Sometimes you haven’t blogged in awhile. And sometimes you wanna use part of a Gloria Gaynor song as your title when you finally do blog again. And sometimes you just want to post a disco ball version of the Death Star because late at night it seems to make sense. This, my friends, is one of those times.
First off, I feel like I’ve been in outer space. My mom came to town, my play opened and social obligations exploded. All blessings and quality problems. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was, I am exhausted. My chronic manageable condition, HIV, really takes a whooping on long stretches where my life is go, go go. I feel like a car that’s run out of gas on the freeway and waiting for Triple A. And yet being really busy keeps me happy and out of trouble. For the most part. My other manageable condition, alcoholism, needs treatment too. I haven’t been to a meeting in almost a week and it’s time. I started to act like a bratty bitchy teenager with my mom earlier and had to check myself. It wasn’t her. It was me. Bitch just needs to get to a meeting. So that’s what I’m doing before I hang out with the family in the afternoon. The extreme highs and pressure of opening a play and putting myself out there have kinda kicked my butt. But I’m so happy! And it went so well and I’m so proud of the work.
Overall, I’m thrilled with finishing something and not letting fear cripple another creative project. But more on all of that later next week. I also want to blog about songs that save my ass, talk about poor Demi Moore and my own Nitrous experiences, and other sparkly, scary, life affirming stuff. In the meantime, do me a favor. Turn up some dance music and shake your booty all by yourself. Or sing loudly and horribly your favorite song, preferably a guilty pleasure like the one referenced in the title. Or just be nice to yourself for a whole day. You deserve it. Dammit.
Blog for Mental Health 2012
I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2012 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.
Thank you, Jen the brilliant and brutually honest creator of Step on a Crack for recommending I take the pledge. We’ve just started reading one another’s work. I feel like we speak the same language and we’re literally in the same neighborhood! I think speaking my truth about my experience with drug addcition, alcoholism, depression and HIV is the only way I get better and hopefully it helps others too. I started using drugs and drinking at age 13 and did not stop until I was 36. I hope all the time spent being an insane hot mess and my recovery therefrom can benefit others. Or I hope I can make them laugh for two minutes. Either way, ur the inspiration, is a success. I hope to continue to get better and to share when I don’t feel so great. So here’s to being miracles of mental health in 2012!
I saw one lady smoke when I was about 13 and I thought, “Oh my God. How cool is that? Maybe I should try that.” That lady was Bette Davis and my adventures in nicotine lasted 23 years.
Now I can’t blame Ms. Davis for my cigarette addiction but i have a hunch that I’m not the only little gay boy or wannabe femme fatale who started smoking after seeing her light up on-screen. American Movie Classics was my portal to a more glamorous America and certainly a more fabulous place than Golden, Colorado in the late 1980s. We had moved from our hip Denver neighborhood to a town that had a giant “Howdy Folks! Welcome to Golden!” sign strewn across the main drag. A main drag, which also included a real life Five and Dime and a western apparel shop with a giant white spinning horse on its sign. I thought we had landed in hell. I needed cable television to provide me evidence of otherwise. The films of Bette Davis did just that. And nobody smoked like her. She used a simple cigarette to assert her control, to show that she was bored, to take a moment to plot what to do next. I need an outlet for all of those things too so smoking would be added to my repertoire at precisely the right moment.
My sister, the oldest of the four kids, broke the smoking taboo for the rest of us. Ever the accidental trail blazer, she left a pack of Camel Lights in her jean jacket, the same jacket my mother washed for her. Well, when the entire load was tobacco stained and covered in the soggy remains, the jig was up. She received a harsh talking to that included the history of cancer in our family and addiction and blah blah blah. The point was she didn’t actually get in trouble and by the time I was old enough, no one really noticed that I started smoking. I was introduced in the harshest way possible on the way to junior high by my friend Tanya Setzer who had lifted some Marlboro reds. It was horrible. It gave me a headache. I hated the way they smelled. And I could not wait to do it again. I changed my brand because I was quite sure that no one outside a biker bar should be smoking Reds and I was off and puffing for more than two decades.
I quit smoking on November 15th, 2010. It was the strangest thing too. Being the ever dramatic addict, I usually like to send out a big press release informing everyone I know of the incredible thing I’ve just done so I can be applauded and then when I fail, I can do so in the most public way possible. But this time, I just quit. It was my birthday present to myself. Hindsight being what it is, I should have given myself some jeans or a new coffeemaker because no gift should make you feel as horrible as quitting smoking did. Around my second week, when I couldn’t breathe, had gotten a gum infection and felt like throwing up every time I stood up, I called a friend who is a detox nurse in Los Angeles. She informed me this horrible physical state could last 90 days or more. “Now a warning?” I thought to myself. But it passed and eventually I felt better. But I still miss “the cigarette break” even if I don’t miss smelling like an ashtray and hacking up my lung every morning. I miss the ritual of stepping outside and taking a moment. People told me replace it with a prayer break or a short walk. Bullshit. It isn’t the same thing. The upside is without all of those breaks I have more time back, time that can be put into the nap bank. So it all evens out. It always does. In the end, Bette Davis died of breast cancer and her real life was far from glamorous. The western wear shop became a Starbucks. And I finally stopped trying to be someone else.
It’s all a little overwhelming right now. My play is about to open. I recently married the man of my dreams. My health is pretty darn good and everyone in my life is incredibly happy for me. Things are beyond fine and that just isn’t okay.
Yet it’s those two words above, “thank you” that thwart my self-sabotaging tendencies. On the days where I remember to be thankful and write a gratitude list, I just feel better. I have beloved recovery friends who moan and roll their eyes whenever gratitude comes up in a meeting. “Since when was being grateful one of the steps?” they snort. And I get it. I know how cloying it can be when someone spews endlessly about how grateful they are that they’re sober, that they found a parking space, that somebody brought cookies to the meeting, that the Earth is round. But it’s true- drunks and addicts have a lot to be thankful for. And that’s why it’s annoying. In fact most of the things that piss me off are usually true. If I have to think about how good my life is and then give thanks for not being dead or a drunk or in a relationship where I communicate by throwing household items, than I don’t get to wallow. Living in gratitude means I can’t attend my own pity party. And that’s too bad. I throw a great pity party. Fantastic caterers, fabulous music, and one guest who hates his perfectly awesome life.
The practice is also very useful during times like now when I could easily slip into a “Gee, aren’t I terrific?!” type of self reliance which always spells disaster. I need to be reminded that something bigger than me is at work and responsible for all the amazing gifts I’m lucky enough to receive. As much as I play the entitled jerk, it isn’t lost on me how blessed I am.
Therefore, it occurs to me that you should be thanked too. I’ve been doing this blog for a month and some 30 odd readers (and to follow me you must be odd) have made me laugh, encouraged my writing, told me I wasn’t alone and yes even inspired me. So thank you. I’m truly grateful we found each other.
Once upon a cracked-out time, your’s truly hopped up the bunny trail that was a steep Capitol Hill street near my friend’s apartment. I swayed and sashayed as I had been awake for days. I noticed something miraculous on the small grassy patch near the building’s steps.
Three fat, round white rabbits lay sleeping in the wee hours of the morning! From where I was walking they looked like plump lop eared bunnies straight out of some Easter special. So imagine my surprise when I got closer and I realized they weren’t rabbits at all. It was three garbage-stuffed, white plastic grocery bags with their handles tied together. And thus began the ending of my relationship with crystal meth.
I had what I wistfully like to refer to as my summer of meth. Like the summer of love or the summer of 69. But with crank bought from sketchy dudes at all night bowling alleys. It was actually probably closer to two summers but who’s to say because when you’re using crystal meth everything seems to last a lot longer than it should. It’s hard to fathom that I had a relationship with crystal meth in the first place. I mean, me of the daily long naps and the intricately delicious meals was somehow dragged into a world of zero sleep and no food? How was it possible? Oh because I’m an addict that’s right. More proof positive that crystal meth was bad news for me is while high on that drug I favored smoking menthol cigarettes and drinking gin and tonics. What. The. Hell. When the most white trash drug in the world can turn me into an old black lady, things are not okay. That whole lifestyle was so hilariously awful that it is truly befuddling. The best part about meth, because there are so many wonderful things, was the that while using it I could drink even more without getting messy. But when my little crystal crew all became paranoid and some of us stopped talking to one another and then I saw the not bunnies, I decided to get out while I could.
It popped up in my life in Los Angeles here and there but amazingly I learned my lesson. Or learned there were drugs I liked more. Like booze. I guess I’m grateful for the rabbit apparition. I’ve met hundreds of people in the program whose lives have been destroyed by that drug and it is no joke. I somehow escaped it’s death grip and that’s pretty miraculous.
God. Even the title of this blog post is too long, too wordy and too much. I wish I could be a streamlined person who leaves a small footprint and has an uncluttered spirit. Alas, I’m not sure that was ever in the cards for me.
As I’ve said probably enough times to make you unsubscribe from this blog, being an addict through and through I like more of everything. More sex, more, booze, more drugs, more reality television, more donuts, more shopping and so on. Yet less is now something I stride for. Raymond Carver (my personal hero/idol when it comes to writing), is seen as one of modern fiction’s great minimalists. So if it’s good enough for Carver it’s good enough for me, right? Although like me Carver was an alcoholic and some say he was pushed into his minimal style by legendary editor Gordon Lish. Nevertheless, I believe in the power of simplicity and having a less crowded life. The husband and I are good about not keeping a lot of stuff around the house and we try to use what we have. I recylce and walk almost everywhere. Our walls aren’t cluttered and we try to live tchotchke-free.
Still, it’s my brain that usually overproduces and over-consumes. The truth is even though I think I can be some dime store version of Carver, I’m really more akin to Veruca Salt. “Don’t care how! I want it now!” I took a creative writing workshop once where we all had to read out loud and then receive feedback from SL Stebel, a renowned creative writing professor from USC. After laughing at the jokes in my story, he nodded and said, “Wow. That’s a lot of stuff there. It’s nearly too much. You have enough for four books there.” He was right of course. I was overdoing it as usual. Sigh.
Aiming to be more minimal and thoughtful is a good thing for me whereas wanting more now is usually a flashing warning sign that I have to get my spiritual life in check. But I’m also realistic. I know that I can appreciate the sparse beauty of an Agnes Martin painting just as much as I can appreciate a trip to the Liberace Museum followed by all you can eat ribs.
I feel like I’ve 12 stepped and therapied my behind off in order to be okay with my insane past. I can laugh about most of it but that doesn’t mean I always want to be reminded of it. So when my days as drugged out raver recently surfaced on Facebook, my reaction threw me for a loop.
Last week, I was added to a Facebook group called something like “I went to raves in Colorado in the 90s” by one of my oldest friends. I used to poo poo reminiscing yet for some reason this group sucked me right in. The group grew to over 1,000 people all of whom shared songs and memories and photos of the all night debauchery that was set to an electronic soundtrack. The fairy wings, the glitter, the fuzzy wookie boots and other cartoon couture litter the pictures of children who took drugs and danced all night long. I’ve spent this week revisiting my past and I’m surprising okay with it. I went to some of Denver’s earliest raves in 1990 through 1993 but the scene held steady well into the early 2000s. I was 17 when I first got my rave on and rolled it up by the time I turned 21. We did mass amounts of Ecstasy and danced and made friends and all loved each other. Until we didn’t. Crystal meth came into the picture, parties started getting broken up by the cops and drama was on every dance floor. I mean talk about a recipe for disaster– take minors, add drugs that make you wanna screw your brains out, stir and enjoy! Personally, I had a blast but it was clear from my early days of raving that all I wanted was more. I went every Saturday for months and did Ecstasy every week. And coke and whatever else was being passed around. I burnt out at 20 and again at 21. But I wasn’t alone, we were all really young and high and the lifestyle wasn’t built to last.
When I turned 21, I shook off the fuzzy backpacks and the people I met in that world. Raves were for kids and I was ready to drink with the big boys. I didn’t look back. Well until last week. It’s odd. Part of me has truly enjoyed the memories of the people and the music and the general craziness. It’s healthy for me to look back on time in my life with love and fondness. Another sick part of me really wishes I could do it again or live like that today. I know that’s nuts and beyond unhealthy but there you go. The reality is a 40 year-old raver high on drugs still acting like the party never ended would be tragic.com. For me, anyway.
I can’t argue the culture significance of raves as I was always fickle. Before raves, I was goth before that I was a moody Smiths listening teenager. After raves I moved to LA and embraced the glam rock revival and then electro clash. In short, I was always a bit of scenester sheep looking to latch on to the next big thing. But I can look at those pictures of myself and have compassion for that kid and the journeys he was going to embark on.
I was recently told by a new friend that I have a, “larger than life personality” which could be a passive aggressive way of calling me obnoxious. But this friend meant it as a good thing. I’m embarking on a new (and pardon the theatrical puns from here on out) stage of my writing career. My first play opens next Friday!
The thing is, I’ve had to rely on my big ass personality recently to get press interested and to sell myself. Even though I’m the playwright I am also the PR guru for the theater company. So with other shows I try to get people interested in the “story” not only the plot of the play but the story that could potentially run on their website, blog or publication. However, with this show, I am also selling my product – the play and me as a writer. The crazy thing is.. people are actually interested in both! This is proof of serious progress because I couldn’t ever really sell myself before. Sure I could sweet talk my way into a gig but when I fell short or fell out of favor, the jig would be up. Nobody ever really “bought” what I was selling because I didn’t really buy it myself. I was pretty dang miserable for a long time and it became increasingly more difficult to convince myself otherwise. So this is where the progress sticks out like a sore thumb- I actually like the product I’m selling! I’m incredibly proud of the play and proud of actually finishing something I said I would do. It’s been a longtime dream to have a play written and performed and now it’s happening. Terrific.
The writing process was not easy but that’s primarily because I’m a pain in the ass. My self-destructive mind kept wanting to quit in the middle or sabotage the whole affair with crazy drama. Today somebody in the meeting referred to the steps as “stages” like longer life experiences, instead of tasks. I like that and think my stage currently is one of continued and increased spiritual upkeep. It isn’t pretty having an ego that tells you that you’re either God or complete caca and nothing in between. In order to achieve some kind of middle ground, I have to continue to do the work and fully embrace the stages and steps and seasons of my life. Did I just kind of quote Stevie Nicks there? Anyway, my point is ( and I’m nearly positive I have one) is that thanks to recovery from alcoholism and addiction I can be both happy and proud of my progress and open and willing to make even more changes. Unlike my play which is now the actors’ and director’s problem child to deal with and nurture, my story continues to belong to me. I know through experience that only way that story gets better is if I continue to get better.
As I vaguely mentioned in the last post, football doesn’t interest me. Like at all. The horror. In a big football town like Denver, that’s like saying “I don’t like breathing.” Seriously, having been gone from here for the last fifteen years and living in a town without pity or an NFL Team, I had forgotten how bat-spit crazy football fans are. Bronco fans in particular are an enthusiastic breed of their own. Once upon a time, this kind sport worshipping drove me nuts. But for some reason, it doesn’t anymore. And neither does thanking God after a touchdown.
Before I got sober, what people believed in and worshipped really got under my skin. I would often grumble about how those with religious beliefs were sheep and that how could people believe in God when so many had died in his name? Oh and I loved to play the “most religions discriminate against gays” card. But regardless of whether or not any of this is true, the fact of the matter was that the bigot in this picture was me. I outwardly mocked and looked down upon people with spiritual lives and frequently I hid behind the guise of “it’s because I grew up Catholic.” I was too cool for God and really that was too bad. Deep down inside, underneath that thick and shiny cynical veneer lived a person who needed something to believe in. My alcoholism and drug use took me to a deep, shameful place that lead me to believe that nothing larger was at work in my life. That only small, crumpled up, self-destructive me could get myself out of the messes I was in. Naturally, it seemed hopeless.
I never had the lightening bolt God moment nor did I convert to a religion when I got sober. I just did what the Big Book suggested and slowly my own spiritual life developed. The fact that I never died under the influence or that my family didn’t abandon me during my time of need were evidence that something was at work. As I went to meetings in Santa Monica, I felt warm ocean breezes and knew those were things I couldn’t manufacture so that must be a higher power at work too. After a while, those breezes showed up when I really needed them. When it was too hot or when I was crying at a bus stop or when all I wanted to do is get wasted or just feeling alone. Sounds goofy right? But my relationship with a higher power is my own, silly, serious or otherwise.
And Tebow’s is his. Now I’m not sure God cares too much about football or if rappers thank him at the Grammy’s but in the end it’s none of my business. During the first two years of my sobriety, I studied a lot of meditation and learned to cultivate my own version of prayer and talking to a higher power. So what if someone else just happens to do that on national television or if they choose to worship aliens or have 12 wives? These things no longer concern me. In fact, they never did. And that such a spiritual change could occur in a hater, judgmental cynic like myself could get to a place of respect and understanding for the beliefs of others is truly proof of some kind of miracle for sure.
I love this time of year. The competition. The tight races. The close calls. I’m not talking football but AWARDS SEASON!! Duh. I’ve loved the Oscars and every awards show since I was a kid. But anything sparkly always held my gaze. I dressed up as Wonder Woman in kindergarten. I dumped loads of glitter on my tree topper angel we made in 1st grade, much to the dismay of my Catholic school art teacher. Anything that was beautiful and spectacular from the Miss USA pageant to Gone with the Wind, completely captivated me as a kid. Because long before I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, I was addicted to shiny.
As a kid growing up in Denver in the 1970’s and 80’s in a charming urban old school neighborhood, glamour wasn’t something that usually stumbled down my street. Thankfully, television and pop culture provided what Denver couldn’t. Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and the Muppet Show were the main sources of inspiration. But reruns of That Girl, Bewitched, and Josie and the Pussycats fit the bill nicely too. Yet nothing compared to the Oscars. The Oscars were a time when every famous person got dressed up to celebrate my real true childhood love: movies. Movies were the ultimate in sparkly. They had the instant ability to take me away from my day-to-day and put me in another world. My parents supported my love of movies, books, art and- God bless them- Strawberry Shortcake. But life in an alcoholic home ain’t a walk in the park so movies and fantasy weren’t just a good time. They literally saved my life. I had a place to run to that was all Madonna songs ,scratch and sniff stickers, Pound puppies and old movies-24 hours a day. And the ugly stuff could simply disappear.
When I found alcohol and drugs and nightclubs and raves, it was as if the fantasy life never had to end. Dressed in glitter covered vinyl and boas and more sparkly t-shirts, my friends and I were the 90’s personified. We partied at clubs with Courtney Love and George Michael. We crashed movie parties and guzzled down free cocktails. We never paid to get in anywhere. But then you do that life 7 days a week and soon you’ve done it. And before you know it, your late 20s and early 30s have arrived and the party has moved from hipster dive bars into your living room. Seven nights a week and sometimes alone. Soon, sparkly is the last word anybody would use to describe your life.
Getting sober put me through the ringer and I wasn’t too worried about chasing fabulous anymore. That first year, I didn’t care about the Oscars and I barely went to the movies. But today I love the movies and can now remember what I’ve seen-always a bonus! I can’t wait to watch the Golden Globes tonight and the Oscars next month. I admit a little temporary escape isn’t the worst thing and neither is the real world. My life, when I actually look at it, sparkles and glitters with amazing gifts- like a family who loves me, a healthy relationship and a rich spiritual life. And that is truly fabulous.