14 Years Sober – A New Perspective

14 Years Sober – A New Perspective

Every year, around March 28th (the day I got sober), I have the privilege to reflect on how my life was before I got sober and why I so desperately needed to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol.

Today (3/28/19) marks the six-year anniversary of when I went public with my sobriety journey.  I reviewed my first entry (from 3/28/13) and I am filled with such gratitude that my perspective has shifted from confusion, fear, and some underlying darkness, to acceptance, faith, love, and light.  I promise to continue sharing stories of my past that emulate VC Andrews and Steven King books.  But today, I am feeling an extremely powerful God-given gratitude that supersedes reliving the struggles associated with my past.

I had a good day yesterday.  I worked, went to the gym, met with my sponsor (a fellow addict that mentors me in sobriety), purchased a few days worth of groceries from Trader Joe’s, then drove myself home to my humble (and cozy) apartment in East, West Hollywood.  After unloading my four double-bags of groceries, I heated up some vegetarian burritos and prepared a salad, juiced some ginger, then turned on my Apple TV in my living room, and set the empty Trader Joe’s bags near my front door next to some boxes of items that I need to sort through.

I did my ginger shot (burns so good… ginger is a natural anti-biotic, expectorant, and helps with digestion), brought my plate of food into the living room where I had created a dining space to watch a show on Netflix.  I then reached into my pocket and pulled out my iPhone 7 Plus, opened the Netflix app, and clicked on the first episode of the second season of the show, ‘OA’.  I then air-played the streaming show to my 60″ TV.  The show is about blind faith… how appropriate.

After finishing my dinner, I continued watching and fell asleep on the couch.  I woke up after midnight and acknowledged my 14 years of sobriety.  I thought to myself, “Thank you God for everything that I have today”.

From an outsider’s point of view, my ‘yesterday’ probably seems relatively “normal”.  Now I want you to try on my “sobriety goggles” and see and feel the subtext of yesterday’s journey.

Work:

The ability to work is a luxury.  I was able to show up for jobs amidst my addiction, but I wasn’t always present and wasn’t capable of doing “my best”.  I am grateful today to be accountable.  Like everyone else, I make mistakes (not excuses) and I get to correct them.

Self Care:

Working out is an activity that I couldn’t partake in when I was high.  I would attempt to work out, but my body became weak and vulnerable.  I don’t recommend doing yoga on meth.  Cobra pose wasn’t so bad, but try balancing on one leg or breathing into a meditation.  Good luck with that.

Today, I am blessed to have a gym membership that I use almost every day.  I am not a bodybuilder or “meathead” (nothing wrong with either), just someone that cares about staying in good shape so I can feel good as I grow older.  Thank you God for this privilege.

Personal Relations:

When I was using, I barely connected with anyone.  When I did, it was usually from a place of desperation, need, or manipulation.

Today, I still isolate and sometimes act selfishly.  However, I am lovable and kind and have the potential to develop strong relationships.

Thank you God for granting me the personality of an empath.

Groceries:

The four bags of groceries included a small arrangement of flowers that I gifted myself because I wanted to reward myself for my sobriety milestone.  There was a time in early sobriety when I relied on food stamps and utilizing food banks.  I remember going to High Holiday Services where they were accepting bags of food for a food drive.  I had brought a few cans of vegetables to donate to “their” drive.  I was too ashamed to tell my fellow congregants that I was going to be a recipient of these bags of food in the following days.

Today, I am grateful for each item that I am able to purchase.  And every time I see donation bags, I take their inventory.  I remember how I felt when I would get home from the food bank.  I would see the bags of groceries as mystery gifts.  I would take out all of the items and place them on my kitchen table.  It was a bittersweet feeling.  I was excited to have groceries, but felt that I didn’t deserve the hand-out.

IMG_3168Today, I have groceries in my refrigerator that I was able to pay for with my hard-earned cash.  The flowers are perfectly arranged on my kitchen table.  I notice each flower and color and think to myself, “Thank you God”.

Why the emphasis on the Trader Joe’s Bags?

IMG_3173The boxes of things to sort through were belongings of my father who passed away about 2 and a half years ago.  On my last trip to Dallas, I was determined to help my mom and sister find some closure by going through my dad’s closet and taking what I wanted.  I sent myself the boxes that have been sitting by the front door of my apartment for two months. It’s now time for me to find some closure.  I am going to use the Trader Joe’s Bags to sort; for keeps, give away, and two bags for undecided items.

Today, I get to practice self care and sort through the boxes.  It is time for me to let go of the things I will not use and give them to someone in need.

Materials:

I remember showing up to a high school reunion with a flip-phone with an antenna and one of my fellow classmates commented “I didn’t think they made those anymore”.  Clearly, the guy was an asshole.  Even so, the experience left me feeling shameful for not being financially secure enough to upgrade my phone.

Today, I spend way too many hours on my phone.  Taking photos and videos, playing casino games, unlimited calls and text, and streaming media consumes a huge portion of my day.  It is a guilty pleasure that I get to abuse.  Thank God for my materials.  I also ask God for help when I am gluttonous with my phone.  And I am grateful that my ex hasn’t removed me from his Netflix account.  Thank you God for helping me maintain a bridge that easily could have been burned (the friendship and the Netflix).

The Past:

Today I look at my past as an adventure that has brought me to where I am today.  I don’t regret my childhood trauma.  It is my story.  That’s it.  It could have taken me down, but I am resilient.  There are times when I get pissed off at the after-affects of molestation.  But those times pass and I get to grow stronger each time I get back on my feet.  A wise-person said, “Pain is a touchstone of spiritual growth”.  Year 14 was my most painful year to date.  Thank you God.

 

 

 

Lucky 13

lucky 13Lucky 13? I have to be honest. The thought of turning thirteen years sober was not pleasant. Apparently, I have some internalized superstition about the number “13” meaning bad luck.

Had you asked me 13 years ago what I would be doing today, it is quite likely that I would have said, “Please God, let me be sober”. I was desperate, exhausted, and willing to finally ask for help. I was pretty much agnostic at that time, but my desire to escape survival mode and start living inspired me to seek a power other than myself.

I remember my last line of crystal meth like it was yesterday. I had been pondering the idea of quitting for a few months and didn’t know till a week before the “finish line” that I was ready to quit. My addiction towards all drugs was a juggling act.  I smoked weed and bumped K to relax, sleep, eat, laugh, and escape my chaotic thoughts. I did Special K (Ketamine, not the cereal) to fall into a different universe that would sometimes give me hints to what my life’s potential would be. I remember flying over a concert-filled venue looking down at my fans that were cheering for me. Apparently they saw my potential. I think I was singing to them or maybe taking a break from my DJ set to fly by and give a round of hi-fives to the roaring crowd. Regardless of what my skill actually was, a few bumps of K before lying back on my waterbed was the perfect formula for inviting my fans into my trip (K-Hole).

I want to say that I didn’t drink too much. According to Lacie, the cocktail waitress at the bar where I used to DJ three nights a week, I was consuming quite a bit of alcohol. I remember running into her years after I got sober and made a comment that “alcohol wasn’t really a problem. I told her “I would have a couple Corona and a few shots of Patron – and would always finish my last drink before 11pm so I could responsibly drive home.” She looked stunned at my response and replied, “Those were triple shots of Patron”. Either way, my drinking wasn’t so bad compared to the bar regulars that could easily have had their names engraved next to their barstools. I could really take or leave the booze, weed, K, and other drugs. But Crystal or any other form of speed that would keep me up for days had seduced my inner-consciousness into a co-dependent marriage. Thirteen years ago today, that horrific relationship resolutely ended in divorce.

So what does that all mean today? It means that since Monday, March 28, 2005, I have been lucky enough to begin changing my life. How is thirteen years just the beginning? It’s just a gut. I have a strong feeling that the best is yet to come and I am starting to see my potential naturally.     

Something that a lot of people don’t understand about the addict mind (and I will refer to my own rather than speak for a group) is that I am addicted to anything that will temporarily relieve me of my harmful thought process that inevitably wants me dead if it goes untreated.

There is nothing anyone can say or do that will fool my natural, “stinking thinking.” For me, desperation was my best friend. It led my seemingly lifeless, skinny, infected corpse to individuals and groups that had figured out different methods of combating my mental “dis-ease (uneasy).” I prefer that word to disease because it’s easier for me to accept my terminal mental state as an inconvenience, handicap, or nuisance rather than a sickness.   From them, I learned that my situation was called alcoholism and the sooner that I surrender to this word (that I hated because alcohol wasn’t “my thing”); the quicker I was going to recover.

Since March 28, 2005, I have slowly learned how to better take care of myself. I have sought help from groups, taken direction from an individual that I call my sponsor, and found a therapist that I can be honest with (imagine that- not lying to a therapist). I have learned that it is absolutely essential for me to incorporate people that I trust in my thought process so I don’t hurt myself or someone else. Isolation is not my friend.

Am I happy? Yes, today in this very moment at 1:30 AM on March 29, 2018 I am completely content. Three days ago, I was engaging in a pretty uncomfortable argument with the guy I have been seeing since July. The silver lining is that I feel we learned something about each other. Rather than angry or sad, I felt compassionate, then loved. He lives in Manhattan, about 3000 miles away. But for some reason, my heart wants me to speak with him at the end of every day. How many couples can honestly say they speak for about thirty minutes a day to each other? How many couples can honestly say that they can’t wait to see each other?

I have learned how to live in gratitude. Living in gratitude does not mean I am always happy. It means that I have the ability to acknowledge each day as a gift. On November 18, 2016, my dad passed away a month after an unsuccessful attempt to remove a tumor from his lung. This was the worst month of my life. I felt emotions that I had only partially imagined. But somehow, I was able to reach into my sobriety toolbox and find a few things to be grateful for. My immediate and extended family and friends came together and took care of me. I felt needed when I was able to return a hug and take care of them. The experience turned me into a crier. I can’t even watch an episode of The Voice without crying. I love that my dad has given me the gift of being emotionally fearless.

Months later, I came down with an infection in my lungs, and found myself in the hospital for eleven days. Each day I was there seemed to get longer and it was difficult to feel gratitude at that time. But in retrospect, I spent few days without a visit from a friend. Some visits were from people who barely knew me. The experience taught me to see each day as a gift and every sick friend as an opportunity.

Clearly, there have been some setbacks the last couple of years. Sobriety has taught me that setbacks are only detrimental if you don’t see them as an opportunity to learn and grow. At my celebratory dinner tonight, my friend Paulo and I were discussing my angst of turning 13. He informed me that the number 13 is a holy number in the Jewish faith and that it is the age when a boy has his Bar Mitzvah. Paulo was surprised when I informed him that I had a Bar Mitzvah. Every once in a while, it takes a friend to help me see the silver lining. A Bar Mitzvah is defined as a “son of responsibility”. I like the sound of that and I’m ready to fly towards my potential.

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Nine Years Off Meth: What Happened

despairNine short-long years ago (Monday, March 27, 2005), I found myself sitting on the steps in front of my apartment complex feeling nothing.  I had been on a final walk after being awake for nearly six days and I knew the marathon had come to an end.  My body and soul were beaten into a comfortably numb state of shock.  I didn’t want to go to sleep, knowing that my body would need a few days of a xanax-induced coma just to begin recovering from the damage I had done to it.

Earlier, the first stop on this shameless walk had led me to the apartment of some guy I had met in an AOL chat room.  He greeted me with a bright smile (give or take a tooth).  I didn’t want him sexually, I just knew that he was partying (ie, high on speed) and that I could have some brief companionship with another human who was also high.  I snorted some of his meth, watched some of his porn, tinkered with his projects, and – insultingly – departed when he wanted to breathe a cloud of meth smoke onto my penis.  I didn’t enjoy smoking meth because it always gave me pneumonia, so I certainly didn’t want to know what that stuff would do to my penis.

I left his apartment and vigorously yet aimlessly walked down Santa Monica Blvd. at about 8am.  Knowing that I only had about one line left in my final stash, my mind was mapping out my journey home (about a five-minute-walk).  I held my flip-phone up to my ear and pretended I was having an intense conversation so passers by wouldn’t strike up a conversation with me.  I knew a lot of people in my hood and feared someone might notice me on the walk.  Looking back, I realize I was just like the crazy man I used to mock, the one I’d frequently see talking to himself on a payphone. My next stops were Los Tacos – a 24-hour Mexican restaurant so I could provide myself with some of the nutrients I’d deprived myself of for nearly a week (a tamale and enchilada combo with rice and beans), and then one last stop at 7-Eleven where I picked up some Gatorade and a bag of Nantucket chewy chocolate chip cookies.  I then floated home and found myself seated on the walkway steps that led to my apartment complex.

I sat peacefully, plastic bags of food at my side, as the bright morning grew even brighter. Finally, I made my way to the dust-filled apartment that I called my home.  My cat cried out for food as I entered.  I immediately tended to Kiki and pried open a can of Fancy Feast for my neglected baby even though my hunger pains screamed louder than his deep meows.  Fortunately, I was an addict who treated my pet better than I treated myself so he remained pleasantly plump. Physically, my body was speckled with infections.  I had small, itchy bumps on my arms, legs, and ass- jestingly I would call them my speed bumps.  Once again, one of my eyes was infected with mild conjunctivitis.  The edges of my nostrils and the corners of my lips were cracked from days of dehydration and poisoning myself with meth.  My asthmatic lungs were slightly filled with fluid making it hard for me to catch a full breath without yawning.

My friend Greg was in my living room, where I had left him before I had set out on my final journey.  He fearfully watched as I gorged on the food I had purchased.  I could tell by the look on his face that my eating manners reflected an animal that was consuming its first meal after a long period of starvation. I pushed the bag containing empty containers of food aside and told Greg I was done.  He had witnessed my week-long party and it was clear he doubted that this was my finale.  I looked him in the eyes and said:

“Seriously, this time It’s over.”

I reached into the pocket of my jeans and pulled out the Bic pen-cap that contained a rolled-up miniature zip-lock bag of crystal.  Then I opened the bag and poured the remaining contents of my crystallized speed on the table where I proceeded to smash the meth into powder form.  I used my California Driver’s License to line up the substance, rolled up a somewhat crisp dollar bill, and snorted my last line of meth.  I looked up at Greg and said:

“That was it, that was my last line.”

I threw away the bag of food along with the empty bag of meth and proceeded to shower off my filthy body.  I cleaned up well enough to be seen in public and put on my signature going-out outfit (jeans and a white t-shirt.)  I cleaned my apartment to the best of my ability and spent the rest of the day organizing things. The evening approached and I told Greg “It’s time for me to go to the meeting”.  Greg insisted that it would be rude for me to show up at a recovery meeting for crystal meth addicts while I was still high.  I replied that it was my only option and that I had to go.

I was greeted at the meeting by bright smiles, hugs, and “welcomes.”  The speed had worn off so I was struggling to return the smiles. It didn’t matter, though: these people understood me.  The meeting started and the leader introduced the “chip guy” – someone who presented little key chains to reward members who were celebrating sobriety milestones.  When he called upon those who had less than 29 days of sobriety, I stood up, dragged myself to the line of newcomers, and hugged the chip guy (who whispered in my ear “Welcome, keep coming back.” I faced the crowd of about 70 men and women and said:

“I am Jonathan.  And I am a crystal meth addict.” 

The crowd replied, “Hi Jonathan, welcome”. The lights dimmed which meant it was time for the main speaker.  I can barely remember what he said.  My mind was so spun and kept tuning in and out – I just wanted it to be over.  Then, something he said caught my attention: “If you are new here and used meth today, I thank you for being here.  Without your presence, I would not remember how bad things are on the other side.” After his share, I thanked the speaker – his name was Donato – for addressing me personally without even realizing he had done so.  He invited me to come to his home the following night where he hosts a recovery meeting for alcoholics every Tuesday in his backyard in Hollywood.  Although I didn’t realize at the time that I was also an alcoholic, I said yes.

Vitamin-D(2)Tuesday night at Donato’s has since become my recovery home group (ie, a meeting that I attend regularly.) My first day of total sobriety was March 28th, 2005.  Since then, I have had to change just about everything about myself and my life.  Some times have been extremely rough, while other times have been so full of joy that I am overwhelmed with happiness.  The main difference now is that I am living rather than surviving.

Each day is a gift and I thank God regularly to be blessed with the next dawn.