The City of Angels Part Six: Ruin

After eight months trying to eke out a life in California, I found myself back in Alaska trying to get my feet back under me. I didn’t really tell anyone what I had gone through, what my struggles were, and if I told them why I was back up, it was typically vague and one thing was clear: it was temporary. My goal was clear to me. I transferred up with Best Buy. I was living back at home with my grandparents. I was going to work hard, get a good chunk of savings under my belt, move back, get back together with the love of my life and get back on a path to a happy future.

Part One: Departure
Part Two: A Perilous Journey
Part Three: The First Month
Part Four: Love and Tribulation
Part Five: Awry

I was in Alaska a grand total of four months. The middle of May until September 19th. My interview with the front lanes manager was a grand total of five minutes and ended with her shaking my hand and welcoming me to the team. I think she and I had a grand total of four conversations in the front four months I was there, which was a stark contrast to the ever-present oversight of my manager Stephanie in El Segundo. Stephanie wanted us to know what our numbers were at, what  our goals were. She wanted to know what we needed and she also loved us all to death. My manager in Anchorage was cold and detached and impersonal. Frankly, most of the management at my store in Alaska didn’t know what they fuck they were doing, much less what they wanted out of anybody.

There was a different department up north, though, one that required sitting in the back and taking phone and online orders for deliveries by plane out to the Bush  (rural areas of Alaska). It was a steadily growing side venture that Best Buy was taking a chance on and it grew in business every day. I worked that area every chance I got, using my downtime to learn about the other departments and get certified to cover for and work in those areas every time we were short staffed. I wanted to be the most valuable, versatile member of the team. It was a lot of work.

I also brought up the idea of the Black Tie Protection competition we had down in Los Angeles. The rewards weren’t as high (a $5 gift card instead of $25), but it took our store from being absolute shit to being one of the highest BTP selling stores in the district. It was fun, sort of, in the way a competition is when you can never really lose. One girl consistently outsold the hell out of me. She was good. I vowed never to let it happen once I moved back.

My grandparents never asked me why I moved back, and I never told them anything beyond I just needed to get stable again. They knew I’d be leaving again in the fall and I think they just wanted to make the most of the time I was back with them. I had missed them. I miss them now.

I lived about an hour, hour and a half from work and it was the summer, so I walked often. I would carry a book to read as I walked, and on umbrella as well, on rainy days. I lost a lot of weight (which, in five years, I’ve regained) and looked maybe the best I had since high school.

That’s what I did that summer: I fucking walked and worked and learned. I drank a lot and ate a lot, frequenting the karaoke bar I loved so much and which is now a weird bar/sandwich hybrid shop.

Somewhere around 4th of July weekend, I think, my friend Sam took me out to his uncle’s cabin. Sam is a great guy – he and I get lunch every time we’re both in town – so I leapt at the chance to have a quiet, earnest get-away somewhere outside of the city. The cabin was beautiful and rustic and sat on a piece of land with an expansive backyard that had been turned into a 9-hole golf course. To this day, it remains the one and only time I’ve ever played golf. I lost badly, but I enjoyed myself okay.

I was set up in the guest room, which was a separate house that overlooked a lake and the sun kissed it nicely and I was removed from myself via natural beauty. I took a picture of the sunrise over the water and sent it to my ex. We weren’t talking much at the time. “Wish you were here,” I said.

“I wish I were, too,” she replied.

And I thought I was good. I thought I was on track, working hard, being a better man, a better person. I focused on the job that was waiting for me to come back to, waiting on the arms of my beautiful woman to fall into.

But dreams and life are not always the best of friends.

It was late July. I was making a sandwich in my grandparents’ kitchen when my phone buzzed on the counter top. My ex had texted me and said that after a great deal of consideration, we wouldn’t be getting back together upon my return. Our relationship was irrevocably ended. I was crushed. I thought things were slowly getting better. I thought she would be proud of me for becoming better. And of course there were so many other reasons for her decision, but I was blind to them at the time. I was just so hurt and lost. I begged. I pleaded. It didn’t change her mind.

So I kind of lost mine? I definitely went a bit mad.

I had been celibate for three months. I was technically single. I had flirted. I’d even kissed a time or two, but my heart was with my lady in Los Angeles and so I slept with no one. But now?  Definitively single, no room for argument? Alone in Alaska? Hurt and lonely? I reacted by being a little bit of a slut.

I hooked up with a friend from high school. She was working through some things and so was I, and there was sort of a desperate tinge to the night, and it was good and it was fine, and it never happened again, but I think we became closer friends for it.

I hooked up with a woman I used to work with that I always thought hated me. She picked me up from a bar to give me a ride home and argued with herself over whether or not she should sleep with me, and I calmed her down and took the pressure off and told her if she didn’t feel comfortable, we absolutely shouldn’t, but if she genuinely wanted to, we could, with no expectations or attachments or anything like that. It was an interesting not, and I think both of us felt good about having someone there to make the other feel valued. We didn’t speak much in the days after and we haven’t spoken at all in five years.

And then I fell into a steady casual relationship with a woman I met in a bar. I finally had the balls to ask her for her number, and she gave it to me, and we went on a couple dates, and I went home with her and met her mom and we all got on well and it started a thing.

That last month, month and a half I spent primarily with her. I was still going out too much. I was drinking too much, trying to quench the pain I was feeling, and I would go home to this girl and she would make me feel handsome and funny and valued. It was incredibly selfish of me. I did care about her a lot. I care about her still, and we’re always easy around each other. That being said, that casual relationship was still birthed out of heartbreak and very much felt like a rebound solely because I felt like a piece of shit and she made me feel worthwhile.

I could feel my life sort of crumbling around me. I didn’t give a shit about anything. My dreams to be an actor/writer were a distant memory. I was still putting money away because the bartenders at the karaoke bar essentially let me drink for free. I was learning more about my job, but I stopped really giving a fuck.

And then something inside me broke.

The store in Anchorage that I worked at had one large difference from the one I worked at in El Segundo: they kept the new, popular video games up in the front lanes, where the check-out registers were, instead of back in the gaming department. The camera in the front lanes was poorly positioned as well. Sometimes the front lanes were lightly staffed. It made it incredibly easy to steal video games, and I did. I took two or three games over the course of two or three weeks. I didn’t sell them, they were for me, but they were most certainly obtained illegally.

Why? Fucking why did I take those games? I played them, but I don’t know that I even enjoyed them. I spent most of my free time with this woman. If I had to guess, it’s that I was lashing out in every unhealthy way I could just because I wanted to feel something. Or maybe I felt that I was a garbage human being, so to hell with it, why not do garbage, self-destructive things?

I didn’t got caught, though. Not then, not for that. I did get certified in every department in the store and provided coverage anytime an area was understaffed. I made myself useful. I was well-liked.

September rolled around and I was about to move back to Los Angeles. The transfer request was in and approved. I had my old room back in Jenny’s family’s place. I decided to spend my last weekend in town with my friends.

And promptly got alcohol poisoning.

I blacked out somewhere around midnight. Apparently we had a few more drinks and then I wound up at my friend Steven’s place with him and some girl. The girl I was dating lived right up the road, so despite my friend’s insistence that I stay, I left. He let me borrow a coat. Instead of going straight up the road, I walked about five miles to the right. I came out of the blackout around 4 in the morning, early September, with no coat, in the rain, in the middle of the goddamn woods with no idea how I got to where I was.

I vomited and staggered in a direction, hoping against hope that it would lead me to civilization. I slipped and fell and the battery in my cell phone – I had a flip phone at the time; this was five years ago and I was stubborn – spun into the underbrush. I sprained my right elbow trying to catch myself as I fell and I spent ten or fifteen pained, stressed, confused, drunk minutes trying to find the battery before giving up and hoping for the best.

I walked for another ten or fifteen minutes before finding a road. It was on the completely opposite side of town from where I last remembered being. I didn’t even know anyone who lived near there. With how early it was and looking the way I looked, drenched and dirty, haggard and still drunk, I couldn’t just knock on someone’s door to ask to use their phone. All the businesses had yet to open. Shit, did I even know anyone’s phone number by heart? I did, in fact, not, except for the cab company that I had no phone to call for and no money on hand to pay with.

So I set out to the house of the girl I was dating. When I found out I had walked the same distance to the woods and back, I realized I must have trekked a total of ten miles or so. My legs and feet were killing me. I felt so sick. My arm throbbed. I couldn’t stop shaking. When I got to her house, it was nearly six in the morning.

I went around back to see if the back door was open. It wasn’t uncommon for me to just show up at her place and spend the night, so I thought that was a good idea. The door was not open. I think I sob-moaned and curled up in the fetal position on the back porch, hoping to sleep until someone woke up. About twenty minutes later, her mom found me and let me in. I mumbled out an explanation and she told me to go upstairs and crawl into bed. I surprised the girl, and I really pissed her off when I crawled my damp, dirty, freezing body in next to her. She wasn’t very impressed with me. I wasn’t very impressed by myself.

It took me a few days to fully recover from that hangover. I bought a sling for my arm that I wore for almost two months. A few days later, she drove me to the airport, we kissed goodbye and I left to try and fix things in Los Angeles.

At first, everything was working out great. Everyone remarked on how great I looked. Kevin, my friend and one of the managers put me in for a full dollar raise. I moved around the store, still selling more Black Tie than anyone, still winning those  $25 gift cards. We had a new general manager and I impressed him quickly.

But my ex was still dead set on not renewing our relationship. I tried everything. Gifts. Compliments. We still hung out occasionally, I could still make her laugh, but it wasn’t enough. It was hard working with her and not having her look at me lovingly anymore. It was hard seeing others flirt with her.

I started drinking. Daily. A lot. I was still sort of broke, so I’d buy these ridiculously cheap, ridiculously huge bottles of wine and/or vodka from the CVS down the road and I’d drink most of it that night and go into work smelling like liquor the next day. Jenny told me I couldn’t be doing that. What if a customer complained. I said something about half the customers being fucking morons and that even if every customer could smell the liquor, it apparently was doing nothing to stop the sheer fucking magnitude of insurance I was selling. “There’s a reason you have all the seasonal hires train with me.”

I was a bit of a smug asshole, but Jenny still loved and worried about me, and my friends would still invite me over and try to help me get over my ex. I smiled and nodded. “You’re right. I know.” I couldn’t do it.

I tried! God help me. My friend Angie and I hung out a few times, and I think there could have been something there, but even if there was, “You dated my friend,” she told me. “I can’t do that to her. It would make things too awkward.” That’s fair. In my mindset and with my emotional instability, I don’t think I would have made much of a boyfriend for her, either.

I started hanging out with other friends more. Marisol and I went and donated blood at Universal Studios during a Saw marathon. We got some free swag afterwards. Thanks night or a couple nights later was Halloween. She introduced me to her friend, a pretty Mexican woman. She and I swapped numbers and had sex not long after. It was nice, and passionate, but I just didn’t have the energy to pursue anything more. I still had my heart set on my ex.

November rolled around and I went to Temple with her and her family. Her sister invited me to Thanksgiving again and I asked my ex if she would be okay with that. She was, but I think a little reluctant. The dinner was nice. We laughed a lot. We got along as easily as ever.

And it still wasn’t enough. We got into a discussion about it in the car which quickly turned into a full-blown argument. “What is it?” I asked desperately. “We have fun. We get along. We make each other laugh.”

“Because you’re not the person I thought you were.” And that broke my heart completely. And I think I just gave up on everything then.

The next day was Black Friday. Black Friday in the front lanes of Best Buy in El Segundo is a fucking nigtmare. I got given charge of the registers. My job was to direct traffic to available registers, radio back to the warehouse to bring up the correct big ticket items, unfuck any mistakes the new kids made, and sell Black Tie any time I found myself at at a register. I did this for 12 hours on two hours of sleep and a hangover, and I was fucking great at it. I was supposed to work 14 hours that day, but the general manager sent me home a couple hours early because I looked like I was going to collapse at any moment.

“You’re maybe the only reason the front lanes didn’t completely fall apart,” he told me, before giving me my second dollar raise in a month. I was on track to move from the front lanes to the computer section and expected to get promoted to a supervisor somewhere within the next 6-12 months. Professionally, I had my ducks in a row. Mentally and emotionally, I alternated between being on the verge of tears, vomiting from full blown panic attacks, or feeling absolutely nothing at all.

Christmas season comes around. I’m still winning $25 gift cards. A new promotion comes out where if you bought a video game system, you automatically also received a gift card for $50 or $75 dollars (depending on which console was purchased). The thing is, not everyone knew about those cards. So I pocketed a few. No real reason why. I thought I was just being greedy back then. Nowadays I think I just wanted to do something risky just to feel something. And it was fucked up! I know that. That’s cards those people could have used for Christmas gifts. I just didn’t… care. I was so emotionally drained and self-loathing and hurt and lost. I stole those gift cards. I felt like a scumbag. I made a poor judgment choice. And because my head was in a constant maelstrom of grief and alcohol and loneliness and self-hate, I slipped up.

Using the gift cards, that’s when I got greedy. I would use my employee code to shave off a few more dollars from whatever product (usually movies or energy drinks) I was buying. And one of those customers that didn’t know about the gift card? He sure as shit found out about it, and when he came back to ask what happened to it, a little research tracked the usage back to me. And I was done for.

I got called into the office during a busy afternoon in a tone that very much indicated I had fucked up. I thought it was a transaction or something. When I saw my general manager and a stern-looking stranger, I knew exactly what had happened.

I had a weird mix of feelings wash over me then. Relief, weirdly, at finally just coming face to face with my self-sabotage and not having this guilty weight in the pit of my stomach. Resounding shame. Embarrassment. I didn’t want the people I had grown close with to know I was a thief on top of being an emotional wreck and a drunk.

This guy was the loss prevention manager for the entire west coast, and a former cop. He told me the easy was just to admit everything because they had tape, which may or may not have been true. The hard way would be to cuff me, parade me through the store and take me to jail. So I came clean immediately. I came clean on the gift cards, all of them, and the video games in Alaska.

“But there’s still something you’re not telling us. We know there’s more, just say it.” Oh, he was good. I knew another employee who got caught for stealing and then, when pressured, copped to taking money as well, sonething they hadn’t known. But I had admitted it all. I denied stealing anything else, like ipods. I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t even need the shit I actually took, but I warned them about how easy it would have been and suggested more thorough checks before leaving. I denied using my discount on behalf of friends except one time for a birthday (which was allowed). “I don’t know anyone in Los Angeles. All my other friends are Best Buy employees.” My manager told the guy he believed me. I had been a stellar, model employee other than this incident.

We tallied up the cost of the games and the gift cards. It came out to $350, I think. I agreed to pay it immediately. I had just paid rent, and I had been blowing money on booze, so I had to use what remained on my credit card to take care of it. I went on the floor to do it, and I looked at my direct manager and friend and said, “I’m sorry I let you down. Please don’t think I’m a bad person.” She told me she didn’t.

The LP manager still wanted to cuff and parade me. My general manager convinced him not to. “He’s been honest and upfront, he’s been a great employee, and he paid his restitution without any problem. Just let him leave.” I had only known the guy for four months and he cut me a break he had every right to shit all over. He walked me back to get my stuff, walked me to the front door and shook my hand. “I’ve had to do a lot of these walks over the years. This is one of the few I truly regret. Take care of yourself.”

I walked out in a bit of a daze. I barely had any money. I had no job. I couldn’t stay in Los Angeles. I called up RJ in Seattle and told him I was probably going to move up there with him. “What’s changed?” he asked.
“I got fired.”
“What? For what?” To the side, he told our friend Isaac, “He got fired.”
“Uh… theft. And embezzlement, they said.”
RJ cackled. “Embezzlement?!” Isaac cackled in the background. “What the fuck can you even embezzle from Best Buy?”
“Uh…gift cards?”
Gift cards? You couldn’t embezzle actual fucking currency? You went with gift cards?”
“Look, can I move up or what?”
“Hahaha yeah, man. See you soon.”

Jenny was on maternity leave at the time, so she hadn’t heard the news. She was visiting her family for Christmas and I dreaded telling her. But I sucked it up. “I have something I need to tell you. I’m moving this week. I got fired.” And I told her why and I told her I felt terrible about it, and she was disappointed, but she was so supportive and understanding. And her family gave me unexpected Christmas gifts because they are lovely people.

The fallout was interesting. I became a bit of a pariah, and I was somewhat flabbergasted by who stayed and who didn’t. Kevin, one of my best friends in the store, never spoke to me again. I didn’t blame him. He stuck his neck out for me multiple times and I betrayed him. Stephanie wishes me a Merry Christmas every year. Jason and Angie didn’t really give a shit. Some people I wasn’t that close with at all stayed friends with me for years. Others that I had been extremely close with, people I helped through hard times, people who could tell me anything because I wouldn’t say shit, pretended I never existed. I guess they felt like I betrayed them. The real me was a criminal and a fuck-up.

The loss of those friendships hurt; I didn’t take the gift cards from them. I paid back every cent I took. I lost my job. I lost my home. I had to move out of the fucking state! And California’s shoplifting laws allows for an additional restitution charge of  $50-$500. They got me for another $450, more than the original amount I took, and I paid that, too. I went into debt. And I didn’t complain about any of it because I broke the law. I took my punishment. But how much more did I have to give up? I lost everything, had to start from scratch all over again after everything I went through to get to where I was, and I fucked my own life up. The loss of those friendships hurt because I knew, knew that nobody hated me more I hated myself.

Brittni, one of my closest friends, took me out for milkshakes a day or two before I was set to fly out. We talked about what happened. She told me how hurt she was that I could betray her trust. She drove me home. She hugged me. She never spoke to me again.

And of course, my ex. Her words about never being anybody rang in my fucking soul. Her words about not being the man she thought I was were hooks in my heart. And now I knew this woman who loved me once, who I still loved so fiercely, would always view me as this tainted fuck-up. It killed me to think she would regret me. She didn’t speak to me for five years. Only recently did we reconnect and become friends again, and it brought closure to a demon weight that had been breaking me down for years.

I flew out of the city of angels a few days before the new year began to kick off most of a year in Seattle and Redmond, and some pretty life-defining things happened there. But Los Angeles changed me. It opened my eyes to so many amazing and terrible things. I met so many incredible people. I fell in love. I broke my heart. I built something good. I burned it all down.

Los Angeles changed me, for better and for worse. I’ll always love it, for better and for worse.

Gluing the Pieces Together

VàZaki Nada said, “Fear those who are able to create in the midst of their own destruction, they are invincible.”

When I read that for the first time, I laughed. For a while, I still didn’t know if it was out of disbelief that that had ever been the case or bitterness that I don’t much feel invincible at all, yet I try and create even as I seem set on casting away or sabotaging the best parts of my life. And what is there to fear here, really? A rage born partly out of frustration at someone’s manipulation of me and partly of my own ineptitude at not seeing it coming? Even then, ninety percent of my anger is directed internally and who would truly fear a man lamenting the decisions he did or didn’t make?

I think now, though, that I laugh because the quote lends a misinterpretation towards “tortured” or “struggling” or “angst-ridden” or “addicted” artists, towards people who crank out poetry, prose, music and art despite being burdened with an emotional, mental or chemical dependency.

It is a rare thing for the people described to die of old age and even rarer for them to die happy. Those people aren’t invincible. Have they endured an anguish or a compulsion or both that most might buckle under or overcome at the cost of producing nothing? Possibly. This doesn’t necessarily make them stronger, though they are strong. It certainly doesn’t make them invincible.

Substance abuse, depression, and many other mental disorders runs heavy in artists, the creative mind running rampant in imagination, working overtime in analyzing and overanalyzing things, seeing and feeling things to degrees most people don’t. Creating, putting that content out there is – for most – the only way to calm themselves. To distract from the world and its problems at large, to get the content out to be seen and absorbed and have it stop pressing against the corners of their mind.

Others start out writing to say something. HP Lovecraft, for example, is famous for being the modern father of horror writing, but he’s also known for the thousands of letters he wrote to publications and other writers and aspiring authors. He wrote about writing and processes, the city, and the people who lived in it. He wrote because there were opinions and thoughts and ideas he wanted to get out and share. Journalists and travel writers, photographers and political writers, writers that have heart-rending experiences or speak to those that do, or people with all too common issues that simply want to lend a voice to the voiceless and a call to those who know what it’s like just so they know they’re not alone… these people create with a purpose beyond beauty.

But painters, writers, poets, musicians, those with a spotlight on non-fiction, they all bring out that material because there is a fire in them. It burns in their gut, in their heart, in their mind, under every inch of skin. It’s a compulsion, an urge, an irrefutable fact that needs to be shared, and it’s done no matter what. No matter the divorce or death, no matter the drink or drug, no matter not being able to look yourself into a mirror.

Creating, for beauty or for information or for expression (or any mix of those, natch) is the only thing that keeps those artists going. Beyond the desire to do it, it’s a need. That need keeps them moving through just mountains of shit. Decades of self-loathing. Bottles of whiskey. Heaps of debt. Stints of homelessness. Whatever the circumstances may be. They persevere and they create despite it, channeling that hurt and rage and sadness and love for what could be and what is and what’s desired and what others just don’t seem to appreciate as much as they should, they bring all that out and put it on display anyway.

But they’re not invincible. They’re doing the only thing they can do, that they know how to, in order to survive. And while some might give up sooner, or while some might find a way into a better life, for most it’s just delaying the inevitable.

Vincent van Gogh. Ernest Hemingway. Robert E Howard. Hunter S Thompson. Sylvia Plath. Kurt Cobain. Virginia Woolf.

Robin Williams.

I promise you that any artist you see publicly destructing is doing so on another level privately. Do not fear them. Fear for them. They are not invincible. They are trying to give this world what they can before they give the rest of themselves to this world.

It has been a while since I’ve put any serious thought into suicide. A few years, anyway. I do think about death a lot, and about life. I recently had what I can only call a quarter-life crisis, and it’s something I’m still… sorting myself through. I realized I’m only three years shy of thirty, and I haven’t accomplished any of the things I’ve truly wanted to. I’m not living where I want to or doing what I want, but I don’t have the money to get started with what and where I do want. Younger me was ambitious and confident and clever. He’d have pulled the trigger anyway, but younger me did so with a safety net to fall back on

I don’t have that safety net anymore. My family is dead or estranged. My friends have families and responsibilities of their own. If I pull the trigger and fuck it up, bright, handsome Jered the writer could end up just another guy on the street because he honestly can’t afford anything else.

There are solutions, but let me break for a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.”

Nietzsche is famous and infamous, controversial and revelationary. He was also an avid opium user and often misquoted, misinterpreted, and quoted out of context. For example, his opium use is largely attributed to treating his ample medical conditions instead of a raging addiction. It may have been that the soothing effects of opium may have been the only thing pushing pain away enough to be able to write cohesively and thoughtfully.

But Poe liked opium as well. Hemingway and Bukowski liked a drink. Hunter S Thompson was a veritable cocktail of illicit substances. Liquor especially has always seemed to be a common ally to the writer, and I’ll admit that some of my best stuff has come out of me under the influence. I’ve never needed to be fully drunk to write, but a glass or two to keep me loose never hurt.

Bottom line is I’m not going to shit all over booze and say it doesn’t help the creative process. Do you know what, though? It doesn’t help anything at all when the person consuming it is having an emotional breakdown.

When you’re losing it, really losing it, the cool thing is that you can realize it but mostly only from the outside. You know your problems have a solution, but the problems all seem so many and so overwhelming, you don’t want to pick a place to start. You know you’re relatively young, but everyone else has houses and families and careers and though you know you shouldn’t judge yourself by someone else’s life, you do so anyway, and you feel like you’ve wasted yours. You know you shouldn’t be at the bar, you should be working on your book, but it’s too quiet at home this early and maybe you’ll see someone you haven’t seen in a while and it’ll make you feel better.

I fucking crashed and burned. I hit a really depressive patch and I had a weekend where I went a little too hard, then St Patrick’s Day rolled around, then it became a series of excuses to just try and come to terms with the fact I’m not who I wanted to be while continuing to push myself in the opposite direction.

I once sad-clown joked, “I’ve hit rock bottom so many times I should open up a timeshare.” This wasn’t rock bottom. Not for me. I’ve been in a lot worse situations. I’ve done worse things. I’ve gone on worse benders. I’ve hurt people, lost my job, skirted jail time, almost killed myself both intentionally and unintentionally. All things considered, this was pretty fucking mild. But my body had enough of my shenanigans, and I finally had enough of my shenanigans, too.

I got really bad alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The shakes. Fatigue. Light-headedness to the point I almost passed out at work twice in one day. It got to the point where I very much needed liquor to keep my body going. That is a serious problem.

That isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. I party, sure, and I like the taste of liquor and beers, but I didn’t used to fucking need the shit to sleep. I didn’t used to be so aggressive about it all. I used to have self-control. I used to have self-respect.

I realized immediately, finally, that I need to regain control of my life. I happened to pull up an old conversation with my best friend (who, at this point, hasn’t really spoken to me in almost a year). She had said, “I really hope that moving forward, you can be happier, because I miss that.”

I didn’t, and I haven’t been. I miss it, too, and I miss her. I’ve made myself a misery to be around, and I’ve taken it out on myself. Something needed to be done.

“I understand that you care. I just sometimes feel that the people who know me best are people I’ve never met.” -Iain S. Thomas

When I started writing this blog, I really felt like I had hit a stride in finding an outlet to really say the things I’ve been wanting to say and talk about it in a way that would reach others without compromising who I am or the way I write. I’ve covered subjects like being adopted, losing family members, rape, loss, suicide, love, heartbreak, writing. I’ve had dozens of people reach out to me across Facebook, Twitter and even here, where I’ve got over 150 followers who are mostly strangers and who mostly know me strictly through WordPress.

That confidence bled into Facebook, where I keep in touch with most of my friends. I didn’t shy away from being honest or from sharing poetry and art and beautiful videos and pictures anymore, and I think people started to see that.

When I hit my rough patch, I threw a lot of that away. I slid back into the same old routine, the same problems, the same habits I always had. I hurt and I raged and I wanted more, but I wasn’t speaking anymore. There was no longer a purpose to what I was writing. This wasn’t introspection. It wasn’t examination. This was whining.

I feel like most of the people I know pity me to some degree. Some outright loathe me. I feel like I’ve let myself go so much that people have no picture of who I am beyond being a hard-drinker and a lothario, a retail worker who writes things sometimes and tries to talk them up.

Maybe they’re right, I don’t know, but I don’t want to be that.

My withdrawal symptoms had become bad enough that quitting cold turkey probably would have done more harm than good, but I was determined to get back control of my life.

The first thing I did was disconnect Facebook. I didn’t need the distraction of other people. Trying to put up a status update that made people laugh or one that kept people updated on my progress, as if they needed to know. I didn’t want to worry about anything or get side-tracked with conversations and links and pictures. I shut it off, dropping mostly off the grid, though if someone texted or called me, I let them know I just needed some Me time.

The second thing I did was look up different plans for alcohol detox. I found a tapering plan I liked and decided to stick with that. One standardized drink (a beer or shot) an hour from wake to sleep. The next day would be an hour and a half. The next would be two and so on, until I wasn’t drinking at all. This was perfect. It kept my body distracted and it eliminated any urge I had after a certain point to just, fuck it, have some more. It became a chore (time to take my vitamin) and not a pleasure. There was no loose allure, there was no swim to get caught in.

As I write this, I’m a few days into it. I haven’t faltered. I picked up a few different vitamin supplements to help with the withdrawal symptoms, and I’ll probably continue taking them for a while after I’m done. They cost $60 fucking dollars, those bottles are going to be empty.

The trickiest part is doing this more or less alone. I texted my friend to ask if he would do me a favor, intending to ask if he would help support me through it. When he asked what the favor was, I told him never mind. I was pretty sure I could go it alone.

My co-workers mostly know, primarily because I had to explain the pill bottles and word spread. When I told them I was quitting drinking for a while, their responses were:

-laughter
-“Dude, why you lying?”
-“Yeah, okay.”
-“Ew, don’t quit drinking.”

Only three other people know what I’m doing. Two don’t talk about me to any mutual friends and the third is my bartender, who not only also keeps my business to herself but who has been supportive and assistive during this whole process.

I trust my friends with a lot, but not with this. I think part of it is because I’m ashamed of myself. I feel like they already see me as a deadbeat, and I don’t want to have to come out and admit that I am, and that I have to actually fix something because I am broken. I don’t want them to discuss this with each other behind my back. I don’t want to see the disappointment or – even worse – the complete lack of surprise if I fuck it up. I just want to do it, have it be done, and then introduce myself back to everyone. I want it behind me so I don’t have the pressure of everyone’s vision of me and their expectations.

So I feel pretty alone, and I’m stressed, but I’m doing this. So far, so good. I don’t expect anyone to see my different. I don’t expect to win anybody back or win anyone over.

I’m not invincible. I’m the last person you should fear. I just want to be a good man that doesn’t feel so broken. I just want to be able to look myself in the mirror again.

The A Word

I never had a problem with drinking, until I did.

Boom! What a killer opening line. People should pay me for this shit. It’s true, though. Somewhere along the line, I stopped drinking recreationally, and I started doing it out of grief, and then out of fear. Fear for my health, believe it or not, and of course that would come around full circle to affect me anyway.

This is a milestone for me, in that it’s my 100th blog post of shared articles, original poetry and fiction, profile articles and personal reflections. This needed to be something more important, something next-level personal. I decided to push off my article on the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and focus instead on alcohol. Let’s start at the beginning.

I had tried alcohol as a kid. I wasn’t shotgunning brews in elementary school or anything, but my parents would let me have a sip of their beer or their wine. Never more than a sip, and it was stressed to me that those were adult drinks and not to have any otherwise. I was pretty good about that for a long time, but I was also a rebellious little twat, so it was only a matter of time.

One night, when I was 12 or 13, or was staying up at my step-dad’s house to spend the night with my siblings. He was still a heavy drinker at that point and had a cornucopia of liquors in the kitchen. The night grew later, everyone fell asleep, and I tippy-toed up the stairs and into the kitchen because dammit, I was going to try some of this fire water (my late godfather once referred to it as “elephant juice” because it “makes you as strong as a bull”. I called him Poo-Poo Face for lying to me. I was a charming child, really).

I’m standing there and I’m looking at these bottles like the kids in the Goonies first took in One-Eyed Willie’s pirate treasure. Where do I start? What would I like? I ultimately decided to go with whichever bottle looked the coolest and settled on this stout, beautiful blue bottle of something called Bombay Sapphire Gin.

So I took my trembling pre-order hands and carefully lifted the bottle off of the counter, took it over to the sink and filled half of a Dixie cup with liquid. Hell, this stuff looks like water. Smells a little funny. I lifted the cup and tried to let it trickle down my throat the way one would a nice cold cup of H2O.

I desperately and successfully hid my wracking coughing fit as my throat burned and seized up and I poured the rest of the contents down the drain. It was ten years before I tried gin again. I like it okay now.

The next time I really started drinking, though, I was 15. I got invited to this house party by a guy I worked with and I ended up drinking too much rum and vomiting in everyone’s shoes. I managed to get away with that somehow, but it was an ignominious start to a storied drinking career.

There are far too many stories to go through over the course of a decade, so I’ll shorten it as much as I can:

When I was 16, I moved out of my grandparent’s house and into an apartment with a bunch of 21 and ups. We partied a lot. My grades suffered but that was more due to a crippling depression and crisis of self, because I was at school every day. I just didn’t give a shit. I partied, and when I moved back home, I barely partied, and when I turned 18, I partied all over Europe and paralyzed my hand and unparalyzed it because, guys, I’m pretty cool. I’m just really dumb.

I’d hit up one or two house parties a week until I turned 21 with the rest of my friends. I spent that birthday in Reno with my friend Amber, writing bad poetry and almost taking strippers home. I came back to Alaska and spent 4-5 nights a week with two of my best dude friends at a karaoke bar we came to love and be recognised at.

That fall, I moved to Los Angeles, and I drank a lot down there for two reasons:

1) I didn’t pay for shit. I’m talking free beers, free rum and Cokes, $6 pitchers of Adios Motherfuckers, and my friend and I drank like this for five months straight with people from all over the world, because goddamnit, that was a rock and roll type of life. And when that gravy train hit the station,

2). my friend moved away, I moved to a different spot, I was struggling financially and I was in a toxic relationship. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING TO DO.

And I knew it, and I knew I had to get right, so I moved back up to Alaska for four months. I stopped drinking so heavily, I lost a lot of weight, I got my money in order, I moved back down, and three months after that, I made some stupid decisions completely independently of alcohol (I wish I could say I was drunk instead of a fool, believe me). I lost the job I had spent over a year building myself into, the girl I loved, a ton of friends, a ton of money,and I had to move to Washington.

In Seattle and Redmond, my friend and I adopted a more regular drinking schedule. We kept beer in the fridge and there was a dive bar down the road, but we didn’t drink in excess at the house (with a few special occasions), we primarily went to the bar on the weekends (there was a promo girl I liked, so I got to A. flirt, B. get cheap shots and C. get free swag for buying cheap shots). But also, man, I was feeling low. Those suicidal thoughts were creeping in. I had no money, I was a pariah, I was lonely and heartbroken, I felt like a failure. I got a job with the help of my friend, and it was a job testing video games, which is awesome, but it was a temp job, which was less awesome, and I felt aimless.

I visited Alaska again to see my newly born nephew. That weekend, sober, I popped into a (now closed) bar I never went to, and saw a woman I had long had an inexplicable and probably borderline creepy affection for. We were MySpace friends but had only ever shared one actual interaction. She saw me, she somehow recognised me, smiled and waved, came over and told me I was a great writer and she believed in me.

As silly as that might be, that changed everything for me. I got my head straight, I went back to Washington, just wrote my first book in six months and just made plans to come back to Alaska for 4-6 months just to visit everyone, save up some dough, and move back to California.

That was a little over three years ago. And you know what? I was doing great. I was out a bunch, but I wasn’t drinking much. I was writing, mostly, and it was good. And then two years ago, everything kind of went to shit.

My godfather died. His funeral was on my birthday, and while I was driving my mom back to rehab after, my date cancelled dinner a half hour before our reservation. A week later, my grandmother, the best mother figure I ever really knew, passed away of a heart attack. Five months after that, my grandfather passed away and a woman I had loved for five years promised me she would be there for me and left me instead for one of only two people I genuinely hate.

That was the start. Right there. That night. I got the news, I was crashing on my friend’s couch at the time and I was without a vehicle, but he had a half-time bottle or 99 Bananas in the freezer and I drank the whole thing. I cried until he got home, cried while we talked about it, he went to bed, I cried some more, another friend hit me up to cab it to his girlfriend’s place, I drank some Jack Daniels, let some girls pluck my eyebrows, called someone a bitch and woke up the next morning on the first friend’s floor, even though there was a perfectly good couch right there.

Grief had me. I lashed out at everybody. I hated myself for not being a better friend/grandson/person, and I embraced it, and then it got worse.

I got septic shock and almost died. When I pulled through, I put my two weeks in at my job, got harassed by an assistant manager and when I filed a complaint, they fired me. They skimped me on my pay. I’m still paying people back for that. My dad stole my inheritance and used half of it to pay for his legal fees around his prison sentence and gave the rest to his wife, who put him there in the first place. I didn’t see a penny.

I started drinking just about every night. At first, it was out of grief and anger and self-pity. That was for a good year, year and a half. I was a horrible person. I’ve since come to peace with that, and I’ve done my best to repair the relationships I ruined, and those who were open to forgiving me have. The rest is in the past.

After the grief, I started drinking to suppress everything. I didn’t need to black out, I just needed enough to sleep. Once I was there, I wouldn’t dream, or if I did, I didn’t remember it. When I woke up, I was either tired or hungover or both, but however I was feeling physically kept my mind from doing anything but focusing on that.

But, see, here’s the thing: I have never felt that I needed alcohol. I’ve wanted it. I’ve wanted it to drown out everything or to punish myself or to stoke creative embers (in my better days), but if there wasn’t any around, I was fine. I could go days, weeks, months without a drink no problem. And unlike most, I drink because I like the taste. I like the bite, the burn, the flavor. I’m a rum and Coke guy all day, but a shot of Jameson and a craft beer? A pale ale or a vodka martini? 12 year scotch on the rocks to sip on while I’m poring over notes? I like them all. I like the differences and the nuances and as long as it’s not tequila, we’re good to go.

I don’t drink shots of tequila because I hate the taste. Put it in a margarita that’s more fruit punch than agave, we can talk, but get that Tequila Sunrise bullshit out of my face. I’m not that guy who drinks whatever he can get his hands on. I have my tastes and I have restraint.

Or I used to.

And as the better parts of two years wound down and I was past the grief and I had become ready to face my thoughts and emotions again, I discovered another problem: at this point, I had drank so heavily, so regularly, and for so long, I was terrified at the toll it would take on my body to quit. So I started slowly struggling with some kind of game plan on how to wean myself off. I wanted to consult a doctor, but I don’t have a regular physician and I’m so deep in medical debt, I wasn’t sure what avenues to go to. I felt lost and, frankly, since I feel like most of my friends judge me and think I’m an alcoholic anyway, I didn’t know who to turn to.

Then one morning, I woke up to the sound of my roommate getting up and while I lay in bed, my body went through a full involuntary convulsion. It wasn’t long and I was conscious through it, but it was unusual and it was scary. I went to the ER where, after some basic tests,the doctor seemed to think it was dehydration related. Rather than put me on detox medication, he basically told me to figure it out and drink more water. So that was a cool trip.

I took the rest of the day off work and I talked to a couple friends (both of whom are bartenders) and they helped me come up with a plan to help regulate myself. So that’s what I’m doing, and it’s working like this:

First off, I only go out to the bars on Friday and Saturdays now. That’ll probably stay consistent, because I like to get out of the house, listen to music, watch some comedy, and see some friends I don’t have a chance to see otherwise. During the week, now that I’ve got my office set up, I’ll have A drink, just to make sure my body’s not fully without. Sometimes I’ll have a second, but since I started this a couple weeks ago, some nights I won’t have any at all.

When I do go out, for every drink I order, I have at least one glass of water with it. Sometimes two. I have a habit where, when I have a drink (any drink: liquor, water, soda, in a cup, in a glass, in a bottle), I’m constantly drinking it. By adding a glass of water, it scratches that itch while keeping me hydrated.

So after all of that, here is where I’m at: I’ve cut my drinks down to a third or less what I was drinking. I go to bed sober most nights, and I wake up tired but clear-headed and not nauseous. When I do go out on the weekend, I find I’m less hungover the following day, and that I’ve begun redeveloping restraint. I cut myself off and switch to strictly water if I feel I’ve had too much, and more than that, I’m finding less of an urge to get another drink. I’ll nurse them for longer periods of time.

I understand that this is normal shit for a lot of people, and it used to be normal shit for me. I think I had a bad reaction to a series of bad events, and it just took me longer than normal to start getting out of it.

Here’s the other thing, though: when I was drinking heavily, it suppressed my mind. Now that I don’t have that, I am thinking ALL OF THE THOUGHTS ALL OF THE TIME. I find myself falling asleep between 4AM and 7AM every single night. I get 3-5 hours of sleep on average, and what sleep I get more often than not has vivid dreams that are more often than not horrifically realistic nightmares. I’m nostalgic and short of temper, and I’ve got mood swings. I literally spent an hour googling monasteries the other day because I thought maybe going some place like that for 6-8 months would help. Help what? I don’t even know.

I feel like I know now why so many writers and artists are addicts of some kind, and I feel, sometimes, like I’m sacrificing my sanity for my sobriety.

But I’m not the religious type, I’m not the meetings type. Even though I bare my life, soul and all of my fuck-ups on this blog for the internet to see, in real life, I’m not even much of a trusting, talkative type. But I am a fighter. I have a plan. So far it’s working. I’m going to start with that.