Cancer Diaries: What is That Creeping Behind Me?

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Angels represent refined earthly wants and desires, and that allows writers to slap “pure” in front of just about any word to heighten its sense of value and universality.

Truths…those absolutes that play out the same way, over and over in life.  Not everyone is going to pay taxes, so that cuts the cliche down to 50%, and really, Michael Jackson is still alive in so many of our hearts, music turned into data or perilously preserved in vinyl grooves, so is even death a certainty?

Legacies…memories with the brain’s Play button pressed in someone’s head, somewhere, right this minute. Since I just wrote it, I’m thinking about seeing him a few nights ago, on a Motown tribute concert, singing Billie Jean, all those sequins refracting light, the one glove, and of course, those dance moves. Because you just wrote it, you’re thinking about him right now too, but maybe you don’t like his music, maybe you think him having Mr. Bubbles the chimp for a pet was inhumane, but MJ left many marks.

MJ…I hear it, I think Michael Jordan. Just my most popular internal search result. The man was the flat out the best to ever play the game. His competitive spirit the thing that should be envied, from playing baseball and gambling, to out-dunking Dominique back when the NBA mattered.

Add up those first 4 paragraphs, you obviously reach the sum of MFJ, the author of this blog, me, physically being consumed by cancer, an unknown quantity of numbered days remaining, who values the one sole truth of love being the answer, and wanting to leave that mark on someone in this world.

I mean clearly, that’s the inside picture from my exact thought process- as one word suggests the next in sequence, albeit my order. A progression where I am denying a very important certainty, we all die. The difference is- I know my time is just about up. Doctors tell me this and the searing pain in my chest remind me there just might be some veracity in their claims, proving they are indeed fortune tellers. Tomorrow there might be a radical discovery curing all malignancies, because a team of doctors have been in the Amazon (which, in this rare case, is NOT a vast place of consumerism, where you can buy Shoestring Theories), find that the feces from a rare moth larvae pulls the plug on this unchecked cellular aggression. That or God is sick of my fucking ‘Cancer Diaries’ blogs.

Bingo Michael.  Enough is enough. I mean, I have given you the PERFECT opening to reignite the halcyon days of Tinderfish, OurTinderTime.com, – that collection comedic genius- that was pure (<- see what I did there?) sophomoric humor at its most sublime. So, you’re going to wrap this blog up, and go edit your Tinder profile:

Ladies, I respect your honesty: that you are not on an app that brings people together based on solely on attraction to fuck and have one-night stands. That somewhere in those right swipes, love blooms. I really want that too, but I have terminal cancer. Do you think we might be able to wave that rule you have  though, because I’m dying – and I know Vanessa Williams is on the money, because I want to Save the Best for Last too.

Enough God, I will not stoop to that level or shut up about my illness. I mean, you’re the one who writes this story line, so at least let me fill in the some of the blanks. That people in similar situations can share exactly how some of this feels, that type of sharing is vital.

I’ve become obsessed with my phlegm. Is that a fleck of red in there? Is that some of my once healthy lung? What exactly is happening on my insides and more importantly, this- you gave me so many shots at dying before- is a shitty way to take me out. I mean it-why did you waste all the time from even my last overdose in 2014 to now. It could have just ended then. My guardian angels would have gotten some extra time off, or re-assigned to someone who had enough to offer he wasn’t just killed off 2 years later.

I am angry. I am sad. Both because I am scared.

I shouldn’t be mad, I should be celebrating life. But I’m in my own panic.

I’m sick of this.

I can’t fall asleep because I might not wake up.

And well, I have more shit to accomplish.

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I’m invested in Star Wars– I have to make it to 8 & 9. Give me that. A legacy. That humor deflects, it never changes the truth. The greatest truth in life- love, for my fellow human being- that is pure. That is joy, to help another human being, to unknowingly pull someone back from the edge so that one day, their faith outweighs their fears, and something beautiful is created.

Never stop living Michael. It’s okay to be afraid, just don’t become paralyzed. Be grateful. Be kind. There’s work to be done.

Peace & Love,
-MFJ

Knives Need A Good Honing

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About a ten days ago I had this post I started, about being thankful all 365 days a year, and not just the one lore tells us of, where the Indians, seeing we were going to bite it, decided to kill those weird birds that always hung around, the ones who never laid an egg, who had scrotums dangling from their beaks. Once a year the most irrelevant, tasteless fowl takes center stage on a dinner table.

Truth be told I’m Italian and much more thankful for the lasagna on the dinner buffet. Yet here it is, Pearl Harbor Day, and I’m just getting around to writing something about being grateful. I’m doing it from a hospital bed. I have had a benign tissue disorder get bumped up into something that has metastasized into my lungs. I sit here waiting for my biopsy results to come in, to see what this hunk of flesh in my chest is made up of, is it bone, muscle, fat, parts of my twin I imagine would have been named Stanley, the one I partially digested in utero or a little bit of everything? How cool would it be if it were just Swedish fish goo?

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That’s me, and my trophy I claimed at the hospital.Most improved satisfaction. The first night I was here, I was scared. 5 people waited with me in the ER. Every day I’ve been here I’ve had company. I’m still scared. Words like metastatic get thrown around, or the simple fact having a ten pound tumor removed is going to be in medical terms, “one hell of surgery,” it would be easy to say to myself I’ve had a great run at this thing called life.

Some things just aren’t meant to be. Love is not enough. Bad things happen to good people. Pick a cliche and run with it. While I had hoped my tumor would have been featured during this past weekend’s closing of Art Basel, there’s always next year.

Some things can’t be rushed. The most important, soul fulfilling things march along at their own pace, on an unseen timeline that only comes into focus in retrospect. I’m thankful though, right this second, I’m going to get through this. Moments like this, I am incredibly grateful to have lived out my life exactly as I have. I am loved.

The suicidal junkie of 18 months ago, the one so alone my shadow was a stranger us gone now. The world had no use for me, or so I thought. Moments of clarity caused full scale shifts in perspective, I had no use for the world. I was a selfish taker, never giving back  to anyone. Now there’s a guest list to see me here.

I’ve become someone just true to myself. I embrace my talents, use them to make a person laugh, to view life from a different plane of view. I encourage others to do the same and am so excited for upcoming Mind Shrapnel projects. As for cancer, I don’t fear that one either.

I’ve got time to leave some more marks on the publishing world, and a few people I can allow to rule the Mind Shrapnel  empire after I’m gone. Point is, I could die tomorrow and not worry the most minuscule bit about things left undone. I accomplished something huge, I got clean, I became recovered. Those people coming to sees me, baking and texting me, I want in their lives 18 months ago. Everyone one of them can tell you who I am. Until the day I step away from gravity, I will always have my integrity in check. Accomplishing that is the ultimate blessing and god gave me that chance- to be someone instead of a something.

Peace and Love,
-MFJ

I Got Clean For This?

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Active addiction sucks. Take my last ‘run.’ I came to Florida with nothing and in about a year and a half, I had a wife, house, car and most importantly to me, normalcy. When I started using, the highs were not like I remembered, because there was this huge cloud of guilt hanging over me. I had clawed through the sludge and gotten what I always dreamed of, a Norman Rockwell painting of what defined happiness, everyday life, enjoying the simple things.

For a while my use was justified, back pain from auto accidents. A doctor prescribing mass quantities of oxycodone, and I was just snorting it. Then buying more from acquaintances because 210 were not lasting. Then realizing I was doing too many per day, decided the smart thing to do would be to boot (inject) them. I would use less. The pressure of keeping my secret was slowly crushing me. My wife’s suspicions were growing like weeds in a forgotten garden. Everything precious, everything beautiful in my life was getting choked out, so bad wild flowers couldn’t even bloom.

When pill prices went out of control thanks to the pill mill crackdown, that logical voice spoke up one more time, heroin is way better and way cheaper. I had painted myself into a disastrous corner, and the lies were so plentiful there was no way to keep track of them. The inevitable happened, I was divorced and mad at her. That’s how addicts think, and I knew how to play the victim so well. It was her fault I was going to sink deeper into the quicksand.

I most certainly did, because we got divorced around August or September of 2011. My clean date is June 18th, 2014. If there was a single day clean between the days, it was because I had to gut it through for a day until whatever plan for money I had launched would deliver. By the end I was homeless, and had given up on life. If I had bothered to look over my shoulder, I would have seen the smoldering ashes of all the bridges I set ablaze, faces in the smoke of the people I fucked over. And I would fuck you over and over until finally those people had to throw in the towel.

“That can’t be Mike, he’s not that kid of guy.” Yeah, I was, way worse in fact. People existed to help me spiral down. By the time I added cocaine to the spoon, all I wanted was to just die. And when luck didn’t intervene, I grew some balls and did enough to kill myself.

One more failure. I ended up in rehab beaten up physically, completely destroyed mentally, and completely empty spiritually. Slowly but surely I began looking human again. I remember a guy asking a question of why there needs to be a CA. There’s AA for alcoholics, and NA for drug addicts. The difference was the Big Book. A few days later I read Bill’s Story. It rocked me. A few weeks later a guy asked about working the steps, and time.

I don’t remember what the speaker said, but if the promises of the Big Book came true, I wasn’t waiting around to get them. I was masterful when it come to creating and enduring tragedies. A few weeks later I was getting out, I met my sponsor the very last night of inpatient, and 2 months later I had done the steps, I was recovered.

One of those torched bridges cried when he heard my voice for the first time, the first time not all scratchy and deeper thanks to opiates. The words that came out were different too. There was a sincerity when I spoke. I held my head high without even thinking about it.

There was a peace about me, that people that really knew me sensed just over the phone. I wasn’t miserable anymore. I wasn’t manipulating a system or person to get something from him or her. A stranger collecting signatures for something gave me $10 to go get him cigarettes. Not even 5 months before that, I couldn’t get a fucking quarter.

Two major things happened to me- gratitude and a shift in perspective. I’m thankful for waking up, food, a bank account, a cell phone, friends and family, of which there are so many. I’m blessed. Truly blessed. And a new perspective, life isn’t a series of positive and negative experiences, they are all opportunities for me to grow as a man. In short, I found my conscious contact with God.

I didn’t get clean to be miserable. I got clean to finally live life. That’s a beautiful  thing, a peaceful, joyous thing I’m not giving back because I try to give a piece of it away every day.

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Peace & Love,
-MFJ

Dear Bustello Instant, I May Have a Problem

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Before anyone else points this out, I was running late this morning, I keep my Bustello in my room. So I took my coffee mug and stirred my two heaping tablespoons into the warm water so I could guzzle that down before I showered. Yes, that is a face scrubber thing as well.

That’s how I left my bathroom today, and someone had to actually point out how bad this photo is. Talk about different perspectives, I was embarrassed to even admit I buff my face with this contraption, Someone else told me it looks like I’m back on the smack. Clearly, as evidenced by other items in the picture, i.e. Axe hair gunk and behind the Bustello, is a tube of Clinique for Men Moisturizer, (get it at Amazon for $32.99. an $11 savings over retail, by clicking HERE ), I care way too much about my vanity these days.

There was a dark time a long time ago, in a hotel room in Boca, like 2001, where I was sick and waiting on the dope man, who was only 10 minutes away, i.e. at least an hour, (humor for the addicts out there) and the girl I was with bought some Jack Daniels coolers. She left on a quest for heroin around the skeezy motel, and I’m looking at these little bottles…a mind completely caged by obsession, so I made the decision that if I shot this Black Cherry malt liquor into my vein, I might get the tiniest bit of relief…so that’s what I did.

Nothing happened really, but I was hooked on the needle as well as smack. It brought placebo relief to me. For about 10 seconds I swore I felt better. Enough of that. I have no idea why that once forgotten memory popped back into focus, other than give just one more example as to how far gone I have been. Extracting Opana with paint thinner would be another. I constantly gambled with life, my health, and fought through hell to fall into an early grave.

Today, I laughed at that spoon, how it was so obvious but the thought never dawned on me. Life is about actions, follow through on altruistic thoughts, pure intentions. I think if you’re in my life today, you know I help wherever possible, not because I think karma keeps a scorecard, or I want to get something in return, but just to help. I remember what it was like to have the world cave in on me, to be told to leave a house in 9 days instead of 30, and face it with not a soul that cared. Sometimes the sense of impending doom is just a mind game, others it is reality knocking on the door.

To be fair, I created that situation, no one would help me because they knew that I was getting high. Truth be told, any money I got would have gone to just stave off reality that much longer. So when a friend, who is not an addict, goes through that same situation, I”m going to help in any way I can. I’m grateful I can do even a little for her. The world is so carnal right now, and I struggle in getting rid of a big character defect-lust.

I know I need to pray on that one, I get it. I am honest in the fact that I’m not looking for a relationship right now, and if something else happens along the way, I would gladly welcome it. My heart is in various stages of repair, and I’m not just attaching it to someone else’s these days. Actually I’m struggling to detach it from someone. It’s kind of a ball in her court type thing, and I get to dose patience way past the recommended daily allowance.

So there, I’ve just somehow rambled about my quintuple servings of Bustello and patience I stomach daily. I’ve grown, I know I don’t need anyone to “complete me” – FU Jerry Maguire. I understand I want someone to compliment me. The steps taught me self-esteem, self-reliance, and a host of other gifts. In more simple terms, God doesn’t make junk. The world shoves its definitions of beauty and success down our throats. I’m less than impressed. I feel sorry for those who feel defined by material bullshit. Happiness isn’t in a designer purse. It just carries your other shit around. Every watch tells time, and frankly, my cell phone does a great job as well. It would be a good time to read more about Pope Francis, that man drips humility and altruism.

This takes people out left and right here in Recovery City, USA. The guys shoot steroids, get some designer clothes, hook up with someone and before you know it, they are in love and shooting dope. P.S. – you’re far from clean on the juice. This applies to kratom, kava, and the all the other substitute, legal highs. Shit, alcohol is legal, weed will be soon, I guess that’s cool too? To the rehabs and halfways where staff prey upon girls with 15 minutes clean, wow, just wow. Your hidden dirt may not be public knowledge, but that dirt is a stain that’s never washed away. It’s PRAY, not PREY. For fuck’s sake think of others instead of yourself. Living spiritual will prove impossible when attachments give you a false sense of worth.

Addiction is a selfish disease. The steps, the psychic change, the God stuff, all of that makes us selfless.What used to matter to us, more, more, more, in way more than drugs, leaves too. We hear it all the time, drugs are not Mike’s problem, Mike is Mike’s problem. So I don’t have to  lie, cheat and steal anymore, more importantly, thank God, I don’t have to ever live in fear again. I spent way too long conjuring reasons why I can’t do something, that caused me to isolate myself, that caused me to latch on to the first warm body that came along and liked me. Easy to not be rejected when she already admitted interest.

Why do I keep my Bustello in my room?  I’m super possessive of that. It’s probably a carryover from DAF, where I first fell in lust with instant espresso, an illegal item I kept on me at all times, why I wore two pairs of shorts, so no staff would find anything when I emptied my outer pockets, and no one could steal that precious commodity. If you need a cup today, I’m giving you the recommended teaspoon, unless I’m nearly out, then you’re on your own…progress not perfection? Promptly admitting I’m wrong? I don’t know, but it doesn’t much affect my spirituality these days, because if you want help and I’ve got it, it is yours.

Peace & Love,
-MFJ

Sarcastic, shameless book plug: If you haven’t bought a copy of Shoestring Theories you really should. I just give away most of the proceeds anyway! No link, just look it up if you’re interested, Amazon.

Faith

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It’s like a bolt of lightning, that moment when that shot of Narcan hits your opiate receptors. The last thing I remembered differs from death to death. One time it was a tearful push of the plunger listening to a Moby song, which if I hear it, I get chills. Another time it was just to relax, part of mymorning ritual to get ready to deal with another day. Back then 24 hours felt like 124, I craved my  days would end peacefully, quickly, and ironically, with ultimate finality. I had no idea what those words even meant in retrospect.

The element of chance when I died, that too, is something else…unexplainable, bizarre, I’m not going to thesauruas.com. this time. And man I can’t spell that, looks like a lost species of dinosaur not a cornucopia of synonyms. Yes, I spell checked the horn shaped basket filled with various shaped and sized gourds.

I deflect with humor. Every single time, because what I was about to write, type, whatever, is hard to digest, like 3-day old Wendy’s chili. Stop it Mike, fuck! See, I just got off the phone with a stranger who was told about my book. Somewhere in the 40-minute conversation, she mentioned Psalm 91, the psalm of protection. Read it here. It made me cry. For a minute I didn’t even hear her speaking. What I remembered is that feeling of dying. I saw no white light. I was completely in a void, blackness everywhere until that blast of naltrexone. It’s almost like- death was put on hold.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

That’s my namesake above, a statue of the Archangel Michael in Kiev, Ukraine. I just wrote something about being indestructable a few blogs ago, or maybe in a poem, so those types of things are not coincidence. I told her I pray for one thing daily, awareness, to not get wrapped up in my world but see the sights around me. Take in sunbeams splitting clouds, smell the ocean, and give a cigarette,buy him or her some food and give some encouragement to a homeless human being. Sometimes all I give is opening a door and a smile. Back to Michael, who crosses the boundaries of dogma, judaism, christianity and believe it or not, Islam, where he “provides nourishments for bodies and souls. Mikail is often depicted as the archangel of mercy who is responsible for the rewards doled out to good persons in this life.”

I get death isn’t a popular topic, but I had this incredible experience today, where knowledge became understanding- I am alive. Of course I am unless this is just the Matrix, and everyone reading this swallowed the red pill. I should be dead, 4 times over, clinically, and so many more times on bathroom floors and in toilet stalls all over western Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. I was hit with an understanding , just like the jolt from those life saving shots, and I get it, the depth of my gratitude for being here filled up the abyss I stared into for so long.

It’s all in Shoestring Theories (ORDER HERE) but as an example. I spent the night at my parents house because I had to go to a job site closer to their house than my apartment. An apartment I shared with nobody. I remember the spoon, close to my TV, emptying the bag, standing up and falling backwards onto my bead. I barely pulled the needle out. That’s how fast it happens.

In the years I lived at my parents’ house, my father never opened my bedroom door. Ever. He did that morning. To see his son, lips already blue, fading away. He watched me die. He held me.What must that have felt like?

We hurt others in addiction. Far more than ourselves. The state of constant fear, when is the time going to come when Michael is alone, in his apartment, and there’s no one to save him? When’s the phone call coming that says he is gone for good?

While I am thrilled I have alleviated a major source of pain and fear from their lives, I know none of this is by my hand. I think we all have a journey to make, on the way to our final destination. We’re all headed to the grave, so yes, enjoy the trip, but there is order in the chaos, and sometimes we get help from something up there. Someone up there.  Thank you all.

The detours in life are now cherished. Sometimes they are bright flashing signs, sometimes just part of what we consider everyday life. I chose to switch jobs a while back, and I’ve made some great friends there. We are social creatures, our words and especially our actions affect others. One of the greatest compliments I got was  a girl telling me:”There is no way you were that guy in the book.”

I most certainly was. And can be again if I don’t continue to chill with God, as I understand him, a needle will be back in my arm. God’s got my back, unless I turn mine on him. As grimy as I was, I am gunning for the same degree of altruism in my life. The degrees of hate and pain directed at myself and the world, I balance with love today, or at least I try.

I am grateful for one more day. One more chance to make a small difference in someone’s life. So thanks again Big Guy.

Deep-seeded Peace
-MFJ

No Shit, ‘Life Happens’

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This chicken is my neighbor apparently. She did eventually cross the road, not to get to the other side, but to avoid a discussion with me on past lives and reincarnation. In particular, the question, “What did you do to live as a free range chicken in the 21st century?” I can’t be sure, but I think I saw a tear flow down her beak as she went clucking and pecking into the light of a rising summer sun.

There’s something I hear a lot in the rooms of recovery, “Life happens,” or its even worse sibling, “life shows up.” Really? Only a selfish addict would pretend life periodically visits us. It always seems to preface tales of present day problems. It annoys me. Life has been going on the whole time. For me, so many joyous times streamed by, now just dusty memories I couldn’t appreciate or downright missed, due to being enveloped by narcotic fog. Now that I am recovered, I embrace every day. I love that life is always happening.

Good and bad, I don’t use those terms. Life is a continual experience, a series of intersections, where we meet others. Some hitch and we take them along for the ride. How long they’ll be in the car depends on their destination. Enjoy the moments, the laughs, the opportunities to see the biggest ball of aluminum foil, and be sad to see them get out of the car. Some are with us the whole way, become part of our family not defined by blood, but by having my back no matter what and vice versa.
Others collide with us like a Silver Alert senior, hitting us out of nowhere, landing the car in the shop. While that vehicle is being fixed, we can get out and explore a new town if we choose. It’s a sit down in a diner, more lives mix, if I’m aware of the surroundings, if I get out and do. A great conversation with a stranger who is now a friend, every experience a teachable moment, a chance to pick up the tab for the less fortunate.

Too many sit in the waiting room, focused on the dents and scraped paint. They look at the estimate, and stress out. Recovery and steps are insurance, and God is a pretty good level of coverage. He’s got that bill. No deductible because we’ve already paid that.

Enough metaphors. Experience life. Being grateful makes me appreciate the small things that others do not have. Every morning I wake up in an awesome house. I have shelter while others walk the streets, looking for a safe place to rest their heads. Funny part is, I came back from Pittsburgh with nowhere to go. Weeks prior, I met a lady at my book signing, a complete stranger, that became a friend. Hmm…sounds familiar, no? She got me into the house. While it was stressful, I never doubted I’d have a place to live.

Life has been happening for a long time. Acts of kindness are everywhere, I endeavor to pay attention and help others. Moments of pain, times of trouble, I feel the emotions of those moments and absorb the lessons. They make me a better man. I don’t cry about those things, I cherish them. I grow from them rather than sit in the body shop of life, reading a 3-year-old issue of Time Magazine. Yeah one more metaphor.

Peace and love,
MFJ

Get Well Soon

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Hopeless, self-destructive, desperate behavior repeated daily for years, decades, well, the prognosis is always going to appear beyond poor – he/she will fail . I’ve heard it, I’ve whispered that back to the angel who dangled from my shoulder, rope fraying while the devil made the trip over with a knife to hasten the fall.

No doubt he fell, but it’s exactly why angels have wings. There are inevitable collapses, breaches of trust that split into continental divides. Words can’t become tectonic, but a little work can move some rocks from here to there. People can change; I know this, because I am different. Various kudos I have gotten from therapists, counselors, and souls temporarily in contact with mine at the time:

You’ll be dead by 30.
You’ll never stop using if you don’t quit now.
You’re a lost cause Michael.
You’ve wasted so much talent, so much ability for heroin.
You love drugs more than me. You threw it all away.
Michael, you’re dead to me, and you will be soon enough to the world.

Yet, here I am. Flying home in 3 days. To see family and friends. To give back, attempt to make things right. I am vigilant in my gratitude, it keeps me grounded, it reminds me to be selfless.

So never give up hope if you love one of us. If you are me, I can’t stop the descent. I can tell you though there’s no reason to keep digging any deeper. I pray you understand. Fix yourself by climbing out of that hole, and I promise you there will be a lot of people who will help get you back on your feet. It just has to be that way.

Peace, love and enlightenment to all,
MFJ

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