In 1988, the year I began my recovery from drug addiction, I was thirty four years old. The world was very different back then. I was born in 1954, meaning I grew up in the 1960’s and came of age in the 1970’s.
In my life time I lived through or experienced the remnants of the Jim Crow Laws, it was in 1964 that the Civil Rights Act was passed which made it a crime to discriminate against anyone based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and in 1965 that the voting rights act was passed, both signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
I grew up during the radical 1960’s. It was what many call America’s Social Revolution. That is the decade that men began wearing long hair, women started burning their bras, and Gays rioted in New York’s Stone Wall Inn igniting the Gay Revolution. It is also the decade of the March on Selma led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the formation of the Black Panther and the Chicano Movements.
As I stated earlier, “…the remnants of the Jim Crow Laws,” J. Edgar Hoover, himself a closeted gay man, and a racist, was the Director of the FBI. Under his leadership the FBI embarked on COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram) which aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. Which when translated into layman’s terms means suppressing any civil rights movements. The FBI, under Hoover, defamed and killed many members of the Black Panthers, and Killed White Student Protesters in Kent State University. Despite all the turmoil, the 1960’s was also the decade of sex, love and rock and roll, and of course Woodstock.
Although there has always been a drug problem in America, it was in the 1960’s that the so called drug culture emerged. While the white college kids were smoking pot and dropping acid, Black and Brown people were exposed to heroin. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s heroin was the drug that was devastating America. No one paid much attention to that problem until it seeped out and into white America. Suddenly there were resources poured in to combat the heroin scourge.
Like I said, I came of age in the 1970’s so while in high school, I too was introduced, er exposed, to heroin. I was a student at the infamous Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, a community that, incidentally, was experiencing it’s own demographic and cultural dynamics. It was in the 1970’s that East Harlem became known as Spanish Harlem. The white residents fled the community in what one reporter dubbed “white flight” because the population shifted from a majority white neighborhood into a majority Puerto Rican neighborhood. Yes, the whites left the neighborhood for the suburbs, but they left a legacy before doing so. That legacy was an inundation of heroin. It seemed that an entire generation, my generation, was affected by heroin. Many of us became addicted, others were victimized by the drug addicts. The entire community suffered as more of it’s young people became addicted. By the late 1970’s early 1980’s a new drug scourge was upon us. This time it was a marijuana laced with chemicals that came to be known as Angel Dust. This angel dust was worst then heroin because while heroin addicts stole to support a drug habit, for the most part they were not violent. On the other hand, those that smoked angel dust were violent. In the mid 1980’s the Hollywood beautiful people and New York Jet Set were indulging in smoking cocaine via a process called free base. It was later reveled that it was the CIA that flooded America with cocaine. The ghetto dwellers tried to keep up with this new fad of smoking cocaine, but cocaine was perceived to be a rich man’s drug because it was very expensive. Not only was free basing cocaine expensive, it was also dangerous (Comedian Richard Pryor had caught on fire during a binge on free base). The next drug to emanate from cocaine was the poor man’s answer to free base, it was called Crack.
Crack cocaine swept across America like no other drug ever had before. Crack was about ten percent cocaine and ninety percent chemicals. Crack heads, as those addicted to crack were called, were an extremely violent lot. Cocaine, unlike heroin which is a depressant, is a stimulant. People that get high on cocaine experience a high very quickly (stimulant) and with crack that upward “high” was even faster and higher. What made it so dangerous was A) it was highly addictive B) the high lasted just a few seconds and coming down was even quicker, in fact it was a crash. It was in coming down or crashing that the danger arose. These addicts could not tolerate this fast coming down or crashing so they’d run out of wherever they were smoking it and the first person they’d see was the person that they robbed, often very brutally.
One result of addiction, among the many, was incarceration. Most addicts tend to steal or rob in order to support their addiction. From the 1970’s onward America’s prison’s were filled with black and brown young men whose lives had been wrecked by drugs. Many people reading this will undoubtedly blame the victim. Yes, black and brown people are the victims. As has been proven, it was whites that created the drug problem in the first place. The scientist that invented LSD were white. The FBI that spread it out into the communities were white. Heroin and Cocaine were first smuggled into America by whites. But, the largest consumer of these drugs are black and brown. The low level drug dealers were all black and brown. They were trying to make a dollar in order to survive the ghetto life we have all been sentenced to. Eventually many black and brown people climbed the corporate ladder, if you will, and became distributors, and in some cases the smugglers. Today, 2019, illicit drugs in America is a multi billion dollar industry. But, it does not end there. Now too the pharmaceutical companies have tapped into the drug addiction craze in America so that legal drugs are creating “legal” addicts and the legal drug industry’s net gains have more than quadrupled in the last few decades, hence the opioid crisis. The origin of this opioid crisis can be traced to people being prescribed pain killers and them getting addicted. At first it was old people. Then as usual, those drugs somehow get leaked into the general population and where the demand among young is out of control. Where there is a demand, there has got to be a supplier.
However, the “legal drug” money making mechanism did not begin with this opioid crisis. Big pharma has been profiting from peoples misery ever since the Civil War. Back then morphine was the drug used as a pain killer. Many of those wounded Civil War soldiers became addicted to morphine and in the late 1800’s there was a morphine problem. To combat this “epidemic” the pharmaceutical companies invented heroin. Heroin was first used as a way to wean people off their addiction to morphine. Unfortunately heroin was just as or more addictive, and it was cheaper to make. Somehow heroin was leaked into the community and the heroin problem began. It did not explode into a real crisis until the 1970’s when heroin was abundant and found in just about every community. To drive up the prices and increase their profit margins, there was a heroin shortage. This in the addicts world is called a panic. Why is it called a panic you ask? Well because if there is not enough supply to meet the demand people (addicts) freak out, they panic because they fear not being able to get a dose. For reference see Al Pacino in the 1970’s classic movie “Panic In Needle Park.”
So I have taken you through this elaborate stroll down memory lane to say that the drug problem in America, the one that President Richard M. Nixon declared a war on, was not initiated by black or brown people. The damage was of course done to them. Then when the problem became to big and affected white America there needed to be a scape goat. Since the ghetto’s of America are deplorable places to live, and people need anything to help alleviate the suffering, and because drugs are so readily available, its residents (black and brown people) use drugs to cope. Because black and brown people do not have access to the same resources aka money, they need to steal, rob or sell drugs. But believe you me, the drug problem is not restricted to black and brown communities. It is just that the media depicts black and brown people as savage drug addicts. Those stories sell (sold) newspapers and draw people to watch the news on TV, which is a ratings based system. The more viewers the more advertisers are willing to pay to taut their wares.
Ok again I digressed. I lived through and suffered through those decades of drugs. I was part of the sex, drugs and rock and rock generation, I came of age during the disco 1970’s. I experimented with drugs. I was what is considered a garbage head, meaning I’d use whatever drug was available to get high. As a result of my addiction I spent time in jails and institutions, and experienced death – I was in a coma for five days from a methadone overdose. Once I was addicted, the fun stopped. Using drugs became a job. I had to do what I had to do to get drugs. In 1978 I was released from prison and I have not gone back since. You could say I was scared straight. However, my addiction was still active. I continued suffering with addiction until 1988. In September 1988 I signed myself into a drug rehab program in Manhattan, New York’s Gracie Square Hospital. I stayed there for 35 days. It was in that hospital that I learned about Narcotics Anonymous, and in NA that I learned that I had a disease. When I learned that I had a disease, a great weight was lifted off me. All my addiction years I had been told that I had a moral deficit, that I had no will power, that I was an evil bad person. I had tried to stop by using religion, I had gone through various therapeutic community’s, and even city hospitals. I had gone in and out of jail and no matter how much I wanted to stop, I could not stay stopped. That is until I heard that I had a disease. You see when one is sick one tries to get better. But if one is told by parents, teachers, doctors, priests, psychiatrist and society in general that they have a moral deficit, have no will power, or are an evil bad person, over and over again that message resonates in the mind. One begins to believe it and stopping becomes almost impossible. But, as I said, once I was able to recognize that I had a disease that is incurable but can be arrested one day at a time it was like a light went off in my head. I was finally able to find recovery.
Recovery from addiction is possible. It is not easy, but it can be done. There are many roads toward recovery, the one that worked for me was Narcotics Anonymous. Anyone seeking to stop using should seek help, you can recover. And as I said there are many paths toward recovery that one can take. But, if you ask me for my opinion I’d say NA is that way to go.
I recently learned about a concept called smart recovery. Thier main objection toward NA is that in the 12 step program of NA it teaches that one is powerless over their addiction. Smart recovery does not agree that one is powerless but that they are powerful over their addiction. I am not going to argue those details. I say whatever works for you is all good. The only thing that has worked for me, and believe me, I have tried just about every way there is to stop, has been the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous. I have not had a drink of alcohol, used any mind or mood altering substance or even smoked a cigarette in just about 31 years. I do not say that to pound my chest, there is nothing to pound about. Addiction is a serious thing, I only say it because for me, the only reason I have been able to say clean so long is because of the 12 steps of NA.
When I was first told I had a “drug problem” society’s view was that once an addict always an addict, that there is no hope. The NA literature teaches us different it teaches us that the lie is dead and we do recover.
A word about anonymity. This is just my own opinion. Others may disagree and that’s OK. We do not have to agree about everything, just one thing and that is that we can disagree but remain agreeable. That means you have your opinion and even if I don’t agree I will respect it, I have my own opinion and you may not agree with it but will also respect it. So, in the early 1930’s when Bill W. and Dr. Bob created the concept of recovery for Alcoholics they stated that everyone must remain anonymous. The reason, in my opinion for anonymity, was because back then – remember prohibition had just been lifted – to be an alcoholic or to have an alcohol problem, to be seen as a drunk was a very bad and taboo thing. Bill W. was a professional as was Dr. Bob. So to be labeled an alcoholic would have destroyed their careers. Narcotics Anonymous sprang from and adopted many of the AA teachings and philosophy. Anonymity being the mean one. In the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s to be called an addict was a very bad thing. It would have destroyed a career. But then celebrities began to come forward and talk openly about their own struggles with addiction. As more celebrities talked about their own battles with addiction, society began to become more receptive. Then Hollywood began making movies about addiction. Slowly more movies began to depict characters as flawed human beings and began to show those character’s attending group therapy, then attending 12 step meetings. The one program that tore down the stigma on mental health was The Sopranos. In that series the god father, Tony Soprano suffered from depression and was seeing a psychiatrist. Today people talk about addiction openly and society has come to accept that humans have problems and one of those problems is addiction. That is why at 65 years old, and with a little under 31 years of abstinence I have no qualms about openly talking about my addiction. I can say I am an addict, I can not nor would I say you are an addict. To me, in 2019 anonymity is a farce. Just visit Facebook or any other social media website. People that profess anonymity are posting pictures and openly talking about meetings, conventions, problems and events. So the concept of anonymity – to me – is dead.
Post you comments below. Let me know your thoughts on this article and especially on the concept of anonymity.