This week we bring you Chapter 14 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.
Jung and the Restless
Let go into the Mystery, let yourself go. You’ve got to open up your heart, that’s all I know. Trust what I say and do what you’re told, and baby, all your dirt will turn into gold.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
Only two people in my life thought I had a problem with drugs or alcohol. I was a potential third, but like a fish in water, it was so much my constant environment and natural habitat that I could not see the forest for the trees. It was right under my nose if you get my snowdrift. Most highly addicted people don’t even know they’re addicts, the way guppies don’t know they’re in water.
Although I knew not everyone in the world used drugs, all the everyones I knew did. Years into my recovery, I became a regular at a Marijuana Anonymous (MA) meeting called Heads Above Water. It could have been called Head Out of Ass or Where There’s Smoke, There’s Brain Damage. Eventually I started an MA meeting in Sherman Oaks, CA, called, Alice B. Tokeless. Shortly thereafter, a group in Marin County adopted the same name. When I met Paul Mazursky, director of said movie, and told him about the two MA meetings named after his film, he did not look pleased, as if we were against pot, No. We loved marijuana. Just a little too much.
The two well-meaning commentators and would-be interventionists were my sister-in-law, Bettina, an artist and doctor of psychology, and Misty, a Marin County call girl. They were both experts in their fields. One was born in a penthouse, the other could have worked at Penthouse. I had Misty on a retainer for seven years, and no, it wasn’t to keep her teeth straight. Misty was worth every penny. At the Nuvos Café at 10 o’clock one night, I was waiting for Misty, my Mistress, to reconfirm an all-night session and call me back on the pay phone on the wall. When the phone rang, I leapt over a guy with crutches and knocked him down. My sexual satisfaction was more important than some athlete’s broken leg to me.
Misty could say anything to me. One day she said, “You were doing a lot of cocaine before. Now, I think you’re snorting too much Ecstasy.”
“That’s probably true,” I said. The conversation was over and that was the outer limits of my introspection.
“For the past 20 years,” Bettina had said, “every time I’ve seen you, you’ve been high on marijuana.”
“Yeah, what’s your point?”
In reality, I only got high once in my life . . . for 26 years. I think people smoke pot to selfishly improve an already enjoyable moment or dull an unpleasant experience. Does it do both? And if so, how does it differentiate between enhance and avoid? Probably the pot doesn’t decide. The smoker decides and directs the drug to do whatever the smoker deems appropriate. That probably means the pot contains no properties of enhancement or avoidance on its own.
When a pothead has a good day at work, they smoke a joint when they get home. When a pothead has a bad day at work, they smoke a joint when they get home. So now the good day is not as good and the bad day is not as bad. Weed is the great neutralizer. It takes the edge off. But isn’t edginess next to Godliness? If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.
It’s July 1994. I’m in the bar at Ventana in Big Sur when I get a call on my cell phone from Betty Ford’s admissions office. They have accepted my Blue Cross coverage for the whole $12,000. I burst into tears because I knew the jig was up. Later that month, I’m crossing the lobby of the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, when again, Betty Ford’s number comes up on my cell. Now I have an official check-in date: August 3, 1994.
Once I got my check-in date, I had a month to get ready. Part of that included my visiting the Stations of the Cross, as I felt as if I were on the way to the crucifixion of yet another Jew—oh look, it’s me.
I knew enough to understand that part of me was probably going to die in treatment. I later learned if a person doesn’t “die” in rehab, they’re not really getting it. If you’re all gung-ho and excited about rehab, you’re not getting the message. People in AA have to embrace the St. Francis Prayer to their core. Most people don’t want to embrace it. Maybe I’d be leaving rehab clean and sober and with stigmata.
Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
that where there is wrong,
I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
that where there is error, I may bring truth;
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
that where there is despair, I may bring hope;
that where there are shadows, I may bring light;
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to
comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
My stations included visiting the important people in my life who lived in Northern California, plus my son Ben, who was staying with Carlee in Washington for the summer. I wanted to tell them I needed some rest, so I was going to Betty Ford. It was important to me to let them know in person. I wanted to see the look on their faces. It’s an extraordinary feeling when you admit you have a problem and you need help.
Although I was sitting on it the whole time, my bottom came out of the blue, and most people were surprised. It wasn’t a dramatic bottom but a long one. When I told my friends that I was going to rehab, most people responded, “What for?” Or, for what? No one ever would have suspected I was going for weed, which I wasn’t. I was going for Ecstasy. For years, I was the puppeteer controlling all these substances. Eventually, I became the puppet.
On the phone, Ben was the most supportive: “Dad, you don’t have a drug problem, you have a crazy woman problem.”
I fly up to Seattle to see Ben and Carlee. When we landed, I saw a sign at the airport bar that said, “Doubles Half-Off.” Needless to say I had a couple double Bloody Mary’s. I’m not passing up a chance to save money when I see one. When I finally got to Ben’s home in rural Washington State, he said, “We got some new scooters. Let’s take a ride!” I rarely did sporty things or drove drunk. I couldn’t refuse him, but I remember thinking and being overwhelmed with fear that I was so drunk I was going to crash one of these speedy little motherfuckers into a tree and die. I managed to stay in the saddle long enough to impress Ben with my riding skills and not fly off into the woods.
One of my stations was visiting Joe D., who was staying in a cabin on a mountaintop in Big Sur. The cabin had no working phone—and Big Sur had no cell reception at the time. While I was napping, Joe, with the best of intentions I’m sure, had stolen my Volvo and went to Oceanside to score a hooker and some crack, leaving me alone with no car, no phone, and an almost empty inhaler. By late evening, I was scared to death of having a massive asthma attack with no way to call for help. As luck would have it, on this dark and moonless night, I found a big old flashlight sitting out on the middle of the kitchen table. It took me an hour to cautiously maneuver down the steep mountainside road veiled in heavy fog. Any false step near the side of the path would have had me flying over the edge like Evel Knievel.
When I reached the main road and found a pay phone, I called Elyse (Joe’s sister), who called a bar and had her girlfriend come and pick me up and take me to a motel. The next day, her friend had no recollection of picking me up. She was in a complete blackout the whole time. I probably could have engaged in sex with her, but I thought she was too hippie-ish.
When the day came to check in to the Betty Ford Center, I was at my friend Steve D.’s house in Studio City. He was the one who saved my life by calling 911 back in 1987. Rancho Mirage was about two-and-a-half hours away. I told Steve I had two joints left to my name, one for the drive there, the other for the ride home. He suggested I just take one for the drive there, and he’d hold the other until I got back. I really hope he eventually lit that sucker up and enjoyed it immensely.
When I got close to the facility, I used my fat Motorola flip phone and called for more precise directions. They guided me in . . . brought me in out of the cold, so to speak.
When I got to Rancho Mirage, it was a mirage. I got lost and disoriented from smoking a joint of Hawaiian. Dinah Shore Road, Frank Sinatra Way, Bob Hope Drive. I thought I was driving around an endless Republican cul-de-sac. Then I started to hallucinate. Suddenly, I was nine years old, and my mother and I were watching Your Hit Parade while devouring a quart of Breyers vanilla fudge ice cream. The last block I drove down should have been named, “End of the Road Rd.” (Or Beginning-of-the-Rest-of-Your-Life-You-Just-Don’t-Know-That-Yet Street.)
I parked. Found the front desk. I asked, “Is this where I check in?”
The receptionist snorted, “This isn’t a hotel. This is where you get admitted.”
Soon, I was in the nurse’s office, wearing a clear plastic hospital bracelet, and Nurse Jackie was drawing blood. “We want to know exactly what’s in your system, in case you’re about to go into benzodiazepine withdrawal.”
“I haven’t had any Valium since last night, and it was only 10 milligrams.”
“Do you have any more?”
“Why? You’re a nurse—can’t you get your own?”
She didn’t laugh. Perhaps she thought I was serious. Perhaps I was.
I was almost denied admittance to the Betty Ford Center because they wanted me to surrender my inhaler to be kept in the “med room,” where I could get it when I needed it. They didn’t understand that when I needed it, I needed it right there and then. And suppose I needed it at night, when the med room was locked and the night counselor was on a break? Thank God we compromised because I needed rehab as much as that inhaler. I was given a notebook to keep track of every time I took a whiff. The attending physician wanted to make sure I wasn’t using it 30 times a day because it had a little ephedrine in it.
Once it was clear I could keep my inhaler, I asked the admitting nurse, suspiciously, “Are they going to brainwash me here?” (Not that my brain couldn’t have used a little rinsing.)
She said, “Absolutely not.”
Just then, a gentleman came over, greeted me warmly, and said, “Here, this is yours. This is for you.” He slapped a hardback book into my hand, which felt like a copy of Mein Kampf, or even worse, the Bible.
From the moment I entered the Betty Ford Center, I knew that my chemical kit bag was no longer at my disposal. But that was okay, given that all my thoughts were on the next morning, when I planned on leaving. That first night my primary interest, however, was in falling asleep. Having no sleeping pills called for literary measures—I would read myself to sleep. Luckily, they had given me THAT book that from all indications would be sufficiently boring to induce unconsciousness: The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I made it to page 25, but I was still awake, just barely. When I got to page 26, I was suddenly wide awake. There, in front of me, was a most familiar name: Dr. Carl Jung. I’d been into Jung and all those who circle within his orbit of influence for years. I regularly attended workshops with Robert Bly and read Joseph Campbell religiously. Carl Jung, I discovered, was credited with having set the course for what today is known as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Asked by a patient if there was any sure way for an alcoholic to truly recover, Jung is quoted as saying, “Yes, there is. Exceptions to hopeless cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”
I stayed the next day because of Jung, but I was still restless enough to plan a second-day getaway after seeing one discouraging word engraved in a two-by-six-foot marble plaque: God. My eyes zoomed in and focused on AA’s Step 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God . . .” The Eternal One, blessed be He, also made an appearance in Step 5: “Admitted to God . . .” Step 6: “were entirely ready to have God . . .” and even Step 11: “Sought through prayer and Consternation” (to improve our conscious contact with God).
Why am I here? I asked myself. Is this some Christian enclave where an aging Elizabeth Taylor managed to get laid? Not that she ever had any problems in that area, married eight times. I’m outta here! Thank God it was Friday. On Saturday, I could use the telephone to call my brother in New York and complain about God’s omnipresence at the Betty Ford Center.
When I got Brother Bruce on the phone the next day, he reminded me that I had prayed at the Wailing Wall, cried my eyes out at the Anne Frank House, and sought nearness to God in numerous diverse locales such as the temples of Kyoto, a 40-day Sufi retreat on Maui, and Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, where I chanted Hare Krishna with hundreds of other seekers.
Despite my obvious track record as a fan of the Almighty, including numerous readings of Be Here Now by transcendental super-Jew Ram Dass, I was inexplicably uncomfortable at the prospect of actually interacting with God while I was straight. Perhaps the explanation for the inexplicable was that never before had I thought of calling upon God to free me from the bondage of drinking and drugging. The All-Knowing and All-Wise had watched me consume intoxicants with wild abandon for 26 years and never once stretched forth His mighty hand to stop me. Then again, I never asked.
The conversation with my brother seemed to center me, reminding me of what I had always really wanted—a connection with the Eternal One. So I decided to drop my defenses, postpone my paranoia, dispense with my disbelief, settle into my seat and stay open to what they were saying.
On my third day, I walked outside into the new morning’s light. Suddenly, simultaneously at warp speed and in slow motion, the desire for chemical intoxication completely evaporated. I sensed the change immediately. Like a rotten tooth pulled by a merciful dentist after injecting the perfect amount of high-grade Novocain. I could FEEL all desire for drugs painlessly leave my body.
The psychological sensation, while difficult to describe, was both liberating and slightly disquieting. After all, there is a comforting sense of security in familiar habits and a certain sense of well-being knowing your crutches are always within reach. Although I still thought a drink or two wouldn’t kill me. I never got intoxicated alone or by accident. I always had company and planned my benders in advance. And I did not meet the standard criteria for alcoholism set down in the Alcohol Anonymous textbook. Something about a man losing the ability to control his drinking. I never tried to control my drinking. I planned my blackouts in advance (most of the time). Plus alcoholism and drug dealing don’t mix. Pot was 24/7 but not booze.
The epiphany that SAVED MY LIFE? “Alcohol is a liquid drug.” BOOM. And I am a drug addict to my bone. I am a drug addict through and through. So, if one drink makes me feel a little good, three will make me feel awesome. Yes, I’d like to be suave and sip cognac after dinner and have some ouzo before the moussaka. But I can’t, and I won’t. Like the AA bumper sticker says: “It’s easier to stay sober, than it is to get sober.”
At that moment I made a vow to never drink again. A vow to who? To the most important non-binary person in my life. Me.
I had always thought one of my old girlfriends, a real barbiturates and booze hound (she called it her Marilyn Monroe pre-suicidal cocktail), would one night succumb at the Money Tree, a jazz bar near Burbank (she worked at Creative Artists Agency – CAA). Factoid: The Money Tree was originally owned by The Three Stooges.
Lori did not die, and in fact, unbeknownst to me, a year before I went to rehab, she had checked herself into the Betty Ford Center. Or, as some of the misinformed called it, Camp Betty. I’ve heard stories about guys showing up with their golf bags only to be told the only teatime they would see is at mealtimes.
Serendipitously, Lori found out that I was at Betty Ford when she saw me there! She was a guest speaker at the Friday night alumni meeting that all patients were required to attend. There I was in the audience with the rest of the schmucks, being inspired by my Marilyn Monroe—no longer a washed-out bleached blond but a shining example of sobriety with a head of dyed black beauty hair. She was the main speaker.
My first impulse was to slide down under the seat in front of me so she wouldn’t see me. But after a few minutes, I liked what she was saying. Why was I embarrassed being in a rehab with someone who was in the same rehab?
We talked after the meeting, and I told her I was thinking of going AWOL because I thought the place was too Christian and too Republican. She assured me it was neither, well at least not too Christian. She recited the Lord’s Prayer by heart and explained to me Emmet Fox’s interpretation of what he considered Jesus’s best poem. It all made sense, and just to make sure I stayed the full 28 days, Lori promised she would sleep with me when my month was up.
I was released on the morning of August 31. I still had some prescribed Valium in the toiletry bag they had confiscated when I checked in. The nurse asked me to flush them down the toilet. I was aghast.
“Suppose I need to sleep?”
“You won’t need these. You have other methods to help you sleep now.”
“Suppose I want to give them to my brother?”
“It’s against the law to give prescribed medication to anyone else.”
“You’re fucking kidding me!”
I followed her suggestion and flushed God’s gift to the anxious down the toilet into the Palm Springs groundwater. Curiously, I did have a dozen Mexican Quaaludes in the same kit bag. The nurse didn’t know what they were and let me leave with them.
Two amazing things happened after I hit the 10 freeway back to Los Angeles. I drove past a big roadside Liquor Mart, and I watched my hands on the steering wheel to see if they would automatically, on their own accord, steer the Volvo into the parking lot at the store. They did not. It felt like a miracle. And I did not go into the trunk to fish out and swallow a couple of weak Mexican Quaaludes.
So there I was, 44, fresh (one hour) out of rehab and, for the first time since I was 17, a whole month without a drug or a drink. And here I was not leaping out of my car into a vodka shop or quickly dropping a few feel-good-fast pills down my gullet. I was watching myself and starting to wonder, Who was I?
I knew I was desperate to see a friend and drove right to Bob Downey’s apartment. I had written him a letter from the rehab apologizing for thinking it was time for me to quit the team. I also sent the same letter to a couple of drug dealers I knew telling them I needed to retire. The fear and stress had finally gotten to me.
When I got to Bob’s he asked, “Now that you’ve been locked up for a month, what do you want to do? Is there anything you need?”
“Yeah, I could really use a haircut.” He said he knew of the perfect place.
Thirty minutes later, we were driving through the gates of Hollywood Park. There was a barbershop at the track called Hollywood Haircuts. At Betty Ford, they drum into you the concept of cross-addiction—replacing one addiction with another—which can eventually lead you back to your drug of choice, your first love so to speak. I thought if I made a single bet, I would immediately have to have a Bloody Mary, which was my designated racetrack drink. I decided to just try and satisfy my soul with food. I ordered a ham on rye. (Please forgive me Jane Velez-Mitchell.) Then I realized I always had my track drink, a Bloody Mary, to wash down the porcine lunch. Of course, I should have been getting a haircut, but the barbershop had no openings that day.
No bet, no booze, no haircut. Just plenty of absurd laughs courtesy of Mr. Downey. Putney Swope this was not. More like his film Moment to Moment, a.k.a. Jive, the film I had a small part in. I made no bets, had no drinks, and didn’t lose my shirt or my one month of sobriety.
I spent the night at Bob’s and the next day got a room at the Shangri-La Hotel facing the beach in Santa Monica for the aforementioned sober tryst. With a name like Shangri-La Hotel, what could possibly go wrong? Lori met me there around 7:00 p.m., and we did it—and it wasn’t part of a coked-up intoxicated threesome, one-night stand or with someone I was madly in love with. Nothing really went wrong. She had to work the next morning and left early. I got to walk and ponder along Ocean Drive and realize that making love to a woman I wasn’t in love with felt a little empty. Not completely, just a little. Not unpleasant, just not transcendent. Good drugs and Stoli always made every sexual encounter a peak experience. Love didn’t need to be part of the equation. Maybe this hollow feeling goes away after you’ve been sober for a while. When sex can just be sex. Gore Vidal, author of the early trans novel, Myra Breckinridge, once intoned, “Never turn down an opportunity to be on TV or have sex.” I should be so burdened with those choices.
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