Saturday, May 31, 2008


There’s a brief mention in the epilogue of my book about my post college drug use. I ‘experimented’. That’s the term people use when they aren’t addicts, right? I don’t really think ‘experiment’ is the right word. It would imply some sort of tasting to see what would happen, recording the resultant details for scientific purposes. I guess this is what all those politicians have done who’ve been caught and were forced to admit to their dabbling.

I admit, that’s not what I did. I won’t bore you with the list of mind-altering substances that have graced my bloodstream. Suffice it to say, there was no heroin and no crack. No shooting of anything into the arm or the space between the toes. Nothing quite so lurid, though I suspect some people (parents?) reading this might find the implied list…well, gruesome. For me, the inferred list represents the usual litany of party drugs indulged in by a good portion of Gen X-ers. I’d say nearly ¾ of my friends (over ½ for sure) of my age have done the same things if not more. But perhaps birds of a feather stick together and the percentage amongst the broader population of X-ers is far lower. I can’t be sure. I do know, of those I cavorted with, they are all gainfully employed, if not outright successful (which many are); most have significant others and children; none have gone to rehab or even needed to; most don’t do any drugs anymore. Maybe the occasional indulgence, once a year at a party.

I would argue that none of us even ran up close to the edge of addiction, though I suppose by some 12-step descriptions we were all in need of some rehabilitation. There were a few outliers, not close friends, who ultimately 12-stepped it; but my close partying friends survived without scars or life interruptions. We had regular jobs, never missed a day of work, were honored with promotions and/or graduate degrees. We maintained relationships – romantic and friendly, we never stole, we never turned tricks, we never lived on the street and begged for money. We never indulged during work hours or even during weekdays. We took drugs with our cocktails and beers on weekends. We sometimes stayed up all night and danced at Raves. We had a lot of fun. It lasted for a few years and I don’t regret it. All of this is not to romanticize drug use. It’s just what happened.

I just finished reading a book called “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff, which lays bare a parent's survival of his son’s meth addiction. (The son, Nic Sheff, also wrote a book called “Tweak” about his travails.) The story takes place in the Bay Area. The father was liberal as a parent, more of a friend than a dad, some would say, those who are looking for a ‘reason’ for his son’s problems. He took his son to places I often take my kids. Haight Street for records, art houses for films, galleries and museums, sushi restaurants, cafés in North Beach. They were a sophisticated pair traipsing through Russian Hill, the Mission, Haight Ashbury. He confided to his son that he’d experimented with drugs as a young man; he thought, I’m not going to lie to him. I’ll take the mystery out of this whole affair. He assumed his son would give things a whirl; try some pot in high school, maybe a little somethin' else in college.

David’s own drug use perhaps made the whole thing more acceptable when he found pot in Nic's room while his son was still in junior high. The father was alarmed for sure, but allowed himself to be convinced that it was no big deal. He himself had smoked pot regularly in high school and college, after all. So his son started a few years earlier. No harm in that, likely. Or so went the thinking.

And of course, that was the beginning. Nic went on to smoke pot everyday throughout high school. And try everything else. By the time he graduated from the twelfth grade, he was pretty far gone. When he went to college, his meth addiction blossomed. It’s a typical cautionary tale: a single use of crystal seduced him, he was shooting it in no time, he went on to steal and prostitute himself to get his fix.

I think that this is what people who have never done drugs think happens every time a person tries drugs. It is certainly what the "say no" people/ads etc, would have you believe. It must be why some people now want to know about my drug use. Perhaps they think there is some deep, dark addiction/rehab secret in my past that I haven’t shared. Or maybe they are confounded by the fact that I did drugs and didn’t fall into a black hole. Some suggest I could write a book about my experience with drugs. I explain that these drug years were boring. No one would want to read such a book. Nothing happened. Not compared to Nick Sheff, James Frey, Augusten Burroughs, Elizabeth Wurtzel. These folks DID drugs and suffered immensely because of it, as did their families. I dallied. Like David Paterson (Governor of New York), Barack Obama (you know who he is) and lets face it, Bill Clinton, I enjoyed drugs without doing anything completely outrageous, going to jail or becoming addicted.

I’ve always believed, because of my own experience, it was possible to try drugs, even do them with some regularity, and not have it become a problem. Not for everyone (some step off that cliff and just fall), but for some. I’ve even been sort of distrustful of some people who’ve never tried anything. "What squares!" I've thought. Are they afraid to delve into their subconscious minds, confront their demons? Afraid to lose control and have some fun?

But reading Mr. Sheff’s book makes me worried for my youngest son who is only five, but seems to take things very hard. Like Nic, he’s a sensitive kid, loves to draw. He’s an introvert. He’s at risk for never feeling quite like he fits in because he very well may not. Could be a recipe for disaster, as it was with Nic. And we live in San Francisco, less than a half-mile from Haight Street. Scoring is less than a ten-minute walk away.

His saving grace might be that he won’t care whether or not people like him. He seems fairly satisfied with his internal life. He’s the kid at the playground who plays by himself for hours, never needing to engage the other kids in a game.

But I wonder: should I be dishonest with him about my own dabbling with drugs if I want to steer him away from experimenting? If he knows I partook and came out just fine, will that make it easier for him to say yes, when offered pot, acid, booze in the sixth or seventh grade? If he can see that it has had no obvious adverse affect on me, might it seem more acceptable, less dangerous? I really don’t want him starting that early, if at all. I’d always thought: he’ll drink in high school, maybe try pot; he’ll try whatever he wants to try in college (especially if he goes to Berkeley); maybe have a bit more fun after college; but by his late twenties, he’ll have gotten it out of his system. He’ll be a serious and proper adult. Maybe not. Maybe he’ll be like poor Nic. He’ll try something once – who knows what: coke, meth, heroin – and never look back. Perhaps it really is best if he never even gets a taste.

I’ve made a habit of being honest in my life, with my kids, in my writing. But I’m considering lying about this one fact. Maybe I’ll tell my kids: Nope never did it. And don’t you do it either!

Doesn’t really roll off the tongue. It’s too late, I suppose. It’s in my book. It’s right here in this stupid blog entry which will somehow live on forever in cached heaven, cut and pasted from here to eternity. I’ll have to do my best to instill good judgment and a passion for other things requiring sobriety and take comfort in the fact that my kids are not descendants of addicts, so hopefully they don’t have the gene. But things happen. Dangers are everywhere for my children to encounter.

Parenting, as with life, is a harrowing ordeal. While I don’t plan on lighting up with my kids, I will probably admit I tried some stuff ‘back in the day’, once I was old enough to exercise some judgment about its affects. I’ll warn them about the dangers of drugs. And I’ll gauge their moods, their reactions, their general states of mind without any reluctance in asking, “Are you okay?

If I’ve learned anything from David Sheff’s book it is that there is often no one to blame for a child’s drug use. Teen drug addicts are kids of divorce, kids of married parents; kids who were loners and kids who were popular; kids who were engaged in every activity under the sun and kids who had too much free time. The world is a minefield and our kids are their own people. Just as I’ve learned that my gymnastics was my own choice – no one could have made me starve myself and work on half healed bones – my kids will make their own choices. All I can do is equip them to survive those choices.


Caroline said...

The way I've always seen it, if you never try it, you never get addicted. And besides, it's against the law. Do you really want to risk a criminal record? Finally, since it's not regulated, you never really know what's in the thing you're taking, how strong it's going to be, whether it's laced with god knows what and if you're going to have a really bad reaction. So it's never been worth it to me. No judgment, but that's what I would tell my kids.

Linda Mac said...

Ah, Jen, it's a hard question to ponder isn't it? What to admit to the kids and what to shut up about.

Having ridden the wave of the 60's through college everyone assumes that I was out there doing drugs and making "peace not war." I wasn't.

It wasn't for the lack of trying though. I must have tried to smoke pot a dozen times in college but it always made me sick. So when the kids asked if I'd smoked pot my answer was that I tried my best but just couldn't run with the big dogs.

In later years I tried cocaine with a group of people - all of whom were experienced users. My result? "WTF is this stuff supposed to do because I feel NOTHING."

Perhaps after all those years in sports and 3 broken noses with 3 repairs I simply lack cocaine 'detectors'. Probably a good thing.

I had a policy with my kids:
~If they ask then DO tell.
~Listen carefully to the question being asked. "Where did I come from?" may not require the entire birds and the bees speech. The answer may be as easy as, "Pittsburgh."
~Don't worry in advance.