Ancient teachings

I know that some of you weary of my drug experiences, but I would ask for your compassion as I travel the dark road of pain upon which guides are few. For now, the marijuana is taking me more deeply within, and although it is a frightening journey, it is the only way that I know to proceed. Daily pain that lasts for years and leaves one increasingly disabled is not a shallow experience, and it requires all the depth and courage that I possess to live a rewarding life in its presence. Sometimes, every new day feels like a new failure, partly because I know that there are those who are doing ten times better despite being in twenty times more pain. I can’t even tell that I am growing. I used to know who I was; now I have lost my life, and I don’t know where to look for it.

The worst fears come when I go to bed. They are many, but Peggy’s death is the greatest with my own death being second. The fear would be there anyway, but since my nightmarish trip on marijuana, the drug has consistently taken me to the edge of panic. Yet, I continue to use it because I must look into the pit. Pain and terror are within, death is at my heels, and there is no place to run.

Yesterday, I came home from my daily bike ride to the library with books on aging by Ram Dass and Jimmy Carter. These men are religious (Carter is a Southern Baptist, and Dass defies labeling), but they write from the heart rather than the pulpit. This absence of dogma enables me, an atheist, to hear them, and to find common ground with them. It is a very good feeling. Last night, I started with Dass.

Ram Dass had a stroke in 1997 when he was just a little older than I, and he still needs 24 hour a day care. When a man like that talks about pain and fear and death, I listen. As I read him last night, peace settled over me. When I was ready for sleep, I both ate marijuana butter and smoked marijuana, and it was very good. This morning, I found the courage for hashish, which can be thought of as a concentrated form of marijuana. After I smoked it, I put on some harp music, and Peggy massaged my shoulders, as she does every morning. My mind raced, but the fear did not return.

Increasingly since the bad marijuana experience, I see death everywhere and in everyone, the young as much as the old. Like Buddhist monks who meditate upon impermanence as they sit beside decaying corpses, so has my life become a meditation upon death. “I surrender,” I said to death last night. “From now on, I will do all that is within my power to embrace you.” For guides, I, like Dass, must turn to other cultures because my own society is but a shallow wasteland.

I’ve been helping Peggy with some research she has undertaken about ancient Greek and Roman mythology. I had no idea how many gods they had, and I was even more surprised to find that so many of these gods speak to my experience, or at least to what I would like to be my experience. For example, Thanatos was a gentle and benevolent god who ruled over non-violent death, but his sisters, the Keres, were fanged, screeching, taloned women who wore bloody garments, and reveled in violence. Their power was such that even Zeus could not restrain them. Acheron, the lord of pain, was also a benevolent spirit. He had been transformed into one of five rivers of the underworld, and was considered an agent of healing rather than punishment. Old age was Geras (the Romans called him Senectus), a malevolent spirit who was portrayed as a shriveled old man. Homer described him as standing: “…someday at the side of every man, deadly, wearying, dreaded even by the gods.” I see my own life in such descriptions, and their timelessness comforts me.

I’ve watched ten or twenty people die, and I’ve helped prepare scores, at least, of others for burial. I was fourteen when I saw my first human death; seven when I watched my first dog die; and eight when I first killed a living creature (oh, how I regret shooting that little mockingbird). For some reason, I remember individual corpses better than I remember individual deaths. There were the newlyweds who tried to clean their gas oven with gasoline. As I stood over their black and swollen bodies, my heart was as heavy as if I had known them. They didn’t deserve to die for trying to clean their oven. Then there was the carpenter who had a heart attack. As I removed his striped overalls and untied the shoes that he himself had laced, my eyes were repeatedly drawn to his face. We would have been such good friends, I thought. He was gone, yet I could almost imagine that he was there beside me. I still imagine that he is beside me. So many dead bodies! People who I kept looking and smelling more or less alive so that their mourners wouldn’t be reminded of the putrefaction of the grave. The more I worked in funeral homes, the more I came to regard the American handling of death as a sickness.

I am horrified to think that I too will rot (I want to be burned, but that’s just an accelerated form of rotting). Yet, the worst thing that I can imagine would be the very thing that my mother wanted, which was to be buried in a concrete vault so that her remains would be prevented from nourishing other lives... When I picture myself as a corpse, I worry that I will have died with my eyes open, and that no one will close them. Being dirt doesn’t frighten me; it’s the getting there that’s the problem. Yet, I will rot, and so there is nothing to do but to embrace death. After all, I will be dead infinitely longer than I will have been alive.


So, I go to the doc, and I say, doc, I want a prescription for Fentanyl, and he says, okay, since your life won't ever contain anything but misery anyway, you’ve got it. Then I say that I don’t want some candy-ass dose, I want enough to know that I’ve taken something, and he says I needn't worry my pretty little head about that.

I pick up my Fentanyl—which I’ve never had—and I stick one those 50 microgram per hour patches (Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine, and is measured in micrograms rather than milligrams) onto my belly, and sit down to read the directions. Shit, I discover, this dosage is the equivalent of 68-112 mgs of oxycodone, an amount that I should think would almost certainly kill me. Reading on down, I find that, yes indeed, if I haven’t been taking that much oxycodone day and night for at least a week, Fentanyl will hit me about as hard as a ten pound horseshoe (this was underlined and in bold letters, only without the part about the horseshoe). Whoa! I hardly ever take oxycodone or any other narcotic anymore simply because I’m unwilling to keep piling ever higher doses of dangerous drugs into my body, yet here I am with enough Fentanyl on my belly to, to, what? –kill a horse. Yeah, that’s it; kill a horse. I consider ripping that patch off right then and there, but I first run what I had read by Peggy (my resident nurse who was doing a Sudoku at the time); she doesn’t seem alarmed.

Okay, I remind myelf, I told the doctor what drugs I take, and Peggy knows what drugs I take, yet neither of them are worried, so, unless they’re trying to kill me so they can run away together, maybe I shouldn’t be worried either. I am though. I’m real worried, but I don’t want to take the patch off because the first commandment of my religion forbids the waste of good dope. Since it takes up to 24 hours to achieve maximum absorption, I figure that, well, I’ll just see how I’m feeling as the night passes, and with that happy thought, I go to bed. After five minutes, I can’t handle the fear anymore, so I get back up and use some pointed scissors to cut the patch in half while it’s still glued to my belly (carefully saving the half I removed). It looks solid—like a little sheet of plastic—so I figure what could be the harm since there’s nothing to leak out?

I go back to bed and congratulate myself on my sagacity, my perspicacity, and even my pederasty, but I don’t go to sleep because I’m way too happy to waste the night sleeping. Life has gone from ho-hum to highest heaven in less than an hour because of that little bity patch. Oh, but do I ever love Fentanyl! Forget sex, fame, money, power, luxury, and even food; all I will ever want and need from this day forward is Fentanyl. Take ten years off my life (or whatever I have left), but don’t take my Fentanyl. Yeah baby! I lie in bed certain that, having found such joy, I’ll never lose it—I’ve been down that road a few times by now.

I woke up around noon (I did sleep some) feeling sort of ground down, and, as Peggy and I had our morning cuddle, I told her about cutting the patch in half, more or less expecting her to praise me for my prudence. Instead, she flipped out, which pissed me off since she didn’t have a word to say the previous night when I told her I was wearing a drug patch strong enough to kill 50 Navy Seals. I then called the pharmacy to prove to my wife that she was wrong (that’s important in a marriage even when the issue isn’t anywhere near as important as a drug overdose). To my horror, the pharmacist—who was also a woman—flipped out too, and said I was lucky to be alive—dumbass that I am—because, although the patch looks solid, it’s not, and this means that I was still at risk of dumping three day’s worth of Fetanyl into my bloodstream all at once. Upon hearing this, I ripped that patch off like it was a rabid rhino, and then I sat down to finish reading the directions. They informed me that, in case of an overdose, I could be at risk of respiratory failure for 24-hours (this isn’t a drug that comes on all at once, so I didn’t trust myself to know if I had overdosed or not), and that I should be under intense observation. So, I observed myself, intensely. As bad as that marijuana trip was two weeks ago, I now looked back upon it with a certain nostalgia because never once during that long night did I worry about being dead before the sun came up again.

The saying goes, “The most personal is the most universal,” but maybe that’s not true if you’re insane.

My atheist group had a picnic in the country today. I had said I was going, but changed my mind a few hours before it started because I’m always ambivalent about events that include more than ten people. Then someone offered me a ride, so I went after all.

My relationship with groups is ever fraught with angst, but this group more than most because I went from being its de facto leader to only attending an occasional meeting, a change that didn’t occur because I was a happy camper. Yet, I attend no other group; I know most of the people in this one; and I do retain some semblance of status and familiarity. I got the feeling today that I could step back into a leadership role, and people would welcome me, and that was good to know, but, then again, maybe they were just being polite. Part of why I’m so tormented about groups is that I have no faith in my perceptions. Other people seem as alien to me as if they were from another planet, which is one reason that my blog is so important. Here, I can share feelings that I share nowhere else, not even with Peggy (although she reads my blog).

After my nightmarish marijuana overdose last weekend, I’ve been having problems handling even one hit of the drug, so what to I do just before the picnic, but eat a half teaspoon of leftover marijuana butter so that I could clean the container. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea; I don’t know. All I know is that as the picnic went on, I became way too high, so in order to mellow out, I drank wine, but that just left me drunk and high. I kept using use the wrong words for what I meant to say, or else screwing-up the pronunciation of the right words. Oddly enough, one of the other men had suffered a stroke, and he was doing the same thing.

Now, I’m home and still way too wired. I feel stupid when I don’t see these things coming, but in my defense, I ate 3½ tsp of marijuana butter last week when things got so bad, so I had no idea that a mere half tsp would hit me this hard. And maybe it didn’t. Maybe I’m just fucking insane. I couldn’t even screw up the courage to open my mouth at the last meeting of this group (on Wednesday), and there I was today unable to close it. At least I didn’t rattle on about myself—I don’t think I did anyway—because I was much more interested in what other people had to say. I drew them out as best I could, and when one woman mentioned that something I had written made her think I didn’t want her in the group anymore, I instantly burst into tears for having pained her so.

Later, I almost cried a second time, although I don’t remember why. I was almost unbearably present emotionally, and unless I’m in a group where such behavior is expected (and I’ve been in many such groups), that’s frightening. It was where I had to be though. Someone would say something, and I would ask them a personal question about their feelings about what they had said—the kind of questions that most people wouldn’t dare to ask. That’s always risky, but if I can do it well, it makes for a more interesting dialogue. My guess is that I do it pretty well, but again, I don’t trust my perceptions about much of anything that has to do with other people... Right now, I wish I could chill-out because I am still feeling way too intense (imagine having the caffeine from twenty cups of coffee injected into your vein while at the same time you’re shooting skyward in an incredibly fast elevator). I can barely type because I’m trembling so.

Okay okay, I admit it. I knew what could happen when I ate that pot, and I did it anyway. Pot can make me feel positively insane, and that’s one reason I like it. It’s also why I’m especially prone to do it in a social situation that—given how insecure I am—makes me feel insane anyway. Why yes, this does make me sound like I enjoy bashing my head against a wall. On one level, it’s stupid, but then so are ultra-marathons and base-jumping. Hundreds of things seem stupid to people who don’t understand them. Of course, with pot, the risk isn’t to my body but to my sanity—at least it feels that way sometimes because, after last weekend especially, it’s as if pot has burned a conduit from my brain straight down to hell. Maybe you’re understanding me, or maybe you’re appalled. Peggy is appalled. She’s 100% for medical marijuana as long as it’s for a medical purpose, but I’m often tempted to use it at other times too—like before going to a social gathering at which everyone else is apt to be straight. It’s as if I looked at what might prove to be the worst thing I could do, and I did it. Can you relate to what I’m saying?

Teachable Moments

Continuing right along with my medical marijuana experimentation, I made some ganja butter by simmering leaves in butter overnight in a crock-pot. I had no idea how strong it would be, so I started with ¼ tsp straight-up—instead of in a recipe—and, when I felt nothing, I took ½ tsp three hours later. When I still felt nothing, I concluded that ganja butter must be as woosie as the tincture I had made. I decided that I was going to get some effect from it or die trying, so I started in again at noon the next day with ¾ tsp, and by midnight was up to 1½ tsp. I still had nothing to report when I went to bed at 2:00. At 2:50, I felt as if I had been catapulted into the air and was floating above the bed. “Uh oh,” I thought, “any trip that starts out this intense is going to be a bear."

I resolved, no matter what, not to awaken Peggy (who has her own room) because she had a migraine when she went to bed, and because she has a hard time dealing with anything that approximates mental illness. If I had been less experienced with marijuana, I would have panicked, but as it was, I mostly felt poisoned. I was so sick in body and spirit that I figured a hard death couldn’t be much worse, and then I became scared that I might have to go through the same thing all over again when I die. My heart was racing, sweat was pouring off me, and breathing and swallowing felt increasingly awkward. As I lay there watching the high wash over me in waves, I thought to distract myself by thinking about things I had to do, but, to my horror, it took me awhile to remember the basic facts of my life, things like who I was, where I lived, and the floor plan of my house. Yet, I could easily remember things that were bothering me. For instance, I recalled that three weeks have passed since I last visited a friend who is dying of cancer, and I brooded about the large dead tree that is threatening to fall upon my house, the one that my neighbor doesn’t want to cut. I also thought about a dinner invitation for the coming night that I felt sure I was going to have to cancel by humiliating myself with the truth about what I had done.

I thought I might feel better if I got out of bed, so I made my way unsteadily to the bathroom, where it occurred to me that I had better hurry back to bed while I still could. I took an Ambien on the way because I hoped it would help me sleep through the worst of the trip. I wondered if I should call someone for support, but I didn’t know a single soul whom I felt—at that moment—that I could awaken with such a problem, this despite the fact that I would feel honored to receive such a call. Besides, I doubted my ability to form words even if I were able to look up a number and dial a phone. I then thought about getting support by writing a blogpost and publishing it immediately, but I realized that I was too far-gone to write coherently. I could just see all of you finding a post that contained ten pages of, “3x4r-0u@vmpIO!UJ_jo7gn….”

I consoled myself with the thought that, as bad as things were, at least I wasn’t throwing up like I would be if I were really drunk. At that moment I realized that I was about to be at least as sick as I had ever been on alcohol. I tried to race off to the bathroom, but I couldn’t make my hands or feet work, so I rolled out of bed and puked on the floor. So much for not waking Peggy.

She was soon kneeling beside me, her frightened voice asking what I had taken and if I had fallen out of bed, but I was too far gone to speak (she figured out for herself what had happened). She brought me a trashcan, so as I lay in puke, I puked into it, so weak and uncoordinated that I couldn’t find my face with a washcloth or blow my nose with a Kleenex. I was drenched with sweat, so Peggy brought a fan, and we sat on the floor together hoping I could eventually get back into bed. With her help, I finally made it, but it was a difficult journey. In bed, I continued to puke as Peggy held the trashcan. When I at last appeared to be settling down, she said that her migraine was so bad that she simply had to go back to bed, but she didn’t reach the door before I was puking again.

Except for feeling weak and having a sore throat, I was better than fine the next day, so I did two things soon after I got out of bed. The first was to call my dying friend and arrange a visit. The second was to talk to my neighbor again about the tree. Both of these conversations went well, and I passed the day in a glow because of them and because I felt so proud of myself for having survived the night. Aside from people who end up in mental institutions, I had literally experienced the worst marijuana trip that I had ever heard of. I had survived it largely by reminding myself that I’m a mature person who has survived other bad trips, and so I would surely survive this one too.

You might find this incomprehensible, but I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently. Along with the pride I take in having held myself together psychologically, there is also—and I’m ashamed to admit this—something about the experience that draws me. I mean, have YOU ever had such a trip? Probably not, and you probably wouldn’t want to either, but given all the horror stories I’ve heard about ganja butter, I can see in retrospect that I invited it.

What I was seeking during those years when I took every hallucinogen that I could lay my hands on was an encounter with ultimate reality—at least inasmuch as it exists within myself as an integral part of the universe—because things look pretty bleak from my perspective. Take our species. We like to think we’re special, but the way I look at it, one—or even all—of us is of no more intrinsic value than a glob of snot, and the same could be said of our entire galaxy. That’s hard to accept, yet the evidence supports no other conclusion.

So, having no book, no god, no guru, or anyone else who I think has a clue more than I do about ultimate reality, there is no help for it but for me to turn within. Do I see much there? No, and if I had found drugs of any great benefit, I wouldn’t have given them up. Yet, they do offer something that I haven’t found elsewhere; they enable me to see myself more deeply than normal and from more angles than normal. On the one hand, marijuana, for example, goes a long way toward annihilating my left-brain intelligence (which is why math, language, spatial relationships, my sense of time and speed, and my planning and organizing ability wanes dramatically), but it also makes my right brain explode. Thoughts and associations come and go at lightning speed, and the power of some emotions is quadrupled while other emotions seem downright alien. I don’t say that there’s much in the way of concrete learning to be gained from drugs, but not all learning is concrete.

I just paused to think, and my eyes went to a paint-by-number piece (see photo) that was in my house when I was born. Maybe you have something from your childhood that has given you pure joy for all these many years. If so, you’ll know how much I love this painting, and you’ll probably agree with me that such objects bring us lessons that we can’t put into words. Likewise, you surely understand that when Peggy was holding that trashcan in the darkness despite the noise, the stench, and the fact that she had a migraine, she was teaching me something, not just about love, but about romance. One night like that tells me more about her and her love for me than all the Valentine’s cards in the world, but such knowledge can’t be put into words.

Peggy and I were walking Bonnie today when we passed another couple who, upon our approach, made their half-grown dog sit. “We’re having a teachable moment,” the woman explained. That about sums up life, I thought. We’ll soon lose all this learning that each of us has gained over a lifetime, and the universe will go on as if we never existed, but while we’re here, what else is there for us but to sit at the feet of the universe as reverently as that dog sat before its Mom and Dad, and to see what it is that we might lay up as knowledge that will carry us to—and through—the moment that we die?

Killer and Candy

Killer and Candy (why, yes, I did give them aliases) are former Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW for short) who walked away from that cruel, isolating, and world-hating religion not too long thence. Now that they’re out, they need a little help becoming properly corrupted, although, in the JW view, they already committed a sin greater than murder and pedophilia combined simply by having the integrity to renounce that which they couldn’t in good conscience accept. Killer got his master’s when he was twenty, and will no doubt go down in JW history as yet another good boy who was lost to Satan by an education. Candy followed Killer into atheism just as Peggy followed me into all kinds of eccentric views and behaviors, yet being disowned by her family doesn’t appear to have tempted her to return to the fold.

The two of them are around thirty, which is half my age, yet their JW upbringing has left them as ignorant of decades of pop culture as I am. Still, as I said, I’m doing what I can, and they’re doing what they can, so we’re all doing what we can together; but you must not hold us to too high a standard since I’m so old that I should be dead, and they grew up thinking that a birthday party for a three year old was the work of Satan. Killer did get drunk once, but barfing while clutching a spinning toilet didn’t appeal to him. At least, he can still add it to his resume, which was kind of the point, I think. As for Candy, she emptied a bottle of wine all by herself in this very house (she purported herself admirably, I must say), so I, for one, feel that things are going as well as can be expected. After all, there is the risk of going too far too fast in which case they might be found glued, screwed, and tattooed, while shooting-up heroin in the driveway of the Kingdom Hall just as everyone is arriving for services.

I got Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan for them today, and I would have also gotten Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic if I hadn’t been in a hurry. As you can see, I’m doing everything I can here to help these poor people become as lowdown and evil as my Lord Satan has made me, and I’m hoping you can help. What I want you to do is to tell me what you love about what might be called pop culture over your lifetime—or a little before. What books are unforgettable; what music is worth playing hundreds of times; and what movies stand out as the very best? Give me your genius here. Give me things that are so good that you can scarcely bear them. This isn’t to be a list of what you think you should think is cool, but of things that you love way down deep. Here are a few of my own.

Roger McGuinn Ballad of Easy Rider
John Denver Sunshine on My Shoulders
Debbie Reynolds Tammy

Inspirational People:
Tom Smothers
Medgar Evers
Malcolm X

Easy Rider
The Sterile Cuckoo

The Tammy series

Edward Abbey: Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. Also, The Brave Cowboy
Loren Eiseley: All The Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life. Also, The Night Country: Reflections of a Bone-Hunting Man
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince

Berkeley Breathed: anything with Bill the Cat
Gilbert Shelton: The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
Gary Larson: The Far Side

Sacha Baron Cohen
John Cleese
Rowan Atkinson

Well, I see that most of my suggestions are older than Killer and Candy themselves, so maybe I’m not the best person to acquaint them with modern culture. Oh, well. I would like to end this post with a witticism, but what is in my heart to say is that I'm trying to believe that we all do the best we can, and that would include the Jehovah's Witnesses who have treated my two friends so abominably.