Tag Archives: God

God, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

Standard
Abstract Art, Dubai

Abstract Art, Dubai (Photo credit: Virtual BCM-Bobb & Company Marketing)

I had taken a dose of LSD that he couldn’t handle in the Summer of 1998.  The effects of the LSD went completely haywire.  I was in a dark fantasy world of which  had no control, nor escape. The people I saw contorted into minions…  the very air I breathed seemed to be filled with acidic poison.  The back of my brain felt like it was melting off of my head.  I didn’t know then that LSD physically made my brain hemorrhage.  I only felt completely out of control.  I remembered reading of Mephistopheles in the legend of Faust.  Had I been overcome by some dark angel like him?  Would I ever make it out of this state of mind, or was I doomed to wear a straightjacket in a little white room for the rest of my life?

The profound, dark thoughts seemed to overcome my mind like a swarm of wasps…  

A year before, I was smoking weed every day and getting drunk on weekends.  Two years before I was dabbling with pot and alcohol.  Three years before it was just cigarettes and an occasional shot of alcohol.  All that to say, what started as a mildly mischievous juvenile pursuit, had turned into an obvious problem.

There were reasons why I did the things I did, and reasons why I shouldn’t have done them.

Analogously, there are reasons why we all do the things we do.  Some of them are justified, and some are selfish.  We’re all products of the nature and nurture that we’ve been handed.  In one sense we’re all victims, and yet in another sense we’re all completely responsible for our actions.  Jerry Cantrell wrote words in song to his bandmate, Layne Staley in the song “No Excuses” in 1994;

Everyday
Something hits me all so cold
Find me sitting by myself
No excuses that I know

Every addict finds themselves sitting alone with no excuses left at some point in their addiction… usually numerous times. Layne Staley died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine…  Laboratory results determined the singer died April 5, 2002, according to a spokesperson for the King County medical examiner’s office, the same day fellow grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Staley was found dead two weeks later, surrounded by intravenous drug paraphernalia in his Seattle apartment.  The death certificate reads Staley’s death resulted from “an acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiate (heroin) and cocaine.” The death was classified as “accidental.” (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1453818/staley-died-from-mix-heroin-cocaine.jhtml)

I was and am not a famous musician like Staley, though I’ve had delusions of grandeur wishing I would be, and my story did not end like Staley’s, or so many other forgotten phantoms who never got national publicity for their overdose.  (In 2010, there were 25 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. (www.popsci.com))  My story of addiction ended with redemption.  My story ended with a life completely enraptured with the presence, sacrifice, and teachings of Jesus Christ.  It hasn’t made life easier, or like some Ned Flanders, cornucopian, utopian day-dream.  But it has made it clearer and more beautiful.

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Eccl.  1:14)

But we must ask the question…  are drugs a channel for spirituality?  A lot of people would hear this question and easily dismiss it- of course drugs aren’t “spiritual”!  Other people would go to the other extreme and say “they are the only channel into the spiritual!”  The fact is, drugs are spiritual.  The real quandary is whether or not the spirituality they induce has a positive or negative effect.  Do they uncover an insidious darkness or a utopian dream-world?  Are they gateways into true consciousness and the other unused ninety-percent of our brains, or are they toxic poisons that cause irreparable damage to our sanity and physical health?

I was raised by parents who were basically agnostic, and they encouraged me all of my life to expand my horizons and search for enlightened creativity, individual expression, and freedom.

Much like my Father, whose spiritual search led him down a road of using drugs and playing in the Cleveland rock and roll scene of the 1970’s.  I spent a lot of my youth listening to the BeatlesPink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and played music.  I began to believe that experimenting with drugs would lead me to a higher plane of enlightenment, and give me greater creativity.  I was writing songs at the age of 12, and began using drugs at the age of 14.  I really did approach using them on a spiritual level, and felt that somehow they would give me a greater connection to the mystical.

But in the story that will follow, we will see how that journey ended up hitting some very serious dead-ends, and eventually I was at the end of my rope, and miraculously stumbled into a real, vibrant relationship with God that changed my life completely.

Drunk and Arrested at Age 15

Standard
Hiatt type 2010 handcuffs. Circa 1990s

Hiatt type 2010 handcuffs. Circa 1990s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was late July of 1996, and “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” was #1 on the alternative rock charts.  Not far behind was Stone Temple Pilots’ “Tripping on a Hole in a Paper Heart”, a modern psychedelic rocker, and Beck’s “Where it’s At”- an genius hybrid of minimalistic alt-rock and hip-hop done by the white grandson of a Vaudeville performer.

This had been an interesting summer.  My parents, in the midst of their continual fighting about money, had certainly moved ahead financially.  We bought a nicer house closer to the High School in Hudson, Ohio.  It was actually within walking distance.  One positive result of this was my removal from old surroundings.  Some of the neighbors around me who perpetuated my drug habits were now absent from my every day life.

On top of this, our high school band, “Mulberry Tree”, was facing some strain.  Our drummer, Duane, had disappeared from our existence for the summer.  We found later that he was hanging out with his older friends, and had really gotten the love bug for an older girl.  I suppose I would have done the same thing were I in his shoes.

But in our youth, me and the bass player of Mulberry Tree, Mitchell, took it personally.  We started writing our own music, which had more of a progressive-rock edge to it.  We wrote 6 to 9 minute long opuses, which were deeply influenced by prog bands like Yes, Rush, early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and King Crimson.  We were also certainly influenced by Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne.

Yet the removal of Duane and his older friends from our little rock star utopian dream world severed us from the ability to acquire marijuana.  We began to experiment more often in the cedar lined shelves of our parents’ liquor cabinets.

Mitchell would come over on Summer Evenings, after playing baseball all day, and we’d conjure up some form of liquor or beer.  We’d fill ourselves with it to the point of buzzing or being intoxicated, and then we’d congregate in my basement, which now had a full drum set, guitars, a bass, amplifiers, a keyboard, PA speakers, and a little recording studio with equalizers and mini-speakers.  It was every thing a young rocker would dream of.  We’d record our original music, with me on drums, and rhythm guitars, and Mitchell would play bass and lead guitars.  We’d mess around with over dubs and share doing the vocal tracks.  We created some great material when the alcohol wasn’t disabling us too much.

We ended up connecting with an older girl named Madeira in our circle of friends.  Mitchell had a love interest in her, and I had a bit of one, but knew that it was only right to allow my friend to pursue his interest before mine.  Our first connection with Madeira was at one of her parties.  Her parents would leave town and her 21 year-old sister would buy enough beer to kill an army of kittens.  She’d invite her sphere of influence into her den of high school freedom, and we’d partake of the spirits.

Now, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol for two years, and have never been legally drunk, because the only drinking I did past the age of twenty-one was a beer or glass of wine here or there.  I was floored by Ephesians 5:18 that says; “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”  I want that fulfillment and joy that can come from sobriety and being filled with God’s presence.  But at the age of fourteen going on fifteen, I dug debauchery.  The dictionary defines debauchery as “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures”.  This was my M.O.

The first party we attended at Madeira’s house began with Mitchell and I sharing a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and ended with both of us laying like fools on a bathroom floor, vomiting what seemed to be an endless ocean out of our insides, and professing of our bro-mance friendship love for one another.  People say and do completely silly and regretful things under the influence of alcohol to be sure.

Later, Madeira had invited us to hang out with her and go bowling.  She obtained a bottle of 40 proof (1/2 strength) whiskey and 2 bottles of Boone’s sparkling wine for our voyage.  We made it to the parking lot of Stonehedge Bowling Alley in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Madeira was 16 and drove us there.  Mitchell had a learner’s permit because he was 15, and I had no sort of driver’s license because I had just turned 15.   We certainly had no plans for a designated driver.

We decided to drink the alcohol before going in to bowl.  Mitchell and I drank the whiskey, and Madeira drank the Boone’s.  Mitchell and I managed to finish the entire bottle, which was ½ strength but a large quanitity, especially for 15 year-olds!  Madeira finished both of the bottles of Boone’s.  We stood outside and smoked cigarettes as the deeply inebriating effects began to destroy and flood our minds.  Mitchell and Madeira ended up further away and I was on my own smoking.  I saw them kiss.  Madeira later got so sick that she started throwing up.  We never made it into the bowling alley to bowl…

So we had a serious dilemma.  Madeira was in no state of mind to drive.  Mitchell had a learner’s permit and half a bottle of rot-gut whiskey in him.  I had the same amount as Mitchell and no license.  We collaborated with great wisdom and intelligence to have Mitchell drive us home.  “We’d take a back-road highway- Route 91, and avoid the Route 8 freeway.  That way we’d stay away from potentially getting pulled over.”  So we thought…

Mitchell drove us home as Madeira laid down in the back on my lap.  She was feeling terrible and not in the best place, but still my feelings for her were there…  hidden underneath the surface.  I looked out the window into the beautiful summer night sky.  It was July 29th, 1996.  The stars were out.  What were we doing?  Were we crazy?  I held back my feelings for Madeira.  I hoped that we wouldn’t get in deep trouble.  Things weren’t looking good.

Mitchell drove through Cuyahoga Falls, then Stow, and then we were close to the border of Hudson, Ohio.  All the way he kept turning around to us in a fit of adrenaline.  He spoke loudly with a slur, “I think we’re going to make it!  Everything is gonna be ok!”

When we crossed the border into Hudson, a cop car pulled out of the darkness.  Flashing lights beamed in behind us.  Mitchell began to freak out.  “Oh no! Oh no oh no!!!  What are we gonna do?  What are we gonna do?”  He yelled.  I responded, in my inebriated tone, “It’s all good man, just tell him you’re taking us home and Madeira has the flu man!”

Mitchell pulled over.  The cop shone a flashlight in from behind us, making our adrenaline spike up.  Mixed with the alcohol, the feeling was numbing and terrifying.  The cop came up and addressed Mitchell, “Son, do you realize you were driving without your headlights on?”  Mitchell flipped and started apologizing.  He got out of the car and admitted he didn’t have a real license.

Everything else seemed to flash before our eyes like a nightmare.  Mitchell getting a sobriety test, then getting cuffed and put in the cop car.  The cop pulling me and Madeira out of the car and cuffing both of us.  Two back-up cops showing up and taking all of us separately…  isolated from one another…  They put me in the back of a cop car alone.  I was drunk, only 15 years old for 9 days, and breaking curfew.  An accomplice to under-age drunk driving.  I don’t remember all the details in the haze, but I was definitely weeping like a little child in the back of that cop car.

Later that night at the police station, our parents would come and pick us up.  I was too drunk to remember any of the conversations.  But I do remember when my Dad brought me home, and my Mom was waiting at the door.  It was about 3 am.  She didn’t say a word to me, she just wound up and slapped me hard in the face.  The numbness of the alcohol combated the physical pain.  But the emotional pain and shame were magnified.

I went up and slipped into a drunken slumber.  I would be grounded again for another month.  I would be enrolled into Oriena House for substance abuse counseling.  I would have to serve community service.

“Burden in My Hand” by Soundgarden would enter the soundwaves of the summer of August, 1996.  I would write songs in my month of grounding that were reflecting on my own addiction and desperation.  What would my Sophomore year of High School hold for me?  Would it be a year of reformed salvation?  Would it be a spiral into degradation?  Time would tell, but the words of Soundgarden certainly reflected my current state.

Follow me into the desert
As thirsty as you are
Crack a smile and cut your mouth
And drown in alcohol
Cause down below the truth is lying
Beneath the riverbed
So quench yourself and drink the water
That flows below her head

Close your eyes and bow your head
I need a little sympathy
Cause fear is strong and love’s for everyone
Who isn’t me
So kill your health and kill yourself
And kill everything you love
And if you live you can fall to pieces
And suffer with my ghost

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Teenage Sadness

Standard
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Winter and Spring of 1997 I have hazy memories of the subconscious of which I do not recall, nor understand.  I sit here now in Conway, New Hampshire on my day off, sipping strong coffee and writing of these vague memories.  My wife Sarah just reminded me of how great a memory I have, and how difficult it is for her to remember half the things in her past that I am able to conjure!  However, I’m the type of person that struggles with letting things go and nostalgia, and always have to intentionally seek divine grace in matters of forgiveness.

But the Winter of 1997 is a fog to me.  I’m certain I had gotten to the point during this time where marijuana had entirely engulfed my mind and existence.  I slipped into a deep depression.  I had a longing for the first love I had ever known, my ex-girlfriend and then best friend Harmony.  I dreamed about her in vague daydreams, mystified by scattered thoughts, tears and the abyss of abeyance.  I smoked my mind away and poured my broken heart into songs of longing.  My parents had bought me an Ovation 12-string guitar with an electric pick-up.  This guitar became my vehicle of inner expression.  I would spend nights up until 3am alone…  puffing and inhaling away on pack after pack of Camel Lights, and smoking pot in a pipe of my own that I had gotten through an older teenage dope-head.  You see, dope pipes were sold in regular stores under the veil of being used for tobacco only.  One would even have to sign a waiver stating that this was their intention, though it obviously wasn’t.

This was a great era of music.  The Winter of 1997 brought about a post-grunge era of deep expression fused with electronica.  The popular alternative songs were a soundtrack for my unspoken, lonely misery.  The Smashing Pumpkins had an anthem of woebegone called “Thirty-Three”.  When I listened to it again today through the eyes of my 15-year old self, it actually brought tears to my eyes.  Maybe it lingers as a subconscious memory of the desperate love and despair I felt back then.  The song croons with despondency the words:

“I know I’ll make it, love can last forever,

Graceful swans of never topple to the earth.

And you can make it last, forever you

You can make it last, forever you

And for a moment I lose myself

Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world

I’ve journeyed here and there and back again

But in the same old haunts I still find my friends…”

This song was certainly an anthem that rang in my mind.  Would Harmony and I ever be back together again?  We would talk some nights until the late hours, sharing our heart and soul with each other, but she always seemed to have a love interest in someone else…  I felt that she could truly “make it last forever…”  This love that existed in my heart for her seemed infinite, though looking back I know it was just the piercing strength of my post-adolescent emotion that paralleled the longing within all of us to taste eternal love.  We all try to find this love in every corner of our soul…  For what can be known about God is plain to us, because God has shown it to us, and anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (Rom. 1:19; 1 John 4:8)  I suppose the real question is; “What is real, sacrificial, true love?”  I’m convinced that that question can be fully answered in 1 John 4:7-21, but that is a discussion for another forum.

“In the same old haunts I still found my friends.”  Mitchell played bass and Duane played drums in our band, Mulberry Tree.  Our music seemed to get more and more powerful.  It was as if we were living inside of our songs and performances as we worked harder on our sound.  We were close friends and band-mates.  I often shared my heartbreak and struggles with Duane, because he was an introspective poetry writer and cynic like me.  I shared feelings with Mitchell as well, but tried much harder to appear manly to him, because he was an athlete as well as a rock n’ roller.

Duane was definitely a great poetry writer.  His poems consisted of dark corners in the spiritual realm.  He was raised a Catholic and had become a self-proclaimed atheist.  These shadows of anger came out in his poetry and his abstract drumming.  Him and I would always spend time smoking cigarettes and pouring our thoughts out to each other.  He inspired me to write poetry as well, and it helped me to deal with the emotions I was facing, as well as strengthen my song lyrics.

Mitchell was a great bassist and songwriter to be sure, but he had another aspect of his personality.  He was the type of guy that thrived in the world of sports and athletic vigor.  It was quite amazing, really.  He could spend a weekend with us smoking dope and drinking, and then go right back to lifting weights, eating creatine, and beating the garbage out of other huge dudes his size on the wrestling mat.  As his muscles grew, so did his appeal with the high school ladies.

Harmony began to gain an interest in Mitchell.  I couldn’t have been more devastated at the thought.  But I loved both of my friends so much, and I was put in the middle.  One night Harmony and I were talking and she asked me the fatal question, “So…  Can you ask Mitchell if he likes me or not?  He’s SOOOO hot!!”

I would call Mitchell not long after and ask him.  Of course he liked her back, because she was obviously the most beautiful girl in the world to me.  He made sure to ask me, “Is it ok though Ben?  Is it alright that I ask her out?  I mean, I know you like her and stuff.”  To which I bluffed, “No, no man.  I don’t like her anymore bro.  Go for it buddy!  What more could I ask for than two of my best friends to get together?”  I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.  Was I insane?  How could I bear this all to happen?

And yet it was inevitable that Harmony and Mitchell would become a thing.  My songs would delve into so deep a sorrow that they became anthems of hard rock anger.  The way I really felt was akin to Gwen Stefani of No Doubt in their #1 hit “Don’t Speak”:

You and me

We used to be together

Everyday together always

I really feel

That I’m losing my best friend

I can’t believe

This could be the end

It looks as though you’re letting go

And if it’s real

Well I don’t want to know

As a way of escape I delved into marijuana use in a whole new way, and pretended that I was happy for my friends getting together.  But there had to be a way for me to get back at Harmony somehow…  She had friends!  That’s right!  She had friends that were good looking.  Maybe if I dated one of them I could make her jealous.  She had a curly haired friend named Laila who I thought was attractive.  I began my ploy to see if we could get together.  And of course I would use Harmony as my “middle-woman” to orchestrate the whole fiasco.

Maybe I should have listened to the lyrics in the song “Discotheque” from U2’s “Pop” album to set me straight.  I realize now that they could have spoken truth to me when they claimed a universal reality:

You’re looking for the one

But you know you’re somewhere else instead

You want to be the song

Be the song that you hear in your head

Love…

(You want heaven in your heart)

(Heaven in your heart)

(The sun, the moon, and the stars)

As much as this longing in my heart has been abated upon this earth as I look at my life now, I realize that back then it seemed to be so desperately far from me that I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Let’s Hotbox and Talk of Parallel Universes

Standard
its too late

its too late (Photo credit: smokershighlife)

Clam-Baking, or what is now called “Hotboxing”, was a way to get higher on dope by shutting the Air Conditioning and rolling up all the windows in a car, then smoking as much ganja as possible, letting the car cloud up so that one would be breathing in THC infested soot with every breath.

My friend and former drummer, Duane and I would get together often at 10:30pm on weekends to devour hot fudge sundaes after a clam-baked car ride.  We’d cloud up the car and inevitably stumble out like a couple of circus clowns stumbling out of a Volkswagon Bug, a thick fog of vaporous, toxic smoke traveling out of the car doors behind us.

We’d come up to get a table…  Duane would murmur, “Uhhh…  two…”  to the hostess.  To which she’d reply, “Smoking or Non-Smoking?”  We’d both grumble, “Uhh… smoking… yeah thanks man…”  (a true wanna-be hippie kid uses the word “man” as a noun, adjective, exclamation and verb… the same goes for modern hipsters or whatever you want to call us)  We’d then sit down to an endless cup of cheap, burnt, caffeinated brown water and begin to chain smoke, spouting out one wild psychadelic idea after another, and sooner or later, we’d eat a hot fudge sundae or something else that calmed the craving that pot often produced (which is aptly called “the munchies”).

Duane and I were always interested in the spiritual side of things.  Marijuana certainly fueled our out of the box ethereal pursuits.  Once Duane and I were talking over a hot fudge sundae, stoned out of our minds on dank weed.  I had what I thought was a profound revelation…

“So check this out Duane…  seriously man!  Listen to me dude!  I’ve figured out the answer man.”  I exclaimed.

“Yeah…  what?”  Duane replied somewhat apathetically, yet with a gleam in his eye.  He knew I loved to think and say totally insane things, and this was definitely going to be another one.

“Like did you ever think we were totally on an atom man?”

“What?”

“An atom bro, like an explosive little sphere…  a MOLECULE!”  It must have looked wild to have my eyes open up so wide when they were so beet red.

“Uhh…  ok.”  Duane muttered.

“Yeah, like we’re on the earth…  right?”

“Yup.”  Duane inhaled a huge hit of his Winston cigarette and blew it out.

“And like, when we die…  if we’re like filled with good karma maybe we go to this next race man…  This race of giant DEMIGODS man.  And THOSE KATS are the ones that LOOK DOWN on OUR UNIVERSE as like a LITTLE ATOM!!!”

“Wow man, that would be crazy man!”  Duane’s interest perked up.

“And guess what too bro, guess what???  Like there could be MILLIONS OF ATOMS in that dimension…  earths just like ours man!  PARALLEL UNIVERSES!  In fact man, in fact bro- think about this…  THINK ABOUT THIS!  What if in ALL THOSE UNIVERSES- two dudes like me and you are having this EXACT SAME CONVERSATION RIGHT NOW!  Isn’t that frickin’ crazy man?”

“Yeah man, and like there’s another dimension beyond that and another beyond that!”

“Yeah, and another below us and another below us!  The atoms we’re looking at in a microscope are like LITTLE UNIVERSES with little beings like people that we CAN’T SEE!!!”

This is the kind of stoned chatter that would fill up a Friday or Saturday night from time to time.  Of course, I’m leaving out all the colorful expletives that we used.  It was thoughts like this that began to birth a spirituality of my own invention.  It was not a spirituality that brought me peace, assurance, clarity, focus, graciousness, love, or purpose.  It was a spirituality that furthered my confusion and existential despair, and yet philosophically justified my personal vices and desires.

I began to write concept albums, searching for the real meaning of life on earth, and reaching out for answers in the universe.  One album actually concluded with the words of the final song “Spiral Dimensia”,

“Don’t stop exploration, the answer will be found.

The mysteries of life will be set free.

Searching for the final answer, all intentions so profound

Feeling insignificant, a speck of dust

On a plane of dimensions

That stretch out longer than in infinity

A never ending spectrum

And we move on with no consequence?

Is there a God who looks upon us?

Are we all alone?

Is there someone out there?”

And they were sung with a raspy, off-key, haunting tone.  My spiritual search had truly begun, right in the middle of drugs pounding my brain.  Who was I?  Where was I going?  Would I even make it past age 20?  Age 18?  Was there some vague power out there?  A demigod?  A Cartoonist who wrote the story of our lives, and was ready at any time to crumple up the pages of the story and throw them into the trash?  Was there any real meaning at all to anything I was doing?  My parents’ had once said in the middle of a fight with each other and me, that if it weren’t for me being around, they’d be divorced.  Did I have a purpose?

The Guy With the Bong

Standard
A bong with a circular carburation port in the...

A bong with a circular carburation port in the front of the bowl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep, back in my Junior Year of High School, I was “the guy with the bong”.

My girlfriend Harmony and I were seemingly doing getting along as winter crept into the year of 1997.  She had a greater moral conscience than I, and refused to give in to sex and rampant drug abuse.  We fooled around on the edge of these things, but she always kept her standards higher than mine.  At the time, I was somewhat frustrated, but held her in such high esteem that I chose to respect her wishes.  Looking back now, I realize that she was doing the honorable thing.  Yet in a culture that appeared then as it is now; driven by sexual tension and immediate gratification, it was more than difficult to maintain such a level of perspective without some sacrosanct sentient being empowering us.  I was driven by mere carnal knowledge and the hunger of now…  the present need…  genitive satisfaction.  Therefore, God gave me up in the lust of my heart to impurity, to the dishonoring of my body among anyone who would join with me. (Rom. 1:24)

After all, my views about God were varied.  In my mind, “He” could have been an “It” or “She” or even an alien or unseen cosmic force.  I wasn’t sure that God existed.  In some of my more paranoid moments I may have questioned whether God was there or not.  Mostly, I felt that God was some impersonal type of force that got kicks out of watching people on the earth make a mess of themselves.  I may have pulled this idea from Greek myth, because the Greeks believed that their gods were truly making a mockery of them and out to play tricks on and destroy the people they had authority of.  Mostly God to me at this time was a figment of my imagination.

I could have written the lyrics myself to “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground.  (Go ahead and play the video, you know you’ve got to hear it again fellow 90’s junkies!)  www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KT-r2vHeMM

I smell sex and candy here

Who’s that lounging in my chair

Who’s that casting devious stares

In my direction

Mama this surely is a dream

I was living in a pseudo-dream world.  THC from constant marijuana smoke was consistently floating around in my brain, causing wild philosophical madness, strange dark creativity and depression, as well as apathy, sloth, lapsed superego reactionary prowess, and a deep narcissism and hedonism that stole my entire being and spread around my soul like red food dye in a glass of ice water.

Along came New Year’s Eve, 1997 to 1998.  I worked carry-out with all my friends who were employed at Tai-Wah Chinese Restaurant.  It was the busiest night of Chinese carry-out all year.  We were slinging Sweet & Sour Chicken, Beef & Broccoli, Egg Foo Young, and Fried Rice like wild ping-pong players on speed.  We knew the reward would come, a New Year’s Eve Party at Cynthia Plum’s house complete with endless alcohol and reckless abandonment.

We got out of work after a busy night.  I was such a bum in these days that I didn’t bother to change out of my work clothes.  After all, I was the guy with the bong.  Mitchell, Harmony, Doug Rankin, Chris Plummer, Dinah Sortec, and others all piled into cars and we headed over to Cynthia Plum’s house, ready for wildness.

I was the guy with the purple bong.  I had a quarter ounce of strong weed all saved up and ready to diminish throughout the evening and share with whoever was ready and willing.  I packed up a bong and filled it with cran-grape juice on the car ride over.  A couple of friends took a hit or two, and then began to quit on me.  “C’mon man!”  I yelled in my stoner accent, “It’s New Year’s guys, don’t quit on me!”

Misery loves company folks.  I was so constantly high, that I couldn’t take it when people didn’t want to party themselves sick and crazy just like me.  I finished the bong by myself nonetheless, and the party had begun.

The night was filled with a haze of nicotine and THC smoke, beers being “bonged” down my throat, or in other words swallowed in one gulp, with the help of poking a hole in the bottom, and cracking open the can at the top, while sucking down the cheap barley and hops through the hole.  We only drank Natural Ice or Milwaukee’s Best beer, the cheapest and most similar to urine-flavored beer on the market.  We just wanted to get a buzz and lose our inhibitions.

At one point in the during the night I went out in the snow covered Northeast Ohio night to take a leak in the woods.  I don’t know why I didn’t choose Cynthia Plum’s restroom to do so.  I think I just wanted to go outside and look at the stars.  I did gaze at the stars when I had found a pine tree to take a whiz on.  I gazed up, thinking, “man I am SOOOO wasted!”  I was lost in the universe and eternal supernova sky above.

I walked in and exclaimed, “Hey guys!  Ready for some more weed?  Hahahahahaha!>(**#&$”

I had my bong raised in the air.

Everyone pointed down toward my pelvic area and began to laugh hysterically.  I looked down and realized that I had tinkled all over my pants.  I suppose I hadn’t aimed very well and hit a pine branch that had sent it down my pant-leg.  “Oh man guys, I didn’t pee myself man!  I totally just missed when I wizzed outside!”  There were no explanations that could save me at this point.  My friends just continued to point and laugh.  Luckily Harmony had gone home by this point so she wouldn’t have to witness my humiliation.

I begged Cynthia Plum for a pair of her father’s pants.  She only said, “Sorry Ben, you’re on your own! …”  She looked down at my pants again and exclaimed,   “So gross!”  I spent the rest of the night in a basement room, by myself, smoking Camel cigarettes…  the lyrics of “Sex and Candy” ringing in my head.

Mama this surely is a dream, yeah

Mama this surely is a dream, dig it

Midnight came and went without me.  Eventually I got a ride home.  I don’t really remember.  I only know that the pee had dried and I passed out in someone’s backseat like a crazy vagrant.

A Stoner on Local Cable TV

Standard

The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte]

The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte] (Photo credit: [ piXo ])

One of the worst things about drug addiction is the tolerance factor.  When one uses drugs frequently they need more and more of them to get the effects they once experienced.  This was the case for me as April and May of 1998 rolled around.  I had been using harder drugs like psychedelics and prescription speed.  My marijuana use was through the roof.  To get any effect from using pot I would have to do 4 or 5 times the amount that I normally did to even feel it, and at times I didn’t even enjoy it any longer.  This did a number on my lungs.  There were times at the end of a dope smoking session that I would feel as if I could barely breathe.

It’s amazing the illusion one cultivates in the midst of addiction.  Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.  (Proverbs 10:23)  It’s a horrible thing to have your health deteriorating at the age of 16, but when you’re high you almost don’t care.  As time rolls forward you convince yourself that committing slow suicide is the way to go.  People used to ask me at the age of 16, “So Ben, what do you see yourself doing with your life?”  I would answer, “I don’t know man.  I might not even make it past 20…  But I’m going to party as hard as I can until then.”  Drugs had become my god.  I even believed that my destiny was destruction, and my glory was in their shame, because my mind was set on earthly things.  (Phil. 3:19)  I was even willing to die because of drugs and for drugs, because they seemed to give me my only moments of manufactured happiness amidst the desperation and brokenness of the social order I observed around me.  On the outside I was the court jester, a king of fools, a peace-child wanna-be sixties hippie, and on the inside I was growing more cynical and angry every day.  The alienation that one experiences in the midst of chronic drug use is profound and deeply devitalizing.

Despite the popular music of 1998, early 90’s bands like Alice in Chains began to sing the lyrics of my existence.

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small

Down in a hole, losin’ my soul

Down in a hole, outta control

I’d like to fly but my

Wings have been so denied

In moments alone, stark moments of sobriety which lasted only minutes and hours, I was buried in a hole.  I was lying to everyone I really cared about- my girlfriend Harmony, my parents, and even some of my friends.  In fact, many of my friends were becoming afraid of me.  I began to identify more with people who I once thought were too crazy or too criminal to associate with.  There were strange moments when I longed for my childhood again…  days when I felt untainted and more innocent.

Where was my soul in all of this?  I suppose I had buried it beneath the mounds of drugs, alcohol, and lapsed memories.  My conscience had been hardened in so many ways.  I didn’t care if I turned in homework at all, and I had no problem lying all of the time.  It didn’t matter to me if everything around me crumbled.  “These are all things that society just expects me to do man…”  I would reason to myself.  I may have kept a calm exterior because I was self-medicated all of the time.  But deep inside my world was spinning out of control.  “If there is a God out there he definitely wouldn’t want anything to do with me”, I often thought in my darkest moments.  I would just do another shot, smoke another bowl, pop another pill or drop another tab to try and forget about my deeper thoughts.  To me, God was a distant memory, a figment of my childhood imagination.  “Maybe God doesn’t really exist”, I thought.  “Maybe just the moral, do-gooders of the world made him up to feel like they’re better than everybody”.  These were the honest reflections of my mind as I became more marginalized by the mainstream people of my little microcosm of culture.  “No one will ever really love me”, I thought.  “Nobody really wants to understand me or know me”.  “I’m all alone in this world…  in my addiction and misery”.  I would’ve mustered the strength to pray if I thought someone was listening, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  How was I even sure that anyone was there?  Nobody really cared anyways, I thought to myself.

Even music had become an afterthought for me.  It was ironic, because I had originally thought that drugs would enhance my music.  Quite the opposite was true.  In years before, I had written between thirty and fifty songs a year.  In the year of 1997, I had only written about twenty songs, which were getting increasingly weird.  The recordings I made contained more mistakes than ever, and my vocals were out of key at times.  Even the sound of my voice deteriorated as I assaulted it daily with a variety of smoke, sleepless nights and hard living.  Throughout the winter and spring of 1998, and all the way into summer, I continually worked on the recording of one eight-minute song, and kept scrapping parts because I was too constantly intoxicated to produce anything of musical value.  I certainly hadn’t found the inspiration that I thought would come from LSD…  Lucy was so far away in the sky with diamonds that I couldn’t make out her distorted face in the clouds.  The only happiness I experienced was chemical… fake… and I began to view everyone and everything through that lens.  ”What a bunch of fakes and phonies” I thought about the world and society around me.

In Ohio, at Hudson High School, during the spring of 1998, the teachers had gotten tired of a bad contract and decided to go on strike.  This meant that we would get a lot of press from the local news stations.  This also meant that they would try to set up a system to keep us in school.  They sent teachers in to substitute and pick up where the others had left off.  But because of the strike we knew there was no legal requirement for us to attend.

I remember when the cameras from the local news showed up at our institution.  All the students had decided to march out of the building and skip at 10am.  There was nothing anyone could do about it- not the school board, not the cops.  When 10am arrived, we all marched our way out of the temple of learning in great defiance.  I felt like I was part of the late 1960’s.  The cameras from the news station were there as we walked out.  I was definitely out of my mind when I saw them, and was yelling expletives as they passed by…  I was shocked that I didn’t make it on the local news that night at 11pm.  Looking back I realize how silly I was to think that they’d put a loudmouth kid swearing at the camera on TV.

This began 18 days of freedom from responsibility.  It was like summer vacation.  We never went to school.  Of course I started to go completely out of control.  I was using more than I ever had before.  I honestly don’t even remember one detail about those 18 days.  I just know that I was let loose like a wild, untamed golden retriever in a vacant candy store.  I was bound to leave a trail of devastation behind…  and have no idea exactly what that devastation even looked like.

I do know that we had RockFest for our Junior year of High School after the strike was over.  I was playing bass in a psychedelic cover band with mostly guys that were older than me at the show, and was invited to play one acoustic tune on my own.  The Hudson local channel had come to film the performance and interview the performers.  I only heard about this afterwards, because they had supposedly interviewed me and I had absolutely no recollection of even talking to them.  But there I was, on local TV for all the parents of Hudson students and local authorities to see me.  I never watched what I said, but people told me that I acted completely insane and babbled in incoherent riddles.  I do also know that I played the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd acoustically when I had my solo spot.  I invited an older friend, Willie Martin, to sing with me.  At one point I was addressing the audience;

“Hey man…  is Willie Martin out there?” I said into the microphone before an audience of about 300 kids.  “I need him to come up and sing with me…  Yo Willie, where are you brotha?  Haha…”

I was told later that I kept asking for Willie to come up, for about 3 minutes.  He had been right next to me on the microphone to my left for about 2 of those minutes.  I do remember only the moment when I looked over and saw him.  I exclaimed,  “Oh man, there you are!”  and everyone was laughing at me.  I officially had the reputation of being a complete stoner.

The summer of 1998 was about to unleash me into a wild realm of reckless existence.  My friend Mitchell began to become afraid of doing harder drugs.  He backed away from my pursuit of deeper aberration.  I was beginning to hang out in the haunts of my town with the freaks, drop-outs and super bohemians.  I had friends in their twenties who dealt drugs.  I was stepping into a world of danger that I knew nothing about, but I didn’t care where it led me…  whether it be insanity, prison, or even death.  I know that my parents were afraid for me, but I didn’t care what they thought anymore.  I didn’t want to follow any rules except the voice of id.

My Near Death Experience on Psilocybin Mushrooms

Standard
Dried Psilocybe cubensis magic mushrooms.

Dried Psilocybe cubensis magic mushrooms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One would have thought that one bad trip would have deterred me forever from the dark, uncontrollable mystic realm of the psychedelic trip world.  Because I had survived without slipping into insanity, I would jump and fall down the rabbit hole again.  The next time would be more severe than ever…  the most intense trip I had ever had.

“Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys slammed the billboard charts of August of 1998, as the summer of my Junior Year came to a psychedelic dénouement.  Don’t get me wrong, I was into the Beastie Boys.  But I had an entirely different soundtrack playing behind the hazy, multi-colored, chaotic mind-trip of that summer.

There were songs I listened to then that seemed to make perfect sense to me at the time.  I read the lyrics and listen to the melodies now, and can remember this revelatory feeling I felt then.  However, they seem to be strange, nonsensical riddles to me today.

I loved songs like:

Matilda Mother, a lilting nursery rhyme rocker by Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFgYdFkRA3I

A Day in the Life, a view of the newspaper headlines through the lens of psychedelic eyes by John Lennon and the Beatles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xljFT44Y1Y

I Am the Walrus, a nonsense song that gives a window into the madness of tripping by John Lennon and the Beatles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDfXo_jRFbI&feature=related

and Burning of the Midnight Lamp, a song which I always took to describe the insomnia that came with an intense drug experience by the Jimi Hendrix Experience:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rEBz–bWVY&feature=related

One song was “Mountains of the Moon” off of the Grateful Dead’s palindrome sprinkled 1969 album, “Aoxomoxoa”, which can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MiOKj84cOk.  Some of the lyrics state:

Cold mountain water, the jade merchants daughter,

Mountains of the moon, electra bow and bend to me.

Hi ho the carrion crow fol de rol de riddle

Hi ho the carrion crow bow and bend to me.

Today, I know that there are a great variety of influences in these lyrics, and they are a strewn together array of poetic suggestions.  The line about “Mountains of the Moon” may have reffered to Edgar Allan Poe, and “Electra” may have referred to the Greek goddess.

But as I listened to these words sung by the late Jerry Garcia in August of 1998, especially after the bad trip I had on LSD, they would make me weep.  My drug exploits were described in the words.  I wanted the “Mountains of the moon” to bow and bend to me.  I wanted to control the universe, or at least my universe.  I didn’t want to be controlled by any authority, no higher power, no institution, no parental figure, and no teacher.  I wanted to be my own authority, and create my own reality, my own sphere of belief and understanding.  I only realize now how misdirected my pursuit was.  If I could step into a time machine and speed into the past I would yell into the ears of the young, broken 17 year-old that I was.  I would exclaim, “Stop it man!  You don’t need to go any further!”  But you see, I had no idea the depths of insanity and despair that I was headed towards.  There was, however, a merciful omniscient One beyond the clouds who knew of where my journey would end.  He was about to give me the greatest glimpse of beauty and freedom that I had ever seen, and right at the moment when I least deserved it.

For some reason, I was able to deceive myself into thinking that the chemical nature of LSD was the reason why I had a bad experience.  I was persuaded that more natural substances were safer, because they grew from the earth.  One of these substances was the chemical “psilocybin”, which is found in magic mushrooms.

These mushrooms normally grow on cow dung, but are also grown by dedicated individuals that desire to cultivate a more potent species.

We had hippie friends, a couple named “Adam” and his girlfriend “Zen” who grew these mushrooms in their home and sold them.  I had bought a batch of mushrooms from them earlier in the summer, which had grey caps and faded white stems.  They weren’t a potent batch, and I decided to eat about an eighth of an ounce of them right away.  What ensued was a wild body buzz and a case of the unstoppable giggles that I couldn’t control.  I would stare at myself in the mirror for fifteen minutes at a time, puffing out my cheeks and watching my face inflate like a balloon, and then laughing and falling about myself.

I had convinced myself that mushrooms were the cleanest, safest trip.  I had danced with LSD and the demonic for awhile, probably about twenty trips or more, and the last one had been a view into hell itself.  In my mind, mushrooms were different.  I was convinced that they were a positive drug, more natural, and only gave one colorful, cheery hallucinations.  I had no idea of the deep, Lewis Carroll vortex that I was about to plummet into.

Not long after my bad LSD trip, a week after to be exact, I scored a quarter ounce of mushrooms from Adam and Zen.  They had home grown this batch using hydroponic growing methods, and Adam warned me, “Look man, don’t take a lot of these at once, alright?  They’re a lot stronger than normal!”  They certainly looked different than the other grey mushrooms I had bought from them, they had red caps, and the stems were bright white, and gooey.  The mushrooms were moist to the point of almost being slimy.  I assured Adam, “yeah man, no worries.  I’ll take a low dose.”

The next day, I woke up in the morning with this large bag of dangerous shrooms in my nightstand drawer.  My parents had left early to visit a mall somewhere in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.  I had the day free and the overwhelming urge to trip on these psilocybin fungi.  Something dark, oppressive and heavy possessed me to eat a large amount of these red-capped mushrooms, mostly small ones, which had a more concentrated amount of psilocybin than the larger caps.  By the time I was done eating them I had made it through about sixty-six percent of the quarter ounce bag.  I had shunned the advice of Adam to eat a lower dose.  On top of that, I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet!  The realization of this alarmed me and I quickly ate sixteen saltine crackers, then I licked my fingers, and drank a glass of water.

I would often do impulsive things like this without a plan for my day.  I only knew that I was about to trip completely out of my mind, and that was my only agenda for the day.  I quickly phoned up my friend, Riley, who had acquired an interest in psychedelic experiences like me.  “Hey Riley, how’s it going man?”  I said on the phone.  “Good Benny, what’s up buddy?”  Riley vibrantly answered.  Riley had an intense personality, and could quickly go from being a vibrant, positive person to being angry and throwing things across the room.  “Dude…”  I said, “I just ate a butt-load of these red-capped mushrooms that Adam and Zen sold me, and am about to trip my brains out.  C’mon over and let’s hang out bro!  You can call up Adam and Zen…  and maybe take some too and we could trip together?”  Riley was always up for a chaotic experience, and replied, “Sure Benny, call em’ up and set up a time to meet, I’ll be by to pick ya’ up in 10 minutes man!”

I got a hold of Adam and Zen, and they agreed to meet us in Cuyahoga Falls at the Best Buy Department Store parking lot with a bag of these mystic, red-capped shrooms for Riley to take.  I even offered Riley some of mine, but Riley wanted some for himself, so we set up the deal and were on our way.

As we entered the Freeway ramp onto Route 8 South going towards Akron, Ohio, I began to start tripping.  The funny thing was, it had only taken Riley 7 minutes to pick me up, and maybe another 10 minutes to get to the freeway ramp.  I had eaten the mushrooms about 25 minutes before, and I was already tripping, and getting uncontrollably high.  I don’t remember anything that I said to Riley on the drive, just that he was amused by my crazy comments.

We arrived at the Best Buy in Cuyahoga Falls, and Riley bought an eighth of these cursed mushrooms from Adam and Zen.  We decided to go in and look around at Best Buy for a bit.  This was 1998, and Best Buy stores had signs depicting the music artists, bands and movie stars who topped the charts of popularity.  These apparatuses hung in the air from the ceiling.  I looked at these signs, and the skin from the faces of these people, which looked like demonic aliens from another world, began to melt off of the signs and drip into the aisles below.  I turned my head slowly towards Riley, and said, “I don’t feel so good man.  Do I look ok to you?”  Riley laughed, and it sounded like Dracula’s laugh to me.  He responded, “It’s funny man, but right when you said that, your face turned completely green!”

I don’t remember the car ride to Riley’s place. I do know that we got to his house and he immediately ate some of these red-capped psilocybin mind-destroyers.  He ate about half the amount that I did.  By this point I was in total hysterics.  I couldn’t walk without losing motor control and falling on the ground.  I would go from uncontrollably laughing to manic crying and sorrow.  Riley was becoming afraid of what these mushrooms were about to do to him!

I talked to Riley’s cat, Oscar, for awhile, and thought that he could see inside of my soul.  I looked at Riley’s carpet and saw what appeared to be life-size bacteria swarming around and multiplying.  The magnifying glass on the world below was getting larger than I could take.  I went into the bathroom and saw a swirling carousel of angry little fairies swarming around my head.

Fast forward a mind-time-lapse into an hour later…

We were outside.  The sun was shining with myriad clouds in the sky.  I began to have my “peak” experience on this horrible, intractable mind explosion.  I went to a realm of every color.  I went to the land of purple, where Riley looked like some sort of indigo monster from hell, and creatures of a violet tint scattered all around the grass around me.  I also experienced orange, yellow, red and blue realms.  I looked out into the grass and saw a silhouette shadow of a tormented man’s soul reach up from under the ground into the sky, seemingly longing to touch the edge of heaven’s gate or some form of luminescent light, a relief from torture.  But he was just as quickly sucked back underground to continue in his vexation.  I didn’t have any beliefs at the time, but I somehow knew that this man’s soul, and this affliction, was eternal.

I picked up the phone to call my girlfriend Harmony.  Our relationship had become so estranged.  I had to make things right.  I spoke out loud to Riley, in as intoxicated an accent as I’ve ever had, “Dude, if she doesn’t answer the phone I’m going to die!”

The phone rang once…  I paced facing the southeast, and murmuring statements of hope and promise.  “I love this girl, I know she’ll answer, I know she’ll be there!”  I looked like I belonged in a mental ward.  The phone rang the second time…  I paced towards the northwest, becoming the manic opposite of the contra-positive direction, I yelled out, “I know she won’t answer, I’ll die, I know I will!  I’m doomed!”

I paced back and forth four times as the phone rang in what seemed to be synchronicity.  Harmony’s answering machine picked up.  I yelled out to Riley and the universe, “That’s it.  I’m dead…”

I literally dropped to the ground with my arms folded across my chest like a corpse.  Riley told me about it later.  He said that my face went completely pale and he thought I was dead for good.

When I hit the ground, I lapsed out of time and space.  I saw the sky fold up like a book and there was a black abyss beyond it.  I felt my soul leave my body and was sucked up beyond the clouds.  I had no concept of the duration of this, and everything felt eternal, like a dream.  Visions of the end of my life also flashed before my eyes like a 24-hour movie in seconds of time.  I saw Harmony and my family crying as I was carried out of Riley’s yard in a stretcher towards an ambulance.  The entire scene of my death was played out before my very eyes. I do then recall seeing a man in a robe, holding a staff.  He met me in the air, and he waved his hand and sent me back down.  I actually saw my body lying there, as cold as a cadaver, as I sped back towards it as if I was falling from a skyscraper directly back into it.

I took a deep breath of life giving air and gasped.  I immediately sat up cross legged, and I desperately began to pray to whoever was out there.  This all happened right in front of Riley’s eyes, and he told me about it later.  I looked up into the sky and began to cry.  “Is there a purpose for me?”  I yelled up.  “If there is, give me a sign, please!”  As I said this the wind blew across my face.  I looked into the clouds, and they parted.  A glimmer of sunlight shone on me, and I could’ve sworn that I saw a vague outline of a face behind the clouds.  I felt this wave of comfort come over me, and cried more.  I had long hair pulled behind my ears and my tie-died shirt on, sitting cross-legged in a field and crying.  I couldn’t hear any audible voice, but I could hear this phrase in my heart, that I needed to “play music, and love people…”  The omnipotent force left me and I knew what I had to do.  I had to turn my life around and make everything right.  I had just encountered the God of the Universe.

Years later, I would read passages like Psalm 139:7-12, which would describe this experience:

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

Even at my lowest moment of fear, degradation and ignorance, the Lord of the Universe desired to show Himself to me.  I can’t describe this any other way, except to say that He is completely, totally loving.  It’s amazing that He just wants Himself to be known.  He won’t force Himself on anyone, but His beauty is breathtaking, life-changing and filled with wonder.

After this encounter, I ran into Riley’s house, and found anything in his fridge that could purge this poison out of me.  I chugged a half-finished 2-Liter bottle of root beer.  I took two slices of leftover pizza and scarfed them down.  Riley followed me inside, trying to calm me down.  He was beginning to trip himself as well, and after the experience I had a fear began to overtake him.  “Benny, calm down man!”  He said.

An hour and a half later, Riley would call the ambulance on himself, because he was afraid that he was dying.  He actually told me that for one moment of about 7 seconds, he had flatlined in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

“I need to call my parents and have them pick me up man!”  I yelled out at him.  “Where is your phone?!”  It’s as if an insane bout of conscience had overtaken me, and all of a sudden I wanted to change everything in my life.  Riley reluctantly gave me his phone.  I called my parents and my mom answered.

“Ma!”  I exclaimed.

“Ben!  Where are you?  Are you ok?”  My Mom instinctively answered.

“No I’m not ok Mom.  I need you to pick me up at Riley’s house!  I’m freaking out on drugs Mom, I need you to come and get me!”  I babbled on.

“Ben!  Oh my God!  Where are you?”

“At Riley’s house!  Uhhhh…  Dude, Riley!  Where is your house!”  I yelled.

“What’s the address of the house?”  My Mom emphatically asked.

“Dude, Riley!  What is the address of your house?”  I yelled at Riley.

“I don’t know!”  Riley responded.  The mushrooms had started to invade his mind.

“You don’t know the address to your house man?!”  I yelled back.

“Ummmm…  It’s ummm…  ‘Callender Drive’!”  Riley responded in inebriated confusion.

“Callender Drive Mom!”  I said on the phone.

“What’s the house number?”  My Mom urgently asked.

“Dude, Riley, what’s the house number?”  I asked Riley.

“I don’t know man!”  Riley yelled back, laughing an unstable cackle as he said it.

I don’t remember much after that, though I know that Riley began to freak out and go into the worst trip of his life.  I looked out the window and saw my parents with their grey 1991 Cadillac coming down Callender drive slowly, and looking for me.  I ran out of the house barefoot into the street.  I got in the backseat of the car with my Mom and fell into her arms.  I felt as if I was two years old again.  I began to cry and ask my Dad if everything would be ok.  He assured me as if he was the father I had as a youth again, “Ben, everything’s going to be ok.  You’re just freaking out.  It’s the drugs…”  We had a conversation about the mushrooms I had ingested, and they took me to the hospital.

At the hospital, a female Asian doctor had a conversation with me.  “Are you still hallucinating?”  She asked, as hair seemingly grew out of every orifice of her face.  “Uhhh…  yes…”  I replied back with fear.

We ended up back at the house that night.  After a good hearty meal of beef and vegetable soup and bread, I passed out for hours.  I just couldn’t stop crying and mourning over all the terrible things I had done to myself and to others.  I swore that I would get sober.  No more pot, no more booze, no more psychedelics.  I would turn over a new leaf.  The overwhelming realization that there was a God out there who was looking down on me entered my mind, and would never leave me again.  I had no idea who this God was.  What did He want from me?  Was it just a figment of my imagination?  He seemed so real, and yet I didn’t know if I could reach out to Him again.  I would not forget that feeling I had sitting cross-legged in the grass and talking to Him.  It was a memory that would haunt me in the months to come, as things spiraled further down…

Tripping into Madness at the House of Viking Chaos

Standard
Ludovico technique apparatus.

Ludovico technique apparatus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was Halloween of 1998.  A psychedelic fall array of color had blanketed the landscape of Ohio.  The tree canopies of red, yellow and orange would dance around in my hemorrhaged brain like colorful quilts and tapestries arranged on dirty walls.

In October of 1998, Shirley Manson from the band “Garbage” sang these words on the radio; “I fall down just to give you a thrill, Prop me up with another pill, If I should fail, if I should fold, I nailed my faith to the sticking pole.”

Kent, Ohio was a twenty-five minute drive away from my hometown of Hudson, OhioKent State University was famous for their yearly Halloween bash.  It was my plan to party all day at school, and head to Kent and party all night.

By this point, even though I was a senior in High School, a good amount of my High School friends didn’t want to be around me any more.  My habits were too severe, and my moods were unpredictable.  I would snap on people in a moment.  I would go from being sentimental to being crazily angry.  My only friends were those who participated in my level of madness.  This led me to hang around with a lot of people in their twenties.  People who were attending college and failing out, drug dealers, and also the legion of young people who consumed what they offered, and funded their designer rave clothes wardrobe.

I dressed up like Magic Alex, from the film “A Clockwork Orange” by Stanley Kubrick for Halloween.  I ate 3 hits of blue LSD gel tabs in the morning and put on my outfit- complete with a walking cane and fake, long eyelashes.  I wanted to imitate the criminal madness of Alex, who fueled himself with drugs throughout the whole movie, and then committed heinous acts of violence and infamy.

There’s something about the world of drugs that makes dark and sinister things interesting.  I had officially gone down a road of embracing darkness.  I would take drugs regularly, hallucinate and see awful things, and accept them as if they were normal.  I realize that God Himself wasn’t going to force me to do otherwise, for that would make Him a “Master of Puppets”, and not a loving God who revealed His beauty, love and forgiveness to me, at a moment of desperation in a bad trip I had the summer before.  I should have known then what I know now, that God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

God’s most severe judgment is that He lets people experience the sting of their own consequence.  At this point, I knew that everything I was doing was totally awful, but my self-hatred and anger towards the world was thorough enough to plunge me into a downward spiral.

I don’t remember barely anything at all about the Halloween of 1998.  I do once recall looking at myself in a mirror dressed as Magic Alex, and seeing myself turn into many different vicious creatures, because the drug had so thoroughly taken a hold of my brain.  I also remember being in Kent many hours later, walking through the streets dressed as Alex, still tripping and completely drunk.  I don’t think we even made it to the Halloween party in downtown Kent.  We spent all night racking our brains with substances, and then ate at Denny’s restaurant in the middle of the night with a group of inebriated freaks.  I don’t remember who was there.  I don’t remember anything we did.  I only know that I was so out of my mind, anyone who would have encountered me would have thought I belonged in a mental ward.

I do know that we were partying all night at a house that belonged to a friend of ours, Dirk.  He lived at the Eagle’s Point apartments in Kent.  His house was a constant, consistent den of crazy.  Dirk didn’t do drugs like we did, but he was always drunk.  He would get so drunk at his parties that he would dress up in a Viking outfit, complete with a horned helmet, plastic body armor, a plastic ball and chain mace, and Valhalla wrist guards.  There were a few nights that he went into a rage and brought in large objects, and began to demolish his apartment.  I remember one night where he actually smashed his TV with a large log.  We would all sit around him, dumbfounded and laughing, too afraid to stop him, and too wasted to care.

It was at one of these parties where I did a line of cocaine.  It was one of those things that I always told myself, even at the worst moments, that I would never do.  But my friend Kristian assured me that it was not going to kill me, and it would be one of the most potent highs I had ever experienced.  I only remember snorting it, and then being filled with the feeling that I was equal with God.  I believed the serpent, who said that God knew that when I put it up my nose my eyes would be opened, and I would be like God…” (Gen. 3:5)  I remember walking around afterwards, filled with the sensation that I could destroy and overpower anything.

Forty-five minutes later, I was the most depressed that I had ever been.  I smoked a full eighth of an ounce of marijuana, just in an effort to cope with the physical withdrawal.  My friend James was deeply angry at me.  He told me off that day.  It may have been because of him that I didn’t do it again.  The urge was definitely strong, but I can now say that this was the only time that I have ever snorted cocaine.

But my party was not even close to over.  At this point, I was smoking about $70 worth of marijuana a week.  I was taking between 2 and 6 hits of acid a week, which cost between $10 and $30.  I was snorting prescription speed when I could get a hold of it.  I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, which cost $17.50 a week back then, and I was drinking about two fifteen packs of beer on the weekends, which was $16 a week (we drank really cheap beer).  Over all, I was spending about $123.50 a week on my drug habit.  For a senior in High School with no job, this was a lot of money.

I began to deal pot to support my out of control habits.  Most of the time, I would find naïve, nice kids and rip them off.  I’d ask them for money in advance, buy dope for them, smoke half of it, and tell them I got ripped off and give them half of what they payed for.  I regret to say that during this time, I also turned some kids on to LSD.  One of which dosed himself and had to be put in a mental ward for the night.

The fights I had with my parents were out of control.  I would come home, 2 hours after curfew.  My Mom would confront me, angry at my defiance of their rules.  I would cuss her out.  She would ask me, “Ben, are you high?”  I would bark back at her, “Yeah…  What are you going to do about it?”  At this point I didn’t even bother trying to hide anymore.  I was off my rocker, and I just wanted to live my way.  My Mom actually went into the worst depression she’s ever been in, and had to take Prozac for a short time to alleviate the worry that I would come home in a coffin.

One time, my Dad and I were arguing.  I started physically pushing him until he was up against the wall.  I dared him; “Go ahead Dad.  Hit me!  I know you wanna do it!  C’mon!”  I was fortunate that my Dad controlled himself in that moment.  He never struck me in my life, even in those moments when I would have deserved it.  Not that I believe in them, but I could have used a couple of spankings when I was little…

I was about to go further into psychological drug abuse as the world of the Rave scene lured me in like bait on a fish-hook.  The pumping jungle bass beats, flashing colored lights in the night, the tweakers dancing around like indigo demons, and the mystique of a drug called “Ecstasy” intrigued me.  It wouldn’t be long before my life would become stranger than ever…

The Last Bad Trip on Shrooms

Standard

It was two days after homecoming, where my girlfriend Jamie and I had skipped out to take a light dose of the psilocybin mushrooms we had purchased a half-ounce of.  Jamie was back at her boarding school in Pennsylvania, and I was left with more than three-eighths of an ounce of these stinky brown fungi (shrooms smell like feet and taste like poop, for those that don’t know).

Before long into that evening, I was around a group of wily friends.  Brandon, my black friend who had a sweet afro with an afro-pick in it, and loved George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, and Alex, my friend from Greece who grew hydroponic marijuana in his closet and could have been a professional graffiti tagging artist.  These guys were heavy into the drug scene, just as I was.  It was an inevitable recipe for disaster that I was around them with a large amount of psychedelics.

We were hanging out with a group of various friends, and before long, I took Brandon and Alex aside and told them I had a large bag of mushrooms.  “Hey guys, do you want to take a dose with me tonight?”  I asked them.  I couldn’t resist for long.  They both agreed and came with me into a room away from everyone.  I pulled out the massive amount of boomers from my pocket.

“Holy crap man, that’s a lot of mushrooms Benny!”  Alex exclaimed in a British-Greek accent.

“Yeah dude, let’s just take part of em’.”  Brandon added.

“No man…”  I said, wanting to be shocking and extreme as always… “Let’s do them all…”

I always had a way of persuading people towards insanity.  “The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.” (Prov. 24:9)  Even though Alex and Brandon wanted to do a smaller amount of mushrooms, I forced my opinion on them, and we divvied out three massive doses of these unpredictable spores.  We were each going to eat about an eighth and a half, or three-sixteenths, or six thirty-seconds, or twelve sixty-fourths of an ounce.  Before they or I could change our minds, we had already ingested the mushrooms, and we were on our way into the crazy wilderness of our minds in the summer evening.

We soon smoked dope after ingesting these dastardly cow poop growths, so I don’t remember much of what happened immediately after.  The next memory I had was driving in Alex’s car.  Alex drove a little gray 1990 Ford Fiesta, and he had tagged the ceiling with all sorts of permanent marker graffiti artwork.  I looked up at the ceiling of his car and the lines started to swarm and merge together.  I looked out at the road in the foggy Ohio evening and saw the yellow lines in the middle begin to twist and turn in snake-like, serpentine locomotion.  I exclaimed at Alex; “I think these boomers are kicking in strong man!”  He glared back at me with a maniacal glance; “Oh yeah Bennnny!”  They were starting to take over Brandon’s mind as well as he giggled uncontrollably.

The next thing I knew we were at some party.  The moon was full in the foggy sky, and it felt like we were in a horror movie.  Life patterns squirmed on the grassy ground, filled with phantoms of death and fear.  My mood began to sink into a malaise.  All of a sudden I realized I hadn’t seen Brandon in awhile.  “Where’s Brandon man?”  I muttered in a complete stupor to everyone around me as they stared at me.  Then I looked out into the grassy field and saw the outline of Brandon’s afro.  I ran to him as if I had found a long lost friend after twenty years of separation.  “Hey Brandon, are you ok?”  I yelled in worry.  “I don’t know Ben, I’m just not happy.  I feel like I’m in hell.”  Brandon replied.

As soon as fear, worry, or objects of conscience are introduced into a trip, the whole thing goes sour.  This is why psychedelics are truly evil.  In my mind, they are the expensive chocolate in the Devil’s candy store.  You have to abandon your moral compass to enjoy the experience.  When you do that, it leads to violence, hedonism, sexual permissiveness, manipulation, lying, and more.  But Brandon had just done the thing that would make this trip go sour.  He had introduced the fear of an eternal afterlife apart from God into the mix.  Deep down, I was afraid of the same fate, because God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.  For, ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:18-20)  I may have been ignorant of God’s true loving character, but I was not ignorant of the fact that the life I was leading was totally wrong, and that I was paying consequences for it.

The next memory I have was being at Alex’s grandma’s house.  Alex was completely unhinged and roaming around the house babbling in Greek and English, trying his best not to let the intense high overtake him.  I began to mention serious things about death and God, because I was growing weary.  He stared me in the eye and yelled at me; “Shut the f*** up man!  Don’t talk about that right now!”  This made my fear worse.  Brandon had roamed off again into some unknown corridor of Alex’s grandma’s house.  Alex continued to roam around babbling, trying to fend off the madness that was impending.  I saw a spider on the wall that seemed about half the size of my body, and seemed to stare into my soul as the fear grew.  I panicked and felt as though I was dead, dropping to the floor.  I scrambled and ran for the phone (this was 1999 and we used land-line phones still).  Alex was cursing me, telling me to stop it and calm down.  I dialed my parents’ number, and much like the bad trip on mushrooms in the summer of 1998, I fumbled through telling them that I was freaking out.  I told them where I was and pleaded with them to pick me up.

I don’t remember my parents arriving.  I don’t remember the drive home.  I do remember watching a family movie on the Hallmark channel that night, and it was the scariest movie I had ever seen, because the old man’s face on the TV’s skin was melting off and he looked like Satan.  Everything looked like the devil’s territory that night, as the foggy moon melted away in the sky.  At one point, sitting in my parents’ living room, I looked in the carpet and saw a being with a gargoyle-like head began to emerge from out of the ground.  This being, seemingly male, had serpents flowing in and out of his belly.  I harkened back to thinking of my friend who had done so much acid, that he saw Satan pop out of the ground and rip out his heart.  My entire body received a chill like never before.  I swore in that moment that I would never touch psychedelics again.

I was like a desperate little child that night.  I begged my parents to camp out in the living room with me in sleeping bags, for fear that I would freak out and trip into a permanent nightmare.  I was afraid that the proverb I would later read would come true, that “the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Prov. 24:20)  I was so afraid to die at this point that my fear began to shape my life in a different direction.  It may seem a paradox to many, but it is true that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”  (Psalm 111:10)  At this young age of seventeen I may not yet have truly “feared the Lord”, but I was beginning to fear my mortality in an intense way, and it was magnified by taking psychoactive drugs.  It wasn’t the drugs themselves that were causing the fear.  I was having normal thoughts about life and the drugs intensified them and made them potential catalysts for insanity.

Flushing Dad’s Dope Down the Toilet and Being Found by Jesus

Standard
Toilet

Toilet (Photo credit: http://www.homespothq.com)

So the deepest era of drug horrors was over, and I was about to venture into a new period of my life, one that was moving upward into sanity and clarity.  It was a rocky path, and not one that appeared picture perfect.  But God was doing something that I wasn’t aware of at the time.  Little did I know that He would use music to capture my attention, and the very thing that had once provided the soundtrack to my existential despair and addiction would play a crucial part in my redemption.

In the summer of 1999 I officially graduated high school, making it out by the skin of my teeth.  And then after my last bad trip, I embarked upon a summer full of beer, pot, adderall and cigarettes.  My girlfriend Jamie and I were back together, for she had left her boarding school in Pennsylvania to come home permanently.  I chose not to work at a job all that summer, and we partied our brains out.  Her parents became more accepting of our juvenile love affair, and actually began letting me stay overnight at their house!  Me, an eighteen year-old, with their sixteen year-old daughter.  It’s hard for me to believe.  I have a baby daughter that is one year old, and couldn’t even imagine this.  But I suppose they thought that I was good for Jamie.  I suppose in a way we were good for each other, because we were beginning to get out of the drug scene and support each other.  But looking back it’s weird to realize that we were permitted to live in monogamous promiscuity.

At the end of that summer, Jamie’s wealthy parents agreed to take me with their family on a trip to the British Virgin Islands.  This was literally one of the most amazing vacations I had ever been on.  We snorkeled in beautiful blue, deep ocean landscapes colored with coral and fish I had never seen.  I stayed in a room on a cot with Jaime and her sisters who were sleeping in beds!  Again, looking back it seems so weird and creepy!  I was eighteen, which was a legal drinking age on these islands.  So I pretty much behaved as an alcoholic the entire time- drinking from the morning until the night and getting sloppy and crazy.  I talked to many locals and got turned on to old school Caribbean dub step music.  Some old alcoholic Islander hooked me up with a cassette tape.

Not long after that trip to the Virgin Islands, Jamie convinced me to come and join her at the Lutheran Church her parents attended.  Something in me was actually interested in going.  I was likely coming off of a hangover, but I do remember sitting in the pews, and a deep rush overcame me.  It reminded me of the feeling I had during having a brush with death during my worst bad trip on mushrooms and crying out to God.  The mushrooms hadn’t induced the feeling, but more so my fear of dying had sobered me for one moment and given me a small glimpse of hope.  This feeling of numbness and joy came over me that was greater than any high I had ever had.  I started to uncontrollably weep, right in the middle of this service!  From then on, I wanted to keep going to this Lutheran church, just to experience the liturgy, Gregorian chant-style worship, and overwhelming presence of this mysterious God that was beginning to reveal Himself to me.

I was even baptized at this church, which was contrary to their infant baptism doctrine.  The pastor and congregation really embraced me though, a long-haired, burnt out, beer drinking maniac.  The morning that they baptized me, I had drank about twelve beers the night before.  I was incredibly hung over.  I later realized that most of the congregation at the church was likely in the same state of mind.  Like a newborn baby, they sprinkled me with water, and initiated me into the fold of the Lutherans.

After this, many of my friends chastised me and told me; “Watch out for those people!  They’re just trying to brainwash you and take you away from having freedom to do what you want.”  But I was committed.  I wanted to begin to change my ways.  I told Jamie that I wanted to quit smoking pot and cigarettes.  She agreed to join me in the venture of leaving dope behind, though she wasn’t quite ready to quit smoking cigarettes.

It was September of 1999, and the future was looking brighter than it had for me since I was in sixth grade.  I was enrolled to go to college at Akron University.  I had a new job at Arabica coffee house in Hudson, Ohio.  Jamie and I’s relationship was better than ever.  I had decided to quit pot, and even accomplished quitting cigarettes amidst shots of espresso and frustrated madness.  I had even become a “religious” person.  I was going to church every Sunday.  I definitely drank myself into oblivion on Friday and Saturday night.  But I was starting to feel like a functional American hypocrite.

All of this wouldn’t last long though.  By November of 1999, I was smoking pot daily again, and Jamie was doing it with me.  I dropped out of college because I didn’t feel like doing the work.  I stopped showing up at church on Sundays.  Jamie and I plunged further into sex, dope and beer.  Heck, my Dad would give me pot whenever I wanted it, so I started letting him supply me again for free.

By the winter of 2000, I was back in a gutter.  I even remember when the ball in Times Square dropped on midnight of January 1, 2000.  This was the era of the Y2K craze.  Everyone thought that all the computers in the world were going to shut down when we entered the millennium.  Some thought that we would all burn up in the apocalypse.  As that ball dropped, I was sitting in a basement, stoned and drunk out of my mind, watching MTV with a bunch of other wasted people.  I thought to myself in a moment of fear, “O God, please don’t let the world end right now!  I wouldn’t be ready to die and meet you!  I’m a waste of life!”  The ball dropped, and the relief on the faces of MTV Video Jockeys paralleled my relief, but didn’t quench my inner despair and worthlessness.

One good thing happened for me in the winter of 2000.  I was promoted to being a manager at Arabica coffee house.  Even though I was a college drop out and a total pot-head, they somehow trusted me to manage the store!  I was infamous for taking new employees into the freezer in the basement and “smoking them out” with my glass pipe filled with dope.  I would tell them it was their initiation into working there.  Arabica went out of business by the summer of 2000, and I had certainly played a huge part in its’ demise.

I worked with a person during my time at Arabica who was different than everyone else.  Her name was Liz.  Liz would never have smoked pot with me in the basement freezer!  She was from South Africa, and had a wonderful accent.  She was beautiful and confident.  She was wonderful with people and a diligent, hard worker.  I had tremendous respect for her.  She began to tell me about her personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and how Jesus had changed her life.  I asked her a lot of questions about this.  I often freaked her out, telling her of my wild drug experiences and basically sinful life.  She didn’t ever judge or condemn me, but rather seemed genuinely concerned for me.  All I knew of Jesus was that he was the center of Christian religion.  The Lutheran church I had attended talked about Him, but made Him seem like a great religious teacher, or a really nice hippie who wore white robes, but not necessarily the all powerful Son of God who was ruling the universe and living in the hearts of His people.  Liz talked of Jesus as if He was her personal friend and counselor.  She convinced me to visit her church, which was called Parkside.  It was a humongous mega-plex in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.  I showed up there with a huge hangover.  My long hair was in a ponytail that hung down to the middle of my back.  I came alone in my schwag wagon- the 1988 Buick LeSabre with a duct-taped window, cranking Led Zeppelin as I pulled in to the massive parking lot.

Most of the people at this mega-church viewed me with great suspicion as I walked through the halls, shamelessly smiling at people with a half-drunken smile and trying to be friendly.  I met up with Liz and her husband, Rusty.  They introduced me to their friend, Chip.

Chip immediately befriended me and wanted me to join his band to play bass with him.  Chip had been an ex-extreme skier who used to throw himself off of cliffs for a living.  He actually was likely on the verge of making it to the Olympics.  But his real, hidden life was filled with cocaine, one-night stands, hard liquor, and marijuana.  He got to the point where he was almost put in jail for possession of drugs.  This led him to the verge of suicide.  Then he gave his life over to Jesus and everything changed.

I began playing bass in Chip’s band.  We played original songs he had written about his spiritual journey, and many were overtly about Jesus.  Chip quickly became a friend that I would call often for advice.  At the time, he was about thirty years old.  I looked at him as a mentor.  He took me in as a friend.  There were even times that I would be in the middle of a party, stoned out of my mind, and I’d pick up the phone to tell him that I was high and ashamed.  He would never judge me or talk down to me, but would just assure me that there were better things for me out there than that scene.

During this time in the midst of this redemptive friendship, I became very convinced that the life I was leading basically sucked.  One night, I had taken some of my Dad’s mid-grade weed out of his cigar box stash (with his permission from him of course).  My friends and I had spent the day roaming railroad tracks, eating hot wings, and smoking my Dad’s dope out of a little glass one-hitter all day.

Later on, it was nightfall and a storm was rolling into the sky.  I wasn’t that high.  I had smoked a very small amount of pot, and drank two beers.  But as the storm rolled in, I began to have what many would psychologically term an LSD flashback.  But I’m aware now that it was a demonic attack that came on as my conscience reeled within me about the desire to quit drugs.  The dark, grey clouds in the sky looked like skeletons slipping in and out of existence, and gnawing at each other with a faint scream in the distance.  All of a sudden, I was cut to the heart.  I had the thought in my head to go and confess to my Mom that I had a large bag of Dad’s weed in my pocket.  The thought was so intense, I told my buddies as we sat on the front porch abruptly; “Hey guys, I gotta split man.  Feel free to hang out more out here, but I’m done for the night.”  Without any hesitation, I stormed inside to confront what was eating at me.

“Mom.”  I announced abruptly.  “Dad has been giving me weed.”  I took out the bag of green from my pocket.  “This is his pot.  I don’t want to get high anymore.  I don’t want him to get high anymore.”

My Mom, with a shockingly calm response, as if she wasn’t surprised, but still big-eyed to some extent, said; “Well flush it down the toilet then!”

I flushed it down the toilet.

My Dad came downstairs and acted like this was the end of a long, drawn out ploy of reverse psychology, a typical stoner move.

“Hey Ben, you did it!  You finally did what I had been hoping all along!  I didn’t know what else to do to get you to quit drugs, so I started smoking pot again and put that pot in my closet on purpose, hoping that the idea of smoking pot with me would finally make you wanna quit!”

“So Dad, you’re going to quit too?”  I responded aghast, believing every word he said.

“Yeah man, I couldn’t wait until this happened!  I knew it would!  I’m so proud of you buddy!”

Of course, my Dad was lying…  later I would bust him 3 more times with a bag of dope, a glass one-hitter (that he had confiscated on the day I flushed his pot down the latrine), and a roach (or mostly smoked joint).  But he finally quit when Jesus grabbed ahold of him in 2005, as this post describes:  http://benjaminbradfordwhite.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/how-my-dad-became-a-jesus-freak/

But in the year 2000, everything in my life was rapidly changing.  I had stopped smoking pot and popping pills.  I drastically cut back on my beer intake.  I started exercising and eating healthy.  I began to be afraid that having pre-marital sex with my girlfriend Jamie was clouding our ability to see if we were really friends.  I asked if we could stop having sex for awhile and see if our friendship was real.  During this “break” time, friends of mine told me that she was cheating on me.  I began to believe it was true, even though Jamie would deny it over and over again.  We broke up.  I was in utter and complete depression over it.  Ten days after our break-up, I showed up at her house to beg her to leave the drug scene.  I found her in bed with another guy, and after having flashes in my mind of committing the criminal act of violent assault on this guy, I stormed out of her house, slamming the door hard enough to practically break the stained glass within it.

It was then the spring of the year 2000.  In all of this sadness, sitting at home alone, I pulled out an album that someone had given me as a gift when I was baptized as a Lutheran.  It was an album called “the Jesus Record” by Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band.  I had avoided listening to it for months, thinking it was just a bunch of ridiculous corny Christian music laden with electric 80’s piano and cheesy cliché lyrics.  I put on the first track, which was called “My Deliverer”, and was immediately drawn in to the beautiful natural piano and orchestra laden, haunting melody.  The lyrics wooed me in with heartful emotion and truth as they told a story.  It didn’t sound like a pretty Sunday school story.  It was a story of suffering and oppression, with deliverance in the midst of it.  The lyrics sang these words;

Joseph took his wife and her child and they went to Africa

To escape the rage of a deadly king…

There along the banks of the Nile,

Jesus listened to the song
That the captive children used to sing
They were singing…

My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by

Through a dry and thirsty land, water from the Kenyon heights
Pours itself out of Lake Sangra’s broken heart
There in the Sahara winds Jesus heard the whole world cry
For the healing that would flow from His own scars
The world was singing,

My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by

He will never break His promise – He has written it upon the sky

I will never doubt His promise though I doubt my heart, I doubt my eyes.

He will never break His promise, though the stars should break faith with the sky…

I was crying like a child throughout the entire song.  I would later find out that the song was not even sung by Rich Mullins, but by his friend and band-mate, Rick Elias.  Rich had died in a car accident at the age of forty in 1997.  Before his accident, he had compiled acoustic recordings of all the songs for “The Jesus Record” in a little church by himself.  His band-mates had made the album with the help of many people in the Christian music scene, as a tribute to Rich and his life.  Rich had been put on a pedestal as a Christian music star, and wouldn’t sell himself out no matter what temptations were thrown at him.  He ended up living a life of celibacy, having the leaders at his church receive all of his money, which likely could have made him wealthy, and at Rich’s request, gave him a yearly salary of about $20,000 a year, while funneling the rest into missions work, orphanages, and relief for the poor.  In the last days of his life he was living in a trailer on a Navajo Indian reservation, and pouring his life into the Navajo community, while still touring with his ragamuffin band and radicalizing the church with his heartfelt songs that described a true life of devotion to Jesus.  A movie about him will be released soon, watch the trailer here: http://ragamuffinthemovie.com/.

I wanted what Rich and his bandmates had.  I wanted what Chip and Liz had.  I wanted to know this Jesus that Rich Mullins wrote about, who “heard the whole world cry”, and “healed people through His scars”.  Chip had once dared me to pray a prayer when I was all alone and wondering about my existence.  He told me to simply look up to God in heaven and ask Him if Jesus was really His Son…

One night, not many days after I had cried myriad tears over the sweet music of Rich Mullins, I uttered this prayer.  I was sitting all alone in my room past midnight, and having what I then understood to be an LSD flashback.  I was looking at the ground, and seeing demonic figures gnawing at each other and convulsing in the carpet below.  I cried out in desperation, “God, is Jesus your Son?  Then show me!  Help me to see who He is!”  I saw white sparkles come down from the ceiling and strike the demons in the carpet, and they were sucked back down into the earth.  I was filled with that peace I felt during my worst mushroom trip ever, after having a near death experience, and then crying out to God or whoever was out there.  I was filled with that peace I had felt in the Lutheran church when I attended there for the first time.  The peace was beginning to become a part of my life.  Little did I know then of the amazing changes that would happen to me as time moved forward.