My initiation this morning as a victim of credit card fraud: Yah, yah

Yah Yah

For the second day in a row, I awoke this morning at 4 a.m. after eight solid hours of sleep, happy and rested.

Then I turned the phone on.

“URGENT: Suspicious Activity Detected on Your Account,” read the email from my bank’s “Fraud Service Center.”

When I clicked to see the suspicious transactions, I learned that apparently, I was headed for a tour of Sweden!

Yes, a Swedish tour company in Helsingborg called Stena Line Travel Group had charged my card $346. Two minutes later, a “charitable organization/non-profit” in Roanoke, Va. called Minute Clinic 71109 sent through a charge of 76 cents, no doubt as a test that would be followed by a much higher charge. That information I received from my bank’s Fraud Center.

The bank sent me an email one hour after the transactions occurred, at 5:30 and 5:32. It instructed me to dial a number, which was a horrifically aggravating experience and I won’t get into all of that. I do have a very, very difficult time understanding people who speak limited English, and I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the Quad-Cities or what. But when I don’t understand what they’re saying, or see myself getting overly frustrated with customer service reps, I just hang up.

And that’s what I did. Twice.

I handled it about an hour ago with my lovely bank manager, Ann. While I might be tight on the cash for the rest of the trip, this is far from a catastrophe and could have been much, much worse.

I’ll tell you this – I was grateful to have my “Hell’s Angel” cannabis strain for breakthrough PTSD symptoms. Made the morning much easier. And dealing with this on vacation in Colorado is a lot better than being at home and having it happen, even if not financially so.

The charges still were pending and were denied. The only down side to all of this is that they had to cancel my card, so I don’t have access to the money left in that account and will be more reliant on my credit card now while I’m here.

The Sweden thing makes me laugh because Sweden has a “zero tolerance” drug policy. Maybe the queen was trying to fine me for coming to Colorado for a cannabis tour.

A disgraced graduate of the royal family’s beloved Augustana College, lol.

My only other issue today is that the hotel wi fi is not working, nor is my tablet hot spot working. And I really do continue to work when I’m on these vacations, so thank God for Village Inn!

Many things to be grateful for this Monday. Have a blessed day.

A pub crawl, but no idiots because we’re stoned instead of drunk

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I admit that it looks scandalous, but debauchery isn’t the right word for it.

It’s just fun.

I was aboard one of three luxury stoner-fied tour buses that left Cheba Hut sandwich shop in downtown Denver this morning. We embarked on a four hour and twenty minute tour (yes, 4:20).

It included a stop at a marijuana growery where the smell of the plant alone made you feel like you were walking in the clouds.

I got some incredible photos, as you can see here. I did not actually snap the photo of this bud blooming on a plant, but I watched the guy who did do it. The guy who ran the tour, Ryan, knows just how to expose the shot just right and offered to shoot it with my camera for me. Thank you, Ryan.

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We also went to the finest bong shop in the world, Illuzion, where one bong sells for a million dollars and many go for a quarter of a million or more.

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We also went to dispensary, after dispensary, after dispensary. And really. How much pot can you smoke or do you need?

But there’s cookies, gummies and truffles, oh my. Edibles, they told me, stick with those — they’ll get you high.

Well, in fact I did all of it, and I feel absolutely wonderful and content and calm. It’s just as it’s depicted: Tour buses with disco lights and music videos on flatscreen televisions, people getting stoned in every way possible. Bongs, steamrollers, joints; munching on cannabis cheddar popcorn and gummies passed out like peanuts and M & Ms in Red Solo cups at Thanksgiving family gatherings in the 1970s. They were the pre pre appetizer. Really old school moms used those frosty party mints that melt in your mouth with the peanuts, not M & Ms.

At one dispensary an especially charming budtender said to me, “We have one cookie here, and I ate one once, and it made me giggle so bad I couldn’t interact with the customers.”

My response? “Two of those, please.”

They’re snickerdoodles and they’re delicious!

I booked The Original Denver Cannabis Tour through Colorado Cannabis Tours. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys smoking marijuana.

The passengers were a diverse group of nice, fun people, of all ages and skin colors and backgrounds. There was absolutely zero alcohol and nobody was the least bit intoxicated.

I could never smoke as much pot all the time as I did today, nor would I want to. But it sure was a fun way to experience America in a way I never would have dreamed possible.

And in the end, as Ryan noted, it really is just a fun, responsible time, with an emphasis on responsible. He admitted we were an especially fun, cohesive, put-together bus, however.

‘If they’re not dancing they’ll turn yellow and wither’

The growery had tremendously high security. Everyone was inspected by armed guards on the bus before being allowed to enter the facility. Inside, security was similarly tight.

The CEO of Colorado Cannabis Tours gave an intoxicating scientific speech about how cannabis is grown at  Medicine Man Denver. There actually are plants that just grow stems and seeds, and they line a long hallway known as “The Green Mile.” You can see it pictured here. Many celebrities such as Nelly have come to Medicine Man for photoshoots, with the Green Mile being the hot spot.

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He said that for marijuana to grow properly it must “be dancing and happy.” He said the key to good growth is having the marijuana always slightly moving in the breeze, or, “dancing.”

He said if “they’re not dancing they’ll turn yellow and wither.”

Feeling a “normal” in Denver long lost: Marijuana helping with PTSD

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In typical Dave Heitz fashion, I was madder than a hornet.

I had been standing outside the airport in the cold – 34 degrees, to be exact, with no coat – for more than an hour. The marijuana tour service had not shown up with the limo. When I was calling them about it, I was getting voice mails.

If you know me, you can about imagine the voice mails I was leaving!

But we worked it out. It was a comedy of errors. And what has transpired after that one short hour of standing outside an airport in 34-degree weather certainly has made it all worth it.

This is my “rehab vacation,” where I stop taking the benzos and put an end to the booze relapse that started in January. The slope was getting slippery.

When my tour guide arrived in his white Acura SUV limousine, he knew just what to do.

“Are you serious? Is this really legal?” I asked, eyeing the pre-rolled joint.

“Yes, it is, so long as you sit in the back seat,” he replied.

Ten minutes later I had told him my entire life story in one breath, adding, “I’m really not much of a joint person.”

We pulled up to the dispensary. I had no idea what to expect.

We hop out of the limo (I was in the back seat, mind you) and I then pointed my Prius remote at the Acura, clicked it, and headed for the door.

My tour guide looks at me and says, “Did you see what you just did?”

Yes! And how fun to laugh.

Inside: A security guard, a window…sort of like how a doctor’s office would be in a correctional facility. You give them your driver’s license and then they call you back.

I discussed with the “budtender” that I have PTSD and recently applied, was medically approved, and paid the state for my Illinois Medicinal Cannabis Card. I told him I was waiting for it to arrive in the mail and in the meantime thought I would come here, smoke legally, and do some research. I told him I also am a journalist and blogger.

I explained that I want to be sober (from alcohol) this entire week and simply concentrate on educating myself and finding the right strains for my PTSD.

“Hell’s Angel,” he said, without hesitation.

“That’s what you had in the car,” the driver added.

I smelled it and it smelled like what I was getting my first year sober, when things were going remarkably well.

Waking up with Greg Dutra – it’s been so long

My physicians and therapist also have been concerned about the effect smoke has on my lungs, so they have been encouraging me to go with edibles when I get the card. The budtender and tour guide also were pushing me toward edibles.

So, I did buy some edibles. My physician in the Quad-Cities had mentioned the Stern dispensary has the gummies, so I bought some of those. Everything except for one container I bought is Indica strain.

Indica apparently is to be remembered as “like in da couch all night,” yet that’s not what it does to me. It gets me going and then I tire out naturally, satisfied by living an incredibly productive, anger-free day.

I did buy one-eighth of “White Poison,” which is a Sativa strain (“a head high,” the tour guide called it) because I asked for something that might induce creativity. One of the workshops put on by the tour company is called “Lit on Lit,” and it’s for writers who like to get high and write.

I tend to prefer writing as clear-headed as possible, although unfortunately I am willing to try anything once.

Tomorrow I am going to write a blog about my obsession since childhood with morning shows. Quad-Citians, let me remind you who the Denver Fox weather stud is…The Dutra! So maybe I’ll get out the “White Poison” to write that one.

Most importantly, both the budtender and the tour guide talked to me about things I can do around Denver to busy myself with, etc. They are used to dealing with sober people who only smoke weed.

Everyone here at the hotel is genuinely concerned that I maintain my sobriety this week and they truly are just one incredible bunch. This hotel is very, very nice for the price, much nicer than I expected. The room is huge. I do look out at mountains – and a freeway, and an industrial rooftop. But absolutely no complaints.

Next door is a Village Inn, which of course, is one of my faves. I already have been there once today. I met a waitress who is two years sober and I shared my story with her. She was wonderful. Apparently, the Village Inn next door is a training center, so they are open limited hours.

I’m looking forward to feeling GOOD AGAIN at the end of this week!!!!

Can I get an AMEN????!!!!

AMEN!

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Finally, on the issue of my lungs. I have been provided a vaporizer for my room to smoke my weed with. They cost about $350; this one is rented. But that’s one solution to the combustion/lungs issue. I did not know they had devices for which you could vape flower, but that’s what this thing does.

Judge not, lest you will be judged, as they say. I think I truly am learning what that means. There is no one path to sobriety, to happiness, so long as you don’t hurt others along the way.

We all need that reminder. To be kind. To let people be who they are. I very much feel like I have a lot of those types of people in my life right now and I am so incredibly grateful for that.

There are good people in this world. I want to thank from the bottom of my heart everyone who follows my work. I always feel like you can never really go wrong by being authentic, so that’s what I try to do.

Tomorrow I am taking a 4 1/2 -hour long cannabis bus tour. It takes you to various aspects of the cannabis industry, from growers to dispensaries. Should be interesting

 

Still healing from trauma, NYC book trip benched for cannabis country

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I’m just not there yet.

And that’s why I postponed my trip to New York City, where I was going to meet with book publishers and get some mentoring for my upcoming novel/tell-all/screenplay. Heck, it could even end up being a sci fi flick. I have no idea.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, giggling about how I could portray the vixen if I were to give it a sci fi tint. Could be great fun.

So, who knows.

Also, while I’m not feeling so hot this past week or so about life here in the Quad-Cities, overall things have improved tremendously in terms of my outlook about that. But understand: All the money and material things in the world – even your childhood home – do not fix the pain a person feels when people you trusted violate it. People you thought were there to PROTECT you, not HARM you.

Such people are creepy.

So, I’m trying to forget. Writing a book about all of it isn’t going to help right now, when I finally feel like things are turning to a degree of normalcy.

I’ll say this as a book teaser: I truly believe the corruption problem is so bad where I live, that before it’s all over with, even if it takes three years, half a dozen politicians and public officials from this region will be in prison. And I’m not just talking about my personal experience or my knowledge garnered from years in the news business in the Quad-cities. There are LOTS of people who have had experiences like me. And we are connecting, let me tell you.

And, yes, we ARE called “victims.” Officially.

Lengthy, expensive process applying for Medical Cannabis Card

Now, where I won’t play the victim is in the truth that I have been sliding back down the alcohol slope. So that is why, today, in part, I just landed in…(drum roll, please, cue “Rainbow Tour” chorus)….DENVER!

Indeed, the mile-high city. And of course I’m going to get high. Well, not high, I’d rather say “treated.” In a very serious, controlled manner with strains specifically used to treat chronic PTSD. That diagnosis recently allowed me to apply for my Illinois Cannabis Card after consulting with my therapist, my doctor, and a physician in Chicago. I had two visits with the Chicago physician, who reviewed records provided by my therapist and doctor in the Quad-Cities.

It’s an expensive process. The card, valid for three years, was $300 in and of itself, paid to the state. There also are fingerprinting fees, and of course all the doctor’s fees.

The Chicago doctor spent quite a bit of time with me and asked several questions before qualifying me. He enjoyed hearing about my trip to the American College of Physicians conference in San Diego last month and said he went to it a few years back.

He also was glad to see I have had 100 psychotherapy sessions and continue to be in therapy, now for two years. I get professional psychotherapy for an hour twice a week at SouthPark Psychology in Moline.

While SouthPark Psychology does not take Medicare/Medicaid, I urge anyone with any sort of struggle to seek out their therapists if they have private insurance or can afford to pay out of pocket (which I did for a long time, and considered it money well spent). The place offers a level of mental health care that is just miles above the “big two” in town. I feel sorry for people who “give up” on getting better due to the poor care they receive from substandard Quad-City healthcare providers.

The dishonesty from hospital officials over the proposed Bettendorf psychiatric hospital is appalling. They are denying sick people who need immediate care, and they should be fined by a government agency.

Or, let the free market fix it — give people more choices. The local hospitals’ crafted, nonsensical explanations for opposing this hospital is not fooling one. single. person. Not one. Well, maybe their employees, who I’m told are bullied to support the propaganda.

I understand the hospitals are in a bind due to the state of Illinois not having a budget in nearly two years. That’s not the free market’s problem, nor is it the problem of people suffering from mental illness. They deserve choices in healthcare and the best healthcare they can find.

Shame on both local hospitals.

‘Marijuana maintenance’ kept me sober first year

I have been writing about medical marijuana since way back in my Healthline days. In the beginning, I was very much on board with it. For my first year of sobriety, I did do what is known as “marijuana maintenance” for 9 months after 90 days completely sober from everything but caffeine. But then I quit the marijuana, too.

At first, I feigned for it. Then I got over those feelings (because don’t kid yourself, marijuana IS addictive) and I especially enjoyed having clear lungs and a sharper mind. That said, I was getting some medical marijuana off the street during that year that did not make me the least bit high, dull my sharpness or cloud my mind. What it did do was turned my mind down to a normal level, allowed me to focus and just sort of surrounded me with quiet, if that makes any sense. I would love to find that exact strain again.

The problem with getting marijuana off the street, beyond the legality part, is that you just don’t know what you’re getting. All these different strains of marijuana are like pharma drugs, in a way. You’re not going to give an upper like Ritalin, for example, to a kid with a heart condition.

Marijuana and mental illness in general really don’t seem to go well together, research has shown. And yet most every state that has approved marijuana medicinally for PTSD, which is technically a mental illness.

I have a contact in Maine, Dr. Dustin Sulak, who is sort of “the national authority” on medicinal marijuana. I have interviewed him several times and he is very knowledgeable. He created a website called Healer that I wrote about not too long ago.

Taking a cue from fellow PTSD sufferers, addressing booze issue

Between my Facebook groups and all my recent traveling, I have met so many people with PTSD who are saying they have found relief with medicinal marijuana and are thrilled to be off the benzos.

The benzos. Yes. I’ll be thrilled to be off them, too. They’re just harsh. And sometimes I wonder if they led me back to booze, as they are alcohol in a pill, after all. PTSD and alcohol notoriously are a common, horrible mix. Like “throwing gasoline on a fire” a cop told me once.

I’ll end with a little something about my drinking. While I did get back on the wagon when I returned from Florida, I fell off it again in Savannah, Ga., and again in San Diego. And then I took the bold move of going to bars a few times in the Quad-Cities and even buying beer and Rumplemintze for at home.

We’re talking full-blown booze relapse. Who am I kidding.

And I’m done. Day 1 of sobriety began at midnight this morning. I always said I don’t believe in “turning back the clock to zero” on sobriety after a relapse – I did have almost three years of sobriety after all – but the fact is, I need to look at the booze as the ugly problem it is.

I make it no secret I’m not a fan of AA, but that’s mostly because I don’t like the meetings. There’s a lot of brilliance in the Big Book. And I always said, I NEVER had a moment’s hesitation with step one: I am powerless over alcohol.

At least once I drink it. So, I can’t.

How about some prayers that I make it all the way through my Denver trip without even taking a sip? I think it’s going to be easy in cannabis country and there should not be any excuse for it to happen even once.

I can do this. Again.

I’ll keep you posted, and I’m going to be completely honest about it.

‘Killer Lesbians’ describe PTSD from spending years locked up

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This piece originally was published on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

It was intended to be a fun night out on the town for the seven Jersey women of color – a night in the West Village of New York City.

They enjoyed being around other gay people while visiting the neighborhood of the historic Stonewall Inn, the birth of our nation’s gay rights movement. But as the documentary “Out in the Night” shows, it ended up being a night filled with harassment, violence, and trauma that endures to this day.

The documentary by filmmaker Blair Dorosh-Walther can be purchased on DVD by clicking here.

As these women strolled along that summer night in 2007, the last thing they expected was for an older black man to get up in their face and talk filthy – especially not in the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

But that’s what happened. When the man first said, “I want that,” tiny Patreese Johnson thought that he simply wanted a drink of her friend’s Pepsi. Sitting by a fire hydrant, he looked a little down and out.

Patreese had seen her share of struggle – her brother was caught up in a gang fight when she was 11 and then shot dead by police at the age of 17, caught in the crossfire.

But when the man pointed at her crotch and said, “I want THAT!” and followed by “D-ke B-tch-es” and “I’ll f— you straight and put my d— in you’re a–,” they had enough.

Renata Hill, another of the women, had been raped by her mom’s husband when she was a child. She wasn’t about to listen to all of that.

Ultimately, the man laughed at the women, struck them, and a fight ensued. In fact, he pulled out Renata’s dreadlocks, leaving her weaves on the concrete and her scalp a bloody mess.

And ultimately, the women defended themselves. Patreese, who carried a small knife for protection at the plea of her brother Anthony, stabbed the man.

Black, female, gay: Marginalized to the edge of the margins

Black. Female. Gay. Three demographics in this country that have been marginalized for years, all rolled into one. Even in New York City, many people still don’t get it.

“Lesbian Gang-Stab Shocker” screamed on headline. “Hated by Lez Gang” read another. “Killer Lesbians,” yet another.

But the headline that really ticked of Dorosh-Walther? “Man is Stabbed in Attack After Admiring a Stranger,” read a story on an inside page of the New York Times.

To borrow a phrase from one of my dearest departed gay friends, the headline “blew her skirt up.” It wreaked of ignorance, and added insult to injury appearing in a newspaper of authority such as the New York Times. That’s when Dorosh-Walther knew she wanted to tell these women’s story.

But as a white woman, she wanted to make sure she could tell it right. “You want to make sure you tell the story accurately through the lens of the person or people who experienced it,” she told me.

I spoke with Dorosh-Walther, Patreese, Renata, Venice brown and Terrain Dandridge (the other two women who went to prison) on a conference call for about 45 minutes. Dorosh-Walther was excited to have the movie reviewed on a health website.

Some of the key takeaways from the film ought to be an understanding of what years of harassment and trauma can do to someone, or a group of people. It’s also important to remember that being locked up in a penitentiary forever changes people. Indeed, it leaves many prisoners with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

And then what happens when a person gets out?

“When people are released from prison, they give you a bus pass to get on the bus, or the subway,” Dorosh-Walther said. “They have no support, no family, a one-way ticket…you’re going to put them on public transportation? You’re putting everybody else in jeopardy. This is a public health issue.”

Nuns take in ‘damaged goods” ex-felon

“After going through all of this, and you’re done with your time…you’re damaged goods, and you’re being thrown back into a brand-new world,” explains Renata. “You’re thrown into a cage. You’re separated from those you love and care about. You have no support system. You’re paid a few cents per hour. They control you, belittle you, verbally abuse you, some physically abuse you.”

When Renata was released, she was taken to a shelter in New York City run by nuns.

“I had to stay in New York, and I’m not from New York. I never went to New York, unless it was to go to the village,” she explained. “I had no family support.”

Renata said she was extremely grateful for the transitional housing provided by the nuns, because some people don’t get any transitional support at all. On the other hand, being black and being a lesbian – a lesbian who speaks earlier in the film about wearing a dildo when she goes out into the village – it’s not difficult to understand the discomfort she felt.

“Simple things, like going to the corner store…I couldn’t do that,” Renata said. “In some ways, I still felt stuck in the same place. I had to go to parole. I had to enlist in a drug program, even though I never did drugs. I had to pi—in a cup while they watched me.”

When asked how she got past feelings of anger and self-pity that must have been going through her mind, not only in prison but afterward too, Renata’s answer was simple: “What kept me going was knowing I had to get my son back.”

Renata missed several years of her young son’s life while she was a locked-up single mother. When she was released, she learned she had lost custody of T.J., who had been put into the hands of the state of New Jersey.

“I had to look for a job, and when I looked for a job, with a felony…I never even was given a chance to explain my situation,” Renata said. “When you get out of prison, where is the help? Where is the toolbox?”

A frightening experience for a femme

“In prison, you have to develop a certain type of thinking to survive,” Patreese said. “Everything there works different.”

Tiny, femme and poetic, Patreese served more time than any of the women…almost eight years. She looks about as threatening as a church mouse, and she readily admits that being in prison messed with her head.

“I said, ‘Am I going to take these meds?’ Some of these people deserve to be in a mental health hospital,” Patreese recalled of being medicated in the prison. “But as I found out, they were giving the meds to me anyway, and I didn’t know it. They gave them to me because I couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to talk to somebody. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I should just take the meds just to get through day to day.’”

Almost two years after her release, she still struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. “Our mental health should be a priority when we get out. It’s really hard when you’re trying to transition back to society. When I’m lost, I’m even scared to ask for directions. There are no resources for us.”

Dorosh-Walther agreed. “This is a public health issue. Mental health is something we’ve never put enough resources into. Mental health, far down the line after release…is a lasting issue.”

When Patreese and the others were convicted, one headline read, “Guilty Gal Gang Weepy Women” while another proclaimed, “Lesbian Wolf Pack Guilty.”

How to get past injustice? Baby steps

“When you come out, you come out with ‘institutionalized thinking,’” Patreese said. “It’s something similar to PTSD. You end up getting changed by the system.”

The fact that people in that condition often end up being sent out the door with no support network at all is “absurd,” Dorosh-Walther said. “If there is nothing to transition you to live in the outside world…. or only a tiny fraction of services…how are you even supposed to get housing?”

As a journalist, I often get caught up in anger and a relentless drive to spread the truth whenever I see an injustice. I do it whether the victim is someone else, or, has been the case a couple of times in stories I will describe in my upcoming book, myself.

How do you get past it, I asked the women again and again?

Finally, Dorosh-Walther answered for them.

“You don’t really have time to comprehend the injustice and the pain,” she said. “There are hoops to jump through over and over and over again. You’re court-ordered into a shelter, for example. They are not going to make anything easy. It’s just piled on, piled on and piled on, and at some level you’re in survival mode and you’ve got to keep moving forward.”

The women said being able to tell their story via the film has helped them heal a great deal.

I can relate to that.

“It’s baby steps,” Terrain said. “There are moments it feels good, like we can celebrate. Other moments we’re still struggling.”

And I can relate to that, too.

They say getting there is half the fun. Where in the world is David Heitz?

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It has been a long, exhausting day.

But in a good way. And before I lie down to say my prayers, I must say: “I’m in Miami, b*tch.”

I’m not being vulgar. It’s a line from a song.

What a space – a stunning ocean view. With a balcony!

And a gigantic, wall-mounted flat-screen television. And a giant stuffed tortoise on the bed.

Wow.

I’m going to hang out here a while. I think I made a good choice for a place to recharge my batteries.

Lord knows I need it.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, I started poking around the web for vacation ideas. Where should I go? And when?

So gray outside. Grayness predicted for the next seven days, in fact. Rain, sleet, snow, cold.

Blech.

And even L.A. has horrid weather at present. So, that was out, even though it usually is my first choice.

I decided to go to South Florida. In fact, what better way to honor mom and dad both then to go to Fort Lauderdale, where I had been with both of them, once with the whole fam damily in 1978, in dad’s GMC truck (oh God, that’s a column in and of itself); the second time, my first airplane ride, at age 9, with mom, on Ozark Airlines.

To the very same airport that made headlines when a veteran believed to have PTSD opened fire and killed five people a week ago.

Sad on so many levels. Why didn’t someone help this man? Why aren’t we doing a better job of caring for our veterans, and all people struggling with mental illness?

Because we stigmatize mental illness, so nobody ever admits they need help.

Damned lucky and I know it

Aunt Wanda convinced me, “Just leave today! Hell, I’ll take you to the airport.”

Here I am. It’s 1 a.m. Friday eastern time. My plane landed an hour ago. The Super Shuttle driver took me through the drive-through of an old-fashioned McDonald’s, the kind with the little man doing his little dance under the neon arches, like the old McDonald’s on 11th Street in Rock Island next to Geifman’s grocery.

I really like the hotel. I’d like to just move in permanently! There’s a Keurig in the room, well stocked. The room service menu is much to my liking. And the view – I may never leave the room! (Of course I will!)

Tomorrow I will see my dear friend Paul. It has been decades. I’m going to be thrilled to see him.

I am beyond blessed to be able to come here for a while to heal. Who is that lucky? Not many people, that is for sure.

I cannot express my gratitude enough. Life was hard. And now it’s time to heal and move forward. Not everybody is lucky enough to have resources for great medical care, not to mention a vacation like this.

I’m damned lucky.

Fabulous company on a fun flight

On the airplane, I sat next to a delightful couple from Colombia. He is German; she’s from Singapore. They had begun their journey this morning in Singapore, then flew 15 hours to Chicago. They stopped once in Hong Kong, the man said. They then flew from Chicago to Miami.

They were incredibly sexy, both of them. I know. So bad! I must be letting my hair down!

He was so friendly. He talked about how he does business in Switzerland and makes a lot of money and lives in Colombia where it’s cheap.

Yeah, I know how that might sound. He designs displays for conventions, he told me. We talked about Colombia’s cable car system and how it is making a comeback. I had seen something on NPR about that.

He kept telling me I would really enjoy a Carnival cruise. We talked non-stop. Very chatty fellow. Awesome accent. His girlfriend smiled at me a lot.

Upon takeoff, the little girl in front of us kept screaming, “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!”

It was lovely. Really, it was. She was adorable. And her mother said she has flown multiple times and does that every time for effect. LOL.

The flight attendant who made all the announcements — I never saw her. At least I don’t think I did. But she sounded like she could have been the most fabulous flight attendant in the history of the world, like she was from the Concord or something. The other flight attendants also were quite fancy and had fancy hairdos.

‘The Bodyguard’

I often designate a person as my “bodyguard” when I’m in unfamiliar territory in a large crowd, which makes me a little nervous due to my own PTSD. It sounds silly, but generally I am not a fan of large crowds.

So, I trick myself. There always is someone around who, in my head at least – that person is my bodyguard.

So, at Quad-City Airport, here’s this non-descript fellow who fit the “bodyguard” description well. Mind you, I think my mind guards my body well, actually. But sometimes you want a well-built one around, too.

It’s late and I’m tired. At any rate, the “bodyguard” guy ended up on the Chicago to Miami flight too, three rows behind me.

Anxious for sunrise, but tired, too

The waves are crashing. The palm trees are swaying. I think when the sun comes up and I look outside I might faint. I’ll see the sunrise over the sea. As a morning person, I should love that.

I’m sleeping with the slider open. I hope no spiders crawl into my bed. The tortoise will eat them, if so.

Maybe I should close the slider. Florida has hella bugs.

It’s kind of hot here, to be honest. I have the air cranked. I mean…it’s too hot without the air. I’m sweating. At 1:09 a.m. on Jan. 13, Friday the 13th.

In South Florida. Oceanfront. Serenity. Peace.

Good night.

 

Why I briefly stopped writing about HIV, but will get back into it in 2017

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This is a column I have been thinking about writing for so, so long. What better way to clear the air on this subject than to make it my first piece of 2017?

A few days ago, I received a package from Gil Diaz at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He sent me the T-shirt and “Kleen Canteen” pictured with this piece. God bless you Gil, by the way, for thinking I can fit into a medium.

I served as one of the official journalists of AIDS LifeCycle the past two years, which was an awesome experience even though I was unable to do the ride, both years, due to outrageous, unbelievable-unless-you-live-here events in my personal life that coincided with the ride two years in a row.

I’m going to start posting some of my Healthline Contributors pieces on AIDS LifeCycle beginning tomorrow. Healthline Contributors recently went dark but Healthline gave me permission to re-post my work on my own site. Many thanks to Healthline.

My journalism career essentially was brought back from the dead in 2013 when I began writing for Healthline News, primarily about HIV. I had left the workplace at the end of 2010 to focus on taking care of my dad and myself. When dad went into the hospital, and then a nursing home, and then a memory care facility, I got back to work.

Writing about HIV, for me, was sort of like a duck to water. While I do not have HIV, I certainly once lived the life of someone at extremely high risk of infection. I also worked as executive news editor of The Advocate just as protease inhibitors came out and people with HIV, still alive today, were saying, “Damn! I never should have sold my life insurance policy to the viatical!” It was a positive turning point in the epidemic that continued in that direction of progress for many years, up until recently.

Which is depressing. But that’s not why I stopped writing about HIV. At least not directly.

Watch for more of the same science-based reports I used to write for Healthline

I have a new client, Vital Updates, and I know they want me to start writing more about scientific developments related to HIV. Here’s a piece I wrote just last week regarding people with HIV having double the heart attack risk. I encourage the HIV scientific community to start sending me news releases again.

Many things converged all at once that caused me to stop writing about HIV. I survived a horrifying assault the last night I ever took a drink, Memorial Day 2014. Around the anniversary date of that assault, something traumatic happened to me again. I have written about these things piecemeal rather extensively, and people in the HIV community who worked closely with me around the time that they happened know the details and hopefully understand. I apologize if I ever offended any of them, and I’m sure I probably did.

It all was so traumatic, that I have since “ghosted” anyone, anyplace, or anything that was part of my life when these horrific events went down, simply to avoid triggers. I have stopped short of moving because my dad did not leave me the family home, and I have not sunk a bunch of money into remodeling it, to just up and leave. I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere.

Even though most of the people, places and things in my life (I have changed grocery stores, banks, everything) had NOTHING to do with the traumatic event itself, PTSD doesn’t really differentiate when it comes to triggers. If they were a big part of your life when that bad stuff happened (and in the case of HIV, relate to the trauma in an unfortunate sense because it’s a topic you write about professionally) you must just step aside for a while and catch your breath to move past it.

And what happened to me did have a lot to do with HIV, as far as I’m concerned, even if I am not infected. I thought about getting into that a bit in this piece, but I’ll save that for a later date, if I ever feel comfortable writing about it at all.

Read more: After being raped in 2007 and assaulted in 2014, I finally put down the bottle

Then there is the matter of Danny Pintauro

When Danny Pintauro first told Oprah, and then went on The View, about contracting HIV while high on crystal meth, boy did I ever just want to hug him. I, too, had a RAGING crystal meth addiction when I lived in Los Angeles (and sadly, it’s ravaging the community where I live now, the Quad-Cities, my hometown, all these years later).

Suddenly, several of the bi-coastal gay opinionmakers emerged with fierce nastiness. They attacked Danny for taking personal responsibility for his addiction (he never said he was a “moral failure,” he simply took PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. This is what you’re supposed to do if you want to better yourself.)

BUT WORSE, so much worse, is that they began attacking him for saying he contracted HIV from oral sex. Let me tell you something: When you have bleeding, open, oral apthous ulcers, which you get from doing tons and tons of meth (particularly smoking it), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that hell yes you can get HIV from oral sex. These “activists” who blasted him and claimed otherwise were talking out their blowholes. Period!

I, too, had the oral apthous ulcers at one time in Los Angeles. I also had all the symptoms of acute HIV infection and ended up going to the doctor. The doctor was certain I was infected and even surmised I got it through oral sex because of the oral apthous ulcers and my sexual history of the previous month. Danny’s story rang true with me in every. Single. Way. The attack by the bi-coastal gay opinionmakers was unwarranted, irresponsible, and a bunch of poo. Period.

PrEP: A great tool for many, but causing problems, too

That brings me to PrEP, and the “sex positive” campaigns. From day one, I said that I DO NOT think Michael Weinstein is a “nut.” I think he believes what he says, and I understand where he is coming from, even if I don’t always agree with him.

What has happened since PrEP? STIs. THROUGH. THE ROOF. Truth. Period. Many gay men, particularly those already at elevated risk of HIV infection, don’t need encouragement in being promiscuous, especially with crystal meth raining down like confetti all over the U.S. I speak from experience. For many years, I was as promiscuous as they come. For me, it was about my drug and alcohol abuse more than anything else. Once I got sober, the promiscuous behavior just stopped. Because it’s not who I am.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that I am three years sober in May, but miracles do happen, and can happen for anyone who wants to change. There’s a lot of great help out there.

At the same time, the mantra of “impossible to transmit if undetectable” is dangerous, in my opinion, because it largely is based on the trust of your partner, who you may not know very well at all. Let’s face it, in the era of Grindr, Scruff, Craigslist, etc., many gay sexual encounters are with partners people don’t know a whole lot – if anything — about. And “impossible to transmit if undetectable” does not jive with what doctors have told me for years, which is that viral loads can blip. So, for the people who frequently use those platforms, PrEP probably is a good idea if they’re not using condoms (but who really wants a strain of potentially untreatable gonorrhea anyway?)

While even I at one time scoffed at Weinstein’s insistence that condoms shouldn’t be thrown out like the baby with the bath water, let’s face it. He has turned out to be right. I know that is very painful for many people!

I may be sexless and out of touch, but my experience is not unique

Admittedly, the issue of HIV doesn’t directly affect me right now as much as it has in the past. I have not had sex of any kind in over three years, and see nothing but a sexual desert on the current horizon. So admittedly, I am “out of touch.”

I realize that is not “normal” in the view of many gay men, or even healthy. Naturally I hope the “drought” doesn’t last forever, but when you don’t have anyone in your life who you want to have sex with, why would you have it?

Another point I want to make: I have heard numerous reports from people my age and older who told me they stopped using PrEP after suffering bone density loss and kidney problems. I can assure you, these are people who love sex, are not “prudes,” but felt the medication was doing more harm than good. It’s a personal choice.

Please read this excellent Los Angeles Times piece on Truvada if you never have. Outstanding reporting.

I want to end this way-too-long piece with this. Since I stopped writing about HIV, I have lost lots of followers to my Facebook page who used to follow me for HIV news. And that’s understandable. Yet I have more page likes than ever before, because now I write about other things, too.

Here’s my point, and why I fully intend to start writing about HIV more frequently: The stigma and the ignorance about the disease still is SO BAD, that when I do write about HIV these days, I lose page likes. Every. Single. Time.

For sure this piece will cost me plenty of followers. And that’s fine. I believe in authenticity, I still support every effort to encourage HIV testing, access to affordable treatment for all, and the realistic goal of ending the epidemic once and for all. I plan to continue to do my part in helping to accomplish that.

‘Killer Lesbians’ in PBS Movie Open Up About Trauma, PTSD, Mental Health

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Originally published June 19, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.

By David Heitz

It was intended to be a fun night on the town for the seven Jersey women of color – an evening in the West Village of New York City.

They enjoyed being around other gay people while visiting the neighborhood of the historic Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of our nation’s gay rights movement. But as the POV documentary “Out in the Night” shows, it ended up being a night filled with harassment, violence and enduring trauma.

The PBS documentary by filmmaker Blair Dorosh-Walther will air Monday, June 22, at 10 p.m. EST on PBS. Check your local listings. The film will stream online for a month thereafter.

In my view, “Out in the Night” illuminates public health hazards that are getting worse every day.

As these women strolled along that summer night in 2007, the last thing they expected was for an older black man to get in their face and talk filthy – especially not in the West Village.

But that’s what happened. When the man first said, “I want that,” tiny Patreese Johnson thought he simply wanted a drink of her friend’s Pepsi. Sitting by a fire hydrant, he looked a little down and out.

Patreese had seen her share of struggle – her brother was caught up in a gang fight when she was 11, shot dead by police at the age of 17, caught in the crossfire.

But when the man pointed at her crotch and said, “I want THAT!” and followed with “D-ke b-tch-s” and “I’ll f— you straight and put my d— in your a—,” they had heard enough.

Renata Hill, another of the women, had been raped by her mom’s husband when she was a child. She wasn’t about to listen to all of that.

Ultimately, the man lunged at the women, struck them, and a fight ensued. In fact, he pulled out Renata’s dreadlocks, leaving her weaves on the concrete and her scalp a bloody mess.

And, ultimately, the women defended themselves. Patreese, who carried a small knife for protection at the plea of her brother Anthony, stabbed him.

Black, Female, Gay: Marginalized to The Edge of The Margins

Black. Female. Gay. Three demographics that in this country have been marginalized for years, all rolled into one. Even in New York City, many people still don’t get it.

“Lesbian Gang-Stab Shocker” screamed one tabloid headline. “Hated by Lez Gang” read another. “Killer Lesbians” yet another.

But the headline that really ticked off filmmaker Dorosh-Walther? “Man is Stabbed in Attack After Admiring a Stranger” read an inside page of The New York Times.

To borrow a phrase from one of my dearest departed gay friends, the headline blew up her skirt. It wreaked of ignorance, and added insult to injury by appearing in a newspaper of authority such as The New York Times. That’s when Dorosh-Walther knew she wanted to tell these women’s story.

But as a white woman, she wanted to make sure she could tell it right. “You want to make sure you tell the story accurately through the lens of the person or people who experienced it,” she told me.

I spoke with Dorosh-Walther, Patreese, Renata, Venice Brown and Terrain Dandridge (the other two women who went to prison) on a conference call for about 45 minutes. Dorosh-Walther was excited to have the movie reviewed on a health website.

Some of the key takeaways from the film ought to be an understanding of what years of harassment and trauma can do to someone, or to a group of people. It’s also important to remember that being locked up in a penitentiary forever changes a person. Indeed, it leaves many prisoners with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

And then, what happens when the convicted gets out?

“When people are released from prison, they give you a bus pass to get on the bus, or the subway,” Dorosh-Walther said. “They have no support, no family, a one-way ticket … you’re going to put them on public transportation? You’re putting everybody else in jeopardy. This is a public health issue.”

Nuns Take in ‘Damaged Goods’ Ex-Felon

“After going through all of this, and you’re done with your time … you’re damaged goods, and you’re being thrown back into a brand-new world,” explained Renata. “You’re thrown into a cage. You’re separated from those you love and care about. You have no support system. You’re paid a few cents per hour. They control you, belittle you, verbally abuse you, some physically abuse you.”

When Renata was released, she was taken to a shelter in New York City run by Catholic nuns.

“I had to stay in New York, and I’m not from New York. I never went to New York unless it was to go to the village,” she explained. “I had no family support.”

Renata said she was grateful for the transitional housing provided by the nuns, because some people don’t get any housing support at all upon their release. On the other hand, being black and being a lesbian – a lesbian who speaks earlier in the film about wearing a dildo when she goes out into the Village – it’s not difficult to understand the discomfort she felt.

“Simple things, like going to the corner store … I couldn’t do that,” Renata said. “In some ways, I still felt stuck in the same place. I had to go to parole. I had to enlist in a drug program, even though I never did drugs. I had to pee in a cup while they watched me.”

When asked how she got past feelings of anger and self-pity that must have been going through her mind, not only in prison but afterward, too, Renata’s answer was simple: “What kept me going was knowing I had to get my son back.”

Renata missed several years of her young son’s life while she was a locked-up single mother. When she was released, she learned she had lost custody of T.J., who had been put into the hands of the state of New Jersey.

“I had to look for a job, and when I looked for a job with a felony … I never even was given a chance to explain my situation,” Renata said. “When you get out of prison, where is the help? Where is the toolbox?”

A Frightening Experience for a Femme

“In prison, you have to develop a certain type of thinking to survive,” Patreese said.

“Everything there works different.”

Tiny, femme and poetic, Patreese served more time than any of the women – almost eight years. She looks about as threatening as a church mouse, and she readily admits that being in prison messed with her head.

“I said, ‘Am I going to take these meds?’ Some of these people deserve to be in a mental health hospital,” Patreese recalled of being medicated in the prison. “But as I found out, they were giving the meds to me anyway, and I didn’t know it. They gave them to me because I couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to talk to somebody. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I should take the meds just to get through day to day.’”

Almost two years after her release, she still struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. “Our mental health should be a priority when we get out. It’s really hard when you’re trying to transition back to society. When I’m lost, I’m even scared to ask for directions. There are no resources for us.”

Dorosh-Walther agreed. “This is a public-health issue. Mental health is something we’ve never put enough resources into. Mental health, far down the line after release, is a lasting issue.”

When Patreese and the others were convicted, one headline read, “Guilty Gal Gang Weepy Women,” while another proclaimed, “Lesbian Wolf Pack Guilty.”

How to get Past Injustice? Baby Steps

“When you come out, you come out with ‘Institutionalized thinking,’” Patreese said. “It’s something similar to PTSD. You end up getting changed by the system.”

The fact that people in that condition often end up being sent out the door with no support network at all is “absurd,” Dorosh-Walther said. “If there is nothing to transition you to live in the outside world … or only a tiny fraction of services … how are you even supposed to get housing?”

As a journalist, I often get caught up whenever I see injustice.

How do you get past it, I asked the women again and again?

Finally, Dorosh-Walther answered for them.

“You don’t really have time to comprehend the injustice and the pain,” she said. “There are hoops to jump through over and over and over again. You’re court-ordered to a shelter, for example. They are not going to make anything easy. It’s just piled on, piled on and piled on, and at some level you’re in survival mode and you’ve got to keep moving forward.”

The women said being able to tell their story via the film has helped them heal a great deal.

“It’s baby steps,” Terrain said. “There are moments it feels good, like we can celebrate. Other moments, we’re still struggling.”

Welcome to DavidHeitz.com! Here is what my blog and web page is all about

I get excited just saying it: DavidHeitz.com. 

DavidHeitz.com. DavidHeitz.com. DavidHeitz.com

Not even five years ago would I even have dreamed that one day I would have my own website bearing my own name — my very own brand, if you will.

For starters, I never would have guessed I would even get the domain DavidHeitz.com. There is another journalist named David Heitz (and we are even the same age, both with dark hair) right down the road, in Chicago. There’s a famous David Heitz winemaker in Napa Valley. There’s a big real estate agent named David Heitz in California, too.

But there’s only ONE DavidHeitz.com! And I’m thrilled it’s me.

So why did I purchase the domain and the software to create my own site and my own blog? Well, the short answer is, I’m writing a book, due out next year. Every author needs to have a website and a social media following. The working title for my book is “Sober Caregiver, Solitary Confinement.” It not only works literally, but figuratively too. On many levels.

The social media part I’ve been working on for about two and a half years now. Today, between David Heitz Health on Facebook, @DavidHeitz on Twitter, plus LinkedIn, Google Plus, and a tiny presence on Pinterest, I have more than 7,000 followers. And it’s growing pretty fast.

I admit it now — I have a story worth telling

When people talk about writing, so much focus is placed on the craft of writing. No doubt, that is very important. But in this age where, let’s face it, anyone can be a publisher, I think what you have to say is even more important than how you say it.

So who am I? Well, a guy who was an alcoholic and/or drug addict (always one or the other when not both) for about 30 years. I grew up in a violent home. I lost my mother to breast cancer at age 24 after she had divorced my dad the second time.

I found out in my early 30s that dad had Alzheimer’s disease, which turned out to be a misdiagnosis. A few years back, we learned it in fact was a very rare brain disease called behavioral-variant frontotemporal degeneration. You can read all about that by clicking here.  Essentially it causes people to be very mean, and otherwise behave outrageously. Toward the very end their mind disintegrates to the point where they lose control of bodily functions, the ability to walk, talk, and swallow. And then they die.

So I got sober two and a half years ago when dad went into a memory care facility. I knew I had to or I was going to die. Like so many families that go through this disease, ours fell apart. Nobody cared about my dad except for me, and I cared about him very deeply. I demanded quality care and respect from the people who were paid outrageous sums of money to make sure he was safe and I dropped in quite often to make sure they were doing just that. I wasn’t always nice when I felt he (or myself) were being treated poorly.

Even as a teen, my friends used to say, “You need to write a book about your crazy family.” I always said, “Oh, my life is not that interesting.”

Famous last words.

Jailed for reporting an intruder at dad’s facility

I even went to jail, stripped naked, held on no charges at all, for two days, for raising my voice at dad’s memory care facility. You can read all about that by clicking here. There’s a whole lot more to that story that I never have told (other than to authorities), and it will all be in the book.

I became very sick inside the jail and truly thought they were going to kill me, or that I was going to die from a heart attack based on what was happening to me in there.

When they did finally let me out, I  spent two nights in the hospital. I learned some chilling things about my community. Things that, in truth, I had heard about for many years as a reporter and editor for local news organizations. But never did I think I would get an up close and personal experience with it. Maybe they wanted a reporter in there to see what was going on for himself. Who knows. It was wild stuff, no doubt about that.

I have written about all of these things piecemeal in various columns for Healthline Contributors, Caregiver Relief, and LinkedIn Pulse. I wrote hard news stories for two years as a reporter for Healthline.com, the fastest growing health website in America. I’ve written about addiction and recovery, caregiving and elder advocacy, and many other health topics, namely HIV and Hepatitis C.

While I do not have HIV or Hepatitis C, in many ways, it was that reporting that served as my bread and butter when it came to paying the bills and my re-entry into the world of writing (and working, for that matter). I’ve gotten away from HIV reporting the past several months, and I may explain why in a future column. More importantly, I plan on bringing  back my HIV reporting soon — today, in fact. Check out my other blog post for breaking news today that will be of great interest to long-term survivors of HIV.

In fact, I pounded out this introductory column about my blog and my new website — even though the website isn’t exactly how I want it yet (I have no idea what a widget is, for example) because of that exciting HIV news. Expect my HIV reporting from here on out to be limited to stories regarding long-term survivors, a cure, and a vaccine. The other stuff I’m not even going to touch anymore.

Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I do suffer from some personal health issues. Many years ago I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. In fact, I was a drug addict. Mixing the bipolar drugs with illegal drugs and booze no doubt did plenty of damage, and I went through bouts of depression where I would cry and not get off the couch for months at a time.

When I got off the bipolar medication things began to turn around, yet the hard drinking did not stop, even though I had quit using drugs and quit hanging out with the bar and drug crowd. Boozing it up by myself, at home alone, I knew then that indeed I was an alcoholic. I could not get to sleep otherwise, the anxiety associated with caring for dad and fighting with my family was so bad.

When I was violently assaulted by someone I knew, that was my “rock bottom.” I stopped drinking and by the grace of God hope I never take another sip. Things have been on the upswing ever since.

But I do live with PTSD, not only from that violent attack more than two years ago, but also from being taken to jail last year (almost exactly to the anniversary date of the assault). I also endured mental abuse inside the jail, and just the sheer disappointment of knowing our community runs a jail like that probably will forever linger.

But things are improving for me every day, and I have found that the best way to take care of myself is to completely isolate myself from the people of my past, including my own family. I have been told I should move out of this town, but I don’t want to do that. I enjoy living in my childhood home, which I now own, and I have made the decision to stay put.

So, what can you expect from this blog? Well, hopefully a lot of positive things. I recently began to write about travel (and plan to do some traveling myself soon), pets, eating out, and hopefully soon, home improvement. I mostly pay the bills writing branded content related to addiction/recovery and home care for seniors and people with disabilities. Those stories will continue to appear on my Facebook page, David Heitz Health. Be sure to like my page if you have not already!

So I have lots of great things happening in my life and am a very blessed man. I’m so excited to launch this new chapter — DavidHeitz.com — and hope you will continue to follow my work, as well as my path to finding happiness again.

All the best,

Dave