23. Back in La La Land
Coming back to Los Angeles after being released from McLean felt like a dream. Not as in it was a dream come true, but meaning I felt like I wasn’t completely back. I was in a dream state of sorts and felt like I was observing myself. I had been to a distant, unimaginable place and did very unusual things among very unique people. After that experience, returning to my old, “normal” life routine felt anything but normal. I guess the best way to describe it is that I now understood what people meant by the inability to readjust back into a normal routine after an extraordinary experience. I understood why soldiers returning from war couldn’t ever just resume their lives back in the States without a sense of unease. True, being home was a good thing, but after being somewhere that only those who were there as well could understand, it was hard to relate to those who hadn’t shared that experience.
Of course I was thrilled to see my family and friends again. I missed them very much. And it was nice to indulge freely in “luxuries” such as my mom’s cooking, eating at nice restaurants with my dad, and having lunch at outdoor cafes with friends. The pillow and mattress of my bed weren’t encased in blue plastic and I could shower without feeling like I was taping a scene in a prison movie. There was also the huge added benefit that I was treated and now had the tools to deal with my OCD – a torturous type of prison.
Yet being back in L.A. had a whole new set of challenges. For one thing, I found it strange to just carry on after having spent time at a mental facility. That experience was a huge part of me now and I was having difficulty with others relating to that experience. That was understandable of course, and those with whom I shared this private experience always expressed empathy and admiration for my having done it. Yet they couldn’t really know what it did for me or to me. It gave me my life back, one much closer to the one I wanted. It gave me a new life actually and I felt doubtful that I wanted to live my new life in the same old setting. L.A. and much of what I associated with it, was in large measure, a contributor to my dismal outlook on life. Compounded with my OCD, it led to a severe depressive angst. Whereas Boston was the antithesis of everything L.A. represented. With its abundance of aesthetically pleasing historical architecture and myriad of institutions of higher learning, Boston was a cultured, intellectual, sophisticated Mecca of New England sensibilities. Despite my short tenure in Boston, I felt more at home there than in all the many years I called L.A. my “home.” But now I was back in L.A. and had to adjust to that fact.
What made my return even more peculiar was that I came back just before Halloween and my first gathering with most of my close friends was a dinner and photoshoot in our Halloween costumes at Kelcy’s house, followed by a Halloween party at our friend, Cliff’s. Individually all my friends had already heard about my time at McLean and had asked all the expected questions about my well-being. However, we hadn’t collectively interacted since my return. Halloween night was the first time. Kelcy and Aliza were dressed as slutty girl scouts and Molly was some sort of gypsy-witch-Little Red Riding Hood? I’m not certain what Molly’s custom was exactly, as it was an amalgamation of pieces from various costumes she wore from Halloweens past. My costume was the laziest of all. When I arrived at Kelcy’s she gave me a white kitchen trash bag that I punched holes in for my head and arms to fit through. With a marker I wrote the word “TRASH” on the front of it and wore the bag. I was supposed to be white trash. Strangely this rather basic get-up was a hit at Cliff’s party. It really was the simplest costume I had ever donned for Halloween or any other time in my recent life.
After some beers and shot of tequila at Kelcy’s, we did the mandatory photo shoot of ourselves posing outlandishly to convey that we were a “wild” and “fun” bunch. After this tame version of simulated debauchery, we sat down to dinner. Kelcy had ordered pizzas and she made a green salad to accompany them. As she was about to doll out the salad, she noticed she’d forgotten the salad serving tongs. Since she was now a bit tipsy and to prove that she wouldn’t enable my “new rehabilitated self” with cautious over-observance of sanitation, she plunged her hands into the salad and placed a small portion on my plate. “This is good for you and I know I’m supposed to just go with the flow, so here you are!” she said. I laughed and thanked her. I was completely fine with eating her hand-held salad but I admit a tinge of anxiety did surface. A relic of my former, pre-treatment self was hoping to re-establish its dictatorship of my thoughts, so any moment of hesitancy was a potential opportunity. I dismissed the hint of anxiety and started eating my salad. It tasted fine and felt good.
After we polished off the last of the pizza boxes and went through a few bottles of wine, we headed to Cliff’s apartment. When we arrived, the party was already well underway. Cliff’s place was packed with freak shows and for only some of them this had to do with their being in costumes. Cliff’s parties always yielded an odd array of folk and that was part of the fun. It gave our group ample opportunity to laugh and take random photos.
Still it was really weird. Last week I spent my evenings in a group meeting at a mental hospital talking and listening about anxiety levels after performing odd exercises that evoked inner terror with a group in which some tortured souls were quietly crying, and now I was at a Halloween party in L.A. where drunk people were dressed in sexually evocative costumes and dancing salaciously under a strobe light to thumping techno music. Very different scenes. I participated as much as I could, but the overcrowding and sweaty bodies bumping against me started to take their toll as my inebriation wore off. At some point, someone grabbed a blow-up sex doll that I had been avoiding all night for the associations it represented and likely seedy outfit from where it was probably purchased, and held the doll next to me right before taking a group photo. Consequently, my bare arm touched the blow-up doll and my OCD seized the moment. Anxiety and intrusive thoughts started and I tolerated them as best as I could. Ultimately, after I was stone sober, I decided I had enough and without saying goodbye to my friends, I left. I started to walk back to Kelcy’s apartment which was a long walk away from Cliff’s apartment, but still within a doable distance. A long walk would actually be good. I was over-stimulated from the chaos of the Halloween party and needed some quiet activity to occupy me. Walking was perfect.
When I reached Kelcy’s apartment I was tired. Unfortunately, I didn’t ask Kelcy for the key, so I was locked out. She had a ground floor apartment with a small deck, so I decided to climb over the stucco wall to get to the deck. This proved a bit more physically demanding than I anticipated. But I made it over and once on her deck, I laid down on her well-padded patio chaise, pulled the throw blanket it held over me and gladly fell asleep.