Being Honest With Ourselves About Drug Use

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PHOTO: William S. Burroughs

When I was in high school, I really loved William Burroughs. I used to want to move to Morocco by way of a time machine so it could be the 1950s and also, I could be a gay man because otherwise, Burroughs probably wouldn’t have cared that much about me, sexually. I loved the romanticized view of what is a very sad and broken lifestyle, the strung-out artist dying and suffering for what he produces. My fascination with Burroughs was also a slow fascination with heroin.

Now before I say anything else it must be said that I have never done heroin, I will never do heroin. I consider myself unbelievably lucky that I grew up in a home where drug use was discussed on a more open level and had enough people in my life that would actually answer my questions, so my only impression of heroin wasn’t just from the Beat Generation and some old square telling me horror stories of something they had never even experienced.

Knowing myself as well as I do, there is no way I would have taken their word for it otherwise. I mean, look at Burroughs. He did heroin and he was brilliant. He lived in Morocco and wrote nightmare worlds for a living. Who would I rather be like, the person who does it or the person who doesn’t?

Of course what we know is there are a lot of people addicted to drugs and not everyone is a genius, not everyone is making earth shattering music or painting or writing or whatever else the few successful ones we know of are doing. Most people do not succeed while dealing with a drug addiction and even the ones that do well on some level falter in a lot of other areas.

I’m not anti-drug, in any way. I think there are some drugs that really are here to play with our heads a little and I can’t defend any drug use without defending all of it. We need to be honest about our human attraction to drugs. There is lore around drugs, there are stories of awful things and very wonderful, almost sublime things. Everyone knows albums made with nothing in the collective consciousness but opiates and nicotine or performers who took more uppers than any human could medically handle and still put on the show of a lifetime. They make us powerful for a minute and we forget to mention how much we love that.

When we discuss drugs among our families and our friends, we’re quick to remember the subtleties that made us interested in drugs, stories and histories we collected before we knew the true gravity of many people’s choices. Often times when we are trying to be didactic about drugs and speak to someone who has a curiosity about them, we breeze over our own love affairs.

Kurt Cobain: Another great tortured artist caught up in heroin addiction.

Kurt Cobain: Another great tortured artist caught up in heroin addiction.

People are quick to say of almost any drug experience, especially with harder drugs or when referring to stories that might not have ended so neatly, the drug was just there so they did it. But we all know there have been times when we sought certain drugs out and for good or bad, we were infatuated by them.

This is not a blanket statement by any means. There are many types of drug users in this world and many different approaches to every situation. Not everyone finds fascination in their recreational drug use; they just find recreation and that is all they need it for.

Their need is not to emulate past mistakes of others or live out some unrealistic fantasy, but then there are those of us who keep falling in love with the work of people, mortals just like us, that were able to achieve and create on a different plane and we wonder where it came from, themselves or some mixture?

It’s impossible to argue that drug use and creativity aren’t linked, but remember a square is always a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t always a square. Drug use might make a creative person more creative, keyword there is might, but it won’t create something out of nothing. No matter how much we want to think there could be an easy route to creativity, there isn’t and we have to find a way to work toward it like anything else.

It has been mentioned by Ladybud writer Anna Diaz that celebrities saying they smoke weed won’t make the kids who like them smoke weed, but we as humans do emulate people who inspire us, so rather than tell people in the public eye to be quiet, we should be engaging a much wider conversation with everyone around us. We can’t help but wonder about people who succeed at their craft and try to put together combinations that have worked. Many times, drugs are in that combination and a lot of other pieces of the combination get dropped.

“Drug use might make a creative person more creative, but it won’t create out of nothing”

My fascination with heroin continues to this day. Trainspotting and Requiem For a Dream are two movies I am always in the mood to watch, I have no shame for my adoration of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and I love Baltimore because of the first season of The Wire… and John Waters but he has less to do with heroin, I think.

What these all have in common though is they are fantasy and I’m able to know the difference because people were willing to talk to me about the difference, they were willing to talk to me about having a need and a desire to experiment. Without realizing it, they described it to me the same way people describe sexuality, as base and instinctive as that. We are curious by nature, we are influenced by those that evoke emotion in us as the creative types have a habit of doing. Those of us who have always felt drawn to drug culture shouldn’t act as if we happened along here by accident. The more honest we are, the clearer people will see their boundaries and understand where folklore leaves off and reality kicks in.