This week we bring you Chapter 15 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.
Temptations: My Girl, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Betty Ford’s 30-day program worked beautifully, and I jumped into the 12 Step program of AA with complete dedication and enthusiasm. My mind and heart were open, and the gifts poured in.
After I was set free from behind the oleanders—the hedges Betty Ford kept healthy to keep intruders out and the patients in—I attended the suggested 90 AA or NA meetings in 90 days, made coffee for complete strangers, set up chairs, got an AA sponsor, and worked the 12 Steps as if my life depended on it. Even so, sobriety came with its own set of challenges.
Melissa, the toxic love of my life, was secretary at a Saturday night women’s AA meeting, which was perfect because I would stay home and pretend I was at a Broadway musical listening to an Original Cast Recording on my very sophisticated stereo system. Oh, thank God for drug money.
One night, after her meeting, we went to Ralph’s Supermarket to buy some groceries. While walking to the dairy section, we were passing the wine aisle. Melissa nonchalantly picked up a bottle of red and put it in our cart. I laughed. I thought she was having fun with me.
As we went about our business of shopping, the bottle of wine in the cart looked out of place and a bit menacing. I knew when we got to the checkout counter, Melissa would move the bottle aside because she was just fucking with me. That’s not exactly what happened. She exactly let the girl scan the bottle and put it in our shopping bag. It seemed like the cash register readout suddenly started blinking . . . to me . . . “Dude, you’re fucked.”
When we got into the parking lot, I said, “I would prefer if you don’t drink that bottle of wine with me around.”
She said, “Okay. Then I’ll have to find another guy to drink it with.”
Then how could I possible say no.
Needless to say, the rest of the evening was very disappointing in every way except the obvious one.
I stopped seeing Melissa because now she wasn’t my sobriety buddy but my femme fatale. The following Saturday night, after I knew she gave up her secretary commitment, she knocked on my door with her tears and mascara running down her gorgeous cheeks and her fishnets a little ripped. To me she looked like the red cape to a bull.
She’d been crying. “Can I come in?”
“Come on in!”
We go right into the bedroom, and she politely asks, “Do you mind if I do some coke?”
I reluctantly say, “Okay.” Because now there’s something in the room that I want as much as she wants her cocaine.
And then to challenge my sobriety even more, she asks me if I can chop up the coke because her hands were too shaky. I was never one to get in between a woman and her addiction, so I said yes.
My first urge was not to snort it. I wanted to stuff it in my face. I missed the taste so much. But I did not. I did start going to Cocaine Anonymous meetings shortly thereafter to be told I was crazy. After all, I had snorted coke every single day of my life for 13 years and never wanted to again.
Years later, I reworded The Lord’s Prayer not to say “and lead us not into temptation” but to say “and lead us not into addiction.” I realized after my experience with Melissa that temptation was the only way to prove to myself that my sobriety was strong, like bull.
What helped me turn the corner to embracing the idea of complete sobriety? Three days after my release from Betty Ford, I was on my way to a friend’s Labor Day wine-tasting party in Sonoma County. On the way, I went to an AA meeting (hoping to see there a newly sober, again, Melissa). The speaker—an artist, former drug abuser and retired heavy drinker—said something I’ll never forget: “The Dali Lama called Alcoholics Anonymous the most important social and spiritual movement in America.”
Similarly, M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled, said, “Thus I believe the greatest positive event of the twentieth century occurred in Akron, Ohio, on June 10, 1935, when Bill W. and Dr. Bob convened the first AA meeting. It was not only the beginning of the self-help movement and the beginning of the integration of science and spirituality at a grass-roots level, but also the beginning of the community movement.”
This is what I had been looking for my whole life. I was, at that moment, experiencing the awareness of an answered prayer.
At a Betty Ford Center anniversary celebration a few years later, the closing event was an outside Al-Anon meeting with Betty Ford in attendance. When the meeting was over, 100 people held hands and recited the Serenity Prayer in unison. I was struck with the memory of seeing an old Life magazine in the ‘60s with an aerial photo of a well-known commune where all the members were in a circle, holding hands, reciting a prayer. This is what I’d been looking for my whole life. Who knew it would be at a drug alcohol rehabilitation center in the middle of the God-dammed desert.
I got to express my gratitude on national television on July 9, 2011, when a crew from ABC World News Tonight came to my apartment in Studio City to film my reaction to Betty Ford’s death the day before. The word audacious was being bantered about in the news at that time, referring to Barack Obama. I corrected the news media and told them no. Betty Ford was the most audacious of all. She came out as a pill-popping alcoholic, asked for help, and then started her own rehab.
Now, my little ipso facto oedipal secret is: I love being clean and sober as much as I loved my mother. Sobriety is my mother now, always there to comfort and protect me. After I pass, I plan to stick around and have my ectoplasm tickle newcomers at 12 Step meetings.
Even as a proud card-carrying member of Alcoholics Anonymous (psst, don’t tell anyone), I have occasionally had to rewrite some of their scripture to make it more applicable to my particular recovery journey. I found the Serenity Prayer too passive-aggressive, so I decided to make it just aggressive.
God, grant me the hostility to reject the things I cannot change,
the cash to change the things I can,
and the woman to know the difference.
You can buy a copy of Leonards book HERE