Choking Mountain Memories

My insides were churning. My sinuses had a freshly sprayed with battery acid feeling. My head was raw and throbbing. As an added bonus, my gums became bloody,  tender and inflamed. Each noise I heard, every motion I felt, any aroma that wafted my way all made me want to do some insane spin-around 360, Kung Fu projectile vomiting  For the next two months, I would feel like this and daily I would make a note of how horrific it all was. I intentionally  ignored the “miracle of quitting smoking” and how I saved my own life and all of that crap. I wanted to remember how shitty it all was, every second.

 

This tactic was simple. It was the “empty all of the litter boxes before you adopt another cat” technique. It was the “remembering your alimony payments before paying for another wedding” trick. Never in my life had I felt so bad and I needed to remember that cigarettes did this to me. The bastards. I mean, we used to be friends. But more than 20 years later, things between us were not cute. My gagging, hacking last days of smoking were downright disgusting. The mornings were spent spitting and choking followed by the mandatory wake-up, shame cigarette.  Each time I smoked, I knew without a doubt that I was buying my face a one-ticket to Keith Richards Town. And the smell, my smell, became unbearable. I had recently met my husband and reeking like the floor of a 1980’s bowling alley tavern didn’t really seem like the aroma of a man in love should be rocking.

My sudden doneness with smoking was surprising. We’d always gotten along and throughout early sobriety cigarettes were my closest confidantes.Quitting never crossed my mind during those days either. I honestly never thought I would stop but somehow knew that when the time was right, I would know. November 15, 2010 was the time in question. I just knew that I never wanted to be the sad old queen in a kimono with a Benson and Hedges Ultra Light 100 dangling from my creased pruny lip. My horrific detox have helped this become a reality, at least for the last years anyway. Exhuming slimy critters from my lungs, which begged to be pulverized by Sigourney Weaver and some heavy artillery was the first stage of my shiny smoke-free life. This was followed quickly by a compound nausea made worse by moving back to the dizzying altitude of the Mile High City . Baking my skin and sinuses to a golden brown perfection was the toxic smelling 300-year-old radiator in my grandmother’s basement where I was shacking up when I first came back. Just catching a whiff of cigarettes during the early days was hurlicious enough to send me into dry heaves on more than one occasion. Even writing about it now makes me feel a tad queasy. The worst part is that- and  I’m not exaggerating when I say this-  it went on for months. A friend who had also quit smoking recently put it into perspective for me when she said, “You’ve been filling your body with poison since you were 15. Did you think this would be a picnic?” Good point.

In short, my Yelp review of quitting smoking wouldn’t be a glowing one. Seriously I would not recommend it. Stopping drinking was easier and a lot less disgusting  But yes, I am glad I quit smoking and I was incredibly happy and proud last week when I celebrated two years without those nasty bitches. The best part about my gnarly cigarette detox is that I didn’t want to smoke. I just wanted to die. And I hope I always remember that.

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Depressing New Study on Gays & Addiction Proves What We Already Know

“Your people  sure do love margaritas!’ said the Argentinian lady I used to work for back in the mid-1990s. And she was right. The restaurant she owned was packed on the weekend with gays and lesbians just getting their drink on. Now, a new study from The Center for American Progress says that not only do “my people” love their cocktails but they are more prone to drug and alcohol abuse then our straight counterparts.

I talked about this months ago on these pages and have often wondered what, if any, is the correlation between LGBTs and addiction/alcoholism. Based on my own non-scientific yet vast field experience, I would ascertain that we queers are one cracked out, jacked up drunken mess of a group of people. But clearly I’m no researcher. I like to think of myself as more of a lab rat. Thankfully, this study which pulled data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other studies,  did the real work. The organization claims “that an estimated 20-30% of gay and transgender Americans have abused substances, compared to 9% of the general public” according to TheFix.com. That staggering number confirms what the LGBT community has known for decades but refuses to talk about; addiction and alcoholism are killing thousands of gays and lesbians. So why, after all the knowledge we have about addiction does it continue to ravage the gay community? “The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principal driver of these higher rates of substance use, as gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges,” the report states. “And a lack of culturally competent health care services also fuels high substance-use rates among gay and transgender people.”  Gay and transgender folks, the study says, are also 200% more likely to smoke tobacco than hetrosexuals while gay men are 3.5 times more likely to smoke pot than straight guys.

I can’t begin to speak on the drinking and drug habits of all gay people. (Contrary to popular belief we don’t all know each other.) But for me personally, I read a survey like that and find those numbers to be right on in my own life. Drug abuse? Check. Alcoholism? Check. Smoking? Check. I’m not sure about the hypothesis of why gays and lesbians drink and drug more though. For me it was a combo of things. Being gay was one part but mainly I drank and used to escape, to get away from a person I hated–myself. I had a lot of shame and not all of it was centered on being gay. Ironically, my “battles with discrimination and stigma”,as the study calls them, were more inflamed while I was using. I don’t encounter that kind of resistance in my sober life but that’s a different study altogether. Personally, I don’t believe being gay or being the child of  an alcoholic or being bullied or having a high voice alone made me an alcoholic. It was all kind of written in the stars before I got here and it was up to me to either meet the challenges or not. But that’s my crazy ass beliefs. My hope is that gay leaders can look at this study and say “Our community has a problem. What do we do about it?” Ignoring it and having Absoult sponsor our gay Pride floats isn’t helping matters, in my opinion.

But what do you guys think? Does this study hold any water? Will it bring out much-needed honest conversation? Or are LGBTs doomed to a life of addiction? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section!

Smoker? I don’t even know ‘er!

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.