Escape from the Valley of the Dolls

Letter from the Editor | David Helton

In my social circle, prescription medication is traded frequently and with generosity. Afraid of flying? Here, take this. Struggling with layoffs at work? This should do it. Sometimes, we all need a little something to ‘get us through’ a tough moment in life. And thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, we can get it (relatively) easily and cheaper than a pack of gum.

My first Xanax was given to me at the age of 27 by a friend who was sympathetic to the brutal breakup I was going through at the time. My ten-year relationship was coming to an end and, sadly, so was I. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to get it together. I was inconsolable and everything just seemed to be spinning out of control around me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t ease the pain. I was suffering. My friend gave me more than just a sympathetic ear; she dug deep into her messy handbag and handed over a little pill in the spirit of goodwill. She gave it to me in the same way you would offer someone an after-dinner mint. I took it graciously. At that point, I would have done anything to feel functional again. She gave me a hug and told me to relax, knowing that two beers and a Xanax would get me all kinds of fucked up. It did offer relief – for a while, anyway.

At the time, I was working for a high-profile middle market investment firm in one of the glassy Embarcadero towers overlooking Alcatraz and the Bay. I reported to the only female executive at the firm – the CFO, who was an absolute nightmare. Though I looked at Alcatraz from my desk, I was in my own beautiful prison located forty floors in the sky. And I was sentenced to forty hours a week. I was well-paid but exceedingly unhappy (dealing with loss of my first love was not helping matters.) A glutton for abuse, I made that job work for a lot longer than was necessary because I was paralyzed with anxiety and a fear of too much change at once. It was good experience, nonetheless, or so I told myself at the time.

My co-workers were seven of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. If you know anything about those shiny investment firms downtown, then you know that the men hire only the most qualified assistants. And by ‘qualified,’ I mean drop-dead gorgeous. We’d all become pretty close working in the trenches together, making the rich even richer and eventually our happy hour bitch sessions led to dinners. Dinners led to nightclubs and nightclubs led to weekend trips away. I was the token gay guy in this Sex-in-the-City vixen crew and I must admit, it was a lot of fun.

Marcy was a spunky redhead and she only worked for fun because it was obvious that she came from money. I suspect she was born in five-inch heels and knew instinctively how to do a smoky-eye from the womb. She had the men at her feet, which was convenient since that’s where she wanted them. She was that dangerous combination of sexy, smart and sly. She’d discovered that she could order prescription medication from a site called I think it was based in Mexico or some other place where drug laws are nonexistent. Once or twice a week, I’d go in to the conference room and pretend to be her ‘doctor’ and I’d verify her prescription over the phone to some foreign faceless pharmacy and, a few days later, she’d quietly pick up her unmarked and incredibly suspicious package from the front desk.

We called them ‘Dolls.’

They all had code names. Vicodin was ‘Vivian.’ Xanax was ‘Nancy’ Adderall was ‘Addie.’ Roxanol, the most dangerous doll in the dollhouse, was ‘Roxie.’

It started innocently enough. On a slow Friday afternoon, when the partners traditionally took long lunches to be with their mistresses, we’d all gather around Marcy’s desk and make a selection from the dollhouse, which was essentially just a desk drawer with one of those plastic containers to keep office supplies organized. But instead of staples and paperclips, Marcy had a buffet of narcotics: barbiturates, benzodiazepines, morphine, Oxycodone and God-only-knows what else.

We’d select our doll from the drawer and then wash it down with a cocktail that we disguised in our coffee mugs. We’d then sit at our respective desks, dosed with morphine and sip vodka all afternoon. We were like well-paid zombies and totally shit-faced. Sometimes the Friday afternoon would spiral into Friday night. There were times that it was Sunday night before I was able to feel my lips. Looking back, it was incredibly reckless, but it all felt so sophisticated and glamorous at the time.

However, since we were all going through Marcy’s supply, we all started ordering from Soon, we were all housing our own dolls and packages were coming almost daily. Getting wasted was no longer just for Friday afternoons; we were now playing with the dolls daily. Often, one of the ladies would saunter into a staff meeting and ask simply, ‘Has anyone heard from Vivian today?’ We’d all look ripe with a hidden knowledge. We initiated some of the new hires into the club, but mostly, we kept it between us girls. There were a few close calls but none of us ever got caught. Eventually, I left that job – and I left the addiction and the dollhouse behind me. Like a lot of things in my life, once I have had my fill, I don’t push my luck. I recognized that it was time to outgrow the destructive behaviors and move on in my life.


English poet John Keats said that anxiety is a ‘wakeful anguish.’ At 27, I believed that was true. For some unfortunate souls, I think it is always true. Anxiety is real and it can be crippling in every aspect of your life. But the years have given me more perspective and more experience and, I’d like to believe, some strength. In the modern world, anxiety is a necessary part of living a productive, healthy life. T.S. Elliot says, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” On some level, I tend to agree. There is a level of anxiety that is healthy. It pushes me to work harder and to accomplish more. Left Magazine is stressful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love it – but goddamn, it’s a lot of work! Every waking second I am thinking about a possible story idea – or a potential cover. Or a mistake. Every detail is up to me. It’s a lot of responsibility but it is certainly a responsibility that I both welcome and take very seriously. I am proud of this magazine. It’s worth every sacrifice.

On top of producing this wonderful publication each month, I also work as a Dj and club promoter. I’ve been working in that world since I was 19yo. It’s a habit for me that I just can’t seem to shake. It brings me so much happiness and a sense of accomplishment. I’m good at it. Sometimes I even make a little money from it (though never as much as you’d think). Putting together an event is an undertaking. There are so many details and moving parts and uncertainties – only the strongest can survive party promotion. To do it every week is often more than you bargain for and it takes a particular wherewithal to maintain your sanity and energy level.

Combine these ongoing commitments with an array of friends who I absolutely adore. These are friends who need a connection and need to hear from me on occasion. I am not close to my family but my friends I keep very close. Like a lot of gay people, I have built a surrogate family around myself and it is where I get my strength. When they are in need, I generally tend to drop what I am doing and nurture them. I grew up as the oldest child in a home of young, irresponsible, teenage parents, so I tend to be a caretaker. I make a fuss over the people I love (most of them hate it). It’s just how I’m built.

However, because of so many obligations and because life can be so unforgiving, there is sometimes a price to be paid when you are overwhelmed with all of these obligations. Aside from neglecting myself, often I lose time with my friends and, most importantly, with my partner. Consequently, my relationship is imploding. Our combined commitments eliminate a lot of opportunities to be closer. Absence makes the heart grow colder; and absence, I have learned, is the common cure for love. Insecurities are exposed and left untreated. They fester. Suspicions become reality. Everything becomes so uncertain and the brain tries to fill in the blanks, often leading you to misguided and foolish ends. To miss someone who is literally right in front of you is a particular kind of torture. Accepting loneliness now and postponing happiness for the sake of convenience can leave one feeling so hopeless and so desperate. I have acted out in anger and frustration and sadness and I find myself saying and doing things that are so far from who I am and how I feel. Sadly, love just becomes another way to bleed.


There are always prices to be paid for every choice and in life, one must always seek balance to be truly happy. When things get out of balance is when shit gets crazy. Friendships suffer. Relationships suffer. Careers suffer. Anxiety, however, can be worse than a singular tragic event; it’s like fighting a phantom with many heads. It makes you crazy, it exhausts you and, as a result, you often say and do things that can never been unsaid or taken back.

My instinct was to reach for the safety of a doll when the crisis in my life became too much to carry. I know, however, that is not the healthiest choice. While there are medications that can certainly help ease pain and anxiety, I’ve learned that the most important path to self-help is to dig deep within and make real changes. A pill may offer some temporary relief, and for some, that’s enough to give you your footing — but it won’t ever truly solve the issue singularly. It feels sometimes like I am in a labyrinth of suffering and the only way out is to answer all of these incredibly complex questions about my life, questions I can’t even possibly begin to understand.

I just have to remember that sometimes it’s the questions that are complicated; and the answers that are simple.

David Helton is the Publisher & Creative Director of Left Magazine.

He is also a San Francisco event promoter and Dj.
To hear his music visit

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