The question has been raised as to why I am such an advocate for Kristen Johnston’s opus Guts. For those who have managed not to hear about it, the book is “a surprisingly raw and triumphant memoir that is outrageous, moving, sweet, tragic, and heartbreakingly honest.” One of the main threads in the book is addiction; a tale of ignoring, then facing and now accepting what that did, does, could mean for that one person.
This post is not meant to be a self-congratulatory story of my “strength of will” – nor would I attempt to equate my imperfections and struggles with someone else. I do think it’s important that people who see me commenting on Kristen’s Facebook or Twitter posts don’t think I am pretending to be anything beyond what I am.
I don’t see myself as an addict. I am prone to compulsive and/or obsessive behaviours; I have rituals and procedures that bring me great comfort. During my ‘misspent youth’ I was compulsive in ways I’ve described elsewhere as efforts to “celebrate life as a gay person and promote ‘sexual rebellion’. I’m not a drug addict although I’ve experimented with a select number of recreational substances in the fore-mentioned youth. When I recognized that the obsessive behaviour (sexual, pharmacological) was in danger of taking over control I stopped. I recall the Saturday I had spent five hours attempting to connect with an alternate supplier as my usual source was out of town. Sitting at a coffee shop on Church Street I decided that my desire to ‘have a good time’ that night was bordering on actually being a *need for* something. And I was (am) too much of a control freak to let that happen. Thus ended my use of such chemicals. The sexual compulsion was never strong enough to threaten my need for self-control.
An argument can be made, I guess, that I am addicted to believing that I’m in control– a side-effect of a troubled childhood.
Now my battle is with food; not so much volume (although I do eat more than strictly necessary) as with specific dishes. I love ‘bad food’ and find little enjoyment in the healthier kinds. The onset of gout and unfading memories of a kidney stone have driven me to make some changes; Black Cherry Juice (supplementing a prescription) to keep the gout at bay, and lots of water to keep my kidneys happy and flush. I have reduced my intake of red meat to almost nothing- we very occasionally indulge in Five Guys Burgers and Fries. I know that some of my resistance to change is not wanting to give up certain pleasures, and some of it is a resentment at being reminded I’m getting old. And that of course feeds in to the survivor’s guilt that many gay men who were out and proud since the 1980s now feel. I know that “every day above ground is a good one.”
I don’t drink alcohol. I did when I was younger, and had my share of over-doing it, but developed an allergy to it along with the beginnings of an ulcer when I was in my mid-20s (diagnosed out of town at a friend’s wedding where the mother of the bride hated me, but that’s another story). I can have a small amount without danger, but I’ve never liked wine or beer and having just a single cocktail seems silly. When I was single, back in Toronto, I would have a single shot of Bailey’s in coffee when out with friends on a cold winter’s night but it’s not a routine I’ve kept. Alcohol wasn’t forbidden in our house when I was young, and my parents had a pretty good relationship with it. They drank, but it was never anything like the tragic stories I’ve heard, read or seen. I can recall only one instance of Mom being more than tipsy in my presence. I was a teenager and she was incredibly embarrassed to be seen in that condition; which was giggly, slightly slurred of speech and nothing more. I have dated a few addicts but those relationships never developed to the point of “serious”. Nothing that would lead me to a program for family/friends of addicts.
However I have seen what damage addiction has inflicted on (and continues to bring to) people. I know that I have been blessed with an incredible support network that not everyone has, and I’ve always tried to honour both my parents and the lives cut short by aids by being as good a friend as I can to anyone who dares to reach out. I have learned that I can not save the world and that some people are toxic and won’t be allowed in my life; but I do have compassion and some wisdom that I can share so that I leave this world better for having been here.
Whatever your struggle, Kristen’s book offers some useful lessons- and one might say (I would) a compelling story that is an addictive read. Now available in paperback at Bookshop.org.