On the night I almost died from smoking crack, there was no conscious understanding of what was happening in my mind or body. I was reduced to a state of depravity, like an animal whose only purpose was to never come down from the rush of this high. I had also smoked a lot of pot that day. Once you start smoking cocaine, however, you no longer feel the effects of pot, so it loses its importance quickly. Not the case with cigarettes, though. Cocaine and cigarettes enjoy each other's company.
I had chain-smoked cigarettes for 10 hours that day -- but not just any cigarettes. When I did coke, I smoked weird, strong cigarettes -- Export A's (The Blue Ones), Camel Straights, occasionally Marlboro Reds and of course, Djarum Clove Cigarettes -- anything that packed a punch. If I didn't feel them when they went in, they were too weak.
People who smoke crack together are stoic and precise in their communication. At first, as the initial preparation of coke is being cooked (we used to cook it ourselves into freebase), the participants (never more than three or four) may exchange mischievous smiles or amazingly cynical jokes. But inevitably, the verbal communication becomes less and less until finally the only things uttered are those needed to allow the "partying" to continue. There really are no pleasantries because nothing about this whole thing is too pleasant. There is, of course, the walloping initial high produced by taking a big hit and everyone looks on as if they are watching you have an orgasm because in some sick, shadowy way, you are. Then everyone else wants to have the same experience over and over again, even though it lasts such a short amount of time. It is horribly vacuous and in the end leaves you devoid of life force, crying like a man who realizes he has lost everything because for that night, at least, you have lost everything. Eventually, you will lose everything for good.
Breath and (Near) Death
In those days, I was only aware of my breath when I smoked drugs or exercised. Yes, I actually exercised. I loved sports and fancied myself an athlete. How could someone be caught up in a destructive behavior like smoking crack and still have another life that permitted athletics? Well, I grew up with sports and excelled at them. In this particular phase of my life, though, sports would increasingly take a distant back seat to drugs. And of course, by the time one starts doing drugs like freebase or heroin, sports and all other efforts are done for. The fact is that one really can't be in those two worlds for very long. Kind of like you cannot have light and darkness co-exist in the same room.
That particular night, I had smoked everything I could get my hands on -- tons of cigarettes, marijuana and cocaine. I was lying back on this cushion and started to feel like I COULD NO LONGER GET A FULL BREATH. Strangely, I was embarrassed and did not want anyone to notice that something was wrong. Possibly, I was dying. But it was not yet bad enough that I would have to pull the ripcord. I played it off for a moment, closed my eyes and waited. The feeling worsened to the point where I could no longer get much of a breath at all.
I stood up, walked out of the room and panicked a bit, gasping and thinking, "OK this is it. Game over. Call 911. It all ends tonight. If I survive this and God, I beg of you, that I do, I will go to rehab and get it together." I leaned over with my hands on my knees like a football player who had the wind knocked out of him and tried to breathe. Very slowly my body and its God-given impulse to survive sent out the right chemicals through my blood stream to dilate my bronchial tubes and save my life. The moment of panic passed. Soon that night of horror would end.
Most people probably have a hard time understanding why anyone would put himself through this time and time again. In the face of so much pain, demoralization and near death, why would anyone keep doing it? It seems counter to everything that we understand about human beings and our innate will to live. But addiction is exactly that. If given an opportunity to become full-blown, addiction counters even our natural impulse to survive.
I would not end up calling 911. Nor would I go to the hospital. I would not be arrested and go to jail. I did not end up in the insane asylum. I did, however, wake up one day not too long after the night I almost lost my breath for good and realize that I had no next move. I had taken the horror further than I ever had before and spent three nights awake smoking cocaine. I had momentarily duped a drug dealer into fronting me an ounce and had every good intention of selling it to make a tidy profit. Unfortunately, once we got into the coke there was scant chance any of it would be sold. It took a few guys and me three days to smoke our way through it. Finally, racked with pain from being dehydrated, malnourished, exhausted and hopped up out of my skull, I coerced a friend into giving me several sleeping pills, which finally knocked me out for 30 hours straight. How I survived that, I will never know.
I did not know where I was when I woke up. Looking around my room and house, I saw only squalor. I was beyond terror. I had run out of drugs and alcohol. I had no girlfriend to take care of me. I had no money and no connections left. I owed a drug dealer a lot of money. There was no next move. I was beaten.
I picked up the phone and called up my father, a person I had relied upon for care and affection when I needed it most. I told him how bad things were, how I had no girlfriend or friends to speak of. How this had happened and that had happened. I told him everything I could -- except for the truth. Then he simply stated, "You're on drugs. I know you're on drugs! Aren't you?" I said, "Yes, Dad, I am."
He said bluntly that I was going to have to go to rehab. I bluntly replied that I would not go...
This article is an excerpt of my chapter in the newly published anthology, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, edited by Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey. In the rest of the essay, I discuss how I survived acute addiction, my journey through recovery and in what ways Yoga and Meditation were key ingredients in the fight against addiction.
I invite you to read the rest my chapter, as well as the 11 other phenomenal essays in this book, which discuss contemporary North American yoga and its relationship to issues including recovery, body image and spirituality. You can learn more about 21st Century Yoga by visiting the website and purchase a copy either in print or Kindle edition.