Unmemories, Like the Corners of My Mind

I want to write my unmemoir. You know, a whole book about the things I don’t remember. An entire volume of the shoulda, woulda coulda adventures that may or may not have happened in a blackout. And by “a blackout” I mean the years 1992- 2008.

Now I am not suggesting I spent the entire 16-year span of 1992 and 2008 entirely in a blackout. I’m not Nick Nolte for crying out loud. But I did start having blackouts around the age of 21 and didn’t stop experiencing them until I got sober in 2009. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can’t remember lately because of Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg wrote the essential writing classic Writing Down the Bones and I’m currently working my way through her book on writing memoirs entitled Old Friend from Far Away. Goldberg is fond of the exercise of writing pieces that begin with “I remember” or “I don’t remember”. These are great little prompts to get the brain warmed up and working. I have been doing the exercises as suggested and soon started to think more about “I don’t remember.” Enter the unmemoir idea. Mainly, the unmemoir would have to consist of delusions and lies, which is my favorite combination right after “grilled cheese and tomato soup” and just before “smoking and talking shit.” My unmemoir would have lots of half stories. Beginnings or just endings. Rarely would the middle of the story show up. Mainly because in the middle of the action is where I would totally blackout. It became normal, for years at a time, for people to say to me matter of fact, “You probably don’t remember. You were really drunk.” Like it was some kind of acceptable handicap. Like being a blackout drunk excused me from acting like a human being. But really being a blackout drunk doesn’t get you a special parking space and doesn’t entitle you to a telethon. The only perk is that people will let you off the hook for  not remembering things and quietly pity you.

I might sound like I’m waxing poetic about blackouts but I’m not. It’s a horrible way to exist. It’s like living in Memento everyday. Wondering who you called or what fucked up texts you sent or how you got home. Ugh. And I spent YEARS like this. My blackouts usually took me on dangerous quests for more alcohol, drugs or sex with strangers– or all three if I was really in the dark. Or I would just yell at someone I allegedly loved and then pass out. Charming.  Today, like it or not, I get to remember everything. And none of my behavior can be written off because I was too fucked up. And so, many of the pages of my unmemoir have to remain empty. The story is that there is no story. That not remembering must be a protection or a blessing or just part of the deal. And that anything I did or didn’t do during a blackout were just the actions of a guy suffering from a disease. Tragic acts not worth writing down. Acts that don’t make for good reading but make for excellent reminders.

Advertisements

The Pudding Diaries or Soft-Serve Recovery

Well, hello there! It’s been far too long and I have all kinds of pointless stuff I’m dying to talk about. Let’s hope this makes sense.

I had dental surgery three days ago. It was painful and just the beginning of a long road. Currently, I look like a shoe-in for landing a gig as either a soloist in a local jugband or a backup dancer for Deliverance! The Musical. I will not be sharing photos of my yanked teeth or any more details however. I recently had a Facebook friend who documented every gnarly moment of his foot surgery through a SERIES of videos which included wound management and bandage changes. Gross. I check Facebook to see who from high school turned out to be crazy or to see what old crackhead friends are up to, not to see the insides of someone’s foot. Suffice it to say, old teeth are gone and new ones are in the mail, metaphorically speaking of course.

In the meantime, I’ve leaned into this whole recovering thing. I’m catching up on my backlogged Hulu (The Voice! Revenge! House Hunters International!). I’m finally sleeping without intense tooth pain. And I’ve been enjoying my strict diet of soft foods like mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs and lots of pudding. The stars lined up for me to take several days off and I’m following directions. Well, for the most part.

I got a Vicodin prescription for the pain and I didn’t  use it. Not because I’m trying to be some sober bad ass but because I figured I’d try to handle with Ibuprofen first. So far that’s been working. The pain, they warned, would get worse the more I healed. And lordy they were right. I feel like someone punched me in the face while I was sleeping. But I’m going to make do until I feel compelled to do otherwise. The reality TV and lots of pudding prescription followed by an Advil chaser is working just fine. Besides, I’ve checked out more than once on Vicodin and used it recreationally more times than I can count. (I mean if you can remember how many times you’ve used prescription drugs recreationally, than clearly you’re doing it wrong.) So this feels the like easier, softer way for sure. My parents have been amazing. Bless their hearts. Being the parents of an HIV-positive person is challenging on a regular Tuesday let alone when there’s a medical emergency. Yeah they know I’ll be fine and that people don’t die from the condition I have but they’re still my parents and they worry. I’ve been calling and giving them updates and it seems to comfort them. And oddly enough it makes me feel better too. Our close relationship and love for one another is truly a gift of sobriety. I’m lucky beyond words.

Annoyingly, there is no dental magic wand that makes all the pain go away while giving me a supermodel smile in under 4 minutes (trust me. I asked.) So like recovery from drugs and alcohol, it’s all one day at a time. When talking to my mom, I said all of this was good because I wanted to handle my teeth before I turned 40. I just should have been more specific when I manifested that requested. Oops. The big thing is, I’m being gentle on myself and giving myself a break and enjoying the pudding diet while I can. It’ll be back to deadlines and brussel sprouts before I know it.

You Can’t Handle the Tooth

First things first, my blogging and overall online communication has taken a dump this week and I hate it.  I’ve  really missed the exchange with readers, bloggers and fellow whackadoodles.  And it’s all the fault of one very angry tooth.

My teeth, like the grills of so many ex-drunks and junkies, tell the story of neglect and abuse. They have needed attending to for years and have become painful over the last few months. The past ten days, however, have been unbearably painful. It is abundantly clear that I must once again face the proverbial music and get down with my bad self. When  my face was throbbing this morning as if a rhino had done double dutch on my jaw, I was thinking to myself, “This is good.” I then laughed because this is far from good. I’m in a shitload of pain, don’t have insurance, and know this process will eat up money and time I do not have. But this is good. I know from experience that pain always brings about necessary and positive changes in my life. It would be nice if I could have taken preventative measures and taken action before it got to this point but that is not how I roll. I have a thick head and like doing things the hard way so big-time oral surgery and a full mouth makeover is how this is most likely going to play out.  I’ve already put my sister, who has been sober for seven years, on notice that she’ll have to police my meds after I get my work done. I was never really a pill popper but when it comes to me and addictive substances never say never. The money, the insurance, the particulars are all things I let the my HP take care of.  He’s more qualified for that stuff anyway.

In the end, I’m grateful I am sober and for being in a position where I can face something”scary” like an angry tooth. In yesterhaze gone by, I would have just drank until the pain went away (which would have never happened) or I would have cooked up a hair-brained scheme to rid myself of the tooth. I shudder at the thought. Again, life is good today and angry teeth can easily become happy teeth if I stay in a solution.

And Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

In 1986, my family moved to Golden. I was 13 going on 14, going on old enough to know better but too young to give a crap. When we got to the little cow town, I scored a best friend who knew who the Smiths were, who knew all the alternative kids in town and who knew how to pour a drink. And thank God because I was ready for one.

At 14 the daily stresses of being not like my perfect brother or as interesting  as my glamorous older sister or as cute my younger brother coupled with the  exhausting  duties required of my full-time position as Family Disappointment began to wear me out. So when my junior high best friend mixed us up a pair of screwdrivers one day after school, I was thrilled. Now I had been warned by my father who at that time was sober for a few years and given the “we have it in our family” discussion by my mom and knew I shouldn’t but the thing was I didn’t care. I wanted to leave my awkward body and this foul-smelling town for a few minutes and a screwdriver sounded like something that could do the trick. And it did. We got drunk and listened to the Smiths and Bowie and my best friend went outside his comfy suburban home and puked in the snow as I watched shivering and trying to keep my equilibrium at bay on the ice. I remember thinking “This is it!” This was the tough rock and roll moment that I had dreamed about. Well except  for in my dream I was in London and not in Golden, Colorado. And I was probably hanging out with Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry or Morrissey in my dream. But shitty screwdrivers in suburbia and barfing in the snow were as close as I was gonna get.

My first drunk lead to many more with that same junior high friend. We were even arrested for stealing peppermint schnapps  from the general store our freshman year! Ridiculous. I mean stealing schnapps? You can’t even give that away to most people. But that’s how this drunk and junkie rolls- by any means necessary. Even Schnapps.  By the time I was 16, i had done acid, smoked pot and taken ecstasy. Orange juice and vodka weren’t my gateway drugs though. I’m my own gateway drug. My intense desire to not be present opens the doors for all kinds of idiotic choices. From a fistful of Klonopin at a goth club to No-doze and wine coolers before my junior high dance, there’s no combination of chemicals that I’ve ever turned down. I’m an equal opportunity addict. I’m the Ellis Island of drugs and alcohol. Give me your poor, your tired, your schnapps and meth.

Of course, drugs and alcohol didn’t erase the pain of being a teenager. It probably made it worse. I struggled to find happiness. I was always getting caught in some lie. I never finished anything. I got fired from horrible degrading jobs I didn’t even want. I thought of killing myself but knew I was too lazy and self involved to even do that right. But that was then. I still love the Smiths. I still have days where I want to evaporate and vanish for a few hours. But I remember I have things I want to do and places I want to see and stuff  I still want to learn. Or as Morrissey himself once said, “Everybody’s got to live their life and God knows I’ve got to live mine!”

The lies our hearts tell

When my nearly 13 year relationship crumbled as I got sober in 2009, my heart and my brain conspired to tell me a series of convincing but damaging lies. “You weren’t meant to be in love” they whispered. “No gay man in his right mind is going to want a sober, HIV positive partner” they told me. And of course my favorite lie was the one that played on repeat whenever I felt utterly alone, “You won’t ever know real love.” Naturally, it was all bullshit and thankfully I stopped believing it.

When I first crawled into the AA meetings in Santa Monica, I would see handsome, single, interesting, non-trainwreck gay men and think “Wow. They do exist.” This thought was usually followed by a head shake that would remind me that I was in no condition whatsoever to date anyone. Ever. Or for at least awhile. Besides, who would date me? The recently single, barely sober, life in shambles me was not exactly a candidate for The Bachelor or anything. My heart was smashed open so to protect itself, it told me little lies and truths to protect me. I was not open to the idea of love nor did I think I would ever have anything to offer anyone else. Nevertheless, little changes happened the longer I stayed sober and my life got bigger, so did my ideas about what I could or could not achieve. Soon my heart started saying things like “Maybe I could write professionally and not go back to waiting tables?”

At almost exactly a year sober that is what happened. I started writing copy for an agency. Other mind-boggling things started to happen too. Mainly, I began to like myself. I mean like really be okay with myself and by myself. I spent a summer meditating, writing and taking care of some chickens. I don’t know if the preceding sentence is a guaranteed recipe for successful self-love but it freaking worked for me. Maybe I’ll open a rehab with writing classes and chicken coops. Or not. The point is those lies were no longer being listened to or even transmitted. There was a new set of programming that repeatedly told me, day and night, that I deserve love. Moreover, that I already had love in my life. I might have been single but there was love coming from people everywhere and I was open and lucky to receive it. At one year, seven months and six days of continuous sobriety, I met the man I’m married to today. He wasn’t who I thought he would be meaning who I thought the guy I would marry would be. He was even better. He’s an artist, he’s hilarious, he’s brilliant and he isn’t nuts. And thank god. This family only has room for one crazy person and I fit the bill nicely.

So the deal is this: I am writing this to tell you the truth even if your heart won’t. You deserve love. You are already loved. Despite what you did or didn’t do while you drank or used drugs somebody loves you and somebody will love you like you never knew was possible. I know this all sounds corny but it’s Valentine’s Day so fucking indulge me. Love isn’t for just pretty people or rich people or sane people (clearly). Love is for people who know they are worthy of it and who give it away without condition and even a lying heart would agree with me on that one.

Whitney

It’s so alcoholic of me to turn the death of someone else into a blog post about myself. I remember going to a meeting the day Michael Jackson died and all anybody could talk about was how hard  the death of a person they didn’t know was for them. We’re such a dramatic and self-centered lot. Therefore it is difficult not to talk about Whitney Houston. As an addict and alcoholic and fan, it’s hard not to take her death personally.

As the news is still fresh and many tears are still not dry, when it comes to Whitney Houston’s death over the weekend there is so much we still don’t know. It’s tempting to say it was drugs or booze that killed her. But the fact is we don’t know. As a person in recovery,  I can assume she chose the final and tragic Door Number 3. They say there are only three options a life without recovery has for those who cannot stay sober–jails, institutions and death. My snap judgement is that she is a victim of the third option.  It angers me because I’ve seen friends die because they couldn’t stay sober. But again, we  just don’t know. So the best we can do is mourn her, appreciate her talents and pay tribute to her.

But is that truly the best we can do? After the decades of Judys, Jimmys, MJs and Amys when do we stop co-signing the behavior and acknowledge that these brilliant tortured souls died of a fatal disease?  With MJ, we blamed someone else. With Amy, we ignored the obvious. If it does turn out to be drugs and alcohol that killed her, maybe Whitney’s death could be an invitation to an honest, global conversation about the reality of addiction. Kate Middleton has taken on the project of alcoholism and addition in England. Diana’s pet project was AIDS. Middleton clearly sees the issue as serious as any other major, fatal health epidemic. And that’s what it is. Houston admittedly tried to get and stay sober for years. To honor her memory with education and honesty, would be truly awesome.

And yet we just don’t know. I saw Whitney Houston in concert in 1990. The reason you went to a Whitney concert back in the day was to see that freakishly amazing voice come out of this beautiful woman. She didn’t disappoint. That voice was her special effect. That voice was the superpower she had over millions. In life that voice could change minds, inspire and give you chills. There’s no doubt her voice will live on for decades. We’ll remember that gift and maybe not talk about the demons that so clearly plauged her. And even when we do know more, we’ll just focus on the good stuff. Because we think that’s the best we can do.

Escape from Drunk Bitch Mountain

Love or loathe Bravo’s hit reality television franchise The Real Housewives, there is no denying its impact on pop culture. If you’re unfamiliar (then you’re probably better off), the show focuses on the real lives of  pampered housewives. Much of the conflict on each version of the show- from New York to Beverly Hills- arises when the ladies get together for drinks and the claws inevitably come out after the chicks dust several bottles of white wine.  Now, cast member and former child star Kim Richards from the 90210 version has completed rehab and if I were her, I wouldn’t come back to reality TV.

 

The story of Kim Richards very public battle with alcoholism has been covered a lot by sobriety bloggers lately -most brilliantly by Psych Central, by the way. I think Kim’s story is one those of us who have been there can identify with, even if the rest of her life seems totally foreign. Kim starred in Disney hits in the 1970’s like Escape to Witch Mountain, has been married several times and is the aunt to Paris Hilton. Her day-to-day and growing up in front of cameras are things I can’t identify with. However when Richards is shown on television these days she’s slurring into the phone, missing planes, lying about why she’s late and erratically screaming at people. That’s a life I know all too well. Like Richards I had a group of people I partied with and drank with and hid things from. And like Kim I verbally attacked people when I was intoxicated, I had a bucket of excuses as to why I could never do what I promised and I had to eventually face the music. The word is that Bravo forced Richards into rehab so could hang onto her job. That never happened to me and I never went to rehab. I was told if I wanted a sliver of a chance at sobriety, I had to change my playground, my playmates and my playthings. As painful as it was, I had to leave my whole life in order to really give sobriety a shot. It seemed like I would never have friends again and the loneliness would kill  me faster than the drink ever could. After 20 years of daily drinking and using, I had to submerge myself into a new sober way of life because any semblance of my old drinking days would have trumped my new existence. Regardless of how hard it was, sobriety had to become my job. But that’s me. I’m not Kim Richards and I don’t know what it’s like to try to stay sober while being in the spotlight and under a microscope.

In an interview for the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion show, Richards is still holding grudges, still blaming others and still, from what it sounds like,living like she did before she went to rehab. Except she’s sober. And again, I get it. Recovery is no picnic. But all anybody, famous or not, needs to do to stay sober is honestly try. Hopefully, Richards will allow herself to do just that.

That Story I Don’t Want to Tell

Curses you evil blog! I am now in the habit of talking about my demons, letting them go and laughing about them. I’m in such a habit that even the stories I want to conveniently leave out are itching to be published and I have to get out of their way, regardless of how humiliating or difficult they are.

Besides, telling this particular story could actually be helpful to person in my life whom I adore and  know is silently struggling right now. So here goes nothing. I don’t love New Year’s Eve. I’m not talking about New Years Eve the horrible looking movie featuring some of the most grating actors on the planet. I’m talking about the holiday New Year’s Eve. You know the one where people who don’t usually drink decide to ingest kiddie pools filled with alcohol, put on a ridiculous hat and then unleash themselves onto a crowded public street? Yeah that one. I avoided talking about , blogging about and even really participating in New Year’s Eve this year.I didn’t even like it that much when I was drinking. I mean it gave me an excuse to get really fucked up but so did major events like losing my keys, getting a new job, finding my keys, and bathing my dog. New Years Eve was always a total letdown. Especially in 2008.

On December 29th me and my ex were evicted from our apartment. I thought I could drink like a Hemingway and do coke like a Sheen and not pay our rent. Our landlord thought differently. We had to stay at a friend’s where we basically drank and got fucked up until we figured out what we were doing. Deep inside of me I knew this was the end of the road. End of the road for my relationship.End of the road for my behaviors. And the end of the road for my drinking. I had been struggling to quit for years and knew that my life was falling apart as direct result of it. The worst part was that I knew that I had to ask for help. I had to change and had to rely on my family. I was going to do that but I needed to have my last drunken New years. Like most of the others before it, it was totally uneventful. I couldn’t drink myself out of this predicament and the three bottles of wine did nothing but make me tired. I was fucked and couldn’t hide from or lie my way out of it. The 31st turned into the 1st when I also drank simply to survive. January 2nd 2009 came and I came to and called my little brother. I tearfully asked for help and things started to change right away. By the 3rd, my whole family knew and by the 4th my life was on a new trajectory.But it all started and ended with New Year’s Eve.

For some reason this year this story, the story of me hitting rock muthafucking bottom was a tough one for me to tell or to think about. I don’t know why. Most recovered drunks tell their bottoming out story in the same manner bragging fisherman talk about catching the big one. And I always did too. I was always proud that I scraped myself out of the gutter and even though I was still proud, the story itself didn’t seem important anymore. That’s where I was wrong. Anybody who survives addition and alcoholism has an important story to tell. It’s a tale that could really help somebody out.  So this  person I grew up loving and holding in my heart as a child and then became closer to as an adult needs to know that the shitstorm will blow over , laughter will come back and  healing is really possible. That story I didn’t want to tell is proof of all of these things and so much more.

Spot it, You Got it

I hate when people post about politics on Facebook. I hate when I read things by so-called experts that are clear opposition of the right way of thinking, you know my way. I hate that hating everything is clearly a symptom of me not being good to myself and mainly I hate that what I don’t like in others, is what drives me crazy about myself. Sigh.

After an incredible two weeks wherein my play opened, my mom came to town, another exciting creative project was born and generally the sky was blue and the world broke into a happy musical number, I crashed. See, the thing about this HIV gig is that going non-stop can really wear a body out. Sure, I received the messages like “Hello, we need to lay down” and “Excuse me can we get a freaking vitamin up in here!?!” But I didn’t listen. I’ve been busy and things are fantastic so why should I take time out to take care of myself? Well the short answer is even though I’m healthy and I live with a “chronic manageable disease”, I simply can’t burn the candle at both ends. When I first got diagnosed, my doctor told me “Listen, you and stress are over. Nothing wreaks more havoc on a compromised immune system than stress and pushing yourself too hard.”  This sage advice has rung in my ears over the past 3 years of living with this condition. Until recently. In November stress wound me up in the hospital. So through the not so subtle head cold and body ache I got over the weekend, I finally paid attention.

Here’s where I get back to that open paragraph. I know about freaking time. This morning, I don’t feel great physically so as I peruse Facebook or read articles online I get more and more bitchtacular and before I know it I’m in a foul mood. My sick puppy brain tells me that not feeling great gives me a hall pass to act like a cynical jerkface. But then a miracle happened as I was reading this study that really pissed me off, I’m not angry. I don’t hate everything. And I can stop feeling emotionally bad even when my body feels like it got hit by a bus. Mainly, I’m annoyed by behaviors that I don’t like in myself. As usual, the person out to get me and make me feel shitty is the dude in the mirror. Being preachy or entitled or always right or stubborn or judgmental are character defects that still pop up in me . Naturally spotting them in others is something I am very good at. The missing ingredient here that lead to morning of crabbiness was meditation and prayer. I had an old sponsor who told me to pray before I turned on my computer or looked at my phone everyday. Again more advice that I don’t always follow. Obviously.

But the good news is this, nobody got hurt. I didn’t fire off a bunch of “Go screw yourself” emails. I didn’t cuss out my husband. I didn’t open a beer because the world was out to get me. I saw it happening. I prayed. I stopped and flipped the script. I laughed at how terrible I was being. And that little but revolutionary change right there is reason enough to smile even though I’m sneezing.

Staying Out of Josh Hamilton’s Relapse

Just yesterday I was talking about Dolly Parton songs along side a picture of a glitter guitar and today I’m talking about the world of sports. Go figure. Granted I’m more drawn to the former than the latter but this story about Josh Hamilton riled me and got me thinking about my own relapse.

Josh Hamilton from ESPN Magazine

Hamilton is well-known for his incredible talent and his long battle with drugs and alcohol. The Texas Rangers outfielder was allegedly seen drinking at a Texas bar causing “respected” news sites to print stories entitled “Josh Hamilton reportedly has alcohol relapse.” All I could think of when I saw these headlines was, “Ouch.” Having a relapse judged and put under the media microscope sounds horrific indeed. My heart went out to the guy.

Now I know nothing about Hamilton and his character. In fact, having me blog about baseball is a little like having a vegan describe the menu at Outback Steakhouse. But I do know about relapse. In 2008, I really tried to stay sober all by myself. Without any support or asking for help, I limped along in a state of miserable dryness. After 70 days, “I thought I got this.” Recently, I found an old journal from that time and I feel sorry for that guy. He was doomed to relapse. He was dry but he wasn’t recovering. I read this passage from the journal that nearly made me cry:

“I’m trying to dodge bullets, trying to breathe, trying to still love life, trying to meet my problems full on and all the while I’m trying to figure out ‘Now What?’ Drinking was an issue and addiction is an issue for me. I’m trying to take it easy but I fear I’m hiding out.” 

And I was hiding. I didn’t want to drink but I didn’t want to face who I was. I was terrified and naturally I relapsed two months later with a journal entry that begins:

“So I had a stumbling moment this weekend. I had too much wine.”

I write about it not being a big deal and that I could go back to being sober but as I read it now, the writing was clearly on the wall. I couldn’t stay sober after that and six months later my life truly imploded. It was humiliating and difficult enough relapsing in front of my circle of friends. I can’t imagine doing that in front of the  entire world.

The Los Angeles Times says that Hamilton has been sober since 2005 but later in the article also notes “The only other time Hamilton broke his sobriety was in 2009 when he said he questioned his Christian faith and it led to a night of drinking at a bar in Tempe, Ariz.” Huh? Most recovery people I know would say Hamilton’s old 2005 sobriety date wouldn’t count after the Tempe incident. And maybe the media’s ignorance is part of the reason we don’t have compassion for those who do relapse.  But who cares and the whole point I’m getting at is when or if Hamilton or Lindsay or anybody else has relapsed, it’s none of  my business. Part of not drinking the haterade anymore for me is not judging anyone else’s sobriety. Or weight loss. Or weight gain. Or relationship status. It’s a tall freaking order. Especially when we live around these kinds of headlines. But ultimately, I’m better off when I take care of myself and shut the hell up. And oddly enough, staying out of others’ business helps me get further away from another drink or a relapse of my own.