A Leaf


By all means I can't compare my own struggle with substance abuse to that of someone who is an alcoholic or heroin/coke addict. Though addiction, in essence, is all the same with whatever substance involved, I do believe there are varying degrees with how people manage through the addiction, and quite frankly, the choice of substance is usually what dictates how difficult recovery will be.

I learned a great deal during my year of outpatient therapy, but mostly I learned how lucky I was that it was only a mere smoking habit I had. True, it was VERY difficult for me to psychologically break the habit of smoking every day, but I didn't have the crazy physical withdraws that some more severe addicts do have.

Luckily, I am still able to drink alcohol from time to time. I think one of the reasons I never became an alcoholic is because I lack the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the system. So often after two or three drinks, I get that "Asian Flush" and usually can't continue on drinking. In high school, the kids used to tease me for looking like a frigging boiled lobster after drinking. However the boys at school loved it because for them, me turning red meant GO!

Heroin was never an option. During a time where I probably would have dabbled in it, I went the other way and instead did volunteer work at the Lower East Side Needle Exchange on Avenue C in New York City. What I saw there would forever scare me from ever developing a curiosity to try it.

Coke I did a few times, but usually I'd end up with a sinus infection lasting for weeks afterwards. Thus not really allowing me to develop a habit. Pills were boring to me and mushrooms or acid was always hard to find for some reason. So in the end, it was always just me and Mary.

And as for the ganja, that continual habit has become a thing of the past. Since my "episode," I can count the number of times I've been high on both hands. Though I know "recovery" to a lot of people means complete abstinence from all mind-alternating substances, to be honest, I think I'm at a point now where I can finally just enjoy a casual drink or smoke every once in a while. I still need to manage that though. THIS I know I will have to do for the rest of my life.






















            Any person with tattoos will ultimately hear this question, "Do you regret getting any of your tattoos?" For me, I’d have to answer, unfortunately yes, and this would be the one.   I have absolutely no idea why I got this tattoo, and furthermore, I ask myself all the time, what on earth was I thinking? Originally I had flirted with the idea of getting a four-leaf clover on my backside, but when I ran the idea by a friend, he cringed at the cuteness of it and said, “What you really ought to get is a pot leaf.” 

            I’m assuming why my friend suggested the idea was because at the time I had developed a gregarious appetite for marijuana.  I had always smoked pot off and on since I was an adolescent.  But here in my early twenties, I found my casual, social use turning into a downright chronic habit.  I can contribute my swell in habit to any number of environmental factors—I was out of school, working, and making more money to afford such a habit; I was young, adventurous, and willing to do more of anything; but honestly, I think the real reason is because I just loved being high and had from the very first time.

            I was twelve when I had my first joint.  I was hanging out with two friends of mine—Shawn, who the kids called “Big, Black Shawn” because he was exactly just that, big, black, and named Shawn.  Shawn also lived down the street from me and was only about two years older.  The other friend was named Nick or “Nick the Grit.”  Grits were what we called the heavy metal heads back then, with their easily identifiable dirty jean vests and gritty long hair.  It wasn’t very nice, but it was the truth.  This guy Nick was probably in his late teens or maybe even in his early twenties—I have no idea how old he was—but I know he wasn't in school and I know he probably shouldn't have been hanging around all us preteens.  He just showed up one day in our neighborhood and suddenly became a fixture among us kids, which is pretty creepy now that I think about it.

            So one afternoon, during the summer of 1986, Nick took me and Shawn to some neighborhood across the way from our own.  We soon found ourselves in some random tool shed of an unsuspecting homeowner.  Shawn, I believe, had already tried marijuana.  I remember him laughing and saying, “It’ll be alright, go ahead, don’t worry, we’re here!”  Nick was also smiling assuredly as I watched him roll what looked like a tiny, candy cigarette.  I had never seen marijuana, much less known what to do with it.  So I watched intently as Nick took the grassy substance and carefully rolled it into what he called a joint.  After he finished rolling the joint, he then lit it up and instructed me to smoke it like a cigarette.   I already knew how to smoke a cigarette since I’d already developed a slight habit of smoking.  I took the joint from him and puffed and puffed at it, and I remember announcing to them that I didn’t FEEL anything, which is, of course, a typical response from a first-timer.  By this point, I had also already experimented with numerous “huffing” products, and I knew what to expect when I huffed gasoline or anti-freeze—which is a story to tell some time later, but let’s just say it was a summer of no supervision.  I knew exactly when my senses were about to go array with those inhalants, but this smoke was different.  Nothing was happening.

            So to hurry things up, Nick decided he was going to help me achieve this “high” by playing a game with me.  He told me to close my eyes and pretend I was Frankenstein.  I shrugged in compliance.  He then told me he was going to be touching parts of my face, and I was to use my imagination toward this guided imagery.  Again, I was up for anything and allowed him to proceed.  He began by saying he would start by “stitching up my wounds.”  He took his fingernails and lightly pricked at my face.   Then he said he was going to peel off the bandages that hid my scars, followed by his gritty hands lightly moving across my cheeks and forehead.  He then said he was going to remove the bolts from my neck, followed by twisting movements on the either side of my neck.  He ended the visualization exercise by saying, “Okay, now I’m going to take off your head.”  I then felt his hands on either side of my head.  He began to turn my head to the left and then to the right as if trying to unfasten it off.  He told me to put my hands out with palms up.  I did, and with eyes still shut, I waited.

            Finally, Nick the Grit announced, “Okay, now I’m going to place your head in your hands, so be careful and don’t drop it.”   I stood very still, and with my hands still out and eyes shut, I patiently waited for something to happen.  Then all of the sudden, I felt something very warm and hairy hit my palms.  I threw my hands up in the air and screamed—AHHHHH!

            My eyes flew open, and I saw Nick and Sean jump in horror.  My scream had startled them so much that they looked back at me in astonishment.  I began to panic and cry,  "My head, my head!"

            I then noticed that Nick and Shawn’s shock had now changed to hysterical laughter.  Through all their hilarity, Nick yelled to me, “You’ve dropped your head on the floor, man!  You better pick it up!”  I remember I looked to the floor in utter terror searching for what I thought was my head, and soon I began to cry harder at not seeing it.  And then that’s when Nick and Shawn—still in stitches—tried to calm me down.

            When I finally caught my breath, I slowly began to realize what had really happened.  After Nick told me to put my hands out so that he could place my head in them, what he really did was bent down and placed his own head in my hands, making me think it was actually my head.  Apparently at that point, I was so stoned that I totally thought he’d taken off my fucking head and put it in my hands.  It was hilarious.  When I finally came to realize the truth, I knew now what it meant to be “high,” and for the rest of the afternoon, the three of us were left giggling in that dark tool shed.  I was totally fucking hooked.

            It was that joke that convinced me that marijuana was a fun drug and something I’d have to continue to do, from occasionally to chronically.  But to tell the truth, sixteen years later and an infinite amount of marijuana inhaled since, I would soon find myself spending my 28th birthday in some psychiatric ward, almost about to really completely lose my head, which was no joke at all.

            It was the summer of 2002.  I was about to turn 28, and I was not really doing much with my future.  It was my fifth year living in New York City, along with that short stint in San Diego, and my marijuana habit had grown from only on the weekends to the first thing I’d do when I got up in the morning to the last thing I’d do before my head hit the sack.  I had also moved from a really good, sustaining job in publishing to a job that just barely paid the bills.

            Right after college, I had taken a job as an assistant editor at a low-grade woman’s romance magazine.  I then began moonlighting at Barnes & Noble, where within a year I found myself no longer at the romance magazine, but instead assisting the vice president of Barnes & Noble book publishing.   It was a good career move for me, but unfortunately what everyone didn’t know was that at all my jobs, I’d be terribly stoned for about eighty percent of the time.   It was habitual.  I’d arrive at work high, go and smoke a bowl during lunch, and during my mid-afternoon breaks, use that time to catch another quick buzz.   It was all a fog and soon I just didn’t care about any of my work responsibilities.  So just after the millennium, I quit my job at Barnes& Noble corporate and flew off to San Diego to see what kind of action was happening there.  At the same time, I also helped my mother through her breast cancer treatments.   However six months later and with my mother’s recovery in full effect, I then decided to move back to New York to resume life there.

            So now back in New York and completely career-less, I hooked up with old friends and began the odd jobs search.  I soon found myself working at the Union Square farmer’s market two days a week, and at night, as the door girl at the sister side of the famed punk rock club CBGB called CB’s Gallery, where unfortunately here, my habit was able to grow at an exponential rate. Truthfully, the club would offer me an array of substances to indulge in.  There were things to swallow, snort, smoke, and shoot if I so desired.  However I kept a pretty low profile regarding my drug of choice, meaning, I pretty much stuck to just marijuana.  Every once in a while I’d do something different, but for the most part, I was a committed pot smoker.  Unfortunately, though, all that pot-smoking finally caught up with me, and under the stress of a life I regarded as not really worth living, I began the strange and weird descent into a non-specific psychotic delusional disorder.

            As anyone who smokes a lot of pot knows, one result is that you begin to interpret the world differently than you would sober.  That’s half the enjoyment in smoking ganja.  It’s also why many cultures regard it as the way to a more spiritual level.  The world becomes a book to read into with varying perceptions and experiences to “weed” though while every action and every instance suddenly begins to hold a more grandiose meaning of life, however ridiculous or amusing it may be.  But with my abuse of it, I began to misinterpret the happenings around me, and soon it became very difficult for me to distinguish what was real and what was imaginary, which is a characteristic of any delusional disorder.  Things became greatly exaggerated, and I found myself looking for meaning in EVERYTHING.   I would take any instance, however mundane it may be and begin the dissection of it.  This deduction of everything lasted for two years.  It was a constant rationalization of the irrational.  But more importantly, it was me trying to make sense of a world suddenly coming apart and it was frightening.  I recall many nights alone in my room completely paranoid and oblivious to the fact of the absence around me as I talked and talked to the walls about God only knows what.  People caught in a delusional disorder can seem quite normal and function rather fine at first, but then throw in a sudden psychosis brought on by binge of drugs, and one can find themselves just shy of their 28th birthday being involuntarily committed by their father into the psychiatric ward at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, Queens.

            It all happened rather quickly.  One day I was functioning fine and the next I was homeless, crashed out at a friend’s place with a terrible self-inflicted burn on my arm while mumbling about all sorts of weird and “out of this world” type shit.  It was a combination of occurrences that caused my episode, but mostly, it was my strung out soul that just wasn’t coping well with the one too many phone calls from debt collectors, the one too many arguments with family, the one too many god damn nights of meaningless sex, and to put it plainly, the one too many bong hits.  It all came to a head one day, my head, and I completely lost it.

            I had been on a daily binge of marijuana and alcohol for weeks the day that it happened.  My roommate and I had been fighting for some time when finally he told me that I would have to move out, which I’m certain was a decision he made because of my intolerable habits at the time.  I ended up crashing at my friend Ed’s place, who also worked at the club.  I recall just sitting on Ed’s couch, smoking away while soon the voices began to get louder and louder.  The turning point came when I went into Ed’s bathroom, heated up my lighter so hot that I'd turn it onto my arm and burn through several layers of skin, later producing a quarter size hole in my forearm.  On exactly why I burned my arm, I do remember the reasons, but I’ll include that story another time.

            As for Ed, I now regret, but am thankful, with what he went through with me.  For all Ed knew I was now suddenly hurting myself and not responding to any sort of rational thinking.  Ed then realized that he needed to get help.  He was able to solicit information about my family from my dazed out self.  He acquired my sister’s phone number, where he then got in contact with my father who lives in southern Maryland.   Ed’s phone call resulted in my father recognizing the seriousness of my situation prompting him to pack up the car and head up to New York the very next day.

            When I realized the intervention that Ed had begun, I was at a loss of words.   I recall not being angry at this phone call to my father.  I just crawled into his bed and laid confused at what was happening to me, and I was even more confused at what had just occurred to my arm.  It began to hurt intensely and the more I stared at the burn, the more I began to panic at what I had actually done.  A side of me believes that while a good part of my mind was truly losing it, there was still a small part of my mind that was still very much normal and knew that what was happening was not good.  But for some reason, I just couldn’t seem to control it.

            When my father arrived, I recall the sense of relief I felt, but at the same time, dread seemed to blanket me.  I’d known things had gone too far, and I wondered what would happen to me now.   My dad stayed with me at Ed’s that night, and the next morning we gathered my things to leave.  When we finally left Ed’s, I was under the impression that my father was driving me back to Maryland with him, but unbeknownst to me, he instead turned into Mary Immaculate Hospital where he then said to me that we were just going to get me “checked out,” but in actuality, he was going to get me checked in.

            I fought with fists when I realized what the real plan was.  I remember I took off running through the exit doors, when not just a few feet later, two huge orderlies grabbed me from behind and dragged me back into the admitting room, literally kicking and screaming.  I remember I was shocked at the orderlies strength, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to be totally “out of control.”  The last thing I remember was several people strapping me down on a table and a nurse’s voice trying to calm me as she took out a needle and stuck me in my arm.

            I awoke hours later, groggy, scared, and alone in the psychiatric ward of Mary Immaculate Hospital, where I spent the next 31 days trying to make sense of what had just fucking happened to me.  It was awful.

            The next 4 weeks were spent on one single floor with various souls that suffered from all sorts of ailments.  Some talked to themselves, some cut themselves, and some just kept to themselves, like me.  It was so hard to be in there in the beginning because I truly believed nothing was wrong with me.  On some level, I felt that despite knowing the voices I was hearing were imaginary, they were still very much real to me.  For hours I would just sit staring out my window, desperately trying to figure out where everything went wrong.  However, deep down inside I knew something had to get me in there, and as the days went on, I began to come out of the smoke that had smothered me.  It was then that I finally saw where I was for what it was, and as soon as the voices began to quiet down, it was at that point that I nearly went insane.

            This particular psych ward wasn’t a place of rehabilitation by any means.  It was simply a holding cell: a holding cell of crazies.  One time, I had complained to a nurse that I hadn’t gotten any sleep because of my roommate’s snoring.  The nurse then led me to a back room where I was able to “rest.”  However soon after, I would hear another nurse, who had a strong island accent, take another patient into a room next to mine where she would begin to hold an exorcism over the patient.  It was the craziest damn thing ever.  She literally cursed at the demons inside this young girl who liked to talk to herself.  I thought I would go nuts listening to the ridiculousness of it.  She chanted at the young girl all the while saying she was an “evil thing, spawned from the Devil himself” etc.  It was so disturbing to hear such things, and soon I feared the nurses around there would be performing my own exorcism.  I recall calling my dad and sister in tears quite often, begging them to get me out.  But my cries only fell on deaf ears though, and I’d always be doomed to stay another week.

            And unfortunately, these weeks weren’t filled with therapy either.  Actually, this place offered no kind of therapy at all.  I think I only met with a doctor twice.  Instead, the doctors simply prescribed everyone various forms of meds.  Twice a day, we’d all line up for our daily doses like little well disciplined soldiers.  I was prescribed Haldol, an anti-psychotic med, which really only gave me headaches.  So despite thinking you only saw stunts like this in the movies, I too learned how to hide the pill in the back of my mouth and when the nurse wasn’t looking later spit it out in the toilet.

            As the weeks dragged on, I began to realize what I had to do to get myself out of there—tell the doctors exactly what they wanted to hear: “Yes, I feel better.  No, I don’t want to hurt myself.  Yes, I will continue on with therapy.”  Blah, blah, blah.  But don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely discrediting my stint there.  I was, however, able to “detox” and to my utter delight, I also learned how to play chess, but that was just about it.

I only wrote one journal entry during my entire stay there. My friend Rachel had come to visit me and gave me the journal in hopes I'd make use of it. And though I was grateful for it, I do recall just not feeling like writing. But like I said, I did manage one entry. Part of that entry (shown above) reads the following:

"that's probably the reason for me not really wanting to write-my spirit feels very crushed right now-it's hard to feel up and good about things, especially after recollecting all that I have manage to do, which is land myself here in the psych ward-"

I really don't say much more. But I did manage this one drawing, which I think speaks volumes as to how I was truly feeling back then. And honestly, when I look at it now...I just feel so bad for that young woman who I knew felt just so very played inside. I remember feeling as if the entire world had been playing a game on me...and it was all I could do to get out from underneath it all.

            However, on July 13, 2002, and on a very humid day in New York, I was finally released to my father.  He picked me up and drove me straight to Maryland, with no time to look back.  I was met by my sister and stepmom, and for the next year, I would begin the struggle with addiction and depression.  Thankfully, I was able to enroll in an excellent outpatient drug rehabilitation program at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, where I met some really great people, both doctors and therapists alike, who finally offered me the therapy I so desperately needed.

            The road to recovery was a long and bumpy one, and it's one I remain traveling down, but I’m very fortunate to have survived what I have so far.  I’m also very grateful to have come through most of it with only a few reminders: the scar on my arm and the little tattoo on my backside.  Occasionally I sometimes catch a glimpse of how close I really came to losing my head for good, either when I look down at my arm, or when I pass by a mirror and see my naked ass.   Sometimes people will also catch a sneak peek of it too and that’s when they’ll look to me for explanation, I usually just grin and say “those times are finally all ‘behind’ me now,” and yes (funny) quite literally.  I’ve often thought about maybe changing my little tramp stamp as well.  I’ve considered getting it removed, or perhaps maybe just leaving my little leaf there as a constant reminder of those crazy times; but I’ve also thought about maybe changing it into that four-leaf clover I had originally wanted so long ago, because after all, I really do think I am…one lucky ass.