This week we bring you Chapter 16 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.
A Lot Happens Quickly
One of Henry Miller’s famous lines from Tropic of Cancer that I’ve remembered for years and has never served me well is, “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.” I think of that line whenever I am broke, with no hope. But I am no Henry Miller. I am just a confused fan of beat poets who wants, really wants to be rich.
Even though sobriety created a new sober me, it did not pay well. And being from humble origins (middle class, single working mother), I needed to make a living. Obviously, it wasn’t a good idea anymore to deal drugs, smuggle drugs, use drugs or engage in any shady deals gleaned from my wayward youth. Not that I wanted to. I’d always said that people who use drugs and aren’t dealers are addicts, and people who deal drugs and don’t use drugs are pushers. I never wanted to be a pusher. So I knew if I wasn’t using drugs, I couldn’t sell drugs and look at myself in the mirror. Yet giving up my “career” was scarier than quitting drugs. How would I make a living?
I had faith that my family (mother and brother) would help me survive until I found my own pick and vein of gold to extract from society . . . legally.
While I loved my job as a dealer, I wouldn’t have done it without getting paid. The same way I would never just do a job for money if I hated the job or if it hurt people. I compliment my son constantly about never taking any job that requires ripping people off. Just working for the money is like purgatory. I yearned to do something I loved and get paid for it. Striking that perfect pot of gold has not been easy. I’ve had a lot more jobs in sobriety than I ever had before.
My favorite entrepreneurial fantasy has always been to have my own cucumber farm. In less than two months you can grow as many cucumbers as you have room for and then in as little as three hours turn them into pickles, sell them at farmer’s markets on the weekends, and deliver them to the best local gourmet restaurants during the week. Wouldn’t that be a fairytale ending to my otherwise criminalized life?
After two unsuccessful attempts at gainful employment in order to pay my rent—real estate photographer and custom jewelry salesman—it was time to start selling off the art, antiques and my 29 acres in Big Sur.
I bought that mountainside property with a couple of friends in the late 1970s. We purchased the lot so my partners could live on it and grow pot. Poor Ted got busted right before the first harvest. He had to go to drug re-education classes for six months, and we never got a single female plant out of the ground.
Now, being broke, and with my land-owning partners on the verge of a romantic breakup, it was easy convincing them that we should sell. Luckily, there was always some green prospector willing to invest in God’s best pot-growing real estate (other than Hawaii) with Pacific Ocean breezes and a ruggedly mild winter that creates an environment to grow some of the best weed in the world. We all felt that the quality of the plants was enhanced because Big Sur growers often played acoustic instruments, flutes, harmonicas and even a harp for their plants on a daily basis.
The art and antiques I had to sell for rent and food included a few 100-year-old Tibetan Thangkas, and two 36 x 42-inch oversized Polaroids of Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky by the famous Boston photographer Elsa Dorfman. One photo of them wearing suit and tie, incense burning nearby. The second photo is a mirror image of the first except they are completely naked—one cut, the other uncut.
I also had a collection of Mill Valley Film Festival posters, a few antiques, a 100-year-old Japanese tansu, an even older Korean scholar’s chest, a dozen pre-Columbian pots and statues, and a 2,000-year-old Roman gold ring with a lion engraved on inlaid jasper.
One of my old fronts was posing as an antique dealer back in old colonial Philadelphia, and here I am now selling antiques again to pay the rent. Even my Victorian port-a-potty, Tiffany lamp, and a bronze Japanese vase with gold and silver inlay I bought in Glasgow had to go.
The possession that broke my heart the most to part with was a pristine 1934 first edition Obelisk Press copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn in a custom-made box. I had bought this treasure from Joseph the Provider books. They specialized in first editions. It blew my mind that for only $750 you could own an important piece of literary history. Owning it for all those years always made me grateful that my 75-year-old wooden cottage in San Anselmo never burnt down from unextinguished roaches or frayed extension cords. I loved opening the magic box and feeling the cover of my imaginary mentor’s writings whenever I was losing my faith in mankind.
Henry was one of my adopted literary fathers, so just touching something he created gave me a feeling of well-being. To me he was the tough guy from Brooklyn who never got into a fight. He was a man’s man. And even though later in life sex drops a notch on the list of most important and enjoyable reasons to want to live (now it’s health, sanity and sobriety), I appreciated that his first publisher in France was called Obelisk Press, a more phallic symbol would be hard to find.
On second thought, what hurt even more was selling off my complete collection of original New York Posts and New Yorker magazines containing J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey. Imagine me, owning a mint edition copy of The New Yorker, published 9 months before I was born, where For Esmé, With Love and Squalor first appeared in print. It is regarded by many as a masterpiece of short story writing. No matter what plans you have for your life, whatever goals you may set or dreams you may have, it’s difficult to realize them if you’re dead and buried. The days come and go, but they never come back.
One day, out of the blue, a single blue-green cell came into my life. I was now on a new path to health, wealth, and well-being—or so I was led to believe.
Penny, my hippie masseuse, always had good sense. She gave me some capsules of Super Blue-Green Algae, known to biologists as Aphanizomenon flos-aquae. It is harvested wild from Klamath Lake in Oregon and has numerous healing properties. I took the sample bottle she gave me and took six capsules three times a day. Before the bottle was half gone, I was feeling more energetic and even-tempered—and God knows people in early recovery can have some periodic bouts of fatigue and pretty dramatic mood swings.
I was also sleeping more soundly since the chlorophyll and amino acids in the algae were helping me to be more nourished. I also stopped eating late at night. Best of all, my sweet tooth was screaming at me less frequently. I bought three bottles of this one-celled algae nutrient and sent a bottle to each of my three best friends: a musician in Los Angeles, a bookmaker in Philadelphia, and my friend The Professor.
Within two weeks, all three were raving about how much better they felt in almost every aspect of their mental and physical conditions. Super Blue-Green Algae was being distributed by a multilevel marketing company, and I thought because it was doing for me so many of the things that weed and other drugs did, I could promote this stuff to everyone I knew who was still using drugs in addition to the uninformed masses I had not yet met.
I became an Official Distributor and started my own “downline” with my three closest friends. Little by little, I got more customers but not enough to make any real money because they weren’t actively trying to enlist more sales recruits, a must in the multilevel marketing game. But as faith, providence and a good idea would have it, I came up with something better.
I went to a product convention for the multilevel and perhaps multi-felonious Super Blue-Green Algae company called Cell Tech held at the Cow Palace near Candlestick Park in South San Francisco. There, I discovered there were no actual science books about the product, only pamphlets, fliers and photocopies of photocopies. I also grasped the reality that there were more than five thousand people in attendance.
Like the scene in the thriller/mystery movie Charade where everyone simultaneously realizes that the missing $100,000 was actually hidden in a very rare stamp, I instantly grasped the need for a book to help these would-be salespeople and distributors sell their freeze-dried lake scum. I mean that with great affection and humor because it is the most nutritious substance on the planet—Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, a.k.a. Klamath Super Blue-Green Algae.
Two days later I booked a lecture room at the Chinese Yellow Emperor Natural Healing Center in San Anselmo for Professor Karl Abrams to give a talk on the healing properties of blue-green algae. Then I called Professor Abrams at Saddleback College in Orange County and beckoned him to visit me within the next day or two.
I knew the professor was currently packing up his office to take a well-deserved one-year sabbatical leave. Three days later he arrives in San Anselmo and asks, “So Leonard, do you have anything interesting planned for us to do while I’m here?”
“Not for me, but you’re giving a lecture in three days on why Super Blue-Green Algae is the greatest nutritional supplement in the world.”
Like the scholar he is, The Professor replied, “Well, I’d better get to a library and start researching.”
He spent the next two days at the main San Francisco library and was perfectly and professionally prepared for the event that attracted twenty-five people squeezed into the Emperor Healing Center to be enlightened by America’s newest professional professor of nutrition. After the talk/pitch, everyone there bought a bottle of the algae.
The Professor moved into my spare room, and for the next eight months we worked nonstop on what would eventually be known as Algae to the Rescue! Everything You Need to Know About Nutritional Blue-Green Algae, copyright 1996 Logan House Publications. Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 96-076282. ISBN I-881952-00-5.
When the manuscript was finished, we thought about shopping for a publisher, but first we took it to Big Sur to have William Webb, book publishing genius and very close friend and personal photographer of Henry Miller, read it and give us some instant feedback.
Bill read it in one night and the next morning at breakfast, while overlooking the breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, he declared, “This book is too important to wait to find a publisher. They might not understand how critical this information is to get out there. You’ll have to self-publish.”
That was Sunday morning. Returning to San Anselmo the next day, I went into Michael White’s bookstore, bought a copy of Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual, read it and started to follow everything the book told me to do, page-by-page, step-by-step. I named our publishing company Logan House Publications in honor of where I grew up and all my fellow corner loungers who encouraged me to read more.
A month later, we had our Library of Congress ISBN number and a company in Canada printing our first run of 5,000 copies of Algae to the Rescue! Everything You Need to Know About Nutritional Blue-Green Algae. We had great graphics, a foreword, and an introduction by two medical doctors who knew and loved the product.
Two months later, Cell Tech, the leading multilevel marketing algae company, was having its annual convention in Klamath Falls, Oregon, right next to the motherlode, Klamath Lake. They were expecting thousands of people looking to enrich themselves by selling this trendy superfood, but without a proper sales manual or any scientific literature to back up their claims. Bingo! That’s where me and the professor would come in.
Two days before the convention, a large DHL truck delivers 84 cases of books, 60 books in each case. At the ready, we had a large mobile home that slept five, ready to be loaded up for our life or “death of a salesman” journey to Klamath Falls. We put the cases in every nook and cranny of the mobile home.
Loading up the shower stall with six cases of books brought back so many exciting memories of being in Miami, loading up shower stalls in giant mobile homes with bales of Columbian pot to be transported to Staten Island for distribution to the THC-demanding Tri-State area. Loading books and not pot, especially with my son Ben there helping us load up, created a feeling in me that was nothing less than a Holy Grail moment. I had escaped my bondage to drugs and drug dealing. Science, books and algae had saved me and given me a new way to enjoy life and contribute something of value to society that I couldn’t get arrested for.
Driving our ton of books up Highway 5 into Oregon, arriving in the dead of night, was an unforgettable adventure. I did have a paranoid fantasy that someone else had the same idea and had also been working on a similar book during the last six months. I imagined that they were going to be at the conference selling their books before we arrived. Luckily there was not. I like monopolies, especially if they’re mine. The night we pulled into Klamath Lake was also the one-year anniversary of my attendance at Betty Ford’s desert getaway. It was my first sober birthday, as they call it in California, and I found a local AA meeting to share my accomplishment. It was all men who feted me like I was a prodigal son. It was very sweet. I was truly touched by these total strangers making me feel part of the global fellowship that calls itself Alcoholics Anonymous.
The next morning, before the algae-heads were awake or making their algae and vanilla smoothies, we unfurled a huge banner on the side of the mobile home that read:
‘Algae to the Rescue!’ by Professor Karl J. Abrams, $14.95
Over the next three days we sold all 3,500 copies we had brought with us and took orders for the other 1,500 stored in our garage at home. We immediately called the printer in Canada and ordered another 5,000 copies and ultimately sold twenty-seven thousand copies of Algae to the Rescue!
The Professor was going out speaking every week, all across the country, doing tons of radio and a few television interviews. I wanted to nickname him Professor One Cell but decided it sounded like prison cell. A year or so later, there was an alarmist report attacking blue-green algae on the Dr. Dean Edell radio program. Syndicated to over 200 markets by Premiere Radio Networks and aired weekday afternoons on America’s Talk on XM Radio, the program had around 1.5 million listeners every week. Dean was a notorious opponent of most nutritional supplements.
Dr. Edell’s attack on blue-green algae was terribly misleading. He said the algae was contaminated with toxic microorganisms that could cause immediate liver damage.
Of course, it’s unwise to ingest any unfiltered lake algae, but his complaints about our scientifically regulated product lacked justification. There was absolutely no such concern with professionally harvested food-grade Klamath Lake blue-green algae, but Edell didn’t bother to make that distinction.
Although commercially sold blue-green algae is free from any such toxic organisms, this report was enough for the bottom to drop out overnight. Suddenly sales and interest in the health benefits of blue-green algae vanished, along with my dreams of a secure financial future.
This was a great disappointment. I thought I had finally found a gig that I loved. Professor Abrams and I both believed in the Klamath blue-green algae as a panacea for numerous ailments.
I loved selling Algae to the Rescue! and thought I could really help people while simultaneously enjoying my role as the professor’s manager and booking agent. There was a deep sadness that, once again, I was without a legal livelihood and back to, What do I do now to earn a living, be of some use to humanity, and enjoy myself in the process?
We were fortunate to have hit the market before its crash. Of course, time has passed and the momentary health scare based on one radio doctor’s inaccurate information is over. Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, and its cousins, spirulina and chlorella, still play an important nutritional part in many people’s diet.
Here I was again with no project, job or gig. Bursting with energy and frustration, actively seeking employment every minute of every day.
Not every experience in my memory repository involves a drug or a drink or sex. No, this memory is a sad and poignant one that unfolded on June 20, 1999. That particular day happened to be Father’s Day. I’m visiting my 84-year-old mother (I am already 48) while she’s in her wheelchair crying silently on the eighth floor of the psych ward at a Hahnemann University Hospital. I’m crying too, through memories of times gone by and feeling heartache this Father’s Day, with mom in hospital and Daddy dead.
No Jim Bunning perfect game on that day. If you don’t know about it, on Father’s Day, in 1964, Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game. The Phillies (who at the time had the best record in baseball) were playing a doubleheader at Shea Stadium against the Mets. It was a beautiful hot summer day in New York.
Jim Bunning’s perfect game prevented any Mets player from reaching base. The Mets got no hits, the pitcher gave up no walks and the Phillies had no errors. At the end of the game, when Bunning achieved his final strike of the day, perfection had been achieved.
That day at Shea, I can only guess that there were fathers and sons sitting in the stands, focused on the game in quiet appreciation of watching baseball together. I realized that I never had the chance to have an experience like this one while growing up. In fact, I would never have a Jim Bunning–like Father’s Day, ever.
In December 1999, when I was busy worrying about Y2K, my 19-year-old son came home one day and says, “Dad, I want to go to treatment.” I did a double take. I knew he loved weed (having been busted once in Weed, CA, appealing to our family’s appreciation of irony), and he couldn’t control his drinking. He knew the expression “go to treatment” because I was working as a drug counselor.
I immediately called my alma mater, and they offered him a very generous partial scholarship. A $13,000 month for only $3,000. Great deal, I thought. I told him he had to come up with the extra $3,000 on his own, thereby investing in his own recovery. Ben borrowed the cash from a family friend and paid it back within six months of graduating from the rehab program. On January 2, 2000, I had the unscheduled joy and privilege of driving Ben to the Betty Ford Center for his Berlitz-like total immersion course in sobriety.
Only once on the three-hour drive did he turn to me and say, “Dad, I don’t think this is such a good idea. Can’t we just stop for some sushi and go home?”
I granted one of his two wishes. We stopped for sushi in Azusa. I told him to try quitting for a couple weeks at the rehab and if he didn’t like it, I would come pick him up. I knew it was a program of attraction, not coercion. He never made that call. I picked him up a month later and he hasn’t had a drink, smoked a joint, or used drugs since.
While he was behind the oleanders, his mother flew in from Olympia, Washington, for family week. I figured I’d let her have the week without me, since Ben had chosen to live with me for middle school, and again, after graduating high school in Vaughn, Washington. She told me while walking around the pond with Ben and seeing the swans spreading their wings in unison imbued them both with a healing energy and sense of freedom.
One Sunday morning I was at my weekly house of worship, the Agape International Spiritual Center. My involvement with Agape included attending two services a week and regular classes, volunteering on Sundays and having a profound gratitude (that lives on to this day) that I had found a living spiritual teacher, no less enlightened or as gifted a speaker as Krishnamurti, Alan Watts or Ram Dass, who actually spoke there a few times. For weeks I was in the middle of my shoulder-to-the-wheel of job seeking efforts, Rev. Michael said during a service, “Sometimes you have to take your shoulder off the grindstone to let spirit take over.”
So, the next day I flew to Miami to see an old girlfriend. I still don’t know if that was spirit guiding me or my cock? A week later when I returned to LA, it was Super Bowl Sunday. I had a moderate bet on the game and a delectable lunch from Whole Foods ready to dive into. Just before the coin toss, my friend Richard Rice calls and tells me a colleague of his who owns a classy French vintage poster gallery in Beverly Hills needs a manager and he recommended me for the position and the owner would like to interview me in an hour at the gallery.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I changed out of my jeans and Chucks, into my nerd khakis, penny loafers and powder blue shirt (which really set off my blue eyes) and was presenting myself to Ms. Jane Moufflet at The Antiquarian Antique Mart on Beverly Blvd. When I told her I had read the paperback edition of Moulin Rouge about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, I got the job. I was home in time to see the last quarter of the game. Just like that. Just like Rev. Michael said it would happen.
I enjoyed working at the gallery for two main reasons. First, there were rarely any customers, so I was alone and could read for hours. I reread Shibumi, Papillon and other favorites and read some books I had never gotten around to, like The Great Gatsby and The Agony and the Ecstasy. I was reading or rereading almost a book a week.
Second, when I did have a customer, they were usually in show business and fairly interesting, i.e., Giovanni Ribisi, Courtney Love, Courtney Cox or my favorite customer of all, Michael Caine. I couldn’t tell whether he was asking me questions about a poster or reciting lines from The Man Who Would Be King. My favorite. I did not try and do my Sean Connery imitation. My stint at the French vintage poster gallery ended when the shop closed down due to poor sales (not my fault).
Living in Studio City with Ben and no income put me in a precarious position. Luckily, we were able to rely on our “eggs, onions and apples” diet to stay sufficiently fed. Eggs for breakfast, a different style every morning, and egg salad on challah for lunch. In the evening, I would sauté a few onions while Ben went to pick up some single pizza slices at the only local pizzeria. They were only $2 each and very large. We’d bury them in sautéed onions and sprinkle on some sun-dried tomatoes for extra sweetness and lots of free oregano. For dessert, we’d bake a couple apples with lots of cinnamon but always with real maple syrup even though it was pricey. Log Cabin Syrup has been banned from my kitchen since my first class in Macrobiotics in 1976.
After a while of not being able to find any appropriate employment for a sober 48-year-old, I decided to move back to San Anselmo and toss Ben out of the nest. He had gotten sober at Betty Ford and took to sobriety and AA like a reincarnation of an Oxford Group member. He got a job as a short-order cook and rented a one-room cottage behind the home of one of our dear elderly women friends we knew from AA in Studio City.
I packed up my car and shipped everything else I owned to a storage facility in Marin County, where I planned to live for the rest of my life. When I returned to San Anselmo without money for first and last, providentially my friend Rose was living at her boyfriend’s house most of the time. This meant I could sleep in her bed at her house when she was sleeping in his bed at his house, and on her couch when she was sleeping in her own bed. I lived there for a couple of years with her 16-year-old daughter, Viva, and her 16-year-old stepdaughter, Melanie. I am very proud to report that in all the time I was there, I never went into their hamper even once.
I tried to get a job at the Mill Valley Film Festival. I knew the director because I had helped him to arrange a Robert Downey Sr. screening a few years before. No such luck, their staff was full and no one was going anywhere. So I decided to start my own business. I went to see my ticket dealer and friend (ticket dealer because I used his services so many times over the last 15 years and friend because our sons liked to hang out at his house and play in the hot tub). His name was Wolf and he owned the best travel agency in Marin. (Remember those things, travel agencies?)
Wolf let me use an empty desk at Red Hill Travel to start my brainchild, Sober Holidays Unlimited. The plan was to take tour groups of clean and sober people to culturally interesting places, like a trip to New York to see a few Broadway plays and musicals or a tour of London museums like the Tate Modern and The British Museum. My first planned trip was a Dìa de dos Muertos trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. PV is famous for its above-average beaches, great English-speaking AA meetings, a friendly environment, and tours of the location used to film The Night of the Iguana with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, directed by the great John Huston. Who wouldn’t want to visit the set of a film about a defrocked alcoholic minister?
We were starting to book reservations to PV just when America needed an excuse to clamp down on its own people, occupy Afghanistan and start a brutal invasion against Saddam Hussein and innocent Iraqi civilians. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Rose called saying a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I thought, of course, it was a small plane and just an accident. Then I got a call from another friend who was hysterical blabbering about a second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Rose’s house, the house I was living in, had no TV. I thought I’d better go someplace where I could watch the news coverage.
I called my friend Marian Bach (of amateur blackmailing fame) and sure enough she had her TV on and was sobbing. I drove over to her house to see the repeated video of the second plane hitting the North Tower. It was a horror. I was thinking about all the people who died, who were dying, getting crushed, leaping to their deaths, dying and how the world had just changed forever. And Marian is rolling another joint. I’m sitting there horrified, as was she, except she’s smoking pot—and I’m not.
I thought to myself, If I were still a pothead, I’d be rolling joints to get high to watch the World Trade Center Towers come down too. Getting high to watch people die would have felt immoral to me, but I would have done it anyway if I were still addicted to marijuana. Marian was smoking not because she wanted to get high to watch the tragedy. She had to get high for everything, no matter what. Real potheads will get high for a christening, and they’ll get high for funerals. They’ll get high for weddings and even higher for a divorce.
Marijuana addicts will get high in an ambulance, even if they’re the one being rushed to the hospital. I started weeping for joy realizing I was free of that addiction and could experience the travails of life without having to be stoned for every event, good or bad, but never indifferent anymore. This experience is what I later learned in AA is called “living life on life’s terms.”
Suddenly, the love of my life, marijuana, seemed demonic. I was repulsed by the thought that had I continued smoking pot I might be watching these horrors as if they were a big-budget disaster movies instead of . . . reality. It was like watching the me that I used to be and would never want to be again. I couldn’t bear watching my friend getting high to watch people die. So I headed over to the local liquor store—not to drink—but to watch the Towers fall again, and again. The store was owned by Mohammed and managed by his son, Mohammed Jr. I had shopped there for years. It was the closest place to buy my vodka, champagne, rolling papers and Duraflame firelogs. The three of us stood there together in horror and disbelief. I knew their life was going to turn to shit and my new travel business was about to be grounded. The next day at the Chevron station, as I was paying for the petrol with a $20 bill, I saw blood dripping off the bill, knowing that’s what 9/11 was really about. And I knew that I would not give up driving and the government would use this event to clamp down on its citizens and create a law enforcement agency with a German-like name. Perhaps, Homeland Uber Alles, or something more authoritarian, like HOMELAND SECURITY.
To make matters worse, three weeks later, my mother died. I had just ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with a side of fries and an iced tea. My cell phone chimed and I saw my sister-in-law’s name light up. That was a bit of a surprise. Not that she never called me . . . but she never called me.
“Hi Lee, your mother died.”
Rose was 86 and a lifelong Philadelphian. There is a concept in AA that sometimes people just stop drinking because they are “done.” I think Mom was just “done” living. She was tired. She had lived alone for 30 years, stopped working when she was 76, endured a fair amount of hospitalizations, and was no longer able to get herself to the salon on Saturday mornings to get her hair done. One son lived in New York, the other (me) in California, 3,000 miles away.
So why go on? I threw a twenty on the table and told the waitress I was leaving and she could give the chicken sandwich to someone else. I remember being in a daze, or a haze, some out-of-body experience as I left Ted’s, the local restaurant/watering hole in San Anselmo. I saw Carlo on his bike, and thought, Carlo is the first person I’ve seen since I found out my mother died. I knew that memory would last until the day I died. He wasn’t a close friend, just the Volvo mechanic I had used for 20 years. I remembered what a German therapist I knew said about the day her mother died: “When my mother died, I knew it would be a day I would never forget and it would never happen again.”
October 3 would forever be the day my mother died. 10/3. She was born 3/10. I guess she liked palindromes.
A favorite memory of my mother was the night after I had been suspended from Jay Cooke Jr. High and we (my brother driving) were going past the school. I had my C02 BB gun with me and asked mom if I could shoot at the windows of the principal’s office as we drove by. “Sure, go ahead.” I asked Brother Bruce to slow down. I shot as many BBs as I could, trying to empty the chamber into the school. We were pretty far away so none of the windows broke, but I was hoping the BBs would at least leave those little holes I had left in other panes of glass I had shot up. My mom cared more about me in that moment than she did for any principle/principal. I knew she loved me that much, and I never did anything to make her lose that love for me.
After eight or nine years of sobriety, I was still trying to find my way, winding this way and that way. I realized my previous life and career had prepared me for absolutely nothing in terms of earning a living in the real world. So I decided to do what so many others who couldn’t make it in the real world do. I decided to become a drug counselor. I was in my fifties, an age when a lot of working stiffs might be thinking about retirement and Medicare. Here I was back at the starting gate, hoping the starter’s gun wasn’t aimed at me.
Like Joseph Campbell often said, “Follow your bliss.” My bliss had become showing the addict and alcoholic there is a better life to be lived (and certainly a longer one) after a career of wild and obsessive substance abuse.
Having used drugs for decades isn’t sufficient qualification to become a drug counselor. There are educational requirements, and I found myself back in school again. Los Angeles City College had a two-year program in Substance Abuse Counseling that would prepare me for the State Examination to receive Substance Abuse Counseling Certification in California.
Our professor, upon graduation, made us redemptified students—mostly ex-cons and ex-addicts—two promises: Upon graduation everyone will be able to get a job. And two, it will never pay enough.
The rewards of helping others in recovery go far beyond the size of a paycheck or the diminution of your ego. I launched into counseling with the same zeal and dedication I have always shown with any project. For a number of years, I worked on the front lines in Los Angeles. I worked in Malibu and I worked in the “hood.” I wanted to learn, integrate, explore and master methods and techniques that could serve my clients’ needs.
I never judged those I counseled, even those with a sleazier past than I had, but rather saw them as talented and blessed individuals who trusted me, and that was a trust I would not violate. If I could help them resolve issues and face challenges in a manner that made their life more rewarding, I was doing my job. There were times I would witness a client’s mind turning the corner after inhabiting a hopeless drug fiend’s existence to envisioning a future with no substances to rely on for achieving the basic human need to live in a state of ease and comfort. And they were okay with that.
You can buy a copy of Leonards book HERE