Drugs, Pt 2: The early years

Some time ago, I promised some readers who expressed interest offsite that I would “finish” my chapter on drugs. Well, that is a story that is never finished, but I’m overdue to continue it. There’re several problems with neatly wrapping up the topic. In no particular order:

  • I’m writing 5 books simultaneously, publicly and privately.
  • This memoir is trying to maintain some sort of chronology, so in theory I need to keep telling the story from about age 21 where that chronology left off before going off the rails and spilling into other blogs and (the horror) other people’s stories that are about as much my right to write as vice versa.
  • As my Prof said in Drugs and Behavior, day 1, a [psychoactive] drug is ANY substance that crosses the blood-brain barrier (*) and produces a psychoactive effect, including nicotine, caffeine, refined sugar, Prozac, Zoloft, Depakote, alcohol, methamphetamine aka Adderall, Clonazepam, Haldol, nutmeg oil, cannabis, CBD infused ginger ale, cocaine (which she herself LOVED apparently; ran marathons and worked with lab rats and spoke rapidly and positively about the drug often), LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and so on and so on and so on.
  • I can’t ever finish the story of my own drug use as I am currenly on green tea and very likely to vape some hybrid later in the day and will probably, like all people/animals in the natural world, continue to use drugs for the rest of my life.

But so, I will back up a little in my chronology, having shared some slice of life of my high school drinkin’ and druggin’ with beer, pot, acid, and so on, and tell the story of my experience with psychiatry in that same chapter of my story.

Buckle in, it’s gonna get angry.

So actually, my experience with mental health care professionals began as early as age 5, and to be completely honest, as I always am.., I don’t even remember my first therapist(s), since my memories don’t really begin until age 6, when my earliest (remembered) severe trauma occurred. Sure, I have a few trace memories before that age — once I fell off a rocking horse and tore my corduroy shorts on a loose nail; once I stuck a key in an outlet, got blackened and shocked, and repeated a few minutes later to see if it was a coincidence; I think one time I nearly exploded my bladder having to pee while waiting for mom to get groceries — but mostly, I don’t have a continuity of memory until I was 6.

However I do recall seeing some therapist(s) or another around that young age, playing with blocks and puppets on the floor, having the therapist saying over time, we need to get your mother in here, and then her firing them and getting new therapist(s). I don’t remember much actual therapy until age 13, when we had moved [back] to the Boston area, in the second month of 7th grade (the only US History I ever got was that first month, oops!). This doctor, who I’ll call Dana, had me draw pictures of people and I drew a typical cheerleader and a jock and he said to me, Jason, you are carrying so much anger. I recall well how I blew up at him, saying IM NOT ANGRY FUCK YOU YOU DONT EVEN KNOW ME!!

A common thread of trauma is not being able to access, label, identify, or even understand our feelings and emotions.

However I’m lapsing in writing here. You may notice, dear reader, that my adult voice has leaked into the storytelling. Previous chapters were my earnest effort to tell my early years as I experienced them, which meant, no editorializing from my older voice, no revisionist understanding or perspective taking of others, but the raw, as I lived it experience of being a Nobody. This gets tricky. I am sure as an older person I have a wider vocabulary and am semantically a more cunning linguist than when I was home alone at age 13, drawing pictures in my mind’s eye, banging my first real six string with clumsy, soft fingers.

But so let’s try this again.

My mom took me to therapists as long as I can remember. Even as a kid in day care, I had to go see these guys with beards and cordoruy (how do you spell that?) jackets, would play with blocks and read Highlight magazine in the waiting room. They would all end up saying your mom should come in, but she was too busy working I guess.

When we moved to Needham from Philly — my 6th school already, in the middle of 7th grade — I was starting to experience real mental illness stuff. Like I would stare at the ground walking home from school, counting to 5, then do that 5 times, then do that 25 times. Don’t step on cracks! I think it was sort of a way to keep my brain going without thinking about all the yelling and shaming at home and all the taunting and bullying at school.

My friend I made that year, Jeremy Eric Miller, killed himself, and.. I didn’t tell my mom because she was saying things to me like “it’s no wonder you have no friends, you’re an asshole!!”. She hit me when I told her she looked like her mom. But she would rub my back and make nice meals with salads and ice cream for dessert and watch movies together like a real.. family…

I’m sorry this is supposed to be about drugs. Let me take a drink here. Mmm honey is good.

So yeah, around that year, when I first raided the liquor cabinet (did I mention I’ve never seen either parent drink in my entire life, other than my dad would have a beer now and then in my college years?), I had this therapist in Needham named Dr. Dana, and he said i was carrying a lot of anger. He also had a group thing I went to a few times, with some clearly also very angry guys in it. We played basketball one time and the Rodman kid, bigger and older and meaner than me, taunted me and they all laughed because I didn’t know to not tip the pizza box sideways, and also sucked at basketball.

I suck at writing. Sorry, let me get calmer.

*whew* — better.

Right, drugs.

So yeah I think when I was about 16, I saw a psychiatrist for the first time. He looked and smelled like James Lipton and had his patients see him in a really tasteful and classy addition to his suburban mansion in Wellesley, iirc (oh wait iirc was not a word in 1988…). He was very accomplished and expensive, though not maybe the brightest bulb in the drawer as he once told my mom, who was asking him with great concern if I was doing drugs, that Ruth, your son is either the best actor I’ve ever seen, or he is not doing drugs. In point of fact I had gone to a session with him while taking LSD, so. I may have a future as an actor.

Anyway Dr. Bearded Guy prescribed some Depakote and Lithium, which made my hair start to fall out (awesome, more trauma!) and my stomach queasy, respectively. I immediately stopped the latter, since having to puke is nature’s way of saying NO, THANK YOU. The depakote I took for a year or two until I was basically the baldestish high school junior in town, but you know. It was needed for my “mood swings” or whatever bullshit was in vogue those days among overpaid snake oil salesmen (aka drug dealers).

It maybe didn’t help that the doctor was unaware, despite copious evidence and being told directly by my guardian, that I was also taking pot, acid, and alcohol, which I suspect may have interactions with psych meds, most of which are molecules extracted from, well, pot, alcohol, poppies, and so on.

I myself did not really track any of this. The psych meds were sort of a mandated aspect of my mom gaslighting me my entire life so far by labeling me mentally deranged while threatening suicide, hitting me, verbally abusing me, and generally being EXTREMELY self-involved as if she didn’t have a father or husband or siblings or anyone to help her work her ass off while raising a mentally ill kid by herself. In her defense, I never saw her use drugs and she went to church religiously, so.

By 17, having dropped out and tuned in and so on, going to my dirty little hippy school (shout out to Ned Ryerson!), I was experiencing some weird things that made me want to score some better meds. Like one day I was driving home from Watertown to Needham on the Mass Pike, and I was sooo tired I decided to take a nap until I got home. Luckily I quickly caught the logic error — a nap would most likely wrap my shitty little ’83 Datsun around a light pole pretty quick — and we sought out a more expert doctor to see what might be wrong with me. (Clearly some sort of genetic chemical imbalance must be to blame! Did you know Nazis brought into the US in Operation Paperclip helped found the American Psychiatric Association and that Aldous Huxley, one of Stacy’s and my good reads as teens, was not so much casting Soma and Brave New World as a dystopia as commenting on his and his associates’ dreams of doping up the entire population?)

We went to see a Dr. Teischer, who could totally sue me for using his real name. He was at McLean hospital in Belmont, and I later saw him on 60 Minutes! His area of expertise, a big fad around the late ’80s, was “the kindling effect,” which was this theory that mood disorders like bipolar and other brain cooties like psychosis clearly were escalating and each subsequent episode a person would have would put the brain at greater risk, so it was imperative that any means necessary be used to prevent the brain from getting so excited, and so his research focused on benzodiazepines (sp?), like valium, librium, ativan, klonopin, etc. He had shown to great peer-reviewed acclaim that these drugs could halt the kindling effect, thereby, in theory, preventing bipolar and psychotic disorders forever! These were the drugs known back in the ’60s as “mommy’s little helpers,” but thankfully, woke 20somethings helped eradicate such sexist terms from the discourse and anyway, I ended up addicted to Klonopin.

Now, mind you, taking booze, weed, LSD, depakote, lithium (great song, but not to come out for another few years), and now klonopin, was having some mutating effects on the development of my poor brain (and hair follicles). Once in the mental hospital at 18 (recovering from suicide), the doctor asked me how I felt that day, and I replied, “like Jim Morrison…”

Klonopin, for many many years, I swore by as THE drug of choice. It made me feel, almost magically, okay. Like, everything was calm, clear, slow enough to track, not wobbling chaotically around. The docs said, yes, sometimes it has an “off label” effect on ADHD for the positive. It also was useful in that, as the CIA mkultra research showed, it helps people dissociate so that they have no memory of the dark side, the raging, the explosive moods. Dissociation is very useful for trauma, as it separates you from the pain and anger. But mostly, I was able to function with this drug. It helped me avoid drugs like alcohol (also a GABA agonist) and weed (also a downer and helpful in reducing [traumatic] memories. And it didn’t make you high! I could drive, go to day or night school (was by this point taking night classes at Harvard), and my eyes weren’t all droopy or dilated.

Thanks, psychiatry! Helping people lead healthier, more happy lives!

Haha but seriously. Drugs are dope.

Stay tuned for more tales of degenerate behaviors. That’s enough drug talk for now, I need to get into the college years, which were sort of the bridge between the Nobody years and the Somebody years, and ought to be covered in their entirety. It ain’t the truth unless it’s the whole truth, right?

Oh one funny anecdote though. When a retired Harvard Prof visited our little Needham bungalow (hmm I wonder if he ever knew John Nash…) to interview me for undergraduate admissions once I’d graduated high school, I made a critical mistake. He asked me why there weren’t many atheletic activities on my application, and I said, being so stupid as to always speak the truth, that, well, I had been more into smoking pot and playing in bands and stuff than sports. Lol! And THAT, my friends, is how not to get recruited I mean admitted by elite Ivy League organizations. It’s like another recruiter said to me in 2014… Oh wait that’s getting ahead of the story.

Don’t do drugs. They will ruin your life forever.