Recovering meth addict, young mother navigate CPS systems to keep children

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Editor’s note: This piece originally was published June 26, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

For some unfortunate addicts, rock bottom doesn’t come until they’re six feet under.

But for many, it comes when they lose what’s most important to them. Usually that’s not the car, or even the house. Often, rock bottom comes when someone loses their partner or spouse, or worse, their child.

“Tough Love” is a POV documentary about two parents fighting to regain custody of their children from Child Protective Services. One is the story of Hannah Siddique, a mother in New York City. The other, Patrick Brown, is a single dad in Seattle.

You can find out how to watch the movie, which aired on PBS as a POV documentary when this column originally was written, by clicking here.

Jill Murphy is a program supervisor for the King County Superior Court Family Treatment Program. Patrick joined the program April 21, 2011, after losing custody of his daughter Natalya. Patrick, a crystal meth addict, had his little girl taken from him after falling back into meth after four years of sobriety.

Patrick initially had turned in Natalya’s mother to Child Protective Services. He felt his daughter wasn’t being properly cared for. But then he relapsed himself, got arrested, and lost custody after he had won it back from the mother.

“You have to learn to manage your disease,” Murphy told Healthline. “There are going to be rough spots.”

For many, life and death when choosing addiction or recovery is a matter of timing. The same goes for what’s saved and what’s lost.

“Addiction can be insidious. You can lose so much of your life in such a quick period of time and not even realize it,” Murphy said.

In King County, Family Treatment Court is reserved for the most serious of addicts.

The road to getting Natalya back is at times heartbreaking for Patrick, and for the people in the film who are helping him do so. Just as things seem to be going right, word gets out that Patrick had imbibed again. The reason? Waking up and not being able to see his little girl on a holiday. It was just too much, he said, and he blew the rent money on “filet mignon and chardonnay.”

At times Patrick looks pretty rough, not so much in the scenes where he’s with Natalya, but in court. A couple of times, he almost seems doomed. The judge suggests he’s “self-sabotaging.”

The viewer is left riding a roller coaster as to feelings of whether Patrick should get Natalya back. The foster family no doubt loves her, and appear to be wonderful parents. The foster father even resembles Patrick physically.

In one poignant scene, Patrick’s lawyer reminds those holding Patrick’s fate – and indeed, Natalya’s – of the law. She points out that in no way has Patrick endangered Natalya. She suggests he is being held to a level of perfection that is not realistic for any parent.

Family Treatment Court is a voluntary program. Addicts are given a strong support network that includes an advocate, an attorney and other support. The subjects are tested for drugs and alcohol every two weeks.

“Parents in the system are able to have extra help,” Murphy said. “They enter treatment faster.”

The program’s success rate is about 60 percent.

The other parent in the film – Hannah – doesn’t have any apparent problems such as addiction. While she and her husband struggle financially, there never seems to be much doubt about whether Hannah and her husband can parent.

Hannah had lost her children several years’ prior at the age of 19. After removing the children from a verbally abusive father, she moved in with her mother. But at her young age, she would go out and leave the children alone with grandma. So she lost them.

In the film, she finds herself pregnant, with the system potentially threatening to take that baby as well. The hoops she must jump through offer a view of the New York City system that is in stark contrast to the King County system, which seems to go above and beyond to reunite Patrick and Natalya.

At times, it seems contributions by the father of the unborn child aren’t even taken into consideration.

Wang-Breal hopes her film underscores the importance of child welfare reform. “If you look at the way federal financing comes, the majority of funding is geared toward foster care and adoption. What if we had given these families preventive services? Child welfare reform is about trying to change the way federal financing works so that we can keep families together.”

I fell off the wagon during my vacation. Then I got right up and hopped back on.

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I fell off the wagon during my Florida vacation after almost three years of sobriety.

At a place called “The Wreck Bar,” no less. During a mermaid show.

And then I was interviewed by a pirate. With a news crew.

But nothing tragic happened. In fact, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I had a darned good time.

I was never “a wreck” during vacation. But I’m climbing right back on the wagon anyway.

Nothing terrible happened, but drinks Friday turned into drinks Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I had fun all three nights, but as it goes with us alcoholics, I progressively drank more each night. By Tuesday morning, it was obvious what was happening, as I had a hangover for the first time in almost three years.

My therapist had suggested I attend meetings while here. I’m not a huge fan of AA. They are a PTSD trigger for me (long story), so, in fact, I avoid them completely while at home. I did reach out to another person in recovery as soon as I got here, and had hoped to set up a time to attend an AA meeting with her, but I never heard back.

The morning after landing, I got up to go to breakfast downstairs in the hotel. The main restaurant is not open yet (the hotel has just been remodeled) and the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team had the smaller restaurant, in the lobby, exclusively to themselves the whole week.

So, that left the rest of us in the “Wreck Bar” for every meal unless we ate outside at the beach grill, and that closed every night at sundown, and did not open until 11 a.m. each day.

I knew I would have an urge for a beer, especially on vacation, in an oceanfront resort in Fort Lauderdale. I figured if the urge just got to be too much, I would have an O’Doul’s, although even those do contain tiny amounts of alcohol, despite the belief that they do not.

No O’Doul’s at the Wreck Bar.

Interviewed by a pirate – with a television crew — during the mermaid show

While live-broadcasting the world-famous mermaid show at the Wreck Bar on my Facebook page, I was having a grand time with the other guests. What the hell I thought, I’ll have a beer.

I mean, it’s a mermaid show. At the world-famous Wreck Bar.

But it gets better. Suddenly, a “news crew” approached me after the show ended. The next thing I knew I was being interviewed – by a man dressed as a pirate – about my opinion of the mermaids.

Oh dear.

It probably was obvious that I had had a few. So, I’m not even going to mention what “news” organization it was.

I could have just not told anyone I fell off the wagon after almost three years. But why would I conceal it? It’s a big part of the recovery experience. It happens. A lot. It’s rather incredible I went almost three years.

Writing about these issues is my livelihood (which is why some suggested I not say anything about it).

But that’s not how I roll. I believe in honesty and authenticity. If anything, maybe some people will find me easier to relate to now that I had a “relapse.”

I once had a colleague who had a gambling problem. So much so she trespassed herself from all the local casinos.

When she relapsed, she wrote about it. It was one of the best columns she ever has written, in my opinion.

I don’t always see eye to eye with this person. So, in a way, falling off the wagon, for me, was sort of a reminder that all of us have shared experiences in life.  It’s important to be authentic and to own your sh*t.

And to be kind. For it sounds cliché, but everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Life really is just too short. The world is not going to end because I “relapsed” on my Florida vacation, and it does not make me weak or a bad person. I’m not “going to die,” as some like to tell people who relapse, particularly if their form of recovery doesn’t jive with theirs.

Recovery is a personal journey. There is no one way for staying sober.

I wish I had not drank. Especially four nights in a row, even on vacation.

But I’m owning it. I know I’m an alcoholic. And I love myself way too much to slide back down that slope.

Uber snafu takes me to Laundromat instead of SMART Recovery meeting

Tonight, I tried to go to a SMART Recovery meeting. I had my first experience with Uber. It was a cluster, and I didn’t make the meeting. I ended up at a coin laundry instead. You can read all about that by clicking here.

The second Uber driver took me back to my hotel after the first driver took me to the right address, but in the wrong city. I was visibly upset about the snafu, though not necessarily with Uber. The driver explained how getting frustrated and upset over something I could not control would only upset me some more and cause me to drink even more.

That’s exactly right. Smart man.

So, when I got back to the hotel, I spoiled myself with snapper, went upstairs and gave thanks for this beautiful vacation, and went to bed. Sober. At 8 p.m. Much as I have done every night in the Quad-Cities beginning two and a half years ago.

Many people have not been able to relate to how I’ve maintained sobriety with what appeared to be relative ease.

Now I know it’s not as easy as it looks, and just how slippery the slope can be.

With that said, I’m even grateful for my “relapse” (hate, hate, hate that word). There’s nothing wrong with a wake-up call that could have ended up much, much worse than a hangover after four fun nights. But if I don’t stop now, my luck could run out.

I’m SMART enough to know that.

A methed up life turned boldly around: A gay man’s inspiring story of recovery

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This piece originally was published June 6, 2016, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission from Healthline. Christopher was a great interview and ought to serve as an inspiration to many, especially for his frankness in sharing his story. His story is not the least bit uncommon and is being played out right here in the Quad-Cities. What is described here is NOT a big-city phenomenon, in the least. I admire frankness. Best to you, Chris!

In the picture shown above, Christopher Interdonato believes he was near life’s end. Addicted to crystal meth, which he shot up, and barely surviving on the streets of Los Angeles as a sex worker, he got to a point where “I felt like I was dying. I could no longer move.”

The picture you see here nearly brings me to tears, not only because of the sad vulnerability expressed on the young man’s face, but because I once was addicted to meth, malnourished, unhealthy, desperate, hopeless about life, and certainly without even an ounce of self-respect. It’s impossible to get sober (or at least sustain sobriety) when you have no self-respect.

Interdonato lay there like that for a few days, his veins so collapsed doctors could not extract blood to get a diagnosis. When they finally did, Interdonato learned he had HIV.

While HIV is a manageable disease these days, there still is no cure, and you’re required to take pills for life (although long-lasting injectable forms of HIV treatment are in the works).

Read more: An injectable HIV treatment could be ready by next year

In a couple of weeks, Interdonato will celebrate two years sober. A far cry from what you see in this picture, he is strikingly handsome, healthy, and works as a house manager and case manager at a rehabilitation center. In August, he will go back to school full-time to become a certified alcohol and drug counselor.

How Interdonato ended up in the abyss

Interdonato moved to Los Angeles in 2011 after living a year in Orange County (the suburbs to the south) first. Ironically, that was the same trajectory I took when moving to Southern California after college in 1992.

Interdonato worked for the circus, Cirque du Soleil. But when his contract ended, he found himself in a frightening position – homeless on the streets of L.A.

Interdonato had tried meth once at a bathhouse in Seattle, but he didn’t like it. In fact, “I hated it at first. I stayed up so long.”

But like so many young men who find themselves homeless on Tinseltown’s streets, the drug’s hyper-stimulating side effects – the power to keep you up for days at a time – offered a bit of safety, the thought process often goes, as opposed to falling asleep in the big city. “I was in a city where I knew no one,” Interdonato said.

The other side effect? Intense sexual arousal that allows already virile young men to perform for hours and hours and hours and hours.

Read more: Hooking up to stay alive: The sexual exploitation of young men and boys

Interdonato says he doesn’t want to be portrayed a victim as it pertains to his days as a sex worker. “I was never forced into anything,” he said. “I made a conscience decision to do what I did to support the lifestyle I had. I never had sex for the drugs. I always had my own drugs. I sold the drugs, too.”

Read more: Six signs that you are ready to get sober

I asked him why, like many sex workers in Los Angeles, he didn’t just hustle the streets sober, and pocket even more of his money as opposed to spending it on drugs. “Prostitution is not something I can do if I’m not high,” he said. “So when the drug use stopped, for myself I was not able to continue doing it because I felt dirty.

“Part of getting sober for me was about my self-esteem. It wasn’t just about rebuilding my body. And today sex is not the only currency I haveI have more to offer than that.”

Meth a huge problem in gay mid America as well

Unfortunately, I understand Interdonato’s story all too well. While I always had a job and never had to hustle to survive, I left Los Angeles in 2000, and a second time (for good) in 2002, horrifically strung out on crystal meth.

When I returned to the Quad-Cities, meth again reared its head a few times. But as I always told people rather frankly, the meth here was crap compared to what I snorted (and smoked) in Los Angeles, so I never slipped way back down the slope. I did, however, abuse cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. I celebrated two years sober last month. (Editor’s note: It will be three years in May 2017).

And thank God I am sober, and very confident in my sobriety. If you can say, “I’m an alcoholic and an addict,” and know that you can never take another drink, never snort another line, you have won more than half the battle. And I know I am an alcoholic and addict. For me, using again isn’t an option.

So, I’m glad I left behind the party scene and the bar life when I did, as now the methamphetamine problem right here in the Quad-Cities, in mid-America, is as bad as it is in the urban gay meccas.

Headlines beginning in the spring of 2016 in the Quad-Cities illustrated this, so there’s no point of regurgitating it here. People still are talking about it. Indeed, eye-popping stories, and I suspect we will see more of them.

People are quick to point fingers at places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City as hedonistic harbors where young, gay men can go astray. But the Quad-Cities is not one bit different. In fact, I believe it’s worse, as there is a void in terms of affirming support services. Mental health services in the Quad-Cities are wildly substandard, particularly for those who do not have private insurance and/or belong to a minority group.

While the Los Angeles LGBT Center is known for civil rights advocacy and being front and center at flag-waving festivals, it also is a lifeline for people like Interdonato. It absolutely 100 percent supports and helps anyone who is struggling with a drug problem, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS. It is a world-class non-profit organization offering world-class services, including the Jeffrey Goodman ClinicCrystal Meth/Addiction Recovery Serviceslegal services, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Interdonato is living proof of the life-changing work that this amazing organization provides.

It’s why I’m covering AIDS LifeCycle this year for absolutely zero financial gain.

Interdonato said he already was familiar with the services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center even before his hospitalization and HIV diagnosis. He regularly went to the Center for HIV/STI screenings and post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, after he believed to have been exposed to HIV in the past.

“I represent that percentage of the population of our community…unfortunately, in the gay community there’s a high incidence of people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and there is a high incidence rate of contracting HIV as part of it,” Interdonato said. “That’s my reason for riding, besides for thanking the L.A. LGBT Center for getting my life on track, but by being an example of a sober young person in recovery, who is HIV-positive, and hopefully I can help someone by showing them you can be as low as you can get and it is possible to recover from drug addiction and live a healthy life. Even as an HIV-positive gay man.”

My Chat with Shawn Achor of Oprah Fame about Happiness, Gratitude and Sobriety

 

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This piece originally was published Aug. 8, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

Oh. My. Gosh. What a terribly stressful week.

I have been so very crabby. So I’m glad I was lucky enough to land an interview recently with Shawn Achor. Shawn is nothing other than the happiness guru to O.

As in Oprah Winfrey! I’d be lying if I did not admit I enjoy speaking with celebs, and to me anyone who has appeared regularly with Oprah is a celeb.

So just as I almost had a complete and total meltdown this week, a few times, actually, including one just about an hour ago, and another a few hours before that, the tide turned once I decided to make it turn. And here I am writing about sobriety and gratitude.

 From the home office in Rock Island, Ill.

Let’s get started with a “Top Five” list. 

  1. I am grateful for getting to interview famous people like Shawn Achor and so many others, and to share what we talked about with others.
  1. I am grateful for my precious 20-year-old cat, LuLu, who is napping on the sofa in my office as I write this. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, LuLu died last month).
  1. I am grateful for my sobriety. I’m always grateful for that.
  1. I am grateful to be living in the very house I grew up in, which brings tremendous comfort during even the most difficult of times.
  1. I am grateful for the DE-LISH ear of sweet corn I just had, smothered in butter, garlic salt and pepper.

One of Achor’s tips to staying positive, especially at times when it seems so terribly hard, is to list five things that happened in the past 24 hours that you’re thankful for.

Achor was “on the circuit” a couple of weeks back to promote Buick’s “24 Hours of Happiness Test Drive” campaign. When his people reached out to me and asked if I’d like to chat with him, I was very flattered and immediately said yes.

I asked him what tips he has for people struggling to stay sober, who find themselves without their old “friends” or their fix.

“When it comes to addiction and recovery, instead of thinking about what you’re giving up, turn that around,” Achor said. “Instead of letting your whole life become deficit thinking, things you’re not doing anymore, there is real power in seeing things you’re picking up.”

Read more: My interview with Shawn Achor for HIV Equal

For me that has meant more time to spend with my dad. (Editor’s note: My dad died in September 2015). More time to exercise. Above all, more time for my writing, which I love.

And I even am getting to the space of letting go of anger toward people who want to hurt me. I know what those people are going through. I’ve been there, and it’s not pretty.

I’m glad I no longer live in that space. (Update: I’m still angry as hell at those who tried to hurt me, especially a handful of dirty politicians who are just dripping with filth).

Hating yourself is a big downer

I really never was a very positive person before sobriety. Most people who hate themselves aren’t.

But today, even though my dad is dying a horrible death from a dementia-related illness, and even though I still struggle to make ends meet, and even though I don’t speak with hardly any of my relatives, I sometimes have to pinch myself about how good life is. (Update: My dad died well over a year ago, and his estate still is not settled, and the court battle between my brother, myself, and a third party also included in my dad’s will grows uglier and uglier by the week and by the month. I have spent about $5,000 with an attorney just to get what my dad left me in a very simply stated will. But I have a very successful career and no longer struggle to make ends meet).

Acknowledging life is better now that I am sober, even if it is much harder in some ways, really is what keeps me going.

While I’m not a fan of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step to becoming a positive person was admitting I was powerless over alcohol.

Once I admitted that, I instantly was freed to envision a better life. My sponsor told me: “David, and I promise you, after one year, your life will be 10 times better.”

I believed him. I envisioned a better life. And today, 15 months later (update: now 30 months later), I have a better life.

I love my work. I have inner peace. I have good health.

That’s not to say I don’t get really stressed out. But with inner peace, I never blame myself for it anymore, because I know I am doing the best I can.

That’s not to say sober life has been easy. But it’s still better. And I’m grateful for that, and I know it will become less difficult over time.

How “I am an alcoholic” truly set me free

It didn’t take long after admitting I was an alcoholic before little signs of a better life began to sprout. Giving up the booze was like putting down top soil from which to sow new possibilities that come with living without drugs and booze.

I always have allowed my work to define me, for better or for worse. Many Americans are that way.

But when I was a drunk, I hardly could be proud of my work. When I was drinking, I didn’t show up for days on end. While my work always passed muster, I knew I wasn’t performing at even one-tenth of my ability.

Self-respect and good health are two things I never had when I was the town drunk. I spent each day feeling horrible about the dumb things I did the day before. So I drank to forget about it. It was an endless cycle.

In November 2010, I quit my job at the local newspaper. For three years, I tried to focus on caring full-time for my dad. But don’t kid yourself. I was drinking too.

But as I saw him decline and realized that he needed my help, I think I had purpose in life that I wasn’t getting from my job at the local newspaper.

Having purpose planted a seed for the sobriety. Suddenly life was about something bigger than myself, as they talk about in AA.

A fresh career start … so why not give up booze, too?

When dad went into a memory-care facility, I had the opportunity to start fresh in terms of my career. I lucked out when an acquaintance hooked me up with a freelance reporting gig for Healthline. Little did I know how much I would enjoy health reporting. I once again began to really feel like I was making a difference with my journalism.

I thought, “If I quit drinking, how much even better could things be?”

I was ready to quit. And after getting hammered and making an ass of myself in front of my neighbors and on social media Memorial Day 2014, I was ready to accept that booze made me do things I was ashamed of and that is was destroying my life, even as it was turning around after years of hopelessness.

So, to AA I went. A week went by without booze. Two weeks.  A month.

I worked hard to change my thinking to the positive from day one. It’s true that if you start each morning with prayer or meditation, or even list just three positive things about the past 24 hours, you can’t help but feel better about the direction your life is headed in.

The support you get from others when you become sober – friends on Facebook, professional contacts – is inspiring. After a while, though, the “attaboys” stop. And since I decided AA wasn’t for me, I don’t get any support “in the rooms,” as they say.

And my old crowd? I left them behind a few months even prior to getting sober and never looked back. Which, of course, is what everyone getting sober needs to do.

But more than a year (now 2 1/2 years) into it, I remain positive even if I operate as an island these days, at least physically. That’s because I have made friends with myself.

 

Not ‘A List’ yet, but two years (now almost four) without cigarettes feels awesome

 

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This was published Feb. 11, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission. (Editor’s note: Feb. 15, 2017 marks four years since I’ve had a cigarette).

By David Heitz

You could find me there every night, at the corner of 69th and Mary streets. Beer in one hand, cigarette in the other. On the weekends, sometimes you could find me there 12 hours a day, “pulling double shifts,” as I used to tell the bar owner.

Definitely NOT the corner of happy and healthy, at least not for me.

Today marks two years since I gave up cigarettes. The day after Memorial Day I’ll celebrate a year without alcohol.

It was tough finding a picture of me with a cigarette. I usually wouldn’t allow pictures of me smoking. I found this pic that a friend posted on Facebook in 2010 after Iowa’s no-smoking law went into effect.

Actually, I sort of like the picture. I do look happy, and I certainly had lots of great times at the bar where I used to hang out. But changing your life really does have to be all about changing faces and places sometimes, even if it means leaving behind the good memories as well as the bad.

Immediate disclosure: I still have a few vices, not the least of which is Willy Wonka candy. I’m sharing my story not to sound like Mary Poppins, but to relay how disgusted I became with myself. My sort of “rock bottom,” I guess.

The truth is, I gave up smoking because I always considered it “low class.” That’s right. It sounds horrible and arrogant, it makes me sound elitist and awful, but even as a child, I seemed to notice that people who smoked always had so many other darned problems.

It may be boiling it down to an extremely superficial level, and maybe there’s not always causation between a person’s problems and their smoking habit, but to a casual observer there certainly does appear to be correlation many times.

Do teenagers still say “smoking is for losers?”

When my generation was younger, we called the kids who smoked in high school “burnouts” or “lunch loggers,” because at my school they sat on a giant log adjacent to the student parking lot and puffed away during lunch.

At what point did it become OK for so many of us who should know better to smoke?

I say this even though my parents BOTH smoked. And they both had lots of problems, health-related and otherwise.

So I am just going to put out there that at a young age I noticed the happier, and, indeed, more successful people in life, seemed to be non-smokers. Of course, this was in the 1970s, when LOTS of people smoked. All I knew was that I associated cigarettes with “people with problems,” and non-smokers with success and happiness, and I wanted to be one of the happy and successful people.

And so I was a complete and, at times, very nasty, anti-cigarette snob all the way up until moving to Los Angeles. Then I added cigarettes to my beer. Then I began doing hard drugs, which can turn even a non-smoker into a pack-a-day person. Easily.

And I’ll skip all of the juicy stuff that happened in between, but two years ago I found myself fat, hung over, crying and depressed, wondering if life was even worth living, lying in the basement of the house I grew up in. I had moved back to Illinois in 2002 to escape a crystal meth addiction and to help take care of dad. While I was happy I had survived the meth and felt lucky to be alive, I hadn’t been living much of a life since the day I moved back.

In theory, I was taking care of my dad. But I wasn’t qualified for that job either, and after a hard day at the office, I’d spend a hard night at the tavern. Eventually I quit my job.

What a horrible mess my life had become.

I don’t advocate for any sort of religion, but the higher power thing has indeed brought some peace into my life. On that day that I woke up hung over, depressed, in the basement of the house I grew up in, I prayed to God for change, any kind of change. Something just had to change.

Because, man, did I have a lot of problems!

So I decided my part of the deal would be to stop smoking. That would be my first change. That’s the deal I made with God.

After all, how anyone could continue to smoke when we all know about how bad it is for you is…well…not congruent with being a smart person, which of course for years I have associated with happiness and success. So I knew that in terms of getting off the wrong path, I might want to start with giving up the deplorable cigarettes.

Things in my life did begin to change when I gave up cigarettes. Maybe it was just because I finally had at least some sense of self-worth after years of feeling like a louse. I was able to make decisions and stand up for myself, perhaps. I found that I believed in myself much more, and that my confidence really escalated very quickly the longer I went without a cigarette.

Honestly, it hasn’t even been too difficult giving up smoking. But it was harder for me to quit smoking than to quit drinking. Even when you know smoking is terrible and gross, the nicotine craving still nudges at you sometimes. Booze, on the other hand, almost never enters my consciousness anymore, even after only 9 months without it.

In the madness of giving up booze and cigarettes, somehow 70 pounds fell off during that two-year period, too. But 30 of them have come back on. With every challenge I face each day, I try a new approach to solving it. I’m doing everything in life differently. Something as simple as not answering the phone when I don’t want to, or not responding to an unpleasant email in a knee-jerk way…I’m getting so much more done by slowing down and doing less. Anything to keep the anxiety low.

People ask what the key has been to turning my life around in terms of getting rid of booze and cigarettes and losing weight. My advice is to just shake everything up, change every routine possible, find new, healthier addictions if you have to.

My new addiction is social media. Zuckerberg gets my money now, because I have turned my professional Facebook page, David Heitz Health, into a little hobby.

But it’s better than spending my dough on beer and cigarettes. And it certainly keeps me social in a place where it’s a lot easier to be me than a tavern.

I probably will be called “arrogant,” grand” and every other name in the book for this. But that’s OK. Maybe my story will ring true even with one other person and convince them to give up the poo-poo sticks, whatever their reason may be. Because there are a million of them.

 

Improving your life – even saving lives – is as easy as taking a walk

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Even before I became sober (which is the best thing I ever did for myself), my life began to improve when I began walking.

When I sold my clunker to a junkyard when dad entered a memory care facility in 2013, I had no choice but to start walking. Once, I walked all the way home from the grocery store carrying a 25-pound box of cat litter (well over a mile).

It didn’t take long before I got over my hang-ups about using public transportation, but usually I chose walking over riding the bus even then. At one point, about a year after I became sober, I no longer felt safe riding the bus and returned to just walking.

We know that walking is incredibly good for your health. Even before I stopped drinking, weight began to fall off of me when I started walking.

In February I decided to buy a Toyota Prius, so I haven’t been walking as much as I once did. I go to the gym now instead.

But when my therapist suggested a few weeks back that I start participating in charity walks to meet new people, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Why have so many Q-C LGBT people died?

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the Overdose Awareness Walk and blogged about that. I’m sure you all also have seen my pleas for sponsorship in the upcoming Out of the Darkness Walk benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Oct. 29 in Bettendorf) as well as the NAMI Walk benefiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (Sept. 24 in Davenport).

I’m proud to say that as I write this column, I have raised $175 so far for the NAMI Walk and $170 for the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who have donated.

What’s even more meaningful to me, even beyond the fact that walking has greatly improved my health (my blood pressure is perfect these days!) and the fact that I’m helping raise money for good causes by participating in the charity walks, is that all three of these causes are near and dear to me.

In the Quad-Cities, the number of gay and lesbian people who have died of drug overdoses is staggering. I lived in Los Angeles for 12 years (and was a wild party boy) and only knew two people who OD’d. Here in the Quad-Cities – and we’re talking as far as back as six or seven years ago, even before the nation’s opioid crisis reached full tilt – I can think of several LGBT people who have OD’d.

Of course, overdose, suicide and, I’d surmise, even foul play sometimes are blurred when you don’t have the complete story. And on many of these people, I don’t. Simply put, there are lots of moms and dads who have lost children in this town; and lots of children who have lost moms and dads.

Brandon Ketchum puts a face to “20 per day” stat

And of course we know that 20 service people per day are committing suicide, which is not excusable. Our country needs to do a much better job of taking care of our service men and women, and that includes accommodating their mental health needs. That point finally was driven home locally with the untimely death of Brandon Ketchum, which even has caught the attention of local lawmakers, as reported here by Quad-City Times columnist Barb Ickes.

I know what suicidal thoughts feel like, although thankfully it is not something I have experienced since 2003. Many years ago, after returning to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles, my depression was so bad that simply being awake was painful. I just wanted to sleep.

In June 2015, when I raised my voice after not being taken seriously when reporting an intruder at my dad’s memory care facility, I was thrown in the Rock Island County Jail on no charges at all. The reason they gave? They said I was suicidal.

Please start paying attention, folks!

While many of those who govern and have governed out of the county of Rock Island are famous for their lies and corruption, saying I was suicidal may in fact be the tallest tale they ever told. And everyone who was in the jail knows that whether they have chosen to tell the truth about it or not. Even the local mental health center deemed me “not suicidal” after one of their clinicians evaluated me inside the jail, but now those records are “missing.” The hospital also forgave the portion of my bill that Blue Cross Blue Shield did not pay (and not because of financial need).

What was going on that day was a PTSD-fueled anxiety attack that occurred nearly to the day of the one-year anniversary of an assault that could have killed me.

Sure, after two days in there I was weeping, but mostly for my community, and for the fact I thought they were going to kill me in there and that I would never see my dad or my cat again. Prior to that, I banged on the cell door and screamed for help for hours and hours and hours and hours. It was a horrifying experience I will never forget nor ever stop talking about so long as I can make a difference by sharing my story.

Watch for my book coming out next year. In the meantime, please consider supporting me in the NAMI Walk, or the Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention.

Thanks, and happy Labor Day!