To get sober, I had to go as far from LA as possible: to my dad’s hippie town—where the food’s organic, the people are happy, and I see red.
When I had a really bad slip on Oxycodone at the end of last year, I couldn't manage to get sober again. My addiction simply demanded more and I obliged. I began to drink in the mornings—just me and homeless drunks buying malt liquor at the 7/11 at 9:30 in the morning. Oh my God, how did I get here? Where was this going? I didn't have money or insurance benefits for rehab—both of those had been used up long ago. I had struggled with my addiction for 20 years, landing in treatment multiple times. What now?
My father suggested I go stay with him in Ashland, Oregon. He could, he said, keep an eye on me as I put together some time. He told me that he believed in me and knew I could get sober again. Out of desperation, I agreed. I could go to meetings up there, I thought. The good thing was nobody knew me. The bad thing was nobody knew me.
I was hardly your typical chakra worshipping, purple-wearing vegan of Ashland and, with my heavy black eye liner, fur coats, sarcasm and chain smoking, I stuck out.
I woke up at 7:30 every morning to go have coffee at this tiny local café. As I walked to the coffee shop, smoking angrily in the cold, I saw runners chugging by. It was too early, too cold to exercise. I ordered my iced soy latte and overheard the baristas talk about how certain shoes had "some leather" and that "wasn't cool.” I pushed my fox bomber coat out of the way to dig into my leather Alexander Wang to pay for my overpriced organic locally grown whatever. I stank of Marlboros and fury.
My father had printed out a list of all the meetings in Ashland and every morning at 9:00 am, I went to the same one. Ashland was a small place and the AA community was even smaller. This particular meeting had between eight and 15 people and was held in a toasty church library. I’d been there years before, when I’d come up to visit after another brutal relapse. Back again years later and still a newcomer. Great.
The meetings were very different from the hip, slick and cool LA meetings. They were populated by crunchy hippies and old men with silly knitted caps. And lots of lesbians—or maybe all the women there just looked like lesbians. Everybody had weird names like Aries and Sunshine and Cookie. Despite all of this, I went every fucking day. I consistently introduced myself as a newcomer and a visitor and I shared, even though I knew I sounded angry and crazy and judgmental. People would pat me on the back and say, "Keep coming back." I’d growl, “It's not my first time at the rodeo.” Didn't they know I used to secretary meetings? Had sponsees? I was indignant.
Everybody in Oregon was so friendly, it creeped me out. And I'm not talking about just in the meetings. Strangers on the street would smile and say, "Good Morning" and it made me feel vulnerable and mean and I would scowl even more. I had nothing to be happy about.
My dad insisted I have my day structured: the gym, meetings, meals, writing. Everything was on the clock. It was just like rehab or maybe prison. Things could be worse, I assured myself—although, with a felony charge, a marriage in shambles and just days of recovery, that was hard to believe at the time. My father kept saying, “You can and will get through this.” I drew on his strength, telling myself that he knew me better than I knew myself.
I also dabbled in alternative healing. I saw a chiropractor that worked on my drug-addled body. His herbologist wife put me on a regimen of herbs for my adrenals, which she said were “blown out.” I choked down these pills with every meal—along with the SSRI’s, anti-psychotics, and anti-convulsants I was already taking. I had a handful of sessions with a psychotherapist whose specialty was motivation. (Even at my best, I’m the laziest, most unmotivated person I know.) He was hot for this new type of biotherapy called “brainspotting”—a mixture of EMDR, NLP and hypnotherapy. The idea is that you basically find that place in your brain where you are stuck—where all the emotion is located—and, with a series of sounds and eye movements, you process that block. I cried through most of the sessions when I wasn’t in a strange trance. But in spite of this, after only two meetings, I felt much more able to take the “charge” off all the things I was going through and to look at things more objectively. It was a huge relief. I didn’t feel like I was at the whim of emotions that would whisper at me that I should throw myself out of a window or go to a bar.
I was hardly your typical chakra worshipping, purple-wearing vegan of Ashland and, with my heavy black eye liner, fur coats, sarcasm and chain smoking, I stuck out. Crystal shops and acupuncture clinics, bead stores and bad art galleries populated the tiny streets of the Main Square. I hated it. I went to the local tennis club every day and tried to put some muscle on my then-emaciated frame. A friend of my father's who had known me from previous visits saw me and said, "Eat a fucking sandwich, will ya?” When you're fat, nobody says, "Cool it on the chow." But when you're skinny, everybody jumps in to tell you to eat up. I let it slide. He had no idea the debacle I had just survived. Opiates kill your appetite and make you so constipated that enemas and stool softeners become necessities. I felt 80 years old.
My stepmother owned some tiny apartments above her shop that she rented out to visitors and she let me stay in one for the 26 days I was up there. I had brought my cat with me. I smoked out the window while watching healthy people run and couples stroll and then lit incense to cover my tracks. The hot water would go out when the tub was about halfway full so I would lie in the shallow water, shaking, looking up at the ceiling and wondering how I had gotten here again. Five years earlier, I had relapsed and cracked my head open and retreated to Oregon to put myself back together. This was my sober oasis, the place I went when my sobriety, my health, and my life fell apart.
I went to the local co-op, the health food store, to pick up some snacks for my tiny abode and saw a woman from the meeting. She was eating kale and tofu and drinking Kombucha. Perfect. She bowed her head over her praying hands and whispered, "My blessings to you." I smiled stiffly. Fuck you, I thought.
When I flew back to LA, I would have 30 days. That is all I cared about. Getting a base in sobriety from which I could build. Word of my relapse had spread fast in the room of Hollywood: I had gotten texts from people I barely knew and hadn't seen in ages asking if I was going into treatment. It was embarrassing and exactly the type of gossip that had driven me out six months before.
You can get sober anywhere and you can relapse anywhere. I've relapsed right out of treatment. I've stayed clean after treatment. I've gotten sober in the rooms. I've relapsed regularly in the rooms. It's all a matter of when you're ready. I didn't feel like I was a ready but ready was feeling me.
Amy Dresner is a sober comedian who liberally pulls material from her depressive illness and drug addiction. She performs all over Los Angeles and is also on a national recovery tour called "We Are Not Saints." She also wrote about sex and dating in sobriety, among other topics, for The Fix.