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reality tv

7/06/12 3:39pm

Elvis Impersonator's Hoarding Hell

Image: 

Cary has been an Elvis impersonator
for 17 years.

Cary, a 51-year-old Elvis impersonator from Brooklyn, has led a double life for years: living every moment in front of the crowd, then returning home to an apartment crammed with Elvis memorablia, stacks of yellowed newspapers, and insects crawling across piles of rotting food. This Sunday, in the harrowing Season Four opener of TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, attempts to clear his accumulated mess lead to rage, tears and sheer panic. The episode was filmed in March. When The Fix speaks with Cary, months after this "very distressing" experience, he's in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he's just appeared in an Elvis impersonators' contest.

"It went well," he says. "I came ninth out of 21 Elvises. The crowd gave me a very good reception." Cary shared his devotion to The King with his mother, whom he lost to cancer in 1992; it was after he took over her apartment that his compulsive hoarding began. Diagnosed with manic depression and an anxiety disorder, he survived on disability money and his slim Elvis earnings, while filling his home to the point where he could hardly move around it. He talks during the show about his fear that he'll "run out of stuff," which causes him to gather more. "I'm a poor man!" he yells. "I need more stuff in the house that makes me feel rich!" 

This attachment made his appearance on Hoarding a hard decision. "I needed a lot of persuading," he tells us. "I really didn't want to do it." Although he admits the publicity "might give [my career] a little boost," and that he's had "some great reactions" after TLC aired its trailers, he insists, "That's not the reason I did Hoarding; I did it because I needed help." Watching the episode makes it easy to believe him. But despite the ongoing support he's received since March—therapy, plus mood stabilizers and SSRIs, prescribed by a new psychiatrist—there's no silver bullet. Cary sounds calm but subdued when he says, "Things have improved, they're a little bit better than they were. But I'm not cured yet." He misses his discarded possessions less than he did, and his apartment remains "way much better than it was." 

Dr. Beccy Beaton, the psychologist who worked with Cary during filming, has stayed in touch: "I wanted to be sure we didn't hurt him," she tells The Fix. She says that Cary's additional mental health problems made his hoarding particularly hard to address. "He was distraught over the idea of losing his things," she recalls. "We were worried it would have a detrimental effect on his overall mental health." When her efforts hit a wall, she decided to apply a harm reduction strategy—something more commonly associated with substance addictions. This involved introducing compromises, like clearing pathways through Cary's possessions to the fire escape or the window, so he wouldn't have to give up everything. Beaton, who has worked with many hoarders, notes that compulsive hoarding is classified as an anxiety disorder, rather than an addiction. But she believes there's "a very addictive component to it." Which means, she says, that many strategies used to help addicts, such as interventions or 12-step groups (like Clutterers Anonymous), can help hoarders, too. 

Beaton is outspoken in her criticism of some of Cary's friends, who are seen berating him during the episode [below]. "I feel like those friends are abusive to him," she tells us. "But people who are abused often prefer to have those relationships, rather than nobody." For now, Cary chooses to keep these friends—they're currently with him in Myrtle Beach. "He has another friend in his life who's actually very nice," says Beaton. "Hopefully other people in his life will help keep him on track." But she isn't over-optimistic in her assessment of Cary's long-term outlook: "Where it is now is probably how it will stay." Compulsive hoarding is a condition that professionals usually have to seek to manage, she says, rather than cure. Cary, meanwhile, plans to continue impersonating Elvis: his favorite songs to perform are "Viva Las Vegas," "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "Suspicious Minds." 

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By Will Godfrey

Sobriety High

7/06/12 2:48pm

More Recovery High Schools Help Teens Stay Clean

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Students at Northshore Recovery High
Photo via

Adolescence is a turbulent phase of life for anyone—so battling addiction as a teen may seem insurmountable. But high schools designed for students in recovery are popping up all over the US to help kids get the support they need to learn, graduate—and hopefully stay clean. The first recovery school—“Sobriety High”—started in Minnesota back in 1987, and there are now at least 35 of them in the US. Nearly two million American students meet the criteria for substance abuse according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, yet many never receive the treatment they need. For those who do seek treatment, 75% relapse within one year after returning to high school. “Many of these teens are offered their previous drug of choice on their first day back in school,” says Andrew Finch, a professor at Vanderbilt University who has been studying recovery schools for years. "It's going to be that much harder to stay with that decision to stop, if all of your buddies are continuing to use.”

Michelle Lipinski is the principal of Northshore Recovery High, which she founded in 2005 when she realized tons of students were skipping school to do drugs—sometimes with fatal consequences. "I didn't want to go to any more funerals," she tells The Fix. At Northshore, which is funded by the state of Massachusetts, classes operate in a less regimented fashion than at a typical high school. Art and music are heavily integrated into the curriculum, and self-expression is encouraged. "These students have a really important story to tell—it's not just about addiction," says Lipinski, and the school helps students cope with a "litany of issues" they face, in addition to substance abuse and addiction. She hopes schools like Northshore can help change the face of recovery—illustrating that, especially for young people, "Recovery doesn't have to be painful. It can also be fun and exciting and rewarding." Even when students struggle with relapse, they're supported by an engaged community of fellow students and an "amazing" staff. "We reach our hand out," says Lipinski. "There's no such thing as enabling at this school—these are kids. We don't give up on them. And they don't give up on each other."

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By Valerie Tejeda and May Wilkerson

Craigslist

7/06/12 1:30pm

Texas Band Seeks Functioning Alcoholic

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A propensity to set one's instrument on fire
presumably falls under the "non-functioning"
class of drunk. Photo via

Take note, drunks with dreams of country-music stardom, or at least vague participation. Earlier this week, a hilarious want ad appeared on Craigslist’s Austin edition: “Texas Country Band Seeks Functioning Alcoholic to Hold Bass.” The outfit is “an established Texas Country band” that's been playing together for about five years, released two albums and even had a couple of singles make the Lone Star State charts. “We play primarily around Texas, a few out of state runs every few months,” the post reads.

Sounds fun, no? But the band is dead-serious about what they need for their potential bass-holder to be able to do (or not do, as the case may be): “Your responsibilities would be: you stand on stage with a bass. You don't fall over. After the show, you don't vomit in the van. On the night of a typical show, you are not in prison, and thus able to stand on stage and hold a bass.” You really don’t even have to be able to play notes, as the band reasons, “We think it unwise to present the distraction of playing music to one who ought to be focusing on his core competency; i.e., standing on stage holding a bass, without falling over.”

The band didn't immediately reply to The Fix’s request for comment, but evidently they've had some inquiries about whether or not there’s any wiggle room RE: the “functioning” part of the alcoholic bass-holder job description. (Sadly for all you fall-down, non-functioning drunks out there, there’s not.) The post concludes, “In this context, ‘functioning’ means: A) you have two hands; and B) you can remain vertical for 90 minutes on a typical Thursday, Friday, or Saturday evening, sometimes as few as 45 minutes, occasionally as long as 120 minutes; so, after some consideration, we're going to have to say that, no, we are going to have to remain firm on the ‘functioning’ aspect of ‘functioning alcoholic.’ Apologies.”

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By Hunter R. Slaton

Celebrity Roundup

7/06/12 12:36pm

Celebrity Roundup: July 6, 2012

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Fox's mugshot, two months in the making.
Photo via

Those troubled Moore ladies just can’t catch a break: with Demi Moore sent to rehab earlier this year and Scout Willis in the headlines for tweeting about drug use, the youngest of Demi’s daughters is now embroiled in a potential controversy. Reports have surfaced that photos of Tallulah, 18, partying topless and smoking a joint are being shopped to various media outlets. Welcome to celebrity adulthood, Tallulah.

Wes Scantlin, the frontman of post-grunge rock group Puddle of Mudd, best known for the 2002 single “Blurry,” was arrested in Los Angeles this January for felony cocaine possession and DUI. This week, he pleaded guilty to the possession charge but avoided jail time, wrangling a sentence of 18 months deferred judgment, including a drug counseling program. Cue the heartfelt sobriety rock anthem.

Think your DUI was humiliating? Try getting booked in the Deschutes County Jail (outside of Bend, Oregon), only to discover that their camera is broken—so the judge orders you to return two months later to have your mug shot taken. That’s what happened to Lost actor Matthew Fox, although—admittedly—he looks pretty well-groomed in the resulting photo. Maybe he got lucky, after all.

Weston Gosa, 23, who appeared on the first season of MTV’s hit series 16 and Pregnant, was arrested in rural Georgia after crashing his car. Law enforcement found Xanax and Lorcet—for which he had no prescription—as well as a pipe with residue, in the wreckage. Not taking the fatherhood thing too seriously, then? Take solace in this: Whitney Purvis, the mother of Gosa’s son, reportedly split from him last fall.

After ex-Miss USA Rima Fakih pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in the state of Michigan last May, you might assume she’d be teetotaling from here on out. Not so much. She was spotted stumbling out of Greyhouse Manor in Hollywood last weekend very intoxicated—but told paparazzi, “TMZ, I’m not driving!” That’s one way to learn your lesson.

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By Sam Lansky

grow houses

7/06/12 11:56am

How to Spot Your Neighborhood Grow House

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Is this your neighbor? Photo via

When AOL News asks, “Are Your Neighbors Running a Hidden Marijuana Operation?” will you know how to respond? After all, that normal-looking couple could be budding pot-dealers with a large-scale grow-op buried under their idyllic home. It could be hidden—as in the case of one father-daughter team in Georgia—behind a custom-built hydraulic table. Which conceals a secret staircase. Which leads down to over 160 marijuana plants. “I'm sort of mechanically inclined myself, and I thought it was pretty ingenious the way they did it,” said grudgingly-impressed county sheriff Wiley Griffin after they were busted. While most grow-ops aren't quite that sophisticated, they might still be hard to detect. So how to do it?

Use your nose, suggests police officer Craig Woolnough in the AOL article. Growers' homes have a “strong” and “obvious” smell that's hard to miss when you approach from downwind. Step stealthily towards the suspect building and touch a window—is it warmer than it should be? Is there condensation? Growers also like to close their blinds. EHow weighs in with the suggestion of taking a listen for some humming—because that sound could mean generators and lots of electricity being used. If you happen to be a power company, or the suspects' landlord, you can check out their bills. And keep track of your neighbors' movements: do they have no discernible daily schedule, yet drive nice cars? Do they buy lots of gardening stuff, but have a yard that shows no benefit? They might not just be lazy retired folk. You could some herb-harvesters on your hands. A “Beware of the Dog” sign—with no dog—is also apparently a dead giveaway.

Why is it important to know? Because “marijuana grow houses are the playground of organized crime” and are “ripping off the taxpayer,” according to Ottowa public health examiner Rose Simpson. Fertilizers, electricity, water and even mold can all apparently spell danger. “Imagine" says Simpson, "If your child tried to break in on a lark.”

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By Bryan Le

celebrity rehab

7/06/12 10:32am

Did Drugs Not Make Sorkin a Better Writer?

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Sorkin and Oscar in 2011 Photo via

Aaron Sorkin's cerebral, fast-paced scripts have made him a Hollywood legend—but he once feared that in getting clean, he would lose his creative edge. In an upcoming Men's Journal interview, the West Wing screenwriter admits: “My big fear when I quit drugs was that I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. Because if you’re a writer and you’re on a roll—and I was on a roll when I was high—you don’t want to change anything about the way you work.” After a long battle with addiction and a highly-publicized arrest in 2001, the scribe has been sober for 11 years—and earned an Oscar in 2011 for his work on The Social Network. Now back in the spotlight with a new show, The Newsroom, which premiered on HBO last week, Sorkin seems to be on a roll again—despite not being high. He's also created a stir in Hollywood by starting up a relationship with Sex and the City star Kristin Davis, herself a recovering addict who has been sober for 22 years. But despite his string of successes, when asked what advice he'd give his former self, Sorkin says: “I’d tell myself not to try drugs. Once you do that, you’re going to change the trajectory of your life in a terrible way.” 

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