gaze back to the branches, marveling.
“Go away or I’m calling the police!” she says, as the small dog yaps near her feet.
I turn and look at her again, and she is wearing a mixed expression of concern and confusion.
“Don’t worry ma’am,” I say politely with what I hope is a reassuring smile, struggling for something to say, some piece of information about myself that might soothe her, let her know that I pose no danger.
“I used to work for Steven Spielberg,” are the words that finally find their way out of my mouth.
The woman seems neither pacified nor impressed. She stares dully at me for a moment before announcing, “I’m calling the cops,” then closing the door, muffling the continued barking of the dog.
I stay on the lawn, gaping up at the strange civilization hanging over me, and I feel defeated. The complexity of these creatures and their feats of amazing engineering and magical concealment convey, finally, the absolute futility of trying to defeat or evade them. I simply sit there, completely overwhelmed, waiting for them to engage, for them to slither down the great trunk and take me. For reasons unknown, the creatures simply continue staring at me, but make no move. Occasionally, a slight breeze moves the air, rippling their leafy robes and tunics.
Suddenly, I hear the sound of a car coming around the curve of the street, behind me. I tear my gaze from the treetop and see a black and white police cruiser approaching, a bright beam of light from a side-mounted spotlight bathing the roadside as it approaches. I jump to my feet and sprint across the street, leaping over a small, foot-high stone wall that runs along the top of the steep embankment. I land on my feet on the sloping hillside, but they immediately tangle in the thick carpet of undergrowth. I lose a shoe, and go tumbling head over heels down the dark slope, tearing my pants and scraping my arms and face. I land with a thud, deep in a thicket of wild ferns and ivy, and I lay there, panting, waiting to be discovered. From my prone position, I can see the beams of flashlights at the top of the hill as they pan the ravine, passing over me without pausing. The voices of two policemen are barely audible over the watery rush of the small river below me, and I hold my breath, waiting for them to descend. The flashlights work the hillside for long minutes, but finally, they are gone.
I lie there, my heart racing, the meth almost completely numbing the sting of the wounds on my arms and face. I feel trapped, the Tree People are everywhere, and I am again at a complete loss. They seem to be making no move toward me, and the entire darkened ravine is ominously quiet, save for the sound of the moving water.
Overcome with a sense of hopelessness, I reach my hand into my pocket and find the packet of speed. It is too dark to see it, even with my fully dilated pupils, but I can feel the still fairly substantial contents through the plastic, hard and lumpy. My mind fogged and my body already filled with the toxic substance, I consider the potential lethality of what I hold in my hands. Despair, guilt, shame and self-loathing collide all at once, and I unseal it and bring it to my mouth, shaking the contents out and into the back of my throat. I’ve heard many times that suicide is option of the coward, but I don’t believe that’s always true. Removing pain and suffering from the lives of loved ones by eliminating its source seems like a very practical, perhaps even slightly noble solution. I skim the inside of the bag with my finger, picking up the powdery residue, and lick it clean with my tongue. Dropping the baggie, I close my eyes and wait for it to hit.
I think of my niece and nephews, of my mother, and of course, Patrick. Having long ago forsaken religion, I still attempt to recite a “Hail Mary”, but the prayer sounds strangely disjointed to me, and I’m certain I’ve left out a line or two. My last conscious thought is the realization that my body will be probably be eaten by scavenging animals before it is discovered, and then I am sucked back under the wheels of the freight train as it returns. There is no pleasure this time, only great, racking full-body spasms and the certainty that my heart is about to explode in my chest.
In what I am now certain is a dream, I find myself standing shakily on the embankment, surrounded by a legion of bushes and trees and the strange smallish, tree people inhabiting them. They stare at me solemnly, watching and observing my attempts to stay upright. The hillside is gently bathed in the pre-light of approaching dawn. “Have you seen my other shoe?” I ask a short, squat bush whose resident tree person seems, somehow, less judgmental than the others. It remains silent, and I move on, the dreamscape shifting in the rapidly increasing golden light. I begin to move up the hill, but am again suddenly overwhelmed by spasms, my body tightening in a cramp that seems to start at my feet, jerking its way through my entire body. I begin to retch, great hacking waves that produce nothing. I am overcome by a wall of lightheadedness as the hazy dreamworld around me rocks and rolls in undulating rhythm.
Then, in an almost filmic smash-cut, I am running down a long corridor paved with asphalt, following a white line past tromp l’oeil murals of suburban orderliness lining the long walls on either side of me. Huge, metallic prehistoric beasts race down the corridor in both directions, blaring terrible trumpet sounds as they zoom past. Somewhere, a dimmer switch is slowly turned up and the corridor grows brighter with each moment, illuminating a beautifully painted ceiling of bright blue and gray. As I move forward down this surreal hallway,I pass a man walking a dog on my left, and he calls out to me, his words unintelligible. I wave to him, smile and keep running, one-shoed, squinting into the ever-increasing light that grows in intensity until I am blinded by the whiteness.
The dream jump-cuts suddenly, and I am now sitting, inexplicably, in the back seat of my mother’s minivan. Patrick is driving. My mother is riding shotgun, her hand pressed against her forehead, sobbing softly while Patrick caresses her arm soothingly with his right hand. On the seat beside me, reinforcing the bizarre, dreamlike nature of my current state, sits our wire-haired terrier mix, Shekel, who looks rapidly from me, to Patrick, and back again. The bright glare of the morning sun glints sharply off the car window, blinding me again.
I turn to look at Shekel, who is staring at me.
“You fucked up again, didn’t you?” says the dog. Despite his harsh words, I am grateful to see compassion in his watery black eyes.
A flash of light and he dream shifts once more to a kaleidoscope of chrome and white and glare. I suddenly become aware of pressure on left arm. In the distance, I hear an agonized, hoarse screaming, echoing as if shouted into a canyon. A small circle of color in the center of my bright, white field of vision grows wider and then wider still, until it becomes a woman’s face – dark complexion, stern – hovering over my own. The field widens even further again to include a strange man, in some sort of uniform. The man is tying my arm to a silver bar of some sort, and I suddenly recognize the screaming voice as my own, hurling obscenities. I note that my body is thrashing, bucking and jerking against the hold of four-point restraints. The woman’s mouth moves, and the words seem strangely out of synch with the movements of her lips.
“Hold his arm still.”
A sharp pricking of my left forearm, and within moments, the dream begins to fall in upon itself, the alternating concentric rings of reality and delusion constricting and expanding, until they eclipse each other fully, and I slide back into darkness.