I have thought long and hard about including this piece on this web site. As I was re-reading email Tom sent early on to relatives I was reminded that he had indicated that: "I know that there are elements of my stories that you will not understand and will not like, however I did not want to feel the need to edit my life experiences for those who mean the most to me. It is the sum of all those experiences that have made me who I am, and it is that which I am trying to convey. Thank you so much for seeing through the parts of which you don't approve, taking interest in them, and continuing to love me anyway."
Tom's use of drugs was the source of a number of discussions between he and I. My side of the debate was not from a moralistic point of view but rather from the pragmatic perspective of the financial impact his "habit" had on his life. Such was not the case with my sister who is the most sensitive, caring person that I know. At one point however she became so frustrated with his "habit" that she "disowned" him. There was no humor in her pronouncement at the time but as time passed it did become family lore, told and retold with an appropriate degree of humor. As Tom points out in one of his email posts, although he understood that he had been disowned, he never doubted that his sister loved him. Being the person she is, she could not sustain the "disownment" for long.
Tom was somewhat of an anomaly in that although he used drugs on a regular basis he was without a job only on a very few occasions when he chose to be. He worked as a mechanic for a number of years and advanced to the status of Master Mechanic. He worked for the last 10 years of his life as a technical editor for a company that produces the electronic repair manuals that are used by automobile dealers and repair shops. He was a member of the Asian team, specializing in the Toyota manuals. He was well regarded by his peers. His friends represented a wide spectrum within our society.
Sat, 21 Jan 2006
Drugs Use and Bad Habits
My Grandfather was an alcoholic, which gave my mother had a deep hatred for anything relating to alcohol. This, of course is well known by everyone in my family, but possibly not by some of my friends. The first time I ever saw alcohol in my house, was when my father brought home a bottle of wine for Thanksgiving when I was about 16 years old. That resulted in the worst argument I had ever witnessed between my parents and, as I recall, the wine was never opened. I learned, somewhat later, that my Dad had been known to crawl home a few times in his youth, but that my Mother refused to marry him unless he promised never to touch alcohol again. And until long after the wine incident, in fact until after my Motherís death, he never did. To him, it was not a sign of weakness, but rather absolute love, that he sacrificed something he would have enjoyed doing, having a beer now and again. I enjoyed sitting on the back porch of our family home and Ďhaving a beer with the old maní just once before moving to California. Itís a memory that I treasure, partly because it was a singular, unique event in our relationship.
My Mother, through her stories, successfully instilled in me a sense of the evils of alcohol, which only social pressure applied to natural curiosity was later able to over-ride in some degree. In my lifetime, I have had periods where I drank daily, mostly while going to bars to listen and dance to music, but I never learned to like alcohol. As I write this, I have a 12-pack of (lime-flavored) Seagrams Triple Black malt beverage in my refrigerator, but I rarely drink more than half of a 12 oz. bottle in an evening, and I cannot recall the last time I was even slightly drunk. Itís been many years.
This is not to imply that I am an angel, there have been other demons in my life.
In my senior year of high school, I first tried marijuana, and I was unimpressed. As we sat in the school parking lot during a football game and unwrapped the tiny package of dried leaves and seeds, I could not understand what the fuss was about, it looked so innocent. Then, just as we lit up, a local sheriff pulled up beside us. Oh, this is great, I thought, I havenít even felt the effect of this yet and Iím going to get arrested and go to jail for it! But, as Iíve said many times, Iím blessed by dumb luck. And pot was still so uncommon in my hometown, I donít believe the cop even recognized the smell through the cigarette smoke that we were puffing wildly for cover. The next time I tried it was in the summer following graduation. By that time, we had learned about ďhyper-ventilationĒ, which we employed immediately after smoking a little pot. That resulted in such a rush that I fell over rolled down the hill behind my parentsí house, giggling madly. Wow, what fun! The sensations were mostly physical and aural, with sound taking on a very expansive and all-encompassing quality. It was that quality that I found so enticing and future experiences consisted mainly of smoking a little bit, then putting on an album by someone like the Beatles or the Moody Blues and Ďtrippingí on the sound. Later, I discovered that thought processes were also profoundly affected, and Bob Dylanís lyrics led me on strange and wonderful journeys through alternate views of reality.
But before all of that took place, I attended my first semester of college and one of the courses I took was called ďDrugs and SocietyĒ, which examined the stigma attached to drugs and addressed some of the realities of drugs as opposed to the folk-tales and scare tactic lies that had been fed to us by the government, teachers, parents and society in general. It has been said that pot is a gateway drug, leading to harder drugs. I believe that was true in my case only because, as I innocently explored the strangely magical world offered by marijuana, I came to think of myself as an outlaw, because thatís what society said I was. I could see the hypocrisy of an alcohol-soaked society destroying the lives of people for seeking alternative mind-altering substances. When I saw through the first lies, everything else coming from the same sources immediately became suspect, in fact automatically rejected as false. Fool me once . . . etc.
To this day, I believe that the Ďwar on drugsí, still waged with inaccurate and misleading information is the leading cause of the out-of-control drug use happening in society. Man has an intrinsic desire to experience an altered perception of reality. This is true of the most primitive people as well as those who are part of the modern, high-pressure, western world. Still, there are many very good reasons to carefully control oneís individual drug use, and they are most visible, and least prevalent, in societies where individual freedoms allow for individuals to abuse drugs, in plain view of the rest of society. In Amsterdam, school children are taken for field trips to the areas where public drug use is permitted, to expose them to the very worst effects, which provides a vivid and brutally honest picture of what happens if one allows drugs to take control of oneís life. Much like my mother learned to hate alcohol through living with it directly, Iíve seen that many (but certainly not all) of children of the worst drug users Iíve known have either rejected drug use or are well in control of their own use. If a child is removed from the home of a drug addicted parent, there is no role-model to learn from and reject, but there are the dubious effects of the foster-care system to overcome. Certainly there would be casualties of a paradigm-shift that decriminalizes drug usage, but assigns full responsibility for a drug userís actions on the user himself. That is, intoxication, or drug induced insanity could never be used as a defense to reduce accountability in a criminal case. I believe that such a system would eventually put thousands of people in the justice system out of work and negate the need for hundreds of prisons, now needed to house people convicted of simple possession of a controlled substance. It would have enormous effects on the entire Ďjusticeí industry. But I believe, in the end, it is the only way that we as a society will ever learn to overcome the crippling effects of drug abuse. Clearly, the present system is not working.
But, back to my own experiences.
To be honest, I have to admit to some degree of abuse of marijuana at one point in my life. But that abuse stemmed from a sudden loss of direction in my life more than the other way around. I had always idolized my brother and for years I knew that I would . . . [follow his career path]. That was my only dream. But during the early 1970ís there were many factors that were applying pressure to my life, from many different directions. The war Viet Nam was threatening to steal my innocence, if not my life, for reasons that made little sense to me. I was forced to make some very difficult decisions about loyalty to my country, belief in God, belief in non-violence and what type of person I wanted to be. When I discovered that I, in fact, didnít want to be a psychologist, and perhaps didnít even much care if I finished college, I suddenly found myself without a dream or even a direction of travel. I was floundering in half-thoughts and needed time to sort-out my feelings and regain my balance. I turned to marijuana, with its ability to provide new avenues of thought, to help me find my way. For the next year or so, I did very little but smoke pot, listen to Dylan and think about who I was and where I wanted to go.
When I emerged from that tunnel and re-entered the workforce, marijuana use turned purely recreational, and at the same time, began to taper off. When I spoke of breaking some nasty habits in an earlier message, marijuana wasnít one of them, as I no longer consider it a problem or even a habit. It is only occasional recreational release to me now. For those of you who would argue that point, I offer only this: Mark Twain once said that it is important to keep a few bad habits so that there is something to throw overboard when things donít go as planned. Iíve tossed enough baggage overboard for the time being, Iím going to keep that one for later use.
Over the years, I have dabbled in a few other substances without experiencing many problems from them. By far, my favorite has been LSD. As a side note, its inventor, Albert Hoffman, turned 100 years old this week, and still believes it should be legalized for use in psychiatric treatment. Its ability to induce very powerful and long lasting psychological effects is undeniable. Iíve taken it less than a dozen times in my life, but each Ďtripí has provided some new insight that has proven over time to be valuable, and in nearly every case, has also provided hilarious hallucinations and some of my favorite stories. Iíve experienced only one case of a Ďbad tripí, which served as a lesson that LSD should only be taken with someone else and when one is in a Ďgood spaceí, never alone or when one is burdened by emotional problems. This is not to recommend the use of LSD to anyone. It is a very powerful, and could be a very dangerous, psychoactive drug. If, like Art Linkletterís daughter, you are predisposed to believe you can fly off of buildings, it could convince you to try. I only wish to convey that LSD is not, in itself, bad or necessarily dangerous. Many of us have had profound and wonderful experiences with it.
Psilocybin mushrooms are a natural hallucinogenic substance, used in special settings by Native Americans, among others, for hundreds of years, to induce spiritual visions. In my experience, they have almost always produced fits of uncontrollable laughter, vivid colors and interesting (but not threatening) perceptions of reality that some might call hallucinations. OK, once Gary and I were climbing a very steep mountain path up to Desolation Wilderness when some mushrooms began taking effect. I immediately sat down, clinging to a large rock because it felt like the mountain was trying to throw me off. Gary noticed I wasnít following and when he came back and found me clinging to that boulder, he laughed himself silly until I regained my sense of balance. I suppose that was a threatening hallucination . . . . . . . for a moment, but whenever I think of it now, it makes me laugh as much as it did Gary. Anyone wishing to have a hallucinogenic experience might consider these. But remember to do it with someone experienced, never alone. I personally prefer to be walking through a beautiful (but not dangerous) natural setting.
One drug that was able to take control of my life was methamphetamine. It is highly addictive, and can be terribly destructive to both body and mind of anyone who allows it to get even a finger-hold on their life. My advice [is] to NEVER try it - not even once.
But, having said that, I admit that I did enjoy using it at first. It amplified my awareness, creativity, mental acuity, physical stamina, sociability and even made me sing better . . . . . . really! In short, it allowed me to exceed my natural capabilities and become as close to super-human as I could possibly be. And therein lies its trap! Because those effects only last long enough to set the trap, then they fade and you are left with the most personally destructive habit imaginable. I was lucky in that I was always able to maintain a sense of who I am. It did not rot my teeth or ravage my skin. I maintained my habit by going to work every day and foregoing the purchase of other things (new cars, etc), I was never tempted to steal or deal to buy more. But that is not the normal story of meth usage. Iíve read that it has now taken the heartland of America by storm, and an awful storm it is going to be! We, in California, have watched friends die or have their lives destroyed by this substance for many years. While I have seen a few, damn few, people dabble without becoming addicted, and a few more be able to use it without it destroying their lives, almost none have done so without some loss, if nothing else than a loss of their free will to stop. I am very pleased to confidently announce that I have beaten this demon once and for all, as I no longer feel the need, or the desire, to be super-human. I just want to be fully in control of my life.
The worst demon that has haunted my life, and the one that has done the most damage, is a legal one, tobacco. There is no one to blame for this but myself. I knew the dangers at a very young age, I just didnít believe they applied to me because, after all, I was invincible! A lifetime of smoking is, in all likelihood, responsible for this unnatural growth of tissue on my lung where an air passage should be. Although I quit for more than six months on at least two other occasions in my life, this most evil of demons was able to lure me back into its grip. I feel confident in saying that I have also beaten this demon, but itís too late now to reverse the damage that it has done. Interestingly, although I can honestly say I have no desire to smoke a cigarette, the thought still crosses my mind at least 50 times a day. The thought is easily dismissed, that isnít the issue, as Iím sure I will never smoke tobacco again. But Iíve learned from listening to others that the demon seed will probably remain with me for the rest of my life, trying to take control again. If you smoke, QUIT NOW. Maybe, if youíre luckier than me, itís not too late.
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