The sun had just come up on a Monday morning in the middle of summer in New York City. It was that time of day when the sidewalks are beginning to fill with people walking their dogs, heading to work or, like my friend Scott, going to the gym.
Me? I was on my way home from another night of drug-filled unmentionables when I ran into Scott.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” I replied. I laughed and looked down at the pavement. I could feel the heat of the sun on my neck. It felt like my skin was boiling.
“Are you using again?” Scott asked.
“Not really,” I said. “I mean, just a little. It’s OK. It’s no big deal. …”
Scott cut me off. “Marc,” he said, “Do me a favor — don’t call me until you want help.”
Before I could look up, he had already turned and continued on his way to the gym.
“Fuck you,” I thought. “I could use if I want to.”
Four days later, I called Scott. For the first time, I said, “I need help.”
The next morning, I met a man named Frank at a Starbucks on Eighth Avenue. Frank was a friend of Scott’s. He was a crystal meth addict in recovery. He had been clean and sober for several years. When Frank asked me how I was doing, I began to cry.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said.
“I know,” Frank said.
And then we walked two blocks up Eighth Avenue. We made a right on 24th Street and headed east. I went to my first 12-step meeting at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ David Geffen Center. I don’t remember much about the meeting except there were about a dozen men sitting in chairs in a circle. For the first time, I said, “My name is Marc, and I’m a crystal meth addict.”
That was almost 17 years ago. I have been clean and sober for seven and a half years. In other words, it took me about a decade to get long-term sobriety.
I have been an entertainment journalist for 25 years. Much of that time I was working in the “gossip biz,” with stints at the New York Daily News, Us Weekly, New York magazine, “Entertainment Tonight” and “E! News.”
I spent most of my waking hours reporting, writing and talking about the private lives of celebrities. I may have excelled at my job, but I was never fully comfortable prying. My uneasiness really took hold when I was active in my addiction. How could I ask celebrities (or their publicists) about their deepest, darkest secrets when I was living with one myself? I felt like a fraud, an impostor. I worried all the time about being found out.
In the summer of 2004, just weeks after Scott introduced me to Frank, I moved to Los Angeles to help launch the “Entertainment Tonight” companion series “The Insider.” Moving 3,000 miles across the country meant I could start over. Or so I thought. I told myself I would stop drinking and using, but I broke that promise within two weeks.
For the next decade, I was in and out of 12-step meetings. I would gather a bunch of sober time — six months here, a year there — but I always relapsed. I was what we call a “chronic relapser.”
Then a little more than seven years ago, something finally clicked. I was not only going to meetings regularly, but most important, I began to own my sobriety. I no longer hid in the corners of rooms. I raised my hand when they asked if there were any newcomers — meaning anyone with fewer than 30 days of continuous sobriety.
I also began telling more friends and colleagues that I was sober. I didn’t get into the particulars with most people, but I was very clear that I didn’t — and couldn’t — drink or do drugs. When my co-workers at E! celebrated my wedding with a surprise party, we toasted my marriage with sparkling apple cider.
At work events (back when we still gathered in person), I consume a lot of water, or if I need a pick-me-up, I down an energy drink or a simple glass of ginger ale. I often run into men I once partied with. Usually, we give each other a quick hello or a knowing glance. Sometimes, we chat and I always make sure to reveal that I’m sober. More often than not, they tell me how they also found sobriety or that they are struggling to get clean. I offer my number and suggest they call me if they need someone to talk to.
The past seven years have had their share of ups and downs. Getting sober doesn’t mean all your problems go away. Life goes on, for better or worse. I used to party to celebrate the good times or to try to forget and numb the bad times. Now, I face life as it happens. When things get really bad, I remind myself that if I could get sober, I can survive anything else thrown in my path.
When I began going to 12-step meetings, I would cringe when someone said they were a “proud” alcoholic or addict. How can one be proud of doing things drunk or high that they would never do sober?
But I get it now. I’m not proud of the things I did, but I’m proud of my journey. I’m proud of being a survivor. I’m proud of being able to take my friend Scott up on his offer, and for being able to say, “I need help,” when he answered the call that I desperately needed to make.
Marc Malkin is senior culture and events editor for Variety.