Remembering DC

DC.jpgAlmost ten years ago in 2005, I arrived at a convention for people who have a desire to stop using crystal meth: this after a 6-day run of using that drug, having no sleep, and barely having had any food or water.  I was confused, slap-happy, and run down.  All I can really recall is feeling awkward as I watched people laugh, share stories, and speak a language I didn’t understand.  It makes sense now as I reflect on my own experience growing with this group.  I remember curling into fetal position next to a cool window in a rec room and falling into a nap as different individuals were murmuring something about gratitude.

Last year,  in March of 2015, I showed up to this same convention in a similar state of mind even though I was now ten years clean and sober.  I felt sleepy, hungry, and anxious.  I was sleepy because I had woken up early after staying up a bit too late watching House of Cards on Netflix.  I was hungry because I didn’t allow myself to grab a bite during my long work day.  And I was anxious because I have learned that my insecurities creep up on me naturally when I attend large functions of any sort.

Upon arrival, I mentally prepared myself in my car then walked towards the entrance of the venue where I was met by the greeters.  “Greeters” are volunteers who welcome you, then direct you to registration.  I proceeded to register, hugging and acknowledging friends I have made over the years, and picked up my name badge and weekend itinerary.  Although I was surrounded by bright and shiny familiar faces and others who seemed as uncomfortable as myself, I felt the need to flee the scene.  I made my way back to my car where I proceeded to collect myself.  I convinced myself that since I was early, I should leave and come back a bit later when most others had registered.  This way, I would be able to blend in and go unnoticed.  But my gut was feeling queasy about this decision.

If I were to leave (probably go home and shower, then return), I would likely return a bit tardy, enter the convention alone, and would likely convince myself to leave before the welcoming ceremony ended- because I would be alone amongst the hundreds in attendance.

Bearing this in mind, I fought my impulse to flee the premises, exited my car once again, and found my way to the entrance of the convention- and was re-welcomed by “greeters”.  I encountered a close friend of mine and secured a reservation to sit with him at the welcoming meeting.

I found myself actively engaging in conversation with others as we nibbled on fruit and cake that was supplied for people like me that needed sustenance.   I noticed a friend of mine, David, sitting alone and seeming deep in thought.  This was not an extraordinary circumstance being that I had known he had just undergone his third of fourth chemotherapy treatments.  I cautiously approached him, offered our traditional hug and let him know I was happy to see him.

39844_134030733307442_6132484_n.jpgI met David nine years ago, just a small amount of time after I had reached my one-year sobriety milestone.  At that first meeting, David appeared lost and extremely worn down.  His story would prove to be jaw-dropping, and it included many years of surviving homeless on Los Angeles’ notorious skid row.  He shared vividly his experience of sleeping on the streets and how uncomfortable it was to sleep pressed against cool concrete.  As much as I wanted to help, my instincts told me that I should keep some distance and that this poor man was a lost cause.

Month after month, David continued to show up and participate in the group’s fellowship.  His gaunt, distant eyes and muffled incoherent speech evolved to focused and articulate.  I witnessed this brave man crawl into sobriety from the streets, get on his feet, graduate school, and become a huge inspiration for other recovering alcoholics and addicts. When the cancer card was placed in his path eight  years into his sobriety,  I couldn’t help but think that this man had beat odds on many levels and that this was just another challenge.

I have learned from experience that asking someone who has been struggling with cancer, “How are you feeling?” is not the best approach.  To me, the logical answer would be “I have cancer, how do you think I am feeling?”  But after a few moments of engaging in general conversation, I popped the question … “How are you feeling, David?”  

I was humbled by his response.

David explained that he was doing great.  He was preparing for his final chemo treatment and was in a very positive space.  He had been using the tools acquired from his nine years of sobriety and was able to acknowledge that he had recently overcome an obstacle with his battle with cancer.  Initially, about five months before, when his tumors had grown to overwhelming sizes, he began to feel that he was becoming the cancer, or a visitor in his own cancer-stricken body.  But David demonstrated his confidence through a God-filled smile that this cancer battle was almost behind him.  He said that he had been following his doctor’s direction religiously while simultaneously showing up for other recovering addicts and working his program.  

Now, David looked me in the eyes and shared that he was no longer a guest in his own body and that his tumors were significantly smaller.  It was clear that David was not about to listen or surrender to cancer.  I told David that I admired him for all that he has experienced and asked if it were okay that I share his story in detail on my blog.  David’s eyes lit up like he had just been chosen from the audience to be a contestant on Price Is Right.  He nodded eagerly and said that he was looking forward to reading it.

The convention evening continued to surprise me with small miracles: hugs, smiles, and meaningful moments.  My night concluded with a late night dinner with a group of friends.  The anxiety had passed and so had my ninth year.  The clock struck midnight as I drove home, and I was officially one decade sober.  When I entered my apartment, my cat Kiki greeted me at the door with a snarled “meow” implying that I was a bit late for his tastes.  He forgave me when I rewarded him with some catnip, tuna, and his second half of a can of Fancy Feast.

I washed my face, took my evening medications, brushed my teeth with my Sonicare toothbrush, put moisturizer on my face, picked out my clothes for the next morning, got into bed, snuggled with Kiki, and meditated.  I fell asleep filled with gratitude that my life is no longer an experiment.  I am no longer a self-proclaimed guinea pig for street chemists.  I’m certainly not morally perfect, but do care about myself and those around me.  I am grateful for what I have and anticipate more obstacles and accomplishments along the way.

A few months later, my friend David (DC) took a turn for the worse.  I ran into him at a meeting and almost didn’t recognize him.  I approached him slowly and attempted our usual, friendly embrace.  When my arms wrapped around him with a very slightly squeeze, he snapped back and quickly retreated with an “ouch.” David was clearly in a lot of pain and his speech was unclear and barely lucid.  I sat down beside him and he began to share with me that he had not been well.  I noticed the tumor on the side of his neck had returned and was now the size and shape of a squished baseball.  Although slightly unclear, David expressed to me that he had been isolating in his apartment and unable to get out or ask for help.  He said that my coming to him had motivated him to show up for the meeting and be with his (sober) people.  I asked “So I came to you in your dream?”  David said to me with clarity, “No, you were in my apartment.”  Being that I did not know the exact location of David’s residence, it was highly unlikely that I was physically there.  But I am a firm believer that if something is real to someone, it doesn’t matter if it was a dream or vision because it is their truth.  He said that the words I had shared with him at convention months ago were reiterated to him when he saw me at his apartment.  And that was enough to get him out of his apartment and seek the help of the group.  David then asked if he could read my blog that I told him about months back.  “I really would like to read it,”  he said.  I hesitantly assured him again that I would be posting it soon and promised to tell the story of his journey. I gave David a ride after the meeting and it was difficult to see him struggle to get into my car.  I had to carefully pull and fasten the seatbelt around his aching body.  When he exited the car, I had a suspicion that this might be our last ride together.

I received a message from David’s Facebook account a couple months later.  It was sent from David’s dearest friend, Mark.  Mark had taken on the messenger role for David as well as many other roles.  The message stated that DC’s decline had escalated and he was hospitalized.  Another message was sent to David’s friends expressing urgency,  and  that if we wanted to say goodbye to David, to come to the hospital as soon as possible.  Many of the friends that David and I have in common were away at a weekend retreat.  It would be stretching the truth to say that David and I were the best of friends.  However, it is absolutely the truth that we had been significant in each other’s lives.  The decision for me to go to the hospital was simple because I have learned to do whatever I can, when I can.  I needed to go for David, Mark, myself, and as a representative for all of our friends who couldn’t be there.

Before leaving for the hospital, I forwarded Mark’s post on my Facebook page to other mutual friends of mine and David’s who may not have been aware of the situation.  I quickly received a message from an acquaintance, Jimmy, that he had no way of getting to the hospital and he asked for a ride.  Although Jimmy was more stranger than friend, the company was certainly appreciated.  I couldn’t ignore my conscience that was telling me to print the rough copy of the blog I had started months before.  I had promised DC that I would share it with him, yet my finalizing of it had been curtailed by a highly stressful event in my life. Even so, my plan was to read it to DC in his hospital room.

I picked up Jimmy and we became acquainted as we shared feelings and stories about our departing friend.  I told him about the blog and wasn’t sure if it was appropriate that I read it to David.  Jimmy asked if he could read it.  I hesitated since it still seemed premature for public perusal.  As Jimmy read, I kept telling myself “It isn’t ready.”  His response, though positive, reaffirmed my decision to leave the blog in the car once we arrived at the hospital.

Jimmy and I were greeted by other friends who had just arrived moments before and we followed them to the elevator and up to the third floor.  More friends were clustered together upstairs and guided the new arrivals to David’s room.  Because of the small space, we took turns filtering in and out of David’s room to say goodbye.  There was quite a bit of tension in the air.  Sickness and death had brought out a large range of emotions from the 15-20 people that were needing to find some sort of closure.

When it was my turn, I walked up to find David on the hospital bed with tubes down his throat and a machine to his side that was acting as his lungs because they no longer functioned on their own.  I struggled to find the right words.  I found it difficult to speak to David, who may or may not have been able to hear what I was saying.  It was especially hard for me to express myself while I felt my friends and some strangers critiquing my one-sided conversation.  I tuned everyone out and spoke directly to David, “David, it’s Jonathan and I am here to be with you.  And I am going to help guide you to your next home.  I promise DC, that I will share your story as long as I am able.”  Others in the group took their turns having one on ones with David and then the  announcement was made by Mark that we had an hour before David would be taken off life support.

I stepped outside of the room and decided to post something about David on my Facebook wall.  It read, “If anyone would like me to pass on a message to DC, please message me or post here. He is surrounded by friends who love him… And will be taken off life support within the hour.”  Of course, this is a touchy subject- making a public notice about our friend whose physical life was coming to an end.  I took it a step further and asked DC’s friends if it would be okay to take a couple group photos of us surrounding David.  Everyone present agreed that it was appropriate.  No one was forced to be in the pictures.  Many of us were total strangers to one another and the only thing we had in common was that not one of us was a blood-relative of David’s.  The majority of the group had met David during his last nine years when he became clean and sober.   We were his family.

The next hour was spent reading to David the constant flow of messages coming from several of our Facebook pages. Each time a message was read into David’s ear, his heart rate would increase, which lead us to believe that he was hearing the words of love and support we were sharing with him. We literally had hundreds of messages that continued to collect even after DC’s final hour had passed.  The group joined hands,  participated in group prayer, shared final thoughts, and prayed out one last time.  Once the life support machines were shut down, our friend was gone within a minute.  There was no struggle to be seen, just an eerie sense of emptiness.   We all took our last looks at DC’s body and said our last goodbyes, parted, and went our own ways.

20160401_011637_001-1.jpgA week later, Mark requested that I join him and  a small group of DC’s friends to go through David’s belongings.  I said yes because, as I mentioned before,  I do what I can when I can… and I could.  We sorted his items in different piles: items to be donated, items to be on display at his memorial, stuff to be given to friends, and trash.  I was sorting through a box of random items and came across a cd that was labeled “Adventures In Sobriety, 10/20/14, DC”.  I asked Mark if I could take it with me and find out what was on the cd.  I promised if it was of value, that I would make sure he got it back.

When I got home, I inserted the cd in my laptop, and realized I had struck gold.  The cd was a 37 minute audio file of DC sharing his life experience, strength, and hope.  I transfered the file to my computer, uploaded it to my Google Drive, then shared it with DC’s friends.  A path was now cleared for me to help spread his message just as I had promised him.  DC’s story is so inspirational and he was a survivor on so many levels.  Cancer may have taken him in the end, but miraculously, he beat the odds and died a sober man.

A month later, I attended DC’s funeral and made my personal contribution of handing out copies of the cd I had found.  Each person who took a copy expressed immense gratitude because they desired to once again hear his powerful message.  Some had only seen David around and were curious to hear his story.

I sat towards the front of the memorial at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The church was gorgeous, the sermons and stories shared by David’s closer friends were nice, but I found the service to be unsettling.  I chose not to volunteer to speak up and say a few words because I didn’t want to seem intrusive.  The friends who spoke had more experience one on one with David.  I had some slight regret afterwards because I believe what I had to say would shed some light on the other side of David.  The missing voice of his extended friendships that may not have always been by his side.  David’s voice was heard by people who witnessed him from afar, across the room, in the nosebleed section of the auditorium.  David was seen and heard… he was kind of a legend, even to those who hadn’t actually known him on a one-to-one basis.

When I got home from the memorial, once again I uploaded David’s share on his Memorial Facebook Page.  Sharing it helped me feel better about not speaking up at the service.  

And I also believe that David would have appreciated the gesture.

Like clockwork, this year, on March 25, 2016, I attended the annual convention again.  This year, I wasn’t nervous as I was greeted, registered and welcomed into the celebration.  Maybe I was less distracted, maybe I was in a better, mental place, maybe I woke up on the right side of the bed, maybe the location of the convention had something to do with it.  The convention was held on the grounds of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the same location as DC’s memorial service.

Time had mended the discombobulated feelings associated with the loss my friend.  I was celebrating my 11-year Anniversary of committing to sobriety, and was proud to finally be in a place where I felt comfortable sharing my story:  The story of a guy who was addicted to Crystal Methamphetamine, came to believe he needed help to fight his disease, surrendered to sobriety, achieved eleven years sober one day at a time, and learned that life isn’t easy- with or without drugs.

Though DC never had the opportunity to read this blog himself, I hope that by finally posting this I am fulfilling at least part of the promise I made to him.  He was a good man, he was a brave man, but most of all he was a sober man who spent the final 8 years of his life inspiring others to overcome addiction. I hope that this blog entry, and the audio below of DC sharing his experience strength and hope might help inspire others who are struggling with achieving sobriety, and further inspire those who already have.  

DC, you were loved.

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Time to Free-Ball and Blog

Time to Free-Ball and Blog

After eight years of sobriety, I decided that it was time to embrace my experience and share it like never before…

cdl909-number-8-candle_2Eight Years Clean & Sober. It’s funny that every year I whisper my years accumulated as a sober man on Facebook… like it’s a precious secret hidden behind a trench coat. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 Years c & s- I don’t even capitalize the c and the s because maybe it will seem too bold or too obvious that it is important.

Do I fear judgement? Yes. Do I fear that I may not get a job because of my past? Sometimes. Do I fear a potential romantic partner may find out that I used to carry a baggy of crystal meth folded and rolled into the cap of a bic pen? Kind of.

Truthfully, stepping away from my fears, I am humbled to realize that no one is really doing a background check on me. They either like me or they don’t. I’ll get the job regardless of my history of self-medicating. I’m going to fall in love with someone that beams love in their eyes and heart, not someone emitting judgement.

So why now? Why am I suddenly feeling the urge to free-ball my feelings on the very last hour of my eighth anniversary? Because. I love that answer. Because because because because… shut up.

I love that about 24 hours ago I posted my whisper that I have been clean and sober for eight years and I am still getting praised– about 260 likes and a bunch of congratulatory comments.

I was in an Improv class tonight and another actor asked me what I have been up to. I told him about being sober and he said he was wondering what c & s meant on my Facebook page. He appropriately told me that he was proud of me.

So I feel the responsibility to elaborate a little bit. Being that high school friends (and some bullies that are now nice), Jewish friends, family members, ex-girlfriends, ex-boyfriends, fraternity brothers, college friends, camp friends, pre-school carpool friends, drinking and drugging friends, 12-step friends, hookup friends, friends I don’t really know, siblings of friends, friends and families of friends that have passed, teachers, agents, casting directors, acting coaches have all come forward to give me their blessing.

To those of you who do not know the outline of my story…
I was diagnosed ADHD my senior year of high school. This fact was so important to my adolescent mental stability. If a kid can’t focus on a subject for more than a minute without getting sidetracked… How can he understand a lecture? How can he be part of a team? How can he feel a part of a group when it is natural for him to say what is on his/my mind… no matter if it was completely off-subject.

Now add to the equation that there were seemingly no gay and lesbian role models – local or famous. And the famous one’s were ridiculed. The upper class women of Dallas sure wouldn’t mind having a gay man pump their ego and their big hair. But the gay relationship he may have been hiding behind closed doors was a subject that was tiptoed around and taboo… but perfect for gossip and ridicule.

So my decision at the age of fifteen was to keep the secret and strive to be a role model, nice Jewish boy. And if I couldn’t fake it till I make it- then I was going to take pills till I never woke up. I would have rather been dead than gay.

I met a man months before I turned 16 who invited me to his home, showed me pornography, and offered me a line of crank. Crank was a speed in yellowish cheesy powder form. I was in gay Disneyland. The second I inhaled a small line of speed that burned like a MF… I transformed from feeling a part to feeling complete. My ADHD had gone into remission, my self hate of my sexual orientation diminished, and I felt like talking – a lot! The 35-year-old man that gave me the speed taught me how to use it like a gentleman… never tell anyone that I did it, never tell anyone that he was getting me to do sexual things, and never tell anyone I had gay feelings. I didn’t need my arm twisted to accept his rules.

So that is how it started. After High School and into college, I continued to sniff my way back to my drug supplier. I never wanted to buy it, so I really looked forward to coming home to Disneyland. It was very cyclical- I would come home to see my family… and I would feel either good or bad. Both feelings were good enough for me to go “party”. Funny how a party was heading over to someone’s house so I could get a drug fix that would relieve my queasiness triggered by the drive over to his gated community. It seemed like hours before he had my line prepared on the glass table. and I would return home a couple days later… no sleep or food for three days. Some party!

I came out gay when I was 21 which was such an exhausting time. Imagine trying to explain a taboo subject over and over again to people who feel you have been dishonest with them. Or the flip side… they feel bad because you didn’t feel close enough to them to share what was going on. And most importantly, I was coming out to the world about a subject that I hated. I hated myself for being different.

The coming out process may have began a healing process for my loved one’s. But it was too much for me. I wanted to be in control of who knew I was a homo, when they found out, and who they were allowed to tell. I quickly realized that I was no longer in control of my secret so I found a dealer at The University of Arizona so I could escape to my my Disneyland in another state. Don’t get me wrong, I became a great student – honoraries and Who’s Who?. I received a 3.5 GPA, ran for senate of the undergrads on an openly gay platform and won. The next year I was elected chairman of the senate. It was empowering and excruciating. Let’s just say I wasn’t a Republican and I wasn’t a Republican. As all good addicts do, in times of stress, I find my current drug of choice (cocaine at that time- ewwww.), and did lines in the student government office. After a roller coaster of ups and downs I made it through college and headed west to Los Angeles where I would follow my dream to be an actor.

I moved to Calif. in August of 1996. I pursued acting and was landing a few lines on TV shows here and there. Then I was cast in quite a few indy films- always playing the part of a hooker, porn star, a kid that lost his virginity to two bar girls in a saloon, a guy doing a cheating wife, and then I played a serial rapist. Let’s just say my IMDB is quite impressive… you could probably catch an std just reading it.

I ended up meeting party people in LA and went to circuit parties, DJ’d 5 nights a week, and was really feeling Hollywood and my dreams coming true. And somehow, somewhere, the party became out of control. I had to make rules… no drinking after 11 so I could drive home, only on the weekends, just a glass of wine with dinner. My weekends turned into week-long binges. I always made it a priority to call family and friends just before I would start my “party”. And I fooled everyone. At least I thought I did.

The one binge per month turned into every other week I would stay awake an entire week without eating or sleeping. Sadly, in LA, everyone was telling me I looked like a model with my gaunt facial expressions and protruding abs (ribs).

In February of 2005, Valentine’s Day crept up on me and I did the math- I had not slept a day in February. It had been 14 days of taking apart computers, web-camming with strangers (hiding my face because I had morals), cleaning my room, and doing my taxes.

Other good memories… five days of no sleep and falling asleep at the wheel crossing Sunset Boulevard and awakening from the pound of my car’s left side onto a median… losing both hub caps and flattening both left tires. No one saw… I was good.

Then I allowed an attractive homeless man to shower in my apartment before he stole my rental car that had all of my DJ equipment in it from a gig the night before. The car was found over a week later with my equipment still in the trunk. Enterprise still will not accept my amends… which I find to be bittersweet. I have the strength to come clean about what I did… and the acceptance that not all damage is reparable.

Last but certainly not least, something I feel awful about to this day and hope to someday make it right. A friend of mine owned a mobile phone store next to a bar that I was spinning (DJing) at. A girl that worked there, let’s just call her Tonya, asked me to come by the store after my DJ set for a little partying. Once I arrived, she was carrying store inventory out the back door and was placing it in her truck. She told me (I was quite sped up) that the owners needed the items moved from the store to her truck. And if there is anything I need, please feel free to take it. I didn’t end up taking anything home with me… except a feeling of “what the fuck just happened?” And at that very moment, it dawned on me that I just committed a crime involuntarily to someone who had always been very nice to me.

8 years have passed since I have had alcohol or mind altering drugs. Giving up alcohol was extremely hard to do because meth was my preference. But I know that if I open the gateway of numbed inhibitions with a shot of tequila, my hand will gradually and quickly reach out till it finds my drug of choice… and I am back where I left off.

I hope this shocks you. I hope you can’t believe the double-life I acted my way through. I hope that maybe there is someone out there that is questioning their own addictive tendencies. I hope you feel you can call or message me and share your fear. I hope you judge lovingly that sex, love, gambling, eating, purging, and downloading is also part of my story.

Started Meth at 16
Got Sober at 32
Shared bluntly at 8 years Sober
After 8 years… think I am ready for a Blog or a Book.

Thank you everyone for clicking like today, thanks for your comments, thanks for loving me and allowing me to love you. Thank you my republican friends for taking a moment today to think … “I should stand up for Jonathan so he can find a partner and marry him.” I deserve the right to feel just as miserable as straight people (quoting Roseanne supporting gay rights). And then I want to marry a divorce attorney specializing in gay divorce. Cha-ching.

Special thanks to Lara, mom, dad, Matt, Mike , Matt 2, Jessica, and Rachel for motivating me to get sober and stay.

Thank you Zac, Gil, Emanuel, Andy, and Daniel for being my family. As well as others (you know who you are) that I see on a regular basis as we trudge the road of happy destiny one day at a time.

Much love and gratitude,

Jonathan B