“White machine sparked in sudden waves that night.
Blood moved quickly through the veins
like water flooding through a tight channel,
and flowing into a much larger sea.
White powder changes into tiny submarines
that surge throughout the system
sending depth charges
to form beautiful explosions
which triggered the avalanche
that tingled down our spine.
And so it began . . .”
The beginning was like a feeding frenzy. After the trip in to make the exchange, and after the silly rituals we had while driving home to the safety of our suburban town, we drove back from the rundown brownstones, and corner bodega stores in places like East New York Brooklyn to get our minds right. Heading back to our own territory to find someplace where we could set aside the concerned tension; we found ourselves eagerly awaiting the first hit.
These were the tools for the night:
A clean, clear glass tube, also known as a “Stem,” came with a series of screens folded in and stuffed at the mouth of the pipe. The screens were tucked in approximately one inch inside, allowing for the deposit of small smokable rocks to be placed in the front end of the pipe.
The next tool was equally important. Without this, the stem would be useless. This tool was the source of flame. Some used a tiny torch. Others used the more affordable and easy to steal cigarette lighters that perched at the front counters of any smoke shop, deli, or convenience store.
The next and I suppose the most important was the drug itself. That was our meal. A man could have his tools set up, but with nothing to work with, man has no way to feed himself. Without food—man has nothing to eat. And to us junkies, this was the way we fed ourselves. In this case, I say we because I was not alone on this trip. There were others with me who shared the same affliction as well as the same fascination of life pushed so closely to the brink death.
The beginning was a special form of chaos. Our natural adrenaline pumped as we waited to take our first hit. In the years of the great epidemic, crack was easily found and sold in poorer neighborhoods. Packaged in small plastic vials, or bottles, as some called them, crack was inexpensive, and quick with a fast high that landed with an even faster crash.
The small vials were clear and plastic. The tops were plugged with colored caps. Sometimes red and sometimes blue, some of the caps were white, some were green and some were vials were capped with yellow and orange tops.
Some claimed the different colored caps came with different potency. I say the drug was the drug. Once infected, I say the color of the cap was meaningless. All that meant anything was the ritual and the high.
Once infected, I didn’t care what the package looked like.
All I cared about was the high
We were the kids no one talked about. We came from decent homes with common to moderate problems that were no different from most. We were the wild youth of our time. We had the need to feel alive. We had an attraction to trouble and a thirst to feel “Cool”. We were eager to find something to level the playing field and settle the rules, which none of us wanted to follow.
Speaking only for myself, I was anxious for something to show me the way. I was looking for something to lead me from the social anxieties and ease my discomfort with the different levels of popularity.
As it is with any crowd—or as it is with any social clique; there are rules of engagement.There are levels and tiers; there are different branches. Popularity is a government that says who goes, who stays—who is accepted and who is unacceptable.
In my eyes, I was the one on the other side. I was the one that never quite fit. I never fit with the good kids. I never fit in with the good looking crowd or the socially successful. In my eyes, I was the anti-government.
Feeling somewhat forsaken or perhaps, disregarded, I found ways to soften the sharp edges of my concerns and insecurity. What began as an introduction—later turned into an addiction.
Feeling like a loser, I found victory in chaos.
Often times, I hear people explain the dangers of marijuana use. They call it a gateway drug. I say the gate is much different. Drinking is the most popular and legalized gateway. Drinking at bars is more common than pot smokers on corners. But yet, no one acknowledges this in our culture. Instead, we romanticize drinking with commercials of camaraderie
Anything leading to euphoria is a gate. Anything that sets aside the turbulence of life and calms the frustrations, settles nerves, or somehow livens the senses to make a man feel more than man—even if only for a moment; this a gateway.
I say drugs are an overlying label for a much bigger and severely deeper sickness. And when dealing with the sickness of drug addiction or alcoholism; anything that feels good can be a gateway.
In my case and in my inaccurate version of myself; I found ways to numb the misconceptions of who I was as well as pacify the mistaken differences between me and the rest of the world. I found ways to comfort the anxieties that raged in my thoughts and stiffened my spine in times when I felt too weak..
There is an inner voice in all of us, which no one else can hear. My voice whispers. My voice is frightened and angry. My voice needed to be liked by everyone and felt the need to be accepted. And feeling unacceptable, my voice needed to be satisfied. Otherwise, my voice would never stop whispering.
Drugs and alcohol appeased the voice. The temporary high placates the nerves. The feelings and thoughts hush down, and then suddenly, it is easier to smile.
No one expects the worst to happen. No one asks to become a junkie.
No one thinks the cost will change.
No one realizes the price for a drink is often more than money. there is always an extra cost. These are the hangovers or the sick moments when lying next to a cold porcelain toilet bowl. Puke dangles from your chin. The floor spins. The ground moves, and no matter how you hold onto the wall, there is no way to stop the earth from spinning. These costs are on the back end and not up front. We’ve all been warned about this cost—but somehow it comes up quickly and unexpectedly.
With regards to the gateway; these highs are the simple ones. They are easily accessible and more recreational. These highs are fun and less deliberate (or should I say intense.)
They come with fewer consequences. The simple highs that come with sneaking away with a few beers or a few sips of whiskey come with a lower risk. However, the lower risk brings lower reward.
The simple highs are a fun little tease. They quiet the inner voice, but only slightly. And that’s the real gateway. That’s how the sickness grabbed us. It all stemmned from a simple introduction to feeling good.
The better the high, the softer the inner voice becomes. The greater the high means more risk. More risk means more reward. And me, I chose the highs with the highest risk. I chose the highs that silenced the inner voice completely and eased all my concerns. I chose the highs that kept me weightless—and totally numb.
I knew the risk.
I knew the high was temporary
I knew the fall was quick and I knew what was at stake.
I found myself in places like B 15th, or B 17th Street in Rockaway. I found myself walking through the brick building projects and broken down section of New York at 134th Street and Willis Avenue.
After I made my score, or copped, I readied myself to board the rocket ship. I placed the cap from a vial in my mouth. Immediately tasting the bitter numbness on the tip of my tongue—my stomach began to swirl. Holding the stem in an upright position, I emptied the vial into the mouth of the stem. I watched as the tiny white boulders tumbled into the pipe. I placed my thumb over the top to make sure the hit would not fall out. Nervously looking around, my adrenaline kicked into a higher gear.
Rolling my thumb across the top of a cigarette lighter, I heard the switching sound as the wheel on the lighter sparked across the flint. The orange yellow flame stood up and danced as I dragged the flame closer to the pipe.
My first step was to heat the glass. This created the hit to sizzle. Once this happened, I put the other side of the glass pipe in my mouth. I placed the flame in the pipe as I pulled the smoke in through my lungs as deeply as possible. I inhaled until my body literally shook. I sucked in until I could not breathe in another second.
And blast off . . .
With all the thick white smoke spilled into my lungs, I held my breath. I held it until I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. In seconds—I felt my head lighten.The stress was gone. My ears toned with a steady, high-pitched ring. I could not feel pain. I did not feel concerned or worried about my place in the world. I was not afraid of what anyone thought. For that glimpse of time, I felt perfectly unaffected.
I was numb and comfortable in my own skin
This was the real gateway.
Addiction is not a new sickness. It is a case of man (or woman) trying to ease or scratch an itch that never seems to go away. In my case addiction, drug and alcohol use was the only way I could silence the voice that spoke too loudly and too often.
This is what addiction is . . .
More than what I did to feel better is the reason why.
When I found myself introduced to sobriety and sitting in a 12-step program for the first time, I was quickly made aware that only one step mentioned alcohol or drugs. That’s the first step. That’s the step that says we are powerless and our lives have become unmanageable. All the other steps had to do with me and how I live my life.
See, most people are unsure what powerlessness means.
In my case, powerlessness meant that I would crawl along floors with lighters, trying to find little crumbs that might have fallen when loading my pipe.
In my case, powerlessness meant that I would lie, cheat, and steal to keep myself from feeling the sharps edges of life.
In my case, I would have done anything to quiet that tiny voice inside myself.
At the end of my addiction, I weighed close to 80 lbs. My skin was an unfortunate shade of green. I had dark circles under my eyes, thin arms; my ribs showed through my sides—my face was sunken in and bony.I was sickly looking at best. I had legal problems and family problems. I could not read a sentence or concentrate. I struggles to think clearly. I was twitchy and nervous.
The worst thing I saw was my reflection in the mirror.
I knew I looked like death.
But I couldn’t stop myself
Want to know why?
Because I was powerless over drugs and alcohol and my life had become unmanageable
I am sober 25 years now . . .
Had the courts never sentenced me to mandatory treatment,
I would’ve been dead.
The war on drugs is not a new one.
I listened to a few parents talk about the heroin epidemic.
They said kids today are worse than ever before
I told my oldest friend Anthony about this.
He just laughed and said, “They should have seen us when we were kids.”