alcohol · favorites · mental health · sobriety

Sponsor (Simon, but no Simony full version)

How Much Drinking Is Too Much During a Pandemic? | SELF

A WORD TO THE SPONSOR who is putting his first newcomer into a hospital or otherwise introducing him to this new way of life: You must assume full responsibility for this man. He trusts you, otherwise he would not submit to hospitalization. You must fulfill all pledges you make to him, either tangible or intangible. If you cannot fulfill a promise, do not make it.

–Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1938

Hannah leans over the counter and, proffering a demitasse, whispers conspiratorially: “Do you want an extra shot?” And not one to pass up on an opportunity for café collusion, the barista after all being a sweetheart and why not four shots of espresso in my Americano, I raise an eyebrow and say, “Certainly.” I drink coffee alcoholically these days as is, so Hannah is unknowingly being an enabler, but we enjoy a harmless relationship, me and the barista, and the coffeeshop is better a Friday hang than what could be a hangover. Hannah winks and places a finger to her lips while she pours the espresso. My sponsor waits outside.

The café still smells of Christmas, a sparsely decorated pine in the corner, and the gathered patrons are either stuck on 52 across or deleting e-mails. No music plays—this is not Starbucks—and music shouldn’t be played at a coffeeshop anyway.

I’m in a good mood, which a quadruple mathematically compounds, and my sponsor has picked a table in the sun because he, despite twenty years expatriated from Seattle, still chooses to wear shorts in forty-degree weather. Chris is my sponsor’s name, either short for Christopher or Christian, I don’t know; but were it the latter, it would be ironic, seeing as Chris has made a Jefferson’s Bible out of the Big Book, striking all miracles from its pages and replacing words like ‘spiritual’ and ‘God’ with agnostic lexis more appropriate to his skeptical bent. He has twenty-one years, so his sobriety is of drinking age, long enough, he professes, that were science to one day accomplish a cure for alcoholism, say some magic pabulum or pill, he’d forego the cure and stick to his monastic ways. He even uses the word ‘monastic’, which, again, is ironic, as deism is something he finds of nuisance—blah blah blah, he’ll say, with a dismissive flip of the hand—but monastic it is, fitting as he lives a caustral life with his cats in a studio apartment, as long without a lover near as long as he’s been without a drink. But ‘we are not a glum lot’ the saying goes, and Chris always exudes the air of a man at ease with himself, down to the ever-crossed arms behind the head and a chin tipped upward just enough to reveal when he’s been lazy with the razor. I don’t get the sense that he is lonely; regardless, I know I’m good company for him. We’re both happy with the red pens as evidenced by our respective Big Books, and both examine rhetoric as through a jeweler’s loupe, happy sometimes with a particular turn of phrase, other times not, this discernment necessary when wading through a text that less than coquettishly flirts with dogma. Bill W., after all, was not exactly a shrinking violet in the grand posy of things.

Despite similarities, Chris and I differ in one marked way: we are very dissimilar drinkers, and it shows in the manner that I veritably osmose my Americano while he takes his cup like a gentleman–he could very well extend a pinkie—and you wouldn’t have guessed that he’s the binger of our lot, whereas I’m the marathon imbiber; you also wouldn’t have guessed, though, by our disparate ages, that I’ve got ten years residence on him when it comes to dwelling at the bottom of a glass (albeit with occasional changes of address). This accounts for his impressive lack of relapses, also the fact that his disease never had the chance to graduate with honors to the so-called middle stages.

“I quit after only four months of nightly drinking,” he informs me, “So I never experienced withdrawals,” and he says this last part with a hint of reckoning, as if remarking, ‘can’t say that I have’ in response to a casual query. Withdrawals, of course, are as casual as a cotillion, which is to say they’re not: they’re what happens when alcohol stops making you sick, but the lack of it does.

“I’ve had a bit of PAWS the past few days,” I offer, “Sucks.” Except for today, I’m sure to add, because it’s a refreshingly crisp day even with the sun shining, the coffee is strong, and the sidewalk-goers outside the café are like Christmas ornaments on the tree inside, wrapped in Yule-colored sweaters and still merry despite the holiday passed.

“You know, I never heard of that until recently,” Chris confesses, “Came up in a meeting the other week. Like I said, I never had anything resembling withdrawals. What’re they like?”

PAWS is post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which is essentially the body collecting its dues for past and injurious behavior. Symptoms can show up in Whack-a-Mole fashion, a carnival of ugly heads playing popcorn in the body, ping-pong: hypoglycemia, malnutritive disorder, cortical atrophy, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, brain amine depletion—the laundry list which, though syllables long, and originating in the corpus, can best be described in simple emotive terms.

“Ennui, Chris. I get irritable. Depressed.” It’s a serotonin thing. My blood chemistries are within normal limits—it’s testament to how well the body heals–and I am fresh-faced just two months abstinent. But my head still resides in Purgatory, and there’s no indulgence for that–not even the errant dollar bills in the meeting collection plates impress the angel who guards entrance to Limbo.

“Ah.” Chris nods and looks at me sympathetically from behind wire-rimmed glasses. He never has to adjust his spectacles, they seem soldered in place, while I’m constantly punching at my nose bridge as if tapping out Morse code to some unseen—or unseeing—third eye.

“At least I know what it is I’m going through,” I concede. “I mean, if I didn’t…” and I trail off, because this is where physiology and psychology get confused, there being the intermittent phenomena of craving; what if this means there’s an insufficient adaptation on my part, on a symbolic level, to an otherwise alcohol-free life. The mind despairs while meantime the body repairs. Suddenly all the needlepoint samplers on the walls of the Alano clubs make sense: ‘Easy Does It. First Things First.’ I take a swig of coffee, in the abstainer’s version of a heady quaff and—“Excuse me, Chris—you’ll get used to this”—I excuse myself to the restroom for what’s probably the first of many times. I mean, four shots of espresso.

Hannah’s still at work behind the counter and, being a Friday, the gran turismo that is the espresso machine is at an idle, Hannah instead tending to the accumulated utensils her work necessitates, the portofilters and compressore tamps, whisks and muddlers, and it occurs to me how alike her job is to that of a mixologist’s, the Torani syrups with their quick pour spouts the virgin equivalent of varied liqueurs, espresso being the antemeridian workhorse spirit. How it is we begin every morning already under the influence. Hannah is party to this, she looking very much like a cocktail herself, with hair dyed a curious shade of curacao, and tattoos like vintner stamps. She smiles again, my caffeine conspirator, and the café with its distressed wood is instantly less distressed as I pass through the back hallway toward the restrooms.

Billie Holiday: the highs and lows of Lady Day | Jazzwise

A picture of Billie Holiday hangs just inside the door above a small decorative stool. It’s an old photograph, when Lady Day was still young and singing in nightclubs, this before the state of New York took away her cabaret card for heroin possession in 1947. Ms. Holiday was an alcoholic, too, hers a painful life which, many have remarked, is obvious in her voice, disillusioned yet still childlike in its intonation. Sad as her life was—and it included rape and prostitution, needles, drink, and the slammer–the saddest thing, and I think about this every time I see the coffeeshop photograph, is that she had her record player taken away from her when she died. Billie Holiday, singer of arguably the most important song of the twentieth century—‘Strange Fruit’—died in a hospital room cleared of all flowers and all well-wishes cards, her record player too, because when she was admitted to Metropolitan for liver and heart problems, she had heroin on her person. Authorities placed her under arrest on her death bed, drug possession charges, and she left this world by way of empty room, with empty veins, most likely in withdrawal, with no music to guide her home. She had forty-four cents in the bank, and another 750 dollars strapped to her leg.

The photograph at the coffeeshop shows her smiling, famous magnolia blossom pinned to her hair, when she was alive and vital in the nightclubs. It was said that when Billie sang, men stopped drinking, something she herself never did. Her addictions sadly, robbed her of her freedoms: when her cabaret card got taken away, she was disallowed from singing at the NY jazz joints and, although she was to later grace Carnegie Hall, it was the club scene that was her life blood, not the lavish venues. When her literal life blood was coursing its last, Billie victim to the ascites and edemas of late-stage cirrhosis, her liver a diseased orange from years of acetaldehyde abuse, there was an armed guard posted outside of her hospital room—an armed guard!—to insure her arrest was lawfully overseen and that every last iota of freedom Billie had belonged to the state of New York.

“It’s freeing,” I tell Chris upon returning outside, this time to a table in the shade where the glare is less and the traffic more subdued, “Despite.”

“What is?”

“Well there are a few words that show up from time to time in literature. One, ironically, is ‘arrest.’”

“Opposite of freeing.”

“Right, but it comes up in two manners.” Chris readjusts himself, interested, which always entails readjusting his Big Book too, turning it sideways, else flipping it upside down. Rubber-banded to his book—always—is the recent copy of the NYT crossword. He, to my satisfaction does the puzzle correctly, by which I mean in pen.

“Listen,” and I point to me and him. “We got this shit.” And I pause for a second, because that’s actually hard to admit.

“We got this shit, right?” I dip my finger in my drink and it’s tepid. Fuck, I want it hot; fuck I want it alcoholic.

People walk by on the sidewalk and there’s the sudden sense that we are not in a safe space, but that, really, any place can be one.

“We got this shit, Chris. And it’s arresting for one.”

This cannot be exactly new to Chris, were we to play with words, or review criminal files from one score and a month ago; Chris had a DUI, and through the magic of deferment came to realize he was arrested before the handcuffs had even been slapped on his wrists. A few months in the Program is what it what it takes, sometimes, to see that images in the rear view are truer than they appear.

“We’re arrested. Done-zo. Ka-fucking-put. It’s the most maddening disease on the planet: our livers can’t process what we deliver, the body likes the side effect, and our brain—oh our brains,” and I talk out of mine in defiance of my own—“Says wrist-cuff me, please.

“Just, dammit.”

My coffee is cold.

I look up. “I’m arrested, Chris. Even when I’m not drunk, I’ll always be under the influence.”



“What’s the second definition?”


“The second definition?”

“Oh. Um. 61 Across is ‘sortie’ by the way,” I tap his crossword, pausing.

Chris smirks. “Smart ass.”

“Would you rather me dumb? That’s what people already think. Allow me to quote: “If hundreds of experiences have shown him that one drink means another debacle with all its attendant suffering blah de blah blah” I floof the air in fake nonplus.

“You bothered by that, Cowboy?”

“Who fucking wouldn’t be?”

“What’s your second definition? You were saying.”

I draw my coat in, and can’t imagine Chris is not cold, but he’s not, and Christ he actually left his apartment today which had a minor fire leaving him without heat and he still wears shorts.

“Restare,” and I say it with all the vowels.

“What’s that mean?”

“One thing you’re gonna learn about me—besides the fact that I go to the bathroom like every five minutes,” I say, “Is that I look up every word in the dictionary to see where it comes from. Restare. Rearrange the letters. It’s ‘arrest.’ Means either ‘to remain’ or ‘to stop’.


“Not OK, perse. We’ve already acknowledged we have exactly 100% retention with regard to this disease and–yea!” I tap Chris on his shirt-sleeved shouder, “We win! We retained everything we learned!”

“So that’s ‘remain’…”

“Yeah. And the second definition is ‘to stop.’”

I sit back in my chair and fiddle with my scarf. “Yea,” I pretend cheer, “We stop.” I twirl the end of my scarf like a wet rally flag.

“We stop.”


My coffee cup is empty, but I lift it to my lips out of habit anyway.

“We stop,” I say superfluously, “We stop we stop we stop.”

“Cheers,” I salud, “Aaaaand fuck this shit.”

61 across is ‘sortie’. 52 down is ‘sari’. ’Sari’ appears on most crosswords and so do other words that don’t have their fit in everyday life, as if life weren’t a puzzle already. ‘Fuck this shit,’ by the way, does not satisfy 4 down nor 14 across.

What's All This Talk about the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book?

It’ll get better,” Chris says, and he rearranges his Book again. “Listen, you could go home, be by yourself,” he passes his hands over an exaggeratedly sad face, signing rain with his fingers, “Or. There are alternatives. I mean,” and he scratches his throat–he missed a patch with the razor again—“This Higher Power thing: me engaging with this book, me talking to you. Oh, people say God all the time, blah blah blah, and I have to say, ‘Listen, ‘God’ can’t be used as a placeholder term, because it’s pretty specific. But engage with something—anything—outside yourself—by definition, it’s a higher power because it’s ‘one plus whatever’ equaling something greater than—” and Chris passes his hand over his face again—“Just this.”

“What if I’m a negative number?” I counter.

“I don’t think you believe that.”

“I was just testing your math.”

“Nihilism doesn’t become you.”

I flick my coffee cup. “And here I was, being so clever.”

“You ok?”

“Oh, nothing. Pink cloud is gone.”

The door to the café opens and the smell of the Christmas tree drafts outward; where we are sitting, it is in view of a liquor store and a beer bar under construction. I could so easily seed my cloud, were I normal, but—no—I flick my coffee cup again. Hannah comes out to sweep.

“There’s this quote,” I clear my throat.

Chris has cats to tend to; he has pictures he’s sent me, and they are white little slips of things that like his feet, the fact of which entertains him, even today when he threw his laptop against the wall because an electrical fire scorched his kitchen and fucked up half his studio; and he’s at odds with his landlord about it, he could seed his cloud too, but he’s got twenty-one years and somehow—somehow—he’s found one+one all these lonely days.

“There’s this quote, Chris. ‘Grass grows by the inch, dies by the foot.’

I pause when packing my bag.

“There’s no reason I actually said that, Chris,” reconsidering. “Sorry.”

I scratch my head.

He says: “Sure there wasn’t”, smiling.

This is a very critical time in his life. He looks to you for courage, hope, comfort and guidance. He fears the past. He is uncertain of the future. And he is in a frame of mind that the least neglect on your part will fill him with resentment and self-pity. You have in your hands the most valuable property in the world — the future of a fellow man. Treat his life as carefully as you would your own. You are literally responsible for his life.

–Dr. Bob, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1938

Hannah pours the coffee again, and I’m not telling Chris, but I’ve relapsed. I’ve ordered a sandwich—I always hold the lettuce, count the avocado as my greens—and the awning is dripping in that just post-rain way, and I’m not telling him. Which is anathemic to having a sponsor, a therapist, too, actually, this fact of not telling. But I couldn’t.

At the meeting, I lead, and offer up my sort of truth.

“My name is Thom. I’m your alcoholic leader for today,” in case you wanted to know how meetings start, and they end with the Serenity Prayer, which is better than the Lords’ one, really, and I begin.

I have a book with me, it is not AA-approved but what if that book were my Higher
Power I can sneak it in: “It’s called ‘A Trip to Echo Spring.’ Echo Spring is reference to Tennessee Williams, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and it means taking a trip to the liquor cabinet to ‘get the click.’ All my heroes were alcoholics or suicides, or both. I continue:

“My story is unremarkable. I’m a writer, I should have a fascinating drunkalogue.” A drunkalogue is that amusing term AA has come up with to replace a fisherman’s ‘Big Fish’ story. As in, “I started drinking in Florida; I came to in a Chicago hotel room—luggage intact, thankfully—but,” cue David Byrne, “How did I get here?”

“Yet I don’t,” I admit, to my lack of drunkalogue, “I don’t have one. I drank after-hours, on the couch, and bloody hell confessed everything on paper, my ambivalences about life. Depression: yes. Anxiety: yes. A child with special needs: check. It was REAL. And people responded to that.

 So that fueled my trips to Echo Spring, inevitably. Click, click, this is real. Click, click again to Echo Spring. Except I never confessed to my drinking, which was the unreal part. Alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful; and within its clutches, for those with the disease, one is grandiose, wings fucking out. Baby, we’ll be fine; I’ll charge my pockets with quarters, get a swig, and confess without having to thumb a Christ. Truth, Baby, truth! En vino fucking veritas!

Except what was once ‘En vino veritas’ now has to be ‘En veritas veritas’, no ABV allowed.

Thing is, in these Rooms, I DO confess my drinking now. I confess: it’s a goddamn bitch to be anhedonic, that you can’t feel when you stop and the click doesn’t happen and you can’t take a trip to Echo Spring and that you’re stuck, you’re fucking stuck in the morass of an incurable disease, this Styxian River, and all you’ve got to get to the other side is the 100% step, the first step: I’m an alcoholic. I’m an alcoholic I’m unmanageable but need to be.

I wrote about the last time I stopped and how I took a hike with my son: I said “You’re the love of my life.” I also wrote how I didn’t feel a God. Damn. Thing.

Berryman felt the wind in his beard the last time and threw himself off a bridge.

Hemingway went for a last fateful pigeon-shoot. Said he knew he would go like his father.

Let’s not talk about Zooey Fitzgerald and how she went, or F. Scott’s wet brain letters about the madness of insomnia.

Tennessee Williams choked on the cap of an eye-dropper, paranoid till the day he died.

Lady Day died veritably bankrupt sans music.

“I had a rough day yesterday,” I venture, “Maybe we can talk about ambivalence or something, or PAWS or just getting through.”

 You should be able to judge if a man is sincere in his desire to quit drinking. Use this judgment. Otherwise you will find yourself needlessly bumping your head into a stone wall and wondering why your “babies” don’t stay sober. Remember your own experience. You can remember many times when you would have done anything to get over that awful alcoholic sickness, although you had no desire in the world to give up drinking for good. It doesn’t take much good health to inspire an alcoholic to go back and repeat the acts that made him sick. Men who have had pneumonia don’t often wittingly expose themselves a second time. But an alcoholic will deliberately get sick over and over again with brief interludes of good health.

–Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1938

“Well,” Chris says, “First of all my name is Chris and I’m an alcoholic.” Chris is shaven today and, because the Alano club provides it, is eating popcorn. He has his ever-present Coca-Cola to complete this illusion that we are somehow in a movie theater, when in fact we are in The Rooms. I get a preemptory stirring that he is certainly dry, but not necessarily sober. The glasses soldered on his face suddenly seem plastered on, in the way that we are not plastered.

“I’m Chris and I’m an alcoholic and well WELL.”

DFW hanged himself; Sylvia Plath toasted her head; Bukowski, Amy Winehouse, Mickey Mantle, Ginsy, Kerouac, Veronica Lake.

“So,” Chris begins, and he outlays a palm as if he were he suddenly Episcopalian. He’s annoyingly eating popcorn.

“What if,” he pontificates, “Your cousin, perse, were to drown in two inches of water—drunk, I might add—“Chris shuffles his bag of kernels—“While deciding to be sober.” He smashes a few corns. “Let’s have a pizza.”

“What if,” he furthers, mouth full, “Your BROTHER stabs his girlfriend in the neck with a pencil while high. Let’s,” he flourishes, “Have a pizza.”

“What if your car breaks down, or gets wrecked, or let’s say you have an apartment fire. Pizza. Let’s have a pizza, Thom.”

And he says my name like an epithet and I’m taken aback and want to say ‘sorry’ when really ‘fuck you’ should pass my lips freely, like an exorcised spirit, but I get quiet and instead look at the clock. Rules are, there is no ‘crosstalk.’ I have been violated, and I have forty more minutes to lead. I adjust my jeans, tug at the unfilled crotch of my pants. People are rolling their eyes and cell-phones have surreptitiously been drawn. I black out, as if were still on substance; forty minutes later, after shares, Chris texts. I’m still at the table’s head, but sneak a look at my phone: “I’ve left,” Chris snorts, “I’m so over people misinterpreting what I had to say.” I look back to where Chris was sitting; he’s still there, eating popcorn.

The awning water is dripping on my sandwich, and there is the truth of my relapse, the truth of rain water on my sourdough. The weather is still crisp, like the absent lettuce on my sandwich, and Chris naturally wears shorts that expose his knees to the cold; we have coffee, which is the prescribed drug of AA. I smoke, he does not. The chairs are of the utilitarian variety, wire, and the simulacra of café seats from Rue de Montmarte, or that VanGogh painting of a coffeeshop. AA prescribes coffee and sweets because it was written in 1939, and doesn’t understand hypoglycemia. I didn’t relapse bad, so I’m avocado instead of agua dulce.

I don’t want to be by myself; I believe in Chris’ higher power, that to ‘restare’ one must not, essentially, be alone. One must not deal with these things by themselves. But we’re not having pizza. Fuck that.

NOW YOU ARE ALONE. When you go to the hospital with typhoid fever your one thought is to be cured. When you go to the hospital as a chronic alcoholic your only thought should be to conquer a disease that is just as deadly if not so quick to kill. And rest assured that the disease is deadly. The mental hospitals are filled with chronic alcoholics. The vital statistics files in every community are filled with deaths due to acute alcoholism.

–Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1938



“I’ve been thinking of ‘The Doctor’s Opinion’, I say. “We doctors have realized for a long time that some form of moral psychology was of urgent importance to alcoholics—but its application presented difficulties beyond our comprehension.”

Chris has a copy of the Big Book wherein he has scratched out ‘moral’ and replaced the word with ‘ethical’. Tomato, to-mah-to. He leans back in his seat and touches two hands to either side of his chest. He scratches his nose.

“The appendix to the Big Book talks about this being an educational experience, and not—blah blah blah—God-conscious whatever.

I flip to the appendix. “Educative, Chris. It says: ‘educative’.

‘Educational’ and ‘educative’ are different, though incredibly similar. Fools even the thesaurus.

I decide to not tell him.

Fresh start: the Vatican has been framing confession less in terms of sin and more in terms of reconciliation. Photograph: Christopher Capozziello/New York Times

There are confessional booths and they are dark, with veiled screens, slatted doors, etc. The priests have robes which are black, I guess, because they absorb the sins like sun-rays and are warmed by the attention.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

“Go ahead.”

“I was really mad, Father, and depressed. I’m not sure what’s going on. I mean, I got my 60-day chip.”

“Go on.”

“I drank. I felt something again.”


“I wanted to feel.”


“Even though I know the grass dies by the foot, I know.”

“What…did your sponsor say?”

“He recommended pizza.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t fucking either, Father. Excuse my language.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“Not entirely.”


“Thank you, Father. Hey Father?—

“Simon was the listener in the Bible and then there’s all that simony shit. What happens when Simon just doesn’t help with the cross?”

“My son…”

“Sorry—just angry, Father. He did, though, just have one job.”

Lady Day has this song called ‘Riffin the Scotch’ about jumping the frying pan into the fire, oh Lady, and your scotch; what pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization that you leapt into the fire, and what must have it been like on that hospital bed slipping immortal asking for a listen please, both to your absent turntable and to the person who never, properly, said, “I’m right here, baby. I’m right here.


alcohol · mental health · sobriety

Survivor’s Guilt and the Trenches

“Hey, Thom—whassup?”

I am in line for birria and a quesadilla at Pepe’s pop-up, and I at first don’t recognize him. It’s George, who was a steadfast attendee of meetings up in Hillcrest and South Park. Last time I saw him, he was fresh-faced and leading a girl by the hand, visibly happy.

“You’re close to a year, aren’t you?” he asked then. I don’t talk about days, don’t count days. I put an existential foot down. But I said, “Yes”, which was true.

Let me describe: George was always the one to respond to my shares. He was a back-alley drinker and juicer, smoking meth and generally fucking up his life. I talked about, as DFW said, do you suffer the fire or jump to your death? Powerful statement. George was hopeful: he said, “I jump, but with a bungee cord.” I liked him instantly.

He was so healthy. For a while. When I saw him at Pepe’s he remarked my shirt: Baron’s Marketplace, where I know work and sup up the stories from multitudes of customers and employees.

“You doing good?” he asked. I responded the affirmative. 

“How are you, George?” and he paused before responding: “I’ve been worse, but am doing better.”

Truth is, he looked like shit. Stringy hair, gaunt cheekbones, a noticeable loss of weight. If it makes sense, I instantly felt survivor’s guilt. Trenches have been dug for us, which could either be mass graves or fighting trenches. He looked like he had died in the crossfire.

“Good to see you, George,” I said though it was tough for me to say.

Went to a funeral today. I was heavy-hearted. One, because it was a remembrance of my best friend’s father—Alzheimer’s and cancer—and two, because I couldn’t stop thinking about George. The Lyft appropriately lifted my spirits (as my boss sometimes rolls his eyes and says: you’re ‘Talker, talker Betty Crocker); I chatted with Robert for the half-hour drive about Jimi, strats vs. Stratocasters, and how hard it is to play ‘Landslide’ on the guitar. He was security for Hall and Oates, and once escorted a notable MTV VJ past the leering truckdrivers on tour. “The truckdrivers were gonna kick my ass on the way back cuz she was strutting her stuff while holding my arm, but it was worth it”)

I arrived at the church, and—wouldn’t you know it—the dress shoes I was wearing split. BOTH soles came off. Guess I hadn’t worn them in some time. So I Mr. BoJangled it into the sanctuary, sock toes sticking out. At least I had a neat tie, and a four button blazer, and hair done up, though windblown from the cab drive.

I deeply hugged my friend as it has been a few weeks and I haven’t seen her since her dad passed. We have been friends since elementary school, and she was wearing classy spectacles and a lovely dress, not black. H

Her son, T, was the first one to greet me, flying into my hip, with a “Hello, Thom!” (He asked his mom later if that was okay, becuz COVID and he’s so tender to everyone’s feelings)

Of course, Honey” his mom said, smiling. I met some of my friend’s friends, all from our alma mater. I met a veteran—Purple Hearted—and we talked stories about Vietnam, my dad having been there as an OR Tech. He proudly wore a veteran t-shirt, in which I thanked him for his service. He also wore a ball cap that said ‘Purple Heart.’

Every now and then we deserve a medal for just surviving, like George, but I greatly respect anyone that suffers a bullet in well-intended and furious service. I liked this guy. He had a Jerry Garcia beard and was proud proud of his daughter. As with the Lyft driver, I liked him instantly.

Also hugged Tammey’s other child, nigh eighteen who was happy to see me. I think of him as a third child, maybe a she maybe a he. But s/he and I talked before the service began. I wanted to sit next to my friend and hold her hand, but that would have been a usurpation of family, despite how difficult her fam can be. I hid in a corner, cried at the moments my friend and kids spoke their pieces, then took an Irish exit out. (I’m allowed; Im comlauhder)

On the Lyft back, I chatted with the driver (remember: ‘Talker, Talker Betty Crocker), and we shared stories of road rage peppered with a lot of language and a healthy dose of laughter. It was antidote. I thought about Tammey, about George, and in closing the door and waving goodbye to my Lyfter, I simply said: “I’m gonna get a goddamn taco.” Which I did. And all for now is well.

mental health · neighborhood · people · sobriety


“My name’s Melissa,” they said, while wearing short shorts, a mesh jersey and a three day stubble. Melissa had descended from San Francisco, six years into a meth and drink habit after some fifteen years of sobriety. Their lover had died, and so went off the rails.

I was on my morning constitutional and listened to Melissa’s travails. The cops had harassed them the night prior, and Melissa was suffering the ordeal wandering the streets of NP at five in the morning.

“The worst part,” Melissa sniffed, “Is they kept calling me Sir. I am a transgender female. MY name is MELISSA. I am a Miss.” Melissa had dirty hands and a dirtier headwrap. They were obviously high, but I continued to listen, and acquiesced to buying them a grape soda from the corner store. (“I’m diabetic,” Melissa imparted).

Tonight, come midnight at my meeting, Melissa was there! Across town, as dirty, but also cleaner. “I just graduated from the McAllister Institute and I’m twenty days clean. I want to talk about gratitude,” Melissa said.

When I shared, I reminded Melissa that I had met them before, and that I was grateful my Higher Power acts on me and leads me to people. (I said a lot of other things, but those are reserved for the Rooms).

Melissa gazed at me, then said, “Yes, I remember—you were kind to me. I was high that day, but I remember.”

The meeting continued, then halfway through, Melissa tapped me on the knee with a grubby hand—“Hey.”

I looked up at Melissa’s myopic eyes and they whispered, “I’m leaving for Portland tomorrow, but—” and Melissa slipped a necklace off their neck bearing a ‘One More Day’ talisman, “I want you to have this to remember me by.”

I took the necklace and solemnly slipped it round my own neck. “Thank you,” I mouthed.

I left the meeting early and sat dumbly in my car for a moment before driving home. I slipped the talisman from my throat and hung it on the rear-view mirror where it caught the light of a street lamp. You never know who you’re going to meet, or when you’ll see them again.

Melissa, I’ll always remember you, and be reminded what it means to be ineffably, indefatigably kind. May you do well, and Godspeed Miss.

mental health · people · rehab · sobriety


guitarMy roommate Mikey and I dug up a guitar from the rec room closet, some thrift-store quality six-string, small-bodied with a laminate top.

“I dunno, Mikey—the D-string is missing the fucking tuning knob.”

Mikey, though, was a scrappy ex-Marine—youngish—with a knack for problem-solving. He was slight of frame, half-Portuguese half-Mexican, and could’ve passed for a young Che Guevarra were it not for his battalion tats and ear gauges.

“We can figure this out. We need some music up in here.”

I tuned the guitar save for the D string, which buzzed noisily against the frets.

“Well, it’s not like we can go up to the nursing station and ask for a pair of pliers. Sharp objects and all. Imagine: can I get my Librium—oh, and a needle-nose?”

Mikey laughed, which was good. He was in for PTSD and suicidal ideation after a training exercise had laid him flat on the ground, shot by his buddy on accident.

(‘Where’d you get shot?’ I’d asked him. He pointed to the area above his right clavicle, where the neck meets the shoulder. I thought of the Angle of Luis, the imaginary line used in Jacobin times to guide the guillotine blade: where the bullet entered then left Mikey’s body was at the angle’s apex).

We searched the Day Room for something to MacGyver the guitar. Mikey, ever resourceful, settled on a ballpoint pen. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all, or in this case a pair of pliers. He unscrewed the butt of the pen and held it up for examination, fingering its clip.

(Mikey fell on the training field into a trench, his right arm useless and tangled in gear. With his left hand he wrested a field knife from its scabbard and hacked at the strap of his assault rifle while spewing blood from the mouth).

“Let’s try this,” and Mikey pinched the clip of the pen against the cap like an impotent set of tweezers and set to work on the D-string gearwork. We took turns with the makeshift pliers and bullied the D into tautness.

“Just a smidge more.” I played the D against the G.

“Perfect.” C chord, D, A, then G. All sounded good.

(“What’re you in for?” he’d asked.

“Substance,” I said simply, though the answer could’ve been more complicated. I’d been on ludestra, topomax, vraylar, escitalopram, aripiprazole, naltrexone, buboprion, benzodiazepines, trazadone, mirtazapine. Oh—and vodka. Call me Tennessee Williams, albeit a Tennessee Williams who hadn’t yet swallowed the cap).

Mikey handed me the guitar and I started playing ‘Autumn Leaves’, just funked up with lots of staccato.

“Righteous.” Mikey picked up the guitar case and started drumming out a backbeat. Me and my buddy, the young Che look-alike, our own makeshift happy band in the Day Room of Sharp Mesa Vista hospital.

Melissa joined in, Veronica too. Lyndon, the blind guy who had lost his vision in a rugby accident (and I never got to ask him if he still dreamt in color)—we all sang along and tapped out rhythms while waiting for meds, for nighttime snack, for discharge, for second chances—maybe third–, for homes halfway and otherwise, for whatever spirit to escape its shivery place inside of us and make us whole. We were altogether too loud considering the hour, but because we were laughing, the nurses let us be; and it was proof that, despite our could-be sadness, despite our private desperations, there was in that moment the greater capacity for pure, unbridled joy.

“That was awesome, Mikey.”

“Feels good, Bro.”

I’ve not looked back since leaving that hospital, but instead look for Mikey wherever I go, in the Rooms, in my recovery, so that I can continue growing a joy undiminished, to live, and in the return to living, perhaps sing.

bipolarity · home · neighborhood · people · sobriety · writing

Restless Heart Syndrome

I have a few friends with restless leg syndrome, which is in reference to Willis-Ekbom disease. It causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

Not me. Although I have the urge to walk everywhere, I have diagnosed myself instead with restless heart syndrome.

Over a prosciutto and gruyere sandwich, I espy the bookstore—Verbatim—where I have looked for Denis Johnson to no avail and where a man offers me a leather coat to sell at the Hunt and Gather.

“I’m looking for forty—if I get $40, I’ll give you twenty.”

“I can try, Man,” I say, “But I’ll just give you the $40.” He has no identification because most likely he has no address. I try and sell the coat for him—he found it on the street—to no reward, and I walk on.

People with faces—it is Sunday—and like a moving Seurat painting, they dot the street, faces moving with hats and without; it is cold and people wear coats.

I am overdressed. I wear a blazer, a chartreuse shirt, purple tie, and olive peacoat. I deny the weather for the sake of being dandy, dressing for a clime not my own but boasting grandiosity as I carry the whole of the world on my shoulders. The coffee was excellent, and I am sober. Roses, they are thrown for me.

How to describe this? This feeling. When it is, you discover the combination to a lock that has been locked for years—click—how to describe this?

I write funny words in my head: “penguin dust and roman coin soup”; I call my friends with abandon and kiss the old ones, Gidget who has visited with sleeves rolled up to reveal her sleeves, ink of phoenixes and naked women.

Mhuah,” she kisses me on the lips and I say, ‘Thank you,” for it is Sunday and there’s no need for coins in the meter and my sponsor has called me.

He wears a creaking leather jacket and an Unwritten Law tee-shirt: “it’s the law of eternal recurrence,” he might’ve said,” which is amor fati, and the fact that you wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You use active, not passive voice in writing, and I write in present active in denial of the past, my restless heart my restless heart.

mental health · people · sobriety

Getting Rid of Things

Tammey gets rid of her car, Valentina, because it has been a week and her husband died on Valentine’s Day.

Who gives a damn about a car?” she says. “It’s just a thing.”

Phil—her husband—used to call her up when he was dementiac in the hospital.

“I was making a coconut phone, so that we could talk whenever; but the cocnouts went bad.”

Things Phil left behind, all wrapped in paper like Christmas gifts:

  1. His toy cars from when he was a kid.
  2. A joint.
  3. Teeth that he pulled out of his own head.
  4. A six-pack of Diet Coke.

He kept his sobriety until he died. We drunks have a way of keeping promises, having broken so many over the years. And Phil loved Tammey.

“Tammey,” I say, “I can help you get rid of things.”

These are just things.

Her voice is soothing on the other side of the line, and I realize that we have the same cadence, the same prosody of voice. One friend speaking to the other with a mirror in the middle.

“You ok, Tammey?” and I’m asking myself.

“I just need to get rid of things,” she says, and don’t we all.




‘Sweet Jane’ plays and I am blessed with pathology.

“Heavenly wine and roses, seem to whisper to me.”

I have a Siamese Twin; cut the photograph in half, one half has dead eyes like outer space. The other has the cosmos in his eyes. My Siamese Twin is me.

‘Sweet Jane’ plays and it’s the bridge part, and the sun is glorious, it is blue skied and clear, and at the traffic light there is a pigeon nesting in the yellow.

I am Mr. Headphones, and were you to put me on a pedestal, I will disappoint you; if you were to make me exceptional I would exploit you.


(from Salinger): “When she had replaced the phone, she seemed to know what to do next, too. She cleared away the smoking things, then drew back the cotton bedspread from the bed she has been stirring on, took off her slippers, and got into the bed. For minutes, before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, she just lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling.


(from Wallace): “Grass grows by the inches, dies by the foot.”

Sobriety. I have a dead Siamese twin with dead eyes and who is dead. There is the addict and the non-. No one can pretend either.

Kill the addict, save the imprisoner.

I am walking past Morley Field on the way to meeting, and I want a drink. “I’m on a good mixture,” Matt sings. Makes me want to drink, this.


Heavenly wine and roses speak to me. Heavenly wine and roses. Seem to whisper to me

Sobriety: …






people · sobriety · Uncategorized


I like my friend William who also comes to midnight meetings. We’re outside Lestat’s and talking about our kids, the careers we have had.

“Kids these days. Don’t got no respect.”

William has worked his eight hours, then an extra 45 minutes to assure he did his work well.

William is a black man, bald, whose mouth shines red in the coffee shop neon. He’s had it with kids these days.

“No respect. Don’t know how to work a job.”

William is scared of retirement. We become addicted to things, one of which is work, and William has a tool belt of scrapers and screwdrivers as proof. His son is 27, and he and William like to bowl on Thursdays up in Kearney Mesa.

“I tell you, dumb ass kid drops three lids on the ground—the other one? He done kick them aside.”

William is perturbed.

“Just pick up the goddamned lids!” William adds as emphasis: “Right?!”


I agree while finishing my coffee. He is further perturbed because he doesn’t have a plan.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Got four years left before I retire.”

“Yeah,” I say. “My sponsor says, ‘You gotta have a plan.’ Calls me sometimes to ask me ‘what’s for lunch?’

It is 1am and we’re outside and it is cold though William seems fine in shirt sleeves.

“You can bowl for $1 on Thursday mornings. Up there in Kearney Mesa.”

“That,” I say, “Sounds like a plan to me.”

And we shake hands, and I plan my route home.

mania · mental health · neighborhood · people · sobriety

Depression Hates Movement

movement.jpeg“Depression hates movement,” Toni says. Her feet are in insensible shoes, so I imagine she’s already done her movement, and is therefore elevated beyond an otherwise nadir. I, however, am exhausted, and “Exhaustion hates movement, too.” For different reasons. Toni’s got it together, whereas I can take a shopping trip using the bags beneath my eyes.

Man, I gotta walk two miles home uphill from the Alano cuz my phone is dead and I can’t Lyft. Save for a few hours of Nod here and there, I’ve been up for the better part of three days, and damn if I hafta walk home again, my shoes not as sensible as Toni’s, my heels starting to chafe. It is, however, a gorgeous day, so—sigh—I’ll take it with sugar. It has rained and the wind has oscillated; the sky is clean.

Marcelino at the mechanic’s shop greets me with monkey-grease hands: “I’m so sorry, the machinist called in sick again and I so busy. I no get to your car yet.” I tell him not to worry about it because I’m doing ok otherwise—“Hey, life on life’s terms, Marcelino!—and he veritably lays a head on my shoulder. “Tank you fr your compassion.” How it must suck to be yelled at by so many car-owners demanding the head gasket be done tomorrow, and whaddya mean it’s $1200?! These are things beyond his control, so I don’t fret, though I would like my Bug back please—it has a way of keeping me calm. Marcelino, though? He’s survived cancer and lets his guys grill carne asada outside the garage on Fridays with a couple of beers, neither of which he partakes in because of his heart, and he’s been our trusted mechanic for years. Wouldn’t give him up despite the delay on the car. I can wait.

Except I’m tired. And there are four things to be watchful of: Hunger. Tiredness. Loneliness. Anger. Hunger plus Anger=HA! You’re gonna have a rough night; Tiredness plus Anger=TA! As in ta-da, you’re at your most vulnerable, and last this happened, I think Saturday, I almost got in a fight with a moving vehicle while walking back from the Club. I use the HALT method with Cayde: are you too tired from last night’s sleepover to be playing that video game responsibly? Are you too angry that the Wifi is lagging? Maybe take a break. Let’s play some cards instead.

Depression hates movement; exhaustion, too. Still, ‘perseverance’ is my word of the year, so I persist, and with all obstinancy I get home and finally wrestle sleep to bed.




Living Gracefully on the Three Blocks Back Home

We’re in between rains and the moon is a week away from full; I am standing outside a church which, like the Ecstasy of St. Therese, is gold-spangled and fantastic, just cheapened by the cross being done up in Las Vegas neon, and the wind is pushing the clouds so fast; they are illumined briefly as they pass, titanium white, and I feel calm in a way I haven’t felt in a while, like when over coffee this morning my sponsor tells me that ‘the point of living is to die gracefully.’

He tells me there’s a beginning to his day, then an end when he puts his head on the pillow.

“A lot of bad shit can happen in the middle,” he says, his head as always covered with a Pats football cap, “But so long as I have an exactness to my day, nothing so ephemeral as this one day at a time’ they teach you, then I have a better chance of better exercising my free will in the meantime.”

Which reminds me of Immanuel Kant, also Benjamin Franklin, both disciplined planners who would schedule out their days to a T—down to five-minute increments in Kant’s case—and when asked, “Isn’t this restrictive?” Immanuel replied: “No, I have the most freedom of any man.” Which goes against a lot of other philosophy, and doesn’t account for me staring at the moon for 1:26s longer than I had intended.

But I get it.

“The first plan is to have a plan,” my sponsor says, which is truth, so I take the three blocks exactly needed to get home.