Introduction to my new book "Love Drunk"
I have always had a drinking problem. It started the very first time I got drunk, when I was ten, and became my dirty little secret for the next forty three years. I managed to hide it well most of the time but eventually it started affecting my work and my life began to fall apart. I didn't drink every day, at first, but by the time I was a teenager, I was getting drunk every weekend. By my early twenties I was binge drinking regularly with a few days off in between. Alcohol's victory over me was slow and insidious and slowly chipped away at any control I had over my own life until it literally ran the show. After twenty years of on and off binging I finally stopped cold turkey on Boxing day 1999.
I stayed sober for over five years. Eventually I convinced myself that I was no longer an alcoholic. That's the moment I started the slow slide back into chaos. There is no such thing as a former alcoholic.
Never in my life was I ever told or shown just how horrible things could get if I abused alcohol; what it could do to my body, and how it could destroy my life. There was nothing whatsoever taught in schools when I was a kid and the small town Canadian culture I was immersed in encouraged drinking, so I drank. Unluckily for me I was hard wired for alcoholism. To be honest, I don't think I would have listened to any advice back then, nor did I, as it came from many friends and family. I was arrogant and thought I would live forever no matter what I did to my body.
Cirrhosis would show me otherwise.
In many ways I have led a charmed life, discovering and experiencing many extra-ordinary things at a young age that have given me a broad view of the world and my place in it.
As soon as I could, I began reading ferociously. The Hobbit, then Lord of the Rings, then EarthSea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin. I traveled to Mars with Ray Bradbury and lived inside the Chronicles of Narnia with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Mr. Natural. I read every Charlie Brown and Peanuts cartoon and every magical book by Dr. Seuss. I knew Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and visited the far out worlds of Asimov, Heinlein and Vonnegut. I explored with Robert L Stevenson and conquered kingdoms with Robert E Howard. I traveled with Gulliver to Lilliput and riddled with Gollum in his cave. I was the Lord of the Flies and the prey of the Morlocks and I dove to the depths with Captain Nemo in his submarine. I sucked at math.
The stories and songs of my youth play like live interactive memories in my mind even now, as I approach sixty -- like mini time machines that have the power to transport me anywhere I can imagine. I lived inside of these worlds at a very young age and eventually began creating them for myself -- a gift from The Great Imagination that I cherish and accept with complete gratitude.
I have put down my story, as best I can remember it, and it will be up to you, dear reader, to decide if my upbringing and subsequent life as an entertainer brought about my near death, or saved me from it -- or both!
When you understand that alcoholism is a physiological disorder, then it seems likely that I would have been a drunk no matter what vocation I chose. Of course, the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in the entertainment industry does put the potential alcoholic at a serious disadvantage. This was my go-to rationalization for many years.
The best way you can help a struggling alcoholic is to be compassionate, yet firm, and keep reminding them of the good things in their life. Don't facilitate or enable them, and do it with solid conviction and love. Ultimately, people need to make the choice themselves, but that choice is always easier with support. Don't give up on them.
This book is the remembering of a journey that has been far from ordinary. It's not a tale of doom and gloom, but rather, it is the true story of a crazy, wonderful, terrible dream that I have had the privilege to have been given to experience. A life full of humour, imagination and music that nearly ended but for a miracle. It is the re-discovering of the magic that is all around us in this world and an account of a trial through fire that helped me to really see and appreciate the abundance in my life. I have been to the edge and looked into the pit of despair. The view was life-changing.
The trick is to not fall in.
As long as I can remember I have expressed myself through stories and songs. This body of work is like a suitcase full of old home movies, marking moments in time for me. I have included many of these songs and poems throughout this book -- signposts that follow my different states of mind across the years. Some of it is down right embarrassing for me to read, but I wanted to include the uncomfortable lyrics too, to give you a more rounded view of what I have written and experienced.
This book is about real events. Some of my memories are a little fuzzy and exact dates and timelines are often best guesses or approximations. I have added some artistic flourishes to make it more fun to read, but the core events are real and ACTUALLY HAPPENED! In some cases the characters are an amalgamation of several memories and don't necessarily accurately portray any specific individual. How's that for babble-speak?! No drummers were harmed in the making of this book.
I decided not to use many peoples' real names in this story, mostly for my own protection, but also to respect peoples' privacy should they feel they have been portrayed inaccurately or slandered in any way. I apologize to anyone who recognizes themselves in this remembering and feels misrepresented, or was simply left out. I also apologize to the people who's real names I do use and trust they will be gentle in their critique of my caricatures.
One thing that you won't find in this book are details of my almost thirty years of marriage. We did kiss but I'm not telling. Suffice it to say I can see now what a lousy husband and partner I must have been. Living with a self-centered alcoholic extrovert with abandonment issues must have been hell for my dear ex-wife and for that I can only apologize. I take full responsibility for my actions and my experiences during married life and I carry a deep and cherished love for Joanne who did not deserve to be an alcoholic's wife for so many years. We have a beautiful daughter and our child was born, surrounded by the love of two people, created by that love. I do not regret one moment of our marriage (yeah, right!) and I have many happy, beautiful memories of our time together. As far as details, pick up a copy of Mommy Dearest if you need some family mud to wallow in.
I have come through a trial of fire and fear and pain that stripped me of everything I had and everything I was. It was in the moment of complete collapse that something spoke directly to me and filled my heart with hope and love. I believe it was a power greater than myself, beyond my comprehension and, because it needs a name, I am calling it The Great Imagination.
I have noticed that whenever I mention my new-found connection and ongoing relationship with T G I, either I get a slightly patronizing look of sympathy, (presumably because they think I am delusional or high), or an affirmation from like-minded souls who have also had their hearts and minds open to the power of infinite possibilities through extraordinary experiences.
I had to be beaten down to the very brink of death before my ego would surrender and, when it finally did, in that moment, I was changed. I stood at the brink, and I knew in my heart that I was not alone. Since that day the miracles and synchronicity in my life has become so common and abundant, I no longer believe in coincidences. I have somehow tapped into a subtle, loving, creative energy that has been guiding me through my life all along -- I just didn't see it until now.
My personal beliefs are not tied to any religious dogma. The words I sometimes use to describe my spiritual experiences like, God and Angels and Heaven and Prayer, have decidedly Christian connotations but it is only language. My beliefs are born of direct personal experience and have nothing to do with the Bible or any other words written by men with an agenda. The voice of God does not come from the pens of men or the mouths of the pious. I believe it comes directly to each of us, if we listen.
So why not talk about it? I want to yell it from the rooftops and sing it in the streets and I couldn't care less if you don't like my new friends, or my general dislike of religion. I do not need to convert anyone to anything. I simply wish to declare my gratitude to The Great Imagination for what I have been given, as I share my story.
I now believe in the power of prayer as I have seen and felt it in my own life as of late. I am living in complete faith now. Not blind religious faith, but rather a total surrender to powerlessness, an admission that I am not really in control and the realization that I am loved and in good hands. I am not 'born again' in the traditional/fundamentalist sense. It's more like I have been 'reborn' into a new life, and a new perspective on my place in the universe. I have a deep sense that the hippies were right all along. Magic does exist in this world.
I have always had an extremely active imagination. As a very young child I was content to sit for hours building little villages with bridges and roadways under the big fir tree beside our house in Edmonton. It was the perfect little hideaway -- my secret boy-cave, where everything was magical and anything was possible. My Mom tells me that as a baby I was just fine playing all by myself, daydreaming the days away. In grade one I remember being beside myself with excitement as I waited to get back to my 'secret' world after school. This would serve me well later in life when, as a guitarist, I would spend countless hours alone on the road practicing scales and writing songs.
Klondike Days in Edmonton was the most exciting thing that I could possibly imagine, even better than Christmas! As soon as the ads for the midway rides started running I was giddy with excitement! My absolute favourite was the Haunted House walk through thingy. All those little passage ways and corridors with walls that huffed and puffed and blew compressed air on your ankles amidst the screams and cackling. I would build my own haunted mazes out of couch cushions and sheets, crawling through my creations like a super spelunker -- crouching for hours in those little alcoves, dreaming...always dreaming...
I have always had a strong 'dream memory' as well, remembering my dreams each morning more often than not. I had frequent recurring dreams as a child, especially dreams of flying. My most common dream went something like this:
I am somewhere in my daily life, at school or at a mall or just walking down the street, when I suddenly realize that I am dreaming. I know who I am and where I am sleeping, but I also know that I am existing awake in a 'dream world' where ANYTHING is possible! Before puberty, my favourite thing to do in my dreams was break things and destroy property. I would find a baseball bat or a long sword and begin smashing and bashing and hacking apart grocery stores or department stores and very often random houses I would simply walk into and start destroying.
I remember the exhilaration and power I felt in those dreams. I was totally free and unstoppable. I don't remember hurting people in my earliest dream memories, just property. This was my subconscious mind trying to deal with the anger and sorrow I was feeling as I watched my parents break up amidst the chaos of the commune.
As my sex drive came alive, my focus became having sex of any kind with as many 'dream women' as I possibly could before I woke up. In these early lucid sex dreams, it was always beautiful and erotic. The problem was, as soon as I realized that I was dreaming, I would begin to lose the dream and wake up. For a few seconds, I was consciously aware in BOTH WORLDS! I would try with all my will to stay asleep, to stay in the dream, but the more I focused on that, the more I woke up. It was soooo frustrating! Sometimes there would be laundry to do in the morning...
I had frequent lucid dreams right up into my twenties, and then a strange and wonderful thing started happening; I began dreaming about places and people and situations that hadn't happened yet, but would 'happen' later in waking life exactly like I had dreamed. It was a clear recollection of the 'dream memory' while it was happening in real time, after I had had the dream!
This paradox of having visual images -- manifested in my dreams -- be replayed in waking life as the exact same images, is baffling to me. How could I 'store' a dream memory of something that had not happened yet? This conundrum got me interested in physics and the nature of time and matter and energy and infinite possibilities. I would need to be open minded in the future.
I now consider my dreams to be a kind of 'alternate reality', as real in every way to my subconscious mind as the 'reality' my conscious mind experiences. My dreams are free of physical limitations (unless created by my subconscious) and exist in a non-physical, non-linear, non-sensical place beyond what we call matter and space and time. I have come to learn it is sometimes called the Quantum Field; the realm of possibility. Access to this miracle world is one of the greatest gifts of my life.
I started remembering dreams less frequently as I 'grew up' and became more stressed with life and career. As alcohol and drugs began their hell-bent mission to destroy me, I remembered my dreams even less. After awhile the only dreams I remembered were nightmares. Horrible, terrifying nightmares of being chased by a ferocious beast and feeling trapped with nowhere to run. That beast would eventually catch me. Welcome to my rock and roll comedy dream.
Punched by an Angel (chapter 35)
In the Fall of 2017 it really felt like I was going to make a full recovery and wouldn't need a liver transplant. I wrote and recorded thirty eight new songs in forty five days in my home studio on beautiful Hornby Island. I put all my song ideas in a hat and each morning I would pull one out at random and work on it all day until I had a decent demo. This a great way to bring new life to your unfinished stack of songs!
When the bough breaks / and the body aches
When the world takes / it's toll
When the ground shakes / and the beast wakes
In the dark place / of your soul
When the fire dies / in your wild eyes
And your smile lies / on the floor
I'll be standin' / in the warm wind
With a free hand / to explore
Oh it's not natural to be alone in this city
Oh, it is impossible to breathe
Don't try to see me -- don't try to follow me
Don't try to feel me -- don't try to heal me
Don't try to touch me -- why don't you trust me
Don't try to own me -- don't try to show me
Don't try to teach me -- you'll never reach me
Don't try to preach your preacher preach to me
Don't try to read me -- but if you need me
I'll be there for you because I love you
When the sky falls / and the lines break
And the crowds make / for the door
When you're trying' / to stop cryin'
'Cos you can't fake / it anymore
There's a freeway / goin' my way
Where the waves break / on the shore
And there'e a free space / in my suitcase
Where there's always / room for more
'Because I Love You' 2017
Twenty seven months after my liver and kidneys shut down I was punched by an Angel. Not a Hellʼs Angel Angel, but rather the kind that watch over us and guide us and have wings and harps and all that. You see, I was feeling pretty good physically for the first time in two years -- great appetite, clear mind, and no major pains other than a brief bit of nausea each morning, and some persistent itching and cramping. I wrote this off to my body adjusting to the extreme dietary changes and heavy antibiotics I was on. I kept telling my liver "we're gonna make it pal, we're gonna make it!" I believed that the worst was over.
By this time I had been praying to Angels for various things for several years and one thing I had been really stressing was my need to be more patient and more receptive and open to recognizing Divine intervention. Basically, help me to see more clearly the miracles of the Great Imagination's work all around me and let me seek out the truth with patience and gratitude.
So, in early December of 2017, an Angel came in the night and gave me a black eye. A real shiner, like I had taken a solid punch. This spontaneous black eye event started me thinking maybe I should have some blood work done -- just to see how my 'liver numbersʼ were doing. I had been given a twelve month reprieve from weekly Transplant Clinic visits in June because, my ʻnumbersʼ were stable and slowly improving, so I was feeling confident, but wanted to be sure. My GP on Hornby ordered some liver specific blood tests and I went home, feeling proactive about my health. I wasn't too worried. I had been feeling better lately.
Two days later, within a span of two or three hours, I went from energetic and bouncy to extreme fatigue, aches all over, nausea, vomiting and fever. After a hellish night of fever dreams and dry heaving, I was sure I had a bad flu. My doctor decided, based on a slightly lower white blood cell count and lower platelets, that I should go to Courtenay for an ultrasound to check for the dreaded ascites, that common side effect of liver cirrhosis.
I had survived my first bout of ascites when my liver and kidneys failed in August 2015 and had stopped taking the diuretic medications I had been on in June 2017 because I thought I was in the clear. As long as I was urinating regularly and showing no signs of bloating, I figured I was fine. I never gave it another thought.
Because of a mysterious black eye, I went for a ʻprecautionaryʼ ultra-sound exam, and guess what they found? My ascites had returned and now might have possibly developed into a life-threatening bacterial infection which cirrhosis sufferers are prone to, called spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. If untreated in itʼs early stages, it can be deadly. Heavy duty intravenous antibiotics were pumped into me by the bagful for almost four days. They did a blood culture to look for signs of blood infection and monitored me for almost a week in hospital. Nothing showed up in the culture. My vital signs went back to normal and for the most part my nausea and other symptoms subsided somewhat.
If not for the loving left hook from one of my Guardian Angels, things would have been a whole lot worse than just another week in hospital. I asked the Great Imagination to help me see more clearly and was promptly punched right in the face! I know there is something helping me. I donʼt know WHAT or WHY or pretend to comprehend itʼs power and mystery or even understand it, but I know it has a wicked left hook!
After taking the punch my condition began to rapidly deteriorate. I had to get my abdomen drained every five or six days in hospital, the itching and muscle cramping started ramping up and I started to have some really bad days. What does a bad day with liver cirrhosis feel like? It feels horrible, dear reader. It feels like it will never end and it is hopeless to even try and tough it out because anything you do is simply postponing the eventuality of a painful death. It feels like despair.
After almost three years of living with cirrhosis I imagined that things would be moving in one direction (dying) or the other (healing) but today it just feels like the same old shit with no end in sight and no hope of ever feeling really good physically again. I have been itching for about a month now, the worst it has been in three years. Every single part of my body itches, my legs especially, but also my arms, shoulders, scalp, testicles, buttocks, the bottom of my feet, and my entire back -- you name it, it itches there. I don't know how to accurately articulate this feeling with any words that even come close. It is constant. I mean, all the fucking time.
Either it is a sharp, maddening itch that simply has to be scratched, or a background, low-level discomfort that doesn't stop, ever. Usually it is a combination of both. I can't sleep because of it. I am unable to write or play guitar or enjoy anything because of it. I have scratched my legs literally raw and they bleed and are covered with sores. I just counted and there are thirty nine open sores on my right leg alone. I have desperately tried everything to ease this pain; cool baths with oatmeal and baking soda, aloe vera, coconut oil, hippie creams of all kinds, ice cubes, oatmeal packs and finally, medicated itch cream. Nothing seems to provide more than temporary relief, maybe twenty to thirty minutes, and only on the areas I apply the medication. Everywhere else still itches.
(After writing the paragraph above, it was decided that we should go back to Emergency in Comox because my belly was causing me a lot of pain and had swollen two full centimetres since the morning measurement, an increase never seen before in such a short period of time. The following is from the next day after eight agonizing hours in Emergency waiting to get drained -- they took out almost five litres of fluid, through a hole in my belly.)
A bad day with cirrhosis means a marked increase in the frequency and severity of the muscle cramps and charlie horses' I have been enduring for almost three years now. If I hold a fork or a pen or grip something for more than a few seconds my fingers go into painful spasms and cramps and I can't move them at all. My elbows and forearms have been cramping painfully from things as simple as lifting myself out of a chair. (my hands keep cramping as I type this so I have to rest about every five minutes or so). I am often awakened in the night with what can only be described as excruciating pain, as my calf and thigh muscles go into spasms of agony that usually last about five minutes. Rubbing them only makes them cramp harder. All I can do is try to control my breathing and literally WILL my muscles to loosen up. All the while I am itching terribly and my swollen stomach hurts like hell.
I am just hanging on to my sanity at this point. I am taking a heavy-duty antihistamine for the itching, and an antibiotic to stave off the constant possibility of developing another bout of peritonitis. The fluid retention problem I have been dealing with has gotten critical. I had eight litres of fluid drained in April and another five litres by May 20th and I need to be drained every three or four days now. It is getting worse it would seem, and this unfortunately points to a worsening of my overall liver functions. After almost three years it looks like my liver is about done. The Transplant Team in Vancouver wants to see me on June 11th, after a years' reprieve. I will know more then, but I am losing hope that my liver will recover on it's own and I begin praying for a transplant.
Needless to say, all of this has made it hard to create music, enjoy the outdoors and feel anything but pain all day, every day. Thanks to this new powerful antihistamine I am taking for the itching, my nights have been haunted again by nightmares of dread and perilous situations and I am waking up exhausted most mornings.
Three months to The Miracle.