This week we bring you Chapter 21 of HIGH Confessions of a Cannabis Addict By Leonard Lee Buschel. Leonard Lee Buschel is an American publisher, substance abuse counsellor and co-founder of Writers in Treatment, which supports recovery and the arts, and executive director of REEL Recovery Film Festival, focusing on stories of addiction and recovery. This week, we bring you the Preface to whet your appetite. Follow us weekly for more delicious chapters of this incredible story.
Betty Ford Died Sober, I Should Be So Lucky
My life has been a misadventure of minor proportions. I have developed a passion for quality entertainment and the arts in its myriad of manifestations. Some of my life experiences could be considered unfortunate. Who doesn’t have some unfortunate experiences? A woman came to Gandhi one day and wailed about losing her son to a terrible accident and wanted the Mahatma to take away her pain. He said he would, but first she had to find someone in her village who had never experienced a similar heartache. She never came back.
I have also experienced many miracles. Being born a white Jewish male to a hip, liberal, working-class mother in the middle of the last great century was only the start. Suffice it to say, when I was young, I played with fireworks, cherry bombs and M-80s and still have all my fingers and both eyes. At least I can see in stereo if not hear. I hitchhiked to high school every day for three years without incident. Smuggled hashish from Israel to America, twice! Sniffed cocaine up both nostrils for thirteen years—every day. Dealt drugs for 26 years. Suffered from life-threatening asthma most of my days on the planet (too many 911 calls to remember). Assisted with the birth of a son who was so sweet and beautiful people said we could start a religion around him. Had a five-hour open-heart surgery to replace a bicuspid valve with some bovine tissue. Moo. Lived with several women (not all at once) who had a history of stabbing their previous partners. Walked into a rehab at 44 and never drank or used drugs again. Had my head drilled open so my neurosurgeon could remove a neuroma that was puckered up against my brain, which could have turned into the Kiss of Death. Survived a mean case of COVID-19 at the very beginning of our global pandemic. Was T-boned by a woman in an SUV who never even hit the brakes at 40 mph. My car flew around and when the vehicle came to rest, passenger air bag detonated, a pedestrian ran over to me and yelled, “I saw the whole thing, she never even slowed down. If you weren’t in a Volvo, you would be dead.”
Addiction has been a constant theme. Recovery was one of the most transformative powerful turning points in my life.
Along the way, I have been guided by mentors, role models and people who have impacted and influenced me. Authors, poets, filmmakers, playwrights, great philosophers, purveyors of wisdom and close personal friends have all played a role in my evolution. The sweetest friend of all was Bob Downey. May he rest in peace and absurdity.
The Japanese person who did the most to save my life who has been a continual blessing in my life and even after his death who I shall never forget or lose my gratitude for is Michio Kushi. One of the most seminal events in my life began in an old colonial style hotel in Boston, Mass. In 1976, I had taken the Amtrak train from the 34th Street station in Philadelphia to attend a three-day symposium on Macrobiotics given by Michio Kushi. The weekend changed my life. It might have saved my life, too. It was, and still is, without a doubt one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. It’s not often you can say your life was changed completely over a single weekend . . . and changed in a hotel without a woman. And having that still be true decades later is remarkable.
I learned that Macrobiotics was not about food or diet. The ultimate goal in life was not good health, it was to be free—a free man or a free woman. And to play. Even Albert Einstein said: “There’s no question dolphins are smarter than humans as they play more.”
The wisdom of all human existence was imparted to me and the other 60 attendees. Simply put, Macrobiotics means Macro=Big, Biotics=Life, and the goal is freedom and the total acceptance of mistakes, victories and Universal Love.
There is no way I can explain how I was changed that weekend from a 26-year-old Jewish city boy with an appetite for all things processed, meaty, sugary, spicy and myopic into a citizen of the universe. It’s not just about yin and yang, brown rice or bancha tea; it’s about love and the desire to create One Peaceful World in this or my next lifetime. I see my connection to Alcoholic Anonymous in perfect harmony with this goal. In fact, when I decided to jump into AA with both feet, I did so because I believed that if every country practiced the 12 Traditions of AA, war would disappear and only be read about in history books and seen in old movies.
My first 18 years as a so-called Macrobiotic student were spent in complete hypocrisy. Drug usage was not only not condoned but frowned upon as an affront to one’s spiritual development. And certainly not very good for your health. I often heard Michio say that marijuana swelled your midbrain. I don’t know if there’s a connection, but when I needed brain surgery to remove the acoustic neuroma camping out in my head and about to destroy the area of my brain that controls lung function, I could blame no one but myself—or just cross it off to the middle finger of fate.
My one and only marriage was at a Macrobiotic camp in the Pocono Mountains. The special wedding menu consisted of miso soup, brown rice, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for each guest, and endless lines of coke for my fellow drug dealers.
The officiator was the owner of the best natural foods store in Philadelphia called Essene. Denny Waxman is still very much alive and still teaching the way of Macrobiotics.
Only since I got sober in 1994 have I honestly been a drug-free follower of the Macrobiotic way of life. Which means that I understand that whenever I get sick, it’s because of my sugar addiction, the frequent restaurant food, not chewing enough, excessive amounts of dairy and overeating every day! No yoga, or aikido or tai chi, meditating only as a hobby and only recently as a daily practice and morning ritual.
Not all of us are born with perfect bodies, but it’s up to us to nourish and make them as perfect as possible. You can’t slow down the aging process with processed foods and soda. Can you believe people still drink sugar-full and chemical-rich carbonated beverages as if they were not pouring pure poison down their gullets? At least we shouldn’t harm our bodies too often. I know I messed mine up with drugs and alcohol for quite some time. Living for decades—being high all the time—while suffering from asthma, can only be described as suicidal. I was damaging already damaged lungs.
The travel brochure for AA says you have four destinations to choose from: jail, hospital, morgue, or the road to the path of recovery. Recovery takes you back to your natural state. Takes you to you. And it’s as easy as a camel getting through the eye of a needle a mile wide.
I feel at a loss for words to explain how at peace I have felt since that Boston weekend, knowing I am responsible for all my happiness and unhappiness. That weekend was a transcendent experience, yet grounded in fundamental, how-to tools for actual living—how to eat, how to cook, how to meditate and pray. Encoded within these practical arts are ways to approach the powerful dream of Life—how to orient oneself, to cherish the simple pleasures, unite with life’s awesome beauty and treasure each moment. Michio gave us permission to walk barefoot like children on the new dew-born grass, to laugh again and trust in the face of ugly and mean appearances, with full confidence in the magnificent Order of the Universe. I know this blip of an interval we call a “lifetime” is an adventure to be lived to the fullest. Michio’s whole dissertation ended with the most alluring Q&A of all: Why are we here? We are here to play.
Some of the books Michio has written include:
The Order of the Universe
How to See Your Health: Book of Oriental Diagnosis
The Cancer Prevention Diet
The Book of Macrobiotics
Natural Healing through Macrobiotics
The Book of Dō-In
Nine Star Ki
The Gentle Art of Making Love
Macrobiotics and Oriental Medicine Macrobiotic Palm Healing
AIDs, Macrobiotics & Natural Immunity
Diet for a Strong Heart
And many more . . .
Since that remarkable weekend in 1976, I have attended dozens of camps, lectures, retreats and presentations by someone I am so grateful to call my original sensei. I know I would not be alive today without Michio’s teaching, even if I haven’t always followed his advice.
That was the weekend Michio Kushi showed me the way. Not his way, but my way. He did suggest that before we retire at the end of the day, we ask ourselves these simple questions:
Did I eat well today?
Did I chew well today?
Did I acknowledge my ancestors with gratitude?
Did I marvel at the wonder of nature?
Would I like to live this day over again?
If you can answer “yes” to all these questions, I believe, as they say, you have hit the cosmic jackpot.
Certainly, Macrobiotics has helped me in life, as has my will and desire to stay in recovery. How have I achieved sustainable recovery for so many years? The cliché answer is One Day at a Time. That is not just a cliché but also an accurate answer. You have to like being sober more than you like getting high. When someone turns away from a life-threatening path and starts to walk toward life and good health, why turn back?
Even during the unexpected and unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself grounded in sobriety. Unfortunately, I have heard of others who returned to drinking or using drugs, partly from the economic pressures and social isolation stressors of the pandemic. Where was the help and support that people with addiction have needed? It does seem like addiction fell off society’s radar when the pandemic struck, while so many with addiction continued to struggle, perhaps unnoticed and unheard.
I no longer use drugs or alcohol to enhance, hide, or avoid anything. That’s my choice today. Sobriety has opened the door to more adventures than ever. I do what I really love—watching, talking about and scheduling films for REEL Recovery. It’s also heavenly slipping into an orchestra seat on Broadway, enjoying a cup of tea while I order up another film on Netflix, Amazon Prime or HBO and of course, having sex. I am a gentleman at all times and under all conditions, unless specifically requested to behave otherwise.
Again, as Joseph Campbell proclaimed—“Follow your bliss.” The common interpretation of this maxim is about the selection of a career path and the passion one has for it. I’ve stumbled through a variety of “careers,” from selling pot to promoting blue-green algae to selling French vintage posters (and psychedelic posters when I was young) to being a drug counselor to publishing. It wasn’t until the REEL Recovery Film Festival that I realized I’d finally found an intense love for something outside myself and is the reason I love to awaken every morning.
Not every interesting story deserves its own movie. But ask me about personal diaries, and I say they are often a source of page-turning drama that rivals a mystery movie. As they say, “Real life is stranger than fiction.”
When my mom passed away, Brother Bruce and I found her diaries, her personal musings on life events, her revelations and her well-kept secrets. Few secrets stay secret after you’re dead. Mom never remarried after our father died, but she didn’t go without erotic passion. For many years, Mom carried on a torrid affair with a married man, each of them enjoying their many trysts and turns.
Her writings (which so clearly portray the challenges of a Jewish widow with two young headstrong sons) were donated to a Jewish historical society that treasured her heartfelt recounting of life in Logan and sex in motels. The stories of Logan, life, love, arrests, erotica and family drama are a bit of Americana often portrayed, exaggerated and/or skewed by the likes of Philip Roth or Neil Simon.
I digress in my thoughts back to movies. I could go on forever about films I love and movies I didn’t like. I could talk about those that stole my heart. In fact, every New Year’s Eve, I prepare a yearend list of films I have seen in theaters. It’s called “The Loved to Loathed List.” These are the movies that moved me, and what movies moved me out of my seat and out of the theater door. I missed publishing my year end list in 2020 because theaters were closed due to the pandemic.
Books and movies, movies and books—how beautiful and blessed are those who cherish movies and books. I can’t say everyone agrees with that. Despots and dealers of death attacked the arts, burned books and censored films. Books and movies can be seen as threats or thrilling.
Concluding . . .
I also enjoy observing human interaction . . . it’s fascinating. If you don’t believe we can all get along, take a drive on the 101 or 405 freeways in Los Angeles during rush hour. If the assumptions of people not willing to work together was correct, no one would make it home alive. On the highways, there’s a blend of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Nihilists, Actors, Wiccans, Puerto Rican Separatists and Sikhs always looking for their way home or to work, all merging into oneness from different side roads, changing lanes, modifying their approaches, and signaling their intentions, so that no one is injured or killed. That demonstrates a profound act of cooperation, which overrides presumptions of human differences.
In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech (you can read about it online) that included these words: “There is a Chinese curse which says, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.”
Orson Welles, playing Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949), echoes this sentiment when he tells Holly, the man he’s betrayed, “Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Remember what the fellow said . . . in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? . . . The cuckoo clock.”
For better or worse, see you on Instagram.
Looking back on my life (like rewinding a movie), I would summarize my experiences this way: An ordinary young boy from Philly has serious health problems and stays healthy enough to be a participant in a fun and exciting neighborhood, full of a cast of interesting characters and boyhood friends. He decides that selling drugs is what he really enjoys doing and becomes a drug dealer. Life takes many twists and turns that lead him to many countries, towns and hamlets. To travel or not to travel . . . He meets people whom he likes and whom he dislikes, whom he trusts and doesn’t trust, and whom he loves and admires. Along the way, life is enhanced by a love for the arts and an appreciation of fine books, marijuana, cocaine, great films, stellar plays and incredible live and recorded music. He also goes through life being addicted, a life that would surely end in his demise. He checks into Betty Ford and comes out a new man. The rest is history, and now his life is an open book.
What’s the point of this life review? That sobriety is within the reach of anyone who wants it. I am not some perfect person with astute skills and abilities. I am someone who made the decision to give up substances of abuse in favor of the challenges of unknowingness.
Sobriety is extraordinarily more sustainable than the experience of living with addiction. I do not pat myself on the back when I say a transformation like mine can be replicated and sustained by others. Take a stand and stand there. Decide you want a better life and then live it. Practice the principles of AA or other spiritual ways of life. Be more in love with others than you are with yourself. You are free to follow any path you want, even to the grave, but wouldn’t it be better to die of natural causes as a feeble old man than to be found by your family, slumped over an un-flushed toilet with a needle dangling out of the tattoo on your arm that says Namasté, or slumped over your steering wheel with an iPod on continuous play listening to REM’s “Everybody Hurts” with a hose in the window, attached to your own exhaust pipe?
Realize life is a tragicomedy even absurd perhaps and find all the laughs you can. Or as Buddha said, “Life is suffering.” But then someone like Albert Ellis comes along and says, “Suffering is optional.”
I think the book ends here.
“For nothing is fixed,
forever and forever and forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
-from Nothing Personal by James Baldwin
Love and affection to all my friends and loved ones who I shared air with:
Buzz Aldrin, Phillip Andrews, Richie Annenberg, Buddy Arnold, Rev. Michael Beckwith, Ed Begley Jr., Lawrence Block, Sabrina Blue, Alonzo Bodden, Nicole Boxer, Marian Brandenburg, Joanna Cassidy, Joseph Chilton-Pierce, William Cope Moyers, Elyse D’Angelo, Joe D’Angelo, Matt Damsker, Bruce Davison, Tony Denison, Robert Downey Jr., Carol Durbin, Renee Echt, Jo Farkas, Tio Hardiman, Bob Ingram, Joelle Jacobson, Greg Laemmle, John Lavitt, Melissa Lawner, Arlene Marinoff, Dr. Gabor Maté, Suzanne Moloney Wright, Roseanne Murphy, Pat O’Brien, Raine Phillips, Karin Purcell Larson, Tim Ryan & Jennifer Gimenez, Dallas Saunders, Carol and Joshua Schwartz, Vernon Scott, John Taylor, Robert Tepper, Jacqueline Twohie, Peter Ty, Mike Tyson, Michelle Vaniver and John West.
You can buy a copy of Leonards book HERE