Math comes in colors
the art of being an addicted human
Rising addiction and overdoses have left communities scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to combat the increasing issues coming from heroin addiction. Outcries for more police, more treatment centers and more money will fall on deaf ears if you don't identify the seeds and roots where it's planted...
My best childhood friend "Steve" became an addict somewhere around 1997… (i think it was 1997, he hid it from most of his friends for quite some time).
Steve is a viscously talented musician, writer, philosopher and poet, the youngest in a large aging Catholic family that left him on his own and with his friends much of the time. He was constantly social and hilarious to be around and always at the center of our large group of our tight-knit friends and a huge hit at gatherings. Steve's talents and deep spiritual nature drew people to him on a constant basis and he quickly became a conductor for several of us creative types during our formative artistic years despite the fact that he suffered with a lot of personal struggles. Physical and mental pain overtook him on occasion, but he always came back stronger with us watching over him and cheering him on. He struggled and fought and smiled through the ups and downs of being (maybe) bi-polar or (maybe) depressed and (maybe) with ADHD with some other unknown physiological ailments … and he had the added bonus of being gay during a time when his high school classmates were sporting t-shirts that read things like "AIDS KILLS FAGS DEAD".
(Yes, that actually happened in rural-new-england-town-1987)
In his early teens he cut himself on his stomach with a razor and his family sent him to a "facility" in Vermont for several months, and that's where he first learned about, and tried, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes with other rejected kids parents didn't know what to do with.
He was very different from what our society holds up as a "normal". He tried a number of healthy ways to battle his demons and satisfy his hunger for deeper consciousness over the years and had small victories... I will never forget his daily garlic and lemon shots and deep woods buddhist meditation sessions or having meaningful conversations with him standing on his head so blood would rush there... his fearlessness on stage or standing up for injustices with a confident voice was legendary among those that know him…he also tried every mind-altering substance that crossed his path…LSD at Dead concerts, Jack Daniels at metal shows, cocaine at big house parties... none of which really worked long enough to sustain his insatiable love for exploring the art of being human, and none of which he became truly enamored of, and definitely none that ever fully satisfied the demons that followed him. Not one of his personality traits were bad, in fact they were better than normal in most ways, but he still didn't fit into that cubicle, church, or classroom-life that our town had offered up to us.
Something wonderful happened to Steve in the mid-late 90's after struggling to find his place and awareness for so many years. After our tight group of friends began to disperse into the countryside in marriage, college, parenting and careers and he was sort of left behind, he suddenly became the one of us that was at the top of his game. His music was spectacular and his stage show awe-inspiring, his happiness was obvious and his demeanor of high intelligence was emerging…his leadership skills shined and his spirituality was instant and contagious to anyone around him….he appeared healthy and more joyful. He came out comfortably to everyone, moved to a bigger city and found a sense of place and love, and shared his joy and energy with everyone that was around him…he WAS the life of the party and emulated and loved by other artists and people that met him.
Whoops. Turns out, opiates was the wonderful that had happened to him.
Drugs offered Steve a new perspective, a look at a life without pain, without suffering, gave him a deep understanding of his spirituality and a new way to approach life… drugs opened a door to perceptions that others don't get to see and put him on a higher plane of existence where he fit in. He was able to tap the resources within himself that he didn't know existed and see things that are invisible to most people, and allow him to grab those elusive life skills we are all told we should have. While he was using, he could talk to the dead without fear, while holding a day job, understand physics and stars and see what colors mathematical equations come in…he would dream music in technicolor and execute it the next day flawlessly while fully embracing and sharing love and positivity with others, and he was cheered for these magnificent skills by everyone around him, and rewarded for them for probably the first time... people became more attracted to him, and begged him to be around...he was wanted, and loved. He was high.
I asked him how it first happened…
His brain wouldn't allow him to see the potential consequences because the desire to feel good (or at least, better) was too strong.
His brain, his thought process, didn't care about what would happen later that year, he was living in that moment, pain free, relaxed, accepted…and gaining the ability to get an inside look at the entire universe where the majority of us can't, and won't, go…the uncomfortable place where art and thinking is…better. That plane is something he always wanted to study and know. Most of the people around him at that point used, and they were perceived as really great people by him, they lauded him for who he was and his talents, instead of condemning him for being "weird" or "gay" or "dysfunctional" or "sick"... so of course, he trusted that path because he fit in with that weirdness on the outside of normal society.
Temptation is something we all understand because we are all addicted...
Coffee, cigarettes, honey-buns, driving fast, weed, chocolate, beer, wine…we all have, or have had, one or two big toes dipped into the lava of decadence, he just chose to stick his whole face full-in and see what the real deal with the devil was, even knowing he may come up burned.
What comes next?
…the inevitable burn, and it was a big one.
The uglier truth is right after the precipice, the aftermath, which we already know much more about. We all know the consequences of the action of using heroin and other drugs are real, damaging and irreversible. We also know that some addicts survive and produce amazing work and even sort of sometimes recover…
"i mean, c'mon, have you ever heard a high John Coltrane album?"
The majority understands the risk/reward factor and can choose to stay away.
As a society, we respond to the overdoses, we tally the waiting lists for people seeking treatment and we count heads at jails. We hear of robberies and violent outbursts and call addicts the worst of society, telling them to control themselves, and despising them for costing precious tax payer money …We hold symposiums and meetings…but we never actually invite the junkie…why is that? We know, through much scientific study, that these substances begin to open a persons mind to new levels before taking over. They are hooked, because it's OH SO GOOD. The drug sneaks up and takes hold and it starts defining a person by stealing who they once were and eating the former self alive. The human soul is still in there, but another force is driving their body and it becomes beyond their control, and they become a different person.
Mathematical equations have color?
Steve was able to get off heroin and opiates after a few long years, but only after morphing into not as great a person and doing sustainable and irreversible damage to his body…he became more selfish, more likely to steal, lie and manipulate during that time…he became a person that would have been rather unacceptable to the original Steve…but he DID get off the drugs…sort of. At least, he got off the illegal and more dangerous street drugs.
Steve is still in need of a constant supply of what we would call "medications" instead of "drugs" and his body is now fucked up for life.
He has to live with the fact that his 70 year old mother had to score him heroin and slowly wean him off of it with controlled injections while he screamed and puked and shit all over himself, with no medical insurance, and with those friends and lovers long gone and not particularly caring what had happened to him.
He has to live with new diseases his addiction gifted him with, and an even stronger fear of the community that he was raised in, the very one that let him down…even more rejected now than he was before, dragging these new, and very heavy, stigmas and illnesses around with him for the rest of days.
He has to now live with the fact that many of his closest friends are either dead or afraid to be around him because they are either angry at him or they just don't understand him, or maybe they fear his new collection of diseases, or, he just can't get out of bed on many days to face them.
He now has to live with the scars from his decisions, and the self loathing that comes with the fact he did things he wouldn't have done as his former self, and that there are even less places for him to fit in now.
We know all this, we know the after effects of intravenous drug use…but are we really looking at the true causes, and why people….smart, talented people…would choose to put a needle full of poison in their vein willingly?
And so begins his personal and lonely quest for more meaning and an more open mind elsewhere…and what he found out, while glimpsing the universe deeply, is a truth too ugly to admit…that God is really the Devil, and the Devil is God, that we treat our fellow humans and planet horribly, especially when we can't define them or put them in a neat box.
We are savages. We hold in high regard and reward the wrong idols and leave behind some of the potentially best thinkers and explorers of our community and we leave no room in our own lives to properly care for or carry up those that are left behind because it would hinder our own selfish quests. Spirituality and respect for all life, and it's importance, is a dying art, and much missed.
Thinking forward, is there a solution?
Is there a way we could have stopped this addiction cycle before it got to the point of danger?
No, we can't save everyone. Knowing Steve as well as I do, there was a number of things that could've happened in his life that would have potentially prevented this…
ACCEPTING STEVE FOR WHO HE IS
Starting in childhood and high school and first accepting exactly who he is. Our society is just barely getting to the point where being gay or different is okay, and offensive t shirts on children are not, so there is that. Social media and politics seems to only feed the fury that one type of person is greater than another. We should have held a place for Steve at our dinner table, we should have place settings for everyone at our dinner tables.
FREE FURTHER EDUCATION for ALL
If Steve was allowed studio time for music and work or an education where he was allowed to question everything and study to his hearts content with like peers at his own pace, he would have been engaged to the point where he wouldn't have wandered off looking for holes to fill. There was no way after the number of kids his parents had that they could've afforded to send him away to a school that was the perfect fit, if it existed. Mean kids and worse teachers drove him to drop out of high school, so-called "worthy" colleges wouldn't take him now. He's the type of person that needs an opportunity to prove himself, he's one of the smartest people I know, yet, society shuns him because he looks bad on paper.
And no, we all don't expect to go to Harvard, but maybe state & local schools could be a little more open minded to accept those that look bad on paper so everyone EVERYONE should have opportunity to learn as much as they would like, whether online or classroom, studio or tool shop…. and what they would like, either independently or with teachers, and with access to the resources they need to do so.
QUALITY MENTAL (& PHYSICAL) HEALTH CARE
Sometimes, having access to mental & physical health care just for reboot, relaxation and guidance can save or change someone's life…like a spa, with a trained professional to talk to…and medical checks if needed…and without the stigma and judgement. If you are poor, uneducated or otherwise indisposed financially, vacations to the bahamas to relax with a love are not within reach, and sometimes, that's all someone needs…a good bath, a clean bed and healthy food and a chance to kick a bad habit with guidance or lick wounds or mourn a huge loss. In utopian-dream land, I see a building in every town, like a walk-in spa that ANYONE can walk into any time of day (free) and spend some time doing what needs to be done to wash a brain or heart clean and get fresh perspective. I'm willing to bet a service like that would knock down some major disease and the costs therein. Especially, if EVERYONE had access ...in every town, anytime of day, whenever needed. Shit, I can think of at least 5 times I could have used 3 days to sleep off major stress or depression away from home that inevitably caused me more health problems.
Right now, Steve has no excuse, because he is expected to be a man. Without diagnosis or visible disability, he is expected to do what we tell him to do, or he must live on the outskirts of town and figure it out on his own, making it worse, because life on your own as a singular is not as effective. It's not just a matter of his mental health, it's a matter of us accommodating all humans, and trusting them as guides of sorts, but that only works if they can find what they need and want to pursue life, liberty and pursue happiness. I do not remember our constitution stating that all humans have to work a day job. If we had faith in Steve's mind, he may have had more faith in his own mind, and become stronger for it, thus resisting the romantic lure of a kiss from God and a dance with the Devil. His huge heart is too big for this cold world and his love for humanity is greater than we allow him to express.
YES, we need to increase police, mental health help and addiction resources, but we should also seriously reconsider how we treat the people that are born not quite fitting our mold, they are a very valuable resource, and substantially more sensitive to succumbing to addiction or suicide, and losing them is a tragedy beyond what we see in the headlines, because I for one, have much more to learn from Steve, and now, he's a bit too tired to share his knowledge with me. Blaming the Government, his parents, or the drug companies or the lack of jobs or the Liberals handing out welfare for Steve's addiction is just absurd…yes, it's Steve's fault, he knows this, BUT we ALL really to shoulder the blame as a team for letting down a huge portion of our fellow humans by not including them with open arms and applauding what they are great for at the very beginning of their life.
And trust me when I say, you will not cure addiction with mediocre PSA's, symposium meetings in board rooms and cheaply designed outreach brochures...once you've been Coltraned, there is a much higher standard of art needed to earn the addicts' respect back.
written by: Erin Thomas
republish only with permission
Artists and musicians have a long standing relationship with drug culture, both as users, and as saviors….
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"I NEED MORE DOPE : Heroin, Addiction & Recovery"
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