Essays plus more for the mind and spirit

Anatomy of an Illness, Part 12

We moved two weeks ago to a wonderful apartment, but now the newest infection is a breakout of blisters on my ankles, which are flaming red and hot to the touch. My doctor says it is the fluid trying to get out of my body. I have gained twelve pounds in water weight. My barometer is how easy or difficult it is to button my jeans, which, at this point are almost impossible to button. I have to lie on my bed and close them lying down. That’s a really bad sign.   I have gained it all because I have been off my kidney low-sodium diet for a little more than two weeks. Before the move, with Jerry’s help I was carefully monitoring my sodium intake and carbohydrates, and for those two and a half weeks, I had to eat all my meals out because we finally made the move to our new home in Lincoln Park, a quite beautiful and vibrant neighborhood that is one block from my doctors’ offices and two blocks from my hospital and the ER, which I tend to be in a lot. The move took a total of two and a half weeks to complete: ten days of packing, one day to move out of Sheridan Terrace and move into 2756 N. Pine Grove, and one week to unpack. The last, and most fun part of a move is hanging the artwork. This will be done this week and next. It is always the last thing to be done, and when that is finished, the new apartment will feel like our home. It is a small one-bedroom with a dining area, large living room, kitchen, and bath with a large walk-in closet in a vintage hi-rise from 1925. It has faux wood laminate floors (yes…I know…very tacky) and lots of bright sunlight because our windows face south and west and we are on the top floor, overlooking nothing but another building. Compared to living in Rogers Park, this new space is very urban. Rogers Park is a quiet neighborhood with little nightlife but lots of noisy Loyola students living in our old building with their disgusting sense if entitlement and inconsiderate life styles. I am glad to be out of there after being there for six years. Plus, the building was a four plus one, which is from the 1960s and was built from dry wall with no insulation between the apartments for soundproofing. We could hear everything all around us, on top of us and below us,, and it was very disturbing. These old vintage buildings are made from concrete and brick and we cannot even hear the neighbors across the hall from us. It is utterly silent, which Jerry and I love a great deal.

The cats did not make the move very well at all. Gizmo we so traumatized by it that on the day of the move he was screaming as if a vet were de-clawing him without anesthesia, biting and scratching and spitting like a madcat, but Murfee (the more contemplative of the two) took it in stride and just meowed forlornly in her cat carrier a great deal of the time. Gizmo knew something was awry from the minute we brought in boxes to pack up our books, and his orderly world, which he had known for six years was suddenly in complete disarray. The food bowls were moved to another part of the kitchen, the cat boxes were moved to a different part of the apartment, and boxes and boxes of books and LP recordings were stacked one on top of the other with varying heights, which was the best thing for them because they got to play King of the Mountain. The boxes were piled so high that it allowed both cats to go up to the top of the bookcases and wander around right near the ceiling (they’re very tall bookcases). Both cats are doing well, however, and they are adjusting slowly but quite beautifully to their new surroundings. Gizmo stopped moping around and has started to eat again and he’s now back sitting in Jerry’s lap, which he didn’t do for nearly 2 weeks. For the first two weeks in the apartment he was a completely different cat than I had known for the past seven years. He lost his spark and infectious élan. He lost his sense of humor and couldn’t make us laugh anymore because he wasn’t doing anything that was funny. He became a Very Serious Cat whose world had been turned upside down. Now after almost 2 weeks, he seems back to his old self, or, at least, partially there – – more there than not, though.

Jerry worked like a dynamo. He did everything that needed to be done and he wouldn’t allow me to lift a finger to do any of the work. He packed up the entire apartment all by himself, while I sat around feeling guilty for being sick and unable to help. My disability affects not just me, but Jerry as well. It is something with which both of us need to live because it is what is, but that doesn’t take away the guilt for me. I suppose it’s part of my work ethic, and one of the reasons I have such a hard time napping during the day when I need to nap almost constantly. I’m now down to two hours of sleep a night. We go to bed at midnight in our home. I know that seems late and not very healthy, but if I only sleep two hours going to go to bed at 10 o’clock and waking up at midnight for the rest of the night seems absurd to me. So we go to bed at midnight and I awake around two or 2:30 in the morning. It doesn’t seem to matter what time I go to bed at night. My time for sleep is 2 to 2 and half hours. I’ve tried to stay in bed longer and sleep, but I simply cannot do it. After that short period of time I’m wide awake, so I eat some food when I wake up and then sit at the computer and write until my eyes won’t stay open anymore and then a nap on the sofa, again for two to 2 1/2 hours at a stretch. I nap that way throughout the day.

I love going to sleep with Jerry at midnight. We have a ritual that we do every night, which is that we lie naked next to each other in bed with my head on Jerry’s shoulder, him on his back and me on my right side. He strokes my hair, what little there is of it, and I listen to him breathing with my ear on his chest near his shoulder. Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we’re silent, but the intimacy and a feeling of gratitude, trust and love is so present, so overwhelming that sometimes I feel as if my heart will burst with it.

It has taken me being in 12 – step recovery to allow myself to be in this relationship with Jerry. My recovery work has taught me so much, not the least of which is to learn to love myself with tremendous respect and with a depth and power previously unknown to me. It has given me my self-esteem back, which was completely destroyed in my prior relationship of 13 years. That relationship tore me apart, tore me apart to my very soul, and eventually drove me back into my active drug addiction. The pain from the relationship got so unbearable, that I knew exactly where to go to seek refuge. I found that refuge in Crystal Meth. Crystal Meth is a sex drug. And I would find myself in sleazy motel rooms naked with a stranger having the most outrageous and outlandish sex I’ve ever had in my life, and it took me away from all my pain. The last time I picked up and was out there I nearly died from an overdose. I went into rehab immediately after that, beginning that journey in a psychiatric ward psychotic and suicidal. For three days I was on suicide watch after which I was transferred down to the Valleo Unit, an LGBT rehab unit here in Chicago. After about a week in rehab, which was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, I called my former partner who informed me that I was not welcome in the house anymore. I was homeless. So I was in lockdown rehab for 30 days and the most extraordinary 30 days it was, too. For the first time since I picked up my first drug in 1962, I was able to admit my addiction and work the first step of my 12-step program: we admitted we were powerless over drugs (crystal meth) and our lives had become unmanageable. As soon as I said these words not just out loud but also deep in my heart, I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. To admit my powerlessness was perhaps the most humbling thing and empowering thing I have ever had to do, but I found by working all the 12 steps, that the entire program is humbling. It is an extraordinary program of recovery and has enabled me to be in this wonderful relationship with my sweet Jerry. It isn’t just the 12 steps that contribute to recovery but the fellowship of the organization, which contributes perhaps even more. We say in Crystal Meth Anonymous, “we will love you until you can love yourself”. That’s exactly what happened to me. But the most wonderful thing is that the love that they had for me back then is even stronger now than it was at the beginning of my journey. Back then they loved me because I was one of them. Now they love me not just because I am one of them, but because of the life I’ve lived and the experiences that I’ve had and the way that I’ve worked my program over the last 9 1/2 years, not to mention how I live so optimistically with AIDS ravishing my body. That’s how long I’ve been clean and sober. It is truly miraculous.

So it is that my recovery program has actually led to the move into this wonderful new apartment. Jerry and I have been living together now for three years, but he had moved into my own apartment and, though we were both living there together, it was still my apartment into which he moved. This new apartment is not just a place to live, which is handicapped accessible for me and close to my doctors and hospital, it is our home, an apartment we both rented together and that feels wonderful. I am so looking forward to hanging the artwork this week and hanging drapes on our windows. Although the apartment is pleasant and filled with sunlight, it is still quite stark with nothing on the walls. I think those things are what makes it feel like home, the photographs and the paintings that are dear to us, that bring us our memories, that re-create a certain time and space in our lives that was of significance. I have a few different photographic portraits of myself from certain seasons of my life, all of which but one were taken post rehab. The photograph of myself that is before rehab is the publicity poster for my New York debut in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Now that was a specific time and space that was of great significance to me. I suppose it still is, actually, or I would not have kept the poster. It’s beautifully framed and makes a wonderful piece on the wall. Jerry has photographs of his parents and his two daughters and a large needlepoint hanging of his complete family tree on which he himself did all the needlepoint. The most attention-grabbing piece of art is an enormous painting on wood worked with a single wire running throughout in varying patterns of architectural details of every single house of worship in Andersonville, a quite Gay neighborhood here in Chicago. I think that’s the piece I can’t wait to hang the most. We have the perfect wall for it, actually. It’s a Big Piece (3’x4’) painted by one of Jerry’s dear friends who is a very gifted artist. And I have an exquisite mandala also painted on wood done by one of my dear friends who is an equally gifted artist. The apartment will be warm and it will be our home and complete. The most important thing is that I will be warm and home and complete when those paintings and photographs get hung on the walls, because Jerry and I will be living here together in our retreat from the noisy world.

We spend a great deal of time in silence, Jerry and I. We both think there are too many words in the world, too much nonsensical non-conversation, too much conversation that really is of very little value. Texting and “liking” things on Facebook does not a community make, so that when people do come together there is little to say because significant conversation is long dead. The only place I find conversation of merit is with some other recovering addicts. Jerry and I can spend hours together in the same room at each of our separate computers saying nothing and yet knowing that the other is right there and our energies blend if not our voices.

Our spirituality is very similar and quite contemplative, hence the silence, although mine is more active than his. Even though we are both extreme introverts (I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs with my “I” going nearly right off the chart along with my “F”), I am far more gregarious, needing the company of others around me at least once a week, which I get on Thursday nights from the CMA home group in my apartment. The seven beautiful Gaymen in the group have become my extended family, my recovery family. They moved Jerry and me in six hours getting everything out of the apartment on Sheridan Road and into the apartment on Pine Grove Avenue, and there were some very heavy and large pieces of furniture. They insisted on doing this, not allowing us to pay a professional mover $2000 to move us, when they said they would love to do it and have done moving before. They said they really wanted to do it because they love me. I trust these men far more than I trust professional movers. The moving was joyous and deeply loving, but mostly it was a great deal of fun because the recovery family was moving a member of the recovery family to a new home, and the joy and gladness of that was palpable. Their spirits are in this apartment with us and will remain here always, and that’s a blessed thing. I also love that they come into the apartment every Thursday evening for one hour of powerful recovery work that can only happen in an intimate group which loves each other deeply, which trusts and respects each other equally deeply. I look forward to having friends over for dinner for an evening of good food, music, and togetherness. This apartment is my new home, our new home, Jerry and I, and for that I am truly blessed. The Mother has been good to me over these past nine and a half years of recovery, and I am so thankful and grateful for that. May She continue to bless me and my beloved, and all the friends and loved ones who love and care for me. Ma Durga be praised.

Jai Ma!!

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