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Everyone a Winner!

Amy Dresner hits the 5th annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards. Corn nuts, hugs, cheese and sobriety ensue.

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By Amy Dresner

02/19/14

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My hair was in a perfect chignon and I was wearing a sweet gauze hippie shirt and a vintage fur as I sped down Sepulveda to the “5th Annual Experience, Strength And Hope Awards.” My hope was that if I looked like a lady, I’d act like a lady. But of course the reality was that I was already chain-smoking Marlboro Reds and chugging Diet Mountain Dew, getting lost every five minutes and swearing like a sailor. Events like these make me nervous. Even when I was getting loaded I avoided clubs and bars, preferring my lone apartment with my three best friends: cocaine, Def Leppard and my trusty vibrator. But I manned up, put my game face on and waltzed in like a pro. 

The first person I met was Terre Bridgham, my former art therapist at the Hills Treatment Center. A year and a half ago I was underweight, sullen, perpetually crying and painting knives, penises and broken hearts. Now I was sober and happy and on a job no less. “You look so beautiful,” she said. “I clean up alright.” I smiled. She hugged me. “You are really a miracle. A fucking walking miracle.” So far so good.

“God grant me the hostility to reject the things I cannot change, the cash to change the things I can, and the woman to know the difference.”  

There was a buffet of sausage, meatballs, bread, olives and corn nuts but I don’t do red meat or carbs so I chugged water and snuck out regularly to smoke with a sweaty handful of corn nuts. During one of my many  breaks, I came across four shiny happy people from Sober College, a sponsor for the event and a rehab for people aged 17-26 who can get college credit while getting sober. All four of these kids had triple my sobriety time and were half my age. I made some bad dick jokes and slunk off in disgrace.

After the networking and buffet, we were ushered into the auditorium and the awards began, to be hosted by Ed Begley Jr. There was a slide show of the multitude of celebrities whose hair Carrie White (the event's honoree) had cut in her impressive career. “Begley’s Best” environmental products were blazed across the screen and despite my innate dislike for “eco” people with their solar paneling and composting he was extremely amusing and self-deprecating.

“I’m Ed Begley Jr. Well, thank you for remembering me! It’s ironic that I was asked to host the Experience, Strength and Hope awards since my wife has sucked all of that out of me.”

Next up was Darren Kavinoky, host of the tv series Deadly Sins on ID network. "Since I can get behind anything that will alter me, I should just say my name is Darren and I’m not a gambler.”

Lots of sobriety jokes ensued about “bottoms," a nod was given to Philip Seymour Hoffman to much solemn nodding, and Crystal N., a bosomy alumna in a gold and orange dress from Casa De Las Amigas, whose addiction to her namesake “crystal” took her on a ride to hell, took the mic to express her gratitude, spouting off the usual optimistic newcomer bullshit. 

Mackenzie Phillips, child star turned addict turned sober recovery/treatment advocate and worker at Pasadena Recovery Center was up next, thanking the many sponsors of the event. “I want to acknowledge all of the sponsors because without them we would be having this event above Jerry’s Deli on Ventura.” Then we had James Fuchs doing a semi-amusing sober parody of Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After all These Years." 

Joanna Cassidy was scheduled to appear but had to bow out so Peggy Albrecht, executive director of Friendly House since 1983, 42 years sober and Carrie White’s sponsor stepped in to say a few words. 

Carrie White finally took the stage in her little black dress with her impeccable blonde bob. “I believe the soul is never loaded, never drunk,” she said and thinking back, I tend to agree….except for mabye IV Ativan which made me into a soulless raging demon.

Carrie is the first woman to receive the “Experience, Strength, Hope Award” for her memoir, Upper Cut: Highlights From My Hollywood Life about her days as a celebrity hairdresser, her brutal alcohol and drug addiction, her five children and three marriages (that idea alone makes me want to drink) and her journey into recovery. “Finally addiction is seen as a disease and not as a moral issue,” she said.

Julia Negron, wife of Chuck Negron of “Three Dog Night” and Carrie’s sponsee, stepped up to say a few words. She recounted a very amusing story of her using days driving an old beater car with no breaks. She would drive down the arduous curves of Laurel Canyon to her dealer's, making her sister hold a sign out the window that read “No brakes” as they would honk and scream to other drivers, flying down the canyon. Negron used to work in treatment but now she is in addiction advocacy working with “A New Path” helping to implement therapeutic vs punitive drug policies. “We’re changing laws to make addiction a public health issue, not a legal issue, and working to reduce the stigma connected to addictive illness.” Amen, sister.

Leonard Lee Buschel, organizer of the event, spoke next, explaining that he was inspired by the Musicians Assistance Program to start a similar program for writers though it was recently expanded to help all addicts through the Jewelle Sturm Memorial. (Jewelle Sturm was an addict who died age 29 in 2010 of an accidental drug overdose.) Breaking up the heaviness, Leonard explained how he rewrote the Serenity prayer: “God grant me the hostility  to reject the things I cannot change, the cash to change the things I can, and the woman to know the difference.”  

About Carrie’s book, he added, “Not since Liz Taylor met Larry Fortensky in treatment has somebody been able to make their sexual inventory into a best seller.”

We were then treated to the Reel Recovery Film Festival Highlight Reel from 2013 with many clips of addiction movies. Think shooting up, girls locking themselves in bathrooms with razor blades, hot girls making out while a guy sits lecherously watching, snorting lines. I heard the guy behind me mutter, “God I miss those days.”

Chasing the Muse….Stone Cold Sober, part of the Reel Recovery Film Festival, is "a candid conversation about creativity and recovery” presented by Writers In Treatment, WGA East and Hazelden, moderated by William Cope Moyers (son of Bill Moyers and author of Broken: My Story of Addiction and Recovery).

Amongst the writers they interviewed were David Carr of the NYT (who once retweeted a Fix piece of mine), Malachy McCourt, Sasha Z. Scoblic, Michael Winship and Lawrence Block, the mystery writer with whom my father churned out soft core porn in their youth.

Another strange parental connection was my mother recounting that Carrie White had been at her house in 1971. My mother was hosting a house party with David Hockney and Larry Bell but had locked herself in her bedroom, drunk and hysterical over her impending divorce. Small world.

After ten minutes of the highlight reel, Alonzo Bodden, sober stand-up and winner of Last Comic Standing took the stage to do his set. Alonzo didn’t get into stand-up until he was five years sober and when I was honing my own comedic skills before I hit the circuit, he was always an inspiration to me. “So great to try to do stand-up after an unbelievably depressing montage of film for as long as possible. Nothing gets a crowd going like a good OD…..Why not just have a guy laying on the stage with a needle in his arm? Jesus. Okay, I’m gonna be un-PC and insult people and we’re all gonna laugh. Got it?” He went on to delight and amuse with riffs on gay athletes, skinny jeaned vaping hipsters and his kidney donation last year to his older brother who used to beat him up. “How glad are you that you didn’t hit me in the kidney now?”

After the awards, Carrie White signed books, with her very young luscious date at her side. You go, girl. Giving hope to all us cougars!

I went out to smoke and felt compelled to approach this large fashionista in a black lace dress with a crazy Anna Piagi hat and cat eye glasses.

“Who are you? I have to know,” I said bluntly. “You are too fabulous.”

“My name is Kelly and I’m a singer and actress and I sell celebrity swag. I just got out of a six month stint at Breathe for an eating disorder and marijuana. Before I went in I was smoking and eating sheet cakes. I’d have the bakery write on the cakes ‘Feel Better, Kelly.’ I’ve since lost 80 pounds. We exercised for three hours a day. They treated my eating disorder as a food addiction. I also have SLAA issues. So now no sugar, no wheat, no drugs, no cock.”

“Nothing mind altering,” I said.  “I get it.”

We exchanged cards, I promised to visit her ebay store and then I raced home to make my 11pm sober living curfew. Ahh the life of an addict journalist, connected in every way.

Amy Dresner is a columnist for The Fix.

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