sober at a mile high

When I ran off to Los Angeles in 1995, Denver was a town in transition. Things were about to happen but they hadn’t quite yet. Suffice to say, when I came back 15 years later things were happening, primarily weed. Like everywhere. Upon arrival in the Mile High City, you are greeted with a permanent marijuana musk which smells like a skunk who’s had too many burritos and by young loadies  who populate city parks sparking up as if they didn’t get the memo that Woodstock ended 40 years ago.  Having lived in Los Angeles during the medical marijuana storefront boom, I had seen pot go retail. But what I had never witnessed was an entire city go to pot.

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There were lots of things about my hometown I didn’t remember. Like the terrible driving. After nearly getting run over by a Subaru, I said to the startled pedestrian next to me, “When did the drivers get so terrible here?” To which she replied with zero irony,”Oh that’s just because everyone here is high.” A subsequent trip to my favorite coffee shop, wherein I witnessed my barista  with cherry red eyes and a cartoonish perma-grin make my latte  at a sloth’s pace, certainly reinforced her theory. From grandmas to teens, on city buses and corporate functions, pot is omnipresent. Being a big fan of bathing and caffeinated beverages delivered in a timely manner, the culture, quite frankly, annoyed me. Still,I tried to not let it bother me. I was the minority here and solid in my sobriety so what did I care?  It would be hypocritical for me too get to judgy seeing as pot served its purpose for me for over decade. It nurtured my favorite pastimes of eating and sleeping while making some truly godawful films more enjoyable.  As long as I didn’t smell like a gassy skunk, Denver could smoke its brains out. After all the, image is that the city has this pot thing totally under control.

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After living back in Denver for the past two and a half  years, however, its hard not to wonder if the veneer on the perma-grin has begun to crack. A 4/20 rally that ended in two shootings doesn’t bode too well for Weed Town, USA. Neither does the onslaught of regulation issues currently biting Denver in the ass. The oddest place I’ve seen pot pop-up is in recovery. My jaw dropped when I was told that a common belief in the 303 is that you can be considered sober and still smoke pot. Marijuana maintenance was acceptable as long as you didn’t drink. As drunk who is also a drug addict, this thinking was news to me. I was told I wasn’t sober if I was using any chemical to check out. In order not to get pissed off at such a notion, I have to keep my eyes on my own paper.

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Policing other people’s recovery or trying to dissuade a city from sparking up a joint would be a colossal waste of time. Besides, my own bucket of crazy needs to emptied on a regular basis, therefore making it a full-time job. If I’m doing the stuff that keeps me spiritually fit, the habits of others are none of my business. I’m able to enjoy myself and my life without substances and that’s all that matters. Is it harder staying in town that’s high? I don’t know. I think staying sober is difficult anywhere. I know fall down drunks in small towns and people with long-term sobriety who live in Las Vegas. Which is to say, I don’t think the diseases of addiction and alcoholism are location-based. I also know how to deal with it better the longer I live here. I avoid places with lots of pot smoking. I try to be understanding of people who need weed to help them stop drinking. I’ve become a more cautious and aware pedestrian.  And, most importantly I allow extra time for my stoned barista to make my latte.

do they make a brita filter for your brain?

Weathering the non-stop, roaring rapids of information can really wear me out.There are only so many tweets about Kate Middleton’s baby, only so many Facebook posts about some politician I’ve never heard of and only so many unimportant emails I can handle before my brain feels like it’s about to collapse. I’ve come to believe that perhaps its better that I don’t know all the details of a divorce currently being shared by someone from middle school whom I barely remember? Maybe its okay if I never see pictures from your spleen removal surgery? I just think I liked people better when I knew less about them. Says the guy who routinely talks about his drug use and once sent a tweet about his anal pap. But what I do is art, so it’s different.

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Recently, I’ve discovered in lieu of forcing the entire internet to change (I mean, I asked. But I haven’t heard back), I had to change myself. Wait. That sounds like I’m wearing adult diapers. You know what I mean. My endless bitching about the Internet and adding crap to a conversation online or otherwise is something I can change. Maybe it wasn’t the planet’s never-ending onslaught of negative communication that was the problem but my own. Duh. My problems, much like a Scooby-Doo episode, always end up the same way. The person behind the mask causing all of the haunted shenanigans isn’t a ghost or a demon but me. And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.

Anyway, over the last week I’ve been trying to practice filtering my conversations, emails and thoughts before I vomit them out. I’ve been trying to write about resentments and get my thoughts clear before going to others and wreaking havoc. I’ve been trying to pause before I indulge in the critical buffet and trying to say, “No, thank you” when they pass around the tray of invites to the shit-talkers VIP lounge. This a communication revolution to be sure. But I use the words “trying” and “practice” because this is some difficult stuff. immediately, the narcissist in me says, “I don’t NEED to filter myself! I speak the truth!” This is usually said with a lot of finger waving, by the way.

20obquWhat I’m discovering especially when it comes to my writing and my relationships I don’t have to share everything in order to be myself.  This doesn’t mean I have to repress my sparkle, however. In fact, filtering out the inner-crazy or negativity has let my actual personality come out. And there are Non-Ninja things I can do to make communication more positive like turn off my instant chat or listening instead of talking. Or not answering emails from lunatics.Or not commenting on every thread that annoys me. Or simply thinking of others and reconsidering my wording before I hit send.

It sounds ridiculous but it feels like a genuine start. Staying true to my personality while running it through the filter takes some considerable faith and skill.These are not easy habits to shatter. But I’m going to keep practicing it. Otherwise, I’ll be back to haunting old amusement parks and tweeting about the toenail that’s about to fall off.

where are my keys and other mysteries of the universe

At the risk of writing the most boring blog post ever created by man, I can’t find my keys. I know. Call the Miss Marple. Who needs CNN when you’ve got me breaking these kind of headlines? But really I can’t find them. While this nonemergency is annoying, it brought up an old feeling of panic; one that I haven’t felt in a while.

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Back when I drank and used, I was a loser. Not only in “so why don’t you kill me (go crazy with the Cheez Whiz)” sort of way but in the way I’d get drunk and lose things. Phones, wallets, keys– you name it. In general, if I could find all of my belongings after a night of drinking than clearly I didn’t drink enough. I never once lost drugs, though. Priorities, people. Priorities. Sometimes these losses were items temporarily misplaced like your standard cellphone in the refrigerator kind of thing. Other times, these items would fall into the great abyss and presumed gone forever. Although, I did find a few phones in fucked up places in my old apartment long after the service and the chicness of the Motorola Razr had both worn off. I joke but waking up and not knowing if your personal belongings are still with you is a horrible feeling. Even worse is waking up and not knowing where you yourself is. Losing a wallet is one thing but misplacing a drunken gay man in his 30’s is just unacceptable. This lifestyle of calamity, of not knowing where anything is, is awful. I’d crawl out of bed and make sure my wallet was where I left it and then I’d check my phone to make sure I didn’t text anything too awful. Investigating the nightly crime scene of my own drunken existence every morning was an exhausting task. Towards the end, my daily terror wasn’t caused by the things I lost but by the parts of mind that were starting to go missing. I drank to sleep. I drank before, during and after work. I was either riddled with intense anxiety in those final months or living in a delusion that everything would magically get better on its own. Like I said, I was losing my mind and it sucked.

So this dumb, current misplacing of my keys momentarily brought up that panic and terror that I lived in. I tore through my apartment; overturning couch cushions and pulling open drawers.  And still nothing. This frantic looking for my keys started to feel all too familiar and it had to stop. So I had some cookies, watched Community and went to bed. After meditation this morning, I looked for them again and still nothing. I’ll call the coffee shop and see if they wound up there. Follow me on Twitter for more late breaking developments on this important story. I’m laughing about all of this because in comparison to losing my mind and my sanity, keys are no big deal. They can be replaced. My sanity? Well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to hold on to that just so it doesn’t go the way of the Motorola Razr again.

even still, glee exists.

That random dictionary that pops up when you type a word in defines glee as “great pleasure or delight.” I don’t know if the Google dictionary can be trusted but I do know it was hard to feel great pleasure or delight today in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict and the news of Cory Monteith’s death. Admittedly, I don’t follow the news so I wasn’t invested in the Zimmerman trial. For me, obsessively following trials and the news falls under the category of “serenity killers.” I also didn’t really watch Glee but as an addict, this story really bummed me out.

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The 31-year-old Montieth reportedly struggled with drugs and alcohol since his teen years. Most recently, he left rehab for “substance abuse” problems back in May. While Glee might be a modern but happy-shiny teen show, Montieth recent life seems like it was pretty dark. There’s an autopsy coming but what does it matter. The results won’t be released and we won’t ever really have this conversation we so desperately need to have.  The teens who watched Montieth and followed his rise to fame aren’t likely to hear the truth from publicists about his struggle with the disease of addiction.

Perhaps I’m negatively projecting here. But if Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse have taught us anything, it’s that we no longer like to tell the public that drugs and alcohol killed our icons. When I was a kid and Belushi died, I remember seeing a magazine cover saying, “Drugs killed John Belushi.” You would never see a headline like that today.  I’ve griped about this before and-spoiler alert- I’ll continue to do so. If one of these celebrities was killed by cancer or AIDS,we’d know about it. We’d say “Weren’t they strong for battling that disease?” But when it comes to addiction and alcoholism, we tend to revert to shame and misunderstanding. We either blindly idolize them, no questions asked. Or act like they were long time losers who had it coming. Yet the big thing we’re missing out on by withholding, in my opinion, is the collective admitting that”Yes, drugs and alcohol will still kill you” and a chance to talk about it. Of course the media has to wait until autopsies are complete and naturally loved ones of the deceased have every right to privacy. But some acknowledgement of the epidemic could maybe save lives.

But maybe I’m wrong. Just two weeks ago, People magazine featured a story of how Matthew Perry’s life has changed since getting sober. So maybe our attitude is changing. Who knows. This post, as always, is about my attitude. Shocker, I know. But its hard for me not to feel upset when I hear about someone who lost their fight with addiction. Perhaps it freaks me out to realize that could have been me. Or maybe it makes me angry that they never got help or weren’t able to grasp recovery. Probably a little of both.

What I do know is: great pleasure or delight exists for me today. It doesn’t come in a bottle or box or from a sketchy guy in a Datsun at 4am. It comes from being sober. As my husband and I worked on our next creative venture on the couch and nibbled pizza as we bounced ideas off each other this afternoon, I felt real happiness. I also felt it yesterday when I walked down the street and watch gray clouds dot a pink and orange sunset. I feel it when I have ridiculous conversations with my cat. Its because I’m free. I don’t hate myself or my life so much I need to check out. After decades of being miserable I’m finally free. And I guess after years of pain, Cory Montieth is now too. Still, you can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t an easier way out.

people (insert head shake and deep sigh)

The songstress in the photo below once crooned, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” While the inherent codependency of that lyric could be undoubtedly discussed until my computer exploded, I guess the 1960’s wisdom of ‘needing people’ to express not isolating from others is sweet. Yet seeing what a pain in the ass they are, people who tell other people to go screw themselves might be luckiest people in the world.

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Now relax, I’m not going to launch into a post about how people suck and how wronged I’ve been by the entire planet beginning with my abusive 1st grade teacher(affectionately known as Sister Snake Face) leading all the way up to the cashier at Starbucks from last week who ignored me (affectionately known as “douche waffle”). Sadly, recovery has forever tainted my bitch sessions about others. I’ve been programmed to look at my part first and to have compassion for crazy people and to pray for people I want to kill. Really takes the fun out of the whole ritual. As a drug, people really suck. Next to slamming Robotussin, no other substance provides such an unreliable high and such a flaming hot headache. As former grand marshal of the codependents parade, which never happened on the account of all of our time being spent worrying about each other, people addiction is something I know a little about. Listen, like I said, if drugs or a bottle were available I’d gladly take them first. But people were more like cigarettes. Not a fast high but a habit that would make me sicker and crazier the longer I did it. Just how I like my habits to behave. A year and half away from romantic relationships and some gnarly soul-searching helped me kick my people drug. However, that detox was a slower and more slippery one. I never had normal relationships. Like ever. So sliding into crazyland behavior like trying to control when people call me, not eating in hopes that we’ll go out to dinner together and generally trying to manipulate people into spending time with me was incredibly easy. It took my several failed friendships in sobriety and months of dating hell to realize, I had a long way to go in building a health relationships with these ‘people’ Babs was singing about.

I bring this up today because people as they are known to do, have been a disappointment lately. And by lately I mean since that whole Garden of Eden fuckup. Seriously, my relationships get complicated and that’s a blessing. Really. My relationships these days are real and authentically human with actual people. Which is terrific for somebody who use to refer to friends who he knew from nightclubs as “We Hate Her” and “Snaggle Toe”. The flipside of these real relationships is that always  sometimes people let you down. Again, they’re an incredibly dicey drug. I’d be better off with a pack of Kools and a box of wine if I wanted to check out. Thankfully, I don’t want to check out today. I also know that humans being human is a two-way street. I let people down too. I screw up constantly. And , yes, 12-steppers, I’m usually to blame, at least partially, for whatever issue I have with people is. Sigh.

I heard Barbra say in an interview she always thought the lyric should be that “people who don’t need people are the luckiest people in the world” as it expressed the heartbreak her character in Funny Girl went through. I get it. But it seems like that song turned out okay. I know that if I just let things happens, just forgive people for being people and just be grateful for having the people in my life that I do have, I’ll be okay too.

oh the places you’ll blow

If you haven’t done acid in your grandparents backyard, you haven’t really lived. That’s what I always say. Actually that’s the first time I’ve ever said that. And honestly, your existence is probably okay if you haven’t. Yet as a young drug addict in training whose motto seemed to be “Sure! Why not?” my adventures in narcotics took me everywhere from acid in grandma’s yard to smoking crack in an alley with a now famous music producer. While drinking just seemed to get me into trouble, drugs always had a unique knack of putting me in the strangest of environs.

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I guess it’s the whole “because they’re illegal” thing. Or maybe its the very nature of getting high. Who knows. But when you’re laying on the floor of a jewelry designer’s warehouse after doing heroin afraid to move because you’re convinced Jesus has come down and is now an alien who shoots lasers from his eyes, you know your life has gotten pretty special. That was at age 20 and after dabbling in meth for a few horrifying months, I trotted off to Europe with the hope that when I got back my drugcations would be cancelled once and for all. Naturally, I smoked a wagon full of hash and bought ecstasy from the Danish version of Kurt Cobain while in Amsterdam but that was to be expected. It’s like eating pizza in New York or hot dogs in Chicago. I got back and despite a few drug free months, the party was back on and I was once again a hot mess. Hanging out in sketchy all night suburban bowling alleys waiting to buy drugs, doing cocaine off the dashboard of a someone’s mom’s Ford escort, using the Mile High City’s gay bar restrooms as my own party depot. Classy excursions all the way around. In a desperate attempt to pull my head out of my ass, I moved to Los Angeles at age 23. Cause there wasn’t in trouble to get into in LA in 1995. Seeing as my sobriety date in January 2nd 2009, we know how that move worked out.

While drugs and alcohol might have taken me to random places (4am at a Korean speakeasy doing shots with Horatio Sands is the first thing to spring to mind), the one thing they never successfully did was totally remove me from myself. That was one vacation that not even the Priceline Negotiator could figure out. Sure, blacking out was a good way to erase how much I hated the world for a few hours. But it never lasted. I guess I’m blogging about this today because I’m happy with where I am. Yes, I could use a non-drug fueled real vacation. But overall I am okay with where I am– physically, spiritually, mentally. And I’m more than okay that my average, daily adventures no longer put my life in danger. That’s always a good thing. It’s also an incredible gift to wake up and know exactly where I was the night before. I don’t have to search receipts or look at fast food bags on my coffee table to piece together what happened. This isn’t to say my life is boring. Or maybe it is. But at least it’s real and at least I’m no longer trying to getaway from my life. Even though the beach sounds pretty incredible right now. Hold the acid.