last july, we (the staff of a small agency) visited the 18th precinct probation office to discuss a new meth recovery group (MRP) we planned to start at a small agency in englewood. it would consist of 3 evening groups m-w-f which would focus on 3 different parts of recovery- MET- motivational enhancement therapy, CBT- cognitive behavioral therapy, TSF- twelve step facilitation- more realistically connection to sober communities.
we were received with reservations and went on our way. in august we received our 1st referral from a different probation office entirely. since that time we have had 10 referrals, we have 1 client (our 1st client) has been clean since his 4th week. the 18th precinct has sent us several of those and their dui referrals have increased as well. englewood is a small suburb of denver which has a reputation and a history of substance abuse especially meth. when i was starting the mile high meth project (now the mile high recovery project) in 08, we consistently got a volume of calls from englewood’s social services about individuals (specifically parents with small children) who had ongoing and agonizing meth issues. i was well aware of this unmet need going into beginning our MRP.
last night as we talked about what recovery means for each of us, i talked about the real miracle that comes with sharing experience with others.and i also talked about the idea that i get to do “this” meaning working with others who find themselves on a similar path. a participant indicated somewhat sarcastically that “get to” might be disingenuous. but as i consider it all, it is real. i do feel incredibly lucky to spend my time with an activity that holds meaning for me. damn, it has been a journey, with loadz’o twists and turns, but i am certain i am here and i am with enjoyment. life continues to move forward, definitely sometimes with more twists and turns.
my cousin gave me a journal that i left at his home after i moved to colorado in 1988. the 1st entry is dated 4/2/1981 and it goes through 1989. i didn’t do a very consisted job of writing entries, but it did take me on a trip back in time… there is an obvious void from 1984 until 1988 as that is when hiv really starting hitting my friends and my own life. my drug and alcohol use became its own animal and went on a nasty tear.moving to colorado in 1988 seemed to change the course of my journey. i drank heavily for 12 more years, but drugs were not as accessible here as they had been.
following is an excerpt dated…10/12/1983… (it could be titled “morning at the golden nugget”.
i wonder if it really is as much a time of restraint as it seems.outwardly people really do seem to be much calmer and more conservative yet they remain the same. what is to become of pent up emotions? they surely do not just fade away, do they get put on the back shelf and collect dust? perhaps they were in the window but faded to pale and matter little. just memories. either way time continues. so i sit at the counter at the pancake house at 5:30 am after having walked here in the rain. what really brings me here? it’s entertaining certainly, but i am sure that’s not why. so up walks Regan- a very bold and sassy trannie, to say hey, ask for my phone number and a few spare dollars. she drinks my water, takes it with her, drinks some of my coffee, leaving magenta beeswax behind like pigeon droppings.
some friends from chicago came into town over last weekend. some other friends let us use their vacation home outside fairplay to have a getaway. it was pretty magical. we arrived on thursday evening and spent the night. the house has 3 bedrooms with a total of 6 beds, we all slept in the same room the first night – kinda like a dorm. laughter and storytelling were the easiest way to start to catch up with each other.
in the morning, it became apparent that the views from the house were pretty extraordinary. very large picture window on all 4 sides revealed snow-dusted mountain scenes behind blue skies in each direction with aspens that held only memories of gold on them created a sense of wonder that we don’t quite feel everyday.
friday we had breakfast at the brown burro in fairplay. good green chili and a welcome air for travelers gave us a great start. we drove through buena vista and stopped to take photos along the way. we then headed to mt princeton and sat in the pools created by the hot springs for most of the afternoon. the waters were 80 and 100 degrees while the air was about 60. it was at once relaxing and invigorating. many of my cares and worries got left in those pools.
we then headed to salida which is one of my favorite small towns in colorado. there are bohemian art galleries and restaurants galore and each time i return, i discover something new. this time we found a gallery called art and salvage. the owner paints sweet folk paintings on old windows that are sweet and charming. one of these paintings will probably be the gift we give to my friends for their generous gift to us.
there is a remarkable photo of the arkansas river as it flows through highway along salida which i used as a banner for this blog. so picturesque. the entire day was a delight for the eyes. we headed back to the house and spent the 2nd and final night outside fairplay. as we drove up to the home, there was a family of 10 or so deer munching on the grasses of the lawn. they disappeared into the aspen grove as our car drew near, but it was another amazing aspect of our visit away from the city.
the next day we drove up through breckenridge, dillon, frisco, georgetown, and idaho springs before we got back to denver. our friend eddie, remarked that he had never seen the john waters’ film “female trouble”, so we opted to rent that. we laughed and napped and finished the saturday with an incredible dinner at rioja. the most outstanding was an herbed ricotta cheesecake with pickled apples and candied orange peel. the trip was winding down and the friendships were warming up.
on sunday, it was mostly packing and readying for home for my guests. we stopped at parallel 17 for a quick brunch before the flights. friendship is a staple for a healthy diet and my visitors reminded me of this. i laughed and i opened my heart this weekend. and found myself realizing how much i had needed to laugh. it had been awhile.
i wanted to just give an update on the things happening in my life. i have realized that this blog has become a bit watered down. i journal here now and again about some personal process but with a vague quality because i am an addiction counselor and there is necessary confidentiality. sometimes my days are challenging with the people i counsel- maybe more than sometimes. but i also find that i have just as many challenges (if not more) with the structure of my workplace and the colleagues and policies i work with. these are day-to-day challenges that i often need to process, but when i blog about them i am as vague as possible so as not to implicate anyone in particular. this style waters down my posts and i assume they seem bland and hazy. certainly they do not mirror the frank qualities of my early posts before i entered counseling or healthcare. i used to have the freedom to write my truth. i have spent the last couple of years trying to develop a style that will convey a perspective as well as the “zoom out” quality that my spirit and my life have taken on with ongoing recovery.
opportunities have made themselves available to me on a steady pace since i got clean. and challenges have made themselves unavoidable in tandem. these seem to co-exist in my recovering life just as a double helix is part of my dna. as opportunity and success careen forward, it becomes necessary to address character defects and re-examine old wounds and current motivations regularly in order to avoid meltdowns. i have begun to share in meetings that one of my greatest barriers has been my own ability to be ordinary. so much of me carries a belief that i am less than (or not as good as) others. since this has been a lifetime belief developed from the times i was 9 or 10, fatherless and yearning for male companionship, sexually active with older peers and publicly humiliate by those same peers for the same activity, i also developed a keen ability to tune out or shut down my feelings in order to keep going and not fall apart. it seems no wonder now that i chose getting high as an alternative to living in truth. it allowed me to transcend the brokenness i felt.
you know- the funny thing is that i didn’t understand any of this about myself until i was 4 or 5 years clean. the denial was so embedded that it took time to bubble up to the surface. and believe me when i say there was not a party when i first encountered these ideas. it was reliving the trauma of it all first and then finding a way to climb out of the ancient emotional hole i had again crawled into. doesn’t this sound like a hella lotta work? it is. and i can’t be anything but grateful because i had no idea i had carried that crap around all those years.
so here’s the flip side of my sober life experience. while i am helping myself grow emotionally from the 10 year old boy who was riddled with self-esteem issues and enough defense mechanisms to keep palestine safe, i also came to understand that the emotional landscapes i had traversed such as having a mental health diagnosis, being hiv positive, being gay, being fatherless could become assets and sources of support for others. and i now believe that the reason that i survive all the things i have is because i have experienced all the things i have. my challenges and tribulations have become my assets.
and while all this ancient history is rewritten and re-edited, i have managed to accomplish the following:
i am part founder of an organization called TEN – i started a newsletter in 2008 for HIV positive individuals in Colorado and it is still being published.
i author 3 blogs – The Climb, TEN, and After The Pop!
i am board chair for AFR- Advocates For Recovery.
i have chaired AFR’s annual Rally For Recovery for the last 2 years.
i am on the BHPAC- Colorado Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council.
i am on a team working on BRSS TACS– Bringing Recovery Support Services To Scale in Colorado
i co-chaired the Denver HIV Planning Council for 3 years.
i have introduced peer coaching and peer mentoring to a large Colorado Public Hospital SA clinic
for me this seems a solid amount of service work. not amazing, but solid. and when i couple it with the internal work that has been done, i am reminded that i am not in charge at all and that i am so grateful i have a spiritual program to keep me somewhat balanced. i have developed a buddhist sensibility somehow- probably because the buddhists are so sensible when it comes to drama. recovery has become a lesson in letting go of drama for me. or at least not being caught up in it.
i worked a birthday party for an 89 year old woman last evening. Her home is a 1949 Craftsman bungalow that has been changed little since its construction and is nestled on a 25 acre parcel of what was undoubtedly a much larger piece of land originally in an exclusive part of old moneyed denver. the view was astounding and the age of the caterer and the guests was impressive to say the least. as i pulled up around 5p, the matriarch was just returning from her rounds checking the pets and the horses on the farm which is a daily routine.
it was old denver money at this function and it was definitely intoxicating. the woman who trained and raced secretariat was there. 2 state legislators were in tow as well. i found myself completely enamored with the ambiance and impressed with the survivorship.
i was asked this week to chair the committee that will produce the ‘rally for recovery 2011″. it’s an annual event in colorado which highlights the benefits of recovery and celebrates some of the “gifts” that come with it.
it’s not my usual after hours activity, but i am looking forward to a new challenge. you can learn more about the rally at www.advocatesforrecovery.org
a couple of good friends are planning a visit from chicago in august. i am thinking i will take them to the western slope for the pallisades peaches festival. i am looking forward to checking it out as well as getting outa dodge for a coupla days.
in a meeting tonight, i realized that i have become comfortable with accepting that life is forever changing and is far from perfect or easy. i think i used to get caught up in the challenges of change and the difficulties in that. but i am coming to understand that this is the nature of life. last night we had a torrential downpour and the streets and drains flooded all the way up to the sidewalks. there was relocated mulch all over the sidewalks and the stairs up to my house and there was a fencepost from i don’t know where sprawled out as well. i could have gotten mad about it, but it really is the nature of life to shift. i honestly hope i am learning to work with this.
i have an aunt and uncle that live in idaho springs- a small mountain town just this side of ski country. for years i have been hanging with them for a weekend here and there- getting some r and r and getting outa dodge. this weekend was no exception.
the last 5 years or so, i have been spending much of my time there cooking for them. grilling, sauteing, baking, boiling, chopping, and seasoning. it has become an immense sense of release for me. i look forward to seeing them 4 or 5 times a year, and i think they have looked forward to seeing me perhaps just as much.
my last visit i had mentioned pasta and so my aunt has had that in her mind ever since. my plan didn’t formalize until friday when i went shopping. i decided to make bowtie pasta with peas and pesto, chicken piccata, and roasted pears with caramel gelato. but my favorite surprise this year (mine-not theirs) was fava bean spread. fresh favas with parmesan, lemon, mint, garlic, and seasoning blended into a refreshing and earthy tasting concoction that spread beautifully onto crackers and whetted our appetites for the rest.
i also made a strata for breakfast this morning with artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers that seemed to be everyone else’s favorite thing. there were an unbelievable amount of ooohs as we had breakfast this morning.
i admit i love this part of my life. i really love cooking and i love doing it for people who want to experience it. it makes for a fantastic weekend…
basic fava bean spread recipeapproximately 1 cup of shelled fava beans
1-3 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp. lemon zest
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded parmesan or pecorino
2 to 4 Tbsp. of olive oil – add until desired consistency is achieved
fresh herb of choice – mint is standard, but basil is also a great choice
salt & fresh ground pepper to taste… recipe reprinted from paris and back
i first met laura when i was doing advocacy for a small community based organization in aurora named “itav”. laura was a sex worker and smoking a lot of crack. i drove over to her boyfriend’s apartment in west denver and brought her to the agency so she could go to a women’s group, get something to eat, and get away from her life for a minute. i remember very well the conversations we had in the car on the ride to and from.
fast forward to 2 years ago when i ran into her again. she had now become the house manager for a program for plwa’s in athmar park. she had slowed way down on the crack use and had gotten into medical care-even consistently taking haart medication. she was much more grounded and again we talked often and repeatedly about the direction of her life. she was with her boyfriend who was intermittently quite abusive. it appeared he had a mental health issue and refused to take medication reliably. when he would drink alcohol or use cocaine, his mean streak would especially arise and her physical injury rate would escalate.
shortly after i ran into her again, the two of them had a volatile altercation and he picked up a tv and threw it at her, breaking her leg and some of her spirit at the same time. because of her position at the housing program, a police report was filed and chargers were drawn. he ended up spending about 10 months in jail being released sometime late last fall.
naturally, what followed were conversations around self-care and responsibility to the residents under her watch. she started to smoke crack more frequently, smoke pot more frequently, and engage in some other odd behaviors. but she was able to reel in it for the most part. many of the residents that she looked after had their own serious life issues going on and i will never really know if she was able to truly present for them because of her own internal drama. but certainly this is how it is with almost everyone. i somehow always felt that she was lost in a current that taking her somewhere quite a distance from here. but i also understood that she was doing much better than when i first met her, so harm reduction rules the day.
this morning i heard the first report of a small tragic story unfolding in the small neighborhood that she lived and worked. as the day unfolded, it became somewhat clearer that there was just a continuation of this same story. i have been both saddened and numbed most of the day. i wish i could have done more.
the following is from the local paper..
written by kieran nicholson and reprinted from www.thedenverpost.com
Wrap Yourself In All The Holidays Have To Offer This Year. Here is the image on this year’s cards and the letter included. Defnitely SWAK!!!!
I continue to work with private chefs at small dinner functions throughout the year as well. This pays well, and gives me a peek into a world that is both fantastic and ordinary. I am allowed to be around great food and some amazing ambiance, and find that much of this seems to come quite naturally.
After all these years living in Denver, this summer I started taking road trips around Colorado this year. Places like Salida, Buena Vista, Estes Park, Grand Lake, Trinidad, even Taos and Santa Fe, and the family-famous Idaho Springs have provided the backdrop for an incredibly beautiful summer in what so many refer to as God’s country. I hope to continue this trend in the coming years. Feel free to plan a trip with me in the spring, summer, or fall.
I visited Chicago once again this autumn. Blue and I had dinner with Laura at a fantastic tapas restaurant in the newly remodeled Blackstone Hotel. Good call, Laura. She reports getting a delicious promotion at her workplace and seems more content and at peace with each year. I still love that city and get a warm and fuzzy feeling when there. I was able to catch up with about 15 or so cronies and definitely had a hoot. The new wing at Art Institute is amazing and is recommended for your next visit there.
I was introduced to a book this year written by a Canadian physician named Gabor Mate called ” In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” Since I work in the field of addiction, both this read and his philosophy have had a profound impact on my approach. I am reminded that our behaviors do not define us as human. Our souls do. People always have a reason for doing what they do- we just don’t always agree or like the reason. But that’s why we need to walk a mile in their shoes so to speak. This change of perspective is a work in progress for me. Every day I practice letting go of my judgments. Some days work better than others.
Many of the LGBT issues in the news this year have stirred some echoes in my heart and mind and I would ask you to indulge some thoughts I have around some of those. When I think of DADT, Gay marriage, Teen suicide, and Bullying, I feel very close to these issues. Growing up and feeling different can be extremely challenging, especially for young people. I don’t remember hearing so much that my “behaviors” were unacceptable, but more that I was less than acceptable. And growing up feeling that way causes a lot of invisible destruction. I find that I am still working through this internalized self- judgment started so many years ago, even after 6 years of being substance free.
Mind you, I am not complaining. 25 years of living with HIV, I know I am lucky to be here. 2010 was never part of my plan. 52 was never an age I expected to walk around. Yet here I find myself undeniably happy, inspired, and full of life. I write this in hopes that you will feast on just as much from your life’s banquet this holiday season. May joy be abundant and keep you warm. It’s the giving , not the getting that matters.