Sunday, October 2, 2011

Health Food and Heroin - Acquiring Culinary Skills - Part Two

By my third year of college, I was getting restless. The student life was no longer challenging or engaging me so I returned to NYC to raise funds for my “right of passage” student European vacation. By the time the new semester started, my heroin habit was impossible to replace with weed, wine and black beauties.  Debbie and I had gotten involved in a new dangerous lucrative career.  Once a month, I’d go to NYC, make some money I’d turn into heroin that I’d smuggle back so I could make it through my classes. When I met my future ex husband, it was time to go straight on all fronts. This meant getting a job.

Although my husband wasn’t an addict or a criminal, he was an artist and lived off grants and lived rent-free at a friend’s hotel.  Neither of us had much experience working a normal job. The best we came up with was sharing a few dishwashing shifts at a trendy French restaurant. The pay sucked but they fed us and we could occasionally steal food from the walk in fridge once the staff went home. On Sundays, my mother would give us a basket of tomatoes from the garden.

Our diet consisted of white rice and tomatoes. We were always hungry. It was during this time, I cracked open the box of forty-nine cookbooks. I spent countless hours, over my bowl of rice and tomatoes, reading thousands of recipes.  This was my culinary institute.

Eventually, I convinced Napoleon we needed to move to New York and devised a way to make it happen. My plan involved him working as a museum security guard long enough to be eligible for unemployment while I tended a friend’s bar.  In October, we’d find a cheap winterized cottage to rent, save unemployment money, and move to New York City by May. Since I’d memorized fifty cookbooks, I’d save us money by making everything from scratch.

Carless, we were dropped off at a cabin in the middle of nowhere with 100 pounds of flour, 50 pounds of sugar, powdered milk and eggs, dried beans, and 2 deep freezers full of vegetables and meat. A year earlier I’d announced we were vegetarians but when I noticed that he’d lost his edge, I put him back on a meat diet. Some people needed meat to feed their aggression and without it, he seemed to wilt.

It was six of the coldest months of my life. Time was spent baking bread, gaining weight, and snowshoeing to the mailbox to wait for hash to arrive. Chubby and stoned, we’d do TV aerobics with Jane Fonda and dream of springtime in New York.

 In New York we found jobs in the art department of a popular nightclub called Area.  It didn’t take long before I began using all of our money for drugs. To rationalize this, when we’d walk the dog, I’d show him prices at the trendy restaurants then replicate the meals at home explaining how what I spent on heroin was less than we’d have spent if we’d gone out for dinner.  Eventually, my cooking skills became so sophisticated, I started moonlighting as a cook for a caterer.

Throughout our years together, Napo and I were always seekers. We’d gone through a Carlos Castaneda phase, had a moment of shabby shamanism, crystal dowsing, vision quests, and built a sweat lodge. We somehow arrived at homeopathic remedies.  In the mid-80s a few health food stores began popping up but were still considered oddities by the mainstream. The patrons included old hippies, holistic drug-addicts, and people with terminal illnesses desperate to ward off death.  I was interested in all forms of detoxification from fasting to volcanic ash enemas. Anything, that is, except stopping the poison I was injecting into my body several times a day. I guess you could say I was trying to find balance between health food and heroin.

Eventually the nightclub closed, my husband went back to Canada, and I moved to LA. Which began the spiral into the eventual desperation to get clean. In 1988 I found a rehab in Louisiana that would accept Canadian Health Insurance. When I returned to LA, I was truly a stranger in a strange land.
After 18 months of sofa surfing, sleeping in cars, and living in vacant buildings, existing on vanilla cake mix with milk or chocolate chip cookie dough, when I finally got clean I really was starting my life from scratch.

I got my first apartment just before I celebrated my first year. Detached from my domestic skills, I ate all my meals out. My refrigerator was always empty with the exception of coffee creamer. It didn’t occur to me that I could feed myself.  

I had no connection to my past whatsoever and my new friends had no idea of what had come before them. To them, I was this unusually articulate single stripper who’d taken a greyhound bus to LA with 70 days clean with a duffle bag of G-strings. I’d talk about my outrageous life before recovery and even I wondered if I was making it all up.   Whenever I’d mention living in a cabin baking bread, how easy it was to make cinnamon buns from scratch, or the type of herbs to take for whatever was ailing them, the room would fall silent. Eventually I discovered all the knowledge accumulated during my health food and heroin phase had not been lost.  

A lot of recovering addicts talk about how they started using drugs in search for something of a spiritual nature. To me, any quest for knowledge that helps us to treat our bodies better is spiritual. Food, meditation, exercise, breathing, fresh air, even drinking lots of water promotes sanity and wellbeing. Participating in these things is, to me, living a spiritual life. It means, essentially, that I believe I am worth caring for. On a simpler note, it is self-respecting behavior. To this end, I always incorporate all of the above into my work as a sober coach.

Of course, clients always ask where I learned about nutrition and diet, or how I learned to cook. I’m sure they expect me to list certification programs, places of formal training.  Instead I think of how none of it would have come about had I not met Marty. Or maybe not come about the way it did.  



  1. Another fascinating blog entry! You life would make such an incredible book! Peace.