A Better Version of Me

My brother once asked me if I was on drugs. I replied, “No, Dan, I’m not on drugs.” He paused for a few seconds, looked at me and said, “you are the only person I’ve ever known who could look someone so honestly in the eyes and lie so deviously.”

Towards the end of a nearly two-year battle with daily meth use, I lost everything. I was 134 pounds with a 27-inch waist, gray skin, and sick with pneumonia. I thought I was fabulous. l developed an interesting relationship with the truth and I lost the ability to be honest. Sex was not interesting unless I was high, and even then, it came with great dysfunction. I lost my connection with God unless I was praying to get out of a dire situation, but I wasn’t willing to make any changes. I kept trying to keep it all together and make a life with meth work. I’d forget to pay the electric bill and have to drape a 100-foot drop cord over the balcony and plug it into a neighbor’s wall to have power. The rent was always behind, the food in the fridge would spoil because I forgot to eat, and I was blind to these problems. I lost integrity because I couldn’t show up anywhere on time or at all. I thought my behavior was justified because other people did me wrong and I harbored resentments. The only service I provided to others was misery, drama, and my body. Living a life based on spiritual principles was nonexistent.

I eventually found my way to CMA and started a new chapter of my life. The people I met in early recovery were filled with joy, and they would say things like, “we can do this one day at a time; get a sponsor to work with you on the Steps; keep things simple; don’t future trip; find a home group; find a higher power; be of service.” This was a new language, but I was willing to learn it as I knew without a doubt that my love affair with meth was over. I took all these suggestions to heart and followed through. I got a sponsor, found a home group, and subscribed to the one-day-at-a-time concept.

A. The Foundation Steps.

Step One (honesty)
When I found the rooms of CMA I surrendered. I stopped fighting a daily battle with meth and I started embracing life again. The first step was to get honest and admit I am powerless over crystal meth and it makes my life unmanageable. This wasn’t an easy task, but I was all out of good ideas. My meth use turned my life upside down and I was tired of living like that. I discovered if I stop using meth, I no longer had to cover up what was really going on with me. I had a lot of shame attached to my meth use and too much pride to admit defeat. Being honest about my disease and willing to start telling the truth was, and still is, incredibly freeing. I discovered if I become more truthful about my feelings and actions, I only have one story to tell. Lastly, I committed to the idea of total abstinence from meth and all other drugs—even alcohol, special K, and poppers.

Step Two (hope)
A wise man once said, “If you are a sober man who knows what happens to him when he puts drugs into his body, then you’re a sober man experiencing a moment of insanity.” These words resonated with me, and I discovered I needed to do something when I experienced these kinds of thoughts. I could call a friend in CMA, call my Twelve Step CMA sponsor, or connect with my higher power. The last one was tricky as I lost the ability to pray for anything except to be rescued or when I felt guilt for using meth after swearing I’d never use again. It was a vicious cycle that went something like this: “God, please get me through the night, guide me to safety, and I promise I’ll never do that again.” I can’t tell you how many times this happened.

I was raised Jewish and never really had a problem with a higher power. I just didn’t know how to ask for help and guidance to improve the quality of my life. When I came to CMA and got honest about being a meth addict, I discovered that there was hope for me and my addiction. My sponsor told me to re-establish a relationship with my higher power and bring a sense of spirituality into my life. I eventually understood the need to do just that. These days I take some time in the morning to pray for another day of recovery from addiction and pray for other people’s well being. This is a simple and effective routine.

Step Three (faith)
The process of getting clean and changing my life introduced me to one of my major hang-ups. I like to control things. I like to know how things may turn out before starting a project. It’s like knowing how a movie ends before seeing it. By re-establishing my connection with a higher power, I learned about faith. I discovered I don’t have to run everything and manipulate others to produce the outcome I desire. All I can do is my part. I show up for life and do any footwork that’s required, then let go of the results. I have no control over how something is going to turn out, but I have developed faith that I’ll be taken care of if I show up for life instead of living in fear. My sponsor used to tell me it’s ok to say, “I don’t know,” because that leaves the door open for a man to be teachable. Today I am teachable and though I struggle sometimes with the control thing, I can easily recognize my behavior and let go.

B. The Understanding Me and What Needs to Change Steps.

Step Four (courage)
It’s a courageous act to take the time and write out an inventory of resentments, a history of sex and relationships, and a list of fears. When I did my first inventory I didn’t know how to get started. What I learned is there are many approaches to this process. My sponsor instructed me to do the assignment in columns which worked for me because I liked the visual spreadsheet approach. Row one: resentments of people, places, and things. Row two: what the resentment is. Row three: how did the resentment affect me? Row four: what role did I play in the resentment? Row five: what defect of character comes up? I repeated this process and recognized that I had difficulty accepting responsibility for when I was wrong. I harbored resentments because it was easier to blame someone or something else for how I was feeling.

After looking at resentments, I explored my sexual history and relationships. I was able to understand how I’ve treated my partners and learn things I wanted to change. I’ve had sex with many men and the inventory showed me times when I was having fun, and times when I was using sex for validation and self-worth. As I learned in Step One, I had difficulty with honesty. I learned the key to a healthier relationship is communication with my partner. I wrote out a sexual ideal that helped me see what I wanted and was worthy of in future relationships. The inventory showed me that sex is a healthy thing if I’m aware of my intentions before going into it.

The final inventory was on fear. I wrote out a list of my fears, why I feared them, and if my fear was realistic. Fears kept me from change. I revealed the need to acknowledge and walk through my fears to grow. In my addiction, I didn’t want to change anything because of fear of the unknown. Reality check: life is always changing. I can choose to change with it or remain stagnant. Today, I embrace change.

Step Five (integrity)
After completing my inventory, I shared it with my sponsor. I initially thought he’d judge me or not believe that I experienced certain things, but instead he listened and treated me with respect. It was freeing, and eye opening. It gave me clarity to start making significant changes towards becoming the person I wanted to be. At my core, I am a good man with integrity. I’m kind, compassionate, loving, and I care about other people. This step helped me embrace my assets and recognize how fear crippled me. I no longer react to the world in a negative way.

Step Six (willingness) and Step Seven (humility)
When I did my fourth step, I compiled a list of “character defects.” These are behaviors that no longer serve me. They are born from fear, and they block me from growth. I used these behaviors as defense mechanisms, but I discovered they were defending the wrong things. I must practice willingness to acknowledge these behaviors and have the humility to change how I react to situations. I’ve learned it’s ok to make mistakes, because I am not perfect. It is important to have friends in my life who let me know when I’m falling out of this practice. I’m no longer defensive, and I pay attention to what my friends are saying as it helps me to steer towards a healthier path.

Step Eight (brotherly and sisterly love) and Step Nine (justice)
When I was using meth, I never thought I owed anything to anybody. I believed my behavior was justified and all the negative things happening to me were caused by the actions of others. Steps four through seven told a different story, and they prepared me to start taking responsibility for my actions by making amends to others. My sponsor instructed me to write out a list that included people that were close to me whom I hurt, and the one financial institution I ran from—the Internal Revenue Service. This was an act of love, as I wanted the people I harmed to know that I was sincerely sorry for any wrongdoings and asked them what they wanted from me to set the record straight. And as for the tax man, I finally paid him in full. Interesting how funds were available now that I was no longer spending it on meth.

C. The Maintenance Steps.

Step Ten (perseverance and responsibility)
Step Ten is about responsibility. I no longer reserve the right to tell anybody they have to accept me and my intolerable attitude. I need to be accountable, and by doing so, people want me around. As I go through my week, I have an opportunity to review my day and take an inventory of my behavior—good and bad. I’ll admit I don’t do this every day, but I do it several times throughout the week. A part of healthier living is being the best version of me. If I owe an amend or apology I need to take care of it right away. I no longer need to harbor resentments. In addition, I must set aside time for prayer and meditation, even if it’s brief. If my inventory displays my lack of spiritual connection, I have an opportunity to enhance it. Most of all, the inventory will help me help others. Service is a vital component to recovery. I need to stay connected with other addicts on a regular basis.

Step Eleven (spirituality)
After the untimely death of my sponsor, who worked with me for thirteen years, I was without sponsorship for a while. I eventually found a new sponsor who was all about meditation, prayer, and calming exercises. This was appealing, as I wanted to increase my spiritual practices. He helped me tremendously in this area. He was leading some workshops at the first CMA Los Angeles retreat and he invited me to go. I‘d never been to a retreat for fear of someone trying to convert me, but this time I was open to the idea. It’s no wonder this is the eleventh step and not the first. I had to do all the work in steps four through nine to have a clear mind and be open to increasing this area of my life.

Step Twelve (service)
I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. All I had to do was take direction and simple suggestions from those who came to CMA before me. They showed me how to achieve long term recovery from the grip of meth addiction. I started sponsoring men and women over twenty years ago and I continue to sponsor people today. It is one of the most rewarding parts of my program. In addition, I’ve held meeting commitments and eventually found my way to general service work. The work we do in general service ensures that doors will always be open for newcomers to walk through all over the world, and I am grateful to be part of the process.

I walked through the doors of CMA many years ago and I never turned back. I have gone from being a broken man with a lack of spiritual principles to a man whose life is dependent on them. The Twelve Steps are a way of life, and today they are my solution to the meth problem. Whatever I’m going through, and whatever happens to me, I have a step I can refer to that can help me through it. I no longer live in fear, and I do my best not to predict the future. I continue attending CMA meetings to connect with my friends and hear how they use the Twelve Steps. Thanks to all who came before me for having an open door to welcome this newcomer many years ago.

My Steps to Freedom

My name is R. J. and I am a grateful recovering crystal meth addict. People always ask me what RJ stands for. I used to tell them “Roll a Joint”. Soon it became “Rampant Junkie”. Today it is “Recovery Journey”. But it certainly was not always that way. Cue flashback nightmare sequence music…

January 27, 2015. After verbally detonating on my 79-year old mother when she opened a piece of my mail, she simply says, “That’s it. I’m calling the police.”

I thought she was kidding. She was not. In hindsight it was the bravest thing I had ever witnessed my mom doing.

A few minutes later two officers arrive and try to detain me after I flip out. That’s what happens when you’re strung out on marijuana, Percocet, Xanax, Valium, Molly, GHB, and Crystal Methamphetamine. One grabs my arm, I swat his arm away, scratching him across the face. I get knocked down. As the cuffs go on, I shriek, turn my head, and bite one of them on the arm…hard.

And I, this middle-aged gay man from the upper middle-class Philadelphia suburbs, get dragged across my mother’s lawn – complete with all visible neighbors looking on disdainfully – to be locked in the psych ward at Camden County Correctional Facility.

The slam of that jail door signified the end…and a beginning. After all, who plans a sobriety date? As that magnificent key locked me into cell #40, a window opened. And as the slam’s echo shuddered through the cell, I whimpered and turned to face that door’s double-reinforced plexiglass.

Step One. I spent that first week in a turtle suit (a green, quilted Velcro gown reserved only for the threatening and certifiable) with only toilet paper and lace-less sneakers. I slept in a rusty bunk bed on an inch-thick mattress that the prior user had urinated on. The ammonia fumes were so overpowering my eyes teared every time I laid upon it…well, in addition to the constant crying as I realized my 21-year run was over. That first week I wet the bed four times, compounding the already soiled problem. I not only was alone in that cell for 23 and a half hours a day, but I also spent my 39th birthday in there…detoxing…hopeless.

One day the psych doctor did an intake with me. I could barely answer his questions. I had fried my brain so badly that all I could do was open my mouth and cry. Thankfully, he understood.
“Would you like something to read?” he asks.

I nod eagerly, my words continuing to escape me despite the fact that I had privately tutored English for over 20 years.

He handed me a beginner’s guide to meditation. I snatched it up, forfeiting my half hour out of my cell to devour it. I remember opening immediately to the St. Francis of Assisi Prayer–otherwise known as the Eleventh Step Prayer. I read it. I said it. I repeated it. I memorized it. I took it to heart. And with this budding spiritual ritual, my brain started to return.

Soon thereafter on a gray, winter day of about 20 degrees, with no heat or hot water in the ward, I climbed atop the bunk bed to meditate. Getting into the now familiar position, I slowly closed my eyes and started silently chanting that same prayer. The singularity of focus distracted me from my shivering.

“It is in dying to self that we are granted eternal life…” my mind said, ending one round of the prayer.

Just then, amid the external swirling cold, one single beam of sunlight penetrated the gloom and hit the slit window of the cell. In my ironically peaceful state, I could feel the cell and my body flood with warmth.

I felt something greater than myself was present.

I slowly opened my eyes and spoke my first full sentence of my recovery.
“God…is that you?”

Just then, a bird alighted on the window sill outside. It stared at me with cocked head and searching eyes. Time stopped.

He hopped away, then turned his little head back at me to stare again before departing as if to say, “Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll be ok. See you on the other side.” He flew away, and the sunbeam slowly slipped from sight.

And I became a believer in a power greater than myself. Step Two.

I was released from jail on my own recognizance on the condition that I go straight to rehab. My brother, also my lawyer, picked me up and took me directly there. When he dropped me off, I remember looking at him and saying, “I’m not scared.”

The truth is I wasn’t. I was terrified. And so began 28 of the best days of my life…because I stayed willing (and had I left I’d have returned to jail). I kept hearing from my new acquaintances to keep my ears open because someone may say something that would change my life. Like most of the words I have heard in this recovery journey, they were true.

The third night there, a complete stranger came to speak to the room, giving away what was so freely given to him. He started his story, explaining how his father was an abusive alcoholic. My ears tuned right in. He went on to say how at 9 years old, when things went smoothly in his house because his dad didn’t drink or hit anyone, he would take an inventory of all of the actions he had done that day.

And he would repeat them day in and day out, regardless of the ensuing events, trying to keep the peace as much as he could at such a tender, young age. He couldn’t. And neither could I. Sitting and listening to him, I flashed back to my 9-year-old self-witnessing my father in a drunken stupor threatening to kill my mother for something trifling. I retreated to my room, cursing him out while writing down vows to never be so mean, so disrespectful, so violent, so very wrong.

And I didn’t do that. No, no. I was far, far worse.

When the police carried me out of my mom’s house, the last words I said to her were, “I’ll kill you.” The look of shock and horror on her face will forever remain with me.

From that speaker’s sharing, I started to understand my addictive behavior fueled by self-inflicted pain. Whether I was born with this condition doesn’t particularly matter to me. The truth is I have it. And I always will. But with the clear messages of experience, strength and hope I have been able to grow, letting the past dissipate in favor of hope. And at 106 days clean I left rehab with a second family tucked safely in my heart.

I had a grand plan to go to a room in a house from a bunk-mate I had met in jail. My biological family didn’t like that. They said, “You will do this recovery our way or we will never speak to you again.” With a newly employed respectful, serene mindset, I replied, “I have nowhere else to go. If it doesn’t work out, I have to learn to fail and pick myself back up to move on.” And they let me.
Right from rehab I arrived with two trash bags of clothes and literally a dime to my name. The daughter of my bunk-mate opened the door. Her face fell.
“I am so sorry. We already rented the room.”

And for the first time in my life, something amazing happened thanks to the foundation I had worked so hard to build. I stayed calm. I spent the night there despite learning there were drugs in the house and witnessing another tenant beat his girlfriend. I repeated both the Serenity Prayer and my new, old friend the St. Francis prayer. That night, Step Three happened. I was out in the big, bad world with nowhere to go. The next morning, I called my beloved counselor from rehab and relayed my situation. She immediately starts calling places. She gives me numbers to call. She yells across the hall to another counselor.

“RJ’s in trouble. Know of any housing?”

That counselor makes a phone call to a friend who runs a recovery house in Northeast Philadelphia. A bed had opened ten minutes prior to my call. One hour later I arrived to begin a 7 month stay that afforded me more foundation, more fellowship, and some of the best memories of my life to date.

I got a home group. In fact, I got two of them. I did more than my 90 in 90. I had to – I am on a life and death errand…and I always will be. And I am ok with that. But one crucial piece was missing: a sponsor.

I had asked someone who spoke at rehab but couldn’t get a hold of him upon exiting. Fine. That life and death errand impelled me to find another, so I did. I sat in Step Four with that sponsor for a month as he blew off my step work three times in a row. Fine. Life and death errand. One night at a meeting I heard a young lady speak for her two-year anniversary. I was mesmerized by the simplicity of her positive message, the easy-breezy way she humorously relayed her past, and the level of importance she ascribed to the program itself. This was clearly my sponsor. I marched right up to her and humbly asked her to work with her. While I’ve learned that it is unconventional for a woman to work with a man, I didn’t care. First of all, I’m gay. Secondly, she has what I wanted spiritually. Third, my unclouded instinct moved my feet right to her.

Through Steps Four and Five, this woman achieved a feat I never thought anyone could perform. Sitting down to my resentment list, she noticed my Dad was #1 on the list. Follow:

“So RJ, you’re an alcoholic addict?”
“Yes.”
“And your dad was an alcoholic.”
“Yes.”
“And RJ, have you forgiven yourself?”
“Yes!”
“Then why can’t you forgive him? He suffered from the same thing you did.”

In that moment, after four questions, 24 years of pain floated from my chest. I cried for about an hour in a coffee shop, emotions swirling with less and less regret in favor of more and more freedom. Thank God for sponsorship. Thank God for her.

One note: I am clearly a crystal meth addict. Alcohol was not my first (or second or third) drug of choice. However, the description of the alcoholic in the AA Big Book is (or today, closer to WAS) me: spiritual malady, physical allergy, mental obsession…today, I proudly straddle my recovery program between AA and CMA. Why? Two reasons: 1) A.B.C. (Alcohol Becomes Crystal) and 2) fellowship and recovery are fellowship and recovery wherever I go…as long as I stay willing.

Steps Six and Seven for me entailed a very private, intimate experience with God directly following my Fifth Step that I could never describe accurately in words. Suffice to say, I kept my feet moving with open mind and willing feet.

Steps Eight and Nine are an ongoing process for me. I caused a lot of wreckage from some painful past experiences. At 25 years old I lost a promising career in television game shows after a nearly fatal poisoning onset by a concert fog machine. I was blacklisted after bringing a Worker’s Comp suit against a major network. I also contracted HIV from having reckless sex. Finally, an ex-boyfriend committed suicide, and when the police found him swinging from a chin-up bar, he had my love letters at his feet. These happened within 5 months of one another. Other unfortunate events occurred as they always will. Some were precipitated by my using and some were not; however, in my miserable state I became very adept at screaming, punching, destroying, and alienating anyone and anything. But this program has taught me to show up, feel it, and move through it – clean and even sometimes serene. Like many of my fellows, my past has now become my best asset. I am convinced that staying in Step Nine for as long as it takes will satisfy the question my sponsor repeatedly puts to me –

“How free do you want to be, RJ?”

Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve are my favorites. They keep me present and resentment-free. When I admit when I am wrong, I become accountable. By becoming accountable, I shine a light on it. When I shine a light on it, it dies. Maintaining my relationship with my Higher Power–a God of an understanding I got to create myself–affords me an ultimate fail-safe when issues arise. And any chance to help someone (addict or not) is well worth it, as I strive to recreate and provide examples like those who were so very kind to me. From these three steps, my life has evolved into an unflagging sense of purpose. And that purpose has its promises of rewards.

The date was December 14, 2015.

I walked into court to face my past actions–a possible 5-year prison sentence for 5 different charges–harassment on my mother, disturbing the peace, paraphernalia possession, resisting arrest, and the biggie–aggravated assault on a police officer.

With my lawyer/older brother representing, we faced the judge who had reviewed two certificates from graduating rehab, reference letter from my counselor there, and two reference letters from managers of the four recovery houses I had lived in for 7 months. They saw the bullet points of service, footwork, step work, speaking, sponsor relationship, sponsees, and my plan for submitting this very story.

And in one brief, powerful moment, I heard words I never dreamed of hearing – “Your case is fully dismissed.”

I walked out of that court a free man. The kicker? December 14th was the date 21 years ago when I first picked up a drug. Amazing. And so I went off to enjoy a moment even sweeter than the dismissal.

En route back to work to continue my newly created life, I stopped at my mother’s home for the greatest and most solemn of hugs right in her living room where almost a year ago she saved her baby’s life by calling the police.

The Big Book of AA states in its Promises that “we will be amazed before we are halfway through…”

Certainly true. But for me, I never want to be “halfway through” – for if there is a halfway point, there may be an end coming. Never wanting to go back to the life I left behind, I refresh my commitment to this program daily. They say the journey of 1000 miles begins with a step. Thank God I found 12 of them.

And I cannot do it alone. Nor do I want to. For we are in this recovery journey together. Whether live and one-on-one with my sponsor or sponsees, en masse in a meeting, or simply through this page to you – the reader – I feel a connection that is more powerful and more sustaining than any mind-altering substance I have ever put into my body.

My name is RJ, and I am a grateful recovering crystal meth addict. And I have almost a year clean. I hope…I hope this story finds its way to your heart somehow.

On Second Thought...

After my ex-boyfriend and I broke up at the end of 2010, I declared the following year to be a year of partying and celebration of being single and free. So I decided to check out a few circuit parties. My ex-boyfriend and I had traveled around the country and attended circuit parties together; now it was time to experience it on my own.

I knew that at some point I would have to give up drugs altogether. I knew this because I had been using drugs for about 10 years and my life had gradually gotten worse. I was stuck in the cycle of using, craving, swearing that I would never do it again, and then restarting the cycle every two weeks.

I grew up in Malaysia in a family of alcoholics. My uncles, my aunts, and my grandfather all drank to oblivion every night. My grandmother did not drink. She and I were close.

Among the many scars of an alcoholic family, the memory that stands out the most is one of my uncle who drank so much that he had a stroke which paralyzed him from the waist down and erased most of his memory. His family had to care for him until he passed away years later. His love for alcohol was greater than his love for his family.

I didn’t drink because I didn’t like the taste of alcohol and I didn’t want to turn out like my aunts and uncles. Casual drug use, however, was a different story. When I moved to New York City in 1999, I met a couple in an AOL chat room who I became intimate with. They would invite me over on the weekends. One of them was a drug dealer, and they introduced me to ecstasy, special K and hallucinogens but never meth. They knew how addictive it was. They showed me love and kindness, comfort and sexual exploration. This was the entryway into a deeper longing for intimacy and connection.

..While in San Francisco in 2001 for a conference, I met someone in an AOL chat room who asked if I partied and if I would like to try some crystal meth. I knew what meth was, but had no idea how addictive the drug was. Eventually, I caved in and spent the next four days up. I never saw the world the same way from that point on. Crystal took away my anxiety, my fears, and my inhibitions.

When I returned to New York from San Francisco I met someone at a bar who I started dating and who was also into the party scene. This new relationship escalated my drug use. We moved in together into a tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side weeks after meeting. It was only a matter of time before I lost my job when the Internet bubble of 2001 popped. This allowed me to spend more time at home using and partying with him. Sadly, I found out that the person I was living with was still with his partner. He was using me for drugs, sex and a place to stay. Such deception! We were through. I asked him to move out shortly thereafter. He harassed me every day, sometimes calling me 20 times a day.

It was at this time I decided to come out to my Mom who still lived in Malaysia. I told her that I was still her son and I loved her. We cried. She knew but still was sad. It was toward the end of the call that she said there were a lot of sexual diseases out there and she hoped I was taking care of myself. I told her that I was and we hung up. The following day, I developed 103-degree fever that I couldn’t get rid of for three weeks. Since I was sleeping 20 hours a day, my doctor asked me to come in for some tests. A week later, the doctor told me I had HIV. It was a devastating blow. The doctor advised me to start medication immediately. I had 193 T-cells and an 8 million viral load. I was very sick with fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, thrush, and discomfort. I was in the process of seroconverting. How did I get here? Death was not far away.

At this point I contemplated suicide, and how to do it. I was at home and recovering one day when I saw a bright light. It spoke to me. It was calm and soothing. It said you have a couple of choices: you can either continue down this road to more pain and death or you can choose a different life. The choice is yours to make. Some would call this a white light moment. This was about having compassion toward myself and a start towards a Buddhist belief and spirituality. I hadn’t connected the dots yet: sobriety and spirituality.

Two weeks later was September 11, 2001. I lived 20 blocks from the World Trade Center Towers. I was numb, unable to feel and still recovering from the seroconversion. I used crystal meth occasionally to help me not feel anything for the next four years. I became completely dependent on the drug. I thought about going to CMA but wasn’t ready to give it up.

I used crystal meth to stay up on nights and weekends playing World of Warcraft with friends until I discovered the needle. When I did, it became sexual. I lost two jobs and many potential relationships. Friends started worrying. They tried to help me but didn’t know how.

I was not only desperate, I was stuck in a repetitive cycle of using and despair. The drug was no longer a fun choice. It created more chaos and drama than I could handle.

I always had big dreams which included traveling around the world, but crystal meth bounded and suffocated me within the confinement of my apartment. I stayed up for nights and days, and suffered from paranoia, seeing shadow people, bloodshot eyes, and weight loss. I realized that I needed to find a way to change all this in order to live a happy, healthy life. I craved intimacy and connection. Crystal meth may have created a temporary relief when high but when I stopped using the depression, loneliness and hopelessness hit me, and took my self-esteem and self-worth along with it. This had to stop.

I asked my friend Stephen to take me to a meeting. It was on a cold Tuesday night and the meeting room was packed with other like-minded addicts! Being at that kind of meeting for the first time was very scary and intimidating even though my dear friend was there for reinforcement and support. Throughout the meeting a lot of people shared about their experiences, concerns and problems. Some stories were very personal and heartfelt. I heard my own story in someone else’s share. Since I had a lot of shame about my addiction, I didn’t think sharing my experience with a bunch of strangers was going to help solve my problems. But I soon realized that I didn’t have to take my problems and secrets to the grave. While I was very proud of myself that I actually went to a meeting, throughout the week I experienced a lot of internal conflict whether this was the right move. I wasn’t convinced that I was an addict at all. I thought an addict is someone who was homeless and jobless and required public assistance. On second thought ... I was almost homeless, and I was jobless, and would soon require public assistance. I dragged my heels for another week before I decided to go to another meeting.

I used prior to going to that Tuesday meeting. I had two days of continuous sobriety but I went anyway. This time I went alone. It was very scary to be there by myself and I felt extremely uncomfortable. I did not want to be noticed or recognized. I made sure no one knew who I was. I didn’t raise my hand when asked if there was anyone new to the meeting nor did I introduce myself to anyone.

When I looked around the room, I noticed I was the only Asian guy. I felt out of place and convinced myself I didn’t belong. I didn’t understand some of the Twelve Step terminology that people were saying such as “sponsorship,” “fellowship” or “step work.” I kept myself calm by sitting still on the corner of the chair and breathing slowly. I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. I made it through my second meeting and rushed out of the room as soon as I could. The third time I went, the person sitting next to me turned my way and introduced himself. He became my first sponsor.

In my first 30 days, I became friends with a handful of people. I kept a lot of things to myself as I was afraid to share at meetings, thinking that other people might judge me sharing my experiences. I had a false sense of pride and ego that prevented me from reaching out and asking for help. In my mind I was better than they were: I hadn't hit rock bottom. I didn’t get arrested and I didn’t go to jail. I learned later on that sharing was the only way for other people to get to know me.

The first 90 days of sobriety proved to be the most crucial period for me. Crystal meth is a very potent drug. When I decided to remove this from of my life, I realized I needed to replace the void it left with something even more powerful: spirituality. I also decided to reintroduce meditation and Buddhism back into my life. That white light moment came back to me.

As I started to meditate again, everything that I had previously learned about Buddhism came back to me quickly. All the wisdom I had learned — the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-fold Path, the Twelve Dependent Arising, and Emptiness — started to become clear to me again as the fog of craving and using lifted. Buddhism became a very handy tool throughout my path towards sobriety.

I kept myself busy. I restructured my schedule to include more time for rest, Twelve Step meetings and the gym. I found that having a very regimented schedule was exactly what I needed. By introducing some structure into my life, it helped me focus on the things that mattered and kept my life simple.

I met with my sponsor weekly and he taught me about the principles of the Twelve Step program. He taught me how the program worked and how to work the program, and he guided me through reading the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. He guided me through step work in the same fashion that his sponsor had done it with him. We spoke on the phone daily. My erratic thinking began to settle a bit with the help of my sponsor’s wisdom and guidance, and I was soon able to tackle some major decisions in my life. One of those decisions was not to date as it would distract me from my path of self-discovery. I also decided to keep my life as simple as possible avoiding distractions and focusing only on sobriety and recovery.

Four months into my recovery, my sponsor and I parted ways due to a disagreement on whether I should also go to AA meetings. The reason I did not want to go to AA was because I didn’t identify as an alcoholic. Drinking wasn’t my problem. I will always be grateful to him for helping me stay clean and sober during this time. My emotions had been raw and my thoughts were unfiltered and undisciplined, but he began to help me change for the better.

I have learned that my experience and thinking isn’t very different from other fellows. I now consider myself an addict. My ethnicity has nothing to do with my recovery. The only requirement to be in a Twelve Step program is a desire to stop using drugs and all other mind-altering substances. For me, the willingness to stay clean and sober is also an important attribute.

After several years of sobriety, I continue to take an active role within the program and the fellowship. I chair meetings within NYCMA as well as taking on other service positions. I have held committee positions over the past five years on NYCMA’s Share-A-Day, an annual event where we bring workshops and out-of-town speakers to the New York City fellowship. I represent NYCMA as its Public Information Chair. I also sponsor fellow addicts and I reach out to newcomers in the hope I can help them stay clean and sober.

My Eskimo

I was told once that an Eskimo is someone who brings you in from the cold. My Eskimos brought me from the cold, dark depths of my addiction to a light, warm, and loving room filled with people who care. My life as an addict changed through the years. Through the trials of my addiction, many people came into my life and saved or guided me to a better path.

It was hard to be openly gay growing up in a small, redneck, religious town. It didn’t help being brought up in a strong Hispanic Catholic family. My life was sheltered due to my upbringing. My dad had a cousin who was flamboyantly gay. He was the outcast of the family and was spoken of badly by others in the community. I knew I was gay by the age of 10 and I had to hide it because of my dad’s cousin. I developed shame for being gay at that early age.

At the age of 16, I found an outlet to express myself while hiding my sexuality. I discovered modeling. I was approached by a company to model kid’s clothes, and things took off from there. It helped that I grew up close to a large city within driving distance. My parents bought me my first car, which enabled me to attend modeling events in the big city. This was my big break because I was away from my parents and for the first time, and I could truly be myself.

One day at one of my modeling events, I met Michael, who was a year older than me. We started to talk. I learned he was gay and out to his parents. We started to hang out a lot. He was the first person who made me feel safe about being myself. He asked me if I had ever tried drugs or drank anything. I replied no because my parents kept me on a tight rein. He pulled out a bottle of vodka he had taken from his parents. We then shared our first drink. I didn’t like the feeling at first, but I did come to like it a lot later.

As our friendship grew, we started to like each other a lot more and we became boyfriends. We decided to go dancing together. We found a nightclub open to 18-year olds. We were having so much fun on the dancefloor. We decided to take a break from dancing, and we were approached by this guy and his boyfriend. They offered us a little bag of white stuff and this little blue pill. I later learned that the white stuff was cocaine, and the blue pill was ecstasy. Me and my boyfriend said we never tried anything like that. We agreed to try it if we kept an eye on each other. From my first use I felt like I was flying. It was an amazing feeling unlike anything I’ve felt before. We hung out with this couple the rest of the night. I wanted more of this stuff because I loved the way it made me feel. At the same time, it scared me, so I didn’t use anymore that night.

After dating Michael for two years, he finished high school and moved away to college. I was alone and scared again with one year left in high school. I reverted back to hiding my sexuality. I became one of the popular kids in school, but felt lonely inside because I could not be my true self anywhere.

I survived high school, and by the late 1980s I started college. I decided to move away so I could be myself without any judgment from my family or my hometown friends. College was freeing. One of the first things I did was join a gay organization on campus. I wanted to surround myself with people like me. This is where I met my next boyfriend of four years. This was also a time I experienced incredible grief from the loss of some of my new friends to AIDS. In addition, this was the beginning of my binge drinking and occasional use of cocaine to cover up my grief and shame.

After finishing college, I accepted a job as a medical auditor in Los Angeles. This was my first attempt at sobriety. I decided to leave my using, drinking, and the boyfriend behind me. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and things were hard and lonely for me. Then I met my next boyfriend, Aldo. We lived a very good and healthy life without using and drinking for the first five years.

After five years together, Aldo and I moved to Austin for my career. The next five years would include a career change for me to real estate. In that time, Aldo contracted HIV and passed it on to me. This was the end of our relationship and the beginning of my spiral out of control.

I started to travel a lot because of my job. Before I knew it, I was reunited with cocaine. I wanted to cover up the hurt and pain of having HIV. I felt like life was not worth living, and I doubted I’d ever have a person in my life that would love me because of the HIV. My cocaine use progressed within a year, and it went hand-in-hand with risky sex at the bathhouses, sex parties, and circuit parties.

I was traveling for work when I met this guy online who wanted to hang out. I went to his place, then he proceeded to ask if I had ever tried crystal. I said no. He took a pipe out, then took a hit off it, then passed it over to me. I was very nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I took that first hit. I thought I inhaled a cloud from heaven. At that point, I knew my life had changed. I was in love, so I thought, with crystal and with this man that I had just met.

I continued dating this guy, who became physically and mentally abusive, for over two years. I knew I could not get out of this relationship. I was so blinded by him, the abuse, and the drugs. The physical and mental abuse was getting worse, but I was in love. I became dependent on him and crystal. I knew I would not find another person who would love me and accept me because of my HIV.

I was suffering so much. My physical appearance and health were taking a toll. Self-care was nonexistent. I left my job in real estate because my health was getting worse. I almost died in the hospital three times from pneumonia, but continued my life with the abusive boyfriend and crystal. They became the loves of my life. I was using crystal every day. Then one day, I had enough. I told my boyfriend I could not be with him anymore, because I didn’t want to live anymore. My self-esteem was shot, and I never thought a healthy trusting relationship with another man was possible.

I decided to plan out my last big hurrah in a different city! I was meeting this so-called friend to party all weekend, so that I could use enough crystal to give me the courage to end my life. Things went worse than I planned. This person had a plan for me that I did not know. He drugged my drink and then shot me up with crystal. I blacked out for 48 hours and woke up to being raped by several strangers. I didn’t remember how I got to this place with these people. I was finally able to get dressed and run out the door. I found my car and drove for four hours attempting to go home. I was so high I could not keep my eyes open. I stopped at a friend’s place so he could take me to the hospital. By this point, I truly wanted to kill myself. I could not stop crying. The doctor asked if I was willing to do anything to help myself. I said “yes”.

I was admitted to detox for a week before being sent to a rehab for 90 days. I needed help because I couldn’t stop using. The abuse of my ex-boyfriend and nearly losing my job was a wake-up call. While in rehab, I decided to do anything and everything I could to better myself. I recall getting up every morning and climbing this hill to join a group called Seekers. We would have a short 12 Step meeting every morning and then watch the sunrise. At those meetings I would cry and ask my Higher Power for help. When I completed my 90 days, I started attending AA meetings because that’s where the counselors in rehab told me to go.

After three months of going to AA meetings, a friend told me about a CMA meeting being held once a week. I went to that meeting. I walked in not knowing what to expect. I sat down and listened as people shared. It was a mixed crowd, but it didn’t matter as they used crystal like I did. I finally realized I was not alone. There were people like me, and they were talking about my life, my feelings, and my thoughts out loud. These early experiences helped me develop the courage to start attending LGBTQ 12 Step meetings.

I met my sponsor Scott at my first LGBTQ AA meeting. I told him I was attending AA meetings at another clubhouse because I was not ready to deal with being around gay men. The LGBTQ meetings helped me develop comfort and extinguish shame around being gay which I carried for many years.

Around the time of my one year sober anniversary, a CMA meeting was created at an LGBTQ recovery clubhouse. I started attending these meetings, and put myself back into the gay community in order to continue facing my fears about being around gay men. After a year and half of going to CMA meetings, I built a strong sober family in recovery. I felt my program was getting stronger, and I’d never have to use crystal again.

I planned a vacation to Los Angeles for my birthday. I called a few friends to meet me at my hotel room. One of my friends brought crystal. I hadn’t been around crystal or seen it since I walked into recovery. I was so tempted by it and I relapsed. The problem, I realized, was I forgot about the paranoia I go through when using crystal. I told my friend to leave after only using for one day.

Stuck in Los Angeles and high—I needed help. I was in a state of paranoia and CRAZY. There was a large event being held at my hotel for two foreign dignitaries and a lot of FBI agents all around the hotel because of a bomb threat. This made things feel a lot worse than it was. I didn’t want to leave my hotel room, and at the same time I knew I needed a meeting.

I didn’t know where the CMA meetings were. I eventually called my sponsor and started reaching out to my friends back home. I told them I relapsed in this strange city. I was crying so much—I needed help. I received a call from one of my friends who reached out to a friend of theirs, who then reached out to another friend of theirs, who lived in Los Angeles. This stranger in Los Angeles called me and asked if I would like to go to a meeting. I said yes. I never met this person in my life. His name was Marc. Marc told me about a meeting happening that night and he was going to pick me up from my hotel so we could go together. He took to me to my first Los Angeles CMA meeting, and he spent the next two days with me before I flew back home. I realized this was my Higher Power working for me by connecting me with this man. The power of the fellowship!

When I returned home, my sponsor picked me up from the airport and drove us directly to a CMA meeting. At the meeting, I started to tell my story of the crazy experience I just went through in Los Angeles. I picked up my desire chip to stay sober. At that moment, I made a conscious decision that no matter what I wanted to stay sober.

I restarted my program by attending CMA meetings almost every day. I started to volunteer with our local CMA group, and at every LGBTQ recovery event being held. Before I knew it, I was serving on our CMA business committee. Then I became the chair for the CMA Group. I built a strong fellowship of CMA addicts around me. I even started to sponsor people.

After I established some clean time, thoroughly worked the 12 Steps, and sponsored others, I wanted to give back to CMA on a different level. I ran for and was elected as the next CMA delegate for the state of Texas. In addition, I was elected to serve as a board member for the LGBTQ recovery clubhouse where my CMA home group meeting is held.

As I became more involved in my program, I wanted to experience my first CMA convention. I returned to Los Angeles for CMALA. This was my first trip back to Los Angeles since my relapse. I surrounded myself with old and new friends from CMA. The convention was such a profound and enlightening experience, and I wanted to go to conventions in other cities. I continued my journey by attending the first Gay and Sober Men Conference in New York City. It was the first of its kind. This conference helped me focus on my gay shame issues, and I created great friendship in the gay recovery community around the nation.

For my fourth year of sobriety, I returned to Los Angeles to take a cake at a Saturday morning CMA meeting. I called my L.A. friend Marc and asked him to give me a cake and celebrate my anniversary with me. I recall talking to a friend about my Los Angeles relapse story, and what Marc did for me. He told me that Marc was my Eskimo. I told him I’ve never heard that phrase before. He told me an Eskimo is someone who brings a newcomer to their first meeting, or simply shares their experience, strength, and hope so the newcomer who is using drugs or alcohol can find their way—a divine intervention.

My recovery became my life, my journey, and my future. Having a strong recovery fellowship made me a better person. I give back by staying connected and bringing newcomers in from the cold by being an Eskimo.

My First Holiday Season

I was 5 months clean, and very happy to be out of the drug life. I was able to stop living the life where everything revolved around crystal, and that was a relief for me. The drug life was one I thought I’d never be able to give up. I also had been fighting my case of manufacturing meth since June and was terrified of the consequences of my actions, but found the Twelve Step life very tolerable and looked forward to keeping on the path of recovery. I felt no shame or remorse for the loss of part of my life. I had spent the majority of my time thus far among recovery people and my story wasn’t much different than most others. That is, until my first holiday season.

For the first time clean and sober, meeting my extended family brought a whole host of issues to mind. I think the loss of my 30s was one of the most difficult things I had to come to terms with eventually. I lost a whole decade to speed. I mean, what do most people do in their 30s? Have a stable family, stable employment and stable life. I was 39 and had none of that, and was finally shamed in a way that you can’t be if you spend all times in the rooms of recovery.

My cousins were close to my age and I lost contact with most of them in my downward spiral leading to my arrest. One thing was clear, early on and compared to my cousins, I seemed to have the brightest future financially and career-wise, so when we all got together in the fall of ’99, there were new emotions and truths to embrace.

One cousin was an extremely successful home builder, working with famous people on their huge Los Angeles homes. I think he drove to my aunt’s house in a Lotus. Wow! I was very happy for him, but the unavoidable thought was how much I had lost. Before my decade long debacle with crystal, I was the one who had things together and he was just getting by. But now look at us. I was shamed in a way I could never be among my recovery family.

The other cousin just had his third child, and the father in me awoke to the thought of having a family. What had I missed? And how could a child compare with the fleeting feeling meth gave me? How could I have made such a rotten bargain? Well, I willingly and happily made that bargain over and over again in the 10 years I lost. The feeling of remorse was heartbreaking.

I knew I had the potential to have a stable career with nice cars and homes. I knew I had the desire to have a family. It was as if I got slapped in the face with a life truth and I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of shame, remorse and inadequacy that filled my heart.
After all that, the only thing I could hold up was my 90-day chip and tell everyone what a good telemarketer I was. At that Thanksgiving, I grew to hate the platitude, “Well, at least you’re sober.” I learned then that the love of your family, however well intentioned, can cut you deepest.

Well, now what? The feelings of shame didn’t make me go out. I didn’t get a fantastic job right away to make the money I thought I should be making, and I didn’t find a wife right away to make babies with. The only thing I did was to go back to my recovery family and talk about it in meetings. I found I wasn’t the only one this had happened to, and the rooms of recovery made me stronger bit by bit.

That same Christmas, I served food to the homeless around our Alano Club. As anyone who has gone before me knows, service helps in a huge way. It helped me to remember that I am a broken being trying to rebuild his life, and I don’t need to do it in one giant leap. And also that the rooms of recovery are designed to help us walk in the sunlight of the Spirit and we can feel complete; it just may not happen overnight.

The truth is that each year has gotten easier. I don’t think I’ve ever welcomed the holiday season since, but I don’t dread it anymore. I do have a family now. I’m married to a fantastic woman who is in the program and I have step children and grandchildren whom I adore more than I could have thought possible. I also have a terrific job which allows me to provide for my family -- they don’t see me as a recovering addict who started out with nothing.

I found that shame and grief and self-hate can take me out as fast as a hit on the pipe.

I meet addicts as a sponsor and speaker. The one lesson which I’ve tried to communicate is that we are talented people. It takes real talent and dedication to carry on a drug life but once we focus only on recovery, we do amazing things. I find that we turn out to be terrific employees. We are hard working. We show up on time. We have good attitudes. We shouldn’t be surprised by rapid achievement in our careers. We also shouldn’t be surprised by outshining co-workers who haven’t had to go through what we have had to go through.

We can be great at relationships. The Steps teach us a new way to live without drugs and alcohol. They also teach us more loving and compassionate ways to interact with those around us - maybe even better than some of those who’ve never had to travel our path in life.

My truth is I recognized how much I had to work to make my life better. It wasn’t going to happen just because I was sober. It only happens with hard work and service and knowing that if I do everything asked of me, life is going to be just fine.

The Party Isn’t Over

Last night was CMA’s annual holiday party on Washington Square. And, wow—what a night! Hundreds of happy guys and gals eating, singing, dancing, and generally carrying on. Everybody getting their holiday groove on, everybody pitching in in some way, small or large. Will and Bruce manning the boffo buffet. Jono tinkling the ivories. Karen cutting up the dance floor, even with her leg in a brace. Sam bringing the house down with “Frosty the Crackhead.” And nobody in the place was high or drunk. That’s my idea of a happy holiday.

Eighteen years ago, I hated parties. I’d never have gone to something like that. Oh, I “partied”—but there was nothing festive or fun about it. Crystal meth offered a tantalizing fantasy of immediate, intense connection, but it was an empty promise. The reality was total isolation and profound despair. When Friday came around, I’d find another drug addict to take hostage and hide away from a world that judged and despised me. It took years of abstinence, healthy fellowship, and step work for me to realize the world didn’t hate me—I hated myself.

And in 1999, I had every reason to. Things had totally unraveled for me, starting six years before, when the love of my life had broken my heart. I felt totally abandoned—when he’d see me on the street, he’d cross to the other side. I took to spending my nights self-medicating in the bars of the East Village, seeking comfort from basically whoever was next to me at last call.

My decision-making was poor, to say the least, and within a year, at 25, I tested positive for HIV. Panicked, I made an “adult” choice and left behind my dream to be an actor—though, honestly, my drinking and drugging had pretty much stalled that plan already. Desperate to get health and life insurance, I took a dull job I quickly grew to hate. This all happened a few years before the antiretroviral cocktails came out; it was a terrifying time to have HIV. The self-loathing tape I started listening to then played on long after the medication miracle of ’97 and ’98. I was a pariah.

Sometimes, I think I would have killed myself without alcohol and drugs, particularly coke and meth, which I did almost every weekend. They were the antidote to my despair and isolation, taking me to a parallel world where the shades were always drawn. Guys in that underground city loved me—well, they loved my body, the only part of me that wasn’t twisted out of shape. No one cared what my status was. No one cared about my shattered dreams. I couldn’t see it, but in fact, no one cared about me at all.

If you’re reading this book, you can probably fill in the rest of this story. The fantasy fell apart. Within a few years my methematical solution had failed me, and I was on the brink of actual suicide. Staring at myself in the mirror at 5 a.m. one dark night, I said, “This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.”

The journey back to life—back to the real party—started right there. With the help of my few remaining friends, I found my way to a psychiatric hospital on May 21, 2000. I never intended to quit using, and certainly never imagined I’d go to those icky meetings in church basements, but that’s just what happened. Miraculously, I haven’t had a drink or drug since.

After five days in the psych ward, I went to a rehab in Pennsylvania for several weeks. The night before I came home to the city, the counselors told me that, if I wanted to stay clean, I’d need to get to meetings every day. I only knew a couple sober people in New York—one of them, my buddy Tim, gave me a rundown of all the queer-friendly groups: “Mondays you have Cocaine Anonymous on West 4th. Thursday there’s a great NA meeting, mostly lesbian heroin addicts. Amazing. Friday is AA at the seminary on 9th Avenue. There’s always Perry Street AA. And, if you’re brave, on Tuesdays there’s Crystal Meth Anonymous…”

When I walked into that tiny room at the LGBT Center and took my seat—an old, bent-up, orange metal chair—I didn’t feel especially brave. I was terrified of going back to crystal. I’d been told to do whatever it took to stay sober, and I was doing my best to follow that instruction. Don’t pick up, no matter what, and go to a meeting every day. So here I was.

Let me tell you about early CMA in New York: Tim was right—it really was different. For the first six months I came, there were never more than six or seven of us. I saw the same four guys almost every week: Bob M, Eric M, John T, and Michel B, who all had a year or two at that point. They hadn’t fled gay AA—most of them I’d see on the other nights of the week at the other fellowships—but they believed tweakers needed a room of our own where we could tell our story without any fear.

We didn’t follow a set format. Fellows today would be horrified, but there was a lot of crosstalk. It wasn’t so much a Twelve Step meeting as it was a group therapy session. Without a counselor. Well, not exactly—Bob was our reluctant shepherd. I later learned that he’d been there from the beginning: He and Enrique M had held meetings in their apartments for a few months in 1998; the next year, when Eric brought CMA back to New York after a trip to L.A., Bob helped him find a room at the Center.

Bob was a teacher, so taking us fledglings under his wing came naturally to him. He was gentle, honest, never doctrinaire. When I got 90 days, he gave me some juggling balls. “You need to learn new hobbies,” he told me.

Somehow, our little club stayed clean. But even though crystal was sweeping through New York, our numbers didn’t change. The drug had this dark reputation, and that applied to CMA, too. No one in gay recovery took us seriously. Finally, we adopted the attitude of “if we build it, they will come,” and decided to make things a bit more formal. We borrowed the format from my other home group, the Monday Cocaine Anonymous meeting. We introduced set readings, including the Steps. We offered a few concrete suggestions and encouraged people to attend other fellowships—this would also horrify a lot of people today!—giving out a list of all the gay AA, CA, and NA meetings in town. We had speakers. Certain things stayed the same. We kept going to Jerry’s BBQ on 8th Avenue after the meeting. And we stayed honest. Brutally and beautifully honest.

Before long, we had a dozen or so regulars. People who’d been scared off by the casual bull session began to come back. So we started a second meeting, on Fridays at GMHC. The first few weeks, three of us met in a closet. But that meeting grew quickly—it was Friday night, after all. Next came a Step meeting on Sundays. We were all working the Steps in the other fellowships; why not do them in CMA? By the time the Center moved back to 13th Street from its temporary home on Little West 12th, our Tuesday group was almost 20 people. They put us in a room on the fourth floor where we still meet today. Rapunzel’s tower I call it, because you can really let down your hair.

By the time I had two years, we had meetings almost every night of the week. We had guys who didn’t do other programs at all—their friends, fellows, and sponsors were all in CMA. Our first, best allies turned up about that time: Roy Y, from 9th Avenue AA; Joe S, from CA.; and one night, at Joe’s invitation, Ava L. They were instant old-timers, if you will, who lent us a bit of a cred.

Eventually, a few of us decided we needed an Intergroup. So, in consultation with Los Angeles, we started one. We established a public information officer, built a website, wrote pamphlets. We kicked off Share-a-Day in 2004, inviting Don N, one of CMA’s founding members, to be our first speaker. “Quit doing drugs,” he told a hundred or so of us, “and stop being an asshole.”

They say we’re always walking one way or the other, toward relapse or recovery. My journey into sobriety started after I hit bottom, in the moment I first asked for help. A few people, friends and therapists, suggested I stop using for a week or two. That was it—one simple, straightforward suggestion. I said OK, yes. I’d try.

But one suggestion leads to another. They’re kind of like dominoes—if you really give one of them a go, it sets up the next one, and the next, and so on. When I stopped using, I suddenly had time to fill—well, people suggested, go to meetings! There, of course, more dominoes fell into place: Get phone numbers. Watch out for people, places, and things. Pay attention to HALT. Was I lonely after the meeting? People suggested I get over myself and go to fellowship. There I heard about getting a sponsor, so I did. He told me about the Steps, and they led me to a higher power and the inventory process. I kept saying yes.

In terms of the Steps, it went like this: I admitted my way wasn’t working (Step One), learned about your way (Step Two), and decided to give it a try (Step Three). I took a long look at my screwed-up interactions with people (Steps Four and Five) and tried a healthier approach (Steps Six and Seven). Finally on sounder footing, I cleaned up the wreckage of my past (Steps Eight and Nine). All grown up for the first time in life, I could take care of myself inside and out (Steps Ten and Eleven) and even begin to help others (Step Twelve).

That last bit is key for me. Pretty quickly, life got full and complicated again, with boys, work, and a whole host of other successes and failures. Making time for other people’s problems, people suggested—doing service, maybe even being someone’s sponsor—was the best way to really get out of myself. It’s an inside-out journey, if we’re lucky, and I’ve been very lucky.

Thank God I said yes. Today I find myself at the center of a beautiful mosaic—all these suggestions. At any time, I can reset the dominoes and start knocking them down all over again.

Back to parties. Living on that basis, they seem like a great idea! In the past 18 years, I’ve reconnected with my family, becoming a dependable son again. I’ve had several boyfriends. And when those relationships ran their course, we became friends. My exes don’t cross the street anymore when they see me. I went back to acting and worked solidly for a decade in the theater. Auditions and agents and all that are a lot easier when you can show up for stuff day by day. Eventually I returned to writing, an even older dream, and stopped acting. In the last few years, I’ve become an activist-organizer, working on causes important to me.

The common denominator in all of this is people. For the most part, they don’t scare me. And when I do feel fear, I remember something my long-term sponsee and dear friend Andre likes to say: “Fear is excitement without the breath. So take a breath, and get excited!”

Thanks to CMA, I came back to the party. Why would I ever leave?

My Sweet Cake of Recovery

As a child, I was a painfully shy, highly sensitive, delicate little blonde thing. I was smart, eager to please, desperate for love, and felt insignificant next to my tennis prodigy brother. I also struggled to make friends. I was both terrified of being left out and scared of being the focus. Panic-stricken of being seen for what I really was. And in the mind of that self- centered little addict, what I “really was,” was boring and mediocre. The core of my disease is that I can’t stand myself and I’m afraid that you will figure out that I’m a loser. In fact, I’m afraid of EVERYTHING. I’m just fear wrapped in skin. Oh yeah, and I blame you for that.

I didn’t have a great childhood. My father also has this disease; and, when I was about 9 or 10, his addiction spiraled out of control and my family started to disintegrate. His addiction changed us, all of us. He was constantly high, deeply insane, cheating, stealing, abusive, dangerous and frightening. This lasted for years. My mother was changed too. Anger, fear and frustration turned her unforgiving and harsh. I became such an angry girl, no longer eager to please my family or any adults for that matter. My grades swiftly declined. One surprising benefit that came from academic failure was a sliver of social acceptance at school. It was a subtle change, imperceptible to anyone but me, but I was very aware of it and ached for more. I wanted friends so badly, so I ran with it. I took on a bad attitude fast, cared nothing about school, and acquired something I didn’t realize I wanted... an “edge.” It felt good, and as all good addicts blindly believe, if something feels good, then more will feel better. Once I entered high school, “edgy” was my new persona. I dyed my hair black, started drinking whiskey behind the Sizzler before school, smoked weed at lunch and BAM! I had arrived. I was one of the cool kids and my problems seemed to have been solved. Getting loaded, hating everything, and not caring about consequences bought me acceptance and relief from the ever-present anxiety and loneliness that had plagued my soul from my earliest memory.

When I went away to college, I found the substance that worked best with my brain chemistry, crystal meth. It became the only thing that mattered to me. My whole life I had wanted to be “something” . . . beautiful, sexy, smart, popular, charismatic . . . ANYTHING but mediocre. I wanted to be loved by friends, respected by my family, adored by a boyfriend, and be perceived as extraordinary. Well, crystal didn’t turn me into that person or bring me any of those things, but what it did do for me was something that felt far greater at the time. It stopped me wanting those things altogether. The alcohol, weed, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin etc. had made it possible for me to breathe. Those substances made it possible to be around “you.” They helped me socialize with you, have sex with you, and impress you. Crystal meth, however, made you completely irrelevant. I didn’t need anyone anymore. I didn’t care what you thought of me or if you desired me. It was the greatest relief of my life because people couldn’t be counted on and they were constantly breaking my heart and bruising my ego. Crystal meth wiped away all their power; they could no longer hurt, disappoint, reject or abandon me... as long as I had my “product,” my weapons of mass destruction, and a bathroom with a door that locked. I found a solution that worked better than anything else ever had. All I needed from the world was to endlessly provide me with money and expect nothing in return but demands, cruelty and manipulation. Too much to ask?

But crystal meth had some demands, too. I became an all-day, all-night user almost right away, and I learned quickly what I needed to do to use the way I needed to use. I built my whole life around my using. I only had friends that used how I used; I only dated or slept with men who used like I used; I only took jobs where I could get away with using; and I cut loose anyone who questioned my drug use or insane behaviors.

The natural progression for me landed me in a relationship with another addict. Our introduction was a Hollywood meet-cute. He was withdrawing from Oxycontin and I had the heroin to cure it. We were drug-induced soulmates. This beautifully tragic man fueled and validated my drug use. We moved in together two days later. We lived and used together for three years. We absolutely hated each other by month six, but stayed together for the drugs (like parents do children). There was no love, no trust, no kindness, no tenderness between us. But we stayed there, together, because we had no one else. It’s a bad spot to be in when the person you despise the most, second only to yourself, is the only person you have left in your life. My drug use siphoned my humanity in all areas of my life. It became impossible to keep a job, let alone find one. Apparently, excusing yourself during a job interview at Target to slam in the bathroom doesn’t make a good first impression.

I burned my life to the ground. I was unhirable, friendless, penniless, and carless. I totaled my car because I took a nap while driving, after staying up for five days on meth. My family wouldn’t let me in the house due to the “parasites” I had crawling in my skin (which, apparently, only crystal meth addicts can see.) I got kicked out of my apartment because landlords don’t like when their tenants live in squalor, have rigs everywhere and spray blood all over the walls when trying to eject a clog out of a rig. All of that was acceptable to me and became my new normal. By the end of my using, I was living in a hotel, 69 pounds, with track marks up and down my arms, veins collapsed... dying, miserable, desperate, and fucking insane. Had I continued to use like that, I was gonna die. I didn’t know I was dying, but I knew I was miserable and didn’t even consider that my using had anything to do with it. I blamed a million people: my parents, my boyfriend, the current occupant of the White House, etc., etc....anyone but me. Never me, and certainly never the drug use.

Eventually I got found out. My mother gave me one of two options: Get shipped to rehab in South Africa or die in the street. Strangely, the decision was hard to make, but once the excruciating withdrawal hit, I buckled and agreed to go to rehab in South Africa following a short stint in a local detox facility.

The detox facility was a blur. I remember sex with strangers, a suicide attempt and the unbearable pain. But one thing I remember vividly was the efforts of a phlebotomist to find a vein on the day I was admitted. All of my veins were collapsed and he said he wasn’t going to be able to do the draw. I BEGGED him to try again. I NEEDED to feel a needle in my arm one more time. Nothing else brought me pleasure. I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to be proud of, nothing to live for. The only thing I wanted was to be high, but the drugs had stopped working a long time ago and the world was demanding I get sober. I was bankrupt in every way. I knew the blood draw wouldn’t get me high but I had nothing else. I wanted to die. I think that phlebotomist saw how much pain I was in and took pity on me. He was eventually able to draw from my hand and I cried in gratitude for the gesture of clemency. When finished he held my hands and whispered to me, “It’s going to be ok.” These were the first kind words I’d heard in years. Of course, I didn’t believe him at the time, but looking back, I now see he was right.

After seven days of detox, unable to walk and needing to be wheeled through the airport in a wheelchair, I was accompanied by my brother on a flight to Johannesburg with a bag of benzos the detox had prescribed me. After commandeering the bag, I passed out, and the next thing I remember was exiting the plane in the South African heat embarrassing my brother with my exposed track marks. I was taken directly to the lockdown rehab facility. I was confronted immediately with a dilemma the day I got admitted: How to square their edict that I couldn’t get high anymore with the knowledge that there was no way in hell I could live without getting high. Did they know what they were asking me to do? They couldn’t know. ‘Cuz if they knew how bad it felt for me to be sober, they would never ask me to do it. I absolutely loathed rehab at first. None of their annoying slogans made sense. Obviously we can only live one day at a time, duh! Ain’t nobody lives 4 days at a time! And how was doing “homework” gonna keep a needle out of my arm? I wasn’t gonna be told what to do, I wasn’t gonna do your Steps, and I certainly wasn’t gonna have “God” crammed down my throat. I’m a homeless, penniless, friendless junky. I know what I’m doing!
So of course the time came when I figured out a way to escape.

Having not lived in South Africa since I was six, I needed a willing hostage who could take me to the nearest drug connect. Thus began my journey with a man named Cliff that included digging a tunnel under the barbed wire fence, trekking miles to the local Nigerian drug lord, dumpster diving to find the tools we would need to get high and sneaking back into the rehab. The sparkling success of that night was all I needed to make the journey alone the next time. I was again at the drug lord’s residence, doing whatever I needed to do to get high. The obsession had been released all over again, and that old slogan suddenly made sense. “One is too many and a thousand is never enough.” Shit. Did this 12 Step thing have some validity? Later came the realization that would serve as the platform to my recovery: I had none of the right answers. My thinking was faulty. I couldn’t rely on my own thinking because my best thinking landed me alone and miserable with a needle in my arm.

After being kicked out of rehab, they finally allowed me back. That last relapse had been painful and made me slightly less resistant to the process. But I had no idea how to do this deal called “a sober life,” and even my limited view of what happiness was seemed impossible without drugs. No addict wants to have to get sober. We want the drugs to work forever, free of consequences. But that scenario doesn’t exist. Working a program or killing myself seemed like my only options, because sobriety without a program is fucking painful. It is worse than being out there for a girl like me. But luckily I had been given the gift of desperation that the book talks about. This disease had beaten me into a state of reasonableness, and I was willing, for the first time, to follow both direction AND suggestion.

The rehab told me that if I worked a 12 Step program, the program would provide me with a design for living and show me how to live like a human being and not like an animal. I started working the Steps, even though I believed this program couldn’t work for such a broken girl like me. But I did the work despite that belief. And I actually became willing to ante up on what seemed like a useless investment for the slight chance that the pain might stop. Something different was my only option, unless I wanted to die, and I was tired of dying. I was tired of being unhappy. I was tired of being desperate, and I was tired of having to work so hard to feel something other than sick.

So I tried. The pain stayed with me month after month, but I stayed clean. I did what they told me to do. I got a job, I went to meetings, I did my step-work, I got a sponsor, I called that sponsor, I went to bed at a reasonable hour, I woke up at a reasonable hour, I made my bed, I washed my dishes, I ate 3 meals a day, I fellowshipped. I followed their instructions to the best of my ability, and I didn’t use no matter what. My sober posse and I now refer to that as “The No Matter Fucking What Club”.

Time went really slowly. I woke up one morning, at around six months clean, and I started to realize that some changes had occurred. I had been sleeping through the night for at least a week. I had actually had fun and laughed the evening before at fellowship. It didn’t take all my effort to walk or even breathe as it had before. I was looking forward to the meeting that night, I would see some friends I’d made. A whole bunch of little miracles started revealing themselves; and all of a sudden, I found myself grateful. For the first time, I believed I had a chance of staying clean. The program was WORKING!

At eight months sober, I was instructed to return to the United States and start cleaning up the wreckage of my past. My family in the States had no interest in being in my life, so I called the one friend I had who didn’t use. I had been awful to her in my using, but she showed up for me anyway. I didn’t deserve her forgiveness or kindness, but THANK GOD I don’t get what I deserve because if I did, I would probably be in jail or drooling into a cup. I began looking for sober living and a job, and I went to a meeting the first day back. I had nothing but a desire to stay sober and the gift of sobriety.

My first meetings in the States didn’t feel safe, and I couldn’t find the same quality of fellowship and sobriety that I had found when going to meetings in South Africa. A lot of men tried to get in my pants, and I was too scared to say “no” because I had no idea HOW to say “no.” I never had healthy boundaries or healthy relationships. How would I know what “healthy” even looked like? I’d been high since I was 13. Just because I put the drugs down didn’t mean I was all of a sudden a healthy human with healthy boundaries, self- esteem, and respect for the boundaries of others. Fuck no, I was still my sick little self, because I hadn’t finished my Steps or given this program the time it takes to heal and grow. That’s what the Steps are for. Although I was afraid to say “no” to men, I was even more afraid of relapsing. I started to question whether I could stay sober in the U.S. and began making plans to return to Johannesburg because I was willing to go to any lengths to stay sober. Luckily, my higher power placed an angel in my path at a woman’s AA meeting in the form of a hot-shot lawyer with fierce shoes and impeccable hair and nails. She was a crystal meth addict in recovery, and of course she spotted the only other tweaker in the room—a talent every tweaker possesses, whether using or sober.

She took me to my first Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting a few days later. That first meeting was unlike any other I had ever been to. People were speaking my language, telling the ugly truth but preaching a fierce solution. It was exactly what I needed. CMA revolutionized my sobriety. And for me, nothing has compared to the quality of its fellowship – a fellowship that loved on me but didn’t prey upon me. A fellowship where I can hear the specific details of my disease so I don’t forget. A fellowship for gutter tweakers like me. A fellowship that is inclusive. For me, CMA is where the rubber meets the road, where I can laugh my ass off about past debauchery, and where I have found love and support beyond measure.

Yes, I had what some would call a “shitty” childhood. And I got a lot of mileage out of that and gave myself a lot of permission to use behind it. But I don’t have to do that anymore. Because the truth is, I don’t need a good reason to use. I’m an addict. I have an allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind, and a malady of the spirit. I’d use if my life was shit, I’d use if my life was peaches and orgasms. Once I start using, I can’t stop; and if I’m not working a program, I can’t stop myself from starting. I have a disease of perception that makes me the victim, and you the perpetrator. It makes me the loser and you the person who has everything I don’t have. It gives me massively high expectations of both the world and myself, leaving no room for imperfection. And when neither the world nor I live up to my unrealistic expectations, my default solution is to medicate my broken heart. Working the steps of Crystal Meth Anonymous has replaced my desperate need to medicate that hurt. The pain has been replaced with joy.

The Steps are the treatment for the disease of addiction, the way radiation or chemo treat cancer. The Steps are our design for living. It is called a “12 Step Program” because, if you don’t work the 12 Steps, it doesn’t work. Yes, the Steps can be hard. This program has been the hardest, scariest gift of mercy I have ever been given. Without it I know I would be dead. On completion of Step 4, I knew I had this disease; and the patterns, behaviors, and thought processes revealed to me on that inventory were terrifying. But that terror gave way to willingness, and that willingness gave way to everything else. The Steps paved my path to freedom.

Today I have friends that I don’t screw over. I have a job that I show up to on time. I eat and sleep (every day). I shower and brush my teeth (every day). My mother doesn’t pay my rent, I do. The clothes I wear and the money I have in my pocket aren’t stolen. The things I say to you are actually true. I don’t tape the blinds shut. I don’t think my apartment is bugged. I don’t hate the sound of birds chirping in the morning because I haven’t slept all night and have to go to work soon. I don’t see bugs in my skin, nor do I spend hours trying to tweeze them out of my arms, face, and genitals. I don’t jar my urine because I am too afraid to leave the bedroom. And unless you’re an addict like me or a loved one who watched me go down, you’d have no idea what an absolute fucking miracle that is!

I have built my life around my recovery just as I had built my life around my using. The majority of my friends are in recovery. I don’t have friends who use. I don’t date men who use. I don’t date men who don’t support my recovery. I won’t work a job that takes away from my program. I am willing to drive an hour to hit a meeting, just as I was willing to drive an hour to connect with the dealer. I am certain today that there is no solution in using. When I convince myself that the solution is getting high, my life gets dark, everything gets worse, and I sell my spirit for a baggie.

This program isn’t for people who need it. It isn’t even for people who want it. All dying addicts need it, and most of us want it. This program is for people who WORK it. If you work it, it works. Even if you think you don’t need it. Even if you think you’re too broken. Even if you fucking hate it and want it to fail; it won’t, not if you work it. That is the magic that saved my life. When I first went to rehab, I thought this program wasn’t necessary. After I worked the first Step, I was convinced I was too sick to be saved. But I worked it anyway, because I had nowhere else to go. It was the last house on the block. I worked it and it worked. And 15 years later, it is still working. It still works because I haven’t changed anything that worked at the beginning. Why would I change what works? Why would I risk decreasing my odds of success when I’ve already proven what keeps me sober? The odds are not good to begin with for people who use the way I used, why would I put obstacles in my way?

There are six ingredients in what I like to call “my sweet cake of recovery.” --Meetings -- Sponsorship --Stepwork --Higher Power --Service, and --Fellowship. As everyone knows, if you want to make something you see in a cookbook, you have to follow that recipe to a T. You don’t leave out ingredients, you don’t mess with the measurements, and you don’t substitute baking soda for sugar. If I don’t include all the ingredients, I don’t get my sweet cake at the end of it. Our recipe is right there in the Big Book and available to ANYONE that wants it. Maybe you don’t like sweet cake... maybe you like eating shit cake, I don’t know. If shit cake is your deal, that is absolutely your right; but I don’t recommend it. Cafeteria recovery doesn’t work for me. I don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the program I want to work. I work every part of this program because that’s what it takes for me to stay sober. That’s what it takes to survive this powerful and insidious disease centered in my mind. I’ve got a lot on the line. My whole damn life is on the line and I know it. I have worked a very solid Step 1 and I am under no illusion that I can drink or use substances like normal men and women. Once I start, I can’t stop; and if I don’t work a program, I can’t stop myself from starting. CMA is the only thing I have ever seen transform a dying, insane, daily crystal meth addict into a human being. This program didn’t “give me back my life.” My life sucked, I didn’t want that life back. It gave me a NEW life. Today my life is unrecognizable from what it was 15 years ago. The girl I once was would’ve resented the hell out of who I am today, LOL. And yes, sometimes this new life is hard. Life on life’s terms is the only offer on the table; not just for addicts, but for all. CMA doesn’t make my life perfect; it makes it possible.

Working an Honesty Program

As an adopted baby who came from a loving home, I’ve always been somewhat of a people-pleaser trying to fit in. My family was a “clean your plate” kind of family so I grew up a heavy kid. As a teenager I was always trying to reinvent the wheel, when I wasn't taking it apart. All of the kids in school growing up were very mean, so I got teased all of the time. My parents were foster parents for disabled children, which meant that I was taking care of kids all the time.

I grew up next to a mall where I learned to steal small things like lipstick, but I never got caught. I started drinking in high school wanting to fit in. I went straight for the hard stuff - stealing liquor out of my parent’s liquor cabinet and replacing it with water. It was during that time I saw this movie called “The Best Little Girl in the World,” about a girl with an eating disorder who lost weight and it really changed me. I dropped 45 pounds in one summer soon after seeing this movie. The people who didn’t like me or wanted nothing to do with me in the past were suddenly my friends. That's pretty heavy stuff when you are impressionable and a teenager just trying to fit in somewhere. At 17 years old I finished high school and moved out of my parents’ house. I was now an adult. That preceded all of my really bad decisions like partying. I tried to put myself back in school and all my friends were smoking pot. Some of the kids my parents took care of were told by their doctors that the reason they had disabilities was because their parents did drugs. So I was very anti- drugs for a long time.

My friends were all smoking pot so I thought, “Well if they’re going to do it I should just sell it to them to make sure they got the right stuff.” My ‘no-drugs’ policy turned into smoking three-quarters of an ounce a day. Of course, people are really motivated when they’re high, so my school discipline just went down the toilet. This started my reckless descent - drinking heavily, smoking pot, and working stupid jobs just to support it.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had three DUI’s thanks to being grandfathered in Minnesota to the 19-year-old drinking age. I never wanted to give up my keys because that meant I would have to give up the controls to my partying. I was in and out of jail and was one of those people that didn’t listen. My friends at the party would say, “You can’t drive!” and I would say “But I have a perfectly running car.” By the time I left the state in 1989, I had been jailed over 42 times.

I knew I needed to do something different, so I decided to go back to school for something I really wanted to do — to become a motorcycle mechanic. In order to get back to school, I had to first pay back the old school loans. So I went to treatment for the first time in order to save money spent on alcohol. I worked two jobs, actually saved up enough money, and stayed sober for a while. I moved to Arizona. Six hours after moving there I started drinking to celebrate the move. I picked up right where I left off. I graduated Motorcycles Mechanics Institute as a Certified Mechanic and moved back to Minnesota. Shortly thereafter, I landed a great job at the local Harley Davidson dealership. My old drinking buddies wanted to celebrate, but I said, “No, I worked my butt off to get here, I’m not going to blow it.” Three beers later, I found myself in the back of a squad car.

When I got out of jail and went to work on Monday, I got called to my manager's office. When I got there he was pacing back and forth and said, “Do you want to tell me what happened this weekend? I know you got busted. Want to tell me what happened?” I replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” After all, how would he know that I got arrested? Turns out my boss (who was a Harley Davidson dealership owner) used to be the Ramsey County Sheriff and still had buddies in the department. Because of my prior arrest and convictions the prosecuting attorney said they were going to give me two-and-a-half years for that arrest. So I left. That was how I handled things, I just left. I moved back to Arizona and started working in a 24-hour pool hall. The only people that go to a 24-hour pool hall are tweakers. Back then it was known as crank. One night, this guy asked me if I wanted to try some and that was my introduction into meth. I was instantly — instantly — hooked. Four days later, I was on the couch with earphones and a scotch playing air drums thinking this was the coolest thing ever. I didn’t need to worry about the law anymore because I never left the sofa. I didn’t need to worry about gaining weight again because I never ate. It was the coolest tool. Why aren’t more people on it?

One of the things that I did while I was high was think about 50 million ways how to make free money. I became a tornado of destruction set loose on society. I became something I swore I would never become. I cashed checks, stole people’s identity, and many other felony offenses. My conscience was gone. By the time I got arrested, I needed to be arrested. That first time I got caught with somebody's cards, I was busted and went to jail. That was my first experience with an Arizona jail. Eleven months later when we went to court the prosecuting attorney wanted to give me five years on a first-time offense, so they gave me three-and-a-half years. I did my time and was out. The day after I was released, I hooked up with one of my friends’ boyfriends who was a meth cook. When I was released from prison I didn't want to get high, but I didn’t have any structure or tools or a program. Six days later I was arrested again in Arizona and did another three-and-a-half years.

The first time I did three-and-a-half years I was okay with it. The second time I did time, I was really pissed off. That guy I hooked up with went back to his ex-wife. When I got out of prison in Arizona, I decided not to stay in that state. I counted 16 felonies at the time and decided to go back to Minnesota. Well, shortly after arriving, thanks to that unresolved DUI way back when, I was arrested on an illegal U-turn again and put back in jail. I got probation and decided to go back to treatment. I was thinking about the things I needed to get back, not about what I needed to do to get better. When you hang around people that buy stolen merchandise, they are probably all using drugs. I had multiple addictions at this point, not just using meth. I completed that treatment but didn’t change my behavior. It was just a matter of time before I started using again and got another DUI. That made seven, count them, seven DUIs. I didn’t want to run checks or do that kind of thing anymore, but who was going to give me a job? I knew it was just a matter of time before I was going back to prison. My best thinking, while doing shots of tequila, was to come out of retirement and work just enough to hire an attorney. Thank God they stopped me. Thank God I didn’t do any more harm. I was supposed to go in front of this tough judge who had access to all of my prior arrest and convictions in my file. She had just had her purse stolen and someone was running her checks. She was not happy with me. She said I was going back to prison today and sentenced me to 18 months. When you do this kind of time, the people around you, like your family, also do the time.

I completed my sentence and knew that if I didn’t change people, places, and things I’d wind up back at the dealers again which is exactly what happened. It was at this time I noticed I was getting anemic, really tired and feeling sicker and sicker. I was taking so many drugs to stay awake, but found myself sleeping all the time. I couldn’t stay awake. By the time I got arrested with two stolen vehicles in my driveway, my physical health was so bad I just needed a break from using. While in jail I fell asleep on a soft mattress. It was the first time that I had actually fallen asleep laying down in a very long time. I felt this huge bump between my hip bones and I thought that I was pregnant. I had to sign on for another 15 months to get out of prison. At intake I told the nurse that I might possibly be pregnant. It turned out to be an 11 centimeter tumor and they scheduled surgery. Because I was so anemic, in order to have surgery I needed to have blood. I always thought that my biker friends would be there when I needed them the most. My hemoglobin levels were at 4 (11- 12 is normal). I have rare blood. I asked my family if they could donate. I was adopted so I would have to call my friends. I called all of them to see if any would be a match, but none came. It was one of the lowest realizations in my life that I was really alone. Thank God they found the rare blood, and I was able to have the surgery. Soon after surgery I returned back to prison and was feeling better.

When I went back to get my post-surgery hemoglobin checkup, my doctor said that when they removed the tumor, they found cancer and that I would need chemotherapy. That was a harsh and scary realization. Here I am with the loss of privileges, back in my cell for 23 hours a day with nothing to do but to think about this. Now in all of the time I have ever done which was nine-and-a-half years, I was never one of the bible thumpers or religious kind of people. For the first time I was really scared and thought I was going to die. I thought about all of the damage I had done, and all of society, and the people I had hurt. Why would I be given a second chance? It was the one time that I went back to my room and got on my knees and said I can’t do this by myself. I said my first prayer. I said, “God, if you get me through this, I will do everything in my power to stay sober and to keep my word to you.” The day I went to my surgery, I got my TV in my room which was expensive - it was like $200.00. I got back to my room after surgery for one day, and they told me to pack up, that I was going to treatment.

I had to be open to the signals that were passing me, so I went to treatment. Cognitive thinking behavioral treatment, that's what I got signed up for. This type of treatment focuses not only on alcohol and drugs, but it also focuses on behavioral problems. I got my head in the books and tried to be honest with my counselor. I asked one of my counselors, “Why do I keep doing this over and over again? Why do I keep making the decisions that I make? I have a fairly high IQ. Why do I keep going back to jail?” She said, “Because you don’t honor yourself as a person, and don’t give yourself a chance at life.” I said, “No, that’s not it.”
The test results came back as I listened to “Jesus Take The Wheel.” That song helped me get through a lot. They got all of the uterine cancer, 50% of my uterus had cancer, they got all of it. I got to keep my hair. I was terrified, very very grateful, but terrified because I had just made a deal with God . . . and he came through. I didn’t have any idea of how to be sober or do anything. I had been stealing and bending rules and breaking rules of society for so long it became second nature. I didn’t know how to be sober. I had been given a second chance. I don't know why, but I was given a second chance. I decided to have an open mind, so I listened. I shut my mouth and listened.

When you go to treatment in prison, and if you have contact lenses, you can keep them. But they are kind of expensive so you can get these lovely Sally Jesse Raphael glasses. However, there is a rule that, when you get your glasses, you have to turn in your contact lenses. I mention this because this was one of the most important lessons I had to learn. I didn't do it. I kept my contacts and thought it was a stupid rule. Why would anyone care how I see? I’m trying to pay attention to their treatment, however they are trying to help me change my life. Someone told on me, that I still had my contact lenses. When one of the counselors came up and asked me if I had contact lenses, I said “Yes I do”. He said, “Ok, I need those.” This is how my life worked. I heard him say I need those, not the ones that were still back in my room. So now I am wearing the contact lenses and the stupid glasses looking for the person who ratted me out. I’m not even high and this was how I was acting. It got to the point that they had 3 officers bring me to medical and look with a flashlight for my own contact lenses. I finally said, “Fine.” I was then put in solitary for 15 days for destroying evidence. So this is how my track record goes. Who does 15 days in “seg” and 30 days extended incarceration for possessing their own contacts? There is a point to this story. The point is that I thought it was a pretty insignificant rule so why bother? But when you are working an honesty program, and you are trying to recover from this disease, you need to be honest in every aspect of your life no matter how small or insignificant you think the rule is. If I was going to change my life and do something different, I had to follow every rule.

So even though I thought it was a stupid rule, it was a really big turning point for me because I got kicked out of treatment for breaking it. I had to go back to treatment again after I got out. While in treatment I was introduced to CMA. I heard that people who did 90 meetings in 90 days made it. I heard that I had to change people, places, and things, so I got rid of every phone number in my phone. I heard that if you don’t drive illegally you won’t go to jail. God I hated that one! I was living in a sober house and got a bicycle and was peddling my butt to every meeting I had to go to. I was willing to go to any length. I wanted to meet as many sober people as I could meet, so I went to every CMA meeting I could go to. I was on parole and had never successfully completed parole or probation. Never! My parole officer was right down the street from my sober house, and I would just drop in to see if they needed me to drop a urine sample or anything. It got to the point where one of the parole officers had to say, “We will call you when it's time to come in.”

I entwined my life with CMA and went to meetings all of the time. After a year sober, I met my husband. The cool thing about having a positive sober network in CMA is being able to talk about everything I needed to talk about in these meetings to stay sober. I needed to be around people that were going to call me on my shit, to be able to talk about issues like stealing and how to change my habit and create a budget, about alcohol, about meth, and about how to live an honesty program one day at a time.

When I went to CMA, I started giving back, cleaning up and emptying ashtrays and being of service. Someone told me that they needed an H&I person at the Intergroup level. They were like, “We don’t know how to do that.” I told them that I didn't know how to do that either. It was easy to get in! Once I got things worked out, I organized some volunteers and we got CMA meetings into four prisons. Eventually I got my little badge and was able bring a meeting in myself.

I went to a wedding one time, and the judge whose purse got stolen and sentenced me years before, took one look at me and said, “Oh my God, you look great! What are you doing?” I told her what I was doing. She has me in her rolodex now. Weird! Today I sponsor women. Weird! I am a business owner today. Weird! The cool thing is that the promises do come true if I work for them. It wasn’t easy. There are days living life on life's terms is hard. I am blessed and honored to meet other people in CMA who do their best to give back.

In June of 2018, I had 15 years sober. If anyone is in doubt, they can do this. If I can do this, somebody who had nine years in prison, 16 felonies and seven DUIs, if I can completely turn my life around and be a business owner, a productive member of society, so can you.

Traveling in Uncharted Territory

I had been returned to the pod at the Denver County Jail after a day at court. My fast- talking mouth failed to do what it normally did: get me out of trouble. Instead of being put back on probation for the umpteenth time, the District Attorney decided he was tired of my bullshit and was recommending I serve the 12 years in prison that was hanging over my head for the slew of felonies I acquired over the past 18 months.

I felt as if my world was crumbling around me. That had been happening in an ever- increasing manner since my heavy partying moved to addiction four years prior, but now the consequences of my actions were staring me straight in the face. That night I was overcome with the realization that the root of all my problems had been fear—fear of success, fear of failure, fear of commitment, fear of being alone, fear of a life addicted to meth, fear of a life without meth. I had gained an understanding of myself now that it was too late.

A week later a friend bonded me out of jail and wanted to see me (he of course wanted drugs as I had been his dealer for years). I owed him at least that and I certainly wouldn’t use after the heaping helping of self-knowledge I had just received. So, as I pulled the needle out of my arm and I felt the extreme high of the large shot of meth, my anxious, frantic, almost neurotic inner voice that was always quieted with drugs kept on telling me I was a piece of shit and I deserve every bad thing I had coming to me.

I left my friend’s house and slithered back to the condominium he let me stay at until it was foreclosed by the bank. I was at the jumping off point with nowhere to go. My friend Adam, who had been forced to enter treatment after his first felony and night in jail, called me to ask if I wanted to go to a Twelve Step meeting. Meetings seemed like a last recourse for losers who couldn’t handle their drugs, but I wasn’t in any shape to judge (I still did anyway). I was overcome by the happy faces, the similar stories, and the welcoming invitations after the meeting to attend other meetings.

I had attended one or two (or three) meetings every day for about a month when Adam and I decided to try a CMA meeting. We did not go there initially as it had a bad reputation from actions by a member who sold meth in the rooms and caused great harm to the fellowship. He did start several meetings around the Denver metro area though: Loaders (biker), Sketchin’ Out (gay), and Arapahoe House (rehab facility). The meeting we went to was called Kicking Tina located right in the middle of Capital Hill and of all my meth activities.

Kicking Tina had been started by Rod R. who worked in recovery and was a shining example that there was hope for crystal meth addicts. Early members included Jim E., Daniel G. and Steve S. who all reached out to those of us who slowly found our way to the meeting. It was quite small at first but grew quickly as those of us who started in other fellowships found a home there. For myself, I can say that my shares resonated more in the rooms of CMA. Try talking about six-hour long sex sessions, stealing identities, or dumpster diving in an AA meeting and people look at you like you are crazy.

As the Big Book states, a fellowship grew up among us as we all started to put time together. Everyone showed up early and stayed after the meeting to catch up. We’d all go as a big group to Pete’s, a Greek diner and a Denver institution since the ‘40s, for late night food and fun. We all had sponsors, service positions, and kept each other in check. Our phone list grew and we welcomed newcomers to this family we created. It initially only met once a week on Thursdays but meetings were added on Mondays and Tuesdays due to the increase in attendance. We began a literature study, performed group inventories, and participated in Area meetings. For a significant amount of time it was the most well-attended CMA meeting in Denver.

More than a handful of times I would see someone new and, upon hearing their name as we introduced ourselves at the beginning of the meeting, I realized it was someone I knew and loved from my using days who I had not recognized at all. Funny how a separation from daily meth use will help a person’s appearance. The rooms took on a magical air and it seemed everything in life would work out well if we just stayed the course.

I had found employment and even hired an attorney to help with the impending prison sentence I had to face. I had been attending court-sponsored meetings as a representative of CMA and spoke often. I never had my court slip signed because I was participating for altruistic reasons, not to look good to a judge or have my restitution reduced. Without realizing it, my actions had been noticed by the D.A. I was eight months clean when I went to court for the eight felony and ten misdemeanor charges I had in three different counties. I brought my sponsor, my lawyer (and grand sponsor), Adam, and two other lawyers who were members of the fellowship to speak on my behalf. The judge let me know he was not interested as my record spoke well enough on my behalf. The D.A. that recommended the prison term came in just before the gavel came down and asked the judge if he could relay what he had seen of my behavior over the past months. He told of how I had, for the first time in the years since I had been on probation, gotten a hold of this program and it would be a travesty of justice to send me away. I was given three years of probation which, by the way, I completed early.

With my freedom secured and my schedule suddenly open, I jumped into service work, giving it all I had. I knew that I had been shown grace and treated my recovery as a new lease on life. By the end of my first year I completed the Steps and began sponsoring other addicts. I grasped an understanding of the program that had not made sense previously. I began to form relationships with members who became the elder statesmen of the fellowship. Walt W. came into the rooms after me but had an amazing knowledge of the program and a level of commitment that I still admire. Bear P. had significant time but relapsed after an enormous personal tragedy. He returned to gain even more time and become a strong presence in the rooms. We were definitely people who normally would not mix but we heard the calling and took action. I cannot think of a time in which we were asked to do something for the fellowship that we declined. We all understood that this was far bigger than us. We just got to be a part.

That first year in CMA was exciting and special. For most of us we were traveling in uncharted territory. We often had to reach out to members of more established fellowships to ask how to address some new aspect of running a group or an Area. We are indebted to those who came before us. Looking back, I find that many who were a part of those early meetings are no longer around because they moved on to other fellowships, chose an easier, softer way, or wanted their misery back. I realize that we all have different journeys and I am just thankful for the time our journeys ran along the same path.

Alright, Long Time Ago

Alright, long time ago (probably in 1980 I would say) there was a discussion about the fact that we could not talk about drugs. And so many of us, we were drug addicts and alcoholics, but they frowned upon us saying it; so you have to just slip it in or something like that. Well some people came along, for example Bill Coffey, and he was just livid about the fact that you couldn’t say “methedrine” in an AA meeting, and be comfortable about saying it. So, he complained and complained, and he always raised his hand and all that. I would say, “Bill, we have to have a principle of not being mad at AA and being pissed off because they won’t let us say it. We have to get sober and do what we do.” Well, as time went on, this guy Paul Farmer, who was the Director of the Van Ness Recovery House, came back from vacation and he said he was an alcoholic and a junkie! Well that raised my hopes a lot, because then I knew that at least in that place I could talk about the drugs that I had used. So we did. And he even said when you talk in a meeting don’t talk about it too much. So, I’d learned to do that.

But Bill complained a lot and we would talk. I sponsored Bill. We would talk about it and say, “Yeah, we ought to have a methedrine meeting.” So first thing we did was start a gay NA meeting. So we started a gay NA meeting at Fairfax and Santa Monica upstairs in this church; the MCC Church had a little space. So we did that. About fourteen or fifteen of us started this meeting. And it came off, and we were able to talk about anything. Well NA thought we were violating their principles by having this, and they sent guys to sit in our meeting to judge us. We saw ‘em! But then they saw that we had followed it, the correct thing, we had followed it. So then the straight kids said, “Well, let’s start a straight meeting.” They said, “Come and help us.” So we said, “OK.” We started a straight NA meeting, I think it was “The Real Deal,” something like that. It’s still going on, there was not a lot of mention, well a lot of the kids felt, you know, it was all heroin addicts in NA and they felt uncomfortable about that. And we said, “Yeah, you know, we should have a methedrine meeting.” We kept talking about it. One day, many years later, it was fifteen years later, we did something about it.

We talked about it, and so these kids, Curtis S. and Pete S. and Eli (I think it was Eli) were there. Eli was a newcomer. Pete wasn’t a newcomer. But we got this room at the West Hollywood Drug and Alcohol Center up on Santa Monica. They didn’t have any time to give us. They only could give us 10:15 at night. And we grumbled, but we took it. I remember we got it together. Curtis was really gung-ho! Curtis was really very instrumental in this thing, and Pete, and there were probably other people I can’t remember their names. I do know Eli was there. This girl was there; straight girl was there name Nina. We all did this meeting. We all did the meeting. I led it and, you know, made it happen. And everybody was happy! But we couldn’t call it Methedrine Anonymous. Everybody wanted to call it Meth Anonymous, but we couldn’t because there was already MA, Marijuana Anonymous, unfortunately. So we just decided to call it Crystal Meth Anonymous. Now this is kind of like a division, but not really because we HAVE to use that name. A lot of kids in the United States just use the word “meth”; it was called “meth” all the time. It wasn’t called “crystal meth”, even though it shines and sparkles, but most people call it “meth.”

We started the meeting and it took off. It just took off, and we met every week. It slowly gathered steam and, the next thing you know, there was other meetings started. I think Curtis made up pamphlets and they were all involved; Pete was involved. They got really busy. That was the thing, they got really busy. Technically, Bill and I were just like the elder statesmen because we had more time, and so you know, they would listen to us and follow what we did. I remember when we just got the meeting started we had to figure out what format were we going to use. We said, “You know they are going to talk about sex and get carried away.” So I said, “Let’s write a line in there about that.” So, we wrote a line in there about if you talk about sex the Secretary will stop you, because we knew that it would be a thing. Because a lot of people that use methedrine or crystal meth have a sex problem also. They don’t recognize it as a sex problem; they recognize it only as a crystal meth problem. And unfortunately, they continued to relapse because they haven’t seen that there’s a sex problem in there. The inhibition that crystal gives people is just like the inhibition in any drug. Alcohol does the same thing. All of them do the same thing. The inhibitions are gone away. Well crystal really takes away inhibitions. People get carried away and do it all night long and all day long, and stay up late because they can stay up hours. That was a part in there we wanted to make clear — let’s not get carried away talking about that in a meeting because the meeting can, you know, devolve into nothing, you know.

Then they start another meeting. Well as time went on we would just laugh. Bill and I would laugh. They’d start another meeting. Then we had a Friday night meeting. Then we had meetings everywhere. Oh my goodness, then they started CMA in other parts of the country. We would get word from all over. Bill went down to Atlanta. I went down to Atlanta first. We had a CMA meeting in Atlanta in the AA Convention. And they set aside that; it was packed! Then went to Dallas, told them about it in Dallas. New York. Went to New York and they started in New York and I was sitting there in the meeting in New York. And Ava was like the Grandmother of Crystal Meth. She was a member of AA. I met her at a sober international activity. She helped them get started in New York. I got invited back there to, you know, help out. And then we would get news that, “Oh! They got it in Australia.” Or, “They have it in Amsterdam.” It was so fine, and me and Bill would almost cry when we heard that, because it was so good. Well, what has happened, is that it has blossomed all over. And they have meetings and they do by-laws. I remember the By-law Meeting that they were doing. It was so funny. I walked in the room. They all had their laptops out. Chuh. Chuh. Chuh. I said, “Look at these speed freaks! They are on it!” To me it’s like all these kids are my children, when I see ‘em working hard and doing this and getting clean and sober. It’s like the most beautiful thing in the world.

All of them thank Bill and me and everything. It’s like we did it cause we felt we had to do it. It wasn’t like we were trying to be something. We just felt we needed a place where we could feel free to talk. I love talking at CMA meetings cause I can say anything. I can say whatever I’m thinking, feeling, and about drugs. I can tell it and I don’t have to bite my tongue or worry about people saying something about it. Which is a freedom. This is what it is – another freedom that we have. So we’re promised this thing that we will be happy, joyous and free. CMA has helped us to become free, or freer than we were before. You know, we like to see it go on. I love going to CMA meetings and everything. I don’t get to as many as I’d like, but I’m fine just to know they’re there. I think you could ask a couple of other people like Pete S., because he would remember better than me, maybe. I know we’re all getting old. I can remember how we got started and what a beautiful thing it was. I remember the last look that Bill and I had. I remember the last look. He was getting ready to leave this planet. I looked at him and he looked at me and that was our last look. But it was the most beautiful look in the world, I’ll never forget it, you know. Cause like, something got accomplished, you know. So whenever they ask me to do anything for CMA, I do it! I do it, because it’s important. Bill and I sold a lot of meth. Before we got to the program we were meth dealers. And so we felt part of our amends was to do this. I forgot to mention that, but that was part of me and him discussing that we did so much selling of drugs that it was important for us to make a place where people could recover from that. That’s it.

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