Listening to someone ramble on about how great life is being sober is polarizing and stupid. I mean are we supposed to stand up and cheer because someone has managed to make it 5 minutes without a beer or a hit off a crack pipe? Please! It’s more exciting to hear about the phoenix rising from the ashes part of the story … give me a sinner that knows how to rock n roll all night naked and I’ll listen to every word! That’s just me…
I remember my first day in Los Angeles… I had a suitcase… a bag of canned food… a new tattoo I’d gotten driving through Pasadena and about $300 in the bank. It was unfamiliar and scary. It certainly wasn’t the luxurious accommodations I’d left in Palm Springs at the Betty Ford Treatment Center. It was my actual first day of living a sober life. I knew my track record too well… I’ve been in and out of rehab so often I could write a book … maybe call it “Rob’s Rehab Review… For Dummies”. I certainly qualify because I couldn’t get it right… I couldn’t stay off pills and alcohol.
Every recovery program I’ve ever experienced had a universal message; in order to remain clean and sober I’d need to change people, places and things. I’ve gotten clean many times … I’d never been sober.
I had to change my life and start again. There was really no other option… I’d lost everything I had in Florida… in fact, with the exception of a real estate investment in Jacksonville, my net worth would fit in the trunk of a car. I couldn’t go home and I couldn’t fail in Hollywood either… this was not a dress rehearsal. Imagine my surprise … Middle aged and butt-ass busted.. I didn’t think that was going to happen. Thank God it did.
I knew if I was going to make it I could not move into an apartment and wait to attend one of the 3,000 12-Step meetings that are held daily in LA. I’d tried that in Florida and it didn’t work. I hated those meetings and all those “grateful to be sober” people. I didn’t want to hear all those stories …. “Hi, I’m Tom and I’m a grateful alcoholic! I got drunk … I feel in the river… someone pulled me out… Jesus handed me a towel and I dried off in AA!”
Lucky Tom… sit down and shut up! I’m sick of your happy ass in every meeting on earth…
Before I left Betty Ford… I googled sober living communities in Hollywood. I knew nothing about Hollywood or communal living or what a sober living community had to offer… but I knew it was my only choice. Fortunately, I found one that worked for me. It was a small cottage and guest house looking directly at the Hollywood sign in a mid-century neighborhood. It wasn’t glamorous or remarkable but it was what I needed… exactly when I needed it.
The community turned out to be a full-fledged treatment facility that focused on men’s life issues, and was run by a no-nonsense guy who knew recovery because he was living recovery. He was the example I’d been missing in all my previous trips to rehab. The property was spotlessly clean… a cook prepared all meals and a staff of professionals prepared us for life. I got clean at Betty Ford … I got sober in Hollywood.
Getting sober was not easy for me. I’d been a raging lunatic for 30 years… stopping that pattern of behavior was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My life of privilege had turned me into a complete asshole and I was good at the job. My behavior in that small community of sobering men was ridiculous. I acted like an entitled ass and caused more grief than anyone should have endured. Only by the grace of God did they not kick me out. Even today, I’m embarrassed when I meet the center’s director at AA meetings.
Eventually, it was time to do this thing if it was ever going to happen. So, I found an apartment in the ugliest building in Hollywood. It had no air conditioning… no hot water … no elevator …. no kitchen window (literally)… in fact, I believe had it not been for the termites holding hands it would have collapsed. The place sucked.. but it was my place and it was a beginning.
Realize that I am a 50-year-old man with a suitcase and a bag of food … newly sober in the city of broken dreams. I had no car or license or prospect of getting either. So began the journey …
I went online… ordered everything I needed and had it delivered to the apartment. I assembled and cursed and pulled furniture off the street until my apartment was livable. It was a far stretch from the oceanfront condo I left in Florida … it was far better … it was the beginning of my life.
In reality, it was the first time in my life that I was making sober decisions and it was difficult. I had no friends or family… I had no car or savings. I was completely alone in a town that demands youth and beauty… I had neither. The point that I want to make is that I made it out of the abysses that was my life.
I got a prepaid cellphone and laptop from Target and got to work. I found an AA meeting on a bus route and got a sponsor I could call everyday. I enrolled at Grand Canyon University and UCLA at the same time… completed a second graduate degree and studied substance abuse counseling … eventually, my parents shipped Shmuli out and our lives began anew.
There was no reason to believe that I would remain sober … I never had living on a quiet Florida beach … how could I survive in sleazy Hollywood? Something happened this time. This time I was grateful to be alive. I was grateful that the disastrous life I’d lived was behind me… that all the things that used to bring me temporary joy were gone. It was as if God handed me a white canvas and said … “Hey… this is your last chance … don’t screw it up!”
Somethings haven’t changed … I’m still not young or beautiful. I still have a prepaid phone… I still ride the subway and I still sleep with Shmuli. I worry about not being smart enough to finish a PhD in Psychology… ( I’ve dropped out of three programs in the past due to addiction). I worry that I’ll take my eye off the prize and lose it all again. I worry I’ll never be able to fix the damage I’ve done to my kids… and losing my parents who have never lost hope in me.
I have so much to be thankful for now … a great apartment… a career… someone who loves me… my health… a God that understands me. I am a very satisfied man.
That brown leather sofa in an oceanfront condo where I once watched life disappear is etched into my memory forever.
I live in a city obsessed with youth and beauty… the same holds true for my building. I’m surrounded by the beautiful people… there’s lots of spray tans and 40-watt success stories… but above the beauty is youth. It’s raw and edgy and in my face reminding me that I’m not young or beautiful. I’m too old to be young and too young to be old… and nothing can be done.
Every day, I see designer sunglasses blocking out the reality of the night past. Perfect specimens of humanity slightly shaky and unbalanced … but still perfect as they exit the elevator and summons Uber for a quick escape down Hollywood Boulevard. Even my neighbor on the 7th floor is perfect. He’s starred in over a 1,000 adult videos in the past three years and looks like Adonis… maybe because he spends so much time on his back in bed … yes, I said it! Nothing lasts for long… not romance… not “A” lists… not beauty… sadly, not youth … especially youth. That’s a difficult loss to face… maybe because that’s where you notice it first… smack dab in the middle of your face.
I see the people like me that don’t fit the building’s demographics… each morning at 6:00 a.m. I walk Shmuli & Kooli and out comes the man in the plaid jacket. It’s red and black and is missing a button… it’s never fastened correctly, and the clothes beneath it are always the same. dark pants and dirty white dress shirt. Everything looks slept in and dirty…. and there’s a cap… I don’t wanna forget the cap. It has a logo on the front so worn you can’t read it. All of this is on a man that must be 75 years old. He never looks up … he never speaks … he just walks past. This is a routine that has not varied by 5 minutes in over a year. He walks … I stand … the pugs pee. That’s how it is …. that’s morning at the Hollywood Ardmore.
By 7:00 a.m., MJ and I are at Kitchen 24 for breakfast. We’re creatures of habit … we eat at the same table … eat the same meal and have the same conversation with the same waiter … every single day. The man in the red plaid jacket is there too… he’s sitting alone at a table next to the door looking down into his plate of eggs. No one speaks to him and he returns the favor. He remains at the table after we leave…. I won’t see him again until tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. when the cycle repeats itself. We’re neighbors existing without contact.
Yesterday… I decided to break the 12 month silence. We met in the elevator at 6:00 a.m. and I did it … I said, “Good morning, we see each other every day, and I want to tell you my name… I’m Rob” … The old man came alive… he smiled, and I noticed he’s missing a front tooth. He said, “I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I like dogs” … I still don’t know his name, and maybe I don’t need to know it. What I do know is that 6:00 a.m. every morning we’re both alone … we have that in common. I don’t know if he has anyone in his life or if he’s outlived everyone he’s ever loved. Maybe he never had anyone to love … maybe it was just him and a dog. Maybe he was me 30 years ago … just starting over. I don’t know how his life unfolded … I know he’s the guy with the red plaid jacket who’s missing a tooth and likes dogs … could it be he’s just as lonesome as you and me?
I know I’m glad I said hi to him, and I believe he’s glad I did too …