“Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self-respect and everything that goes along with your self-esteem.” – Kurt Cobain
I grew up in a close-knit, fairly religious family where children were seen and not heard, where mealtime meant everyone sat down together and exchanged pleasantries while enjoying the prepared-at-home repasts, complete with dessert. There was no distraction, either from television or radio, and the telephone ringing was a rare occurrence, quickly dispatched once the caller learned we were eating. In fact, nothing was so urgent back then. It was, indeed, a peaceful, happy time in my life.
Fast forward to the 1960s and the emergence of freewheeling drugs, flower children, hippies, communes, protests against the Viet Nam war and civil rights disturbances all across America, yet I somehow managed to skirt the edges of all the drug frenzy that swept the country. Nowhere was this more evident than the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, a place I visited in the 1970s and it was still the bastion of free love, getting high and copping out of society.
Not for me, though. The thought of losing myself to mind-blowing LSD, tripping out on magic mushrooms, or getting instant euphoria from sniffing cocaine or injecting heroin into my veins was never even considered.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the pressure from so-called friends didn’t exist, for it did. Sometimes, the threat was more than gentle, as party-goers were known to get rudely insistent. I’d generally choose an escape route, one that had been pre-planned for just such an eventuality.
Maybe it was my Catholic school upbringing, or the stern morality of my parents. Maybe it was that we lived modestly, not tempted to venture into pursuits or vices that too much money and easy access allowed.
In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing either of my parents drunk. They also never smoked, either cigarettes or pipes or cigars (not that such practice was ever fashionable for women at the time, at least to my knowledge). I may have seen my dad drink a beer now and then, or my mom have a glass of sherry or port. I seem to recall a bottle of champagne that rested in the china cabinet gathering dust for years.
There were bottles of whiskey and scotch, although those were reserved for “company.” Those, too, seemed to remain at the same levels for years. Until, that is, my brother had a party while the rest of us were away and all the liquor in the house disappeared. That didn’t go over well at all. After the discovery, my brother enlisted in the Air Force and never looked back. His departure crushed my dad, not to mention my mom. I wondered why he left so suddenly, and what all the sadness was about.
Even so, after my brother returned home from the service, and my father was deceased, I still don’t recall any hard-core drinking in the family. No smoking and no drugs either.
My Walk on the Wild Side
So, what about me? Did I ever drink, smoke, do drugs of any kind?
I’m not going to take the fifth or deny everything, although I will say that I had my skirmishes with alcoholic consumption. I do know that I was not a pleasant person to be around once I’d had a few drinks. But that realization didn’t come for years.
My first alcoholic drink was a slow gin fizz when I had just turned 21. I remember liking the sweetness– but hated the retching that occurred shortly thereafter. I never again touched gin. I found I disliked the taste of most booze, and wine made me sick, so my alcoholic drink of choice became vodka. Needless to say, I had to doctor it with lime or something to make it sweet, since I hated the burn once the vodka touched my lips.
Still, booze cost money and I had precious little of that as a young woman. Add to this that I was soon raising my children on my own and such funds as I had were required for many other things than spending it on booze or going out.
When I did venture out to bars or clubs or parties, it was only when the kids were with their father. It was during those times that I saw first-hand others doing hard drugs. At first, I was unaware what they were, or how dangerous they could be. I did witness some girls convulsing and paramedics being called, learning sometime later they’d done a combo of booze and hard drugs, without knowing exactly what those drugs were. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone mainline, although I did see plenty of pill-popping, snorting lines of cocaine and, of course, flushed down with copious amounts of every kind of booze.
Some of my observations occurred during mini-vacations or week-end trips to other cities – the aforementioned San Francisco being one. In fact, I returned to California more often than anywhere else, drawn by the always-perfect (to me, anyway) climate, the pleasant people, great music (some fabulous concerts), and being as far as possible away from the staid Midwest.
I remember one trip in particular. I’d met a friend at a roommate service agency who encouraged me to relocate to San Francisco. After she and I became friends – we were going to room together – purely platonic – I went to an advertising agency and applied for a job. After some tests, they hired me. I was thrilled beyond words. I’d always dreamed of living in California. Then, however, came the hard part. I’d have to pay for all the moving expenses. And, I couldn’t take the kids away from their dad, so that ended my California dreaming.
Until years later, that is, when my company promoted me and relocated me at their expense to the Golden State. My kids stayed back, mostly adults with their own lives at that point.
Close to Addiction
As for any brush with hard drugs, there never was any to speak of. I may have been exposed to a cocktail doused with something at one point, as I recall getting violently ill. I also had several accidents and medical emergencies requiring morphine and round-the-clock prescription painkillers. And this was years before the opioid epidemic. I was in a fog all the time, bedridden, fuzzy-headed, mostly incoherent and miserable. As soon as I could tolerate the pain, I flushed the drugs down the toilet and never touched them again.
As for alcohol, I gave up drinking completely in the 1980s. I’m immensely proud that I never experienced cravings for alcohol in all those years since, and never once touched or considered a drink to this day. Working in the behavioral health field for more than a decade now, I realize how close to alcohol addiction (now called alcohol use disorder or AUD) I was. It’s also how I can readily recognize the signs of addiction in others, both behavioral and physical. My decision to stop cold turkey wasn’t easy, and I won’t deny I had serious cravings to drink for months afterward.
The same doesn’t hold true for my painkiller experience. I never had cravings for the powerful drugs (Percocet, Percodan) once I quit. My body still went through withdrawal and I attributed that to healing from my surgeries or wounds. Now, however, I realize I was developing a dependence on the opiates. Thank goodness I got off them. Today’s prescription opioids are so much more potent and addicting, including prescription fentanyl and illicit fentanyl, and also contributing to the explosion in opioid-related overdose deaths.
I like feeling clear-headed, full of energy, healthy and vibrant. I can’t imagine dulling my senses, killing my brain cells, eating away at my vital organs or precipitating physical and mental decline with alcohol or hard drugs. There’s no allure, no desire, no possible reason I’d ever partake in substances of abuse. Tylenol is the strongest medication I’ll take, and that’s only if a hot bath, meditation, prayer or a walk in nature doesn’t work.
Because I had such intimate experience with alcohol and prescription medications, and I’ve learned as much as I can about the disease of addiction, effective addiction treatment, relapse prevention and recovery, I’m better able to help others who want to end the cycle of dependence and addiction themselves. It’s necessary to know what others are going through to have any credibility with those who are in pain, unsure what to do or who to turn to for help.
The most encouraging thing I can say to anyone who feels they’re in over their heads with alcohol and/or drugs is that you can beat this. You must seriously want recovery and be willing to put in the hard work to achieve and maintain it. There are people like me, recovery advocates, doctors, counselors, and treatment professionals who are ready and willing to assist you in your recovery journey.
Drugs and alcohol don’t have to take over your life. Whether you’re close to addiction, seriously addicted, or currently dependent on substances of abuse, you do have a choice. You can get better. Take the first step.