Monday morning, 7:30 am, my phone was incessantly dinging with text alerts. I groaned, stuffed the damn thing into the nightstand drawer, rolled over and went back to sleep. My friends know I am not awake at 7:30 am and there is no way in hell I am going to respond to their texts.
At 8:30 I’m woken again, this time by a muffled ringing. Whoever is calling got the voicemail, hangs up and calls again. Now I’m pissed. It’s one thing to be annoying. It’s another to be relentlessly annoying.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and retrieved the phone. There were four texts, two missed calls and a voicemail. All of them from the 415 area code, which is San Francisco, my hometown. I recognized all the numbers as belonging to friends in the fellowship, but the lone voicemail is from an ex-girlfriend who I haven’t talked to in years. This is not good news. It’s not like folks in recovery call en-masse to say that someone has graduated college, gotten a better job or is just doing really well and not using drugs. No, this kind of drama is always about tragedy. I didn’t even want to know who and what its about, but in the end I couldn’t help myself. I read the texts.
7:26 am, John: “Curtis died. I’m in shock.”
7:32 am, Anita: “Thought you’d want to know. Curtis killed himself.”
7:33 am, Carlos: “Curtis is gone. I’m so fucking angry.”
7:47 am, Tammi: “Call me, it’s important.”
I didn’t even bother listening to the voicemail. I already know what’s up and hearing my ex’s voice wasn’t going to make this situation any better. What I didn’t know was why the hell Curtis killed himself.
I got up and brushed my teeth and all I could think about was Curtis. I’ve known the man a long time. We met when I was a counselor in rehab and he was a client, and over the years since then we became friends. I watched him get off drugs and slowly put his life in order and the last I’d heard he was a drug and alcohol counselor. As I made coffee in the kitchen I seemed to remember him recently posting on Facebook that he was all crazy about scuba diving now. There were photos of him in the tropics. He was underwater in a diving mask, tanks on his back, surrounded by schools of brightly colored fish and coral reefs in the background. He got married a few years ago and I couldn’t make it back to SF for the wedding. Now I was hit hard with regret. Seems like I never have time for old friends. We always say we’re going to get together, make plans and then never do. Now Curtis was gone. Gone forever, and I’m having trouble actually believing it.
I looked though the address book on my phone. Searching for a mutual friend who was Curtis’ best friend. I didn’t have a number for him, so instead I logged onto Facebook and sent him a message asking what happened. Not the most personal way to inquire how a friend died. But it was all I had.
He almost immediately got back to me.
“He was depressed! But this was not expected. He left his house dogs and cars got his ass to the Golden Gate Bridge and fucking jumped…no note. When I speak to his wife later I may get more details. Just Gutted…”
I didn’t even know how to respond to this. Curtis made it through the hard years of early recovery, or so I thought. The last I checked he had over 10 years clean and sober. How the hell did this happen? What about all the seemingly happy photos and posts on social media? Him and his dog, him and his wife and kid, him in shorts smiling from a sandy beach paradise.
Curtis is not the first friend I have lost in recovery. Sadly he probably won’t be the last. But he is the first loss that I didn’t see coming. There have been others that just couldn’t get it. Relapsing and going out. Getting stuck out there, then when it got really bad—as it always does—they would come back and raise their hands at a meeting as a newcomer, again. But those addicts and alcoholics—you sort of always know they’re here on borrowed time, and the news of their deaths is never that shocking.
Judging by outward appearances, it looked like Curtis had his life together. He’d gotten off drugs, he worked in treatment, he got married. He even had pets. It just proves you never really know what’s happening when it comes to someone’s mental health. Still, I’d like to think he would have gotten in touch before things went south. But that’s probably just my ego talking. What the hell could I have done? With both our lives so busy, I can’t remember the last time we just hung out together outside of an event or a meeting, or even talked on the phone.
I can’t imagine the pain his wife and child are in. His family and close friends. I feel for them all, and I feel for Curtis. When the shock from loss calms down we can all start the grieving process. But for now it’s too soon, and so confusing.
I took my cup of coffee out onto the balcony. It was a bright sunny day in downtown Los Angeles. El Niño was supposed to be flooding the streets with rain, but all we’ve had are a few days of thundershowers. Then back to more of SoCal’s notoriously perfect weather. I raised my coffee in a toast to Curtis’ spirit in the sky. Why the sky? I have no idea. I don’t believe in heaven, but I have to believe Curtis is in a better place than the darkness that drove him to take his life.
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine March 3, 2016
If you’re new to recovery, just starting out in a 12-step fellowship, or fresh out of rehab, please stop reading this right now.
Okay, now that they’re gone, let me just say one thing. The recovery phone call sucks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a newcomer or a seasoned veteran with 20-plus years. Making that call is so awkward and uncomfortable that most of us would rather just wallow in our own misery.
You know the phone call I’m talking about. It’s the one where you ask for help. Like when you’re new to the fellowship and you’re told to get numbers from folks you don’t even know and to call them every day. Those are the worst phone calls ever. They are worse then the most self-conscious first date phone calls when you were a teenager—and you don’t even want to have sex with the person on the other end of the line.
But let’s face it. The reality is that you really don’t want to drink or do drugs and some grumpy old guy at the meeting told you that you’re going to die from your disease if you don’t follow direction. Right then and there the only thing you may have been really frightened of was turning into that grumpy old guy. But you listened to him because that’s what they tell you to do and you nervously asked a couple people for their numbers. Usually it’s the few folks that don’t scare you, like the guy making coffee. He actually said “hi” to you, although you are pretty sure that’s part of his commitment.
Really you wanted to ask the cute girl who does literature for her phone number. But there’s the heinous rule where it’s the men with the men, the women with the women. Besides, you really didn’t know what to say to cute girls anymore. Used to be that you’d meet them in a bar, get hammered, take them home and bang their brains out and then move in with them the next day. But apparently that’s out. That was the old you, the drunk you, the dope fiend you. The you that used people and had no conscience. That guy didn’t really have friends, he had drinking and drugging buddies. His relationships were a mess, his life was in ruins.
That’s why you have to make these recovery phone calls. You have to start forming relationships that are built on trust and empathy. You have to learn to care about those around you and be of service. Although you really have no idea what “being of service” means. That grumpy old guy just told you it meant to put away the chairs, but that can’t be all it means since the cute literature girl said her commitment was almost up, and that maybe you (being a newcomer) would like to “be of service” and take it. That’s who you should’ve asked for their number, but all you could do was picture her naked in bed and she got pissed and told you to stop staring at her.
Here’s the real deal. Forget the literature girl. She’s a psycho and will marry that biker dude in the back of the room. Less than a year from now she’ll be knocked up and they’ll be living with his mother in her double-wide trailer. Sometime before biker junior pops out and biker senior runs off to be a deadbeat dad, cute literature girl will be hating life and contemplating relapse. But those phone calls? They are really what is going to save your life.
You’re going to go through some really hard times in sobriety and you are going to want to pick up a drink or do some drugs. When your entire life seems to be hitting the skids and your future looks dark, you’ll find the strength to lift up that thousand pound phone and call a fellow addict or alcoholic. They’ll talk you down, tell you to go to a meeting, call your sponsor or to help a newcomer.
Those phone calls suck worse then the newcomer cold calls. They’re like calling up your dentist and telling him your tooth hurts again for the twentieth time. And he’ll ask, “are you flossing? Do you brush on a regular basis? When is the last time you had a cleaning?” And when you tell him “no, no, and you don’t know” he’ll give you an earful, yelling “do you want to lose your teeth?” It’s the same thing with recovery calls. Your friends from the fellowship will say, “have you been going to meetings? Have you worked a tenth step around it? Did you call your sponsor?” While the truth hurts, it’s better than relapsing into a world of incomprehensible demoralization. Or waking up pregnant and alone in your mother-in-law’s double-wide trailer.
I know that none of you newcomers stopped reading when I told you. In fact, I know my warning just made you want to read this even more. There is nothing worse then the word “no” to an alcoholic or addict. But what I’m trying to convey here is that no one is comfortable making those phone calls—yet we all have to. It is what we learn to do in recovery. By picking up that phone, we save are own lives.
So if you’re new and stressing about making those calls. Go ahead and just do it. Don’t worry about being cool. Just be nerdy, wait out the awkward silences, engage in that horrible small talk, hell, even mention the weather—it’s all good. Do it because once you’ve gotten over the fear of those little phone calls, the big ones that really matter will be easier. When you find yourself in that depressingly horrific place that we all eventually find ourselves in, you’ll know what to do. Make the recovery phone call a regular part of your program, just like you do with meetings and step work.
Oh, and one more thing. Remember when you asked me for my number and I said, “no problem, call me anytime”? I didn’t mean for that to sound like you could call me at 2 am. So “anytime” doesn’t really mean anytime. It means after 10 am and I’ve had my coffee, and before midnight when I’m still semi-coherent. Thanks.
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine January 29, 2016
I often hear people at meetings say relapse is a part of recovery. However, with my program in Narcotics Anonymous it hasn’t been. I’m from the school of “no matter what.” As in no matter what happens I’m not picking up a drug or a drink. So when I hear someone say that relapse is part of their program of recovery I wonder why. What are they not doing in their program that makes this their reality? Not that I judge others for saying this. I’m just not willing to give up everything and go that route, so it confuses me.
Tomorrow I’ll have 15 years. I’ve done it one day at a time and it has not been easy. Although with the more time I get under my belt, staying clean feels less urgent and drastic—I could almost say it is easier. When I first came into the rooms I was so scared that I couldn’t imagine life without drugs, yet I knew that I couldn’t live my life with them. Every day was another battle to not use. I called my sponsor daily and went to a million meetings. Gradually I got a little reprieve from the cravings. When I started working the steps I gained valuable insight as to why I used. For the first time in my life I realized that trading my integrity and freedom for a few fleeting moments of narcotic euphoria just wasn’t worth it, because afterwards I’d always end up paying the consequences—jails, institutions and ultimately my death. Slowly the days turned into months and before I knew it I had a couple of years, then 10, now 15.
Sadly this is not the case with my eating disorder. I have been dealing with bulimia and anorexia all my life. Two years ago I finally took healthy and proactive steps to address them. I publicly divulged that I suffered from both of these eating disorders, which until then I had kept secret. I began by writing numerous essays about my struggles and publishing them online. I joined Overeaters Anonymous, began working the steps for my addiction to food with my sponsor and talked about it at meetings. If anyone were to look at my program they would probably say that I was doing everything possible. Yet I am still struggling.
I was doing well this holiday season even though family and friends were in town and there were a lot of social events involving food. I knew this was going to happen, so I established some strong boundaries and told everyone that I wasn’t going to be doing dinners with them. We would all hang out and socialize and then when they went out to eat, I’d head home. I thought I was doing well, but internally I was playing the martyr and resenting the fact I couldn’t indulge. Which ultimately led to me craving food and not telling anyone. I thought I was just being strong by saying no and the craving was my eating disorder trying to not so subtly manipulate me.
Eventually I found myself alone in my car driving around contemplating where I was going to score sugar and carbs. I headed towards the pizza parlor with visions of gooey cheese and tomato sauce covered crust, only to get a moment of clarity and turn back. Then I drove past a bakery and thought about cinnamon buns and donuts. Almost like magic I was in the parking lot, staring through the plate glass front window at all the baked goods lined up in the counter and shaking with anticipation. As if I was running on remote, I got out of the car and walked inside, even though that internal voice that knows better was screaming. With a white paper bag of still warm pastries, I headed back to the car and consumed them immediately. Eating so fast that I couldn’t even really taste them. Then not two minutes afterward, covered in powdered sugar, my fingers sticky, I was overcome with regret and guilt. I couldn’t get home fast enough to puke up everything I’d just consumed.
It felt like I was using drugs and I was scared all over again, but I couldn’t stop. Once I started all I did was obsessively think about all the bad food I hadn’t been eating for the last six months. It was like I had given myself permission to eat junk food and I couldn’t take it back. I didn’t tell anyone about what I was doing. I just kept being ashamed and thinking that I’d get a grip on it and miraculously stop. In just a few weeks I could feel the weight I was gaining. My pants started to feel tight and the few times I ran I could feel the extra weight around my stomach. At night I’d vow to get back on track, but in the morning that resolve would be gone. I felt bad about myself. I felt unattractive. I felt fat.
Today I have six days. I’m back at OA, a newcomer. I guess I can say that relapse is a part of my recovery after all. I have no idea why I can be so hardcore in NA, but stay stuck in a cycle of relapse when it comes to my eating disorder. If it’s because food is so prevalent and accepted socially, then why don’t I drink when I’m at a bar? It is not like I couldn’t find drugs if I really wanted to. But dope and alcohol don’t seem to be acceptable solutions. Yet every few months I find myself back here, defeated and seeking help. Seriously this is getting old. I feel foolish raising my hand as a newcomer. But at least I am no longer suffering in silence. I am trying to practice some acceptance with all this. If it has taught me anything, it is to not judge the addict that says relapse is a part of their recovery.
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Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine January 12, 2016