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I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can

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I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can

  Praise for I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can

  “Spellbinding seems too mild a word.”

  —Detroit Free Press

  “Not only a frightening account of the tortured journey of her mind and soul, but a beautiful story that is filled with life and hope…”

  —Philadelphia Bulletin

  “There are few women who will not settle for killing relationships, with destructive men or pills or liquor, rather than walk through loneliness. If you read this book, you will have met someone to guide you through that walk—there are no epiphanies, no miracles, only the promise of growth, and Miss Gordon makes us trust that promise.”

  —The New York Times

  “Gordon’s story rings with authenticity.”

  —Washington Post

  “Reads like the unrevised diary of a vibrant, dramatic woman.”

  —LA Times

  “Barbara Gordon’s tale of her terrifying Valium withdrawal and subsequent hospitalizations is even more relevant today than when first published in 1979. Our current Generation RX can learn much from her—most importantly, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how deep inside of it you are.”

  —Joshua Lyon, author of Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict

  “A number of books about substance abuse have come out since I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can, but it still should be on the bookshelves (or E-reader) of everyone directly or indirectly involved with addiction. Gordon’s straightforward description of the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms endured by a recovering addict has a powerful universality. It helps all of us understand the complex and excruciating process of recovery.”

  —Ann Seymour, author of I’ve Always Loved You

  I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can

  I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can


  Moyer Bell


  I’M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN Copyright © 1979, 2006, 2011 by Barbara Gordon.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Beaufort Books, 27 West 20th Street, Suite 1102, New York, NY 10011.

  Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following:

  The lines from the poem “since feeling is first” are reprinted from IS 5, Poems by E. E. Cummings, with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright 1926 by Boni & Liveright. Copyright renewed 1954 by E. E. Cummings.

  The lines from the poems “We are Many” and “Loneliness” are excerpted from the book Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems edited by Nathaniel Tarn, translated by Alastair Reid. Copyright © 1970 by Anthony Kerrigan, W. S. Merwin, Alastair Reid, Nathaniel Tarn. Copyright © 1972 by Dell Publishing Co., Inc. Reprinted by permission of Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, Jonathan Cape Ltd., and the estate of Pablo Neruda.

  The line from the song “Den of Iniquity” is from Pal Joey by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Copyright © 1941, 1950 & 1962 by Chappell & Co., Inc. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Gordon, Barbara, 1935-

  I’m dancing as fast as I can / Barbara Gordon. -- 3rd ed.

  p. cm.

  Originally published: 1st. ed. New York : Harper & Row, c1979.

  ISBN 978-0-8253-0630-3 (alk. paper)

  1. Medication abuse--Biography. 2. Gordon, Barbara, 1935- 3. Drug withdrawal symptoms. 4. Diazepam. I. Title.

  RM146.5.G67 2011




  79 80 81 82 83 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

  Published by Moyer Bell, an imprint of Beaufort Books

  Distributed by Midpoint Trade Books

  Interior design by Pre-Press Solutions

  For my Mother and Father and for Ed and Melinda, David, Jason and Michael Loeb and for Edy and Abbe Selman

  I have a favorite joke. A man and a woman meet at a singles resort in the Catskills. They are dancing together on a Saturday night. He says, “I’m only here for the weekend.” She replies, “I’m dancing as fast as I can.”


  Friends: had I ever known before the richness, the importance of friends in my life? They have become like my nuclear family. They supported me like bookends for months. They made me laugh, they endured my tears, they reminded me that I was me. It was at times a bumpy ride, but they traveled with me every step of the way: Andree Abecassis, Howard Aaron, Joan Clayton, Richard Goldstein, Anthony and Lenore Hatch, Rhoda Herrick, Phyllis Hunt, Cynthia Kayan, Sarah Ravis, Steve Seligman, Myrna Shevin, Mort and Rita Silverstein, Don Sloan, Mort and Barbara Spiegel, Roger Straus, Kathy and Jim Gurfein, and Jerry Traum. To all of you: my thanks.

  And to my Mother and Father, for bearing the darts that came from this painful emergence of me, so long delayed. For loving me through it all, for being strong and brave enough to understand, thank you with all my heart.

  And to my brother, Ed Loeb, and Melinda, and to David, Jason, Michael, Erin, Andrea, Jessica, Shelby, Laura, Jamie, Matthew, and Alec Loeb: My thanks for your love and understanding.

  And to Edy and Abbe, of course.

  To Lucianne Goldberg and Mort Janklow, my thanks for their encouragement and help.

  To Buz Wyeth of Harper, my gratitude, for his faith in me.

  And to my editors: Elisabether Jakab and Burton Beals, who proved that it was possible to do what I wanted to do and then made me do it right, my most sincere thanks.

  And those tender people in the hospital, the friends I made there among the patients and staff who touched my life so profoundly: my thanks.

  And Jim, my dear Jim, I thank you so very much – for your poems, for your love, for being you.

  And to Jim Fox and Kevin Fay for more reasons than I can mention here.

  Finally, to Peter Dunn, who has helped me through the roughest patches, and helped me to hear the music, long after the dance has ended.

  Without Eric Kampmann and Margot Atwell this new edition of my memoir would never have been possible. After reading an out-of-print edition of Dancing, Margot Atwell, Associate Publisher of Beaufort Books, decided that my book had something to say and a story to tell that would matter to readers of a new generation. The gods smiled on Dancing’s fortunes when Eric Kampmann, President of Beaufort Books, agreed.

  To everyone at Beaufort Books, notably Sarah Lucie, who manages to handle a thousand and one things effortlessly while maintaining a sunny smile, my thanks.

  Having Margot Atwell and Eric Kampmann enthusiastically bring their own creative passion to every step of Dancing’s new life has been beyond any writer’s fondest dream. My heartfelt thanks to Margot for her belief in my work, and to Eric, for making this new incarnation of my memoir possible. I deeply appreciate their support, their creative advice, and the enthusiasm and savvy professionalism they bring to each of their efforts.



  My Favorite Time of Life

  Sundays, Sundays

  Each Day from Now On

  Falling Apart


  Summer Alone

  Gordon—Six North

  A Workable Truce

  Endings and New Beginnings




  Going Home

  Happy Business


  About the Author


>   It has been thirty years since I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can was published. I doubt if anyone involved in bringing my memoir to life, especially me, ever dreamed it would have as profound an impact and attract as wide a readership around the world as it did.

  I thought I had written a book about an aberration, a time when one woman’s world collapsed, and about how she tried to put the pieces of herself and her life back together. But the notion that mine was an isolated misadventure was punctured when the mail started pouring into my publisher’s office. It seemed incredible: letters came from all over the globe, from teenagers and octogenarians, married and divorced, atheists and nuns—all wanted me to know that in ways I could not fathom, I had either told their stories or those of persons dear to them. Even if the specifics were vastly different, they wanted to tell me they had laughed or cried or learned something that had profound meaning for them.

  I had believed mine was a one-in-a-million story of addiction, a bumpy ride on the road to recovery, and by the last chapter, there was no walking into the sunset moment, just a tenuous attempt to build a new life. But thirty years ago, substance abuse and recovery were not yet established as part of the American experience, nor of the national vocabulary. There were few “treatment” centers, only locked wards in mental hospitals. Lost in a sea of misdiagnosis and medical mismanagement, a great number of readers found resonance and support in my book. With nothing on the subject in the media and without warnings from doctors, in a sense, Dancing broke a code of silence.

  Although my addiction was to a drug prescribed (and therefore legitimized) by a physician, I was still addicted. I knew it, but regrettably, the doctor didn’t. Prescription drug abuse had not yet been recognized as the dirty little secret that would reach crisis proportions and which remains a critical and costly issue for thousands of individuals till this very day. Only the names of the drug change with the decade. Today, Vicodin, a pain killer, is listed as the most prescribed drug in America, and authorities believe that it is probably the one that is most abused.

  After my book was published, I came to understand that even for people who had never taken a pill, addiction can take many forms and be camouflaged by many disguises. Alcohol, food, sex, gambling, even diving into one’s work with feverish intensity, and on and on it went.

  As I read each letter, I discovered that Dancing had emotional resonance for many readers in a hundred different ways. Some even saw the book as what might have been their own personal stories.

  As I prepare this new edition of my book, and read about a character bearing my name, I scarcely recognize her. Or I should say I scarcely recognize me. Incredulous, questions run through my mind. How could I have done that? Why didn’t I… How could I have been so blind? How did that woman survive? How I wish this were fiction! But these painful truths cannot be wished away. I am that woman; I did those things and yes, I was that blind. And despite the countless moments through the years when I wished it were otherwise, my book is a memoir; it is not fiction.

  I wished it were fiction when I read how I had been a collaborator in the collapse of my world. It can happen in a nanosecond; unaware, we can cede our precious possession—our own power and individuality—to others. In my case, the “others” were a partner who turned out to be Mr. Wrong and a doctor woefully ill-informed whose advice nearly cost me my life. Believing, as most people did at that time, that all doctors are god-like, I was the good patient, docile and compliant. I left the inquiring mind, so essential in my work, in the waiting room, and followed the doctor’s advice to a tee.

  One issue remains the same as it was three decades ago. The person with a drug problem is not necessarily a teenager shooting up in a dark alley or snorting cocaine at an all-night party. It may be a woman turned out in an elegant suit and flawless make-up, who carries an attaché case as she clicks her way down an office hallway in stiletto heels to attend a meeting. Or a man on a plane whose eyes are riveted to the screen of his laptop, his demeanor projecting control, self-possession. Although today’s drug takers may be less obvious than the old-fashioned picture of the backstreet junkie, even if they are dependent on medications “sanitized” by having been prescribed by physicians, they are still addicted to drugs, just as I was in 1979.

  Still, there are bright spots. To me the most important cultural shift lies in the fact that this new edition of Dancing arrives at a time when it’s harder and harder for dirty little secrets to stay secret. Even if the problems remain for many, millions of us have found other solutions, and are far less docile and far more skeptical about following doctors’ orders. No longer afraid of challenging them, we ask probing questions and search the internet before taking any medication. And we have found non-pharmacological outlets to reduce stress and anxiety. Men and women whiz by, jogging on torrid summer days or pounding the pavement in the midst of a pouring rainstorm. Yoga has swept the country, health clubs are packed—all these activities seem ordinary today, but they were far less prevalent when I wrote Dancing.

  The choice I had to make was an extreme—the choice between life and death—but surrounding it were the concerns of identity that trouble so many of us today: how to connect, to emerge, to touch a bell, and to remain whole. I do not ask others to follow my example—but I hope that in my experiences they may find the strength and courage to see themselves and their choices more clearly.

  I have told my story as honestly as I can. Obviously, it has been important to me to protect the identity and privacy of the other people involved in this story, so names and details have been changed for this reason.



  My Favorite Time of Life

  I was making a film about a dying woman. Compared to what I had been doing, it seemed as if this one would be easy because there were no facts to verify, no painstaking research, no bad guys, just directing the cameras and interviewing Jean. She had cancer. The only villain was time. After an exhausting year of producing tough investigative films about Nazi war criminals and slumlords, following Mayor Jean Barris through her daily round as she fought for her life would be a piece of cake. Now, locked in the editing room with Steve Isaacs, my film editor, we sat side by side in high editing room chairs, peering at the Moviola, listening to Jean, staring at her face. She never looked as if she was suffering. The phone rang. I motioned to Steve to keep screening: I had developed my own way of handling people who interrupted my work in the editing room.

  “Well, is she gonna die or isn’t she, Barbara?” It was the voice of CBS’s crackerjack salesman, Martin Ryan.

  “I don’t know, Marty. She’s still in the hospital.”

  “Well, what do you think? Will she be dead by air time?”

  I sighed as I watched Jean on the Moviola. She was standing in line at the laetrile clinic in Mexico. “I’m a film-maker, not a doctor,” I said after a few seconds.

  “Then you’ll have to make two versions,” he said flatly, “one 28:13, the other 23:13. If she dies we’ll kill the commercials.”

  If she dies we’ll kill the commercials. I hung up muttering to myself, then went back to the private world I loved so much: my film, the editor and me. But Martin had ruined it. I reminded myself that he sells documentary advertising time, and that isn’t easy when Charlie’s Angels is the barometer of America’s taste buds. Let him gaffe. It pays my rent.

  Now Jean was on the beach in Tijuana, walking with her husband, Ben, talking of life, her family, suburban politics and what it was like to become mayor of her hometown at forty-five, Nixon, blacks. She had so much to say. She looked great. A tall, blond woman, she was attractive in a healthy, sturdy, American kind of way. Sturdy but vulnerable. Her crooked smile betrayed a little-girl fragility, and that, in combination with her tall, almost imposing body, made her charming. I remembered how curious she had been about me, my career, why I lived with the man I loved instead of marrying him, of the trouble I’d had when I aimed my cameras at the CIA and the FBI. I didn’t blame her. If I
were dying and sharing my most intimate thoughts and fears with a stranger, I’d damn well want a closeness, too.

  So we had to become close. At first our relationship was cursory and casual, a business relationship, and that’s all. But as we spent time talking, walking, filming, eating in restaurants together, we began to like each other a lot. I shared with Jean’s oldest friends a sense of outrage that this forty-seven-year-old woman who was just beginning to emerge from housewivery and PTA meetings, this woman who was making a place for herself in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, had to be stricken with this hateful illness. Just when she was blooming, enjoying her life—cancer of the pancreas! I also shared with her oldest friends the conviction that she would be cured. She was going to live.

  I watched the screen as Jean and Ben strolled back to the clinic for Jean’s daily dose of laetrile. They had taken a mortgage on their house to pay for the trip for this “alternative cure.” She had made me promise to call it an “alternative cure” and then swear never to mention that it was laetrile. I wondered why and one day she finally told me. Always the consummate politician, Jean said that if people found out she had taken laetrile, it could hurt her politically. When I looked confused, she went on to explain that the John Birch Society believed that American Communists were battling to make laetrile illegal in America so that the Soviet Union could claim that they had discovered it as the cure for cancer. Jean didn’t want to be associated with any right-wing craziness. She just wanted it to work. She wanted to live. So we had called it an “alternative cure.”

  I winced as I remembered our days together in Tijuana—the cash-and-carry Lourdes of North America. There was fear mixed with hope on the faces of the stricken patients and their families and loved ones as they stood in line for hours at the laetrile clinic, waiting for their daily injection. I had filmed the signs plastered on the walls—no checks accepted, cash only—and I remembered the cold, hard looks on the faces of the Mexican nurses as they herded the people like sheep into the tiny rooms where the injections were given. Stories of miracle cures spread through the line like wildfire. Everyone had heard of a daughter, a husband, a wife, a grandmother, from Texas, Arkansas, California, Canada, someone who had been called terminal and was now cured. Why wouldn’t America make it legal? It had cost so much to travel to Tijuana. They all talked together softly as the line edged toward the gray counter where the sullen nurses filled out forms, and the clanging of cash registers provided a grim accompaniment to their voices. The merchandising of hope. Jean had let me follow her and film it, but she never once complained about the whole tawdry business. She had only exacted that one promise: call it an “alternative cure.”

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