Episode 19: Lawyer Tom
Tom, a Stanford-educated lawyer, gets honest about his need to push the limit, his fears and the night he almost died from his addiction.
Paul: Welcome to Episode 19 of the Mental Illness Happy Hour. My guest is my friend Tom, who is a Stanford-educated lawyer and crackhead. My name is Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically-diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking, feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague, sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. But first, some notes. We are now available on Stitcher. I’ve mentioned before that there’s a couple of ways you can support the show. Financially, you can give us a donation via PayPal, there’s a link through the website; if you download Stitcher through the link on our website, we get a little bit of money from Stitcher, so if you want to do that, that would be great. Stitcher is a great way to listen to all your favorite programs, both from radio and podcasts, with a single application. You can listen on iPhones or Blackberries or Droids or whatever—I think you might even be able to listen to it on a CB radio. I could be wrong. I should look into that. But we have a link for Stitcher on our website, and yeah, if you’d be kind enough to download that, I might be able to retire by next week. I could be wrong. Maybe I should look and see exactly how those numbers break down.
Thank you for taking the survey. We’ve had 900 people take the survey so far, and if you haven’t done so, please do. It helps me get to know you guys a little bit better—and you can also see the results. You can see how people answer all the different questions, and it’s kind of a fascinating way to find out that we are really not that different from each other. Thank you for your feedbacks, by the way. On the survey, there’s a thing where I ask for ways that I can improve the show, and of course my favorite ones are the ones where you say, “Nothing, it’s perfect. You’re brilliant!” Of course I love those, but the ones that really help the show are the constructive pieces of criticism where people tell me that sometimes I lead my guests to a conclusion that I already have in my head. Thank you for pointing that out to me. Thank you for pointing out that sometimes I interrupt my guests. I get a little worked up sometimes and I’ve been trying to watch that. Sometimes, apparently, I steamroll the female guests. I’m not sure about that one, but I’m going to keep my eye out for it. I think this may be a gal with some issues, that maybe her dad didn’t listen to her, but I could be wrong. I got a suggestion that we have some stay-at-home moms, and talk about the stuff that they go through and they deal with and I think that’s a great suggestion. I’ll be honest, I like hearing from you guys because when I’m having a day that’s not going well and I feel invisible, and I feel like the world is passing me by and my life is going to be forgettable, I’ll go to iTunes and I’ll read a review or I’ll read something, a nice email that you guys send me, and I know it’s a shallow way to prop myself up temporarily, but God damn it, those are a sweet pair of crutches and I love breaking them out. I did need a little picking up this week. I did my Republican character, Representative Richard Martin—he’s a satirical Republican character I started doing about seven years ago (before Stephen Colbert…). I’m not saying Colbert took it from me, but when people say that I stole it from him it kind of gets under my skin. And this character, when I go on Adam Carolla—Adam is a fan of the character, as is the guy that books Adam’s show, but if you read the message boards on Adam’s podcast site you would probably find out that Adam and the booker are the only two people that enjoy me doing that character on his show. It is brutal, the amount of negativity. Not only are people posting how much they hate that character or how they think it’s a hack, it’s not funny, it’s tired, it’s worn out, begging me to get out of comedy, but then they go to my own personal site to let me know how horrible it is. In fact, one guy said, “You should quit comedy, your comedy is horrible,” and he misspelled the word horrible. And two things I got out of that: one, it made me feel a little bit better, because I thought, well, maybe the people that don’t like this character aren’t that bright to begin with, and maybe it goes over their heads. But the other thing that made me feel good was—my first impulse was to email this guy back and rub it in his fuckin’ face that he misspelled horrible, and to talk about what an idiot he is, and go into great lengths about what kind of shit entertainment he must love, and I didn’t. I had the chance to go for the jugular with this guy, and I didn’t. And that is fucking amazing, because I think a couple of years ago I would have launched into attacking this guy with the insane belief that I was going to get some type of satisfaction from that, and I now know that, yeah, I may feel good for about five seconds, but then I’m back to dealing with myself. And I feel good that I didn’t lay into that dumb, slack-jawed, drooling, mouth-breathing motherfucker.
I would like to bookend today’s show with some responses from people that took the survey. This first one is from a guy, he’s a male, he’s 21-30 years old, ingests quite a bit of alcohol and drugs, he says, comes from a pretty dysfunctional environment, doesn’t really exercise, doesn’t have that good of a diet, no spiritual life, takes meds not prescribed by a Psychiatrist, he shares his feelings on a regular basis but doesn’t know if it helps, doesn’t like how much money he makes, he’s been unemployed, his common negative thoughts are thinking that people are always talking about him critically, always feeling like he’s violating some social norms, feeling inadequate among others, and having the need to brag. I certainly relate to all of those. Under behaviors he wishes he didn’t engage in, he wrote, “I won’t leave my room, including storing urine in two-liter bottles, punching walls when frustrated, over-apologizing, trying hard for approval, including spending money I don’t have to seem generous.” I relate to those, except maybe for the two-liter bottle. I usually managed, even in the depths of my drinking, to get up and hit the john, but God bless you for that—I’ve got to say, that’s almost kind of clever in a good way, but—and I’m not trying to be facetious here. He, when asked the question, “Do you believe anything is keeping you from being happy,” he says unemployment, lack of friends, still living with his parents, and anxiety in social environments. His predominant emotions are sadness, shame, and a blah, empty, vaguely unsatisfied feeling. The most common thoughts he has is that he isn’t enough, doesn’t have enough, doesn’t do enough, and his primary activity is procrastinating. And then he said for the question, “If there is a God, what are some things you would say to God,” he didn’t answer anything to that, but then, “Any comments or suggestions to make the podcast better,” he wrote, “Stop talking about your stupid spiritual bullshit. You’re wrong. Drop it.” And at first I was a little hurt, and then I thought to myself, you know, I used to be this guy in so many ways, except for maybe the two-liter bottles of urine, and I found a way out of that, and spirituality was a big part of that for me. And it still is a big part of any type of serenity I manage to have in my life, so this is an example where I can’t go with that suggestion. And this guy isn’t the first one to say that he’s tired of the spirituality talk. I’m not trying to ram anything down your throat. I’m actually as equally annoyed by people who adamantly say there is no higher power or higher intelligence in the universe as people who say there absolutely is something out there. I feel pretty strongly that there is, but I don’t look down on you if you feel that there isn’t. So I guess what I’m saying is just try to be open-minded about what other people think and feel, and hear them out, and so I just ask you to be patient with me about my spirituality, because it works for me, and I hate to say it, but the guy that wrote that, his life doesn’t sound like it’s working. So what would it hurt to try a different way of living? I don’t know. I just—I felt compelled to read that.
So let’s get to my interview with my friend Tom, the Stanford-educated crackhead. And I’m going to leave you guys with this thought, and that is what the world gives us is not as important as the energy that we meet it with.
I’m sitting here with my friend Tom Grimes, who I’ve known for—is it okay that I use your last name? I can bleep that out, if you’re not comfortable.
Tom: I don’t care.
Paul: Okay. That’s one of the things I love about you, man. You are so unapologetic about what you’ve been through. Tom is fifty…?
Paul: [Fifty]-three years old, a Stanford-educated lawyer, disbarred—
Tom: I like to say resigned.
Tom: Okay, because technically speaking it was resigned with charges pending. They didn’t get all the way to a disbarment.
Paul: Tom likes him some crack, and Tom has how many days off crack right now?
Tom: 156 straight, here.
Paul: Tom comes from money. Are you okay with me saying that?
Tom: We’re above average.
Paul: Okay. And it—you have lived this life—you’ve lived a crack addict’s dream, in that you’ve had this trust fund to live out your crack fantasy, to be able to engage in that. Tell us—
Tom: Sadly, that’s true.
Paul: Yeah. Tell us what a typical day was like when you were deep into your crack addiction 160 days ago.
Tom: 160 days ago, the typical day of a guy—now, 160 days ago I wasn’t 53, I was only 52.
Tom: Big difference there. And the idea—well, first off, it depends on if you woke up that morning or if you have just endured the night. Most of the time I’m not waking up. You’re usually either coming to, because you don’t really sleep, you pass out, or you’re—you’ve kind of just—like a dream state from between four and eight, the four hours there—
Paul: Four in the morning and eight in the morning?
Tom: Four in the morning and eight in the morning, yeah. Those are about the times when the crack dealers actually are gone, they get a couple hours sleep—
Tom: But if you really had to, you’d be able to find it. The point being, is that the average day at that point is, 160 days ago, I would have had a heroin-addict girl with me, and she’d be—
Paul: Nice lady?
Tom: Real—well, a lady, yeah.
Tom: Actually—actually, yeah. See, there is a—
Paul: High energy?
Tom: There is a hierarchy, because when you say crack, I actually, you know, call it freebase, and—it’s a social thing, and there is that kind of hierarchy where the meth heads are at the bottom, and the crack smokers believe that we’re really at the top, and the heroin in the middle—
Paul: Is this a poster in your bedroom, that you’ve established this hierarchy?
Tom: Yeah. Yeah, I’m with that—
Paul: Because this is the first I’ve heard of it.
Tom: Oh, you have—
Tom: Well. Well, okay—
Paul: Is there somebody besides you that buys into this hierarchy?
Tom: Yeah, no—yeah, other crackheads.
Paul: Sure, of course.
Tom: And especially when I have the crack.
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: So, bottom line is, if I’m holding the bag, I’m usually right on everything.
Paul: How many—in the last year of your using, what were you spending a day on crack?
Tom: Two hundred.
Paul: Two hundred dollars—
Tom: At the very least, yeah.
Paul: At the very least. And on—
Tom: Yeah. And that would be achieved by hook, crook, lie, because most of the time, despite living a—you know, a lot of the guys said, you know, “Hey, gosh, I wish I could do something like that.” A lot of times it took a lot of personal conditioning to live out the last five days of the month, because by then I actually—you have to get a little credit. And really, getting credit from some of these kinds of dealers out there is just the most…humiliating thing you could ever think of, because at that moment in time, when you’re asking for a hundred dollars credit, and you’re getting inquired upon from a guy that’s driving a Camaro with 50-inch rims and that goes up and down on four different hydraulics, and he comes steaming down your—and he’s on his way to a [?] or whatever—
Paul: You should just mention that you went to Stanford. Wouldn’t that have impressed them?
Tom: Yeah. Well, they know that by then. And they know you’re an attorney, and you’re Caucasian, and that’s not—that’s more of a license for them to answer their phone and say, “What do you need, what do you need.” And I always had the same line: “Don’t need it, just want it.” And so I—so a lot of times, my pride came up to where I’ve walked away from the car a couple times, if they were doing their number and acting—you know, and they’ve got a couple people in the car and they’re going to show off that you’re going to stand there and watch while they count out the bag and ask for one more. “No. No, I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.” “No, no—Tomas, Tomas, it’s okay. Tomas, Tomas, come back.” You know, and it’s really a humiliating thing, and it’s a street game, and you really don’t want to fall into it. In the old days, prior to—now, you said 160 days ago, so that would mean that 160 days ago I’d get up by eight o’clock in the morning, I would cook up a little bit more and make plans for the day. Now, the plans would include get to the pool, do something healthy, buy some food, do this, maybe even an activity like golf or tennis or—
Paul: These were the plans.
Tom: Those were the plans, right.
Tom: Right. But—
Paul: Were they executed?
Tom: —as soon as the plan is made, now it’s time to celebrate the fact that the day is on, that most of the building has gone by the door and aren’t going down any back staircases so you don’t have to hear them, the curtains have been closed for 24/7—
Paul: What is the significance of people having walked by your door?
Tom: Well, because, you know, when your—your hearing is attuned, it’s quite sensitive. When you have a good crack hit, usually it puts you into the state of being—if somebody’s in the hallway, you know they are concentrating on you, they know you just had it, they know that you’re, you know, leaning against the peep hole. They know. Everyone knows. In fact, if you hear a car out in the street from here, fifty yards away, sixty yards away, that car is coming here, and you’ll wait for that door to open. It seems like everybody in the world has keys to your apartment, and yet nobody does.
Paul: And this is a typical thing that happens when people are fully into their cocaine or meth or crack addiction, is this paranoia, very real paranoia.
Tom: Yeah. I can’t imagine what it must be like, because I’ve literally talked to people who—
Paul: Are you being sarcastic? Because you have experienced this, right?
Tom: I can—and now I can say I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience this without it being drug-induced, that it would pass. Because if you were—if you had to live with that—
Paul: Oh, right.
Tom: —that feeling of paranoia, schizophrenic paranoia or something like that, it’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrible, because you’re telling yourself, right, all along that rationally, this can’t be true. Nobody gives a crud, you know? If you stay locked up in your apartment—honestly speaking, 160 days ago, had she and I both died here, you wouldn’t have found us for two weeks. The only guys looking for us was going to be—
Paul: The dealer?
Tom: The couple guys, yeah, the couple dealers in the Camaros.
Paul: Or the people that you hooked up. Or were there hangers-on that you would turn on—
Tom: Yeah, but they wouldn’t come to the door unless they knew you were holding.
Tom: So unless they can get hold of you, they don’t waste a trip.
Tom: So, no, they wouldn’t—you wouldn’t have an open casket funeral.
Paul: You looked like Skeletor when you had put a little sobriety time together and you and I were hanging out, and I would come over to your apartment and we’d play badminton, and you’d kick my ass, and we’d both laugh about the—what a ridiculous sport badminton is, but we had so much fun. And then you went back to using, and I got so sad because I thought my friend Tom is going to die. He’s got the worst combination, which is almost unlimited money and a crack addiction. And—
Tom: Yeah, unlimited for purposes of crack.
Paul: And a big ego. You’ve got a big ego, and you’ll be the first to admit it. I have a big ego, I’ll be the first to admit it, and—
Tom: I’m surprised this isn’t CNN. That’s part of my ego. Yeah, why isn’t—is Diane Sawyer here? Hello? Hello? Diane?
Paul: I’m amazed that you are still alive. Anybody listening to this podcast can hear in your lungs the effect that the last year has had on you. And your lungs have greatly improved over the last two or three weeks.
Tom: It’s been a horrible, horrible recovery, health-wise.
Tom: In fact, I’ve had—what’s really going on is it’s a [sine] wave type thing going on, because I am going up to heights of health to where I jump up in one morning, have a lot of energy again, feel healthy, go out, overextend myself, come back and recover for a week. I am 53 now, and I realize that time is passed.
Tom: My system doesn’t clear as quickly. And luckily I’ve been told by a few of the guys that this is expected, and it’s okay, so I’ve been feeling a little bit better about my health issues that have popped up on this thing.
Paul: I couldn’t keep up with you when you were sober a year and a half ago. We played badminton and you are, to me, the definition of an alpha male. They don’t get any more alpha than you. You’re always ready to go do something, and I suppose—am I wrong in assuming that when you turn that alpha energy towards an addiction, look out.
Tom: I think it is look out. And here’s the problem, is that if you compete heavily, if you think that—my [personal] philosophy has always been—
Paul: Your phersonal?
Tom: My phersonal, yeah. My arsenal of personal philosophies is that you might as well—if you’re going to do it, do it big, do it right, do it for real. I’ve flown airplanes since I was 18, I’ve scuba dived since I was 12, I’ve—you know, I’ve felt real danger, I’ve been up on top of Whitney at the age of 10, I’ve—there’s really nowhere I can go on this earth, or that I’ve ever even gone—I’ve gone everywhere now, really, on this earth, other than the African continent and New Zealand, and I look forward to seeing both, but—if I can. But the fact is, is that I can fly-fish, I can ocean-fish, I can fly, I can fly most anything that moves right now, I can drive most anything that moves. These are things that I say with an ego, and yet, really, when it comes down to it, left alone, I didn’t get up for 14 months in this last relapse. For 14 months I didn’t go fly, I didn’t go fish, I didn’t go hunt, I didn’t go fight, I didn’t go golf, I didn’t go—everything dwindled down to that picture of that day of getting up at eight, making plans to do stuff that never happened. I like to drive the car, I used to say, oh, do 100 miles an hour every day and you’ll stay healthy, type thing. Shoot, I didn’t do one mile an hour. One, I couldn’t get off the couch, and I began to atrophy into that couch. That depression that follows that is really what I called you about today that caused you to come over tonight and we’re sitting here talking, is that it’s—
Paul: You called me and you said, “I feel empty.”
Tom: I knew right then, I mean there was an event that occurred down in the parking lot and I realized that people—there are some nasty people. You know, there are positive people and there’s negative people, period.
Tom: From my experience. I’ve tried twenty-eight jury trials in this county, I’ve tried eight other jury trials in criminal—you know, USA-wide, I have seen people at their worst and at their best, and there’s just two types. There’s people that look at it pessimistically, and there are evil types out there. This one happens to have insulted a lady that I know is a really great gal, and it just caused me such angst that I called you and said this is an empty place sometimes, and I felt that emptiness.
Paul: Do you think—and maybe I’m just putting words in your mouth, but do you think that what really bothered you about that is that you’re going to have to face parts of that world without drugs? If you’re going to stay sober, you’re going to have to face that kind of brutality and not be able to anaesthetize yourself with drugs, and that scares you.
Tom: That possibly has—yeah, I mean deep down, there’s a fear involved in everything. I think—
Paul: What are some of your fears?
Tom: I think this fear—here’s the last fear I have: I really don’t—I’ve been beat up by guys—my dad taught me there’s always a bigger dog, so when you said alpha dog I immediately thought, yeah, that’s me, I’m the alpha, except for I know that there are at least ten people listening right now who kick my butt in almost any—in every endeavor. You’re never—there’s always a bigger dog. And so—but my biggest fear is this feeling of being disconnected from the universe, from other—from the people that are trying to see that there’s meaning there, that there’s something happening here that’s real, that this isn’t just for nothing, that we find ourselves all of a sudden either at 53—I look back, it was two minutes ago I was 25. I have talked to guys—there’s a—I have an old friend that I golfed with and he used to—he’s 77, 78 now, turning—or, no, he’s actually turning 80 this year, and time speeds up. There’s a guy selling stamps just down the street, has the oldest shop in the valley, and he’s 90. He hit the beaches and has a picture of himself at age 21—
Paul: So is what you’re saying that your mortality scares the shit out of you?
Tom: That mortality—the time—this idea that time increases, or passes with increasing speed the older we get. It’s only since I’ve been 50 that I’ve been saying that life is short. Otherwise I was always saying, hey, live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse. That’s how I wanted to go and how I wanted to live. That sounded great when I was 25, but then I got to be 33 and I didn’t want to die. And literally, I have shared this before, I took my last breath here in this house that we’re sitting in right now—
Paul: Talk about that, the last night that you were using crack.
Tom: Oh, well, I would love to say that was the last night, because that would mean that I actually could learn a lesson like normal people could, either from their own experience or from someone telling them, but of course I don’t. You know, literally twenty-five feet from here, over there to the right—
Paul: We’re in Tom’s apartment. I don’t know if I mentioned that.
Tom: Yeah, it’s in—over there in the bedroom area is a bed—and honestly, I came to the spot in my life where I had what felt like an anaphylactic reaction in my throat to the smoke, and it swelled and I couldn’t breathe, and my body began to evacuate.
Paul: Was that the first time, that night—
Tom: No, it had been building up to that.
Paul: Talk about the insanity of you having experienced that before—
Tom: The prior week had been building up to that, to where the Albuterol and the steroids and the things the doctors give you to keep your—to supposedly get you back on track, were being used just to open my throat enough so that I could then have—
Paul: Did the doctors know that you were using—
Tom: Absolutely not.
Paul: —those to smoke more crack?
Tom: No, no, absolutely not, no.
Paul: What did you tell them, I just have asthma?
Tom: No, I didn’t tell them much, I just let them tell me.
Tom: Because, yeah, literally they would come back with telling me, “Oh, I see,” because, you know, they don’t—a lot of these guys are not—you know, they’re just like us. They’re trying to get home that day.
Paul: You’re taking this stuff to open your—
Tom: Throat to—
Paul: And how long were you smoking crack and doing those things to keep your lungs open?
Tom: That was for about a week and a half prior to the emergency room visit.
Tom: But I—that night—
Paul: Was that your first—
Tom: Emergency room visit, yeah. And that night when my throat closed down on me and I really thought I wasn’t going to get another breath, here’s where that macho alpha guy who says, hey, you know, let’s do this and do it all the way, let’s fly upside down ten feet from the ground or whatever, let’s see what that looks like—
Paul: You’ve done that? You’ve flown upside down ten feet from the ground?
Tom: Not in the USA, because if this is the FAA, no, I have not.
Tom: But thank you. I’ve heard that’s been done.
Paul: So we shouldn’t tell the stories about when you were a student at Stanford and you would buzz the Golden Gate Bridge, and then the Coast Guard would set out after you, and you would—
Tom: Whoa, what day is this? What year is it? Yeah, that was in the ‘70s, so—oh, look, that was under a different license and a different—did I say my last name yet?
Tom: Yeah, but the fact is that, look, the problem I saw was that I experienced that moment in time where I was either going to—my body said we’re dying, so it’s either fight or flight.
Paul: How did you know your body was dying? What did you feel?
Tom: Because my bowels and my bladder wanted to evacuate themselves while I’m standing there in my clothes by my bed. I’m leaning over—
Paul: You’ve just taken a hit of crack.
Tom: Two or three minutes before. It opens you up at first, and then just—you can feel it starting to—just to grab inside, deep inside your chest. And now you’re using what they call accessory muscles, which are those upper muscles up near your trapezius and near your neck to try to get a little…more…air…in…and…you yelling to some heroin addict who’s deep in a coma on the couch and has no clue, and couldn’t help you even if she did, and you start to think to yourself, wow—
Paul: This is it.
Tom: This is—I mean they’re not going to find you. She’s going to wake up and get the heck out of here, you know, because you’re dead and now there’s—and you’re not buying her any more, and maybe it’s not a good place to be, near a dead body, if you’re a heroin addict with track marks all over you. So I can see what’s going to happen, and yet—I have a good friend, and a great lawyer, and he’s been with me, he’s known my problem and stayed with me as a friend through these years that it took after I lost my license, late in my—early in my—I should say mid-40s, and I called him. He took me to the ER. He got me to the ER. But that moment in time, though, I fought for that next breath, and that was what impressed me later, is that I thought to myself, all that bullshit that I used to run by everyone about, ‘Ah, don’t worry about it, come on, let’s live, you only live once, you’ve got plenty of time to sleep when you die.’ All that crap goes out the window when someone takes your wind away. You’re going to want one more moment. Every time you come to that last second, you’re going to want one more moment. I don’t care what your circumstances were. Under a bridge, can’t—a dirty apartment, you know, no matter what you are, you’re blessed. If you’re listening to this, you have—you’re probably more blessed than half of the world who live on two hundred dollars a year. You know, there’s so many ways to look at things in a positive way, and yet—
Paul: Why couldn’t you see that when you were—
Tom: Left to my own devices, the disease I suffer from separates me—I’m so—I get so, like, bored and thoughtless. If I can think it and it requires effort, well then we’ve already thought it, so now it’s just a matter of rote effort. Do we really have to? You know, it would be a good idea to start to train for the marathon, because it would be really cool to run the marathon when you’re 60, but that—we’ll do that tomorrow. Today, though, because we decided we’re going to do that at age 60, today we’re going to celebrate.
Paul: And we’re going to smoke some crack.
Tom: We’re going to smoke some more, yeah. It’s any reason whatsoever, it’ll keep going day after day. You recognize that in other people, because that gal who we’re talking about, who was on the couch when I was dying, is now clean, and she—you could see her, after I stopped and she left, she would call me and say, “Next Monday I’m going to be done. I’ve got to wean down, I can’t just stop all at once.” All the excuses, all the thought processes, and I watched myself in the mirror, listening to her talk, because that was all the stuff I was telling myself, alone in my apartment. And by the way, you know, I’m not an alone guy. I like to be—I’ll go sit at coffee shops and watch people—
Paul: You may be one of the most gregarious people I know, which is why it’s such a conundrum to me that you would sequester yourself away for 14 months smoking crack, practically solitarily.
Tom: Yeah. Basically solitarily, yeah. More comfortably solitarily, because the more another person’s around me while I’m smoking, they’re going to bug me with their sounds or their movements. No matter what, their lighting is going to be a problem, because if they like it a little bit dark and I want a little light, it’s going to be a—it’s not a—it’s an isolation deal. And I used to—there was one moment in my life a long, long time ago when I was still with my father and mother, I was probably in Junior High, and—
Paul: Both your parents have passed away?
Tom: They’re gone now, yeah. Both. And Junior High, and I remember sitting—laying in my bed and looking up, at that point I had a big window that I could look out, and I was looking out the window and looking at the stars and I literally kind of tried to like float myself out there and just be out—and I got the feeling of aloneness. A real alone. Not lonely, but alone. And it was a real visceral, physical feeling that came around me and made the darkness darker and the pinpoints of light lighter. It was interesting to—and I’ll still, to this day, think, wow, that was a natural Westerner doing an Eastern meditation without even meaning to. I had stopped my—I probably flatlined myself or something, but in either case I still recall that it told me that whatever hell would be for me is floating deep space.
Paul: That’s so funny that you mention that, because one of the people that we had as a guest on this podcast is Jen Kirkman, and one of her fears is that she would—gravity would cease to be, and she would float up into space and she would be trapped there for the rest of her life.
Tom: With just herself.
Paul: With just herself.
Paul: And somebody—I had other people send an email and say, “I have that same fear.”
Tom: I have that, yeah. I have never thought of it as floating off this earth, because I’m relatively quick and I’ll catch one of the trees, I’ll swim over to something, whatever, but I fear that I could be placed in that isolation by myself out in the middle of nowhere.
Paul: What are some of the fears that fuck with you?
Tom: You know what, I’m really, like I said, I’m doing alright lately with regard to the health issues and the mortality issues, because I see that every fear—if I follow the fear out, if I think to myself, ‘What am I afraid of right here? Is there something bothering me, am I afraid?’ You know what, I can’t be embarrassed any further, right?
Tom: I mean professionally—I was on the radio, and I didn’t—and not in a good way.
Paul: Right. The fact that you had been disbarred, and—
Tom: Well, no, they were going to—they hadn’t gotten me yet. But what had happened was when I met crack, it was on a Friday afternoon.
Paul: What was she wearing?
Tom: Well, she came in the guise of two beautiful hookers in a back room of a client who I had just settled a huge case for and got him a check in thirty days. He throws a party, and in the back room is the first time I had ever seen smoke—smoking cocaine. I had done powdered cocaine—
Paul: This was how long ago?
Tom: This was in my early 40s, right, and—and, you know, if I hope to get my bar license back, I hope that the Bar—they’re real weird people in many ways, and I’m sure I just zipped myself right there, but who cares. The point being is that they can’t stop me if powers that be want it, and I can’t get it if powers that be don’t let me. Here’s what happened: I showed up at court on Monday morning in Judge Fisher’s court in Van Nuys, and wasn’t—was going to answer not ready. Now, I should have followed the outline in Las Vegas—what was that book in Las Vegas?
Paul: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?
Tom: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, yeah. Worn golf shoes and headed off to the hospital and not gone to court, because I was in no condition to try a case. I didn’t have one sock, I had powdered cocaine on me that I didn’t even know I had, but the point being is that on the radio—
Paul: How long had you been up—
Tom: I’d been up all weekend. And for the first time in my adult life, I lost control of my Friday night party. I was always a Friday night partier—
Paul: And this happened that weekend with the hookers in the back room?
Tom: Yeah. Yeah, I stayed in that back room of that client’s house in his little guest area all weekend long.
Paul: So the first hit, your first hit of crack happened on the Friday—
Tom: On Friday night, and by Monday morning I was arrested.
Paul: And you hadn’t slept.
Tom: No. Well, who does? I didn’t sleep for—I know that the human body supposedly—I mean I’ve heard some stats and facts after that, because I was a med mal lawyer, but I’ve heard some facts and stats that say that you can’t survive without sleeping after a certain amount of hours, and I thought, are you joking? I’ve met—I’ve watched meth heads that stay up for at least a week.
Paul: Fourteen days, yeah.
Tom: Yeah, and they didn’t die. But they say that it’s eleven, eleven days is the maximum you can go without sleep without dying. I think I’ve seen—but, then again, who knows what the body is able to do, if you think you didn’t sleep but you got a quick 40-minute or something—
Paul: Right. Let’s get back to that weekend.
Tom: So I walked in—that weekend—that Monday morning, my brother got me up and said you’ve got to be in court. Got me over to—on my way to court, I got a call from my private investigator, I fired him over the phone for no reason, I don’t even know why. I’d prepaid him for three months. He was paid for three more months out there, because I like to get the office overhead done so that everything was profit, is what I felt like, or savings. And, you know, I had only positive experiences. I had just started my office in January—this is in August, and we had had unbelievable success. I’m a—the gregariousness and the love I have of humanity transfers over into juries. I love juries. Love ‘em. They—I’ve never been treated wrong by a jury. They see through every lie told by any witness. It’s amazing what twelve people can do. I wouldn’t mess with that system for anything. But the bottom line is that I went in to answer not ready, my investigator called ahead to the courtroom and alerted the judge that something might be wrong, so when I walked in I got a reception from the bailiff and the judge and I was sent, by myself, to walk over to the police department and test, so that it didn’t look like I had come to—and I agreed to that, and walked over to the police department, gave them a urinalysis, didn’t throw out anything that I had in my pockets at all, and walked back to the courtroom, with no sock on my left shoe and my Zegna two-thousand-dollar suit on. I don’t know if I had a tie. I didn’t care. I had a gal with me that was—I wasn’t married at the time, and I’ve never been remarried, I’ve been divorced for a while, and this gal with me was my moral support and I was arrested in the courtroom, because as a defense lawyer I gave them permission to search me with no probable cause, and they did, and they found—
Paul: Why do you think you offered—
Tom: Because—it’s interesting you ask that. The bailiff there is a friend of mine, I knew him pretty well, and we had gotten along real well because you’ve got to be okay with the bailiffs, see. They’ll bring the guys up from lockup, they’ll help you know what the mood of the judge is, or the whole courtroom, they’ll tell you for real when the trial’s really going to happen, they’ll also alert you as to what’s going on with the jury. So you want to be friends with the bailiffs. You don’t want to, you just know those are the kind of—they’re guys’ guys. Oh, sorry—
Paul: Yeah, the table’s just shaking the microphones a little bit, that’s alright.
Tom: And—yeah, because we’re getting to the exciting part. The radio crackled over the—the one my dad’s listening to, and I know that my father had a great moment in time. He had carried around an article from one of my football games in High School, he had kept my Stanford acceptance letter, he kept my Air Force acceptance to the Air Force Academy, and now he gets to hear over the radio that a defense lawyer had gone in the courtroom as a defense lawyer and come out as a defendant, and that was me.
Paul: That’s pretty alpha, though. That’s pretty alpha. No it’s not.
Tom: No, yeah. Yeah, it’s omega at that point.
Paul: It’s omega.
Tom: Yeah, that was the omega right there. But the bottom line was, I have come to see—and that’s where I—you know, I had a guy tell me the other day, he says, “It’s interesting to see how many people really want you to do well and to be okay, and they want to check”—and I’m like, I don’t need anybody to check on me. I’m okay, you know. If I’m out here, if you see me, if I’m around, I’m doing fine. It’s when I’m not here that I’m in danger. And left to my own devices—
Paul: And we tried to reach you. We called you when you were—in those fourteen months, we would call you, and—talk about what that’s like, when you’re deep into your crack smoking and people that love you are—because you knew I loved you, right?
Tom: Yeah. And then the shaking of the heads is what you imagine, but it’s also self delusion because you’re telling yourself the whole time, ‘Don’t worry, just tomorrow. Okay, just let me just get by. Okay, I know you’re here to—look, this is my last one, I’m not buying any more anyway so don’t worry. It’s okay. I lived. I’m just having a few more hits and I’ll see you tomorrow.’ And you honestly intend that to happen till tomorrow comes, and then tomorrow comes and you say, ‘Don’t—you know what, I’m not going to make it there Thursday, but I’ll see you next Monday. Yeah, yeah, no, no, next week we’ll play a little tennis.’
Paul: Yeah. I do know, I know that feeling, that you can’t get out of this catch-22, that you might as well get high because you didn’t plan anything yesterday because you got high.
Tom: Yeah, you might as well, yeah.
Paul: So—and you can’t get any traction, and you do—so many nights I would stumble home drunk and say I’m going to get help tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m going to get help. And I’d tell my wife, I’ve got a drinking problem, I’m going to get help. And I’d wake up, and my first three thoughts would be, ‘You slept too late, you’re a lazy piece of shit, your life is passing you by,’ and my stomach would tighten into a knot, and the only thing that sounded good to me was drinking my bottle of wine or my scotch or my Guinness at seven o’clock at night. That feeling I would get between beer number three and beer number four after a couple of hits of weed, I would sit in my La-Z-Boy and a warmth would come over me that nothing in the world felt better than. It’s—I felt suddenly okay about my career, I could tell my wife that I loved her, whatever was on TV was suddenly more interesting, I had confidence. I had that rare feeling that was almost inaccessible to me in other ways, was a combination of relaxation and excitement.
Tom: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. No, I know what you’re talking about.
Paul: Because the other twenty-two hours a day were anxiety and depression.
Tom: Or—and you end up chasing that feeling. With crack hits we are able to get drunk for five minutes at a spot, at a shot.
Paul: That’s how long a hit lasts?
Tom: Yeah, right in there, before you start to—
Paul: What’s it like? What’s a hit of crack—describe your first, the first hit you took with those two hookers. And I also want to know some more about that story.
Tom: Yeah. Um, well, it’s, you know, for me, it’s a very vibrant, sexual drug, and what that—that first hit? Look, that Zegna suit went on and off all weekend, so—I’m not sure what state it was in, if it was even on front or backwards when I got to court on Monday, because it really had been gone—I was leaving—I was going to go get a shower, you know, it was—
Paul: We know one of your socks got laid, because it didn’t show up.
Paul: It went down to the Free Clinic.
Tom: Yeah, I wonder if that’ll get returned some day. But the bottom line is—
Paul: What was that first hit like, that you wind up chasing, because that is one of the things that a lot of crack addicts and cocaine addicts talk about, or meth—
Tom: Yeah, it’s a euphoria. It’s definitely a euphoric, a euphoric—it’s definitely the pleasure centers, it’s everything that could—it’s a full-on, five-minute orgasm that’s building, and everything sounds exciting and fun. And by the way, those hookers were extremely classy women after the first hit, you know. Those are extremely classy. And I’m sure they were thousands of dollars a night type gals. You would never know they were hookers, right, if—
Paul: Are you being sarcastic?
Tom: I am being sarcastic. Yeah, that’s a new thing out, it’s called sarcasm, yeah. I don’t know if they had it where you were growing up in Chicago.
Paul: So they were not high-priced—
Tom: I’m not sure they were now. Yeah, I look back and probably think, you know, I know this guy, he wouldn’t have spent—yeah, no, they were not high-priced.
Paul: So were you chasing the feeling that—because I hear a lot of people that do crack and cocaine and meth say that that first hit is always the best one, and they’re—and it’s never—
Tom: Forever after they’re chasing it?
Paul: They’re chasing that.
Tom: Yeah, I’m not sure. I’m not sure I’m that way, because we’ve done a lot of experimentation, and I’m honestly—at one point during my usage, after the Bar got after me and I said, ‘Ah, you know, I’m not even going to fight them,’ and I went off into, you know, places, Carpenteria, I started taking high-end apartments in different cities just to live in those areas for a while, and—
Paul: For what purpose, just to get away from—
Tom: Because it seemed like it might be—stuff is happening there, and I’m going to go there. Like, you know, I had an apartment in Paseo, over the bar and the Paseo mall in Pasadena for a while, then I went to the Americana for a while, then back into Pasadena to a real high-end place, then I took a place in the beach area because I thought there was stuff happening down there, and it was always stuff happening outside the windows, but you know, and I’ll get out there in just a second, but I need—I’m going to get one more—
Paul: I need to prep.
Tom: Yeah, I need one more hit, right, yeah.
Paul: I need to bolster myself.
Tom: So by the time I’m ready to go, it’s about 3:30 in the morning, everything’s closed down, and I go out into an empty zip city, and that always reminded me that I’m way off the norm. And then I would—then you’d—you know, I’d hear the rush hour begin out there, or normal people begin to move around, and I’d think, ‘How did they do that? How is it that you can get onto that freeway?’ Because if you told me that I had to show up somewhere for sure by nine the next day, well then I am really nervous at about seven o’clock because, gosh darn it, do I—now, I’ve got to stop now. No, but I’ll have one more and then I’ll stop after that.
Paul: Right. Is there anything sadder than that feeling when you’re rolling in at about five in the morning and you see somebody jogging?
Tom: Yeah, or walking their dog, and—
Paul: You know, they might as well just come shit on your shoe.
Tom: Yeah. What about that Chinese—what do they do, that movement—
Paul: Doing the Tai Chi?
Tom: Yeah. Oh, if you see someone in the park actually happy and healthy, you can sense it, and you see it and it really bugs you. But you know what, I’m going to get there next week. It’ll be alright, I’ll be jogging with them next week. And that was how I lived it. And day after day after day after day went by. Here’s the deal, though—as much—when you ask my deep fears, my deep fear isn’t to use again, in that sense, it’s what is produced, not health-wise, not socially-wise, it’s that emotional emptiness that comes, because as soon as that relapse occurred, the emotional emptiness I suffered up until about 156—not up until 157 days ago, two hours ago, was so deeply isolating and so empty inside my body that nothing can fill that. There’s nothing to fill it with anymore. So…
Paul: You might as well get high.
Tom: It really—one way or the other. It doesn’t—to get high just means that you’re putting it off, or it’s coming back soon. You’re just putting it off for a few more hours.
Paul: So are you saying that that feeling came once you started using again, or it came and that’s why you used again?
Tom: No, no. I used again because the stuff came—I saw it. The stuff was nearby, and I thought it was no problem. I hadn’t used for a year and a half and I was, you know, ready to go, and it was cool, and it would just be, ‘It’s okay, it’s just—I’m just, let’s check it, a hit.’ One hit, though, and I went for fourteen more months. At the age of 51 to then, clear into the late 52s, and you know, that’s not—it’s just not a pretty picture to see a 52-year-old guy out, you know, on crack.
Paul: You could smoke crack for the senior tour, though.
Paul: There’s a good chance.
Tom: Well, I’m glad to be here to laugh about some of that stuff, but I’d rather identify the fact that the types of people I ran into and the characters that were around, to watch the games they played upon each other, because what really happens in the end is that true society moves on without you, and doesn’t—
Paul: We moved on without you. We called you, for a while it was every day, then every—once a week, then once a month, and eventually—
Tom: In ever-decreasing time frames.
Paul: Eventually we had to give up on you, because if the person doesn’t want to get sober, there is nothing that you can do. You can’t make somebody get sober. All you can do is reach your hand out and say we love you, we care about you—
Tom: Call us if you’re ready.
Paul: Call us when you’re ready.
Tom: Well, actually, what did happen was a guy I know, a guy that was—actually you were like—and you still are number two on my speed-dial list, because you’re the second guy I called. I called Dave Roth also, and Dave answered his phone at 10:30 at night on a Sunday, February 20th, and literally said, “I’ll be there tomorrow, if you want.” And by the time—that time I got hold of you, and I saw you the next day.
Tom: And the fact was, is that, you know, that call, you’re already well. By stepping into that call, you have made a positive move of self-esteem. The answer to most of this stuff, I have found, is the weirdest, smallest, stupidest things that I used to just discount. Sometimes—
Paul: Like what?
Tom: Like my mother used to say, “When you’re blue, for others do,” okay? It makes no sense to me as a young guy that you do anything for anybody else, because it’s all self-aggrandizement. I’m out there each day getting for me and mine, and if I’m pretty bright and I can play the street and I can get to be—I mean I can get there pretty quick, and I can—and now it’s about power and prestige, if I’ve got—I check your suit, I check your shoes, I check the car you’re driving. I make sure I know what the value—the stuff’s out there.
Paul: Where do you think that comes from with you? Was your—were your parents kind of—love was contingent on success and accomplishment?
Tom: Not at all. My father’s was; my mother’s wasn’t.
Tom: My mother literally—here’s what I’ve learned, if we want to talk absolute truths. The “rules,” ten of them in the old days, or were there fifteen and they dropped one tablet on the way down, who knows? Mel Brooks says it was fifteen. But the fact is, is that those ten actually don’t create a better world for others, they create a better world for you. Because if you don’t lie, you don’t look at other people and think they’re lying to you. If you don’t commit adultery, you don’t look at your wife and think that she’s messing around on you—or husband. If you don’t steal, you don’t check your stuff every night. It’s a nice way to live. So it turns out that I was living those rules—I’ve lived by those rules because I thought I might get caught; eventually I thought I couldn’t get caught, and violated them all except for the murder and a couple others, I think. I used to be a guy that couldn’t—that always saw the future as bright, I knew the future was bright, I wore sunglasses at night, the whole thing. I knew what was coming, I was going to be president, it was cool. I had it going. I’m good with that, and I’m happy to have everybody around me happy, and I like that. But I have now come to a spot in my life, this moment in time, 157 days in, I’m really, really happy with my immaterial beliefs. I do not worry anymore about my cars, airplanes, boats, any of my possessions. They’re rented, they’re God’s.
Paul: But you have these moments…
Tom: Of—that are scaring the crud out of me. Those are the scariest things, and I can—if we’re talking to anybody out there that is feeling that emptiness, and could be anywhere on the earth, I have noticed there’s a couple things that draw me out of it. One, communication, and ending the isolation, because what the void does is it sucks in. It likes to—it keeps you spiraling around a black hole. It’s a self-building prophecy, too. The more empty you feel, the more loser-like you feel, the more horrible you feel, the worse you look, the worse you act, the more repulsive you are and the more repulsed you are, or you receive. So, in the end, you end up sitting alone at a coffee table—at a coffee shop with your book and looking around, and nobody comes over—nobody’s going to come over to you and go, “Dude, you look like you’ve got it going on! What’s up? What are you eating?” There’s so few like—except for me. I might walk by. And honestly, most of the people that I do that to turn around and look at me and say, you know, “Get away from me.” You know, and you’ve seen it in coffee shops. I’ve embarrassed you, probably. You’re hard to embarrass.
Paul: Yeah, you—I don’t think you’ve ever embarrassed me in a coffee shop, but that’s where—lots of other places.
Tom: Okay, now my—yeah, my trial lawyer—
Paul: Lots of other places.
Tom: Yeah, I got it, I heard you.
Paul: But there—that’s my favorite place to reach out and connect to people, and especially strangers, is the coffee shop. And I’ve talked about that on this podcast, the importance of getting out of yourself no matter how scary it is, and there are still days where I just don’t—the answer just seems to be sitting in my La-Z-Boy and thinking about myself would be just the best decision to make, but then it seems like my fears grow when I isolate. They become more distorted, and the lizard becomes a dragon in my head.
Tom: I think everybody knows what you’re talking about right now.
Tom: Yeah, because the second you start to say them and put them out there—anything you can really get worried about, go ahead and put it out there. Say it out loud to somebody, and all of a sudden—here’s what I’ve discovered: lookit, they’ve taken my Bar license away. I know I’m a better lawyer than—and I’ll say it straight out, I don’t give a crud—99% of the guys that have law licenses in California right now, I can—I still have clients calling me and asking me stuff when they’ve gotten advice from licensed attorneys. There are attorney—I say all that to say this: I’ve been embarrassed as bad as a man can be, and if I say that right now, if I’m starting to go out and have a dance with a gal, or she’s interested in me, or the first things—I don’t have any problem telling you what happened to me. I don’t care anymore.
Paul: That’s one of the things I love about you, that—
Tom: It’s because the power goes out of it. If you hide from it, they’ve got power over you.
Tom: Right? And so if you walk up to somebody and—like today at the pool, I had a couple friends over and we were out by the pool, and there was some gal, and I, in my—what did you say, gregarious way, said something to her, and she literally put her nose in the air and ignored me like—and my buddies went, “Whoa! Dude, she just shot you down!” or whatever, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, the arrogance of youth. She’s 22, I’m 53, of course I’m getting shot down. There’s no chance to start with.’
Paul: That’s just common sense.
Tom: Yeah. Right, you know?
Paul: Here parents raised her right.
Tom: Yeah. Now she’s even more desirable. But the fact was, is that there was like a young lady from the Ukraine and another guy that works for Cirque du Soleil. They were at different sides of the pool. By the end of the day, they are over in our area and we’re all exchanging—he’s from Venezuela, she’s from Kiev—that’s technically the Ukraine, I guess, now, but she’s—and we’re having a conversation amongst—and they all are interesting people. This guy just flew in from finishing Cirque du Soleil up in Canada and he’s going to start with the Kodak Theatre; she is a diamond dealer, and—I mean these are well-off people, they’re socially acceptable and successful, but they would have stayed alone at that pool at both ends. It ends up that Anna and Dan—I have both their phone numbers now—great people, and interesting as heck.
Paul: And you went out of your way to connect to them.
Tom: Absolutely. And they did not turn me—and despite—
Paul: They were welcoming.
Tom: Absolutely. And—
Paul: And I think—go ahead.
Tom: And I think if we have any of the people that are listening to us now, that he can take anything away from this, is that if someone turns you down, if someone puts their nose up, it’s them. It’s on them.
Paul: It’s on them. It is on them.
Tom: I said it first. And let them go, and just feel bad for them, you know?
Tom: And so if you push out there, you’re going to be rebuffed a couple of times but you’re going to have great successes. If you look for that wondrous variety in each person, each person has something to add, and recognize it in them. They will flower in front of you when you recognize that they are this certain person. Anna, today—she’s got a real accent, she’s just been here a few months—comes over, but you’ve got to give her credit. She’s gotten her—she’s paid her own way over here. Her parents, her whole family are back, you know, oceans away. She’s trying to learn English—horrible language, I can’t imagine learning it, and yet by the time you finish, you find out that she built her own little business in a male-dominated zone over there in Kiev. And all of a sudden Dan comes over, turns out he works for Cirque du Soleil. I asked him to do a handstand on my finger, you know, I was like, “You can do a handstand right on this finger,” and stuff like that, and he’s laughing at himself. But the dude’s an actual performer, an acrobatic performer. How do I get to be—
Paul: I find the best way to break the ice with Cirque du Soleil people is to ask them to blow themselves.
Paul: And if they don’t, I call them a fraud and I turn and—
Paul: —huff and walk away.
Tom: That’s great. Well, if they could blow themselves, they would be in their house doing it, because that’s why dogs—yeah.
Paul: Yeah. And speaking of being in the house doing it, all of this cool stuff, meeting these people and just the excitement I hear in your voice, if you’re in here smoking crack—
Tom: I won’t even go by the pool.
Paul: We don’t even go by the pool, we don’t get to meet those people, and—
Tom: No. If you do knock on the door, I’ll try to see if you’ll go away, not let you hear that I’m in here. I have the air conditioner on 24/7 because, one, it makes it so I can’t hear out, because otherwise I think every footstep in the hallway is coming towards—
Paul: You’re talking about when you’re on crack.
Tom: Yeah, and in the aftermath. The aftermath is a—you know, you know you look like crud, you haven’t showered—
Paul: What do you mean by the aftermath? Meaning when you’re coming down from—
Tom: Yeah, you’re—crack is a relatively quick high and a short down. I’ve never found it a problem—you know, who was it? Somebody said, “I’ve never had a problem quitting cigarettes, I’ve done it thousands of times.”
Tom: Right? Well, you know, it’s not hard to quit crack. You quit it every time you hit the last hit. How many times have I taken all the pipes in the whole house, thrown them out, you know, cleaned the whole house out, and gone about six hours until that evening and thought—
Paul: How many times do you think you’ve done that?
Tom: Twenty, thirty, forty times.
Tom: Over a fourteen-month period. At least once every few days was some sort of action that told myself, ‘Yeah, there you go, now you’re on the healthy’—‘open up the windows, open the plate-glass window, make a couple calls,’ you know, ‘say hi to a couple people, promise to see them next—in a couple of days,’ you know, whatever it may be, and then disappear back into the abyss. There are certain truths I know, and I don’t care that anybody anymore doesn’t—thinks that there aren’t any real truths. Yeah, there are some real truths. One, there is some true evil on this earth, and each one of us has seen it very seldom. It doesn’t reveal itself very often. The way I know that exists is a story from the LA riots, but I—you know, some other day. But the fact is, is that my body recognized danger and evil, even though I could not see it. I knew—I looked in a window, and from a window, and it was darkened, but I knew behind that window, looking at me, was pure evil. And to say—to tell you, and to take myself back there just put the hair up on the back of my neck.
Paul: Where—this was during the riots?
Tom: Absolutely. I lived in [?]. I had my family at the time, we had a house on Casa Grande, it was down below Altadena, and a low-riding, darkened-back Impala came down the street and turned right around the corner, and I was out in the living room watching—that I just put in off of a settlement win, I was starting to be successful, and I—and all the windows were surrounding, and I looked out, and—I was smoking a cigarette on the back porch, and looked out, looked in the driver’s side, two guys are looking at me, didn’t have a problem with them; looked at the back window, it was darkened, couldn’t see in it, and the hair—and my entire body reacted.
Paul: Wow. Wow.
Tom: The hair on the back of my neck, the hair on the back of my arms, my body went rigid, and the car slowly cruised on by the driveway and disappeared behind the fence. And I immediately turned the lights out in the room I was in, closed both doors, locked them down, locked the front door, put the—gave my wife—got—I only had two boys at the time, Dean, Gar, put them in the back room with my wife, closed the bedroom door, handed her a high-powered rifle that I’d used to shoot elk. I said if it’s not me at the door, empty this rifle through the door.
Paul: Are you kidding?
Tom: I told her—
Paul: And this is before you were using drugs?
Tom: Yeah, but—oh, yeah, this is—no, this is—I’m on my way to partnership. Now, meanwhile, on TV, the burning of LA is taking place, and I turned off the TVs now and I planted the .357 halfway down the hallway on a thing and I took the .45 and was standing there with the shotgun in the den. So, I then positioned myself on the back step with the lights out, no light backlighting me, and I had the—the streetlight was on the corner where that car had just gone around. Behind that fence is a friend of ours’, our neighbor’s, Henry. Nothing happened. Nothing happened, and after about an hour I gradually turned the lights back on, went back and told her, “It’s me, honey,” and she blew—you know, she blew the door out, “Oh, there we go,” and so life went back to normal till the next morning. I got up and went outside and I saw Harry standing on the sidewalk, and I said, “Hey, Harry, what’s going on? Everything okay over there?” And he goes, “No. Last night, a low—this car turned up the alley and two minutes later four guys came across my front lawn, the last one had a shotgun in his hand. They were headed towards the corner of your fence, and right as the three of them got by and didn’t see me and the last one looked over and saw me, put the gun on the back of my neck, and they took everything out of the house and took everything.”
Paul: Are you shitting me?
Tom: They were less than twenty-five yards from being dead, all of them, because I would have emptied the .45 through the wood fence. I knew they were coming, and—
Paul: Oh my god.
Tom: And they were there, and the one with the shotgun was the guy sitting in the back seat. And I knew he was coming. And unfortunately Henry took him. But I think God saved their lives, because I would have fired off—I would have hit the shotgun on the first two leaders, .45 through the fence to knock down the back guys, then would have backed up into the house to the .357 and then backed up clear up into my own rifle which would have been in the bathroom out in the hallway. They would have never got to my kids or my wife. And there were only four of them and only one of them was armed.
Paul: Which one’s head would you have mounted? The shotgun guy?
Tom: I would have—no, yeah, yeah, for sure. I would have figured out which one it was, because the two guys in the front seat were pretty easily identifiable. I would have figured out which were the two and mounted both the back two.
Paul: Would you have mounted just his head, or his head and him throwing an ironic gang sign?
Tom: Yeah, I [laugh]—yeah, yeah, or I would have done some sort of embarrassing position on the mounting for the two in the back seat, you know.
Paul: Maybe one guy eating the other guy’s ass.
Paul: You could put one guy’s—mount one guy’s ass, and the other—
Tom: Yeah, and I would have posted it up on the front door, you know. But the idea being, why I say that story is that from that day on, I’ve never not trusted my own instincts. I’ve known since a young man that you should trust your instincts. If you sense a problem, if your intuition goes off, it’s a collective subconscious that’s out there.
Paul: And yet your addiction can find its way around that intuition and lie to you, and tell you that you need to stay in your living room for fourteen months and that outside is not the answer.
Paul: One more hit is—
Tom: Yeah, it’ll be better next—the next day.
Paul: —is going to get you right.
Tom: Yeah, and if you could—you know, I can do the same thing and expect a different result, they’ve said that millions of times, and that’s such a quintessential—you watch yourself doing the same behaviors. That kitchen, I’m looking at it right now, and I’m thinking, how many times did I go over there and go, ‘This stuff will be different,’ and throw it in the microwave, cook it up, and throw [?]—and right away, bam, no, it’s different, you know.
Paul: I want to wrap it up here. Did you—before we do that, did you have any more fears that you wanted to share with the listeners?
Tom: Well, I think that fear I called you about today is the one that I truly believe is universal. Look, anybody out there that thinks that they aren’t as good as, or good enough for, is wrong. Every single voice, every single person—
Paul: Say that again? Everybody what?
Tom: Every single person out there that thinks they’re not as good as—
Paul: Oh, right.
Tom: —or good enough for, is wrong.
Paul: Right, yeah.
Tom: I’ve had a guy explain, fear is like paper, right?
Paul: It’s a mile high, a mile wide, and paper thin.
Tom: Paper thin.
Paul: Just walk through it.
Tom: Walk through it. Walk to it and acknowledge it, and say, “I’m so scared! I’m so scared.” If you say that out loud, it takes it away from there, right? If you’re hurting, go on out and tell somebody. Hey, are you hurting? If you’re not, “Hey, you look happy,” you know? Have Tourette’s on a mild form, in a way, you know what I mean?
Tom: Let it out, and let people hear what you’re feeling, and you will be amazed that they come running.
Paul: And some people won’t be able to accept that, and that’s just a part of life, but there will be people that will be able to accept that and be open to it.
Tom: And then if you think you’re not good enough or anything like that, say that. Say. Walk in and go, “Hey, I’ve been disbarred. Yeah, I used to be somebody; I’m not.” Use that kind of inflection, and you—and people warm to you. They swarm. Every single person walking around has some truth in him that is really, quintessentially valuable. All you have to do is just listen to him.
Paul: Yeah. Some of them need to floss, though.
Tom: [laugh] Now, wait a minute, though. When you say that, that’s an interesting thing, because that was my newest example of doing something that is self-esteemable act.
Paul: Self care.
Tom: Yeah, because when you take care, when you just stop and bathe, when you stop—I mean because, really, us crackheads? And meth is even worse. Heroin? They don’t even care. When they stop that hygiene and stuff like that, that is saying that I’m not worth it, so why would anybody else—
Tom: It’s those people that are the—that we need to step forward to and say, “Hey, you know, you are worth it, it’s okay.”
Paul: Yeah. I’m going to close with my favorite memory of you. It’s—you had fifty days off of crack cocaine, we had decided to go—
Tom: You say crack like a bad thing, you know?
Paul: Yeah—off menthol, and we—you and me and a couple of guys were vacationing at your family’s place in Catalina Island, which is just off the coast from LA, a cool little island, very remote, very dry, very arid, and most of the weekend was spent—you excitedly—and we were so happy that you were back amongst us and getting out, and so we’re driving your Jeep around Catalina, and Catalina is—is it an exaggeration to call it a tinderbox? It’s that dry?
Tom: Yeah. Oh, no, they have—you’re not supposed to be smoking.
Paul: It is a tinderbox.
Paul: Well, it’s a car full of sober addicts and alcoholics, and one guy who smokes—literally as he’s finishing one cigarette he’s starting another one. Great guy, but he’s also got a morphine pump in him and sometimes he gets drowsy, and he’s addicted to texting. So we’re driving this Jeep, he’s in the—you’re driving, you’re fishtailing around corners, there are no guardrails, this guy is in the passenger seat, he’s occasionally getting—
Paul: Nodding because of the morphine, and he’s also texting, and his cigarette is hanging out of the Jeep in the driest country I’ve ever been in—
Tom: Which has a gas leak.
Paul: And this Jeep has the worst gas leak I’ve ever smelled in my—
Tom: Yeah, we had to have that fixed.
Paul: —in my life. We somehow manage to survive that. Your dog gets bitten by a rattlesnake, his head blows up to the size of a balloon, you and I have to jump in your plane to fly back to Los Angeles, and we’re flying, and the sun is setting, and I look over at you and I think to myself, ‘This guy, fifty days ago, almost shit himself because he had so much crack in him, and he is at the controls of a plane that I am riding in.’
Tom: 180 miles an hour.
Paul: And I felt completely safe.
Paul: And I don’t know where that comes from, but—
Tom: Yeah. Well—
Paul: It was a beautiful—and your dog was—
Tom: Survived, he’s here today.
Paul: Survived, got hit by a car a month later, survived that, and is completely healthy now, and you are one of those guys that I know, no matter what we do, it’s never going to be boring. And you are one of my favorite people in the world, and I love you, and I want to thank you for coming and doing the podcast—
Tom: Love you too, Paul.
Paul: —and opening up. Thanks, Tom.
Paul: Before I take us out with reading another survey responder, I want to thank some people. I want to thank Stig Greve, who designed and runs the website, and give a plug for his website design company, Chromadile—you can go to chromadile.com for more information; Martin Willis, who helps out with the website; my lovely wife Carla, who patiently listens to all the episodes and reads all my blogs and gives me loving, good, constructive feedback. As I mentioned before, if you’d like to support the show non-financially, going to iTunes and giving us a good rating is always greatly, greatly appreciated. Leaving voicemails is greatly appreciated; you can leave a question, a comment or a fear, and that number to leave it on is 818-574-7177. Also, you know what I’d like to know, I’m thinking about doing a live show in LA, and if any of you would be interested in coming to see a live show in LA, let me know, maybe start a Facebook page or something like that. I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to run that. I think that’s it for the thanks.
So the survey that I want to read, this woman calls herself Saffron—delicious spice—and she’s female, obviously, she’s a female, 21-30 years old, occasionally uses drugs or alcohol, pretty dysfunctional environment she comes from, never exercises, diet isn’t too good, she’s been through therapy, takes meds but not from a psychiatrist, she shares her feelings and believes that it helps greatly, she has a large spiritual life, she says she doesn’t have a specific credo but she believes that she’s connected to things much bigger than herself, and she’s sort of—“and I’m sort of fine”—oh, “if that’s a fantasy,” that’s what she says, which I kind of relate to. I definitely relate to that one. She’s unsatisfied with how much money she makes, and the most common negative thoughts that she has is, “I’m stupid, I’m going to fail or screw things up, I’m not deserving the things in my life that aren’t screwed up.” Behaviors she wishes she didn’t engage in but does anyway, she says, “I visualize myself being injured under ridiculous circumstances. Example: I can’t walk downstairs without picturing myself falling down and breaking things. I also worry incessantly about my pets dying. I always have a couple of seconds of fear that they’ll be dead when I get home.” I’ve had that one before. Does she believe any person, place or thing is keeping her from being happy? She says, “No, because all evidence to the contrary, I think I’m actually pretty damn happy.” The most common thoughts she has is that she doesn’t do enough; if she were rich, she’d be happy. And the positive ones—wow, we get somebody with some positive recurring thoughts—is that she matters, the world is a better place with her in it, and she’s going to be okay no matter what happens. The activity she engages in most is procrastinating. Boy, every single person seems to put that one down. About anything that causes her to feel ashamed, she says, “The state my apartment was in before I moved last month. It was disgusting, and I hate myself for letting it get that way.” Boy, if that’s as bad as her problems get, you’ve got it pretty fucking good. What causes her to feel guilty at various times, she hasn’t been honest with others about herself, her situations. I can certainly relate to that. If anything causes her to feel angry, she says, “My parents. My mother is emotionally manipulative and abusive and she lives with, and leeches off, my twin sister. This means my nephews, 2 and 5, who are adored by me, are exposed to her mood swings and terrible behavior every day. It means that my sister and my brother-in-law don’t truly get to parent, because my sister’s still afraid of my mom and doesn’t know that she has the option to tell my mom no and to set boundaries.” To the question, if there is a God, what are some of the things you would say to God, she said, “You could make your presence a little more obvious to make things easier on everybody. Also, it wouldn’t suck if you could get that whole ‘love people’ message across better because your PR staff sucks, for the most part. But thanks for making me who I am and making me go through what I did, because I’m going to help people because of it. I would like my pony and my sack full of money now.” Thank you, Saffron, that made my day. And thank you guys for listening, and remember there is help. You’re not alone. And thanks for listening.