Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Confession

Since it's a New Year with the air of fresh starts and change (I hate how that word has lately been co-opted), I'm gonna do a bit of confessing here. I've certainly never hidden my former drug usage, but I've never actually explained in depth just what went on. So, here goes...

My first exposure to “drugs” was when I was a senior in high school on a trip to another town to watch the girl's basketball team play. I expected beer, but I was kinda shocked to see a joint fired up and offered by my friends and classmates. What the hell – I puffed on it and caught a buzz. So much for my earlier vows not to do any drugs. Frankly, the beers had more effect.

Later that summer, I fell in with a different group of friends around Independence Day. Again with the beer, which I was well acquainted, and then the joints. I had a blast – literally – because we shot bottle rockets into the local body of water – The Sand Pit. I discovered that smoking marijuana didn't automatically kill me or cause me to rape and/or pillage. It seemed all involved had a good time, and there was very little after effects, unlike the hangovers associated with drinking. The dangers associated with drug usage didn't seem to apply.

And, if a little experimentation was all that went on, I'd have been ok. But, as time went by, I tried some other things – hash (really just another variant of pot), speed and cocaine. Coke never really “did it” for me – yeah, I felt the effects, but they seemed pretty esoteric for the money it cost. What really pushed me over the edge was my parent's divorce. I certainly didn't think that at the time, and I don't blame them for it, either. If I were less of a self indulgent type, none of this would have happened in the first place. I just was in an emotional turmoil that I couldn't handle.

I discovered LSD and downers – Valium and Quaaludes, in particular. I smoked pot all day. I also started skipping classes at college. I had moved out of the dorms and off campus, and my increased drug use alarmed my roommates enough that they moved out. I lost more than those guys as friends as well – it seems that drug users are a lonely bunch and require conversion of those who are not. The quality of people in my life really took a dive. I had gone from salt of the earth types to junkies.

So, I blew off college and entered the workforce. I managed to keep it sort of under control for several years, even working my way up to consideration as management material at that particular job. I started back to school part time, and ended up quitting that job and going back to school full time.

But, I got into partying again and my class attendance dropped to nothing – again. I ended up working for a harvest crew (they got high, too), and eventually found myself driving a truck for a local harvester (who didn't and does not get high, drink, smoke or curse). I had pretty well dropped the “hard stuff,” finding my life much easier to manage without that burden. I still smoked the weed, though, just not like I used to.

Finally, rumors of mandatory drug testing in the near future scared me into quitting altogether. No resupply – I scraped the resin from a pipe made from air line fittings and when that ran out, I was done. It was very difficult. I had weird dreams and nightmares, and I'm quite sure I was a bitch to get along with. I persevered.

I've smoked it a time or five since then, and I don't enjoy it much anymore. I get too paranoid to enjoy the high, which is a good thing. The stuff is stronger these days, too. I'm not even sure when the last time I did “burn one” was – it's been years, for sure.

When the “Just Say No” ad campaign came out, I just laughed. Sure, just saying no works – nothing else needed. Yup. Right up there with flapping my arms and flying to the moon. There are all kinds of things at work when temptation knocks at a potential abuser's door. First, most of us have grown up with the vision of eggs frying - “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.” However, the young person sees their friends acting normally – they aren't brain damaged zombies or out of control. They hear that maybe, just maybe, all that they have been indoctrinated with might just not be true – Look At Me – I'm Not Robbing Liquor Stores Because I Got High. Plus, they see these people having a good time – actually having fun, rather than suffering death and destruction. So, trust in what society claims is eroded, and trying other more “dangerous” things does not seem that severe anymore.

This is what I try to explain to kids nowadays. I've had my little talks with some of my friend's kids, and I tell them the truth – that the death and destruction thing is overplayed. Not that it isn't true – just overblown. What they were not told is how it seems the cool kids are having a good time, and at first, they do. They do have a good time.

Up to a point. We used to have a thing called “LP records.” Most of us with any sense of decorum at all had a belt drive or direct drive turntable that might be semiautomatic – which meant when we played a record, we'd have to place the needle on the record. When it was done, a semiautomatic table would return the arm to the side. A manual one would just run in the inner groove.

Most of us would have the television turned on but with the sound off (this was before remote control was so ubiquitous). So, we'd get high, listen to a side of a record, and be so stoned and lazy that no one would want to get up and change the record or turn up the volume. Yeah, those were some good times.

It was also good times when people you hardly knew stopped by to get high in the middle of the night - “Hey, I'll give you a buck for a joint.” Oh yeah, lovely, but you were all brothers in arms, right?

Once ya start lying for survival, your quality of companions and life in general go down the tubes with your morals. I understood Wolf Larsen's world view better:

"I believe that life is a mess," he answered promptly. "It is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all.

Strip the veneer of civilization away, even moderately, and you can find just how self serving your fellow man can be, and how little he can be trusted.

Getting back to the good times, nothing beats being paranoid all the time. Ambulances going by cause a sudden effort to hide the paraphernalia – just in case it's the cops sliding screaming into your yard. Not that they wouldn't find it in the lousy hiding place you just chose, like say, under the couch. Nope, not gonna find it there. Or hiding it when someone knocks on the door – you just can't be too careful. Naturally, if a traffic cop fell in behind you for a short distance, when you got home, it was time to “clean house.” Yep, that sure is a great way to live.

Another common thing to do was to deal a little as well. Back then, a quarter pound of pot cost, oh, let's say $120. It was cheaper further in the past and far more expensive later on, but this figure will work for our purposes here. At that time, ounces went for $40. So, if you bought a quarter pound (four ounces) and sold three ounces, you could have one ounce for free! Whee!

But, often you'd have the product in question “fronted” to you. Which meant you didn't pay for it. Which meant if the product didn't sell, or if you were stupid enough to spend the money on something else, you'd have a higher level dealer after your sorry ass. I saw a lot of people get into trouble this way with coke – it was much easier to run through an “eight ball” and not get any sold than it was a quarter pound of pot. Just what you want – people who “know people” pissed at ya.

So, let's check on the positives here – yer a lying liar who can't be trusted, a paranoid, jumpy freak whose antisocial tendencies draw attention from the wrong sort of people. What about health issues?

The facts are that the ol' ticker can give up the ghost without warning when one is dabbling in cooking one's brain with modern chemistry. Cocaine is notorious for that. Another little practice we tried was mixing downers and industrial strength booze. There's a heart stopper fer sure. And LSD? As far as bang for the buck goes, it wins. Ya know when you have a high fever, and everything has that surreal feel to it? Turn that feeling up to eleven, and you're tripping, baybee. Yeah, you too can watch the paneling drip. For hours on end. Woo Hoo.

And let's not forget finances. Just how are you gonna pay for all this fun if you can't hold a job and require some pretty high dollar brain entertainment?

When I quit, I had to abandon most of the “friends” I had at the time, which was really not a great loss. I just couldn't hang out with people who thought I was passing judgment on them because I was trying to quit. They can't help feeling that way – it's all part of the addiction and denial. Luckily, I was able to get hooked up with far more “normal” people. One of my “party buddies” also quit, and we found we were still friends. We'd “gone through the fire,” come out the other side and still had something in common. We'd “seen the elephant” and survived. There are those who are still on the other side, who think we are the one's who are burning. Some have a measure of control over their lives, if they never have to pass a blood or urine test.

So, I tell the young charges that their indoctrination is partly true – death and destruction are possible, but not likely at first. I try to convey just how their lives will change, and not for the better. I tell them of the siren song of peer pressure, and how their education didn't warn them that they would have a good time – but only for a while and at a very steep price. And not everyone can manage quitting like I did - most require some sort of help. Which is fine as far as I'm concerned - any way that works.

Do I regret my past? Sure I do – mostly I hate that I let my family down. I started in pre-med. I am certainly not the same person that I would be had I taken a different fork. Would I be happy being a doctor? I am not the person who would have been a doctor, so I don't know. The person I am now – probably not so much. How about a mechanical engineer? That is what I went back to school to be. I think I'd have made a better engineer than a doctor, frankly. Am I happy with what I am now? More or less. I hate that my health problems have presented me with more bills than I can cover for quite some time. I've fought hard to make my word worth something again, and that frustrates me.

But, my health problems are self inflicted. I gotta take responsibility – I can't in good faith cry to God “Why ME?” I know why, and it all points back to my decisions in the past.

I'm not much of a joiner these days, either. The cool kids can do without me just fine - I'm hardly necessary to their continued coolness.

I am pretty tickled with my extended life, as it were. I'm not ready for the long dirt nap. Life is pretty simple, yet rewarding. I like my friends. I like my job, and enjoy the days off as well. I like talking to God more these days. I like shooting the ol' shootin' irons, and the camaraderie involved with that. I like being a bit of ferment, trying to eat a bit better.

And what are my views about decriminalization or legalizing lower tier drugs like marijuana? I'm not really sure. I think the “War on Drugs” is overdone – why should people whose only crime was to possess a certain amount of pot do more time than a far more physical criminal? Why should law enforcement get to confiscate property that may or may not have anything to do with drugs?

And, I don't think I have the moral authority to stop someone from trying what I did. It's already illegal. How can I make it double plus ungood? Just because I can't handle it doesn't mean no one should ever be able to. All I feel I can do is relate my experiences as far as that goes. Anecdotes don't make evidence.

Then there is the whole Prohibition argument – the War On Drugs is basically a failure. As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. End of story there, for sure.

But, I'm uncomfortable with making it legal, too. Pot is a gateway drug, and comparisons with alcohol and Prohibition fail because of the different substances and their strengths and side effects are considered. Everclear and beer are the same thing when it comes to the drug involved, THC, LSD, cocaine and so many others are completely different.

Nope, Pandora's Box has been opened. There is no going back, and I'm not certain about the steps to the future. But it is a New Year, full of expectation of something better. Perhaps.


Earl said...

Good tale, well told and you have me convinced - but then I am not the target audience for drug nor alcohol abuse. I do know that the abuse should never be legal - but there should not be a punishment beside marking one as stupid. But someone would say that is cruel and unusual.

Jerry in Texas said...

Great post. We had a lot of the same temptations growing up. Except I would say you had a better dealer than my friends. At a certain point in my life, I think I would have tried just about anything, but wasn't presented a lot of options, thankfully. Older and wiser, with mandatory drug testing too.

Just watched a movie with a certain comic drug element to it: Death at a Funeral. It's pretty damn funny.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could speak publicly about my past use/abuse. I started when I was 14. Many of my "friends" ended up addicted to crack and have long-term health issues because of drugs and alcohol and/or the combination.

I'm still paranoid at times. Every time I see a cop I tense up. Haven't touched anything (aside from alcohol) since I was 21. It stopped being fun.

Mo K said...

That couldn't have been easy to write, Jeffro. I'm humbled by your honest & raw exposé.
Before I married Mr. Mo, I was dating a guy who had easy access to pot. I partook a few times. It didn't progress beyond that, but I was pretty impressionable, so had he been more heavily into the other stuff, who knows where I might have gone.
I do find it rather intriguing that alcohol is an "allowed" drug, but marijuana is not. When was the last time you heard about someone beating their spouse, or causing some kind of disruption, DWI, etc., when they were stoned?
It just seems backwards. I hear what you say about it being a "gateway" drug, but I've always wondered if that is due to the "black market" aspect.
Ah well. I'm less "on the fence" over legalizing drugs as I was 20 yrs ago. I was more about Darwinism back then. Sometimes I still question it, though.

Anonymous said...

Jeff -- this is the best you've ever written. It's one of the hardest things anyone can do -- but confession is really good for the sole.

I have long suspected that you had a problem with drugs. Having known you as a baby and a small, sweet, shy and curious boy, I was amazed at your personality change and at some of the regreatable life changing decisions you made as you grew into manhood. The divorce was bad, but that's a part of life and you just have to cope.

The real problem now (and you'll probably have this for most of your life) is staying off and clean. The measure of a man is not not how he looks or how much money or power he has -- it's how much intestinal fortitude he has and will he keep his word and faith.

I'm bettin' on you!

Nuckle Kim