people like us

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There’s a line in recovery literature which says, “we are people who normally would not mix.” There’s also references to folks in recovery being like survivors of a disaster.

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From my experience, both statements happen to be true. I’ve been to meetings with high-powered attorneys, Hollywood stars, hipsters, homeless people, all gays, mixed and everything in between. I can’t be sure how this is possible but when all you want to do is stop trying drinking or using, all prejudices fly out the window. For the most part, considering they’ve all come back from the brink of death, this assorted group of nuts is usually a pretty happy and welcoming bunch no matter what meeting you go to. I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve fought this battle with lately.  And the book I juts finished reading 90 Days talks about the power of these people too. The people who I was lucky enough to have save my ass on several occasions and in a couple of different States (both mental and geographic). It took a village to lift my glitter covered self out of the gutter. By just showing up and saying, “Hey I feel like shit over here and I need some help” they helped me. Or by sharing that their life was really challenging and they felt like drinking and using. Or whenever I just heard someone say “I’m _______ and I’m an alcoholic.”  I felt less freakish and less alone. I felt like I had the support of these people who were nothing like me.  And I wanted to help them too.

End-ceremony-star-wars-a-new-hope-12500053-820-444These misfits, these people who I wouldn’t normally mix with are the people I like being around the most. They get me. We speak the same crazy language and have the same fucked-up thoughts. And we’ve fought the same battles. As a result of this recovery deal, my life has gotten amazing and wonderful and big. The odd thing is that sometimes this life makes it hard for me to get to meetings and spend time with my fellow warriors.This week was really busy and I only went to one meeting. Well, by today I was pretty much a complete lunatic. I think I actually floated to my meeting that’s much I needed to go there. As soon as I sat down and exhaled, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was home– again.

That’s what’s so incredible about this blog too. “My People” read this too and I read their blogs and so on and so on. This experience with UrtheInspiration has been so powerful and so much fun I figured why not make it even bigger? So I’m happy to announce that I am finally fast-tracking the book proposal for a book based on this blog and I’ll be featuring guest bloggers, this fall too. But more on that later. For now, thanks for being my people. I couldn’t do this without you.

starting here, starting now

Something occurred to when I was sitting in a meeting. Well, two things actually. First of all, I’m craving waffles. Like plain old crispy, buttery waffles with the perfect amount of syrup. But not like fancy vegan gluten-free waffles. Because those don’t sound delicious. They just sound sad. And while I am a proponent of the waffle sandwich, earlier I just wanted a regular waffle. The second thing, and I promise it’s more thought-provoking, is this idea of things getting better. While I am a walking, talking show tune-singing testament to things getting better and I say this to people who are suffering all the time because I also believe it to be true, I think there’s more to it. What if things were already better? What if this mythical time when stuff improved was actually now?

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First of all, everyday that I don’t wake up with a head-pounding hangover and nasal passages clogged with blow is a good one. So if we’re talking comparatively, things are a billion times better. Period. I don’t want to die. I’m not getting kicked out of another apartment and I no longer throw items at the people I love. Success all the way around. This does not mean I’m not allowed to be ambitious or get disappointed or occasionally want to bitch slap someone. What it simply means is that if I’m happy with this moment or at least accepting the moment and grateful for what I do have, the rest of this existence is easier to deal with.

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Then I started realizing, while still not totally paying attention to the meeting but having moved passed the waffle obsession, that ‘it’ getting better isn’t the issue here. I’m the issue! Life, planet Earth, the nature of addiction, the fucked up state of our government- these are all things I cannot change. As much as I’d like our planet to be custom tailored to fit my crazy ass, it isn’t going to happen. I have to get better. More than that I can’t delay happiness or gratitude because things aren’t perfect. Pardon my French but fuck that. Waiting for the non-stop bus to Joy is a waste of time. I’ll walk there my damn self, thank you very much. There’s no reason why I can’t choose happiness right now.

How boring and small-minded to think that my happiness is so fragile that I have to portion in out for moments that are perfect. It’s not stuff or people or life that “makes” me happy or sad. I’m the only one who can embrace happiness and I’m also the only one who can tell it to go screw itself. Things are good. Life is good. And it has been all along. Whether I can see it and enjoy it, that’s up to me. So if you are struggling, feel free to punch me when I sincerely say, “It’ll get better.” And by “it” please know that I mean, you. You will get better.

glamour junkie

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The small child on the left is my younger brother while the child in the dress getting arrested is none other than yours truly. The bearded guy behind us is Jesus. Although my policeman dad did rock a similar beard when he worked in vice, which by the way, was not the inspiration for this game we’re playing in the picture. At least as far as I can remember. These kind of crossdressing shenanigans were just sort of the norm in my childhood. I mean, when you wear a plastic Wonder Woman outfit in kindergarten for Halloween, its all a downhill trot in mom’s Candies platforms from there on out.  I never knew why I loved award shows, old movies, Barbies and the Miss USA pageant. I just did.

Over the years as I’ve listened to transgendered friends share about feeling like they were trapped in the wrong body, my heart breaks for them. Living with that sort of inner-turmoil must be a real challenge especially in childhood. While my attraction to sparkly things was hard to explain or accept for straight kids in Denver in the 70’s and 80’s ,I never went through anything as difficult and heroic as that. I was just a kid who liked fur coats and Jaclyn Smith. Girls, in my mind, were more glamourous than boys. A vagina? No, thanks. Glamour is actually what I wanted. Obsessed with celebrities and magazines, I daydreamed about growing up and being fabulous. I had no idea what I’d be or how I’d get there but my life had to be glamorous. I remember looking at Enquirer when I was a kid and there was picture of Elizabeth Taylor getting out of car in a fur coat and it said, “Liz Back from Rehab!’ and I thought whatever she was doing looked pretty glamorous.  At age 10, I didn’t know she was a drug addict and an alcoholic. Turns out old Liz and I had more in common than I thought.

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In my twenties, my crossdressing morphed mainly into clubwear in the 90’s but I’d occasionally take get gussied up with my best friend and hit the bars in drag. Connie Lingus was my alter ego. I know. Subtle. That’s how I roll. And chasing the glamour bus was something I did for years and years in Los Angeles fueled by endless supplies of liquor and drugs. It was glamorous for a little while.  But addiction and alcoholism were anything but glamorous for me in the end. It was just sad, repetitive and really fucking lonely.

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I guess I’m thinking about this today for a few reasons but mainly because of the photo at the top of the page. My niece sent it to me and it made me laugh hysterically. We were such imaginative kids who routinely escaped into fabulous worlds. The more I stay sober, the more my creativity slowly returns to that state I had back then.  There’s a fearlessness and strength in my childhood imagination and love of glamour that I want to channel in a healthy way into my work today. I smile when I look at myself in that photo. And I’m so proud of that crossdressing misfit who no matter what was always his own person, even if that person was wearing mom’s high heels.

thanks for letting me cher

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In a misty Santa Monica park, on top of a green hill, with the sound of fog warnings coming from the beach and dogs barking, there’s a rec center. In addition to what sounded like some pretty spicy dance classes, this center also has meetings of the 12 step variety. Meetings I needed very much when I first moved to the beach in 2009 in hopes of turning my shipwreck of a life around.  My first time there I peered in the window and saw all these happy smiling people. Well, this certainly couldn’t be a meeting for drunks and drug addicts. Where was the crying? Where were the hobos with the red bandana knapsacks and pork pie hats? Where were the junkies in wheelchairs on death’s door? Being convinced I was in the wrong place, I quickly got out of there before anybody noticed me.  What I didn’t I know was that was the right place and I would be spending a lot of time there in the months to come.

12 step meetings are crazy ass places. Drama. Laughter. Breakdowns. Breakthroughs. Bunnies. No, really, there was an actress from the 80’s who used to bring her pet rabbit to the meeting. Maybe the bunny had a drinking problem. It’s all the stuff people watch reality tv for but without the commercials. Unlike those televised travesties, meetings actually save people’s lives. I’m not exactly sure how but people who go all the time usually stop doing drugs, drinking, gambling screwing everything in sight or whatever else might ail them. Again, this magical juju is beyond my comprehension. Sure I can tell you the names of the kids on Full House or the order of the singles released on Madonna’s True Blue record, but mysteries of the universe are beyond my comprehension. What I did notice about these gatherings is the folks who shared about their struggles and the solutions to said struggles and did so on a regular basis managed to stay sober. One day after a gathering of these brave people, my heart was full. I left the meeting and as I walked down the fog covered hill, this song started came from the SUV of one of the people leaving the meeting:

I started laughing. Not only because of the song’s goofy jingly-jangly intro or the lyrical parallels to attendees of the meeting, but because it’s Cher. Diva, icon and former spouse to someone who used drugs and alcohol like I did, Cher is everything. I love Cher for the camp factor, for her music and because as a gay man in his forties, it’s the law. Cher is also the ultimate symbol  of survival. Ain’t no Equal commercial or bad movie gonna keep her down!  Just when we think she’s done, she comes back. With a few months sober and back from the brink of self-destruction, I could kind of relate.  I could go on with the Cher metaphor (“I was once a ‘Dark Lady’ and now I ‘Believe”) but I won’t. What people like Cher, Madonna Cyndi Lauper and Boy George represented to me as a kid was individuality and strength, things I so desperately wanted. Meetings were the first place I felt like I could be myself. The real version. I could say, “hey, I’m not feeling good.” or “I need help” without giving a crap about what people thought. I soon began to find my life but bigger than that I learned I didn’t have to do any of this alone. And thankfully, my road to individuality and being able to share my problems was one that didn’t require headdresses or assless pants.

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death-defying balancing acts

At about 13 months sober, a teacher in a yoga class in Venice told me, “You have great balance.” With my butt high in the air and sweat pouring down my face, I think I murmured a muffled “thanks.” This was an odd thing to hear and something I certainly didn’t believe. To me, “balance” was always was one those hard to define and impossible to achieve words like “honesty” and “moderation”.

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When you live with a twisted all-you-can snort/swig/suck attitude, balance seems counter-intuitive. I never had “extra wine” or a “fully stocked bar” or “drugs from the night before.”The fact that anybody would, boggled my mind. Leftover drugs and alcohol? It’s not Thanksgiving. Aside from my own system, I couldn’t begin to imagine where one would store such a thing.   Wonder if Tupperware makes a container for half-used baggies of cocaine? At my core, I am a person who likes to eat a whole box of cookies, watch an entire season of a cable show on Netflix and play 14 hours of words with friends in one sitting. Which is to say, I’m an addict, through and through. These days in sobriety, I try to achieve what that instructor, in the teal tanktop who also led us in a sacred Iroquois chant (again, Venice), called “balance.”

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Last week, I worked my face off, went to five meetings, helped some other people who have what I have, cleaned my house and made it to doctor’s appointments. Oh and produced a live show. Cat wrangled 8 actors, picked up last-minute props, talked confused patrons off a ledge and all the other things that go into theater. But here’s the thing- I wasn’t stressed out. Go figure that when you delete liquor and drugs from your playlist, life is suddenly less chaotic. Everything got done and I was really happy. Of course by Saturday morning I was bitch slapped with the realization that I had a lot more stuff to do including marketing myself for new gigs, applying for part-time stuff, organizing a new series of writing workshops and handling my various and assorted diseases and responsibilities. I had a momentary feeling of panic like I was going to slip off the balance beam, crashing head first into an unbalanced hell my new agey teacher would not approve of.

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Not knowing the proper ancient indigenous ritual most effective for calming a bitch down, I relied on my own rituals. I prayed I meditated. I read. I drank a little more coffee. I had breakfast. And then I took care of that list I was sure was going derail my existence. Bigger than that, it felt amazing to look at things that scared me and not run away from them. I when I realized none of it was a big of a deal, I took a deep breath and just skipped happily across that highwire.

Friends, you tell me, how do you keep your life in balance? What is this balance thing anyway? Educate me in the comments section, please!

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.

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.