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The Innocent and Honest Ones

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

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

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

I see signs of you each and every day

You’re in the Innocent and the Honest ones

The liberators and the selfless ones

In the forests and the air they give

the few oceans where life still lives

I wanna believe in You, not corrupt institutions

You’re a feeling inside, not rules or regulations

You gave us sexuality, desire is no sin

You gave us common sense, but not in a catechism

You’re in the Innocent and the Honest Ones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I stood up and told the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to save my ass, not my face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That I Would Be Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need my angels.

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

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

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

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

Read more: http://artists.letssingit.com/alanis-morissette-lyrics-that-i-would-be-good-fdqvjrc#ixzz3G9WV82r8
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Some Things I’ve Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Ever Give Up (warning: graphic content)

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

fear-despair-ronIt’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, so I’d like to open with something positive, something not too depressing.

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.

I’ve relapsed.

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, maybe even puke 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, to be 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.

photo

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 friend Mykee:  Mykee, 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, my friend Phillip showed up, 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 public 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.

But For The Grace of God

I’m in a sad place today.

I was going to write about this last night, but changed my mind. This morning, still sad, I changed my mind again:  I’m going to write about this because I need to write about this.

I learned last night that a man I knew in recovery died after relapsing this past weekend.

I’m not going to pretend I knew him well:  Several hugs, some shared smiles, and things I learned about him from when he’d share with our Monday night group. That’s all, really. He was around my age, handsome, very physically fit, and had a 100-megawatt smile.  If I had been forced at gunpoint to choose the next person amongst our group to relapse…let alone die….he would not have been anywhere near the top of the list.

So, I’m shaken. I know others who have been in recovery longer than I have dealt with this frequently…that’s just the nature of being part of a large fellowship of people with an insidious, cunning, baffling and powerful disease…so it might not hold the same level of shock for others that the passing of this man does to me. Or perhaps it does. I don’t know. I can’t imagine these things get any easier, regardless of how long one has been clean and sober.

I’ve always known that my next relapse could be the end of me, and this brutal reminder, this “there but for the grace of God” tragedy drives that fact home.  I’m so, so saddened for his family, and for our mutual friend who shared the news of his passing last night. So much senseless pain. Such a waste of a glorious human being.

As our mutual friend said last night while imparting this horrible news to all of us, it is sadder than sad that this gentlemen did not reach out to someone before he relapsed. I hope and I pray that if I ever find myself on shaky ground, that I will do just that. Call my friend Jonathan, call my friend Mykee, call my friend Phillip. Call anyone.

I have to remember at all times that the foundation of my sobriety, while strong at the moment, is built upon a fault line.  As someone who lives in earthquake territory, I know how to prepare for a temblor of the literal kind. I also need to focus on being prepared for an upheaval of the other kind, remaining ever-vigilant.

I hope my friends in recovery know that I’m always here for them, and that there is no shame in reaching out for help. Please, just do it BEFORE you pick up that pipe, that needle, that bottle. Can we just make that deal now? I’ll call you, and you can call me?

I plan on honoring the memory of this man by stepping up my program of recovery and making sure I never, ever become complacent….and by picking up the damned phone and calling people, even when it’s the last thing I want to do.

RIP, Todd. You were beautiful.

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the waters getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

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