I have not added a chapter in some time. In part this was due to being busy, in part due to the challenge, as I progress chronologically in my story, of facing things I DO NOT wish to share. Because I believe, on the one hand, that if I omit any significant aspects of my story, not wanting them to be judged, or rationalizing maybe that they are “inappropriate” or socially self-destructive to divulge, then, inescapably, I am choosing to change the true story in some way. And in doing so, perhaps paint a better picture of myself than is true, or gloss over ways I’ve hurt others. Any way you slice it, it feels wrong.
And yet… as I said, there’s stuff I don’t want to share. And so as I hit one such milestone in my story, around age 21, I’ve felt stuck as to whether to defer the question of publicly sharing it vs. skipping it for now with the vague presumption I’d eventually come back and amend the record.
Meanwhile, I’ve had quite a few surprises from sharing what I have so far in public. I’ve appreciated the supportive feedback and some of the people I’ve met as a result. It’s clear to me there is value in my continuing to write the story, and to seek brutal honesty as much as I can. But while I continue to work through my own “recovery” in present day, to grieve and process trauma and shame, and notably to continue to grow my tribe in the world, it can be very challenging to put stuff out there for anyone to read that will, guaranteed, cause some portion of readers, including those within my personal circle, to judge me, maybe even reject me as a person.
This topic comes up time to time in my personal circles, which includes many people struggling with mental illness and past trauma. Whether one ought to disclose or hide their shameful story. On social media, in workplaces, in circles of friends, with family. One end of the spectrum warns about the destructiveness of sharing stigmatized things, shameful things. They talk of how people will exploit your weaknesses if you expose them. They talk about whether it’s “appropriate” to share dirty laundry with anyone other than one’s (allegedly incapable of punishing judgmentalness) family and intimate friendships. At the other end are those who will say you have nothing to gain by projecting a facade to anyone, you may as well lose the people in your life who would reject you based on WHO YOU ACTUALLY ARE, and that exposing one’s real story and real feelings and real struggle is a pathway to healing and a bigger world in which, as it turns out, there exist people who are not going to judge, because they’ve been in that shame too, they’ve been through hell too.
Then there’s my own position on all this, which is part rational and part gut instinct. I feel, for myself, that the more I’ve exposed the things I carry shame about, despite a lot of negatives that do arise from this — huge shame spirals and depression and blowback from the peanut gallery of society occasionally — in time, the more I feel unashamed. The more I let go of this idea that certain sins, once committed, render the sinner permanently less-than, forever marked. The more, in fact, I become aware of how some people use shaming and blaming and gossip to cement their own world-view, to define their tribes, and that I reject such thinking. If I hide my own shame at my own actions, in doing so I am unconsciously asserting a reality in which every drug addict, sex worker, convicted felon, wife beater, narcissistic asshole, and so on, ought to be thrown away so we can make room for the good people.
And that is bullshit. Everyone deserves, always, the right to evolve, heal, grow, amend, repent, and contribute their life force to the world. Everyone deserves as many second chances as necessary to save their own soul. Furthermore, everyone has darkness and hidden or not hidden sins. To villainize those who end up incarcerated for blatant line-crossing of commonly agreed upon rules and norms but ignore the fact that the people of real power in this world destroy millions of lives with their political machinations every fucking day…. I lost the flow of that sentence… To act like those who apparently are thriving, successful, apparently well-loved, popular, apparently good are by definition morally superior to those we shame for their anti-social behavior or failure to thrive. I just am opposed to this. It is not my understanding of the real human condition.
And so, if you can follow that unedited thread, I’m saying, that if I believe my own story has merit, can help anyone else out there, I am on some level morally obligated to share the most shameful parts, the irredeemable parts, the stuff that will not prompt praise and support for my brave sharing. It is part of my story and part of understanding the story as well.
And so I’m left with the dilemma of what to share next. But I need to get this memoir rolling as it’s been stalled, and I owe something to those who have most encouraged me to continue as well.
So I’ll split the difference today, and write about a topic which many would feel too ashamed to publicly disclose, but that I don’t in particular. I’ll write today about my experience with drugs.
As a reminder to new and old readers, everything I’m writing is freeflowing, unedited content. I’m committed to writing 2000 pages before going back to edit, for a bunch of reasons. All feedback is welcome, including complaining that I need an editor. Thanks for reading.
My earliest, very hazy memory of using drugs was when I was 4, at a grown-ups cocktail party presumably of grad school academic types, though I really could not describe the party. But apparently, as I later had it recounted, the guests found it amusing to give the little tyke sips of wine, and maybe no one was tracking how often this happened. So I got tipsy. In fairness to the haziness of this memory, I really have no *actual* clear memories of my life until age 6.
When I was 13, having that year started at my… 6th school in my 5th town, and when I was first starting to feel really bullied, I discovered the liquor cabinet that my mom inexplicably kept (as I may have already written, I’ve never seen either parent drink alcohol ever in my life), and home alone one weekend evening, kept drinking shots of random liqueurs and hard stuff. I got drunk for the first time, and was dancing around the house, laughing and jumping around, until I spontaneously vomited all over the living room. My first lesson that alcohol is a sneaky fucking bastard. For some reason, I do not remember ever being caught out for this incident, so not sure how the puke on the sofa cushions was explained away. Anyway I definitely enjoyed the experience of being drunk, but stayed away from it for another year or so.
Around age 14, I got drunk with a friend. We smuggled some sort of hard liqour from his single dad and brought it over to my mom’s house for a sleepover. I’ve written about this previously, but to recap, we got drunk and walked around the suburbs in middle of the night until the cops chased us across the high school grounds and my friend got nabbed but I got away. We both were in trouble with our parents the next day, BUT, again, I have no memory of being called out or even found out for having been drinking. Still, 2 for 2, my experience was that alcohol was a lot of fun that ended badly.
The fun, I think, came from the sudden absence of anger and pain and fear that I was carrying around 24/7. But since my method for this memoir in general has been to write only from the viewpoint of who I was at the time being described, and not to inject older wisdom or insight, as much as possible, I should amend that and say, alcohol was fun because it was dizzy and hysterical and this rush of joy. That space where you’re pissing in the bushes and have a huge grin on your face and it feels sooooo good to empty your bladder and life is so funny and I really oughtta do this more often! That’s how alcohol felt.
[I suppose it’s fair game to add the older viewpoint of my sophomore year in college, since the memoir so far has almost hit that year, and this clarifies something. When taking the course Drugs and Behavior, the first day of the course, the teacher said something that stuck with me well. She said, a drug is any substance that crosses the blood-brain barrier and has some psychoactive effect on the brain. It does not know or care whether it is legal, made in a lab or picked from the Earth. It doesn’t matter if it gets you high or not, whether it is socially sanctioned or widely thought of as “a drug”. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, Prozac, LSD — all drugs.]
At age 16 I bought a pack of smokes from a guy I knew. I remember distinctly going out to the tiny weed-overridden backyard of our little bungalow, where the neighbors couldn’t catch me, and lighting my first Camel cigarette. I coughed a lot but felt this amazing rush. It just felt good. And cool. I felt super cool, like a leather-jacket and shades character playing pool or something. I would often say in my teen years, had Disney had a brand of cigarettes with Mickey on the cover, I probably would have started even younger. But so I became a smoker at age 16.
Later that year was when I would first become suicidal. I don’t remember any specific trigger, but I remember talking to my friend Jeremy at the time, saying, I feel like I want to kill myself. I remember feeling that I had no one in my corner, and was just so sad. I remember Jeremy saying, yeah, so the thing is, I’m probably a really bad person to talk to about things like that, cause like I don’t really care. He somehow said it in a tone implying he meant it constructively, but. I remember how it occurred to me that suicide was final, there was no recovering from it, and you wouldn’t even get to see the sadness and guilt in others as they realized they had not cared enough, not appreciated enough. You would just cease to be. I thought, wouldn’t it be better to slloooowwly kill yourself over years, while checking out of the painful reality that was the reason for feeling suicidal? So that you could see people’s guilt and sorrow that they had not cared. So that you could see the reaction to your self-destruction.
This thought was right around the time — either just before or just after — that I smoked my first joint. Like the same week. I had ended up after school hanging out with W__ and the older guys, JT, maybe Al and Rick? These guys were *druggies* in the John Hughes teen classification system. We were hanging out back smoking cigs, and W__ pulled out a joint and passed it around. I remember the same Joe Camel air of coolness and slight danger, but more so. I remember feeling some rite of initiation thing, I was being included in a new reality. I don’t remember any of them noticing any of this, that it was my first time. I guess they were just being friendly.
At any rate, I fucking LOVED weed immediately. It was not like being drunk. Yes, things were extra funny and yes, I definitely felt like I should not be operating heavy machinery. But this was like being transported into some dream version of normal reality. Blissful and serene is how I remember it. Things were amazing and funny to me and just so serene. JT and I took the senior citizen free shuttle back to Bird’s Hill where we both lived and I remember looking out the back window thinking it was like a big TV screen. Was laughing the whole time. I also half-registered, wow, I’m hanging out high with Mr. Cool druggie guy. A far cry from my honor roll nerd classmates. No one was bullying me. No one was making me want to get the hell away from here. I was hanging out and having a blast.
So given this first pot experience, and its co-occurrence with my suicidality and thought about slowly killing myself in view of everyone, it was a no brainer that in addition to smoking pot as often as I could from here on out, I ought to finally say yes to Ian’s recent hounding me that I should try acid. LSD. So one day I caught him in the hall at school and said, yeah, i do want to try it. And on the next Friday night, the first night of Christmas vacation, we dropped acid during a snowstorm.
How to describe LSD? Hmmm.
Where pot and alcohol had both felt like being transported to a world free of my daily pains and worries, and given a mood boost, acid was more like having my brain removed entirely and replaced with that of a squirrel. Which is not to say I know the heart of squirrels that well specifically, but rather to say, it was no longer ME experiencing a world that had altered its tone. It was another self entirely, with radically different perceptions and thought patterns. Mood-wise, it had a degree of the extreme giggles, and that same wonder of leaving behind the day to day shit (that it was now vacation as well helped). But there came also this flood of radical insights, which I could not describe here as the specifics of that day are lost to time. But psychedelics are known for showing transcendent realities where you see the conditioning of your own mind that you had always previously taken to be just awareness of objective reality, but suddenly you see as how YOUR particular mind filters reality, which has NO OBJECTIVE BASIS. You would see other people’s reality along side your own, and see the inherent lack of ground between those distinct perspectives.
As an example of the type of … “insight” and altered mental state that LSD can produce, I remember another trip around age 17, hanging out with my bud Dan and playing guitars, and I suddenly said, “Hey, isn’t it like weird and bizarre how this guitar, its really just like a piece of wood with wires on it, but if, like, if you press and bend and strike the wires in the proper patterns in time and vibrate it and whatever you can be rich and famous and alter people’s minds…” Classic acid-thinking. Yes, that’s true, Jason… But… What?
Anyway on this first trip, we wandered around town a bit as the snow was starting to fall and picking up heaviness, and ended up deciding, since we didn’t want to be caught in a blizzard but sure as hell weren’t gonna go home to the parents, to go see this new movie The Princess Bride at the tiny local Needham cinema. There were only like a dozen folks in the theater. I recall, oh this is some sort of medieval fantasy romance movie. When the curtains parted and the movie started, the opening shot is a close up of a Nintendo video game, and we started laughing. WTF is happening?!! What? I remember when the end credits rolled (great fucking movie as you probably know), getting up as the house lights turned on and there was this father with his adolescent son a few rows ahead, and the sun was wearing a Disney Goofy character hat, that had long floppy ears on it, and Jeremy shouted at them, “Hey mister, there’s a dog eating your kid’s head!!!” and feeling, omg that is funny we need to get the fuck out of here.
To be honest I really don’t remember much about that trip, just that as escapes from reality go, acid was amazing and insane. Subsequently I would do both pot and acid as often as I could starting that winter when I was 16, and since I wasn’t cool enough to know the dealers, and had to bum drugs off my newfound circle of druggie friends, I would often end up resorting to my least favorite but most accessible drug of alcohol. Which meant showing up for Dazed and Confused style beer bust parties in the woods on a Friday or Saturday night. That winter, spring, summer, fall… in one long blur my life was transformed from hiding alone at home and avoiding people at school to constant entertainment hanging out with friends, drinking, smoking, tripping. Playing guitar, watching future cult classic movies on VHS, discovering this whole new world of music from punk to metal to acid house shit. Hippies and punks and burnouts and jean jackets and pachouli and Dark Side of the Moon from a boombox while hanging by someone’s pickup truck next to some creek with fireflies, playing pool at Pag’s house with the full bar and Zeppelin and hanging out at the Pit in Harvard Sq, never able to score any weed because invariably the mohawk and leather and combat boots crowd would say, dude, you are so clearly a narc, no way man.
One thing I remember is that I had totally forgotten about being suicidal. Life was too much fun for that thinking, and I had friends galore, even if I felt really insecure and shitty about myself and not really as cool as my druggie friends. To be honest, I’d love it if I could somehow have all their versions of who I was. I never asked. But we had some fun times.
I had been dating my first “serious” girlfriend that year, Kerry — a straight-laced Catholic girl who hung with the artsy fartsy theater kid type crowd and loved 10,000 Maniacs and had to be home by 4 to do her chores before supper (or whatever, I never really knew her family), and most definitely was not going to be into drugs or drinking. I was so painfully painfully shy and scared shitless of girls and sex and all of it that I couldn’t bring myself to kiss her for first couple months we were dating. Once that dam was burst though, I remember some sloppy make-out sessions.
Kerry’s best friend, Anna, was also an artsy but straight-laced girl, more of an Enya fan, who also was dating a future train wreck no good outsider, Brent, who wore black leather and loved the Misfits and drank in graveyards and conned her into oral sex as often as possible. He was in my circles but not a friend back then.
Anyway. In my mind, since I never explicitly told my girlfriend I had gotten into weed and then acid and etc., she therefore did not know about that aspect of my life. I wasn’t so much hiding it as I just, for real, actually believed this principle in general. If you didn’t tell someone something they didn’t know about it. I wasn’t in the habit myself of sharing my friends stories with each other, I felt like that was not my place. I showed up, engaged, screwed around and laughed, but it never occurred to me at this not so young age that there was such a thing as a social network, and that news travels fast. Basically I’m explaining that I was an idiot. But regardless, Kerry likewise never mentioned or asked about my drug use, there did not seem to be any problem. Until…
One weekend, Kerry was gonna go with her friends to a dance at St. …. whichever of the several St. Something Catholic schools in town. Which implicitly I was not going to go to, since, lame! Fruit punch and slow dancing to Bryan Adams or whatever the fuck? I’ll pass. So she was doing her thing and I went to hang with my friends Ian and Aaron. We dropped acid and were hanging around coming up and looking for shit to do, and at some point Ian, who had on other occasions liked to openly mock me for how lame I was, even though we were close friends, said, hey, let’s go visit your girlfriend at the dance! He taunted me with it. For the life of me I can’t remember why, while tripping balls, this seemed like an okay idea — maybe we were still just coming up on the trip — but I said sure, why not.
Now, unbeknownst to me, Ian had also taken the liberty of calling Kerry or Anna or someone and informing them that I had been killed that evening in a car crash. This detail is important!
So we show up at this dance in a high school gymnasium. Colored spinning lights, DJ playing The Cure, guys and girls handing out drinking punch as I suspected. However my girlfriend and her friend(s?) are all hysterical and crying. When she sees me she weeps harder and was saying things to me. Everyone saying different things to me. The lights, the music, the whole scene was indecipherable. What? I’m dead?!! What the hell is happening?…
Eventually Kerry and I broke up. I actually do not recall when or how, nor do I recall any significant hard feelings. It was as if we had drifted into different worlds and just weren’t together anymore. If I had to guess, her circle thought I was a druggie loser and that was that. That I don’t even recall losing my first real girlfriend is a testament to how much fun I was having with drugs and my new crowd.
That summer, as I had done for several years now, I would fly down to Athens, GA to stay with my dad and stepmom. They had bought yet another new condo so as usual, in addition to knowing no one my age since I never went to school there, I also knew no one in the neighborhood since they moved so often, and also, because of these facts, had no means by which to obtain drugs or booze. Which meant that the summer was a completely different dimension of reality. In which there was no school, no constant fighting with mom, no nerd friends, no druggie friends, no friends actually, and I was completely sober. I would go swimming and my dad would take me into town to see a movie or get some lunch, then I’d be left for countless hours to entertain myself in the condo while he and Anne always seemed to be reading or grading papers or something. I played guitar up all night while watching old movies and Elvira on TV. I lifted weights and masturbated and on one occasion stole dad’s car in the middle of the night and went joyriding on the highway to Atlanta (I had no license yet). But I did not drink or drug, with one exception.
One night I was at dinner with some UGA grad student and professor crowd, friends of my dad’s, for pitchers of beer and pizza as was their custom, and I got into a conversation with Ben Teague, who was a friend of my fathers and a very interesting character.