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 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.
Here’s a fun thing to try: punch the word “sober” into Google news and see whatcha come up with. Well, maybe it’s not that fun but I’m easily entertained. Anyway upon doing this exercise yesterday, I read the following amazing headline: BACKSTREET BOY A.J. MCLEAN PROUD HE MARRIED WHILE SOBER. Normal, non-drunken hot messes must be like “Well, duh” when they read such a headline.
But for those of us in recovery or trying to get sober, getting through your own wedding without being bombed seems like something very remarkable indeed. Personally, there wasn’t an event-major or otherwise- that I didn’t try being loaded for. Concerts? Check. Going to the laundromat? Check. Work? Check. Easter brunch? Check. Sunday brunch? Check. Disneyland? Check. Cher concert, thrift store shopping, movies? Check, check and ch-ch-check. But for an alcoholic like myself the “big” events were really carte blanche for getting drunk. My brain would rationalize mass consumption of alcohol with a dialogue like this “Well, weddings/funerals/job promotions are reasons to celebrate and they’re kind of stressful. So I might as well have a few drinks. Isn’t that what everyone does to celebrate their wedding/funeral/job promotion?” Oh but the thing about me is that I don’t know how to celebrate with alcohol. I never did. I know how to drink alcoholically until I throw up, pass out, cuss you out, score drugs, or wind up doing something stupid/dangerous/crazy.
As I’ve talked about before, it’s nice to have milestones and to be able to actually remember them. Like AJ, I recently got married. I too was awake and present for every special and beautiful moment. I remember looking into my husband’s eyes while the sun was shining in Central Park and thinking “Wow. I’m so lucky and I’m so glad I’m sober for all of this.” Unlike AJ, I didn’t have Nick Carter at my reception. But either way, if you’re a boy band member or a freelance writer or a Burger King employee and you’re sober than everyday is a special occasion indeed.
Yesterday, I met my sister and a bunch of our friends at a three o’clock meeting at our local clubhouse. It was sweet that so many program friends had shown up to see me take my three-year chip. But the best part was seeing my beautiful 13 year-old niece there. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet, best buddies to hang out with and a girl whose always had my heart. Plus we both like cupcakes, sparkly things and teen television shows so we’re kindred spirits. It had been suggested that I share “how I did it” before the meeting opened up. I did and I got incredibly choked up looking at my niece sitting there smiling. See, it wasn’t just a nice thing she did for her old uncle by showing up but it was fitting because she and my other nieces and nephews literally saved my life when I was getting sober.
When she was little I called her ladybug. She had these heart-shaped lips and long eyelashes and light cocoa colored skin with curly hair. She was the first grandchild so my whole family just thought she was an angel. And we were right. This little girl has been through so much yet still lights up a room with her optimistic attitude and sweet disposition. After September 11th, I needed to get out of Los Angeles. I felt like I was suffocating there and needed a break. I was at the height of my daily drinking and regular drug use and I promoted a night at a club in Hollywood. It had all become too much. The sadness, the paranoia that LA was next, the partying. So I ran home to Denver to spend time with my sister and her kids. After going through airport hell to get there, I arrived in Denver and spent days just hanging out with my niece who was three and my nephew who was one. They made me laugh and we watched Sponge Bob and Blue’s Clues. And Ladybug always knew how to crack me up. One night when I was brushing my teeth, my niece came in dressed in her pajamas and holding a footstool. She clunked it down on the ground and reached for her toothbrush and said, “Excuse me, darling.” I busted up laughing and so did my sister minutes later when I shared the story. And that sums up the joy she’s brought into my life from moment one.
The kids in my life have always given me hope and made me laugh and loved me no matter what. The relationships I developed with them sober set the bar high for the other people in my life. These kids taught me I deserved to be loved unconditionally, to laugh constantly and live in the moment. My first two years sober, I spent tons of hours with my brother’s three kids. He told me one night after I had been sober for a few months, “It’s important for them to see you get through this and get better.” But it’s been equally important as a sober person to have them around.
After a long day of celebrating, crying tears of joy and indulging in dessert, I collapsed in bed feeling blessed and truly in awe of the way my life has changed.
The poetess, prophetess and all around goddess Dolly Parton once sang those words in the headline. And last night, two doors down, they were actually having a party. Unlike the lyrics in Miss Parton’s song however, I was not “crying my heart out and feeling sorry.” I was just annoyed. I mean hi. It was a Tuesday. Like who parties and gets loud on a week night? Oh yeah. Right. Never mind.
After I removed the stick out of my ass, realized it was only 9pm, and laughed with the husband about wanting to move, I calmed down. I figured I kept hundreds of neighbors awake with my drunken shenanigans the least I could do is let our usually quiet neighbors off the hook. Unlike my exploits, they wrapped it up early, clearly out of consideration for those around them. Again, not how I used to party.
When I first got sober and I was living by the beach, I would go outside for a cigarette and always hear some kind of function or party. It was that kind of barbecue, drink wine all night sort of Southern Californian neighborhood. Sadly, I was no longer on the guest list for those sorts of get togethers. I felt terribly alone those first few months. I left all of my drinking buddies on the East side and hadn’t met many people. Hearing people have fun or looking at pictures on Facebook of my old friends sipping margaritas on a patio made me feel like everybody was having more fun than I was. When I told my sponsor this he said, “That’s because they are having more fun than you are.” He was right. Getting sober and breaking up with my partner of 12 years wasn’t supposed to be fun. But did it mean I was never going to have fun now that I got sober? Hell no.
First of all, I truly believe that fun is subjective. Sure drinking for me was under the guise of “fun” but it never really was that much fun. Unless blackouts and throwing shoes at people is your idea of a party. I wanted to have fun and wanted to be lively and loved and the life of the party. For a few minutes I was but after awhile, the blacking out and shoe throwing would commence. I guess I didn’t really know how to have a good time even though I was always looking for one. And you will never hear me say in a meeting, “sobriety can be fun!’ because sobriety itself isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to save my life and that life can be filled with fun. But I got sober so I could be happy so that meant I had to find fun in different things. I sort of returned to what I thought of as fun as a kid– going to the movies, petting dogs, roller skating, coloring with my niece. And then there was the new fun in things like always knowing where my phone was or waking up without anxiety. I’ve gone dancing and been to parties and seen concerts sober and it’s all been a good time. Do I have to do those things to make myself seem a fun person? Again, hell no. I’m not terribly interested (anymore) in if anyone thinks I’m boring.
Today, fun for me looks like taking a walk to get an ice cream cone or decorating cookies with my other niece or spending all day at the bookstore with my husband. But let’s hear from you– what’s your idea of fun and how has it changed since you got sober?