Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Letting the Cat Guy Out of the Bag

Jackson Galaxy, the host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, may have a way with animals but it took sobriety to help him deal with people.

By Anna David

See Jackson Galaxy once and you’re not likely to forget him: he’s bald, has a creatively styled goatee, wears glasses and is never far from his guitar case. He’s perhaps best known as the Cat Guy who doesn’t look anything like what a Cat Guy should look like: the host of the Animal Planet hitMy Cat From Hell, the guy who turns feral beasts into purring furballs. What you may not have known about him—at least until the recent release of his memoir, Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love and Coming Clean—is that even more than a Cat Guy, Jackson Galaxy is an addict. While the book examines his relationship with Benny, Galaxy’s “original cat from hell,” it is also his own addiction-leading-to-sobriety memoir (it’s got to be the only tale of redemption that also includes information on how to get a kitty to go in her litter box).

Now over nine years clean, Galaxy, 46, can be seen in the currently airing third season of My Cat From Hell. Here, he talks exclusively toThe Fix about getting sober, going through gastric bypass surgery and how he wasn’t drawn so much toward pets as he was drawn away frompeople.

When did you first realize you were an addict?

I say this in my book but I was always the kid who just wanted more. My primal addiction was definitely food. I grew up in a fat household. And I had addictive behavior around food: I remember sneaking food and getting reprimanded for eating too much. Eventually you graduate to other things and soon I was spending my allowance money on baseball games. Then, when I was 13, my grandmother caught me smoking cigarettes. I just liked whatever tasted good.

But it was at my first meeting, when I heard the speaker, that I really realized it. I could hear my life in his and I just thought, “God damn it.” I’d honestly never considered myself an addict until then. But then I got the [20 Questions] pamphlet and started checking off yes’s. I was cornered.

It was interesting because I’d always considered myself to be somewhat brave—someone willing to plumbing the depths of my soul for my songs. I didn’t think of myself as someone who turned a blind eye toward the truth.

I have a very skewed sense of what satisfaction feels like.

What surprised you the most about sobriety?

The quickness of the changes in my life. When I went in to read the audio book, I realized I didn’t spend enough time on that in the book. The first couple of months sucked but at the same time, by the first month, I had enough money to move to another apartment. Small things were immediately working out.

But at the same time, I don’t know that I ever embraced the sober community as much as other people do. I’ve never been good at being social without the lubricant. I’m still not the most social guy now, at just over nine years, and that’s okay. The truth is that I got high and drunk in the first place to avoid all that [social] stuff. I think too many people think that when they get sober, there will be a pot of perfection waiting around the corner for them. But you still are who you are; you’re just more conscious. And I think people think that because they make this big sacrifice—because they turn in their self-destructive ways—they’re going to get some big cash reward.

But you’re someone who has gotten a big cash reward.

Funny that. But still, the cash reward was greatly delayed. I think people expect it’s going to be like a gun reward program, where you turn in your gun and get the reward right then. But now, nine years after the last time I picked up, I am finally figuring out how to deal with the complexities of human relationships. I can now, finally, experience joy and sorrow. Honestly, the writing of that book was the cash reward. Writing about Benny’s death and writing the epilogue, I just put on music and wrote about how my journey with animals got me to this point of being an emotionally available person—someone who’s capable of loving more than just animals. People make fun of me because on the show, I cry all the time. But I hadn’t cried in 20 years [before I got sober], seriously. It’s still coming out. The first month I may have been able to pay my rent but nine years later, I’m actually learning to love people and to be of service to the world.

Do you think addicts are more drawn to pets than non-addicts?

Yeah, but whether or not that relationship is going to be permanent depends on how bad their addiction is. Because, of course, a level of selfishness is part of the addict’s package. But to feel love unconditionally—to come home and know there’s something there—is important when you hate yourself. The thing with me is that I wasn’t drawn to animals because I had a strong drive toward the animal experience; it was that I had a strong drive away from the human experience. I was done with people, I was done with being judged.

You had gastric bypass surgery. Did you get into recovery for food as well as for drugs and alcohol?

Yeah and food’s a tough one: you can’t put the plug in the jug and be done. And after the surgery, you have to be careful: you can kill yourself if you stretch the stomach out. So I did have to do work around it. The first week or so after my surgery, I detoxed as hard as I ever had. I had been living on fast food, which is physically addictive. But you know how it goes: if you’re an addict, you don’t give a shit about being buzzed, you give a shit about being loaded. It’s not about being satisfied; it’s about being full. And I have a very skewed sense of what satisfaction feels like.

Do you spend a lot of time working on your sobriety?

Well, I hadn’t been to a meeting in three months when I went to one a few weeks ago in Colorado and was finally able to pick up my nine-year chip. When I was sharing there, I was able to admit that sometimes I work a great program and sometimes I work a shitty program but as long as I do my gratitude list and a quick [Steps] 1-2-3—as long as I turn my life the fuck over—I know I’ll survive it.

Did you have any hesitations about putting the fact that you’re an addict out there?

I had no intention of putting it out there. I had the intention of writing about Benny, but very early on it became clear that I couldn’t tell his story without telling mine. It wouldn’t have been fair to him.

What would you say is your greatest challenge?

I need people to remind me sometimes to be grateful. Normal people look at me and say, “Are you that unappreciative of the life you have?” But if you’re one of us and your life doesn’t feel like one prolonged orgasm, it feels disappointing. [Laughs] Just to have a normal life doesn’t feel like enough. A couple of months ago, someone asked me how it felt to be achieving what I’ve achieved lately and I said, “I wish I could disappear into the pleasure again.” And that was my signal that I needed to go to a meeting. Because the desire to disappear into pleasure signifies a desire to disappear yourself. Still, I couldn’t be happier that this thing that’s happening for me is happening now—at 46 instead of at 26. That’s the grace of the universe. Because the cash reward back then could have killed me.

Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix and the author of the books Party Girl, Bought, Reality Matters, Falling For Me and Animal Attraction. She's written about sex addiction, gambling addiction, Thomas Jane and Tom Sizemore, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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