Friday, August 17, 2018

“Please God let the pills still be there!” And other thoughts I had the week I left rehab

I spent 30 days at The Meadows Treatment center (in Wickenburg Arizona) for a nasty Ambien and alcohol addiction in July and August of 2008.   I met my current boyfriend Scott for the first time an hour after I checked in on July 14.  I just unearthed my "rehab journal" this week (exactly 10-year's later):

August 5, 2008  (94 degrees at 11:00pm)

This place is crazy.  Men and women aren’t even allowed to talk to each other.  Scottie and I keep wondering when they’ll separate us since it feels like all we do is sit together and talk.  His counselor came up to us in the cafeteria today and asked to speak with him in his office; Scottie gave me an “I guess we’re busted” look over his shoulder before he got up to follow him. I hope he’s not in trouble.

August 6, 2008  (110 degrees.)

I miss my kids.  

I am always someone’s mother, someone’s wife, someone’s boss, someone’s friend, someone’s caregiver.  Here in this place, I am just me.  Day after day, from sun-up to sun down, just me.  I don’t know how to do that.  I never learned how to do that.  In my dreams women’s voices call to me -- “Be willing,” they say.

August 8, 2008  (112 degrees at lunch time)

Weekends here are the worst.  Long, hot, boring. I can’t imagine that less than a week from now, I’ll be able to walk into a Starbucks (any Starbucks) and just order a coffee like it’s nothing.  I told Scottie I want us to ride to the airport together (we get out the same day as we both checked in on July 14).  He doesn’t think they’ll let us leave at the same time.  He’s probably right.  Plus, if we leave together, it will be harder for me to pick up my Ambien refill at the CVS in town.  He may not understand that I can handle taking pills now, that all I needed was a break from it so I could finally take them like a normal person.

August 9, 2008  (76 degrees in the cafeteria.  113 outside)

We have to write a goodbye letter to alcohol before we go this week.  I write a poem to myself instead:

When I see your hair all done, I know it wasn’t really fun

When I see your biceps strong, I know you’re trying to prove them wrong

I see nails done, face waxed and clean

And I think about what isn’t seen
You’re worth less.  Give up this life.  You’re not fit to be anyone’s wife

You fooled them all?  Well, you can’t fool me.  Just wait until your children see...

August 10, 2008 (112 degrees, we’re all hiding in the TV room from Craig, the tech)

I literally ache all over my body -- not from withdrawal anymore, but from the pain of missing my children.

August 11, 2008 (a girl almost fainted today while we were waiting for the boys to get out of the pool - coed pool time is forbidden)

They let us use the phones today in the office (air conditioning)!  I booked a town car to pick me up and then called to check on my CVS prescription.  They had me on hold for so long I got scared they had screwed it up.  I was all, “Please God let those pills still be there!”  But they came back on and said they’d be ready for me on Thursday. 

Thursday is my release day. 

Now I know how it feels to get out of prison.

August 12, 2008 (HOT)

I can’t believe it!  They said that Scottie and I could ride to the airport together.  At first he just looked frightened (he keeps telling me he's scared about going home to Utah)  then he smiled and said, "The first thing we should do is hit the nearest Starbucks."  Apparently there isn’t one here in Wickenburg, but there’s one on the way to the Phoenix airport.  I practiced my coffee order in the bathroom mirror this morning, “One Grande Iced Mocha Valencia please."

Maybe coffee will be my new vice.

I’ll have to make some excuse to stop at the CVS.  I’ll be super casual about it.  I’ll just convince him to stay in the car.

August 13, 2008, -- There’s a rainstorm!  (But it’s still over 100 degrees)

My counselor called me into her office and I was worried that she wanted to tell me that there had been a mistake - that I couldn’t leave with Scottie after all.  But instead she told me that she’s concerned about my “issues” (aka pill addiction) returning if I go back to the same environment when I leave here tomorrow.

I was furious. 

I was all, “ENVIRONMENT?!  You mean my house, my HOME where I live with my kids?? And isn’t it a little late for this talk?” 

And f*ck her and her late-ass “cautioning” anyway.  I can’t go another day without my kids.  I haven’t even been able to let myself think about them since they last visited because it hurts too much. Plus, after a whole month clean, I won’t have the same “issues.” I’ll finally be able to take my pills as prescribed (instead of 3 or 4 at a time, every few hours like I was doing). 

Last journal entry:

August 14, 2008 (Not a cloud in insight, 96 degrees)

Well, this is it.  I’m just scribbling this down before the town car picks us up.  My 2 roommates put some contraband chocolates under my pillow last night.  It was the sweetest chocolate that I’ve ever tasted. 

I’m going to see my kids! 

I still haven’t figured out my excuse for stopping at CVS.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m usually great at coming up with excuses...


I was in so much shame and pain when I wrote this.  It feels as though I'm reading the words of someone else.  Someone who wasn't done (with drugs and alcohol). Someone who hadn't yet reached that point of acceptance.

I’ll never forget seeing that Wickenburg CVS out of the car window as we drove toward the airport.  Scottie didn’t really notice how distracted I was -- we were both so nervous.  When we were a few miles out of town, I closed my eyes against the tears and heard the voices of those women from my dream, "Be willing..."

The feel of my kids in my arms, the smell of the watermelon shampoo they used, the look of absolute adoration on their faces when I got home was so painfully sweet that (one day at a time) my insane compulsion to "check-out" was replaced by the humility and surety that I would never be able to take or drink anything like a "normal person" again.  And then there was nothing to do but surrender - and do whatever it took to get well.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Everyone's talking about Demi Lovato's overdose, but maybe you don't have to be so devastated when you hear that someone has relapsed. Here’s why:

I thought that Demi Lovato was really brave to release that song last month about her relapse.  In my world, relapses are usually first revealed privately to one trusted person, then afterward, to a group, in the confidential confines of a 12-step meeting.  

I read Demi's lyrics out loud to Scottie and his daughter, Nora the night the song was released:

“Momma, I am so sorry, I’m not sober anymore/And daddy please forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor.  To the ones who never left me we've been down this road before. I'm so sorry I'm not sober anymore…”


When I first got sober, a relapse packed all of the horror and mystery of the boogey man.

“Did you hear about so and so?” We would whisper to one another. “She (or he) seemed like they were doing so 'well.'  Do you know what happened….?"

We “newcomers” (those with less than thirty days sober) would huddle closer together in our meetings, scared of getting picked off in the night by this insidious disease (I picture the hooded grim reaper, complete with sickle) and losing the one thing we had been told that no one could ever take away from us — our sobriety date.

But over and over again, people that I knew -- people who’d taken chips for 30, 60, 90 days sober were back in meetings (usually in tears) standing up to collect a newcomer chip again — some more than once.  


Before I knew anything about recovery, before I’d ever heard of AA, I remember being fascinated with celebrity relapses.  In fact, I kept a file of People Magazine articles about celebrities who re-entered treatment programs for “exhaustion" or — my favorite explanation to be suspicious of — “maintenance," months or years after getting sober.

Maintenance, eh? Right.

It smacked of dishonesty and cover up to me. 

I tried to read between the lines of those articles and get the real story.  I think even then, I was trying to get the secret to preventing my own relapse. Even then, I was so scared of this disease that already had me in its grips, but had not yet consumed me.  If I had this thing (and I did and do), then I wanted to know precisely how, when the time came, to beat it. 

But (not surprisingly) the answers to why people relapse weren’t in those People Magazine articles. In truth, (and in my opinion) there may not be an answer at all. 

I’ll take a 10-year cake in two weeks, if all goes according to plan.  But before I ever got sober, I had many, many, many failed attempts at quitting (for good).  I know all too well the pain of swearing off (publicly and privately) and hating my image in the mirror  because one more time, I'd found myself with a bottle in my hand.  And although I haven’t had to change my sobriety date, I know that the feeling of "picking up" again — for me it was one of desperate defeat, followed immediately by an overwhelming sense of incomprehensible demoralization.  My instinct now, is to do whatever I can to "help" anyone who may be headed for a relapse.  I'm afraid to give them the dignity of their own experience.  I'm afraid, that like so many others, they may not make it back.

But a surprising truth that I've learned over the past few years, is that some of the people I admire the most in recovery have had to change their sobriety dates due to relapse.  Some more than once.  Some several times.  I love these people.  I am extremely grateful for them on a daily basis and know for sure that my life and recovery would not be the same without them.

And isn't it also true that I am "playing God" when I try to "protect" someone I love from the pain and shame of relapse?  And if I'm honest, I'm also trying to protect myself from the pain of potential loss, right?

So now, as I’m leading new women, (wide-eyed and usually shame-filled) through the beginning steps of our program, I try to also remember these admirable men and women who have relapsed and then come "back," willing to go to any lengths for their sobriety.

These new women are (like I was) terrified of relapse.  Each time someone "goes out" (or relapses) they ask, (frantically) "How could this happen?!" But I think what they're really asking is:

"How can I keep this from happening to me?" 

And I usually tell them something along the lines of, "Try not to take it too personally.  Sometimes people just aren't ready.  And there's nothing to be done until they are."

Demi Lovato announced her relapse to the world in June and then this past Tuesday was taken by ambulance (after an apparent heroin overdose) to get medical help.  But ironically (and, again, in my opinion), it is possible that this whole, horrible ordeal may the very thing that helps her the most (and much more sustainably, by the way, than the double dose of Narcan, she no doubt received at the hospital).

I have had to learn this incredibly painful lesson in recovery -- that there is sometimes no better teacher then the humiliation of utter defeat.  Sometimes priorities can shift after one of these lessons, and it can become very clear to the defeated (me) what is truly important (my life, my family, the people I love) and what, albeit painfully, must be left behind (drugs, booze and an extremely self-centered way of living).

So when someone relapses, you don't have to be so quick to assume the absolute worst.  It doesn’t mean that they’re doomed to failure.  It doesn’t mean that they’re not “strong enough”.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that 12-step programs don’t work.  Sometimes a relapse can provide the measure of desperation that is required (for those of us afflicted with this disease) to really look at ourselves and at the impact that we have had on other people. And then possibly, to live a happy, peaceful, useful life —  one day at a time, of course.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Here's how I turned my outdoorsman boyfriend into a proud "buy-sexual"

July 2009

“Does this look okay?”

He is standing in the doorway wearing an oversized, faded red and blue Hawaiian shirt with baggy, oatmeal-colored bathing suit bottoms. There are worn, brown leather sandals on his feet. 

Scottie and I met a year earlier in treatment.  It had been easy to ignore his wardrobe-choices at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona.  July of 2008 had been nothing short of oppressively hot (in the triple digits every day) and we were told to bring comfortable clothes for a thirty-day stay (clothes, which we wouldn’t mind getting dirty).   Plus, if his packing experience had been anything like mine (racing around for 45 minutes, hiding empty bottles, blinded by tears), any wardrobe faux pas could be easily forgiven.

But here we are in Los Angeles, nearly a year post-treatment, trying on this new (and highly unlikely) romance.  And he now shows up for our sushi date in  -- well, this. 

“Umm,” I start.  I falter when I see the innocent look on his face.

I feel a match lighting in my stomach.

“What?” His blue eyes are wide with uncertainty. 

I want to just hug him and tell him that its okay.  I want to tell him that what he’s wearing is perfectly fine.  That I'm sure Hawaiian shirts are still “in” some where in the world (but honestly - do they even still wear them in Hawaii?!?).  I want to tell him that I don’t mind his worn, brown leather sandals, but the words stick in my throat.

“No, Honey.” 

It is barely a whisper.  I can’t look up at him. I hear his huge shirt rustling around his rib cage as he takes a few steps toward me.

Oh my God.

“No?!" His tone is incredulous. "Is that what you said?”

I look up at him suddenly.  A surge of heat from that lit match rises from my chest into my throat.

“No, it’s not okay.  In fact it’s terrible.  You can’t wear that old, huge Hawaiian shirt to get go sushi with me.  You can’t wear those swim trunks out in public.  And I hate, I mean I really HATE those sandals.  You can’t wear those either.  Not to lunch.  Not EVER!!"

I’m panting slightly now, taking in big gulps of air while I stare at him.  A year’s worth of "opinion-stuffing" is now out on the floor between us.  He eyes me back evenly and then steps over to a mirror by my front door. Immediately, I feel my body start to cool.

“You mean you don’t like this?  It’s not like I was trying to dress up or anything.  We’re just going down the street to get something to...”

I walk over to him and gently place my hands on his broad shoulders.

“I can help,” I say pleadingly, staring at his eyes in the mirror.  “We can go shopping, okay?  You just need a few key pieces.”

“Seriously, Laura?” he holds his arms out to the side as if I should inspect him further, like maybe I missed something.

“This shirt is REALLY not ok?!”

“It’s offensive,” I say kissing him on his tanned cheek.  “And the bathing suit…”

“It’s not a bathing suit,” he says defensively.  “They’re surf shorts, Patagonia surf shorts.”

I place my finger over his soft lips and face him.  Our noses are less than an inch apart.

“Shhhh. ”  I’m shaking my head as I take a step back. 

“All of this,” I say making a big circle with my hand as if I’m erasing the outfit from his body.  “All of this has to go, Honey -- I’m sorry.  You’re simply drowning in this baggy North-Face-sale-rack-looking stuff.  You have this athletic build and those amazing shoulders.  I know you’ve been in the mountains of Utah for 20 years but you live in LA now.  We need to get you clothes that fit. Clothes that people wear in CITIES when they go to lunch.  Clothes, preferably from this decade.”

I smile widely at him and move in for a kiss. 

“Trust me?”

April 2018

“Honey, you’ve got another package from James Perse?”

I’ve kicked the box as I opened the front door.  As it appears to divide in half, I realize that it’s not actually one box but two.

Scottie comes striding toward me from the kitchen with a grin on his face.

“Hi Honey.  That’s my jacket I hope — and maybe that button down I've been waiting for...”

I drink him in for a moment.  He is wearing jeans that are the perfect wash of dark blue.  The fit makes his legs look even longer.  He wears a thin, white button down shirt under a black cashmere sweater with a slight V-neck. 

“That jacket you said you wanted the other night?” I say with a pout.  “I was going to buy you that jacket for your birthday.”

“There’s a Rag & Bone blazer that I’ve been eyeing too.”  He scoops up the packages without missing a beat.  “Wanna see?”

*  *  *

As we’re lying in bed that night I grow impatient waiting for him to put his laptop down so that we can snuggle and watch the season finale of Homeland.  It’s all we’ve both been talking about for a week and now he seems preoccupied.

“Whatcha looking at, Hon?” I say reaching for my reading glasses so that I can see his screen.  His eyebrows are knit in concentration.  He gives me an absentminded, sideways kiss on the cheek as if to say goodnight.

“I had these pants in my shopping basket.  The soft, black track-pants I told you about? Now I can’t find them anywhere.”

“Honey?” I say with some bass in my voice.  “Homeland, remember?  Any second now someone’s going to post a spoiler!”

“Got 'em!” He startles me as he raises his arms suddenly in triumph.  He turns to me with a wide grin.  He looks giddy with relief. 

“Let me just buy them, Honey --  so I don’t lose them again. And then we can watch, okay?”

He gives me another kiss, only slightly better than the one before.  His eyes are glued back to the screen.

Lord - what have I done? 

"Honey," I say, willing him to look over at me.

I sit there digesting the fact that I've actually created a clothes monster when I remember an article that I'd read in the Sunday New York Times. The article had coined a term for "hetero" men who really like clothes.  A term for men like Scott.

"Ladies," it read, "If your guy has great taste in jackets and his shoe closet rivals yours, you might be lucky enough to have stumbled upon a fashion-world 'urban legend'- the 'Buy-Sexual' man..."

"Almost done, Hon," he calls out (as if I'm not inches away from his head).  "This is all your fault, you know," he smiles.   "You can't really be mad at me."

At least they're all really great pieces.  And he hasn't even needed input from me in years...

“Okay Hon," I smile.  "Take your time." I kiss him on the forehead and settle back against my pillows.  “And by the way, Hon?  Those pants?  They are really, really good.”

Photocred: JW

Friday, June 1, 2018

Sending out a group text or a mass Graphics Interchange Format (aka GIF)? Well here’s a tip for you: You can miss me with that s#it (for real)

“Let’s see how many hearts of love you are willing to give.  I’ll be waiting on mine…”


I turn off my already parked car and angrily open my Facebook Messenger settings.

Audrey, Audrey, Audrey…

How the fu@# can I block this woman? 

Just as I think I may have succeeded in blocking Audrey I get another message notification.

“It’s a blessing to have a friend like you…”  This GIF has flashing diamonds and gold hearts.

Michael?  Who the hell is Michael? I don’t even know this person. 

I look up his profile and see that he is “friends” with about 100 of my distant relatives (none of whom I have ever actually met or spoken with).  I turn back to Messenger and scroll back up to settings.

“It’s NOT a 'blessing' Michael! You know why?  Because I’m not your friend!!!”

My yelling startles a woman walking by my car. She quickly looks the other way and picks up the pace.

"Happy Mother's Day!" This GIF is from someone named Amy.  "I hope I get one back!"

Answer me this, Amy - is it really a Happy Mother's Day message when you're asking for (demanding) one in return?  Have I even ever met you in real life, Amy? Where is this sense of entitlement coming from?

“Hallelujah!"—  Hails a gold, sparkly "Jesus GIF" from someone named Terry.  “Just a lil something to brighten your day.”

I don’t know what I resent more — the assumption that I am a Christian and will appreciate this religious image, the implication that my day needs brightening or the use of that lazy contraction, "lil" (which also happens to be a favorite prefix for many rapper's names).

I want to message each of them back in all caps: DON’T YOU DARE ever, never, ever - SEND ME NOT ONE MORE MASS GIF! EVER!!!

I picture Terry, Amy, Audrey and Michael sitting eagerly in front of their desktop computers in their living rooms waiting for responses to their respective GIFs.  (Living rooms, which I’m sure are filled with plastic-covered sofas, needlepoint pillows and porcelain knick-knacks)

They’re probably smiling and thinking, “This is definitely going to brighten someone’s day” or “Maybe this person could really use some random, bouncing multi-colored hearts in their lives,” or “This person will know that they have a TRUE friend now!  As evidenced by this glittery, flashing, neon friendship sign!

So yes - I’m kind of a Scrooge when it comes to ANY KIND of mass message.   For instance, an ill-timed group text can send me over the edge just as easily as a mass GIF.  This past Saturday, as some of you know, was prom for many LA-area schools.

The first group text came in Sunday morning at 5:45.

“Just wanted to share some prom pictures!”

Even without my glasses I can see that she’s used at least 20 “cheerful” Emoji’s.

Emoji over-use. Right up there with people who call me while chewing...

I place (slam) my phone back down on my nightstand, cursing her COMPLETE lack of consideration. 

Before six on a Sunday morning??? Who does that?!

Just as I am drifting back to sleep, the responses start coming in -- making my phone vibrate like an angry swarm of bees.


“So handsome!”

“Time really flies!”

“Good looking couple”

“Good job, Mama.”

What the….!!!!  Don’t any of these people know how to reply OFF OF the text thread?  How can they not?  And what are all these people even doing up?!?

It makes me wonder -- who actually likes these things?  I mean do you care for group texts and their inevitable chain-responses?  Do you enjoy mass GIFs? Do you read and appreciate all of those bulk holiday messages (Happy Cinco De Mayo!).  And if you do like them, do you ever respond to them?  And if no one is responding, why do people keep sending them?!?

But let’s just assume for discussion's sake, that I am ALL ALONE on this.  Let’s say that I am the only one who has ever growled out loud at a mass GIF — that I am the only person whose daily serenity has been ruined by the unbridled hemorrhaging of obligatory responses to some random group text (or email).  Am I not allowed to be frustrated?  Pissed off?  Fed up?

And my rant would not be complete if I didn’t include one more major pet peeve of mine: New acquaintances who send you one or two word texts first thing in the morning.

“Hey” or "Hi" (These seem to be the most popular)

 Or another favorite:

“Good morning" 

Huh? Good morning?  

Well, not anymore!  In fact, you may have just ruined a potentially good morning by sending me this incredibly irritating text at 7:00am.

And just how am I supposed to respond to Hey, Hi or Good morning?  Should I send a meaningless one or two-word text in return?  I mean are they asking me to begin an entire daylong, monosyllabic text-exchange? 

I’m sorry but this is not “cute." This is not a conversation starter, people, this is a passive/aggressive friendship-ender.  You’re texting me but you're not really saying anything.  Why?

I'd rather you just call and tell me what's on your mind (or just don't send a text if you don't know what to say).

Either way, I'll have more respect for you.

So, shall we review?

No more mass GIF's to “brighten my day” (and just so you know, I will NEVER pass anything you send to me along to 10 "friends" - EVER).

No more group texts where I receive multiple responses, please.  Seeing all those replies pour in one after another makes me want to smash my phone (over your head).

And lastly, no single word salutations from anyone (but especially from new friends).   They make me instantly hate you (plus I refuse to take the bait). 

And no, I’m not ever responding to any of the above — ever.