The Ghost of Christmas Past

Back when I was using heroin, robbing banks and going to jail on a regular basis, I kept to myself, avoiding family and what few friends I had left. Of course the rest of the world went about their business as usual and no matter what I did to ignore them, I was still forced to deal with reality every now and then. But nothing was as bad as having to deal with the Christmas holidays: the schmaltzy decorations, the endless commercial bombardment for materialistic crap, the incredibly bad winter weather that froze my ass off and the false holiday cheer from folks that hated my guts. All that was hideous enough to just want to hide out until New Years was over. But what I really dreaded was having to go to my family’s for Christmas Eve dinner.

Most holidays I could get away with saying I was busy or sometimes I would just not show up. Who really celebrates shit like the 4th of July and Easter? But, for some reason, my mom always considered Christmas Eve sacred and staying home in a warm opiated euphoria was just not permitted. So, I’d bundle up and take two buses over to her house, first stopping at my dealer’s to make sure I had enough drugs in case I got dope sick and had to shoot up in my mom’s bathroom. Well, to be honest, I would always shoot up in her bathroom at Christmas. It was the only way I could make it through the evening.

Now it would have been a much less dreadful dinner had it just been my mom and myself. But it wasn’t. There was my stepfather, a tough guy with hair-trigger anger who would drink too much and boss everyone around. My stepbrother, a meth addict with serious mental health issues, my other stepbrother, a recovering alcoholic, and his wife—neither of whom wanted to be there either. Then there was my little sister, her boyfriend and some stray friend of my mom’s that had nowhere else to go—and oddly enough the three of them wanted to be there. In fact they were the only people besides my mom that actually enjoyed the event.

Having to buy drugs on the way always made me late, like an hour or so, and the rest of the family would use that time to drink a bunch of alcohol. I never really knew what I was walking into when I got there. It could be a celebration, or it could be a huge argument about god knows what. Trying to go unnoticed I would slip into the living room like I’d been there all night. “Nice of you to show up!” my stepfather would yell. This would of course rankle my nerves, I’d consider doing more drugs just to calm down, but knew I had to pace myself, so I’d make a drink and join in with the liquor consuming festivities. My mother would fuss over me and my sister would say hi, and then the bombardment of questions would fly. “Where have you been?” “Are you working?” “What are you doing with your life?” A ton of inquires I had no answers for and resented being asked.

One particularly awful Christmas, my stepbrother was actually living in my parents’ spare bedroom. He’d lost his job, apartment and girlfriend (I know, a speed-freak losing shit, go figure right?), so he moved in to get his life back together. Unfortunately he hadn’t stopped doing meth and was out of his mind. My folk’s flat was on the third floor and his room was in the back of the building, He didn’t want to have to deal with his father every time he came and went, so he erected a 30-foot extension ladder up to his bedroom window. Imagine what the neighbors thought when a deranged man slid by their bedroom window on a ladder at 3am. My family just sort of ignored this, only I couldn’t.

“How’s that backdoor working for ya, bro?”

My stepbrother, mumbling incoherently, ignored me and went about his usual weirdness, which was this strange obsessive tapping of everything he passed. It looked like he was deciphering an odd combination that only he knew; first touching a lamp, then the table, a chair, then sitting down, only to jump up and do it all again in reverse. I just stared, wondering if anyone else thought his behavior a bit weird. When my mom announced that dinner was served we all stumbled into the dining room, but my stepbrother had rearranged the chairs facing outward from the table, and he was walking around tapping stuff in a tweeker frenzy.

“Knock it off!” yelled my stepfather. And that was all that was said. No, “what the hell is the matter with you?” No, “are you on drugs?” Just “knock it off” as if this was semi-acceptable behavior.

Once the holiday meal was on the table everyone began ladling food onto their plates. Some small talk erupted and if you had just joined us you may have thought we were a normal family. That is until the discussion strayed into dangerous territory, which was basically anything besides the weather. Then my stepfather would scream some sexist/racist slur and tell everyone to “shut the fuck up!” and that would put an end to that. It was safer to drink more booze and stare at your plate of food than to actually say anything.

About this time, I’d excuse myself and go to the bathroom, cook up a shot of dope and attempt to get it inside of me before someone came knocking needing to use the facilities. This was never easy and nerve wracking as the hall bathroom had those louvered doors that never quite closed correctly—but that never stopped me. Decidedly well medicated I’d return to the table and pretend to eat. It was only then that I was able to ignore all the drama. Sitting next to my other stepbrother and his wife, the only family members not drinking, I’d slur my words trying to converse with them. I can only imagine what they thought.

When dinner was over, everyone would go into the living room again, to sit around the tree and open presents. However, due to my stepfather’s dictatorship only one person could open a present at a time, making it an excruciatingly long drawn out ordeal. Half way through I needed a cigarette. It was cold out on the back stairs, and I was hurriedly smoking when my stepbrother came out. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked.

“Hey fuck you!” He screamed, and then we were fighting each other. I punched him in the stomach, he tried to hit me and I kicked him down a flight of stairs. Unfortunately this made a ton of noise and the whole family was at the backdoor to find out what all the commotion was about. My stepbrother, nursing a bruised face, mumbled that he’d slipped. I tossed my cigarette and went back inside.

Now that the meal was eaten and the gift giving over, all pretense of civility was abandoned. My stepbrother screamed he didn’t get the gifts he deserved, my stepfather yelled at him demanding he apologize, my little sister continued her conversation with the non-family member as if nothing odd was happening and my other stepbrother and his wife quietly explained they should be leaving, yet never got up to go.

“Merry Christmas,” said my mom. Slipping me an envelope with cash in it. I quickly glanced at the clock, it’s still early, if I left now I could use this money to score more dope on the way home. Grabbing my coat I said my goodbyes.

“Leaving fashionably early, I see,” said my stepfather.

“Whatever,” I responded.

Out in front of their building I felt sick and threw up in the street. I didn’t usually mix heroin with alcohol and I sure as hell didn’t need to eat that food on top of it. But really, it was just the tension of being there and I was happy to have survived another holiday.

Years later my stepfather will die of cancer in that same house, surrounded by copious amounts of narcotics that don’t begin to touch his pain. My stepbrother, his schizophrenia fully aggravated from years of methamphetamine abuse, will have moved to the great white north to live in a trailer in the middle of nowhere and hide from society. My mother, after an extremely painful knee operation, will have become a Vicodin addict. My little sister and her boyfriend will have gotten married and bought a condo in the suburbs. My other stepbrother and his wife, still clean and sober, will have a son and be happy.

Myself? I will have continued the downward cycle of the junkie drug addict, doing time in prison. I got out on parole, entered recovery and slowly pieced my life back together. It is hard to even fathom that this was how we all spent Christmas Eve. But seriously, I am so grateful I no longer live like that or continue that tradition. My Christmases are much more sedate. There’s no drama, no fighting, and no sadness, guilt, or regrets. I wish it could have been like that back then.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Happy Holidays.
Originally published as “Copping Drugs on My Way to Christmas Dinner” by AfterPartyMagazine December 24th, 2015

This entry was posted on Monday, December 5th, 2016 at 9:17 am. Leave a comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Thanksgiving is an Eating Disorder Nightmare

The weather has changed, summer is over. Last night in Los Angeles I actually had to put on a coat. While I am not one to run out into the elements, gleefully trudging through a first snow or rushing to the countryside to witness the changing of the leaves (it’s the west coast we don’t do any of that seasonal activity crap) the loss of 15+ degrees of warmth signals it’s that time of year again. The goddamn holidays have returned.

Of course this means I’ll soon be inundated with invites to dinner parties and festive gatherings. You would think as a socially challenged ex-drug addict in recovery I’d be happy that folks want to share their lives, love, and holiday cheer—and for the most part I am. But because I’m also a bulimic in recovery, it is just not a good time for me.

There is nothing more challenging than making it through a dinner party without overeating, and the worst of all is Thanksgiving. Seriously that meal is an eating disorder nightmare. For most “normal” people it is a festival of gluttony they actually enjoy. For a bulimic it is an instant relapse disaster just waiting to happen and I dread it. The mountains of starch and calorie-laden foods make navigating the dinner table a treacherous affair. If my program of recovery is not solid or I am just not on my “A” game that day, I can be stuffed full of mashed potatoes, candied yams and pumpkin pie in ten minutes or less. When my body dysmorphia goes into overdrive, I will literally knock folks over as I scramble for the bathroom to lose it all.

A few years ago I decided that the whole ordeal just wasn’t worth dealing with and made a commitment to do something different. First, I stopped going to my family’s gathering. I can see them any time of the year, without the excuse of communally chowing down a million calorie food extravaganza. Plus, I’m a vegetarian, so even the non-red meat alternative of turkey is not enticing. What’s worse, none of my relatives are capable of carving the damn bird, and my mom always asks me to do it. Yup, they make the only person in the room that doesn’t indulge hack up the dead animal. There isn’t even the pretense of a healthy low-calorie alternative, like a salad. So really, what am I doing there besides eating heavy food I don’t want and chalking up new resentments against a group of people I have worked very hard to not resent?

I have tried to explain to my family that I have an eating disorder and they just don’t get it. I doubt that after a good meal, any of them obsessively stare at themselves in the mirror in an effort to discern if any poundage was instantly acquired. I’m happy that they do not suffer the same crushing psychological torture that I do. But after years of dealing with my bulimia I could not justify putting myself in harm’s way just to celebrate another holiday of excess. I simply decided to gracefully opt out.

This brings me to the second part of my decision, which was to not fall prey to the peer pressure of well meaning friends. “You’re not planning on being alone for Thanksgiving!?” Is the usual refrain when they find out I’m not going to my family’s for the holiday. Unfortunately such disclosure evokes wanton fear in their collective souls. They are mortified, certain that I will be sitting in a dark apartment, starving myself to death, weeping into my tepid gluten-free bottled water and commiserating with my cats. Hey kids, it’s just not my holiday and I’d prefer to take a rain check if you don’t mind. Can’t I come over when there’s not a meal involved?

More than once I have fallen for their sentimentality. “Come on, celebrate the holidays with your friends, what could go wrong?” Unfortunately, what I have found is that I am not to be trusted with a table full of food. Something about sitting down with a bunch of ravenously hungry folks that just want to get their grub on, tunes me into that same wavelength. Before I realize it, I’m caught up in their feeding frenzy. Filling my plate as if I’m an emaciated steam-table devotee at an all you can eat smorgasbord, going back for seconds and thirds. Maybe everyone else knows how to stop when they’re full, but I take it way past just eating for pleasure to a shame and guilt celebration of major proportions. You’re not going to eat that last helping of green bean casserole? Well, then move out of the way and let me show you how a real binge eater goes to work!

Sadly it took me years to realize this. But at least I have finally figured it out. My eating disorder is not any different than my drug addiction. Quite early on in my recovery I totally got that saying, “one is too many and a thousand is never enough” when it came to drugs. Yet, in the beginning, it never quite connected when it came to food. I would binge on sugary snacks and comfort food in an effort to numb emotional pain, then purge when I realized that, just like drugs it didn’t work that way. It’s an inside job and I have to work a program of recovery, not stuff Pop Tarts into the gaping holes of my soul.

I consider Thanksgiving and its over abundance of food a massive trigger for my bulimia and equate it to my addiction to drugs. If I was still shooting heroin and my dealer invited me over to his house, offered me a table full of drugs and said, “help yourself” I would use until I OD’ed, passed out or both. Since I am in recovery, would I even go over to the dealer’s house if he invited me? Hell no. So then why would I do the same thing with food?

I know that this may seem drastic to some people. I can almost hear a few of you mumbling that it is only food and not drugs, so what’s the big deal? I may not be committing crimes, or going to jail, or landing in the emergency room from my eating disorder, but for me it is just as devastating and demoralizing as relapsing on drugs or alcohol. So how many times do I have to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results? The answer is that today I have a plan of recovery for my bulimia and I don’t have to keep engaging in behaviors that ultimately cause me to dive deeper into self-loathing and despair. Learning to say no is part of that plan.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m late for my OA meeting.
Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine November 26th, 2015

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 1st, 2016 at 8:06 am. Leave a comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

You Can Borrow My Higher Power

I often hear people share in meetings that a Higher Power is a tough concept to deal with. Like many folks, when I first came into the fellowship, the “God” parts of the 12 steps repulsed me. All my life I resented the hell out of what I felt was the hypocrisy of organized religion; with their unyielding stance against abortion, premarital sex and homosexuality. Not to mention the creepy “he’s always watching” aspect of a god on high. I really didn’t want to be damned to hell for my sins, (not that that ever stopped me from committing a plethora of them) but wanting an avenging merciless god in my life just never made sense. So why would I want to become involved in a religious organization?

At the time, everyone I talked to assured me that wasn’t the case, AA wasn’t religious, it was spiritual. Which made about as much sense as saying drugs weren’t addictive, they were just habit forming. Worse, everyone always told me to read the “We The Agnostics” chapter in the Big Book, because all my answers were there. Unfortunately all I got out of reading it was something like, you might not believe in god now, but you will. Which didn’t instill a lot of faith in me.

Later on, I jumped ship to NA because their literature and concept of addiction appealed to me more. Although, before we go any further let me back that up by profusely stating I am not someone that talks badly about another fellowship. I found what works for me. If another fellowship works better for you, then I support you wholeheartedly and I hope you do the same. So please, do not mistake this as some angry diatribe about why NA is better than AA—because it isn’t.

Even though I changed fellowships the NA steps and literature are just as full of that damn god again and it caused me to have a resentment. Certain aspects like the capital “H” in him and the BIG “G” in god could send me off on a cantankerous denunciation against religion. Even though there was no pretense that I had to worship Christ, there was still an undue amount of “prayer” talk. Sadly this kept me from working the steps for over a year. Unfortunately that year was horrible. I was a resentful newcomer judging everyone. It wasn’t until I was in so much emotional and spiritual pain that I literally said “that’s it, I’m done,” and began working the steps.

Now I had no problem with Step One. I was powerless and my life was truly unmanageable. I had lost everything. My family had practically disowned me, and due to committing crimes to pay for my addiction to heroin, I had been to prison. In fact, if I ever got busted again I was going back to do 25-to-life behind bars, yet I still wanted to use. So yeah, that step was pretty easy and I totally agreed with it.

Then I got to Step Two where it said, “a Power greater than ourselves,” and I got all twitchy again. Here was that damn “Higher Power” crap raising its ugly head, which I was more than convinced was a thinly veiled reference to God. Although I did appreciate that it was labeled a power and not a god, so I gave it a go. First listening to other addicts at meetings talking about the fellowship being their Higher Power, or nature, or the ocean, or… and this is the best thing I ever heard, “anything can be your Higher Power as long as it isn’t you.” And I was like, “now that makes sense.” Besides at the time I was on parole with the State of California and at the whim of my parole officer I could be sent back to prison. Uh huh, now that was a power greater than myself, so okay, next.

But then I was faced with Step Three: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,” and I freaked. There it was again, that “God,” and “Him” and well yeah, I hit the recovery skids and I wasn’t sure I could continue my step work. I think I actually told my sponsor that I’d have to reevaluate this whole “recovery deal.” I was totally disillusioned and I dropped into a prolonged state of depression. Luckily, I hit a lot of meetings looking for answers. One night at a particularly gnarly one in the depths of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, I heard a homeless man describe his Higher Power as a naked goddess with three breasts (he was really adamant about the three breasts part). I thought he sounded crazy and his Higher Power absurd, yet the rest of that man’s share was spot on perfect. The clincher was, at the end of the night, he left serene and calm to find a place to sleep in the streets. I headed home to my three-bedroom apartment, in a trendy sought-after neighborhood, totally angst ridden with a symphony of self-doubt playing in my head.

It was not long after that that I worked this “Higher Power” issue out. I don’t do God. I do a god of my understanding. Which is a power greater than myself. I do not have to name this power. It does not have to be an entity. It is more encompassing because it is the universe, and when I turn my will over to my higher power I am in rhythm with the universe. Also it doesn’t matter what your god is. If you chose to call it a name, more power to you. You can even capitalize its name. I do not care. Because your Higher Power is not my higher power and it will not keep me clean.

I know this sounds incredibly simple. But the reality is that recovery is simple. All you really have to do is do the right thing and be of service to others. Everything else is just worry and regret. I spent too much time stressing about the small things like language and labels, when all I had to do was turn it over. Not so strangely the minute I actually did, something as mundane as reading the word “God” stopped bothering me. So if you were like me and the god thing was interfering with your recovery, just let it go and borrow my higher power. That way you can stop trying to define it, until you have one.
Originally published by AfterPartyMagazine April 26th, 2016

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 1st, 2016 at 9:50 am. Leave a comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.