RIP: Pace (2004 2011)


My dog died yesterday morning. He was a good dog, but he didn’t have a long time on this earth. He was my first pet and I really loved him.

One time I was acting as an AA sponsor for a guy who lived on my block. He had a huge, old dog and we’d go for walks or I’d go to his house to chat. He was having a hard time staying away from drugs and had been around AA for a while. You get a guy like that and you just hang out with him and encourage him, because there really isn’t anything to tell him that he doesn’t’ already know. He moved away from my block, and I didn’t hear from him for a long time and then he called me one day to say that he had relapsed (no surprise)  and that the big dog had died. He was calling because he felt terrible. The dog was ready to die but was hanging on and was uncomfortable and my friend had been using drugs for a few weeks and so he dealt with the dog’s impending death by purchasing a large stash of drugs and holing up in this bedroom and when he finally came out, the dog was gone. If you’re an AA sponsor you hear this kind of thing all the time and you’re supposed to A) not judge and B) be compassionate. I didn’t do any of that. I told him something like “Grow the fuck up” and asked him not to call me anymore. I feel bad about that now. I did much worse and the sponsor’s that really made a difference in my life didn’t act like that to me. The reality of staying sober is that I’m able to cry when my dog dies, hold my wife while she cries, stick around with her for an entire afternoon when I have an upcoming deadline on Friday, because, really, the deadlines are important, but maybe not as important as being the kind of guy someone can rely on when everything feels so shitty.

When we told my daughter the dog was dead, she started to chuckle and said something like, “You guys are kidding us.” She did the same thing when we told her Santa wasn’t real, and we let her get away with that, so she is still deluded about where the Christmas presents come from, because, really, who wants to tell their kid Santa isn’t real, if the kid really wants to believe in Santa. My kids cried for about half an hour. And then they went to swim. And then they came home and cried on and off most of the night. And so I guess the point is I feel terrible, too, but maybe not as terrible as the guy I was sponsoring must have felt, not that I’m any better than he is, but it’s just this strange mix of feeling terrible and feeling satisfied with myself all at the same time.

For a guy like me, that’s a pretty good deal.

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Dopefiend Reading Guide: Chapter One, Honesty


In Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is about recognizing that alcohol is ruining your life. That may seem a little obvious, but in practice it’s actually one of the biggest challenges an addict will ever face. In the first chapter of Dopefiend, I wanted to echo a similar awareness, with a similar struggle to find the big picture. The chapter opens with the DOPEFIEND adamantly refusing to recognize the role that heroin plays in his life. I remember going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Pennsylvania high on heroin and playing it off like I was sober. I fooled no one. But the trick with denial is that, for it to work, you really only need to deceive one person. Fortunately for me, I found myself in a New York City homeless shelter. This drastic change of circumstance, more than anything else, helped me to assess my life situation more clearly.

Reading group questions for Chapter 1: Honesty:

1. Is there any difference between denial and dishonesty?

2. Early in the chapter, one of the attendees at an Narcotics Anonymous meeting points out that the DOPEFIEND is going to die. To which, he responds: “We’re all going to die.” Is this an honest answer? Why? Why not?

3. In a “bid for leniency” from the judge, the DOPEFIEND applies for drug treatment. Does this seem like an honest way to enter drug treatment? Why? Why not?

4. At the intake appointment, Roberto discovers that the DOPEFIEND got high earlier that morning. Although this is told to Roberto as a joke, to lighten the mood, this is arguably the only honest thing the DOPEFIEND says to anyone in all of Chapter 1. What role does this tiny bit of honesty play in irrevocably setting the DOPEFIEND on a course to break through his denial?

5. What role—if any—does the tousle headed deli clerk’s kindness play in breaking through the DOPEFIEND’s denial? What about this same clerk’s firm response to the attempted theft of the ice cream from his store? Which response—firmness or kindness—plays a bigger role in breaking though the DOPEFIEND’s denial?

Dopefiend Excerpt: Sunday Celebrations at Rockford


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Each week at Rockford, there was a Sunday celebration: families brought home-cooked meals, girlfriends appeared in tight jeans and teased hair, and sons mended family ties.

Aaron (not pictured) and I (pictured, far right) never participated.

He had a girlfriend in Manhattan, but she was ignoring him while he was in treatment. I occasionally wrote my mother carefully composed letters that never asked for anything, or even posed any questions she might feel compelled to answer. I didn’t want to pressure her. In prior treatment experiences, I had pushed for the organized reconciliation, the weekend visits. I couldn’t imagine going through all that again.

As the summer wore on, counselors began to disappear, with little explanation for their absence. Juan was gone. Rick was gone. A few others were gone. Aaron pointed out that they had actually relapsed and then had to be let go. When I suggested they might have gotten better jobs, Aaron laughed. He was shrewd.

“They’re junkies,” he said. “You can tell they’re in trouble, if their caseload suddenly gets cut.” This appeared to be true.

Miguel, who had pale yellow where the whites of his eyes should have been, had his caseload cut to a third of what it once had been. A few days later, he took his remaining charges into the courtyard, and then nodded off in his folding chair during group. One-by-one his clients stood, folded their chairs and then wandered off, until only Miguel was left in the courtyard, his chin upon his chest. News of the counselor’s relapses terrified me. It was exactly the kind of thing I could see myself doing.

A Stack of DOPEFIENDS at Barnes & Noble


Holly and I rarely go to Barnes & Noble. Usually if we want a book, we end up at one of the independent bookstores around here. But last night we did go to Barnes & Noble. Holly said, “Let’s go see if we can find your book.”

I said, “I am up for it!” or “Oh, yeah.” Or something like that.

When we got there, I couldn’t find DOPEFIEND in the memoir section. I felt bummed. I went to ask at the information desk and the lady said they did have it in stock!

She led me to the addiction and self-help section.

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I was a little overjoyed. This is the first time I walked into a bookstore where I wasn’t scheduled to speak and found my book. But I also felt a little bummed to find it in the self-help section. I’m not far from “How to Quit Drinking Without AA.” I bet the guy that wrote that book would be fun to have a drink with!

But then Holly pointed out that DOPEFIEND was only two shelves down from the porn section. One reason I married Holly is because she knows how to cheer me up!

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It worked! I felt much better!

Porn is edgy.

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Really Barnes & Noble? Really?

You put the self-help and addiction stuff right below the porn? I guess it makes a certain sense. If you’re addicted to porn, you won’t have to go far to find a book that can help!

Anyhow – short personal update – I am pumped! My book is on Amazon and in bookstores across the country and I finished up my first book tour last month. I recently got a royalty sheet from CRP. These things come out twice a year and keep you abreast of how your book is doing. Because of when mine was published, this statement was only for the first month or so of sales. While I haven’t earned through my advance yet, I did notice we’re about halfway through the initial print run. Time will tell, but I certainly feel as if I have learned a lot. I am already starting to mull ideas for the next work. I’ve got it narrowed down to one of two projects, which I’m not going to talk about much until I commit to one or the other.

Meanwhile, I want to do a reader’s guide for DOPEFIEND and I’m finishing up a few other short projects. The reader’s guide is going to be fabulous. I want to explore the spiritual values from each of the chapter heads and offer a few questions about the action in the story. Hopefully these will start some discussions here on the blog.

I’m also taking off from promoting DOPEFIEND over the holidays, but I’m trying to get a few things lined up for the spring.