Closer to the Maddening Crowd (Part Two)

(What follows is the second part of a larger memoir piece chronicling my experiences of living with mental illness and addiction. I will be posting the third and final chapter, where I ultimately discover hope, in a forthcoming post. As an aside, I have once-again deliberately left out the names of anyone alluded to in this piece; for the sake of privacy and, at times, my own embarrassment. )

1989: 17-years-old and priced to move.

1989: 17-years-old and priced to move.

Throughout these years, my compulsions manifested themselves in interesting ways that were, in hindsight, based on self-negation, if not attempts at disintegration. Decades later, I discovered that in a healthier approach, Theravadan Buddhists called this Anatta or “no-self,” but rather than freeing myself from my ego and attachments I was actually drowning myself daily in its self-centered pool. I wanted to not exist so I would distract myself from thinking by succumbing to odd behaviors and inane, self-appointed tasks. I would spend hours systemically rearranging all of the furniture in my room, removing the bed frame and box spring so I had only a mattress on the ground. Changing the bulbs in my lamps to different wattages, I would then take a measuring tape and measure the distance of each piece of furniture from any neighboring adjacent item. I was cleaning up the crime scene, even though I would follow the trail of bloody footprints that always led back to me. Furious at the time I wasted in trying to find some harmony in my living space, I would then return all of these things to their original place. And then do it again, sometimes hours later. I had accumulated hundreds of books, so I would aim my attention on them, re-organizing them by utilizing some arcane mathematics that sizzled through my skull. Siegfried and Roy had nothing on my constant wardrobe changes. We lived in a fairly safe neighborhood; yet every door was routinely double-checked for security reasons. Later at night, when my family was asleep, I would go as far as taking a screwdriver and tightening all of the screws in the strikeplates. And after all of these laborious attempts at an amateur hour vanishing act I would reappear, realizing that I was in fact terrified of not being me: this almost-devotedly sad, angry, and distracted boy who could not stop looking in the mirror, even if he was hoping for even the slightest change in that reflection.

I nearly succeeded in my ongoing vanishing act, almost dying again; only this time by accident. At the age of 15, I was dating a girl three years my senior. I treated her terribly. I would either ignore her completely or demand all kinds of things, ranging from holding her captive with my rants, rides in her car or some wolfish teenaged carnality disguised as puppy love. I had discovered where my mom had hidden my Valium prescription so I naturally took a big handful of the yellow pills. My girlfriend picked me up and we took off for some nebulous destination that would reveal itself during the drive. I felt the tranquilizers pulling me down into the rabbit hole. I woke up to the sight of her red-faced from crying. She had been driving around aimlessly for hours in her hatchback as I sat slumped in the passenger seat in a tranquilizer-induced-near-coma. “Why are you crying?” I slurred, more confused by her emotions than my drugged-out state. “I didn’t know what to do,” she sobbed. “I was afraid that if I took you to the Emergency Room they would lock you up again and I knew that you would be mad at me.”

Throughout my adolescence, I was equally steered by obsessions. I would become completely fixated on some author, band, or visual artist and then collect, study, and scrutinize every possible realization about them until I would exhaust the experience. And then I would simply aim the crosshairs elsewhere. Along with Richard Brautigan, William Burroughs and all of the other beat-era writers were absorbed into my galaxy, along with various visual artists and bands ranging from the life-saving Velvet Underground to Captain Beefheart and King Crimson. Thankfully, I only made a brief detour into religious inquiry. But I was an impatient seeker who flipped to the end of the bible only to discover, unsurprisingly, that people like me were most likely going to be tortured for all eternity; a five minute conversion process from willing believer back to resolute apostate. Amen. I would retain what I had learned and discovered from these disparate sources and then lay awake nights reconfiguring that education at the expense of sleep, never fully understanding the reason why I felt compelled to dissect, rearrange, and then discard these sources that were as invasive as they were informative. In the exaggerated experience that is adolescence, I am absolutely certain that this was, and is not, an exclusive experience. But I eventually owned every album by the band Yes. That’s how sick I was.

When I was 16 my psychiatrist had signed some waiver that allowed me to take the GED exam to get my high school diploma. A friend drove me to the local community college to take the class, us passing a joint back and forth during the ride there. I took the test completely stoned but unlike my previous Mensa misfire a few years earlier, I somehow passed. A few months shy of my 17th birthday, I enrolled in classes at that same campus, deciding to major in visual art. I was enamored of surrealists like Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy, but my own “work” leaned more towards a fourth-rate version of another painting hero, Francis Bacon. I did well in the classes, particularly in figurative studies. I think I made it through all of the foundation classes and up through Art History II before I started to lose interest. After my pencil portrait of William Burroughs was denied entry into the student portfolio show, naturally I cried conspiracy. One particular instructor took a special liking in me. Through her encouragement I hung on. She also sent some slides of my drawings of nudes to someone at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota. I guess I was nominally accepted and they sent me the course catalog and tuition information. After realizing that the two years there would cost roughly $30,000, my Dad and I had a good laugh and those plans were immediately scrapped. In hindsight, I think I was just too restless for formal education. I originally tried oils, then switched to acrylics, but realized there wasn’t a paint that could dry fast enough to match the energy of my agitation. I dropped out and focused on playing music again.

The rest of my late teens were guided by a growing misunderstanding of how life would be and, sadder still, an equally increasing consumption of alcohol. Originally, I hated alcohol and showed an early “allergic” reaction to it that was an omen of my increasing addictions. My first experiences of adolescent drinking were invariably unpleasant, always leading me to getting drunk, wanting more booze, and then either puking or passing out. When I was 14 years old, I split a fifth of Mescal tequila with two friends. That night culminated with me challenging an adult man to a fistfight. The next day I woke up fully-clothed on my floor, missing a few personal possessions and remembering nothing; which was probably for the better. I then proceeded to vomit for the next eight hours nonstop. “How about a beer?” asked my Dad, as I hung my head and heaved out the previous night’s fun into the commode. A second drinking binge resulted in me waking up under a white sheet on the living room floor of a friend’s house as my fellow imbibers held a mock funeral and memorial service in my honor. I took this as an omen and swore off booze, sticking to the ‘soft drugs’ of pot and psychedelics. “Marijuana isn’t addictive,” I told myself and then proceeded to smoke it more or less daily for two decades. Only now do I realize that I make things addictive. I am an addict and the world is my drug. But by the time I was 19, I began to figure out how to drink beer (cold and quickly) and it seemed to placate, or at least redirect, the whirling thoughts in my mind. It was also during this time in my life when I first injected drugs. I obtained a few Dilaudids and a syringe. Even though I was terrified of needles, my desire for some kind of mental relief created a kind of resigned form of courage. There was no one home and part of the romance of the moment was that it was based on the ritual of secrecy. As the narcotic hit my bloodstream, I immediately felt whole. I was 14 again, lying on that hospital gurney in the recovery room, nestled safely in a bed of cotton. I was suddenly complete. I felt what I thought must be normalcy; even sanity, that once-approachable castle in the clouds. My immediate reaction and love of both the high and the clandestine ceremony of syringe, drug, and spoon terrified me and I pushed those initial experiences back into a cordoned-off, lightless, area of my being. I was a child of the AIDS generation, highly aware of the uncertain danger of HIV transmission via IV drug use, and even though I was proving myself to be a complete fuck-up, some surprising sense of self-preservation warned me that my new lover would never treat me well. And I was right.

I was still prescribed Lithium at this time. Covered under my parents’ health insurance, every month we would receive cartoonish-sized containers of “Lithobid.” I had grown to a height of six-foot-four and weighed around 175 lbs. I looked like a scarecrow in a Butthole Surfers shirt, always chain-smoking Marlboro Lights. My hands constantly shook from the mood stabilizer and my eyes seemed to retract into my skull. While my parents and psychiatrist surmised that I was doing better, my mind seemed cauterized and consequently I was in too much of a soft blur to argue. I felt vacant and whatever weirdness my mental illness had overlooked, I sought out in life with a diseased form of gusto. I started to despise the psychiatrist that was treating me. I was required to go twice a month since he needed to do a blood draw to make sure my lithium levels were under the level of becoming toxic. The twinkle in his eyes seemed to be delivered by gin and tonics more than Gestalt therapy and he seemed half-in-the-bag when I would get there. Since I was on lithium, I wasn’t allowed to drive a car so my folks would drop me off at his office and then come back an hour later to pick me up. “I think he might be a drunk,” was my mom’s opinion. “You think so?” I’d ask, slamming the car door behind me and stalking into the lobby. Many sessions were spent with me staring at him as he yammered on or just looking down at my hands, the long index finger on my right hand already nicotine-stained from my two-pack-a-day habit. This particular brain-fixer smoked low-tar Carlton cigarettes or “air holes” as I called them. In a declaration of defiance, I began bringing my own pack of that very same brand of cigarettes to my appointments and blew hostile smoke rings at him. The saving grace of this was the psychologist whose office was located in the same gray, stucco building as Dr. Whiskey McLow Tar. A small, bespectacled man with a balding head and graying hair along his temples, the psychologist radiated an inviting and accepting presence and spoke softly in an almost-mesmerizing accent that I could never deduce. Decades later, I now understand that this man’s demeanor and presence were, by the very definition of the word, beatific.

At the time I was obsessed with the darkly comical novels of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. I would stay up late at night, completely immersed in Céline’s novels like “Death on the Installment Plan” and “Journey to the End of the Night,” books that featured the exploits of perhaps the ultimate literary antihero in their salty protagonist, Ferdinand Bardamu. Misanthropy, a religious sense of cynicism, cowardice, sexual ribaldry, and unexpected meditations on beauty, combined with a general shitty attitude made Bardamu feel like my lost twin. Whereas Richard Brautigan had taught me to soften my heart, Céline’s books seemed to hiss at me to harden it into a weapon. Céline was like a life-saving demon, originally sent to destroy me but for some reason taking pity on a boy who had already been injured enough. “Mystery is the very soul of this life,” Céline assured me and since I was surrounded by such uncertainty in everything; I took his observation as a crack of light, the surprising reminder of hope delivered weirdly enough by one pessimistic son of a bitch. Céline wrote in a uniquely elliptical-heavy style: the action delivered…in broken phrases…that seemed to both propel…and stagger…the action towards…the reader. Twenty-five years later, I adopted this method in transcribing interviews with visual artists (the very same pieces posted elsewhere on this blog) wherein I began dropping in (…) elliptical breaks to try and capture the thoughts (…) and cadences of a person (…) articulating both life (…) and art; my tribute to Céline in every parenthetical pause. If lithium had been leveling my emotions, the discovery of Louis-Ferdinand Céline helped to recalibrate my spirit. Sometimes providence arrives in the weirdest ways, even in the form of a stack of books penned by a pissed off WW-II-era French physician-turned-crazed-novelist.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961) and his cat Bébert in Copenhagen, 1945. If Richard Brautigan had softened my heart,  the novels Céline helped hone it into a weapon.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961) and his cat Bébert in Copenhagen, 1945. If Richard Brautigan had softened my heart, the novels of Céline helped hone it into a weapon.

I opened up to this therapist, rattling off my ongoing book reviews of Céline and other similar literary chuckle-machines and general life philosophy; one based on anger, depression, victimhood, and confused sadness. I would go into great detail describing some acid trip or failed sexual conquest, a kind of defiant challenge to his assumed morality that was based more on my own immaturity than any kind of steady sense of integrity or even purpose. He never graced me with any hostile or judgmental reaction. After I would tire of hearing my own voice soapboxing away on LSD and crazy writers, I would sometimes slip up and a feeling would fall out. My guard would drop and I would admit my fears, or even worse, my dreams. “I think that you are going to be alright,” he would say, with a soft smile. I’d leave those visits pissed off, feeling that he had somehow actually tricked me into somehow showing my hand, opening up with bared fangs but still letting him see inside of me. Proving both my ignorance and naiveté, I also thought that this guy was incredibly cool since I could see the hint of a tattoo peeking out from under the white sleeve of his dress-shirt. Years later I read in a local news story how this man was a survivor of the Holocaust. His entire family had been killed by the Nazis and he pushed through impossible obstacles to come to America and become a psychologist. The tattoo on his wrist was issued to him by the Nazis when he was a child. In hindsight, I can only wonder if he knew the story of my then-beloved Céline; a complex and even genius writer who was also a vocal Nazi sympathizer albeit one who would also sneak into Jewish ghettoes at night to secretly treat the sick and injured. Even though I celebrated a kind of absolute nihilism, even in my scowling worldview I had enough sense of justice and compassion to not co-sign Celine’s bullshit views on Nazism; any more than I agreed with William Burroughs’ baffling conclusion that “women may well be a biological mistake.” Regardless of anything else, I am still indebted to this therapist, whose name I actually only partially remember. In the past decade, I have made some attempts to both locate and thank him but with no success. He might be dead. But his acceptance of me “as is” was a rare and needed thing during this period of my life. I am eternally indebted for his kindness. If nothing else, I will thank him in heaven.

Like many other mentally ill individuals (and especially addicts) I was certain of a-constant-unfurling of conspiracies. In hindsight, I think that my negative sense of self-worth planted the seed of paranoia, a suspicion that festered into delusional belief. One evening I went to see a movie with my then-girlfriend and a close friend. I was feeling restless and worried about some inevitable weirdness that was certain to occur at any moment. As the lights in the theater dimmed and the previews appeared on the screen, I was ready to blast out of my seat. Looking around, everyone else seemed focused on the screen, but they simply were not privy to the unnamed horror that was minutes away from arriving; or maybe they were all in on it. I somehow convinced myself that the well-trusted pair sitting to my left and to my right were most assuredly “in on” this cosmic skullduggery. My mind went into overdrive. I sat through maybe ten minutes of the main feature before I excused myself and walked into the lobby. I continued walking and left the theater; no refunds. I began aimlessly wandering the neighborhood, fleeing the invisible. I saw the neon sign of a bank and decided I would somehow be most protected if I climbed the wall of an area that housed the air-conditioning units. I lay down on the gravel and tried to let the hum of the machines calm me. Hours later I awoke covered in mosquito bites and wondering where I was. I was stranded twenty miles from my home with no way to get back, my party long gone from the now-darkened theater. Reluctantly, I called my dad from a pay phone and he came and picked me up. I really had no explanation as to why I had marooned myself and he didn’t ask. The next day I spoke to my girlfriend about the previous night’s escape but made no mention of the spectral doom that ultimately never descended upon me. I played it off, telling her “I was just bored. I could tell that movie sucked as soon as it started. So I just left.” This same paranoia increased my cut-and-run philosophy and more isolation, declining future invitations so I could stay in the safety of my room; reading, writing, worrying, and getting high.

Not long after this radical act of film criticism and on an otherwise uneventful night, I sat around drinking beer with my friends and gradually began to feel the hair rising on my skin, the werewolf returning. As they watched the Jodie Foster film “The Accused” in my family’s TV room I suddenly decided to take another try at suicide. I took my then-girlfriend aside and confided in her my plans. “What is wrong with you? Don’t do this. I love you. I can’t deal with this.” My memory is a composite of her reaction. I sat in my room and brooded over my plan. Eventually all of my friends left. I went to the kitchen and returned to my bedroom. I emptied the entire bottle of lithium onto my bedspread. I swallowed handfuls of the pills, washing them back with more beer. I sat on the edge of my bed, looking at the wall, wondering how quickly I would die.

I realized that I had made a mistake. I woke my dad. “I just took all of my lithium. I’m trying to kill myself.” He drove me to the emergency room of the local beaches hospital. I was placed on a gurney and rolled into an ambulance which then headed for the hospital downtown, the one with the psychiatric ward. I can remember lying on my back, strapped to the gurney (for obvious, crazy-person-onboard reasons) and watching the shadows moving across the ceiling of the ambulance. I could hear the two paramedics muttering small talk to each other from the front seats. Once we arrived at the psych ward, the attending nurse took my vital signs and then handed me a small plastic vial. “What is this?” I asked. “It’s Ipecac syrup. It’s called an emetic. It will force you to vomit up the pills.” Figuring I had already swallowed enough nonsense already, I forced back the syrup. Almost immediately I began to puke up all of the alcohol and lithium. Some of the pills had already dissolved while others were still fully-formed. I had been through much chemical weirdness in the past five years, but marveled at how my body wretched involuntarily from the emetic; my throat felt seared by the drugs leaving my body. Years later, I still suffer from acid reflux; a condition that my primary care doctor believes could have been a result of that very experience. After they gave me the all clear sign, with wobbly legs I followed the nurse into the main ward, walking through two series of locked doors. It was after midnight by this time, so the ward was quiet. The day room was empty, barring one guy wearing a robe who was watching a television that had the volume turned down. He gave me a disinterested glance and returned his attention to the screen. They placed me in a room, where another man was sleeping in his own bed, lying on his side. I walked into the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind me. There was no lock on the door. I stared at myself in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot from the previous half hour spent regurgitating beer and lithium salt. I splashed water on my face and then toweled off. I did it again. I turned off the light in the bathroom and lay down on my own bed, fully clothed. In the morning I met my roommate. I don’t know what “thought crime” he had been convicted of but he seemed as guilty and embarrassed as me. Everyone purportedly claims innocence in jail. This is not the case in a mental hospital. Some of the patients are certain of their sanity, others are confused about why they are even there and others still are downright belligerent towards the possible conspiratorial events that placed them in confinement. They aren’t guilty, just misunderstood. And many enjoy cornering you with a detailed explanation of their predicament. I was there for a few days. I heard a few tales but then I disengaged from the flock. The good news? You could smoke cigarettes and there was a pay phone. The day after my failed exit strategy from life I called up a friend on the phone. He was a little shocked by my actions, but after knowing me for the past few years he was not surprised. I spoke to the head psychiatrist at the ward and explained that I regretted my decision and wanted to go home. I guess I seemed lucid enough; he called my parents and they were there within the hour. I apologized to them immediately and told them I loved them. The ride home was quiet. I think we stopped for a hamburger, which I readily ate since I had not eaten in days, ignoring the hospital meals. When we got home, I assured my parents that I was fine and wasn’t going to leap out a window or chew open my wrists. My parents were surely exhausted from years of this foolishness and I was certainly tired of it myself. I can remember going into my bedroom, the scene of the crime, and closing the door. I listened to the Brian Eno song “The True Wheel” and near the end of the tune there is a chant-like outro accompanied by a wall of percussion. “…We are the losers, we are the cruisers… Let’s get it understood, let’s get it understood.” For some reason, that moment broke me and I began sobbing hysterically. A female friend had heard what happened and drove over to our house to comfort me. I made a pass at her, reaching for her body. She shook her head, smiled, gently pushed me away, and left. The next day I was back on lithium.

During my next routine visit to my psychiatrist, ostensibly to have my blood levels checked for my lithium levels, I told him that I wasn’t coming back. Our final parting was borderline cinematic. “You will regret this,” he said, or something similarly dramatic and clichéd. I quit taking all medications.

In my early twenties I began recording and touring with indie rock bands. This time of my life was an incredible distraction and boost to my tenuous self-esteem. Brave from a night of whiskey, I called the Memphis, Tennessee phone directory to track down a musician whose band I admired. I got him on the first call. I began taking the 17-hour bus ride to and from Memphis, first to record and then, eventually, tour. On the eve of my 21st birthday, I went to a local bar and celebrated this milestone in alcoholism. I remember telling the indifferent-bartender, “I’m going to Memphis to tour in a band.” He looked at me unimpressed and redirected his attention to icing down the beer cooler. The leader of the band assembled a total of five dudes to climb into a modified, 1974 Cadillac Hearse and tour for two months. In this pre-internet era of underground rock, if you didn’t have a booking agent (and we didn’t) you were left to your own craftiness and willingness to tolerate assured degradation. Pay phones, a stack of sometimes-questionable-maps, 15-hour-drives, sleeping on the floors of total strangers, and hunger were the rule. We played 40-plus shows during that run and I came back, if nothing else – altered. Everything that can happen to a touring musician surely found me on that tour. It was an archetype of the next decade of my life. I was convinced that I had found my true calling so I leaned towards that vocation. It was also a period when I had much greater exposure to substance abuse. “Don’t do this shit,” warned some fellow band mates as I watched them shoot dope, mentally taking meticulous notes on how to both cop and inject heroin. I eventually left that band and joined another band based out of Virginia. In the “grunge rock”-era sweepstakes, this group had recently signed to a major label and I walked right in after the ink had already dried. Interestingly enough, the two leaders of this band had both been clean for a couple of years. They had recovery books throughout their house and were attending support group meetings. I witnessed their apparent happiness and undoubtable success from giving up using. They were the first clean addicts I had ever met. I filed this discovery away somewhere but continued on with my chemical warpath. I did even more recording and touring with this band, playing to even larger audiences throughout North America and eventually playing in a dozen European countries as well. I had some incredible experiences and opportunities during this time in my life. My self-esteem was up, if not dangerously escalating into arrogance, yet I would still be centered back down into brooding introspection. I can recall more than one night returning to my nice hotel room after playing to some huge crowd and sitting alone, with my ever-present booze and drugs, staring holes into the wall or peering out the window at nothing. I scared myself a bit when I was 24 and realized I had developed a mild habit (i.e. addiction) to opiates. I white-knuckled it for a few days and rode out what were-then flu-like symptoms. In hindsight, I think much of my passion for this part of my life, particularly touring, was strictly based on momentum. I was on the run from myself and a rock band is a great way to accomplish this. Most bands eventually break up and after a decade, my rock semi-career soon dried up.

Gettin' Kinda Cocky: 1992; Memphis, Tennessee. The Antennae Club. Photo by Jim Cole.

Gettin’ Kinda Cocky: The Antennae Club. Memphis, Tennessee; 1993. Photo by Jim Cole.

Let Down Your Hair: Rome, Italy; 1999.

Let Down Your Hair: Rome, Italy; 1999.

I was intermittently prescribed medication. SSRIs were now the pill-of-choice of most doctors for people like me and my mid-to-late twenties were spent on-and-off drugs like Prozac, Paxil and Effexor. These medications seemed to make me happier, but then they would push that emotional state into a kind of gleeful arrogance. In one instance, I was openly flirting with and pursuing a married woman. While she wasn’t exactly dismissing my overtures, her husband grew suspicious and thankfully my ongoing mental storm blew me in another direction, a different obsession. My alcohol intake increased, as did my use of cocaine and painkillers. My using became ritualized. I would select a dozen LPs and start drinking and drugging to this fixed playlist. After an hour, I would be pain-free and high, completely merging with some Doug Sahm record; an hour later I would be incoherent. More than one morning began with me vomiting up blood, the result of mixing hydrocodone and Wild Turkey. One night I fell out of bed, cracked my left temple on the corner of the nightstand and woke up the next day on the floor, my head and hair matted with crusty, dried blood. I was mastering the art of the pricy, self-induced near-death experience. Like many junkies, I eventually parlayed a minor back injury into a major drug habit through the auspices of the pain management clinic circuit. I would produce all of the needed documentation in the form of MRIs and X-rays and then proceed to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance to convince a doctor that I needed these drugs. I would play the fool, acting like a naïve victim, when dealing with a new doctor, even going as far as deliberately mispronouncing the names of the desired opiate. Sometimes I left empty-handed, other days were a pharmaceutical jackpot. I would go online and research which drugs were the most powerful and, ultimately, injectable, comparing titration charts on different websites. I joined a couple of online groups were I could anonymously chat with other lost dope fiends, taking notes on the best way to immolate oneself. I swabbed my nostrils with the gel liberated from a sliced Fentanyl patch, an incredibly potent narcotic usually doled out to cancer patients. My experiment led to a near overdose with me waking up on the floor hours later. I thought that I had invented “doctor shopping.” In one day I hit three different emergency rooms, racking up massive bills and garnering maybe a few dozen pills in the process. I would be empty-handed and dope sick by the next morning. Denial is an incredible thing, an experiential state of blindness that can border on the level of science fiction and otherworldliness. The words “harm reduction,” centered on using new syringes (whenever possible), never sharing those same rigs, and rotating the injection sites, both kept me alive and also kept me using. I wasn’t a junkie; I was a meticulous dope fiend and I celebrated the difference with every lie, body ache, and life-saving hit. My life was soon measured out in milligrams and grams; I had gone metric. I can remember the exact moment when I realized that I was actually addicted to these drugs; weirdly enough, while everyone was asleep, I celebrated this milestone by crawling under the family Christmas tree and wondering what in the fuck I was going to do. I crossed that proverbial imaginary line that suddenly became incredibly real. My choice had been taken from me; or maybe I just gave it away. I was a full-blown drug addict.

My early-to-mid-thirties were spent toiling at manual labor jobs, playing in local musical combos of varying quality, and in the constant pursuit of narcotics. I also had plans, the kind of bullshit, grandiose schemes that drug addicts think up to distract themselves from their own self-destruction. I was going to move to the Netherlands, where heroin was tolerated, and become an expatriate American Free Jazz bassist. I was going to go back to my home state and (somehow) buy a few acres of land so I could grow my own poppies, specifically the opiate-producing papaver somniferum, and live the life of a country squire-slash-opium head. I was going to release a boxed set featuring ten different colored-vinyl LPs with some vague concept about alchemy or the occult; all bass solos of course. I could barely get enough energy to shower each day, but I was constantly plotting some kind of master plan.

At the end of my using, I would shoot up a dangerous blend of opiates, pulling back a 50cc mixture of heroin, oxycodone and morphine to barrel into my bloodstream. I would nod out to the point of my respiratory system nearly shutting down, lying on my back and struggling to breathe. As a self-prescribed antidote to this, I would go stand in the shower, leaning one hand against the tiled wall as cold water rained down on my head. I would then lie back down and cover my neck and chest with wet towels. I’d wake up, still stoned, and covered in these soggy towels. Then I would shoot up again and repeat that same process. I would literally pray as I would register the hit, the blood jumping up into the syringe like a question mark. So that is where I left my using and I believe that if I were to relapse I would go right to that same place and possibly seal the deal. It took me twenty years to learn that LSD, bourbon, and heroin are not the correct treatment modality for me. And every day has been based on remembering that near-fatal education. People describe active addiction as lethal and that is certainly true. But for me, using was as much about a sustained sense of sameness. Being a junkie is creating a universe of stasis. Nothing moves and nothing happens. Near the end, when I wasn’t pulling my wet-towel-as-life-support trick, I can recall hitting up and then going outside to smoke a cigarette in the night air. I would inevitably slump down on the porch and stare down at my right hand, watching the smoke curl upward through my knuckles. There was nobody home; pure vacancy in the moonlight.

Ashes to ashes we all fall down: near the end of my using, "fashion" was no longer a priority.

Ashes to ashes we all fall down: near the end of my using, “fashion” was no longer a priority.

Daniel A. Brown

1 thought on “Closer to the Maddening Crowd (Part Two)

  1. rodamm

    I am sorry that truthfully I could not read very much of your article … but the part that claims that you are bi-polar. As far as I am concerned that putting a label on yourself forces you to then behave in a manner expected of such people. This is true .. when I thought I was a diabetic .. I put on oodles of weight … felt as if my legs were made of wood .. hated to walk for I needed to drag myself and all the weird stuff that diabetics were supposed to feel. And then God felt pity for this poor piece of shit and shared a little of his knowledge with me. I am now all things I never was, healthy , happy, fit as a fiddle without exercising, busy in a career counseling people and showing them the freedom that comes from being blessed by god without going through any religion.


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