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Drugs an End User
Let’s get it straight – we ALL take strong drugs. We are all forever in the midst of CHANGE.
I am one of those people who doesn’t habitually drink tea or coffee. If I have a mild cup of tea I literally cannot sleep that night because it is such a massive stimulant. During the sleepless hours my mind is fantastically efficient and works tirelessly at examining issues confronting me. The drug caffeine is strong, it is mind altering. Living in war torn Britain as a child I didn’t get to drink coffee in those years. The first time I drank it, when I was about fifteen, I almost fell over with the impact.
Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, painkillers, tranquilizers, thousands of prescription drugs, cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, Ecstasy, cocaine, heroin – we regularly take several of these. And don’t argue the point that some drugs are ‘worse’ than others, as if there is a moral superiority issue somewhere here. There isn’t. There are too many crippled lives from the use of alcohol – too many deaths from nicotine – too many hyper-stressed people burning out their reserves from the use of caffeine – to argue in that direction. The interesting question is – Why do we take drugs?
To sum it all up we take them to make some sort of change in ourselves. It may be a change in health, a means of rousing energy, or very often it is an attempt to change a mood or an anxiety. In older societies drugs such as coffee or cocaine were taken occasionally. A hunter carried a few coffee beans to use when there was extra need of energy to acquire food. Hallucinogens were taken as part of a social religious experience. Today, we seem to take them on demand, rather like the rat with its brain wired to give it pleasure when it presses a button – so it continually presses the button.
Take nicotine for instance – in only seconds one puff of a cigarette takes nicotine to the brain. The drug stimulates the release of brain chemicals, such as acetylcholine. This helps trigger alertness in mind and body. Later the brain begins to release chemicals called beta-endorphins which calm and relax. Powerful changes. But do we need to KEEP pressing the button? Wouldn’t it be better to use them like power tools, just when you need them? I have an electric saw, but I don’t go around constantly sawing things up.
In his book My Six Convicts (Hamish Hamilton, 1951) Donald Powell Wilson describes the results of drug-use research in Leavenworth Penitentiary. He sums up by saying there is no such thing as drug addiction, only addictive personalities. So perhaps we face the question of what shall we do with the power saw if we are not compulsively sawing things up?
With stimulants like caffeine the adjustment is easy to understand. Instead of pushing ourselves with the drug, we need to acknowledge our tiredness and rest. When a friend stopped habitually drinking tea she felt tired for a couple of weeks. She was compensating for living on her energy reserves, and rested to rebuild them. Her natural high energy then returned. If she needed an emergency boost, tea or coffee was at hand as a real power tool.
It was pointed out to me by one of my sons that there is a more subversive side to tea, coffee, nicotine and alcohol. He sees them as a means of maintaining the status quo. By manipulating our energy and feelings with these socially accepted drugs, we can fit into situations that would otherwise cause powerful negative responses. In brief we wouldn’t ‘walk that way’ without the drugs.
William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, and ex-addict, says that lots of “people take street drugs all their life to feel normal.” Some of the causes for addictive use of such drugs as heroine are – being born poor, and having abusive, addictive or dependent parents. Jonathan Kozol calls this the “sledgehammer of dispossession.” One feels isolated and alienated. All ones responses appear to produce negations instead of social rewards. This leads to a constant sense of failure.
Burroughs goes on to say being in “the middle class carries the privilege of access to socially sanctioned drugs that are safer and more specific in their effects than street drugs.” The middle class are therefore heavy drug users, but do it legally because they can afford medical and psychological counseling. They use drugs for the same reason as the dispossessed and alienated – to deal with physiological or psychological difficulties.
Looked at in this way the two are morally indistinguishable in terms of the reasons the drugs are taken and the results they produce. What then is an illicit, and what a licit drug? And “how might a substance like Prozac enter into the competitive world of business?”
Looking at these questions I see myself as an End User. Whether I am dealing with social influence, alienation, level of wealth or an addictive personality structure, I am at the sharp end of it all. In my need to manipulate my own vulnerability, anxiety and downright malfunction toward surviving, I have to find out just what tools I have at hand. Also I have to decide what I am going to use the tools for – and this is what I see as the vital component. Shall I use the tools to anesthetize myself so I can cope with things as they are without heartbreak or massive anger? Shall I use them to disguise myself in the crowd, like alcohol does for many people in social situations? Shall I take drugs like vitamin pills, to make me have a sense of extra power despite my inadequacy to cope naturally? Shall I take drugs to aid an inquiring mind and a courageous heart? Shall I take drugs because I am so bloody desperate for change that I want some sort of bomb to blow up the fewking past and all it has left me with?
Drugs have changed us and changed what we have done to the world and to each other. Is that the scary bit about drugs like LSD and psilocybin? In the 60’s when these drugs were being legally used clinically to help people deal with various forms of neurosis, I read as much as I could about them, and became involved with R. D. Laing in a minor way. Through this contact I was able to experience LSD in a therapeutic setting. I realised from what I read and from my own experience, there were at least three distinct ways one could direct the influence of the drug. These are 1- Tripping. By this I mean responding to the release of mental and emotional phenomena without any real understanding of what is happening, and without arriving at any insights into ones own life and past. Despite Huxley’s good reputation in regard to his book Doors of Perception, nowhere in his experiences does he arrive at insights into his own childhood or history. He was tripping. 2- Problem Solving. Stafford and Golightly explored something quite different.
They created a setting with experts in different fields, such as engineering, architecture, design, who each had a real problem in their work they had failed to resolve. By talking this over, defining what was known, and exactly what was sought, in each field, and then exposing each person to the drug, they demonstrated that very marked problem solving could occur. (See their book LSD – The Problem Solving Drug). 3- Personal Healing. The possibility of LSD as an agent for personal insight leading to healing change was explored worldwide. Constance Newland, describing her release from frigidity in Myself And I, depicts a completely different experience to either Huxley’s or the cases mentioned by Golightly and Stafford. To find change she had to meet the dark places in herself.
Such drugs do not, as is commonly believed, create alien fantasies and fears. They merely pull back the curtains we may have hung around us to shut out the obvious about ourselves. They throw light on the shadowy parts of ourselves we may prefer to keep in darkness. They enable our mind to put together the jigsaw pieces of our experience and see the picture made. They release from the dungeon we may have imprisoned it in, the tiny child we once were who was perhaps tragically and agonisingly deformed in its emotional growth – and we meet such a child through experiencing its heartfelt fear, the pain it couldn’t bear alone, the sense of abandonment it fell beneath.
A friend who was left in an orphanage by his parent as a small child, described one of his own sessions in these words -
Despite being 48, I had never before really admitted to myself that I was alone, that I had been abandoned in the orphanage. I had always lived in the hope that someone actually wanted me. With the realisation that I was an orphan, another great wave of emotion tore through me.
When the emotions had subsided I then turned toward the dogs – a dream he had about dogs tearing a man apart – as they came at me. I began to feel the sickness that I have experienced for years when feeling alone. But I just shrugged and let the feeling wash over me. I could see I have always ended up in hell by that route and I realised that the hell I feel in having been abandoned will never be anything else. I could feel the attack of the dogs as the anxieties that have torn me apart for years, anxieties about relationship and whether I am loved. I could see from these feelings that the dogs of my anxieties have consumed two thirds of my energy, two thirds of my life, constantly tearing me apart. I also saw that as a kid I didn’t have enough information to redirect the energy elsewhere.
Such insights, and meeting such powerful emotions and understanding their source can produce very great personal change. Insight changes the way we see relationships, the way we relate to authority, the direction of our life. These changes flow out into society. Is that perhaps a major reason why such drugs have been made illegal – not only as street drugs, but also in their use as therapeutic agents? *
With power tools you can build something with the materials you have, or you can tear up the joint. As an end user, it’s your choice. And there might be things in the dark that are worth having, worth meeting.
* The American Federal Drug Administration are currently testing a psychoactive drug called Ibogaine. It is claimed to wipe out drug addiction in some people by revealing the childhood foundations of their addiction.