About Me

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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Take this Fear and Shove it. (Arach-NO-phobia)

"You are more afraid of spiders than death!?"

Oprah goggled her audience in that oh, so "Oprah" way. All eyes, taking us all in quizzically, with that slightly patronizing school ma'am stare.

It was a show on fear, but the only thing I remember were the results of the pre-show survey. Apparently, Oprah's color co-ordinated audience was more afraid of spiders than death.

She scanned her audience again, incredulous. Yet despite her Alpha Dog pose—hand on hip, shapely calves firmly planted into her Manolo Blahniks—she chastised but like a sassy friend. For that was part of her brilliance, enfolding us into a comfortable camaraderie, while never relinquishing the last word.

"More afraid of spiders than death?! REALLY!?"

For me, it was never death, but dialysis. But dialysis is pretty close to death. Yeah. Spiders and dialysis were pretty neck and neck.

THIS was a show I could get on board with.

I don't remember if any reasons were presented to explain this irrational phenomenom. I mean, phobias by nature are irrational, aren't they? Or are they?

I'm pretty sure I can pinpoint the genesis of mine.

"NO, DADDY, NO!!!"

My world, my higher power, my everything.

I was 8 years old. It was 1976, the inaugural year of the monthly kids' magazine, "OWL"—a Canadian nature and science magazine for children. I'm not sure about today, but back then, every issue spotlighted a different animal, insect etc... and part of that profile always included a centerfold photograph of said pick of the month. I flipped through the magazine, excited, eager to explore brave new worlds beyond the black squirrels and red-breasted robins of Toronto's High Park. I flipped and flipped. I couldn't find it. I was simply manic to meet the "Animal of the Month". I stopped cold. I had found it. This - this - THING was just staring at me. I shuddered. It was SO CREEPY. The photograph was a microscopic close up of a spider. It's beady eyes penetrated me like a laser. Thin wispy legs—legs! so! many! legs!—sprouted out from behind it's alienesque face like a wild weed no-one would ever want to pick. I flinched and threw the magazine to the ground—a melodramatic reflex that did not escape my Daddy.

He put 2 and 2 (and 2 and 2) together and sprang into action, grabbing the magazine from the floor and flailing the picture in front of me like a 8 year-old boy. I shrieked, jumped up and ran away from him, tearing down our apartment hallway as freeway. Get. out. of. my. way. The louder I screamed, the faster he ran. Clearly, he thought my terror was hilarious. Or maybe he was just drunk.

[Too soon? My blog.]

I had not yet mastered the art of deflating The Tease—to ignore, do nothing, say nothing, was key, but I simply couldn't stop screaming. I was CONVINCED the spider was inside the magazine, ready to—i don't know—crawl out from the glossy pages, plant itself in front of me and just—just—be CREEPY.  It was coming to get me! I knew it! My frenzied flee just egged Daddy on. Hysterically giggling, he continued to chase me all around the apartment, flapping the magazine victoriously. Unable to escape or deflate him, I did the only thing I could. I tore out onto our balcony, 6 stories high, with a south view over the city's largest park. Outside, in the dead of winter, I stood shaking from the good ol' Canadian cold and my new spawned fear, screaming into hands that covered my blubbering face, "Stop it, Daddy! No!" I stomped and cried, then finally whirled around, simply maddened, desperate to squash this silly scenario once and for all. I moved to yank the glass patio door wide open and froze. I was completely paralyzed; nothing but a silent scream escaped my open mouth. Time stood still, like the noiseless seconds after a child falls on the ground before the gap between time and pain is bridged and he wails like an air raid siren. There it was. It had found me. Pressed flush up against the glass wall that ran the length of our apartment was The Spider.

It was my inauguration into pure arachnophobia.

My phobia was hard core.

I wouldn't go into pet stores for fear I might see one in a terrarium.

I would shiver, a convulsion of revulsion, whenever I glanced at a book on reptiles with a spider on the cover. It's 8 legs seemed to sprawl across the cover threateningly, pimpling my skin with a thin coat of goosebumps.

In Toronto, the largest spider I ever came across was a house spider, barely the size of a quarter. Television was the thing to avoid—commercials especially. I would memorize the opening moments of certain commercials, the opening note, opening frame—burying this sense memory deeply inside— like an third rail that would electrocute me with fear—so when they came up on the screen my head would instinctively know when to whirl away.

And tarantulas? Forget about it. I could barely say the WORD, never mind picture one. 

And I knew I would die if I ever saw one.

Such a horrible prejudice I have, really. To not like something simply because it doesn't appeal to my personal aesthetic. No, the spider does not possess the fragile beauty of the butterfly, it does not flutter gracefully on the technicolor transparency of wings, but rather, scurries away in a ungainly panic, a blur of black and gray slime and hair.

In California, all bets were off.

When we lived in Hollywood, I was reasonably protected within a hyper-urban environment of overcrowded apartment blocks and car-lined streets of cement. I declined the Canyon hikes so popular with the wannabes, preferring the bass-thumping, generic sterility of the gym. So despite the odd encounter with the Hollywood-house spider, I was safe; protected from The One That Would Get Me.

10 years ago we stumbled upon a new neighborhood in Los Angeles—Shadow Hills. It was unlike anywhere we had lived before—horse-filled ranches and oleander-laden lanes combined to create a surprisingly appealing new neighborhood. We fell in love instantly. And then we stumbled upon our new rental—a house so high up in the hills, you had to drive a quarter mile up in the sky to reach it. The long and winding driveway led to a huge house we shared with another family on the main floor below us. There was a trellis covered in hot pink bougainvillea, a 360-degree view of the desert Foothills and complete silence.

"Yeah, we get all kinds of critters up here. Coyotes, hawks, tarantulas..."

[Come again?]

My day was coming. I knew it. It was coming to get me.

I was lucky. I avoided direct contact for a long time. One night during a rainstorm that had been pelting Los Angeles for 3 nights, Kevin came inside from the garage, stood very still and warned,

"Um. Don't go outside."

It was his tone, the hesitation in his voice, his completely inability to have anything resembling a poker face for more than 3 seconds.

"WHHHATTT!!!" Did you see one!?!? Are you serious!?!? Is it still out there!?!?"

The details did not go down well. Kevin had approached the tarantula and it had begun to climb up the side of our house. This meant it was calculating and mean, not that it was drowning to death inside its burrow and trying to stay alive. Kevin returned outside with a glass and "spoke" to him. Yes, my own personal St. Francis of Assisi exercised his "reptile-whispering" skills and was victorious in moving the tarantula to a tree far, far away. Kevin named him Julio. This did not make him cute. Kevin or the tarantula.

I lay in bed many nights wondering if tarantulas had opposable thumbs.

In 2006, we bought our current home, also here in Shadow Hills, just down the street from our rental. One morning as I went about the very gradual metamorphosis from infuriated night owl into barely human, I brought a few items over to the kitchen sink. I glanced down. My brow furrowed. "Huh", I thought, " "Why is there a black sock in the...AAHHH!!!! Yes, it was a baby tarantula. Small enough not to throw me into cardiac arrest, but large enough to send me running for the hills. Literally. I stood in our doorway, one leg planted outside and one leg barely inside the threshold. I was waiting for Kevin to return from the post office. I had no cell phone. Could make no panicked text, no hysterical call. I stood half-dressed, keeping a bulging eye peeled on the sink. You know, just in case the tarantula figured out a way to escape from the plastic cup I had imprisoned him in.

Kevin moved this one down the street.

And so it was a gorgeous November evening in 2012 when I finally met my nemesis. It was exceptionally warm. The Santa Ana Winds had been active—stirring up red flag warnings for wildfires and, oh, that throbbing ache for one's unrequited love. Nostalgia on the breeze. I was sweeping the kitchen debris outside and down a brick walk that runs the back of our house. Next to this path, a erection of rock, a crag of crevasses covered in succulents and sand, extends upward about 25 feet to the next level of our hilly property. I could have swept all night, the repetitive motion so meditative in nature. I was outside in November! I was cleaning! Bliss.

I thwacked the dust-filled broom against the side of our house. In my peripheral vision, something different. I did a double take and froze. It was 1976 and I was 8 years old. The moment I had dreaded all my life had arrived.  I was face to face with a tarantula. He was sprawled territorially on the jut of a rock above a hole. It had to be his home, den, lair. He didn't move. I didn't move. It was a Reptilian Standoff.  I made a run for it. With 2 giant, tiptoe-formed steps I leapt inside with the grace of Baryshnikov and the panic of, well, me. And then those noiseless seconds were bridged and I let it all hang out...


I flew around our cabin, slamming every window and door closed with a resolved thud. They climb walls! They have opposable thumbs! Kevin from the bathtub yelled out, "What's wrong?". KEVIN! I didn't have TIME to TALK! I was too busy screaming and slamming. I had to nut and bolt this place down. Dripping, with a towel around his waist, The Man Who Knows Me Too Well emerged and guessed my truth.

"You saw a tarantula."

If you had stopped by our house that night, you would have found 2 grown adults staring out the window of their back door, peering in nervous awe at a creature you just don't see roaming the roads of The Great White North. Ah, but my husband was determined to make me feel more comfortable. He decided this He was a She and named her Lois, which he curiously decided to speak with a cockney accent."LOIS!" This did not make her cute. Kevin or the tarantula.

It's funny what Life lays on your doorstep.

My fear of spiders began to die that night.

I kinda went through the 5 stages of grief:

DENIAL: "This can't be happening! I'm just a nice (debatable.) girl from an apartment in downtown Toronto! There can't be a tarantula living by my back door! Aren't they endangered!?"

ANGER: "OMG! KEVIN! You HAVE to move it! I CAN'T look at it every day! What did I do to deserve this! (wrong question.)"

BARGAINING: "Well, she only comes out 6 months out of the year. And always after dark. And she's not poisonous. She's more afraid of me than I am of her. (again, debatable.)"

DEPRESSION: "It's not her fault she's so creepy. SIGH. But, why is she so creepy? Oh, WELL."

ACCEPTANCE: "She's a creature, too. God's creature. Live and let live."

Peeking out my back door window every night was like exposure therapy. It became a challenge to see how long I could watch her. I would clean my glasses and really study her. She was huge. Legs sprawled, she wouldn't have fit inside my extended hand. It almost looked like she had 10 legs, 2 extra ones near her face. I can't say I didn't do the shivery quiver whenever I saw her, but as she emerged in the soft gloaming every night, my fear began to retreat. My husband, turns out, was wise in his wit. Calling her Lois helped me accept that she, as my husband liked to quip, "Was just trying to make a living." Butterfly or beast.

It's no coincidence that I was able to do this after getting into recovery. Through sober eyes I can now see that fear is an illusion—the more we walk through it, the stronger our gait, the more empowered we become—acceptance our strongest weapon.

We get through our fears, dialysis or 8 legs, one step at a time.

Lois has not emerged for several weeks now. We don't think she's coming back. It was with a funny flutter in my tummy that I put 2 and 2 (and 2 and 2) together and felt a melancholy; an odd awareness that the chokehold of fear has now relaxed into a casual clutch around the shoulders.

I can now walk through the fear that used to cripple me.

And I will miss the creature that taught me this lesson.

[I wonder what Oprah say about that.]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Clair de Lunacy (When Comes the Dawn)

I've never known anyone who's committed suicide.

This, I realized as I sat writing in our car yesterday afternoon, waiting for my husband to finish up his photo shoot.  We had just heard The News. I was stunned, disturbed, saddened. I couldn't focus, my brain churning to make sense of the senseless. Through my IPhone, a "Mozart Classical" Pandora radio station played quietly through the car's stereo system.  Debussy's "Clair de Lune" was selected as the next track. It's by turns melancholic, yet melodic strains swirled inside my memory bank, triggering an automatic withdrawal. And I accepted. I reclined back into the interior leather bucket seats of the Ford Fusion—the sensible man's version of the Delorean—and allowed myself to be transported back—in my makeshift, cherry red time machine—to my first days in rehab.

October 2011. Early fall. Dark by 5 pm. Darkness everywhere.

On perhaps my third day in rehab, I found myself on my knees, sobbing. I'm not sure how I got there. This was a position I had never assumed. But for two hours I cried, feeling feelings I had gobbled and guzzled away for so long. I could not stop crying, releasing the pain I was in, the pain I had caused, the pain sure to come. From 2 pm to 4 pm I dehydrated, dripping with sweat and fears, missing two hour-long groups. But I was missed. I know this because I would hear the techs hover around my closed (never locked) door; enough time for an ear to press up against the door, before they would drift away. Every half an hour they would come. But they left me alone. Because they understood this was my watershed moment. Quite literally. I couldn't see it yet, but through the tarry black of My Night, Dawn was breaking. I was safe.

[Clair de Lune is French for "Moonlight"'. ]

Against the roaring waterfall of my tears I played Debussy's classic piece. Over and over and over again I repeated the track, with the manic dedication of those craving self-indulgent wails and moans. Stop. Play. Repeat. I had been placed in The Detox room, meant for sleep, silence. I took in the dark, gray walls that enclosed my shivering shift; big bulbous tears dripping off my chin. I loved the color dark gray. When I collected my Oscar, I had always known I would don a gown of gun-metal gray. So, how had I ended up here instead? In a rehab in West Hollywood, mere blocks away from where The Academy Awards are held every year? Me, a wannabe movie star; an actress who flocked to the City of Angels to capture the Hollywood Dream (in a shape of a genital-less, golden man), was now held hostage by a True Hollywood Story played only on cable television.

That October afternoon, sheltered inside a cocoon of my favorite color, I genuinely tried to pray for my soul for the first time.

Today, I prayed for someone else's soul for the first time.

Not by rote, not by Facebook ("Praying!"), but on my hands and knees for someone I didn't know very well, but who was simply divine; an angel to the animals.

S. was a real movie star. Her name should be marque'ed, up in shining lights, a celestial celebration to all she did for animals. She was intelligent, creative, nurturing; doctor, volunteer, friend. I knew her through animal rescue. She rescued the dogs no-one wanted. The ones who were crippled, hurting, literally left for dead.  Why does such a benevolent being, so fierce and focused in her love for other creatures; filling them with the very breath of life, to not just survive, but thrive, forget to place the oxygen mask on herself? To ask for assistance, and in the end, just completely forget to stop breathing?

A heart overflowing with love, but in the end, left none in reserve for herself.

I would be lying if I said I never thought about killing myself when I was in the darkest hell of addiction. But no matter how dark it got—deep inside that putrid pit of walls oozing with agony and ache so slippery thick, I could not climb my way out alone—I never quite crossed that line past flirting with suicide into constructive plotting and planning.  I never designed a blueprint for relief. A "To Do List" for dying. In that surreal state, these plans provide a glimpse of future freedom from pain; this lunatic's list—what to do before I die—becomes completely sane. For a moment the idea would bring me not really relief, but perhaps a deep breath, a sigh. But I never really wanted to die. I just didn't want to be in pain anymore. And in that, I know I am not alone.

I did not know S. well, but I knew her pain.

But when you cross that line, I don't know that you can ever come back.

In the moonlight, you can no longer live, no longer trusting the break of Dawn.

That afternoon on the floor of rehab, I did everything I thought I was "supposed" to do to pray. I kneeled on bony limbs tucked underneath a withering frame. I clasped clammy palms together and emulated a pose I'd questioned my entire life. I struggled to remember The Serenity Prayer as I cried aloud to something, someone, anything. And boxed inside walls painted that subversive shade of gray, it began to feel less like living inside a barrel of a gun and more like moonlight—the moonlight of romance, possibility, quiet rustlings in the forest of unknown creatures that excited, rather than terrified. Dawn was coming. I couldn't see it. But I could feel it. I fumbled my way through a prayer I yet knew the words to, and somehow came to believe that there would be a reason to go on.

Debussy's gorgeous piece will always evoke for me the power of prayer.

Will I choose to stay in this pain or will I choose to let go?

I have no answers.

[Frankly, the ones who seem to have an answer for everything are the ones that scare me.]

All I know is that when you're hurting, it's the hardest thing to ask for help.

I have no answers. All I have is the willingness to try what I questioned before.

And somehow, that has saved my life. Day by day.

The Dawn always comes, here or in heaven.

R. I. P. "S."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dead Hen Walking

"Dead man walking!"

What flashes before an inmate's eyes as this ominous oxymoron echoes down the cold, cement halls of a penitentiary; a cry that clangs along the prison bars like a xylophone clinking out his chilling certainty?

The inmate shuffles, shackled from head-to-toe, flanked by costumed men, uniform in their committment to play out their part in this Grimm tale.

We all know how it ends. We think.

But how does it end for the inmate?

Does their life zip by epileptically, like the MTV videos spun in heavy rotation before the days of reality TV?

Or does his mind — a spinning hamster wheel of regrets— squeak to a grinding halt, then fade in with the operatic drama of a silent film, on that singular, blinding regret? The one that casts him as the star of a slow motion, action movie sequence he can't escape—like trying to run away underwater.

Or screaming out for help in a dream.

Saturday night.

Mankind's unofficial party night. The Bay City Rollers encapsulated it's elusive magic in their fist-thumping, crotch-thrusting anthem to the electric potential of "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!"

No other night of the week strips away our corseted inhibitions to reveal our leather-clad exhibitionism like this night.

Last Saturday night, I was running for the bathroom.

To a woman who has lived life on dialysis, this is hot.

I raced to the host’s second bathroom to pee as the first one was occupied—by the man who happened to give me my kidney. The second bathroom. The private bathroom. The ensuite — where any addict worth their (bath) salts knows holds the goodies. Except for those Normies who are so naive and trusting, they keep their pain medication in their kitchen cabinets beside the vitamins and in front of condiments like sea salt and turmeric.

But, I was not thinking about much.

Sure, I was thinking about how badly I had to pee. And I was thinking I wished I had put more thought into my 80’s costume, considering it's, like totally, my favorite decade. And I suppose I was thinking how great my friend’s beer looked. But all of those thoughts shattered like broken glass when I closed the bathroom door. Ubiquitous to a bathroom, glass covers your walls, your doors, your medicine cabinet. There it was. My Pandora's Box. From my vantage point on the toilet seat, it angled down at me, powerful, purposeful.


I swear I heard the strains of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra") escalate in tandem with the healthy flow of urine streaming between my legs.

[Is relapse inevitable?]

I stood up, zipping up my jeans with a quick tug. My heart was pounding. I did not look at myself, looking away from its mirrored door; a reflection only trying to do it's job, but preventing me from doing mine.

I am a drug addict. This is what I do

For me, addiction is like a magnet, a centripetal force sucking me into lock-down, Suddenly, I am handcuffed, spread-eagled against the wall, trapped inside a cage with this Force, scheduled for execution before I've even committed the crime.

[And part of me really doesn't mind.]

I opened the door. There they were. Just as I knew they would be. A huge bottle of Percocet, and right beside it, like a mini-me, a smaller version to keep it company. Easily over 100 Percocet. 100 little friends. 100 ways to breathe.

[100 ways to determine if you're an addict.]

They are not mine. I know this. This does not matter to me. I picked up the bottle and held it up against the bathroom's florescent light, an artificial halo of hope warming me from head to toe.

One pill and "POOF!" it would all be gone. Financial fear. "POOF!" Gone. Health burdens. "POOF!" Gone. Hubby's health burdens."POOF!" Gone.

My sobriety."POOF!" Gone.

I wanted them so badly.  They prattled Pavlovian inside their plastic cage, begging to be set free. My mouth watered.

I returned to the party and squatted on the floor amongst the small gathering of friends. But my mind remained in the bathroom, inside my narcotic nemesis of dry wall and glass. Negotiating, planning, plotting. "Just take a few of us home. C'mon, take a bunch of us! Shucks, take us all home!" 

They were calling to me. 100 of my dearest, chalky white friends. 

And so I answered back.

I fled to the bedroom and closed the door, calling 6 friends in a panic, pounding my touch screen with smudges and sweat. Voice Mail #1. Voice Mail #2. Voice Mail #3. I ignored the sweat collecting under my armpits, less than the magnetic pull drawing me back into the bathroom. 6 Voice Mails. Silence. Terrifying quiet. Silence is like oxygen for our demons, it feeds the quiet haven where our egos bloom and grow. I knew I had to keep on going. And so, I began to text four little letters that spelled out the most important message of my life.


And I got it.

"Tell your husband. Tell your friends. Forgive yourself."

To some, it might feel shameful to admit you want to steal someone else's drugs. That you need help. That you can't do it alone. But for me, when I stood shaking and crying in front of my friends and they just stood there smiling and loving me back into calm, I realized something.

I am not bad, I am just sick. 

This makes sense to me. And suddenly, I am empowered.

A funny thing happened on the way to Forgiveness...

When I exposed my dark secret to the light of my friends' love, it curdled and died, like a bloodless creature of the night who can no longer suck off others, and has no tools for living in the light.

I am a drug addict. Somewhere along the way, I crossed a line, and now it's a part of me. But just a part.

I am a drug addict. And that's OK.

In all the meetings I've been to last week, I have shared  about Saturday night. And every time someone pulls me aside and confides in that soft, soothing voice of camaraderie that I helped them, I feel like royalty. They wind another fresh flower into the crown of daisies on my head and crown me a princess — of purpose.

Normies don't get it. And that's ok. 

"Why did you want to take them? Were you feeling bad?"

[Uh, because they're awesome.]

Because I lost my job/my sweater itches/am on dialysis/it's Wednesday.

Because I am a drug addict.

On death row, they get a Last Meal. It seems like a rather gruesome gift to me. Here. Enjoy your sumptuous boiled lobster and seared scallops as we prepare a different sauce to inject your life away. 

We are all dead men walking. Every second of life that passes is a second closer to death. This is inevitable. But this is also a gift.

I guess you can do this alone, but I don't want to. I am Dead Hen Walking. Every minute of every day, I, too, am flanked by Men, uniform in their commitment to keep me out of lock-down and living in the light.

In the bright light of death.