Friday, July 17, 2015

My Recovery Story

This narrative of what it's been like to have a virtually unchecked propensity to abuse drugs, to suffer bi-polar and schizoaffective disorders---this is my story.

I start at the beginnings. In the 5th grade, after class, I left the room by clamboring out an open window. A classmate reported this to the teacher and I was reprimanded. In the sixth grade, I trod bare-footed through a dirt field laden with sharp prickles which induced me to jump and skip. I did it deliberately and yelled in pain while traversing the whole lot. While sitting in a pew in a Catholic Church with other grammar school kids, I punched my jaw hard, repeatedly. Why did I act these ways? I don't know. All I know for certain is I was acting weird. Still, my grades in school were excellent and I was arguably the best little league pitcher in town. I published an issue of a class newspaper, and I was generally favored. I had friends and I was allowed by the nuns and priests to work at the coveted job of washing pots and pans on week-ends at the nearby monastery.

My brother Paul on the left, in San Francisco, on summer
 vacation at Grandma Porche's house, pretending to fight for the camera.
I graduated in 1964 from St. Rita's Grammar School in Sierra Madre, CA.---and entered La Salle High School, at that time an all male college preparatory school in Pasadena, run by the Order of Christian Brothers. In the second semester, junior year, I smoked a marijuana cigarette for the first time. I couldn't get enough. My grade point average plunged from near 3.0 to failing. Call it inherent character weakness, misguided epicureanism, youth rebellion. I had absolutely no defense against the appeal of pot, which liberated me from inhibition and opened the door to hilarity--- but which also demoted my aspirations to little more than the aspiration to smoke another joint. I couldn't proceed to the senior year because I had failed to pass almost all the junior year courses.

In time, my dad discovered a joint hidden in my bedroom---that was the last straw---bam!---my parents ordered me to vacate the house. I understand. I can see how I might easily have required the same if I were in their position. I honor the memories of my deceased parents. Still, I did feel driven to rebel. My mom and dad were much too strict, not only in my estimation but in the estimation of most of my friends. I feel my folks unwittingly helped to foment in me the very rebellion they decried.

I joined the Army in summer 1967, at age 17, while 500,000 U.S. troops were waging war in South Vietnam.

Graduation day: Basic Training, Ft. Ord, CA.
I'm second row down from the top, second from the right. 
I was a bad fit. I didn't care about being a soldier and it didn't take the Army long to find out. While I was stationed in Germany, Master Sergeant strode into the bunk quarters and told me to roll up my shirt sleeves. I did and he saw the bloody mess I'd made of both arms by slicing them up and down with razor blades.

The Army sent me to a mental hospital in Frankfurt, then across the Atlantic Ocean, across the United States to the Presidio in San Francisco, where on September 16, 1968, I was honorably discharged with a 10 percent service connected disability rating.

A veteran buddy and I rented an apartment on Waller Street, a block up from Haight Street in San Francisco. One afternoon I came home to find the apartment crowded with hippies who had moved in and bedded down with sleeping bags and blankets.

Top Floor Apt. on Waller St.
 which became a homeless shelter.
Without consulting me, my old Army friend had notified all of Haight Ashbury that our apartment was open to shelter the homeless.  It was chaos, but out of it a communal family of close friends was born that lasted seven years. Sheila, Ron, Larry and Bill and I rented an old Victorian on Sutter Street near Fillmore, then leased and operated a coffee house next door named "The Sign of the Fool." My job was to buy the eggs, cream cheese and bagels, apple juice and bananas. Larry cooked the omelettes.

But we were in more than the restaurant business. Plainclothes police with guns drawn barged onto our premises and arrested us one night on charges related to selling LSD. After our stints in jail, after we either bailed or were released, we piled into a 1957 purple jalopy and headed to Ohio.
I'm attempting to recount my story in linear fashion, but the memories jumble and overlap. I know the effects of drugs and mental illness often hold hands. I know for instance I had a supply of thorazine prescribed to treat me for an LSD induced nervous breakdown.
With hindsight, I see I was overwhelmed, or crushed, be it because of the turbulent times, my bad choices, the drugs everywhere so easily available, or because of a personal predisposition to mental illness, or, because of an amalgamation of these factors, but, around this time, I stopped talking. I didn't stop voluntarily. I stopped because I could no longer talk, and I couldn't talk for about a year.

When I did first speak again, our commune family was living in Port Costa, in the East Bay. I spoke to Sheila when we were in the kitchen. I'll never forget how happy she became, calling out to everybody in the house that "Michael talked!".
As I say, my memories don't permit me to assure you my story is narrated in proper, step by historical step order. But our commune fell apart after we returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from Ohio. Not that we didn't visit and see one another from time to  time, because we did.

I got on General Assistance and rented a room not much larger than a big closet in the Golden Eagle Hotel in San Francisco's gaudy North Beach district. While there I took a tab of acid and flipped out. I went psychotic. I couldn't handle the bad trip I was having due to an awakening awareness of my bi-sexual dispositions. I wandered the corridors and the stairwells in that hotel for two days. Probably the hotel manager called an ambulance, but when I saw those men dressed in white coming towards me, I fled up an extra flight of stairs and threw myself out the 4th story window. No way was I going to spend the rest of my life locked in a rubber room.

It was like I had never been born--- until I woke and saw and heard doctors at San Francisco General Hospital asking me if I could feel the needles they were poking into my legs, which I could. For the next six months I wore a white plaster body caste---from a hospital bed I watched the first man on the moon take his famous steps. And every week, my old hippie family friends came to stand by my bed and visit, even though much of what I said to them was absolute gibberish.

Eventually, after having been moved to Laguna Honda Hospital, a technician sawed off my caste,  and after physical therapy, I relocated to Hilarity Heights Apartments in Tiburon, in Marin County. A year later, in 1971, I bought a 25 foot wooden cabin cruiser and anchored it out in the waters of the Sausalito houseboat community.

Gate 5 Sausalito, where I often anchored my boat.
Much of this time I was sane and lucid. I was still plagued however with recurring nervous breakdowns. Not only during the two years I lived in my boat out on the water, but also when I moved onto land and into dirt-bag hotels in downtown San Rafael.

I began shooting heroin on a regular basis. If I didn't inject the dark stuff in time to keep from getting sick, I'd shiver and sweat.  I injected lots of speed and cocaine. I contracted Hepatitis C.

I was also during these times a well known client of the Marin County Mental Health System. I'd get into the locked looney bin at Marin General Hospital, Ward A, get released for three or four months, then return the next time I caved into the mania of a psychotic break.  I saw a vision out a window of Fidel Castro walking down the gang plank of a space ship. I was taught by pretty women witches how to walk past doors unseen. I never did learn how to talk to the dead on a telephone, but these witches tried to teach me. I met a fish wizard. I was put into the rubber room for God in Heaven knows what offense, but the touch under the door of the fingers of the woman patient with whom I had danced connected my life to her heart, and my isolation disappeared.

Those years were like a merry-go-round of disfigured horses. My friends were mostly mentally ill types, who went in and out of Ward A, and when out, went as I did five days a week to the Marin Psychiatric Day Care Center on Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael. Jumbo would look in a mirror and talk to Bob Dylan.  Bubba would slowly walk in circles in the day room for hours at a time. Once a week I bared my ass in the privacy of the Day Care office so a nurse could inject prolixin into me. We smoked bags of pot and drank cases of beer and then watched basketball games in the afternoon on TV.

Maybe...maybe round about this time it was the first time I ever prayed to Jesus Christ with some authentic measure of sincerity.

I remember this time to this day. It was raining. I was on the ground laying face down in mud under the Richardson Bay Bridge in Mill Valley. I felt an immense weight of flat rock on my back, and it was pressing me to the ground so much so I couldn't get up. I knew it was an imaginary rock, but still, because of it,  I couldn't get up and that part was for real. So I prayed to the Christ and the weight of the rock was lifted. Right then and there. I've never forgotten that experience.

Sometime in 1973, once again, I was on Ward A at Marin General Hospital.
Locked up once again at age 23 for mental illness issues, once again overwhelmed, mowed down once more by this disease that had already been knocking me to the ground for years.

I was in the day room on Ward A, and I collapsed. I utterly and entirely abandoned myself, so to speak, and leapt off a cliff hoping against all hope that the hands of Jesus Christ, if He were real, would stay my fall. I didn't care by then. If He were not real, I wouldn't care to go on living anyway.

Then I felt Him inside, holding me up. I felt Him alive, and experienced for the first time that He is a resurrected Lord. His love welled inside me from deepest, innermost cell to outermost bodily member. I shuddered and convulsed with tears that wracked me with sorrow because I realized I wasn't deserving of the crucifixion He had suffered for me. I laughed. I laughed and mixed the crying and laughing with a liberty, freedom and joy I had never before felt, not up to that time, nor after.  He was alive after all!

St. Emydius Catholic Church, where in 1978 on Sundays I used to
read selections from the epistles to the congregation. 
There was nothing else to do but laugh with joy and light without equal. Every distant and obscure rumour about the resurrection  of this God made man was proven true to me in an instant of transformation. I became a Christian, and despite  all later sin, all later misgiving and doubt, my faith in Him can never be taken away, not forever, not completely, not even by the demons I harbor inside myself.

I got off welfare---went to study at the College of Marin. I joined the Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, lived in an ecumenical community of Christians, and did work as a landscaper and carpenter. I later found work as a furniture finisher and refinisher for Furniture by Gatti in San Francisco. I worked this trade for 15 years, 3.5 years while in business for myself. I earned a B.A. in Journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter for three years.

My former wife and greatest support, Claudia Audelo,
after lunch, 2014, in San Mateo, CA. 
I married a wonderful woman and stayed married to her for nine years. I worked nine years as a security guard.

Office of the St. John Valley Times in
Madawaska, Maine, where I worked as a reporter.
I still have mental health issues. I will always need to fight for my sanity. I had a serious nervous collapse years after my conversion to Christianity, while I studied at San Francisco State University. There is no such thing as a magic bullet. I struggle still...with urges to do drugs. I had a major drug relapse just last March, and smoked bowl after bowl of crystal meth daily for a month. I abandoned my apartment and all of my property because the junkies and meth freaks living in my place wouldn't leave. I'm living now in a residential treatment house in San Francisco for veterans in recovery. I struggle, still---with doubt, with issues concerning faith and belief. I learn and I refuse to learn. But all in all, I believe I progress. I'm contented, even happy in a wonderful, confounding way.

Table and set of chairs I finished for a client while in
business for myself.
I'm interested. I want to live fully, more than ever. Yet still I have this part of me that seems to cling, to remain open to the temptation to deny, that wants to obfuscate, that fears complete honesty because of a pride within that balks at the truth that I'm not always humble, that sometimes I am arrogant and need to get with the program, need to hand the defects of my character to my Lord, my Higher Power, for healing that will work in God's time to shape me into the way He most would have me be while alive on this earth. I welcome the challenge this entails.


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