Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Canada to copping - August 24 blog

I admit, like most impressionable kids, my earliest influences came from film and television. I bet if I were an adolescent, given today’s choices, I’d be a ghetto-fabulous, booty shaking, gangsta bitch dreaming of meeting my own Avon Barksdale.. Makes me grateful I came of age in the 70s.  We didn’t have guns – only punk rock and heroin.

I was seven or eight when I first saw Bonnie and Clyde. There is a scene where Faye Dunaway turns to Michael J Pollard as he pumps gas and says, “We rob banks.”  She was beautiful, sexy, confident and lived outside of society. My favorite game became “Bank Robber’s girlfriend”.   

I even loved the idea of drugs long before I ever picked up; loved the coming-of-age anti-drug propaganda films of the early 70s: Go Ask Alice, Maybe I’ll be Home in the Spring, Lenny, Lady Sings the Blues.

When my dad said, “He’s a dope addict” Johnny Cash immediately took on a mysterious edge that made me pay closer attention. I was eight.  Not to mention 60s rock stars on drugs were fabulous, sexy and exciting. The very words “counter culture” had an authenticity to my pre-adolescent ears. It seemed there was something to rebel against “out there” and I wanted to be part of the revolution.

I was a child in a country without Vietnam, without racism, without ghettos, without glamor, without rock stars.  In 1968, I couldn’t have felt further removed from mod, swinging London, Warhol’s New York, or San Francisco’s Summer of Love. There wasn’t a Canadian version of Go Ask Alice.  Canadian teenagers weren’t running away to the counter culture revolution. We didn’t really have a need for the Black Panthers or the Weathermen.

We moved into our house when I was four, an only child. If I stood on my toes, I could peer over the window ledge and watch children walking to school, longing to be old enough to join them. But when I finally got there – to kindergarten – it was a letdown.  The problem, I decided, was my age.  My childhood was spent waiting to become a teenager.  

“Patty, stop trying to grow up too fast. Enjoy your childhood.” My parents didn’t understand.  There was an exciting world out there waiting for me to be old enough to join it.

I loved getting high. The people, the lifestyle, the risk, the thrill, the crazy situations, the glamor, the image, the dramatic suffering, the euphoria, the absence of pain, the false confidence, the not giving a fuck what anybody thought, the distorted perception of my own cool, the way it separated me from others and from society as a whole.

I loved getting high and it worked, as they say, until it didn’t.  This wasn’t the bottom that made me get clean. It took a few years of trying and failing to get drugs to work again.  “Not working” can best be described this way: when I had money in my hands and was on my way to cop – it was working. I had hope that relief was on the way – relief from the physical withdrawal and relief from the voice in my head   criticizing and blaming me for the disaster my life had become; relief from the devastating loneliness, not only from the separation from my family and friends, but a loneliness for myself, for my soul (for lack of better word). So with money in hand on my way to cop, all was right with the world. This would last until the final drop of heroin was injected into my veins. Then my first thought would be “You fucked up” and the self-hatred would begin again.  I’d be swallowed by my own personal hell until, once again, there was money in my hands and I was on my hopeful way to the dealer. I never found that peace, the fun, the pleasure drugs had seduced me with ever again. It always felt like the dope was too weak or I should have done more. I could never get high enough to quiet my head.   

It took several years of getting no relief, of wanting to stop and not being able to, when the need for money and drugs completely consumed my life before I was ready to consider getting clean. I always say that if I could have figured out a way to use one more day, I would have.

Complete abstinence and a program of recovery was my way out.  For about a year, I grieved the loss of that once dependable relationship I had with drugs. It was like a death or a break up but thankfully, it was not difficult to stay clean once I made the commitment – and it is a commitment because to be honest, some days life is hard and it is a drag to have to feel ALL of it without the luxury of taking the edge off.  

For me, nothing is black and white. There are many shades of grey. I am not anti-drug and I don’t think everyone who takes them needs to be clean. At the end of the day, I have no opinion on what another person should do with his or her life. We are free to make our own choices. My experience with complete abstinence is that once drugs were out of the picture, my life got bigger. I am never bored.  For all the early years of thrills and bigger than life excitement I found in drugs, the final years were the most boring of my life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16, 2011 - Butter Tarts

“Wow, you were an authentic 1950s-style juvenile delinquent.”
I said this after hearing stories about how at twelve he was buying loose cigarettes for a nickel, was shooting at people with a BB guns, sneaking off to drink the priest’s wine when he was an alter boy in the 1940s, 

“Not at all. This was what boys did”, he explained, offended. Then his memories took over and a twinkle came into his eyes.  “It wasn’t about getting drunk so much as it was the rush of getting away with something. That old priest had no idea.” It still made him laugh. He’s been sober for forty-one years without AA. Had he gone the AA route, he would have heard stories similar to this a thousand times.

In many ways it was no different from my story – being fueled forward by the “rush” of breaking rules, of being bad, of intense feelings. Hell, I still like a good rush wherever I can find one.    

It got me thinking about own early thrill-seeking behavior; of all the ways I sought out a “rush” long before I ever had my first illicit drink, before drugs were in the picture. It got me thinking about Butter Tarts. For those not “in-the-know”, Butter Tarts are a national Canadian foodstuff. Japanese have sushi, Eastern Europeans have pirogues, and Canadians have butter tarts.

I was a teenager trapped in a child’s body, at least that’s how I felt. Parental supervision horrified me. That was for babies and, god help me, I was NOT going to look like a baby. I demanded personal space. When I was four, our backyard opened up to the school playground.  This house was an ideal set-up for my parents. They could keep their eye on me from the window.  

Winter in Canada is brutal and the 1960s were no exception. A few times each winter, the chain-link fence surrounding the schoolyard would get covered by beautiful, sparkling ice.  Each link coated like a candy apple, twinkling in the sun, like diamonds, seducing me.  Traumatic memories of last years’ fence experience shot through my Being like a warning bell but I WAS POWERLESS.   I couldn’t stop myself from sticking out my tongue and licking that fence. The consequences were immediate. My tongue instantly stuck to the fence and I’d be racked by terror. The fear that my tongue was going to get ripped  out of my bod. All I could do was scream. There were at least ten of us hanging by our tongues every winter day. (Ha – I wonder what path their lives took?)  Eventually my mom would spot us from the window, come over and pour something warm on our tongues to dislodge us.

By the fifth grade someone turned me onto a new kind of high and it was the only thing I thought about.  I would wait impatiently for the recess bell, start counting the minutes until 330 when school let out so that I could run to the playground with my friends and we could knock ourselves out. Here’s how it worked: one person would spin around until they were completely dizzy and then hold their breath while another kid would lift them up and squeeze their diaphragm until they passed out. My blackout never felt long enough to satisfy me.  I was ravaged by jealousy when a friend would pass out for three or four minutes. I suspected they were faking but I was dying of envy nonetheless.

“Patty, why were all the kids laying on the ground like that?” my mom would ask when I finally came home. “  I’d come up with  a full description of a fictitious game.  Nothing was going to get in my way of blacking out the next day. I knew she wouldn’t have gone for the truth.

The constant high throughout my childhood, though, was corn syrup. It was a bit more opiate-like than the adrenaline-fueled thrill-seeking.  I was a chatty, restless and often bored kid. I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom discovered it as a way to calm me down – sugar coma style. I would fill a cereal bowl with corn syrup and spend the entire episode of a TV show dipping and licking my spoon until it was gone.  It was my way of unwinding. When people talk about using sugar as a drug I recount my corn syrup childhood.  It took 20 years of telling this story before I started to wonder why we always had corn syrup in my house.  I personally have never had a reason to buy it. In fact, I avoid all foods that contain it.

Last year I asked my mother to send me a recipe for butter tarts after realizing my American friends had never heard of them. Butter Tarts, this delicious combination of butter and brown sugar filled tart pastry that oozes with sweetness as soon as you bite into it. The secret ingredient it turns out is corn syrup.


While we were filming Relapse, I was invited to several speaker events put on for the cast and crew of both Relapse and Intervention. Researchers, scientists, policy advisors, treatment specialists, therapists would bring their latest findings. One topic was how to recognize the potential addict and how to intervene before they ever pick up. I saw a chart and words jumped out at me Thrill Seeking Behavior.

While writing blog, this I thought I’d google corn syrup for the hell of it.. I found this:
1.  In early times, they tried to treat alcoholism by substituting corn syrup for alcohol while weaning off.  2.  High fructose corn syrup is as damaging to the liver as alcohol.
Although you might consider this a controversial statement, understanding it is actually quite simple:  Both corn syrup and alcohol are metabolized by similar pathways in the liver. 3.  It is very damaging to the body's metabolism and biochemistry which makes it a major contributor towards alcoholism and relapse.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 2011 blog

 Now my thoughts are on the Internet there will never be a delete button. 

Over the years I’ve published borderline scandalous personal essays. I even penned a humorous sex advice column. Writing a blog frightens me. The above writing appeared in the early 90s seminal Zine world. I knew who was reading it. The Internet, however, is another story. The Internet can haunt you.

In real life, I hold nothing back.  Truthfully, starting a blog feels weird and unnatural to me. Do I give you parts of myself and withhold whatever may be deemed controversial? Or do I lay myself bare? My inner-blogging voice whispers,  “Let it rip!” while another cries, “Once it’s on the internet, there is no delete button”.        

Here’s the backstory:

I was recently part of a new mini-series on A&E called Relapse. The story of how that came about is bound to turn up here sooner or later.  The premise of the show was that a Sober Coach would have one week to help a bottoming-out using addict get clean and place them on the path to recovery. In real life, my coaching experience has been quite different. I’m often with clients anywhere from 2 weeks to 60 days, depending on their needs. When I learned that I would have one week with the addicts on this show, I knew I would be squeezing every bit of life out of me and into them to make it work. If I’m given the chance to help someone who is bad shape, I am giving it everything I’ve got – it’s my nature – whether that means one week or 60 days

My life always has a way of surprising me. It’s not that I don’t make plans or have goals. Often other things get put in my path that send me in new directions in spite of myself. When the show finally aired, my plan was to finish a long overdue screenplay. Instead, I found myself 5 weeks into responding to email from viewers of the show.  It just sort of took over.  And the letters were heartbreaking: people suffering from addiction with no one to talk to, no idea how to find help, no financial resources. People who never thought to call NA or AA. I spent endless hours walking people through baby steps on how to find a meeting, what to expect there, what detox will feel like, how to hang on, trying to instill hope.  I took what I could from my coaching experiences and tried to fit it into words that could reach people I never met. Some would take action and many were playing a mind game of thinking that they were doing something about their problem simply by emailing me but who disappeared when it came time to take actions on their own. They wanted recovery if it was easy and they didn’t have to leave their desk. Hell, I used to get high and call the NA help line and try to keep them on the phone until they could give me what they had so I could stay clean and all they ever said was “Go to a meeting” so I recognized what was going on.

I decided to continue reaching out to strangers, even while working with clients, by starting a PattyPowers SoberCoach page on Facebook. I could post link on recovery, new research, healthy lifestyle, and infuse it with some snippets of practical recovery tips that I use with clients. It would be a place that people can share their experience and hope and start discussions.  My page went up at the start of July.
 My assistant has been incredibly helpful in finding links and keeping the page alive when I am on the road. When I looked at it though, I felt a weird embarrassed feeling come over me. It felt very “recovery guru” with the absence of my personal voice. Today I woke up and decided that the only way to move away from the generic tone is to get this blog up and running.

 Once you get to know me, you will realize that although my commitment to recovery is solid and strong, my personal philosophies and life experiences are a bit off the beaten trail. This has been the crux of my blogging dilemma.

It may be a rocky start for me to find my voice on this page, but be patient. I will get there.  Some days, I will address recovery and other days I may fill this space with personal stories, or completely unrelated material.

A few years ago, my mother accused me of cursing like a rapper  - which sounded strange coming out of the mouth of a 70 year-old woman. My mom’s a long-time gamer and has played Grand Theft Auto, so what could I say? My language is out of control so be forewarned –in the future this blog may include adult themes and language not suitable for all readers.