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I wake up stark raving mad. The crazy and amazingly energetic committee in my head gets up about 20 minutes before I do and once it has its list of resentments, fears, self-loathing and worries in order, it raps me sharply on the head and wakes me up, raring to go. Someone once told me (after an A.A. meeting) that with an early-bird committee like mine, it might be better to “prepare” for my day with a morning meeting rather than trying to “repair” my day at an evening group. That person was right, and she’s clinically nuts, so you never know where true wisdom might come from.

Zach*, a former heroin addict, was a perfect example of the insanity of addiction. I used to see him at meetings in the East Village, back when the East Village was super gritty and pretty awesome. Zach was blind in his left eye as he had once put what he thought was LSD in that eye and it had gone horribly wrong. He lived year round in Tompkins Square Park, which was known as Needle Park for decades. The resident junkies called themselves “crust punks” or “crusties”. Zach lived there with his heroin addicted crusty cohorts begging for money, drinking cheap booze and shooting up when they had enough cash for drugs. Every few days they would wake up and remember that they needed food. Zach’s friends would all disperse to the St. Mark’s pizza parlor and he would head over to Angelica’s Kitchen cafe where he would get carrot juice, a wheat grass shot and some tofu. You see, Zach was a vegan, way before anyone even knew what a vegan was.

So the crusties would scatter and then re-convene back on the park benches with their grub. Zach was horrified with his friends’ choices. Horrified!!! So he would rant and rave and ask his crusty cohorts “How in God’s name can you put that shit into your bodies? Do you have any idea how bad pizza is for you? The white flour? The salt? The cheese alone will kill you - not to mention all the refined sugar in the tomato sauce!!!” And off he would go, ranting and raving about the benefits of a vegan diet until it was time for him to check out again and then (thankfully for his friends I’m sure) he would shoot up and nod out. Yes, that’s insane. Yes, that’s crazy. But it’s also quite amusing. So what’s funny about it? Probably nothing if you’re not an addict. But the idea of this one-eyed guy living in a park and shooting heroin, yet berating his fellow junkies because they’re eating pizza just made me and Zach howl with laughter. It’s easier for us to spot the insanity of addiction in others than it is to see it in ourselves.

And that’s how I came to see my own special brand of crazy. Through the stories of others. Knowing that I could be Zach. That I’m crazy like that. My stories may not be that graphic or obvious to others but the insanity is the same. The desperation is the same. And the obsession with checking out of myself is the same.

Zach got sober and lived to tell the story, but many of his pizza-eating junkie friends didn’t make it, and I don’t think it was the sugar in the tomato sauce that did them in.

There is a dark humor in the rooms, morbid tales which can be bleakly hilarious as we look back on them from the safe harbor of sobriety, happy to have escaped with our minds and our lives intact. We have been rescued. We are being restored to sanity.

That is why I still go to meetings, years after having put down the bottle. Because the drugs and alcohol were but a symptom of what lurked underneath. My crazy thoughts. My 4 a.m. committee. My mind’s ticker tape of terror that runs 24/7. I’ve learned in the rooms how to make friends with that committee. How to make friends with my mind. How to ignore the ticker tape and the alarm bells. Even all these years later my mind whispers to me in my own sexiest voice that maybe this time will be different. But the longer I stay sober the further that voice retreats into the background. It is still there, but it exists as a whisper not a scream. Through working a 12 step program I’ve learned to say NO THANK YOU to the crazy that still goes on between my ears. I can be aware of my destructive thoughts and my own insanity. I can make peace with it, even laugh at it, one day at a time.

*Names have been changed and story recounted is done so with permission.


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