RAW FOOD AND THE ORDER OF THELEMA
In a few days I regained my direction and found some work. I read more about raw foods diets with interest and the many incredible case histories.
Feeling desperate to improve my health, as July began I bought and ate only raw foods. Following the recommendations which felt the best to me, I ate only fruit in the morning and avoided combining sweet and acidic fruits. At lunch I had a large salad, vegetables and protein, usually nuts and seeds. For dinner I had another salad, vegetables and one starch, which was often a grain cooked for hours at so low a temperature the grain was supposed to be still alive. Sometimes for dinner I had cashew butter and veggies, which was a deviation I needed to keep sane. As the month unfolded I felt better and better.
During this time I met a man in a restaurant on Geary Street who invited me to join his religious order. I was seeking something missing in my life, but I had never been attracted to religions or organizations. He explained that The Order of Thelema was very non-traditional. He gave me books about out-of-body experiences, reincarnation and “over-souls.” The books were interesting and he was persuasive as I ran into him a second, then a third time. The last time I saw him, after outlining the ways I would be happier as a member, he asked me, “What do you have to lose, BC?”
I had no answer for him, so I agreed to come to one of their meetings. He promised me he would be there.
The next week I went to the address he gave just up the street from the restaurant where we had met. He was not there. Someone explained to me that he had been called away suddenly to assume a leadership roll at their community in Southern California. I was shown around the house, invited to dinner where I ate only the salad and then taken to a room on the second floor where I met with the woman who would be my teacher, if I joined. Women seemed to be in charge at the house.
I felt initially comfortable with this woman and, with the words still echoing in my head, “What do you have to lose, BC?” I agreed to come back and be initiated into The Order of Thelema.
Three days later I arrived, dressed as instructed in clean clothes and bearing a clean handkerchief which I gave to someone when requested. I was led to the basement where I sat in a high-back chair on a low platform. All the people who lived in the home were members of The Order and they were all present that night. They walked around me mumbling and carrying incense. Then I was guided up the stairs to the back door and outside for a processional lap around the house, ending back in the basement. I was a member. My instruction would begin the next evening I was told.
I had four meetings with my teacher over the next two weeks. Each time I brought my food, so I could eat dinner with the members and stick to my regime. The pressure slowly grew for me to eat what they ate and to move in with them. The meetings with my teacher focused on me following her exact instructions when studying my lessons and doing the prescribed breathing exercises at home. I found little uplifting energy and rarely did just what she wanted. I do not conform easily to senseless instructions.
Near the end of the month, I woke up one night in a panic. I felt my breath being taken away from me and I knew clearly that my association with The Order was choking me. I struggled for the next two days, not wanting to abandon a commitment so quickly, yet grasping for my freedom.
The next day I stopped by the house and dropped off the lesson book they had given me. I told my teacher I would not be continuing as a member. Quickly I was led to room where three women ask me a series of intrusive questions about myself and why I was leaving The Order. What doubts I had vanished in that meeting. I left before they were finished. On the sidewalk I breathed deeply and shrugged off the heaviness I had felt.
I had been working far too hard to catch up with my rent. Tim was not pressuring me. The next day I awoke with a light case of my too-familiar weird flu. I worked a long day installing a gas heater in a home where I done work before. That night I felt weaker and shivered under light covers, even though it was unusually hot.
The next day I stumbled through my work, panic growing inside of me. I went home early and laid on my bed. The pressure of the month of fighting food cravings, doing what felt like inner battle with the Thelema people and now facing another downward slide physically and financially became unbearable. I reacted.
Driving to the Filmore, an neighborhood with several blocks of theaters and interesting restaurants, I walked around looking at women and picked a busy cafe. Throwing off my tension in silly defiance, I ate a hamburger, fries and drank two dark beers.
I went home soon after, feeling lightheaded and a little numb from the beer. The food laid heavy in my stomach.
The next morning I was too sick to work, my weird flu much worse.
Unknown to me, the hot August that year was not a normal occurrence in San Francisco. I rested in my room, too weak to think about work, oscillating between feeling helpless and angry. My body did not seem to be able to digest uncooked foods as well when I had my weird flu, so I stayed away from most raw foods.
I went to see a doctor whose house I had worked on. I liked this man and trusted him. After listening closely to my story, he ran more tests than normal on me, he said, but could find nothing clinically wrong. He told me to come back in two months for a follow-up exam and in the meantime, to find a psychiatrist. This was new advise. He gave me three names.
The first psychiatrist on his list was a woman named Christine. I made an appointment with her for the next week.
I talked to people at the health food store about my illness. Most holistic healers where too expensive for me. Someone recommended a healer who lived on Valencia Street in the Mission. I went to see him and found him unsettlingly strange. San Francisco is full of unique people, but this man did not inspire my sense of adventure. Nothing the man said to me echoed true. His treatment was to chant and run his hands around me without touching. I was aware of some healers being able to heal with their touch–or near-touch–but this man’s efforts felt pointless.
When I left he said in an offhanded way, “You should take off your jewelry. Metal surrounding our body interrupts our energy flow.” I shrugged and left, glad to be away. Those last words of his stayed with me. The next morning I had a clear sense I should follow his advice. I wore a silver necklace, bracelet and ring. Though gifts from three different girlfriends, they matched and were my personal medals of love ventured, love lost.
Surprising myself I took off the three pieces of silver and felt a lightness immediately. They were symbols of old pain. Whether or not they affected the energy flows in my body, I was not sure. But I felt better with them in a drawer and that was the last day I have worn jewelry.
My first visit with Christine was reassuring. She told me there was funding available to help people in a crisis work with a therapist. Although not motherly, I felt comfortable talking to her. I was also nervous. I had an intuitive sense I was now going to have face what I feared most–the pain I ran from, yet held onto tightly.
I visited mother and Kris in San Mateo every few days. My energy was not uplifting. I was dwelling on my problems and, in my adult life, not shy about talking about my suffering. Often mother and I hashed and rehashed my father, her situation with Bill, and tales of their earlier life in San Francisco. We usually avoided talking about her leaving Illinois and our family. It was too painful for me to get into. I did not want to disturb the glazed icing I spread over that part of my buried garbage. I had long ago taken the attitude that Mother had done what she had needed to do and there was no reason for me or anyone to be upset. I had yet to acknowledge my angry two-year old self.
Sitting at Mother’s dining room table on this day in August, Bill at work, me grumpy and glum, she told me I should go back to my house in the City. I looked up at her, stunned. She said she just could not take my energy the way I was. I left furious.
Driving to the City I shouted at the traffic, “Nobody is there for me! No-body!” I had not learned about just who is responsible for me.
A DAY IN THE PARK
In early September my symptoms diminished. I began rebuilding a back porch for an elderly lady who lived in the Castro. She was patient with me and concerned when I told her I had not been feeling well. AIDS was in the headlines in San Francisco then, but few people knew anyone who had it.
I had been tested and cleared.
The Sunday of Labor Day weekend was especially hot. I spent the afternoon wandering through crowds of people in Golden Gate Park. Shirt off, I carried a gallon of spring water, drinking happily. My stomach was empty. I felt the lightness of fasting and I was completely free of any flu-like feelings. My mood soared. I wanted to play.
I walked and watched as a circus of jugglers, unicyclers, roller skaters, skateboarders, people dressed up and down–elegant, off-beat, nearly naked–swarmed around me. I talked with a woman for a while, admiring how she filled out her cut-offs and cropped T-shirt. We sat on the lawn outside the de Young Museum listening to the rock bands playing. She offered me a joint. I had not smoked marijuana in years because the more I smoked the more neurotic I got when high. I started to turn her down, then thought, “What the hell, I can’t drink, maybe I can smoke grass now.” We got high together and I hoped to sleep with her. But she had to go and we agreed to see a movie the following Thursday evening.
The marijuana rocked me. I was a little high for three days. Work was an effort. Physically I felt like the wrong voltage energy was running through me.
Thursday evening came and I picked-up my date. I wore a light shirt and slacks. The days and evenings had been consistently hot. As we drove to the theater I felt the air turn cooler. On the walk from the car I shivered. In the theater I was very cold. We walked around afterwards and ate ice cream. I did not have the good sense to say I was cold. I wanted sex. Just as she had abruptly left on Sunday, she said she had to go home that evening without warning. I dropped her off at her apartment and immediately rolled up the windows and turned on the heater.
I shivered all night and was unable to get warm the next morning laying in bed. I went to work, but froze. San Francisco’s weather had turned back to normal. The fog had rolled in while I was on my date the night before. It burnt off in the early afternoon, but the wind still cut through me.
I struggled with the porch for another day, took Sunday off, then on Monday had to cancel the job. I told the nice lady I would try to find someone to finish for her.
My weird flu was back, much worse than it been before. My temperature sensitivity was more extreme than in March when I had gotten deeply chilled for the first time. To go to Rainbow for groceries and herbs I had to wear heavy long johns under my jeans, a T-shirt, flannel shirt, warm jacket and hat. It is not unusual in San Francisco to see someone in jogging shorts walking the same street as another person in a winter parka. But almost everyone else in Rainbow Grocery that day wore T-shirts or other light clothing. I felt very self conscious.
THE LONGEST FALL
I did not know what was going to happen to me. I could not work. Mother and Bill drove up and gave me $200 in late September. I sold my father’s trumpet for $300 a couple weeks later. Friends gave me money. My Uncle Bob sent me money for some of the Herman Miller furniture I had stored in St. Louis. I went on welfare. I got food stamps. I barely paid my rent. I wondered if I was going to be on the streets soon. Fall lasted forever.
Every week I went to Christine’s office in her home on Valenica Street. We talked about the connection between emotions and physical health. I had a hard time believing my illness was caused by old anger or whatever feelings I was not dealing with. “Its all in your head,” was a childhood memory I carried with me and rebelled against without knowing its context.
I talked to my mother seldom and visited her less. Slowly I saw that I had deep issues to resolve and contact with my mother made it harder for me to work on myself. I tried to explain this to Mom only once.
I felt weak and flu-like all the time. I dressed with an extra layer or two, but it was manageable. I watched television upstairs in my room at Tim’s house. I read about fasting and tried it, but felt colder when I did not eat. I struggled through a three-day apple juice fast and felt a little better afterwards.
I was depressed, scared and wary. Control of my life was slipping away. Christine suggested I try anti-depressants, but I resisted. I had blood tests done, then done again. They all turned out great. I struggled with wanting a name for what was wrong with me and then grateful when one illness after another was ruled out. Then I agreed to try the medication Christine recommended.
Just before Christmas, Jan, her husband John and the girls, Nicole and April, moved to California in a camper which they parked behind Mothers’s apartment in San Mateo. I was happy to see them, but had to step back into our family situations to do so. Seldom in harmony for long, the family holiday reunion was pressurized emotional chaos. Old baggage surfaced. New attitudes clashed.
I found my little corner of sanity when January came and I was once again in Christine’s office. The antidepressants had not brought me better health. She suggested we try a different kind, an older style, MAO inhibitors. Christine told me they were not to be given to people with liver problems. Although my symptoms were vaguely liver oriented, all my lab tests had showed my liver functions strong and normal. I agreed.
A week later, I told her my flu-like symptoms had gotten worse. She did not belive the medication was responsible. I took the pills for another few days, then quit. February was coming soon and I had not yet paid January’s rent. Working was a distant memory. I stayed away from the family upheavals in San Mateo.
I had to make a decision soon, I just did not know what my choices were. Christine wanted me to go back on the MAO Inhibitor. Tim said he could not now afford for me to fall behind in my rent, because his commissions had dropped at work. Friends and family had already helped me as much as they could and I was no closer to being able to work. I got cold easily and felt weaker each time. How could I survive on the street?
Desperate, I tired cleansing my body with enemas. I felt a little better after each one, but then soon settled back into my weakness. Tim had trouble with me using a cooking pot to slightly heat the water before I poured it into the enema bag, causing further tension. I thought my only choice was to live on the streets, where I would die in a short time.
At my next session with Christine, she told me she could put me into the hospital. I asked, “What kind?” She told me that St. Mary’s had a good facility for people with debilitating emotional problems and a specialist in psychosomatic illness would work with me. Christine also said she hoped I would go back on the MAO Inhibitor. My blood would be monitored every two days to be sure the medication did not affect my liver.
Christine offered me the only next step I thought I could survive. I agreed.
Moving out of Tim’s felt like cleaning up after someone died. I was going to a psyche ward, no longer able care for myself in the world. Tim was sad to see me leave but I could feel his relief, too. I put my belongs into storage–I now had three storage lockers in two cities–and drove to the hospital. I had to park several blocks away to find an area where I did not have to soon move my car for street cleaning. Shivering, I walked to the main entrance of the hospital and entered a world of sterile floors and rubber sole shoes, hoping I would find some answers and better health.
Sarah was on duty when I checked in. We talked for a short time after I settled into my room, then her shift ended. She promised me she would have more time the next day. That evening Ricky moved in as my roommate. I felt intruded upon. He told me that he had a very upsetting marriage which was why he was in the hospital. I suspected there was more to his story. Though still wary that something out of my control was about to happened to me, I did not hear anyone screaming on their way to getting a lobotomy. I began to feel like the hospital was an acceptable place to be.
Sarah arrived as promised the next day. We sat by ourselves near a window in one section of the ward. Sarah was very easy to talk with. She listened closely to what I said, asked questions about myself and my life. She shared small things about herself which helped me feel comfortable with her.
I talked for a long time. Near the end of our time together that day, she ask me if I knew what a personal border was. I said I could guess, but no, I did not know.
“An amoeba has a personal border,” Sarah said. “It depends on the its personal border to survive. Without it the amoeba cannot contain itself.”
“Like our skin.”
“In some ways, very similar, but the amoeba’s border does more than our skin. Through this border has to come all the amoeba’s nutrients. And back the other way has to go the amoeba’s waste products.”
“So this border has to let in what is good, keep in what is good, let out what is bad and keep out what is bad,” I said.
“Exactly. And each of us has a personal border which acts similar to the amoeba’s which we cannot see. The nutrients we let in is love. One of the waste products we need to let out is anger. We usually form it when we are very young. The first step is when a young child begins to leave its mothers to go across the room to its father. The young child ventures away from safety, then comes back to Mommy. With repetition, the child learns to open and close its personal border. It learns how to open to new experiences, yet also protect itself.” Sarah stopped for a minute and looked at me. “None of us grow up in a perfect home environment, but most people develop their border, however imperfectly. Because of the way you grew-up and because of who you are, you have not developed a border.”
“Sounds like a problem,” I said.
“Well, it sure can be. You were just about to begin this process when your parents spilt up and you went to live with your grandparents. As loving as they were, they were not your mother.”
“My sister is just the opposite from me. She built a brick wall around herself.”
“She was older, right?” I nodded. “Then she had a different experience. You are a very loving, special person, BC, but you give away the nutrients you need to nourish yourself. This probably was the way you choose to try to get love as a child.”
Sarah’s words echoed true in my heart. I could feel what she was talking about.
“Being so open, all the pain of those you love–like your father–comes straight into you. You have not learned how to filter it out. Developing your personal border will be very important to your growth and your happiness.” Sarah gave me a warm hug. I did not want to leave her, but she had other patients to talk with.
I walked back to my room, feeling light and exhilarated. Ricky was reading and I told him about what I had just learned. He listened, but was not especially thrilled with my revelations.
Soon I felt protected in the hospital. The temperature was cool, but wearing a light pair of long johns under my pants and two warm shirts I was comfortable.
My doctor was a kind man who showed a great deal of concern for me. When I told him I had trouble sleeping he prescribed Halcyon for me. I went back on the MAO Inhibitor and my blood was tested every two days. I seemed to have a little more energy. After a week my blood work showed a slight elevation in my liver enzymes. My doctor said they would keep an eye in it, but the current level was nothing to worry about. I enjoyed the group sessions and talked with Sarah whenever I could, but she was often busy with incoming patients.
I let down many of my guards. I had a session with Christine over the phone. She was happy I was having a good experience and hopeful I would feel better soon. Old feelings surfaced and flew away. I cried, laughed, talked about myself and listened to others. I bonded with anyone who was gentle and fun.
One afternoon I came into my room and Ricky was gone. I was heartbroken. I ran to the afternoon group session just starting and burst through the door in tears, wailing, “Ricky’s gone and he didn’t even say good-bye!” I did not like Ricky that much, but being so open, his departure jolted me. Before the session ended I forgot about him and my hurt.
These two weeks in St. Mary’s were like going back to my very early childhood. I opened old wounds which had long been buried. I experienced some of the bonding, letting go, and rebonding I had missed as a two-year old. Of course, I was almost thirty-three and no one there was my mother or had the time to focus on me that a mother gives her child.
Realty crashed into my world near the end of the two weeks when I learned I had made so much progress, I could not stay longer. I had more energy, but it did not feel natural–like a mild coffee buzz, but different. I learned I would be going to a Crisis Center in the Mission not far from where I had lived with Tim. I felt naked and scared to leave the hospital.
I had left the hospital twice to move my car, playing hopscotch with the weekly street cleaning days. On both occasions I had been happy to hurry back to the ward. This time I was being forced to leave. I wondered what my new home would be like, feeling abandoned, though I knew it was not true. I slung my bag into the back seat of my old blue Dodge. The wind chilled me.
La Posada was a small house not far from the intersection of Mission and Twenty-Fourth Streets, the heart of the Mission District. I parked and walked up the front steps. Inside a hallway stairs curled to my right. To my left I saw a government-looking desk sitting in front of an unused fireplace. People moved around in house. I smelled food.
A masculine woman shook my hand and led me to a chair in front of the desk. We talked for twenty minutes, she asking questions and writing, me answering and looking around. We stopped before finishing and joined another counselor and six clients for dinner around a large table which nearly filled the dining room in back next to the kitchen.
She introduced me. I listen to the various conversations. Much of the talk was about who had done what that day and how it was going to prepare them to leave the house. I heard several reminders that, “Two weeks is as long as anyone can stay here, no exceptions.” I later learned this was a project funding condition.
That night I slept in the basement with the other three male clients under the two warm blankets I had brought with me. The feeling of the home was more raw than the hospital, but overall it was not too bad. I had long been particular about my environment. Now I had to accept whatever was offered me.
The next morning I figured out the bathroom system and had cold cereal for breakfast. One counselor said he was shopping that day and ask for food requests. Dinner suggestions were discussed and I asked for oatmeal for breakfast. I found out we were on our own for lunch, since they wanted us out of the house and actively seeking solutions to our problems during the day.
After breakfast we had group. Each of us was asked about our plans for the day. Reality checks were done with the people nearing the end of their two weeks. A fellow named Tony and I were the new people and we were given a quick-overview on what was expected of us and who we were working with. The counselor in charge was a vibrant man named Paul. I had met four counselors so far and, though different, all were warm, emphatic and articulate. They were each relaxed and informal in their own way, but enough distant to keep the situation in focus.
After group I sat with Paul to finish my forms from the night before and to plan my next step. We talked about the prospects of me getting into a halfway house where I could stay for a month or longer–which seemed good. He asked about my non-name illness and then said I should apply for Social Security Disability that day. “It’s hard to get onto and there is a long delay before you get a check if you do,” Paul said.
I left the house to find the Social Security Office, wishing I could stay at La Posada and talk with Paul.
One young woman was pregnant and did not want to go home to her parents or live with her boyfriend. A girl in her late teens had been abused by her father and sat stoned face much of the time. A man in his fifties was between jobs, having trouble coping with his life and had attempted suicide. I briefly pictured my father in a Crisis Center like La Posada, but the image was so impossible, I swept it aside quickly.
Tony had curly blonde hair, was tall and in his mid-twenties. He had exhibited manic-depressive behavior, but was not on medication. Tony and I cracked jokes. Usually the counselors laughed with us.
I now wore a light jacket most of the time in and out of the house, but had enough energy to stay busy, which helped me keep warm. I had a sock cap which I pulled on and off a lot as first my head was cool, then I began to sweat. The Mission is the warmest area of San Francisco, but it can still be very cool. Enough people enjoy this natural air conditioning that many restaurants and most homes leave doors and window open. I found the corners of the dining and living rooms where the breezes were the most gentle.
From the counselors and people in the house, I learned about Social Security and the other aid programs available in California. I soon realized I had fallen apart in the city with perhaps the best safety net anywhere in America. The interviews, applications and probing, humiliating questions were not fun, but were far better than being on the streets.
A major concern was giving information which might hurt my chances of getting financial and medical help. I heard about people who had been denied all benefits because they owned a car, got help from their family, had a small savings account or had other assets. I owned a car and was a beneficiary of my great Uncle’s Roy’s trust fund, set to be distributed in a few years. How much, if any, money I would inherit was an unknown quantity.
I wanted to be open and truthful about by situation, but I also wanted to survive. Even with the sleeping pills, I slept fitfully some nights, worried I would make a mistake and be suddenly tossed on the street. I knew instinctively that if I lied to get money, I would have to pay it back sometime, someway in my life. Deciding to incur the debt and keep off the streets, I learned the system and how to best play it.
One evening near the end of our two weeks at La Posada, Tony and I started joking and laughing in group. The counselors and other clients joined the fun, except for one man, who had been glum and haughty for his three days in the house. Something about this man’s face struck Tony and I funny, deeply funny. We had the good sense, barely, to not point him out, but we each knew what the other was laughing about and soon were rolling on the floor laughing so hard, tears had come and gone.
Laughing at the dour-faced man became just laughing. We laughed while pushing ourselves up into our chairs, we laughed skidding back onto the floor, we laughed as people went to the kitchen to get snacks, we laughed as they came back, eating. We made jokes, struggling to breath.
Finally we subsided. We lay exhausted, tears again running down our cheeks. Paul was there that evening. He and other counselor had laughed much of the evening with us. Paul declared group finished and went back to his desk chuckling. He later told me what a great release our laughter had been for everyone there–everyone except you-know-who.
I watched people come and go at La Posada and became comfortable living there. Then it was my time to leave. I knew this was coming so I had prepared myself for another change. Realizing I had begun a quest for a better life, for a new level of health and sanity, I was mentally conditioning myself for the unexpected. Having to leave with no where to go, though, was more than I was prepared to face.
Baker House had accepted me into its long care treatment program, but the half-way house was full, Paul told me. There would be a vacancy I was told, but it might be two weeks before one of the people now living there could take their next step.
Paul ask me if there was anyone I could live with until Baker opened up. I told him that if there had been I would not be in La Posada talking with him. He nodded and said that he had guessed as much.
Tony was due to check out the same day I was and he, too, had no where definite to go. He had not applied at any halfway houses, feeling together enough to make it on his own again. Paul was less confident about Tony than was Tony.
Paul made some phone calls the morning we were to leave and arranged for us to be put up at the El Capitan, a nearby Mission Street Welfare Hotel. He told both of us to come back for dinner whenever we wanted, saying it was good we would be with each other in this transition period.
With Tony riding shotgun, we cruised Mission Street, slumped low in our seats, playing imaginary Latin music on the dashboard and bouncing rhythmically, mimicking the low riders in their treasured cars which clearing the ground by inches. We parked and grooved our way into the El Capitan, still moving to the beat of our private music.
The desk was up one flight of stairs and in a steel cage. We provided the papers Paul had given us, registered, and were given a key to our room. Up another flight of stairs we found the room. It’s single window opened into a brick alleyway and was furnished with one sagging bed, one bare bulb, one grimy lavatory, one chair and two towel hooks. The mirror was broken and the bathroom was down the hall. Tony left to find towels and another bed.
A few minutes later he returned and said the Hotel did not provide either. Since he needed to go over to his friend, Gwen’s, house to fix her car he said he would be back later with a bedroll for himself.
Then I was alone. Without Tony, life began to close in on me. I tried to rest, but the window was drafty and the hotel was noisy. I realized I was hungry and needed to get the small heater and more blankets out of my storage locker. I did not want to get sick in the drafty room.
I did my errands slowly, though I did not linger at my storage locker. Seeing my belongings piled up and locked away was depressing. I wondered what was happening to all my things–and Dad’s furniture and music–in St. Louis. I had not paid the storage rent there for three months. I killed time at Rainbow Grocery and read the paper at a coffee house on Twenty-Four Street, but still found myself back at the hotel before dark. Tony did not return and I went to bed early, feeling trapped in an alien world.
Sometime later I awoke suddenly. Trumpets blared somewhere below me. What sounded like a Mexican New Years’s celebration filled my room. Tired and afraid of the cooler night air, I could not leave to escape the noise. I tossed fitfully for hours, finally getting to sleep when the music stopped not long before dawn.
I awoke late in the morning. In the grey light coming in from the window I saw Tony asleep on the floor, still dressed, with a towel spread over his shoulders.
Tony paid half the room rent for the first week I lived at the El Capitan, but I saw him only occasionally during the first four days, then not at all. I heard from Gwen that he had fixed her car, then taken it without asking her. She had not seen it–or him–since I had.
I stopped by La Posada for dinner two days after leaving when I knew Paul would be there. He laughed at my description of the music, which thankfully had not returned, but also expressed his concern about my being alone. He referred me to a day program nearby where I could eat lunch and be with people.
It was good to see Paul. He talked about himself more freely now that I was no longer a client. I had wondered if he was gay and he confirmed it by telling me about an AIDS study he had been apart at San Francisco General Hospital. After completing the interview, Paul had been told he probably had been with 3,500 to 4,000 partners in his fifteen years of being an active gay man in San Francisco. He knew he had been with many men in the bathhouses, but the number staggered him. More flabbergasting, he said, was that his behavior was just a little above average. He told me men in the “high” rang had been with over 6,000 partners in a similar time period.
I left La Posada late, thankful that I had never had an urge to be gay, worried that Paul might have AIDS and not know it yet, and wondering if Tony was alright. I went back to my room and wrote bad poetry.
Baker House still had no opening. Without Tony to share the cost of the room for a second week I found a cheaper hotel just two blocks from Rainbow Grocery. The El Capitan had been large and ratty, but viable, with three communal bathrooms on each sprawling floor. My favorite had been on the top floor and had a large tub under a equally large skylight. Soaking in hot baths I watched several dawns replace the city glow overhead.
The Sandcastle was grim, its sign badly faded. Unpainted stairs led up to the hotel desk above a boarded-up furniture store. I was given a room overlooking Mission Street. Taped cardboard covered the holes left by small missing window panes. The only bathroom for more than a dozen rooms was on my floor, but reeked with mold and unclean surfaces.
I parked across Mission Street from the hotel and made several loads up to the room carrying my clothes, blankets, heater, bags of food and herbs. I missed Tony’s help. Having just loaded everything into the car from the El Capitan and gone through the past week running on fear, excitement and the MAO Inhibitors, I was vulnerable. The wind blew cold. On two trips the things I carried pushed my coat open, exposing my chest. A chill knifed into me.
Settling in a hour later, I felt feverish. This was not unusual, so I only worried. By the middle of the night my chest was fiery hot and I knew I was in trouble.
My two weeks at the hospital had been like being a baby in diapers again, opening up to old buried pain and letting myself be nurtured. During the next two weeks at La Posada I was a toddler in a big play pen. Ready to move into adolescence at the halfway house and begin learning anew how to nurture myself, I was instead thrown onto the street–or so it had felt when I moved into the El Capitan. Living at the Sandcastle felt worse.
Now I was sick–and I had become very slow to recover. I could not take any more antibiotics. Even the Doctor who referred me to Christine agreed that I had taken far too many rounds of antibiotics during my last three years in St. Louis. With the viral infections I had been fighting, my temperature went down, not up, and the Doctor had said antibiotics should not been prescribed unless my temperature was at least two degrees above normal.
In the morning I shivered walking to Rainbow. Whenever I became sick on top of already being sick I felt colder. At the health food store I bought a large quantity of Vitamin C, Goldenseal, and a bag of gelatin capsules.
Back at the Sandcastle I laid out my herbs and filled a large pile of capsules. I had been taking Goldenseal as needed and 5 to 15 grams of vitamin C a day on and off for several months to help my body fight off colds and the flu. I could tell when I had hit my limit because I felt a bubbling gas in my intestines which led to diarrhea if I took even more. I had learned to sense how much I needed and often did not take so much that I got gas.
I started with 4 grams an hour of vitamin C and half that much Goldenseal. After four hours the fever still hung-on. I increased my dosage. During that day and a sleepless night I took 50 grams of Vitamin C and 30 grams of Goldenseal without my body showing any signs of taking too much.
I fell asleep after the sun was up. At noon I awoke, symptom free. My fever, chills, on-fire lungs, body aches, headache, and weak feeling were all gone. I was amazed. Without the strong dose of herbs, I knew I would have been “extra” sick for weeks, then only slowly returning back to my norm state of illness.
Three days later I had experienced no reoccurrence of what felt like a lung infection. I guarded myself closely against getting further chilled. The Mission is the most sunny part of San Francisco. Parking was very hard so I had to walk most places. I was fortunate that Christine’s office, Rainbow Grocery and the day program center were all close by.
Walking from my hotel to the day program a few blocks away I felt weak and tired, as was normal for me. The MAO Inhibitor gave me enough energy–artificial feeling energy–to function, but not much more. On this walk I found myself taking my steps slowly. The drive and urgency always with me, whether directed or searching, had given way to calmness. I felt myself walking in a bubble of energy. If I walked too fast, I left the bubble’s protection. Walking in harmony with this energy surrounding me, I was not tired. I felt clear and completely in the moment. Later would I learn the spiritual significance of that nine-block gift.
When I got to the day program center, my counselor told me Baker House finally had an opening. I could move in that afternoon. After lunch, excited, I nearly ran to get my car where it had been parked for several days and then hurried to my hotel to pack, exhausting myself in the process.
Randy was in the office at Baker when I walked up the porch steps and rang the doorbell. She smiled as she let me in. Located on Baker Street in the Western Addition, Baker House had a completely different feel from La Posada or the Mission. At one time the three-story home of a prosperous family on a street with similar homes, the halfway house was large and roomy. Men slept downstairs in a finished basement and the woman’s bedrooms were upstairs, like La Posada and other program homes. The front parlor was used for small group sessions and as the counselors’ main office. A second small office upstairs was often used for one-on-one counseling sessions. Randy filled out my forms and gave me a tour.
The eighteen residents cooked all the meals in coordinated shifts worked out in the Sunday house meeting. The cooking teams had three days to plan their menu and give their food list to the meal coordinator. Saturday was grocery shopping day.
Each evening all the residents met in a large group in the living room with the counselors on duty. Small groups and their counselor got together throughout the week. Each resident was required to meet weekly with their our counselor one-on-one and also see their psychiatrists. Residents were required to be in counseling-oriented day program or have a job. Most people who had jobs soon “graduated.”
Randy was to be my counselor. I like her immediately. She dressed in faded black jeans and a flannel shirt, was straight forward and had an easy, mischievous smile. In our meeting that first afternoon she told me she was gay and ask if I had a problem with that. I did not.
I unloaded half of my clothes and belongings not in storage and left the rest in the trunk of my old Dodge. Finding a parking place where I could leave the car for a few days, I raised the hood and unhooked one battery terminal. The car had an electrical short which had ruined two batteries in a few weeks when left fully connected. The wind chilled me I hurried back to Baker.
My bed was in the front corner of the basement near an small overhead window. I tucked my heater under the little night table and hung up some clothes in the large closet by the bathroom.
Ready for dinner and to meet my new housemates I went upstairs. Randy had told me I could stay three months, definitely, and perhaps a fourth if needed. She also said there were longer term coops where people could stay up to a year and half. I did not know what lay ahead of me on my personal journey to better health but I felt so happy to have a home once again. The house was a little cool for me that afternoon, but I was too excited to worry.
Lisa came to Baker soon after I did. She was in her mid-twenties, slim, blonde, medium height, gay and heavily addicted to alcohol. When she smiled at me my heart smiled back.
We both had Randy for a counselor and soon became buddies. Lisa told me about her abusive relationship with Mimi. Neither woman was outwardly feminine or butch, but Mimi dominated Lisa. Lisa loved her still, but struggled to live with her or without her. Chronic drinking often made live hell. Lisa saw her psychiatrist twice a week, a sign of the severity of Lisa’s problems. She had attempted suicide many times.
We spent hours driving around the city talking, joking, poking fun at others. We went to Rainbow together. She ask a lot of questions about my past and my condition. We discovered we were both from the Midwest and neither of us wanted to go back.
Rummaging through my glove box one day, the condoms Tim had given me fell out on the floor at Lisa’s feet. I told her how I had gotten them and we decided we should put them to use. We blew up two of the rubbers and wrote on them, “To Randy, from Lisa and BC,” and marched into Baker House like school kids coming home from a party. A male counselor was in the office. He thought our gift was hilarious and put them in a prominent spot on the desk for Randy, who had the night shift.
Lisa told me the next day that Randy had been less than thrilled to find our presents waiting for her. Randy never mentioned the incident to me. Though we both liked her–and intended only to make her laugh–we made jokes periodically about Randy’s rubber intolerance.
I struggled to stay warm in Baker House. The doors and windows were often wide open and I slowly bundled up more. Regularly I wore two pairs of long johns, three shirts, a wool coat and a heavy wool sock cap. Sometimes I took off the cap and coat inside, sometimes I did not.
I grew less able to digest oils and heavy foods. Lisa started to worry about me. I went to San Francisco General for a wide assortment of tests, none of which showed anything abnormal about me.
I slept only a few hours a night, often finding my way upstairs well before dawn. Sitting in one of the big chairs, wrapped in a blanket, I greeted the early risers. Lisa often got up soon after I did and some late night-early mornings we would sit together for hours talking softly while the rest of the people slept.
The early morning was inspiring to me, yet I was too weak to do much with the creativity flowing through.
My first month at Baker I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, especially in the evenings, to keep warm. I ate English muffins dripping with honey. People came and went in the kitchen during the evenings. One man was in his forties, overweight, diabetic, and ate candy bars during the day and cake, pie, and rolls in the evening. I ask him how this worked with Diabetes. His answer that he had to balance his insulin shots made me feel there was a serious flaw in his treatment plan.
I stopped eating almost everything. For weeks the only foods I could digested were Red Delicious apples and Rye Crisp baked crackers. I bought the apples in heavy bags from the health food store and boxes of Rye Crisps from the regular grocery store. Periodically I tried regular food and felt nauseated and weaker. Neither Christine nor my doctor at the hospital had any insight on my condition.
Soon my sweat smelled like apple juice.
I went back to see Susan, the acupuncturist, at the Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic. I had gotten forty acupuncture treatments from her in three months the fall before, when I lived at Tim’s. I saw her a few times, then stopped for the same reason as before: I became chilled in her office during my treatment when I had to lay still for twenty minutes with my clothes half undone. The acupuncture helped, but the benefit was more than offset by getting too cold. Whenever I became chilled, I developed flu-like symptoms–again–on top of whatever I was dealing with.
Lisa expressed her concern in tender ways and I Ioved her for it. As the weeks slipped by, I lived on the edge of falling in love with her.
My sessions with Christine usually began with what was happening in my day-to-day life. During my time at La Posada and the hotels, daily stresses and events consumed all my time with her. Once I moved to Baker and adjusted to life there, we were able to focus more on my bigger issues.
One old habit we discussed often was the choices I made when I reached a high enough level of discomfort to want to immediately change my feelings. My habitual choices had been to turn to drugs, alcohol, and/or sex. We talked about the damage those choices had on my physical body, my emotional self, my mental clarity, and my finances.
Drugs had been a steady part of my life for two years in my early twenties. After that time I mostly drank and sought out sex to escape from my pain. I had learned repeatedly, and with undeniable repercussions, that I could no longer drink or even think about drugs. But I still had the urges.
I fantasized often about women in various situations. Sexually, I checked out any woman I encountered, even though my attractiveness was diminishing. Living in a halfway house with virtually no money and having poor health did not draw women. Yet when frustrated, I sought out hookers and strippers. Only once did I have sex with a prostitute and only rarely did I visit one of the City’s strip houses, but I cruised the Tenderloin often and thought about it even more.
Christine thought I was taking my anger out on women by pursuing them sexually. I thought I was just seeking pleasure. I did agree that it was not good for me to act-out on my desires.
During some sessions I would touch on a painful memory. Life with my father was a big area of unresolved anguish. Being separated from mother before I was two was another minefield. Although I saw my father very little for several years after he and my mother divorced, my mothers’ leaving had the biggest impact on my little-boy self.
Typically I would get into an area of pain, cry some, quickly overload on the hurting, and then rush back to the present. We talked about my learning to sit with pain: that art of feeling feelings without reacting. Christine explained that not reacting allows me to process pain and get rid of it. When I react against the pain, trying to block it out, I actually hold it in. I laughed with her about the irony of holding onto what most I desperately want to get away from. Her reasoning made sense to me, but doing it was much harder. I took baby steps.
One day in early May, after I had been at Baker for a month, I was with Christine and had let myself get into some old pain and was crying freely. She suggested I lay on her rug. On the floor I pushed passed some emotional barriers, rolling in agony, crying, moaning, and yelling as Christine talked softly to me in short phrases. Her words stimulated my feelings, helping me to further unlock the buried pain.
When I finished, I lay exhausted for a few minutes, then got up. I felt lighter, happier. She told me what profound work I had just done. A friend living on the east coast had once told me about his experience with Primal Scream Therapy. I had not been drawn to the idea of yelling and screaming in a seemingly uncontrollable way. I asked Christine if what I had just done was Primal Therapy. She said she knew about Primal, but had no name for what I had just experienced.
I realized that Christine was a free-spirit, moving through the world around her, much like I did, only with more life skills that I had. I left her office, which was the living room of her home, feeling happy and grateful to have found her.
Bouncing into Baker house that afternoon, I looked for Lisa. I found her upstairs and shared my experience. She was excited for me. The next evening I had small group with Jerry, one of the male counselors. Three other residents and myself met with him each week for an hour.
During the session, I let myself get into the pain of missing my father. I cried a little bit, which was fine. The group was quiet. Having learned at Christine’s I could let myself feel more of the old hurts, I led myself with heartfelt phrases as had she. Soon I was primaling. I felt great, crying hard and moaning. I knew what I was doing and that I could control myself. I felt like a star. “Look what BC can do!”
Suddenly Jerry interrupted me harshly, stopping my primaling cold. I felt like I had been slapped. We finished the hour and he ask me to stay. I explained what I had been doing. He said this was not the place for it and to not get that out of control again. If I did, he said, I might have to leave Baker. I left the office stunned and angry.
The next week Christine explained to me that Jerry did not know me like she did. She also said than few, if any, of the counselors at the various houses had the training to handle someone experiencing that deep a level of release.
Even though Christine apologized to me for not warning me and told me how much she admired how hard I was working, I was not brave enough to get past my anger at Jerry and open up to that level again. I silently held on to my new wound, like a medal pinned on my chest.
SOCIAL SECURITY & AVOIDING WEST SIDE
In mid May I learned my application for Social Security Disability had been denied. I was told that this was not unusual and I appealed.
Though barely living on the small check from the state, the cost of staying at Baker and my medical were being covered. I did not gripe. I was careful with each dollar and hoped I would win my appeal. If granted SSI I would be paid about $500 a month with better medical. The state would continue supporting me in the program, as needed and if justified by Christine.
Randy wanted me to try West Side, another halfway house with a large day program. I felt weird there, not fitting in with the cookies-and-orange-drink atmosphere. Many of the people at West Side were far less functional that I.
I had a brief relationship with a woman I met there. She was a law student who had tumbled far and fast when she became tangled up with a drug-dealer boyfriend. She had two small children who lived several states away with her mother. I tried to look through her eyes to learn how a mother felt not being with her children, but all I saw was a drawn curtain. She was using her body to move through life and did not seem interested in growing or changing. Not wanting to repeat an old pattern, I ended our brief time together and my involvement at West Side.
Randy told me I had to have something to do during the day. I knew I did not want to go back to repairing homes when I got stronger, so I investigated the vocational rehabilitation center. After an initial interview, I decided to go through their testing and evaluation program. I thought I would be good at repairing office machines and had heard the work paid well.
I spread the many appointments over a few weeks, cruising with Lisa or another friend during my free time. I felt ragged, but I had to keep on the go or wind-up back at West Side.
Finally the day came for my test results. The voc rehab counselor sat quietly for several minutes as she read through the pages about me. Then she sighed, smiled, set down the papers and took off her glasses. “The testing shows you are best adapted to do two things.”
“Great,” I said. “What are they?”
“Sculpture and writing.”
I spewed laughter around the room. “Wonderful. Have any good paying jobs for a literate sculptor?”
“I wish I did,” she said, laughing too. “What else would you like to do?”
“I have been thinking about repairing office machines.”
“I see nothing in your tests which says you could not do that well. But you will need training.”
“Right. Any suggestions?” I said hoping for placement in training program.”
“Yes, there’s an excellent tech school in Hunter’s Point. I’ll get you their address.”
She came back with the information, told me the school had a financial assistance office and wished me luck. Her nice eyes sparkled. As I was walking toward the door, she called out to me, “And BC–keep warm.”
HUNTER’S POINT & A RUBBER IN THE SHOWER
My guaranteed three months at Baker were not far from being over. Randy told me she would request a four month for me, but she needed me to pursue the technical school training, if that was what I wanted to do.
The tech school was a large three story building on a grassy hill in Hunter’s Point. I found the admission’s office, talked with counselor, was given a tour of the classrooms and was told I could apply for financial aid at a separate office in the Mission, which handled aid applications for many schools.
The school was air conditioned and I was very cold during my hour-long visit. I was not anxious to a apply for a loan given my financial history, but I did. At the financial aid office I learned I was applying on the last possible day to be eligible for assistance during the fall term which began in late August.
On the way back to Baker I steeled myself to handle the temperature at the school, no matter what. I also wondered what I could tell Randy to keep from going back to West Side.
The next week Lisa left Baker suddenly. I walked into her room one afternoon to find her packing. She told me she was moving in with Mimi. We talked about her desire to get out of the system, her mixed feelings about living with Mimi again and Randy’s opposition to Lisa’s plans. “She may be right,” Lisa said, shaking her head, smiling a half smile. We spent the evening close to one another throughout dinner, group session, and the time afterward until Mimi came to pick her up at eleven o’clock.
Lisa and I hugged goodbye in the living room. I watched from a discrete distance as she carried her bags out the door to Mimi. Lisa glanced back was she walked away, our eyes not quite meeting. Framed in the doorway, her expression changed, she looked as though she had walked through a veil into in a different dimension.
I went to bed that night feeling very alone. Lisa and I had had never kissed romantically, yet we could easily have been lovers. Our affection was deep and real. My physical condition was a handicap, but minor compared to her struggle with her sexuality. She was attracted to men–unlike some gay women–she was attracted to me, but she said she felt safe with women. She had laughed when she told me that, saying, “I don’t know why I am with Mimi, there’s zero safety with her.”
I visited Lisa in her new apartment a few days later when Mimi was at work. She hugged me and told me how much she missed me. We laughed about the fun we had at Baker, especially Randy’s rubber intolerance. She was happy to be back in the real world again, though apprehensive about Mimi’s volatility. Lisa was not drinking, but Mimi was.
She said she had been working on Mimi to let me come over, telling her what a kind and gentle man I was. I offered to come over and cook dinner for them. She thought the idea was terrific and said we would do it together. She would ask Mimi that evening.
Lisa had an appointment with her psychiatrist. I had agreed to give her a ride. While she was getting ready I carried down to the car a sack of new clothes she was going to exchange after her appointment. Putting the bag on the floor by her seat, I flashed on the rubbers. Grabbing one from the glove box I hurried back into her apartment. She was still in the other room. I looked for a place to put the rubber, where she would find it and get a good laugh. I found myself in the bathroom and opened the shower curtain, seeing the perfect place.
Opening the package, I stepped into the tub, and stretched the condom over the shower head. Laughing at the expression on her face, I hurried back to the front door, arriving there in time to look like I had been waiting for several minutes when she appeared a moment later.
The next morning Mimi got up first, turned on the shower and a huge water filled rubber came at her from the above. She went ballistic and woke Lisa by pounding her and screaming she wanted to beat the shit out of me.
I was heartbroken and said how sorry I was when Lisa told me. I wrote Mimi an apology, which made it worse. Lisa said do not come over, Mimi now wanted to kill me. Lisa flew home for two weeks When she came back, I could not see her, Mimi forbid it.
I was very despondent.
constructive choices, two years, then first happy feeling about myself
July Appeal Rejected. Told what was wrong with me did not fit in any pigeon hole. Requested a hearing, set for November. Dennis agreed to testify for me at the hearing. Christine wrote more letters.
Student loans went into default would not defer. John/music while in SF system, John dumps music, saving the originals, he was paying for both lockers.
Trip back to St. Louis to sell stuff in Oct 1986. Gave John the rest of the furniture.
Follow-up on results of accepting an initiation
Cure/heal by others vs more basic truth of spiritual healing
change Uncle bob – Herman Miller – give to John to when I first went back in 10/86 to sell off remove from earlier chapter leaving St. Louis
follow up chapter 27 re the walk = in the moment –spiritual meaning