I’m on a plane. The flight attendant is handing out drinks. A woman across the aisle has ordered a Bloody Mary. It looks really good. Inviting even. I don’t like Bloody Marys. There’s too much going on with them. All that tomato juice, hot sauce, vegetation and ice, competing with what’s really important—the goddamn vodka. Back when I drank, I had a healthy disdain for this sort of complicated drink. But for some reason, I’d really like to order one right now. Just say, “Fuck it,” be a regular guy and go for a cocktail.
This is not normal behavior. I have 14-plus years in recovery. I don’t drink. Besides, I was a terrible alcoholic. I was a drug addict. But I’m on a national book tour, supporting my first book, a memoir about being a drug addict. Which is all oddly déjà vu-ish, as I used to also be a tour manager for bands back in the ‘80s. I did a lot of drugs out on the road and drank more than my fair share of alcohol. And now, 30 years later, I’m on tour again.
It’s decidedly not a rock and roll circus—but all the stress is here, that same old logistical nightmare of getting to the gigs on time, of hotels and airplanes. And there’s this nagging voice in my head that’s telling me, “You’ve done a good job, now it’s time to drink a beer, shoot drugs, relax, reward yourself, you deserve it.”
My last major rock and roll tour was 1986. I was so strung out on heroin I barely remember it. I was on the road for two months, hitting every major city in North America. There would be mornings I’d wake up and not know where I was or, still worse, where I was going to score the drugs I needed to keep me going. But addicts are cunning and I always managed to find the rough side of town, a sleazy bar, kindhearted knowledgeable hookers, or to simply wander by the methadone clinic looking like I was in need. I thought nothing of putting myself in harm’s way. It was all about the drugs and life was just sort of secondary.
These days, I’m still an addict, but I’m an addict in recovery who goes to meetings. I hit at least five a week and whenever I travel I still make meetings. In fact, I was just at one in New York City not five hours before this flight. It was one of those odd noon meetings where there’s that special mix of folks fresh out of rehab and old timers with a lot of years. It was in the basement of a synagogue on the Lower East Side—one of those neighborhoods that I used to score dope in. When the secretary asked if there were any out-of-town visitors, I introduced myself and said I was from LA. A tough-looking woman hugged me afterwards, a newcomer wanted my phone number, and nothing about being there made me want to use.
But now as I sit here on this plane among all these “normal” people ordering drinks, I have this burning desire to be one of them. Although I don’t usually covet a Bloody Mary, I do crave alcohol as a way to not feel my emotions, and being out here on tour is stressful. My negative inner voice kicks in big time, telling me I suck, I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m going to fail. And because I’m also on my own, I think that no one will know, I can get away with it. And, really, what’s so bad about one tiny airplane bottle of vodka?
But the truth is, I’ve been down this road before. One drink is never enough. Eventually, I’ll take the plunge and go for my drug of choice and, once I cross that line, I’m off on a run—a run I don’t know for sure that I can make it back from.
Sadly, I’ve been seeing a shockingly large number of people who had multiple years now raising their hands at meetings as newcomers. I’m not sure if it’s due to the chaotic society we live in, the bad economy or how readily available drugs seem to be these days. But not a one of them has said what a great time they had out there using, and all of them look pretty beaten down and dejected.
Fortunately for me, their relapses serve as a warning—there but for the grace of God, go I. In fact, they scare the hell out of me, as I know just how quickly I could lose everything I have worked so hard for. Just getting my first book published and being on tour is a miracle in itself and, without my program of recovery, none of that would have been possible. In the past 14 years, I’ve gone from being a nervous neophyte with no idea how to live life, to a published author and college educator. I changed my lifestyle so drastically that the 1986 “me” wouldn’t even recognize the “me” of today. And I absolutely don’t want to let any of it go.
So when the attendant asks what I’d like to drink, I tell her a club soda. Then I open my laptop and get on the national NA website and look for the nearest meeting for when I land. I’m pretty sure I’m also due for a call to my sponsor, and maybe even to check in with a sponsee or two. Being in the solution momentarily stops the negative inner dialogue that has been playing like a tape loop inside my head. I really can’t afford to entertain thoughts of relapse, and focusing on what’s at hand helps.
You can never go back home to the past. And with what I have now, why would I want to?
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine July 22, 2015
There’s a pain in my left knee that just won’t quit. I can barely stand up, and when I do I can’t really walk. Even so I’m still wondering if I should maybe see a doctor—hoping instead that it will heal itself and go away. When I realize I can’t even make it down the street to the coffee shop for my morning latte, I reluctantly consent to the idea. I may even have to order an Uber, as driving won’t be feasible either. This is pretty much how bad it has to be before I’ll actually go see a doctor. I’m not really sure why that is; I have health insurance, I’m not afraid of doctors or hospitals—in fact, in my addiction I spent plenty of time in and out of ER’s for OD’s and various drug related complications, so it is not unfamiliar ground.
But these days I consider myself somewhat a healthy person. I eat right and exercise daily, usually running about four miles every other day, with workouts at the gym in between. Only after last night’s run, I tried to do my usual routine of stretching to relieve the kinks and something tweaked in my knee and this morning it’s twice its normal size.
Luckily my HMO has an urgent care unit that I can just walk into—okay, maybe more like hobble into—and when I get there I tell the triage nurse my knee really hurts and she says the doctor will see me right away. Twenty minutes later, I’m in the examination room and a young doctor who looks to be about 12 years old is busy twisting my leg asking if it hurts when he does this.
“Yeah, that hurts,” I tell him. And then he tries another angle just to be sure. “Ouch!”
“Hmmm, anterior cruciate ligament…” says the doctor.
“You a runner?” he asks. “Well, you’re not going to be for a while.”
Turns out I’ve damaged a knee ligament and I have to stay off it for four weeks and then do physical therapy for up to six months or more. This is not good. I run not only for exercise, but also for the endorphins to combat depression, and to keep the weight off in order to help address my eating disorder and body dysmorphia.
“You’re going to be very sore,” says the doctor. “I’m prescribing Ibuprofen as an anti-inflammatory and Vicodin for the pain.”
Now I’ve been at the same HMO for the last 13 years, and I have been in recovery for over 14. Written all over my chart is the fact that I am a recovering drug addict and do not take narcotics. This is a personal choice that I have made and over the years I have had to deal with it for various ailments and mental health issues. But usually it is a no brainer—my hangnail does not warrant morphine—and the only time I had to make a hard decision was a few years ago when I was having panic attacks and my primary doctor prescribed a low dose of a drug similar to Valium called Lorazepam to get me through the first couple of days until they subsided. I was so stressed out I would’ve taken anything if I thought it would make the attacks stop, but using a mood altering drug wasn’t an easy or comfortable decision to make. And then there was that colonoscopy that I could do drug free or get knocked out (I took door number two for the unconscious rear-end invasion, thank you very much).
Only the hard truth is that both times I have had really visceral reactions to the drugs, especially coming off them. It is like the demon has been awakened. With the Lorazepam, I found myself anxiously waiting for the prescribed time to take them, counting the minutes, actually the seconds, practically salivating with anticipation, until I had to throw them away—it was just that unhealthy. And then for the colonoscopy, they pumped me full of Michael Jackson’s favorite knock out drug Propofol, and as if that wasn’t enough, when they snipped a possible “cancerous polyp” out of my intestine they gave me an added shot of Demerol in case I was in any “pain” later on. When I came to in the recovery room, I was totally loaded. And when a friend drove me home, she asked if I was okay, and I lied and said yes. But after she left and I was alone, I started climbing the walls with a sense that something was missing in my life and then realized the drugs were wearing off and I was jonesing.
“I’m in recovery,” I tell the doctor. “I don’t do narcotics.”
He looks at me strangely and says, “This is very painful. You are going to need this medication. I’ll call in your prescriptions to the pharmacy.”
His reaction actually reminds me of when I tell people I’m vegetarian and they ask, “So, you eat fish, right?” No, that would be a pescatarian. “Okay, how about chicken?” Um, last I checked, chicken was not a vegetable. Thankfully I rarely get a similar reaction when I say I don’t do drugs—no one says, “Oh, but you snort speed, right?” Because it is pretty much universally understood that when you are drug free, you don’t do drugs. I am not really sure why this doctor appears not to understand the concept of addiction or recovery—it’s not like this is new.
Twenty years ago if I were in a doctor’s office, they would not have left me alone, because they would have feared I would riffle through their cabinets in search of drugs since as soon as they turned their backs, that’s what I did. If I got hurt, the last thing any medical staff did was prescribe me any form of narcotics. I had that look—a junkie in need of drugs—and it was mutually agreed upon that they were not supplying. But these days I no longer exude that desperate addict aura, and I am amazed at how readily available doctors make Schedule II controlled substances. Even when I clearly state that taking them will put me in harms way.
But over the years I have seen too many folks at meetings return as newcomers because they didn’t take precaution around prescription drugs. People think that if a doctor prescribes it, we can’t have problems with it. Even though it’s still an opiate and I’m still a junkie, what could possibly go wrong, right?
I hand my ID and membership card to the pharmacist. Tell her my doctor has called in a prescription for Ibuprofen.
“You’ve got 100 Vicodins as well,” she says.
“100?” I ask in disbelief. Where was this guy when I was using? “No, just the Ibuprofen,” I say. “Thank you.”
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine July 31, 2015