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Happy Birthday, Tina

I need other addicts and alcoholics.

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

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

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

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

And, there is Tina.

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

sober buddies out on Melrose Ave.

sober buddies out on Melrose Ave.

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

Happy One Year of Recovery

Happy One Year of Recovery

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

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

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

Sometimes it’s a Bitch

600px-US_83.svgHello, all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1461017_10202722942701199_386473286_n

photo by Rob M.

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I feel God working in my life.

Eighty-three days and counting.

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

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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A Phone Call From Who I Used to Be

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

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

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

Then, suddenly, he disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you crying?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My stomach knotted up, I started to sweat.

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

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

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

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

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

Before I could say another word, we were disconnected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can cry for him, too.

I want my friend back.

Better Every Day

IMG_1729Once 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.

More; Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More has been revealed, it turns out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to even more being revealed.

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

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

Meth-Smoking Gun, or War of the Tug (NSFW)

addict

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.

I Love You, Jonathan Bierner

The man who helps me stay clean and sober every single day has begun his own blog. Please give it a read, and perhaps a follow: http://jonathanbierner.com

Though I can’t talk specifically about how I’ve stayed clean and sober for nine months, I can say that after ten years of failed attempts, THIS time around, miracles started happening almost immediately even before my sobriety date of July 7, 2012.  It actually began months before, when my lovely friend Maria introduced me to her friend, Phillip. Phillip and I quickly became friends as well, and when just a few months later I found myself drowning – yet again – in a meth-induced ocean of psychosis and despair, Phillip is the person I reached out to for help.

Sequoia Camping Trip, August 2012: Jonathan B. (left), Me, and Mykee B (right)….these guys help keep me clean and sober every single day, and have been there for me without fail when I’ve needed a shoulder, a sounding board, or just a hug. I love them both more than words can express.

Phillip then introduced me to what I call my Tuesday night family, where I found people like myself, people who are facing the same struggles and who will love me until I am able to love myself. (I’m getting there, btw. After nine months, I’m starting to feel the relief of liking myself.  Loving myself is close on its heels, though, I can feel it.)  Not long after meeting this amazing group of people, Phillip needed help moving out of his home in the Hollywood Hills, and one day in late July of this year, I met Jonathan for the first time. We were charged with moving a refrigerator out of the basement of the house and up an incredibly small, rickety wooden outdoor stairway to street level.  The stairs jogged back and forth three times at sharp right angles, making it a nearly impossible task (The 110 degree temperature and 6,000% humidity that day didn’t help a bit either, nor did the fact that I was borderline emaciated and a bit addled, having so recently abandoned the pipe.)

It was the most unpleasant of circumstances, but this guy Jonathan, wiry and handsome, made it tolerable with his sense of humor and hilarious, wry asides.  Later, riding in the U-Haul truck together to a storage facility deep in the San Fernando Valley, boundaries worn away the exhaustion of a day of intense heat and physical labor, we  began to talk.

The commonality of experience was almost mind-blowing, and before the day was over I had asked him to be my guide as I began to navigate the choppy waters of early sobriety.

He’s walked beside me these past nine months every step of the way, and has quickly become more than just a friend. He is my family: taking my phone calls whenever I need his guidance, sharing his wisdom and strength with me, and calling me out on my bullshit when it’s necessary. Also of great importance is his ability to make me laugh, even when crying feels like the more logical option. The truth is that I couldn’t do this sobriety thing if I couldn’t laugh about it on occasion, or find a bit of over-the-shoulder amusement in some of the pitiful and incomprehensible situations my crystal meth addiction placed me in.

Yesterday, Jonathan celebrated eight years of clean and sober living. He marked the occasion with an incredibly honest, brave and intensely personal Facebook post and blog entry of his own. I want all of you to know this amazing man who has played a large part in not only saving my life, but enriching it and opening my eyes to the joys of living a clean and sober existence Please give it a read and leave a comment of encouragement, and follow it if you enjoy reading smart, brave writing.  Also, if you enjoy my blog even a tiny bit, you could also thank him for that, because without him I would never have found my way back to my creativity.

I love you, Jonathan.

http://jonathanbierner.com

Sober Musical Interlude #3

“My life, it don’t count for nothing /  When I look at this world, I feel so small / My life, it’s only a season / A passing September that no one will recall”

In just a few short years, I went from working for the great Steven Spielberg and touring with The Red  Hot Chili Peppers to sleeping in public parks.  Now, as I begin rebuilding my life, I have a tendency to judge what the future might hold for me by comparing it to the accomplishments of my past.  Though I’ve mostly reconciled myself to the fact that I may never live that kind of heady life again (and perhaps that’s for the better), there are still days when I look back with intense regret about the career I singlehandedly destroyed.  There are also days when I wistfully ponder where life’s travels would have taken me if I hadn’t hijacked myself and set a course straight for the gutter.   On those days, today being one of them, I listen to this song.  Her gorgeous warble sounding like some strange breed of angel, Iris Dement brings me back to reality, and keeps me focused on the one thing that truly matters in this frequently troubling world: love.

My life, it’s half the way travelled,
And still I have not found my way out of this night.
An’ my life, it’s tangled in wishes,
And so many things that just never turned out right.

But I gave joy to my mother.
And I made my lover smile.
And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting.
And I can make it seem better,
I can make it seem better,
I can make it seem better for a while.

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