inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #26 of 160: Berliner (captward) Sat 22 May 04 03:11
Martin, in re funding for the documentary, I'd urge you to look into
Channel 4 (UK) or the French/German TV channel Arte. Both would be
interested, I'd think, and you'd wind up with some theatrical and
festival screenings as well. 
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #27 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Sat 22 May 04 05:40
Ed. yes, I know about those places in Europe to go for funding; I
wonder, though, if the uniquely American focus of my approach might
work against it. It's worth fginding out...Nice to have you in the

Marcy: great question, one that really set off the whole book for me.
It's taken a lot of time and perspective. I write about this in the
last part of the last chapter. Generally, I feel ppositiove about my
early experimentation, but with serious qualifications. The most useful
approach for me has been to consider all the drugs I took over t he
course of my life, their effects, and honestly put checks where they
belong in the plus and minus columns respectively. Marijuana: there's
no doubt that it opened my synapses in profound ways. Baudelaire called
it "a mirror that magnifies" and I think that says it all: it can't
put something  there that isn't there but it sure as hell can magnify,
amplify, enhance--and distort. On the whole I think I was fortunate in
my use of it. Ginsberg liked to descibe its potential as "an 
educational experience" and I came to see it very much like that. I was
the sort of person who was very interested in things and it only made
me more so, opening up my interests in poetry, music, photography,
film, cooking, nature, sensuality, on and on. I liked to read when I
was stoned and in college was able to stay very engaged, unlike some of
my compadres who did nothing but smoke a lot of pick and lay around
and pick lint out of their navels. The danger for me was in how it can
distort experience and pereception, especially emotionally. In my case
it really allowed me to distance myself from my feelings and merely
observe them--as if they were just another part of the entertainment of
the experience--rather than really be in them. I had this tendency
anyway, and the pot I smoked helped establish it as real personality
dynamic of my alcoholism/addiction (even though I never felt I was ever
addicted to marijuana). I think this can be a real danger for certain
types of adoloscents who are pretty confused about what the hell
they're feeling anyway--much more so than any "amotivational syndrome"
or "gateway" stuff, although that exists for certain types as well
(though I certainly don't believe they should be used as the reasons
for the criminalization of marijuana). I took LSD as least fifty times
between 1969-1974 and I could go on about it for days. The only time I
ever came close to a bad experience was when I had already taken a nice
amount and went to a party where the punch was seriously dosed and
unwittingly drank enough to trip for, like, three days. It got very
weird and rocky at times there, with things dissollving down to their
molecular structures, but I was ok. On the other had I was around some
people when they were having massive acid bummers and that's not a
pretty sight. But then so many other drugs came into the cauldron and
it all became this giant polydrug stew. Qualudes, whoa. Fun, stupid,
sloppy. I once went tumbling down a flight of stairs and didn't feel a
thing. They produced the kind of sexual situations that no other drug
could have produced--if you could remember them (and acts of true moral
squalor for me, like having sex with my best friend's girlfriend while
he slept in the next room). nd then came cocaine. Loved it at first,
as did so many others. I loved it when Mountain Girl called it "just a
bunch of bullshit" in my book, because that's what it really is. The
Partnership for a Drug-Free America called i The Big Lie, and I think
ity's the only time they ever came close to telling the truth about
anything: it literally makes your brain tell you that you're
experiencing pleasure when you're not. Unfortunately, I did a ton of

So, to come back to your question, no, I do feel positive about my
early experimentation, and don't disavow anything. On the whole, they
both helped and hurt me in ways that profoundly shaped the course of my
life, positive and negative. And I can't make judgements about others,
only myself.      
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #28 of 160: Dennis Donley (dennisd) Sat 22 May 04 07:41

>Fun, stupid,
 sloppy. I once went tumbling down a flight of stairs and didn't feel a

They didn't call Qualudes "Wallbangers" for nothing!
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #29 of 160: Andrew Alden (alden) Sat 22 May 04 14:37
I have to agree about your experience of marijuana--if you stay engaged
rather than just vegetate, the result is likely to be positive. I stopped
smoking recently, but I would usually go outside and take a walk, or work in
the yard--active things--and take small doses.

There's a pattern in recent drug history that I saw at least twice in the
book. The first instance was with Timothy Leary's group at Harvard--it began
as a quiet scene among high-functioning people, then at some point the
object became turning on the whole world. The second was with MDMA, explored
by a a network of researchers and therapists until a group in Texas decided
that renaming it Ecstasy and selling it wholesale was the thing to do. At
this point in both examples, the authorities and control freaks slammed the
lid down as hard as they could. There doesn't seem to be a middle way--
unless the medical marijuana campaign is one. Is this the way it has to be
in America?
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #30 of 160: RUSirius (rusirius) Sat 22 May 04 15:42

I think it comes down to following my first law of intelligent drug
use: Getting high is only interesting in contrast to staying straight. 

I think Tim believed that too although we may not have followed it all
the time...
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #31 of 160: Marcy Sheiner (mmarquest) Sat 22 May 04 18:21
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Martin. I should qualify what I
said by adding a few details: first, I was not a teenager when I did
drugs, I was the young mother of two toddlers, one of whom had a
disability. Second, although pot and hallucinogens opened me up
tremendously, in the ways that you describe--to music, literature,
yoga, the inner life (altho I was pretty open to begin with), I think
there was a residual effect not just while doing the drugs, but in my
life in general. I now believe that I was walking around in a somewhat
altered state even when not actively ingesting drugs. As a result,  I
seriously neglected  important issues in my life and made some bad
decisions based on being a "free spirit." Those decisions have had
repercussions on my children and myself that I am dealing with to this
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #32 of 160: Crankydyke (gertiestn) Sat 22 May 04 18:30
I'm enjoying the dickens out of reading this book...and I really
hadn't expected to. I mean, I thought I'd learn a lot, and remember a
lot, but I didn't think I'd actually enjoy the thing. I think the
presence of so many voices, as mentioned uptopic, adds immeasurably to
the richness.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #33 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Sat 22 May 04 20:44
Andrew, your observation about "no middle ground" when it comes to
drugs in America is dead on right, and it goes way back. It's a kind of
schizophrenia in which we swing wildly from the transcendental and the
messianic, to the outright hysteria of drug scares and "epidemics."
Just one example of extremes--there are many, deeply ingrained in the
nature of drugs, and how our culture has traditionally processed the
experience of them. There is no middle ground largely because the
terrain has been shaped and defined by the drug laws and this insane
and brutal drug war. I don't know that the medical marijuana thing is a
middle way so much as it represents the possibility of a small breach
in a giant dam. Just to get any water tricking out at all is
monumental. In the book I call it the one stone that the David of the
drug reform movement can sling at the Goliath of the drug war...
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #34 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 23 May 04 02:22
There are other possible breaches in the dam. Medical marijuana is ok as 
far as it goes, but that's not very far, and I go along with those who 
believe that it's a poorly disguised wedge issue. THe biggfer breach, the 
one that can sweep the whole thing away, is if the 30 millionn or60 
million or whatever the number is of  
Americans who are the targets of the drug war started to fight it as a 
civil rights issue. You don't have to subscribe to anything as far out as 
the notoin of freedom of consciousness to take this position--it's really 
just a larger version of the outcry against the 55 mph spped limit or 
other examples of the government's just geting it totally wrong at the 
expense of its citizens and causing them to live in terror as a result. 
Turn it into a civil rights struggle and the next thing you know it isn't 
just peple with glaucoma and wasting syndrome, it's every stoner, every 
weekend warrior, every college kid who can march, and just about any one 
of them who can be a Rosa Parks. But the drug war has one important 
difference: People who have stood up against the stigma of racial hatred 
or homophobia (the two best examples in American society recently) can do 
so on the grounds that they don't have any choice. That's why the change 
in the scientific view about homsexuality--that it's inborn and not a 
disease--was so crucial to gay rights. (Which means, by the way, that if a 
personstarted having sex with same sex opartners because he or she simply 
wanted to that his or her claim to the right to do so would lose its 
foundation in law and practice, which is prety darn weird if you ask me.) 
Because our society rewards and pubnishes on the basis of the "choices" we 
make, it's hard to stand up and say, "Yeah, I choose to get high, and I 
think it's an okay choice." I'm pinnign my hopes on the neuroscientists: I 
think they will find that the population of drug takers has a different 
brain chemistry than other people, one that makes their "choice" 

But I hvae another question for you, Martin. One of the ways you document 
that swing of the pendulum you just mentioned--in addition to the way that 
lsd and mdma escaped their confines--is in the switchover from pot and 
acid to cocaine. That's the context for the Mountain Girl quote above, and 
it's in a section of the book you call "The Place Where the Wave Finally 
Broke and Rolled Back." After her comment about coke being 
bullshit, MOuntain Girl goes on to say: Unfortunately it became the thing 
for everybody else I knew. People were suddenly slipping off to the 
bathroom...But why? I isolated myself from the whole Grateful Dead scene 
at that point because I couldn't stand it. I was very lonely for a number 
of years. It was the end of that wonderful community spirit where we 
shared everything."  Now, coke isn't the only drug that seems to inpsire 
selfishness and atomization,  although it may be (in the opinion of someon 
who , I admit,  never grokked coke) the least transofrmative of the drugs 
that do this. And it's easy to see the effects of this tendency on a 
community that generally shared its wine, i.e., to blame this lamentable 
outcome on the drug itself. But that's sort of drug-warish, and I wonder 
if there's another way to look at what happened. MG's question is the 
important one. Why were people suddenly slipping off the bathroom? What 
was  going onin society or politics or culture  that made this drug's 
ascendancy, which seems so unlikely in some ways, possible?
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #35 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Sun 23 May 04 06:07
GG, the notion of drug policy and law reform as a "civil rights"
movement is a very arresting one (no pun intended). I think that's what
Dennis Peron and others who forged the med marijuiana movement in
California had in mind--at least the civil disobedience aspect. There's
no doubt that if there were, say, thirty, forty, fifty million drug
users, featuring a wide cross section of American society, willing to
go out in the streets and demonstrate for their beliefs, and be
arrested, and clog the courts and jails, that would create a very
different situation than the one we presently find ourselves in. But I
suspect that it would also provoke an anti-drug counter-reaction even
more vociferous from the sixty million Christian conservatives who
believe that these substances are the tools of Satan. Now, if we had
100 million people willing to go to the mat to change the drug laws?
That might be very different, but, of course, we don't. This is why I
think that Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance is essentially
correct when he says that we're not really going to get anywhere until
a large amount of middle class, middle of the road parents become
convinced that their children will be better off if the policies were
changed to ones that emphasized harm reduction and self-responsibility
rather than abstinence; and that's why any progress toward reform is
excrutiatingly show. As for pining your hopes on the neuroscientists
establishing that drug users have a different brain chemistry, I can
see the prohibitionists simply putting forward their own sham
counter-science--the same way conservatives employ scientists to
discredit global-warming. As you can see, I'm not very optimistic about
major reform of the drug laws in our lifetime.

About your cocaine question, I'm going to have to put that off until
later today because I have to pop out for a few hours, but I can't wait
to talk about it...

inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #36 of 160: Berliner (captward) Sun 23 May 04 07:29
The neuroscientific angle was attempted here in Germany a couple of
years ago by a Korean woman who said that because of her body
chemistry, she couldn't tolerate alcohol and felt left out when she
went to parties with her friends. Since she was in the fashion
business, entertainment was an essential part of her earning a living.
This was going to be a big deal, and I have no idea what happened to
it. People willing to read German legal documents can find out more at
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #37 of 160: Uncle Jax (jax) Sun 23 May 04 09:35
Here in the United States, the question really is, "Whence derives the
authority of the federal government to tell people what they may grow
in their back yards and roll into cigarettes?" The proposed answer is,
"Nowhere in the Constitution," an answer approved by many diverse
voices, among them the ultraright U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo
(R-Colo). Despite his support for suppression of drugs, Tancredo
thinks it should be up to each state, telling me, "If, for example, a
Vermont should wish to make itself the Las Vegas of drugs, I think the
constitution allows that."
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #38 of 160: William H. Dailey (whdailey) Sun 23 May 04 14:11
I look at it from a different angle.  I think a start of general
problems was when California's Social Services created "mothers with
dependent children."  They extracted fathers from poor families and
began paying mothers according to how many children they had.  This
resulted in street gangs forming.  Boys with no father figure present
you know.  Then the federal government declared war on drugs.  We all
thought that would reduce the availability of drugs.  Not so!  What it
was really about was the CIA getting worldwide control of drug
distribution.  Naturally, our country being the richest nation, we got
the most drugs distributed to us.  Of course they also passed a lot of
unconstitutional laws to punish us for use.  They also went after drug
sources and banks that didn't fall into line.  The favored World
Banking Cartel, which owns our Federal Reserve, skims off the top.  I
don't know what it will take to shut this thing down.  This was all a
great boon to the street gangs, they could make tons of money, buy
guns, and go around killing people.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #39 of 160: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 23 May 04 14:22
Whatever, dude.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #40 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 23 May 04 14:24
>As for pining your hopes on the neuroscientists
>establishing that drug users have a different brain chemistry, I can
>see the prohibitionists simply putting forward their own sham
>counter-science--the same way conservatives employ scientists to
>discredit global-warming. 

Of course, I wasd being facetious

>The neuroscientific angle was attempted here in Germany a couple of>
>years ago by a Korean woman who said that because of her body
>chemistry, she couldn't tolerate alcohol and felt left out when she
>went to parties with her friends. Since she was in the fashion
>business, entertainment was an essential part of her earning a

And it's stuff like this that makes me get facetious. 

Yes, Dennis PEron had drug use as a civil right in mind. But  that's
not what the drug policy reform movement wants to foreground. That's
probably realistic, but when Drug Policy Alliance  disavowed Peron
after he was widely quoted as saying, "All use is medical!" (a position
which is, in my view, unassailable) on the heels of the Prop 215
victory, you could see the fault lines that open up when you don't go
all the way past reform to revolution.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #41 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Sun 23 May 04 14:46
Jack, you're right. Nowhere in the constitution does is state that the
federal government should exert this kind of influence in people's
private lives. If anything, the "life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness" clause would seem to work in favor of the complete abolition
of drugs laws, which have always been primarily cultural in origin as
well as application. I think Tancredo should be lauded for his stance.
The challenge of the drug policy reform movement is getting more
conservatives to think that way--no easy task--because, first and
foremost, they're interested in "sending the right message" about
drugs, and you know what that is...

Gary, getting back to your question about what was going on culturally
and politically that made the ascendancy of cocaine so possible. It's
useful to apply P.J. O'Rourke's quote here from Rolling Stone: "Every
generation gets the drug it needs." It was the baby boom generation
that fueled the ascendancy of coke. What was going on, what did we
need? In what had become a mass commercial drug culture, we needed the
Next Big Thing. The New Sensation. We'd been through psychedelics and
were older with more disposable income. Jobs. Climbing the
socio-economic ladder. Creature comforts. Flash and fandango. And here
was the perfect status symbol. I think initially people went after coke
for the same reason everybody always wanted that ever-better grade of
primo weed: the Conoisseurship of Stonation. By that time we had our
own media--hell, we were becoming the establishment--and everywhere we
looked the coke message was being affirmed--High Times, SNL, the
Tonight Show, Newsweek--along with the notion that it was relatively
benign and non-addictive. It was the perfect set-up. But I think there
was something about the nature of the high itself that became a
psychophamacological metaphor of the time: so fleeting, you just wanted
more as you tried to renew the blast of those first couple of lines
but never could. So much like...the American Dream? Capitalism itself?
It was the quintessence of sollipsism. I think what also made cocaine
unique was the corruption it engendered. Laundered money from marijuana
or heroin never ended up financing major construction booms, like
cocaine did in South Florida and elsewhere. How much of it ended up on
Wall Street, no one will ever know. What also made it unique was how it
eventually reached across generations, fusing with and encompassing
every aspect and dimension of the American experience: so many people
who disdained marijuana and LSD would eventually come to use the drug.
And it was tailor-made for both boom and bust (how American is that?).
Finally, it became the perfect excuse for the Great Backlash of the
Reagan years--a perfect political cudgel for the right wing to use to
beat up the left. See what all those permissive liberals have done?
They've given us a Cocaine Epidemic! Time to pass some new laws! Time
to drug-test the piss out of them!  Time to build more prisons!     
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #42 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 23 May 04 16:58
And don't forget the great crack baby caper, wherein they claimed thta a 
whole bunch of unwhite people had discovered a superdrug that threatened 
to deprave the not-yet-born.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #43 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Mon 24 May 04 05:00
I'll put this as succinctly as possible. I've witnessed the
devastation that drugs can wreck, in all of its variegated
manifestations; of course, it's very real. No doubt, crack was (is) bad
news. But the part of it that was real, and the part of it that was
the hysterical exaggeration, like crack babies, was used  as an excuse
to put in place and solidify laws and policies that represent the
closest this society has come to actual fascism (with the possible
exception of the Patriot Act, depending on your political point of
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #44 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 24 May 04 06:10
This connection--between actual fascism and the drug war--is explored by 
Richard Miller in Drug Warriors and Their Prey, in which he explicitly 
compares the drug war to the HOlocaust. A little over the top, even for mu 
tastes, but an interesting cri de coeur in any event.

I think the comparison between coke and capitalism is a little more 

I'm goint to be away from this conversation most of the day--back in the 
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #45 of 160: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 24 May 04 06:22
mmarquest, I know what you mean -- I quit doing drugs when I got
pregnant, and haven't taken them up again, because even though my
daughter is with her dad half the time, I don't want to be stoned when
the call comes that she just got in an accident or something. Plus I
know that I've used drugs for escape before, and I don't want to allow
myself to do that again.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #46 of 160: the Conoisseurship of Stonation (bratwood) Mon 24 May 04 06:47
Thanks for the pseud Martin!

I always thought heroin money flowed through the Mafia and was
therefore part of the original building fund for Las Vegas. Is that not
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #47 of 160: Berliner (captward) Mon 24 May 04 08:14
As far as I know, it depends on where you're buying it. Chinese gangs,
Russian mafiya, and the Italians all have a piece of the action, often
competing for the same turf. Over here we have Russians, Italians, and
the eternal Turks-versus-Kurds fight. 
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #48 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Mon 24 May 04 14:47
It's hard for me to believe that anyone ever doubted that coke was 
addictive, especially since Freud famously declared it so in about 1890. . 
It seems, in fact, that the real urban legend isn't that coke 
is non-addictive, but that everyone was doing it because they thought it 
was non-addictive. I mean, why would a bunch of people who had taken lsd 
despite warnings about broken chromosomes, or smoked dope despite various 
reefer madness prophesies, suddenly start believing scientists? The appeal 
must be in its being the "quintessence of solipsism," as you aptly put it. 
And there's more to the psychopharmacology than that: coke pretty much 
leaves your sensory apparatus intact. It doesn't make you hungry or horny 
or want to stop and stare at a tree stump as the embodiment of birth, 
death, and the eternal cosmos. It mostly leaves you alone, so long as what 
you want to do is to assert your ego, which is what so much of that time 
seemed ot be about: rescuing the ego. So , as you say, it's a great drug 
for making money. And I'd change th O'Rourke quote to "Every generation 
gets the drug it deserves." 

But the charm of the cocaine discussion in your book is that it gets you 
totally focused on the problem of excess in drug use. Here again, the 
tension between meaningful distinctions and glib stereotyping becomes 
important, for I am tempted to say that you imply that the excess of the 
cocdaine era  
was somehow worse than the excesses of the psychedelic era.  It sure seems 
more depraved at every level. Your account also leads naturally to the 
chapter on recovery, which was the chapter that left me with the most 
questions, for it seemed to me that you were saying that recovery 
completes the dependence/excess story, gives redemptive meaning to it. Is 
that what you meant? 
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #49 of 160: Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 24 May 04 14:51
I thought the problem of excess was consistently brought up throughout the
book, from Charlie Parker's abject fate, to the STP overdoses at the Human
Be-In, to the hash-oil influx at Chicago '68, et cetera. There is no drug
that hasn't been overdone, and I was sobered to read about the casualties of
every "golden age of [drug X]", even the times that were supposed to be
great times.
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #50 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Mon 24 May 04 19:29
Running around today like a chicken with my head cut off. Got reviewed
yesterday in the Wash Post Book World (more on that later). Lately,
haven't been able to get to this until I help my wife put our little
boy to bed after she gets home from work. I so look forward to that, as
I so look forward to this. Life is good (more on that later).

First, to Donna re: my statement about cocaine financing the
construction boom of South Florida circa '80-'83, and her point about
the Mafia and Las Vegas. Heroin appeared on the streets of Harlem for
the first time, significantly, in '48; but the first "heroin summer,"
which is so powerfully chronicled by Claude Brown in Manchild, was in
'50. Until that time, the lion's share of money in organized crime came
from bootlegging, gambling-numbers, and prostitution, all of which
continued as Luciano built the global heroin trade from '46 on. As
Vegas went up simultaneously with all of this, and was primarily funded
by Luciano through Meyer Lansky, there's no doubt that heroin dollars
found their way there, along with money from all their other rackets.
Whereas the Florida boom was mostly funded by landered cocaine dollars.
So I definitely stand partially corrected...

Gary, it's timely that you bring up the issue of excess and recovery,
because it factored mightily in the review of my book. First, about the
excess of the cocaine era being greater than the psychedelic era.
Having come of age in the late 60s, I can attest to the excess of that
bacchanalia, and the smorgasbord that became available. People went off
the deep end routinely, but there was also a brand newness to drug
use--a wide-eyed innocence, if you will--as well as a cultural emphasis
and context to using them, whether it was about music, politics,
nature, sensuality, sex, community, consciousness itself--that all but
disappeared by the time the coke thing really started gathering serious
momentum in '78-'79. Getting fucked up had become an end unto itself.
The VALUES of drugs shifted along with the drugs themselves. And
another factor that changed was the organization of the drug trade and
the profits involved. Sailboats became tankers. Small planes became
fleets of DC 9s...

The cocaine rage leads into recovery in the book for many reasons,
personally and societally. As horrific as an acid bummer could be, as
tragic as a heroin OD was, there really had been nothing like the
phenomenon of middle class cocaine addicts rifling through savings and
losing the family home and business etc. (especially if they were into
free base). The only thing that compared were intravenous meth freaks,
and that was a tiny subculture compared to cocaine (there were never
five million iv meth addicts, like there were daily users of cocaine).

Yes, I did posit recovery, its philosophy, way of life, and spiritual
awakening and path, as the "redemptive" meaning for excess and
dependence, but only for myself. That was my experience. If there is
any single overriding force that drove me to do this book, it was my
certainly that we must start telling the truth about drugs, whatever
they may be, wherever they may lead. So I had to tell the truth about
myself. I do write about myself to a degree, but mostly I used a
character, Suzie Ryan (pseudonym), because I wanted to take the reader
deep inside the experience. In recovery we tell our own stories, but I
wanted to tell someone else's, as a third person narrator, as
objectively as possible, because that way I knew there would not be an
issue of preaching or proselytizing, which brings me to the review in
the Post.  

It was written by Nick Gillespie, editor of the journal of the Reason
Foundation, the libertarian organization that supports drug policy
reform. He said some very nice things about the book calling it
"brave,"  "in many ways as pleasantly and as richly intoxicating as a
double hit on Humboldt County Calif.'s finest." But here's his
conclusion: ultimately, the books is a "bummer, a downer, maybe even a
bad trip." Why? My personal experience with drugs "is nothing if not
unrepresentative, veering as it does between abuse and abstinence."
Then he mentions that I ended in a 12-step program, quoting me--"I have
never been happier." What this means to him is that, "despite its
merits," and even though "the extremes" makes for "more interesting
reading," "it suggests that a truly measured discussion of American
drug use is yet to come."

In other words, the book is a "bad trip" because I became an
abuser/addict, bottoms, and ended happy, but abstinent (key word).
Notwithstanding that I state unequivocally in the the book that the
overwhelming majority of people who use drugs do NOT become addicts,
this conclusion is especially revealing and significant to me, coming,
as it does, from a libertarian supporter of drug policy reform.

Many (most?) people who have never truly experienced addiction and all
that it entails--"powerlessness, loss of control and choice"--don't
get it addiction and recovery (this is why people in the program call
non addicts and alcoholics "civilians") but its especially true of a
certain kind of secular humanist/rationalist/libertarian/ intellectual
type, of which Gillespie probably is. Ironically, I included the last
part of the last chapter, in which I write about my work with homeless
junkies in New York and discuss where my journey has brought me, as an
afterthought. It was obvious to me something was missing from the end,
something that I knew I had to pull out of my gut, and this is what
came out: what Gary calls my "redemptive meaning."

The question becomes: how could my redemption possibly be a "bad
trip'? I'll conjecture a few possible answers. In addition to not
getting it about what it's like to really be an addict, many reformists
are seriously discomfited by addicton for the obvious reason that it
has always been cited since 1914 as the raison d'etre for the drug laws
and the drug war. So there's a natural suspicion about an ex-addict
presuming to write objectively, let alone definitively, about drugs.
Layer onto that how a faction truly believes the "disease concept" is
bullshit and the 12-steps a pseudo-spiritual sham that merely creates
another form of dependence. Add to that how they resent the hell out of
how the 12-steps have sparked a mass movement that has become
increasingly influential. And finally, stir it with the wand of how
they see an alliance between the treatment industry and the drug war,
with felons being mandated into treatment that emphasize the 12-steps
("forced abstinence"), and you begin to get a sense of why my
redemption is Gillespie's "bummer."  
Ok, there are people in the treatment industry, like Dr. Mitchell
Rosenbloom of Phoenix House, who are examples of this. And I truly
understand and agree with their point that the majority of folks who
might want a taste of something should not be restricted in their
freedom of choice because of the existence of those of us who do get
into trouble with drugs, but "bummer?" Correct me if I'm wrong, but the
real bummer would have been had I OD'ed and fucking died, right? 

 No doubt Gillespie would have preferred if I'd ended with: "Today I
remain perfectly capable of controlling my drug use and use marijuana
recreationally, on occasion. and always in a moderate and responsible
manner." But, alas, such is not where my journey took me. I submit to
you that Gillespie's view that my personal experience of
use/abuse/addiction is a "bad trip," and that it makes my book any less
"measured" than anyone else's might be as a result, reflects a bias as
deep-seated and distorted, in its own way, as the bias of the
prohibitionist. Such is the nature of this subject. The libertarian
reformist doesn't get addiction any more than the anti-drug zealot gets
"personal and responsible use." This is why we're fucked.

By the way, I was far from displeased with the review. Stay tuned for
the New York Times Book Review on June 6th.


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