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.
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.
It’s painfully clear to me that I am becoming a homosexual of a certain age when things like vacuuming and picking out a toilet bowl cleaner have become truly soul-satisfying experiences. From licking cocaine off of the private parts of strangers to Windexing my glass coffee table while I’ll listen to the Stephen Sondheim Pandora station– if my dealer could see me now! Granted, I’m not insane about cleaning. Cleaning didn’t become my new tequila. No, I’m still gleefully disorganized and live in a romantic state of what I like to call, “writer messy.” Still, working nearly full-time from home does require me to be a little more put together and it’s easier to create when my desk isn’t doubling as The Tiny Scrap of Paper and Dead Pen Museum. Considering my old drunk house had a sunroom filled with water damaged yet empty appliance boxes, VHS tapes of bad 80s porn and mysterious toenail clippings, I do okay today in the cleaning and organizing department. If only the upkeep and cleaning of my personal life was as easy.
We are told in recovery that if we don’t drink, trust a higher power, help others and clean house, we’ll do alright. The clean house thing is always a struggle for me. Drunk me always liked to shove it in a closet and shut the door when it came to actual and emotional messes. Out of sight, out of mind. Out of control. This method of avoidance maintenance, unfortunately, no longer works for me. At three-plus years of sobriety, I can run but I hide. I’ve had little personality flaws, flaming character defects and some shitty habits show up on my doorstep recently. Instead of facing the music and dancing, I’ve decided to sit this one out and wait for a song I like better. In other words, I’m dealing by not dealing. As previously stated, this kind of shenanigan can’t go on for long. After being really uncomfortable and causing a fair amount of personal drama, I had to grab the metaphoric broom and mop and clean my shit up. This involved but was not limited to such delightful activities as admitting I was wrong, listening to someone I hurt without getting to attack them in return, and owning some really awful behavior. Ugh. I’d rather cleanup the toenails.
Unlike a sparkly clean bathroom blinding with it’s whiteness and smelling like a bleach bouquet, the benefits of personal cleanups aren’t always immediate. Usually for me they require a change in attitude and action. A week has passed since my mess was uncovered and the cleanup process began. This so-called major overhaul and shameful mess hasn’t been so bad. What I thought required an emotional forklift really just needed some honesty and humility. (Which by the way is not in the same aisle as paper towels and Ajax. I looked.) Sure, I’d like to be able to shut the door and say, “Nothing to see here, move along!” on my personal disasters. But as a person in recovery, it’s a luxury I no longer have. Today, I get to face stuff, clean things up and continue to change. And that’s pretty terrific.
So pass the Pine-Sol and pump up the jams!
If you randomly bust into dance moves when you hear “Le Freak” by Chic coming from the sound system at the grocery store, if you still expect to be on the guest list even though you have been to a nightclub in several years or if you suffer from minor hearing loss due to dancing next to speakers for an extended period of time; you may be suffering from disco damage. Other common symptoms include the unwavering belief that nothing gets good until after 12am, spontaneously yelling “Hey girl!” at drag queens even if you don’t know them and a deep desire to dance instead of dealing with your life.
Disco damage sufferers like myself have a had tough week. The back-to-back deaths of Donna Summer and Robin Gibb reinforced the depressing, unavoidable truth: nothing,not even a great dance song, lasts forever. I was a toddler during the original disco era but the beat must have seeped into my brain at an early age because my whole life I’ve been in love with dance music. Yes, I am aware that an affinity for dance music is part of my gay DNA but disco and the culture around it were very much a fantasyland and that appealed to me very much as a future drug addict and alcoholic.
I was scooped into nightclubs and raves at an early age. And what goes better with dance music than drugs? Body glitter and platforms are fabulous but if I really wanted to dance my ass off, drugs had to be my number one accessory. Once at a rave in a warehouse in suburban Denver, the Chic song I mentioned earlier came blasting out of the speakers. I was high on ecstasy and it felt like this was my moment. This is what I was looking for my whole life. I had friends on the dance floor, I felt fantastic and I was 20. This kind of high needed to happen all the time and normal life needed to feel more like this. So it was this feeling, this hunger that propelled me from Colorado raves to LA nightclubs to working at a record store and to DJing and promoting my own clubs in Hollywood. The goal of a budding disco diva was simple: get high and dance. Ecstasy was the preferred dancing accoutrement for many years but cocaine did the trick and so did some strong cocktails. (For the record, 3 Long Islands and 2 Vicodins aren’t a great dance floor combo and we’ll leave it at that.) There’s a great line in the disco classic, “Lost in Music” by Sister Sledge that sums it up:”Responsibility to me is a tragedy. I’ll get a job some other time.” For many years, I worked to keep partying, I kept partying to avoid really living.
Eventually, the lights came on, last call was called and I tried to live real life. For a club child, this is a difficult prospect. We’re used to phony relationships and being high all the time. Things like paying our bills and dealing with our problems are icky tasks meant for those boring, grownups we’d see heading to church on Sunday mornings on our way home from the club. I eventually would face the music and lucky for me that music still had a disco beat. You could take the homo out of the nightclub but disco would forever “toot, toot- aah- beep beep” in my heart. Donna Summer and the Bee Gees were the soundtrack to my growing up, the background music at the roller rink and still bumping at after hours clubs when I was hell-bent on vanishing in the 1990s and 2000s. Now, songs like Nights on Broadway or Try Me I Know We Can Make it are celebrations that despite ingesting more drugs than a Rick James after-party, I too will survive. My dance parties today take place at my desk most of the time although I still occasionally hit the clubs with other sober folks. So be kind to me if you see me shaking my booty in the frozen food aisle to Bad Girls or Jive Talking. It’s just a little disco damage and a sweet hangover that I don’t wanna get over.
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 used to love soap operas. When we were kids, my sister and I would spend our summer days watching Young and the Restless. We knew everybody’s business in Genoa City and kept up with Victor and Nikki and the crew on holiday breaks. Years later during a spell of 90’s club kid unemployment, I started watching All My Children. Baby napping, a crazy lady trying to prove she was reformed and a gay teacher overcoming the riducle of a small town. It was juicy stuff and a perfect way to get lost in somebody else’s problems. The show’s anti-heroine Erica Kane had all the symptoms of a big alcoholic (which she later became). She got herself into bad situations but nothing was ever her fault. She used people but couldn’t tolerate the retribution. She lied constantly to get what she wanted. Sounds like every addict I know. Myself included. So it was only fitting that my friends and I gave cocaine the codename of “Erica Kane.” While the character Erica Kane married ten times on television, I stayed in a relationship with the chemical “Erica Kane” for nearly twenty years.
I never really thought my cocaine use was ever such a big deal. I mean I was primarily a drunk. Cocaine was the Gucci loafers to my Dior suit. It was an accessory. But if I’m really honest with myself, it was a huge problem for a really long time. The first time I tried it, I was seventeen. Like every cliched addict story, I thought I’d do it just the one time and never do it again. Uh yeah. That didn’t happen. At first, it was this fun glamorous thing to do that gave me energy to dance all night. As the years passed, I continued to tango with Erica Kane in various locations. From shitty bar bathrooms to domestic car dashboards, Erica and I hung out in some tragic places. And the pursuit of cocaine was always so filthy and so epic. As time went on, I realized that I didn’t have that sorority sister story of “Oh I just do a few bumps once or twice a year.” Sure, I loved doing coke on my birthday but some years I needed to do coke to get to work or to keep myself from blacking out. Although I’m clearly not one, normal non-addicts simply don’t have those kinds of relationships with chemicals. They don’t need to drink or do drugs to function and that’s how I know for sure I’m not one of them. The last several years of my using, cocaine was more regular and less fun and far from glamorous. It made me edgy, neurotic and gave me anxiety attacks towards the end.Cocaine often made me vomit which I later learned is a sign of overdosing and of doing too much. Sexy. Again, that doesn’t happen to normal folks without cocaine problems.
This past year, the TV Erica Kane went off the air and into television history. My Erica Kane left my life when I got sober in 2009. And honestly, I don’t miss the bitch.