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.