By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Illustrations by Daniel Peacock|
Seventeen years ago I stopped taking drugs and alcohol and so far have never relapsed. I’m not tortured by my abstinence; I think through the consequences of what would happen if I opened the door again. If my struggle with cigarettes is any example — I’ve fluctuated between quitting and smoking two packs a day for the last decade — I’m still wired the same as I ever was. Nor have I ever been closeted about my own self-destructiveness, of which my decade of drug use was only one element. I’ve re-enacted many scenes from the life in my performance work (in one piece I’ve choreographed the placement of 30 syringes in my arm) and explained those stories so often that in the early ’90s I considered having my old-rugged-cross manifesto printed on a business card:
“I, being a natural-born kinky homosexual raised to be a minister in a fundamentalist Pentecostal family, attempted suicide frequently between puberty and 25 years of age, abused mass quantities of Valium, and crystal methamphetamine, ended up hooked on heroin, got clean at 25 only to have to get my head around being HIV+ when it was a death sentence.”
In the last few years, though, I hadn’t been talking about it so much. I was feeling disconnected from the process and culture of recovery. I was losing what it meant to “be of service,” a principle I’d revisited in 12-step programs after forgetting it in the self-centered addiction cycle — the idea that we can only keep what we have by giving it away.
Then, about 18 months ago, Ross came along. A young man living in Dallas, Ross contacted me by e-mail, wanting to know if I was performing anywhere in Texas, and whether I could instruct him in a “hook suspension” experience. I don’t often conduct shamanistic sessions, so I referred him to a body-modification Web site. But Ross wanted something more. Seven years ago, he explained in a later e-mail, he had read a profile on me in Details. His desire to hang horizontally from flesh hooks was actually a desire for a transformational experience.
Not until this past June, however, did everything blast wide open: Ross confessed that he was an addict, that he had “run up a grand total of seven rehabs and 19 months of incarceration,” that he had relapsed after 90 days clean. “We had talked about recovery over a year ago,” he wrote then, “and now I need to open the lines of communication to you ASAP. A lot of old concerns and behaviors have come up since flipping my life around. You’re absolutely right — what drove me to be so self-destructive is what I need to be looking for.”
I related deeply to what Ross was telling me.
Date: Mon. 9 June 2003
When I was 15, I found a new crowd of lower-middle-class white trash to smoke pot with and go to an occasional party or concert via LSD trip. But when those speedballs started coming you really didn’t need to squirt a good load. Not to glamorize the shit, but any time I relive the experience I just know that I had become something, had changed where there really wasn’t supposed to be a place for change. I became an addict, learned what the needle was about.
I don’t know if there was one snap moment where I turned my back on life, but I worked hard to not give a fuck. My addiction was environmental and internal. I was prescribed a low dosage of Valium at age 9, a prescription that kept increasing until by age 16 I was severely addicted. In junior high school with a few of the other bad boys, I practiced injecting with a syringe and water. In high school I discovered liquor, weed and PCP. In my last year of high sc hool, I started injecting MDA and then heroin. After that I didn’t care to do drugs any other way.
I loved the chemistry of using drugs, loved the way they’d create bliss or relief. I shot dope and stripped down to my underwear and purred. It was all exciting until it became pathetic. Once I became a real junkie — waking up sick, jonesing for a fix — it turned into a hell. I couldn’t save a dose for morning so I would go out to cop dope, getting sicker by the minute. I was on a waiting list to go on methadone maintenance, but I wasn’t enthusiastic about taking an even more addictive drug that didn’t get me very high.
It got to the point where there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for a fix: Lie, steal, cheat, beg, cry. After a few stints in jail, I realized I had a future behind bars. I didn’t have an honest hustle, so I would have to resort to crime for money if I wanted to stay well. People were disgusted by me. Not strangers, but old friends, artists, musicians — people who had opinions I cared about. I was a loser, a junkie, and nothing more.