The following monologue was performed on The Naked Man Podcast on January 6th, 2022.
A couple days ago, my partner and I were listening to KCRW’s Life Examined, an incredible show that is linked in this episode description.
This particular episode featured Dr. Carl Hart, the author of “Drug Use for Grown Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear,” a book I haven’t even read yet that has already shifted gears in my head.
For an infinite number of reasons, I’m not the person to give everyone a history of the war on drugs, but I’m going to attempt to paraphrase Dr. Hart in an effort to contextualize.
Dr. Hart traces the War on Drugs NOT to Richard Nixon in 1971 but all the way back to 1909’s Harrison Act, proposed legislation to regulate and tax cocaine and opiates. It didn’t pass in 1909… but it did in 1914.
This made these drugs available only to the middle class-white population. They weren’t available to the lower class and minorities. Couple that with insane propaganda — like that cocaine made black men more murderous and better marksmen — and the war on drugs only increased in size, scope, judgment and hypocrisy from there.
Put simply, the war on drugs is a racist agenda featuring two-faced politics and a complete lack of honesty. While stories are made up that black people on cocaine are impervious to .35 caliber bullets, middle and upper class white people continued to use, experiment and love drugs with much, much less judgment (and punishment) attached to it.
Marijuana is only now becoming legal and accepted because state governments have figured out how to make it profitable.
Because of all of this, Dr. Hart called for our honesty; he said and I quote, “this dishonesty is killing people.” Hart called for us to come out of the closet when it comes to our drug use. The only way to remove the stigma against drugs, to neuter this particular political battleground and arena of fear and make drug use safer for ALL people is to be open.
I wanted to answer Dr. Hart’s call to kick off 2022.
I am a drug user.
The first drink of alcohol I ever had was in Mexico. I was 15.
My family and I were on a cruise and when we arrived in Puerto Vallarta, I asked if I could go out on my own for the day. My parents, surprisingly, agreed to my request. I don’t quite remember what my dreamy plans were, but I likely fantasized about falling in love or having sex with a stranger.
But what did I actually do with my freedom in Mexico as a 15-year-old boy?
I found an Americanized sports bar showing major league baseball games and had two margaritas that I knew to be terrible even back then.
I could’ve gone snorkeling, but nooo… this was something I had to do. Apparently.
I wandered around a little more and then returned to the ship, simultaneously proud and embarrassed of myself.
The next time I drank alcohol was at my senior prom.
The first time I got drunk was during that weird and magical summer in-between high school and college. I puked the next day at work at the AMC Theaters when I had to clean the popcorn station. I’ve puked a fair number of times thanks to alcohol since and I only mention that to highlight that alcohol is a drug that’s far more debilitating than the ones we’re incarcerating minorities for using.
Speaking of, I had never smoked weed until college. For some reason — okay, probably due to the outdated and exaggerated cultural and societal stigmas I referenced earlier — I was against weed when I was younger.
I lied to myself that I had some sort of moral high ground but I was against it because I wasn’t brave enough to try it. Mostly because nobody had walked me through it and nobody had wanted to smoke with me in a safe and private setting. Like anything — sports and games especially — I didn’t like to try something new in front of a room of watchful eyes. Especially if it was something as DANGEROUS as weed, an idea that makes me laugh now.
But I was nervous. I was scared. I didn’t know how to smoke. I was fortunate to never be attracted to the idea of cigarettes. I still despise the act of smoking and don’t really know how to use a lighter. In short — shame was driving the train.
And besides — in college I was too busy discovering alcohol. A substance I didn’t realize I would go on to rely on to treat anxiety.
As I’ve related in past episodes, I suffered blackouts and made many regretful decisions in college and afterwards, including a DUI.
But that didn’t stop me from trying other drugs afterwards.
I’ve only tried shrooms once in my life. I was 21, back from college. I took them with a friend at his parent’s house. They were out of town. Classic scenario.
As the shrooms came on, I felt incredible and an amazing interconnectivity with the world. My mind had never felt so big and open and powerful before.
But it was also overwhelming and I wasn’t in nature. I was an idiot on a couch watching Pineapple Express. Even on shrooms, I wasn’t participating in the world.
Then I got sick, puked in front of several people, many of whom were NOT high, and the guilt, shame and embarrassment literally propelled me down into a dark corridor.
I remember the walk down the hall to the bathroom as feeling like I was lurching to my death, as if I was walking into The Well in The Ring, and that a similar fate was coming for me.
Bad trip here we come.
I was in the bathroom for what felt like years looking at myself in the mirror and hating everything I saw. I was now shirtless, my shirt covered in the upchuck of a Quiznos meatball sub.
I thought I had broken my brain. I thought I had permanently gone insane. I thought the next time I would see my parents would be in a psychiatric hospital. What had I done? That fear of drugs… that voice had been RIGHT THIS WHOLE TIME.
I wanted to End these feelings and the only way I knew how was to slam my head into the toilet seat. I only wanted to knock myself out, but if I killed myself, well, at least this trip would be over.
But thankfully, I didn’t slam my head into the toilet seat. Even then, I wasn’t completely out of control, even if it felt like it. I was just terrified and was facing fears and voices that I had been ignoring for years. A reckoning had come.
A reckoning that wasn’t faced alone, because my friends were there for me. They were concerned, but trying not to show it. When I asked them to take me to the hospital, saying “I want this out of me,” they responded perfectly. They spoke calmly and directly and kindly: they told me they understood but asked if I could give it 15 minutes to see if the feelings passed. If they didn’t, they’d take me to the hospital.
Over the next couple hours I kept calling out and asking if it had been 15 minutes and they always said: no, just a few more minutes.
Eventually, the worst of it DID subside. I put on my friend’s sweatshirt and we all watched Wall-E and I was reminded by the existence of love and hope in the universe.
Miraculously, after the credits, I was normal again, no longer high. I drove home that night.
I haven’t done mushrooms since, but there was a week in Mexico when I had just read Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind where I considered changing my career path to psilocybin therapy. While I’ve scrapped that idea, I know my story with psilocybin isn’t over.
I started using MDMA some time after my first and only shroom adventure. For roughly a two-year period, I took molly when going to raves or when I wanted to have a private Bro night with a bestie.
MDMA is like a rush of overwhelming warmth, happiness and confidence.
There was all of a sudden a certainty to existence: there was no other place in the world I’d rather be in that moment, no person in the world I’d rather be. It felt like I could do anything. Especially when I was 22 and miserable, I needed to be reminded of those things.
It allowed me to say and think things I never would have had the courage to do sober. MDMA helped unlock an ability to be more honest about myself, to myself and with others, an ability I continue to nurture.
Indeed, I’m not sure I’d have the tenuous confidence to do this podcast if I had never tried MDMA.
But I’ll admit, I was always a little scared of MDMA. Scared that I was being naughty, that I was doing something wrong, criminal and rolling the dice and getting away with it.
But I was most scared that I liked it. Red-white-and-blue marketing runs deep and the vestiges of the black and white slogan “drugs are bad” still lived inside me.
If I like drugs, does that make me bad?
I have this fear with all things that feel or taste good — there must be a catch. I don’t deserve this. When must I serve my penance? Guilt. Shame. Again: I didn’t trust myself. I was going to lose it, I was going to take too much, I was going to become addicted.
Of course, these thoughts didn’t stop me from doing drugs. They were too fun. But they did make me judge the people who used drugs more than me. This judgment arose from a genuine place of concern — I was worried about my friends. I was tired of raves and worried that MDMA was becoming necessary or normal for us, not just a fun toy to take out on special occasions. But that’s of course how I felt about MDMA. That was MY fear I was putting on other people, which sounds familiar.
What I’ve never liked about MDMA is the hangover — it didn’t matter how much I hydrated or what kind of vitamin supplements I took. I always felt like death the next day and there’s a reason for it. Molly takes a toll on your body. Or at least it does mine.
I always have trouble sleeping the night of, and because of the enormous amounts of water I need to drink while high, I have to pee 24 times throughout the night whenever I am finally able to fall asleep. It’s miserable.
As I’ve grown older and I’ve learned to like and appreciate myself more (and listen to my body), MDMA has become less worth it or interesting or necessary to me. A high, like money, isn’t the goal. Drugs are a tool — to learn about myself, my brain, my body and stretch the notions of what or who I can be as a man, as an artist.
I’ve never taken cocaine on purpose. One time at a rave, a random stranger greeted me with genuine affection and rubbed some cocaine into my gums. Or at least, that was his intention. I think he only rubbed his sweaty fingers in my mouth.
It wasn’t pleasant.
Before and since, I’ve had countless occasions to try cocaine. But I was scared of taking it — snorting still doesn’t sound fun to me, and I was honestly scared of liking it too much, and the benefits didn’t seem better or different enough from molly or LSD to risk it. Even now, I sort of shrug at the idea of it. If it makes sense or ever feels right, sure.
I’ve taken acid on several occasions, almost every single time at a National Park or Forest among friends. Almost universally wonderful, difficult and enlightening experiences, but similar to MDMA, I haven’t felt the desire or need to take it for a couple years.
If I had to guess why, it’d be two things: therapy and weed.
Because even as I felt better over the years and started to like myself more, my anxiety didn’t go away. In fact, it only got worse and prominent the more I noticed it. Thanks to my partner, I was paying more attention.
Because it wasn’t just MY life my anxiety was affecting, I started therapy in 2018 with Valley Community Counseling Clinic, a nonprofit organization dedicated to affordable psychotherapy by pairing patients with therapists-in-training. I didn’t have mental health insurance but was able to pay what I could afford — their lowest rate being $30 a session. I was finally willing (and financially able) to help myself.
I went to therapy for a year before my therapist graduated and left for Colorado and I left for Mexico.
When I returned to the U.S. in the fall of 2019 in need of a new counselor, I started meeting with my current therapist. Our relationship is one of the most important and illuminating facets of my life and one we will explore in a future episode.
But I didn’t stop there.
My partner and I began couples counseling to kick off 2020 — incredible timing, it turns out. We wanted to work on our communication before our wedding. The pandemic changed what our wedding turned out to be, but I don’t think it’s an accident that we’re stronger and more open now than we have ever been. It’s never been easy, and the work never stops. But we never want to take marriage or each other for granted. That’s what couples counseling means to me.
Last summer, after a potentially career bolstering event that I was too anxious about to fully take advantage of and enjoy, I was finally curious and open enough to try anxiety meds. Neither of my therapist’s ever once advocated I use medication. It was my idea and it turned out to be a good one.
I started taking Fluoxetine (generic for Prozac) in June right before going on our belated honeymoon. I didn’t start to feel the difference in my brain and body until my psychiatrist and I upped the dose to 40mg a day, the dose I still currently use and see no reason to change at this time.
Before taking it, I was worried Prozac would change me, or that it’d be addictive or I could rattle off a litany of other excuses why it would ruin my life. Those familiar fear-filled voices again.
Instead, I feel more like myself. Like the person I want to be, the child I used to be. The anxiety isn’t gone — it never will be, but now I can better recognize it, better handle it, explore it.
And weed helps even more. I try to keep myself to one edible night a week (about 5–10mg), and make it Special. Indeed, Saturday Gummi Nights have been the best and my favorite days of almost every single week since I started doing them, a tradition fortified during the pandemic.
But I ended 2021 with four Gummi Nights in a row and it certainly wasn’t the only time I indulged the past couple years. This was aggressive and I unsurprisingly felt like a lump to start 2022.
But… It’s kind of nice and necessary to feel like a lump sometimes. It’s honest. I needed a vacation from the pressures and anxieties of the year, and weed always helps me do that.
I struggle to allow myself to slow down, to Be, to relax, to communicate with my body. I’m often stiff and tense throughout the day– I often catch myself holding my breath or with a tight jaw.
On an edible, I find myself stretching, finally understanding what Adriene of Yoga with Adriene means when she says, “Find What Feels Good.”
I just explore, Go, breathe. On the floor, on the couch, in the kitchen while I make dinner. This extends to my brain, which becomes a playground. I have less filters, less judgment, more ideas, more creativity, more fun.
The newest drug in my life is probably the most widely accepted and abused in the world. Caffeine.
For all my life, as I saw my parents, my sister, and everyone, become reliant on coffee, I was determined to avoid that fate. This stance was bolstered because growing up in Seattle, I had developed a hatred of Starbucks.
For a while, my resistance was also because I didn’t like the taste. I didn’t think I needed coffee. And, as always, I was afraid. I thought I’d become addicted to it, and that was a slippery slope to 5 Hour Energy Drinks or worse.
Well, I love coffee now and have still never tried a 5 Hour Energy. Coffee has become a meditative ritual, another process to slow down and taste life, even whilst my brain speeds up.
It’s become another arena to play, to explore, to be curious — and for me, that’s the key. I don’t go to a coffee store to get a fix, I go to see what beans they have on pour over or espresso and I almost always find an Andy-like foil across the counter from me, a barista excited to talk to someone who cares about what they’re making.
And sure, I’m obviously now experiencing the effects of caffeine for the first time. I might even be addicted. But… so what?
I don’t think it’s an accident that the first year of drinking coffee I published 25 episodes of two different podcasts and 44 episodes of a talk show on YouTube.
Let’s take a moment now to recognize that this entire narrative is laced with my white privilege. I had the freedom and access to these drugs. I was able to explore and experiment in a safe environment, to figure out what works and doesn’t work for me. So many others do not — this is what Hart is pointing out.
On this journey, there have been dark moments and darker thoughts, but the reality is this: the drug isn’t creating the darkness. It was already there. These drugs, if I listen, are helping me bring these fears to the surface, helping me to explore them and learn about myself.
It’s not always fun and happy, but neither is life.
But like everything, I take this seriously.
I try to have an intention for every drink, every gummi, every drug. Every movie I watch. Every cup of coffee.
Each one is an adventure, a responsibility. It’s special, sacred, medicine. This mindset can be and is exhausting, but I don’t want to take any of it for granted. I struggle with the notion of ENOUGH — those anxious times when I don’t feel like enough, or when I feel good and to feel even better, when I want more, more…
This New Year began with the promises of my 3rd annual tradition of a dry January.
No alcohol, no weed. I was even debating no desserts…
A Dry January seemed necessary because while the past three months have been a lot of fun and a lot of work, that has been accompanied by more drinking and eating and gummies (and less exercise) than I’d like. I wanted a reset, a break.
But I realized something.
This dry January feels like a punishment. It feels again like a manifestation of that voice: the “I don’t trust myself” voice who doesn’t think I can accomplish or do anything. Or that any pleasure or joy isn’t deserved and must be met with immediate pain and retribution.
To me, caffeine, marijuana, alcohol… when used in moderation and with respect, are a key component of what makes me me. I’m a curious person and I don’t want to have walls up that I don’t need to have. If a cup of coffee or a gummi feels like the right thing, I’m going to have it. If a friend or a stranger offers to buy me a drink and have a conversation, I’m going to say, fuck yes, because for me, that’s what life is about. That’s Andy.
And if there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that. This is MY truth, not yours or anyone else’s. I’m only an expert on me. Everyone else can and should do what they’re comfortable with so long as you don’t hurt anybody else; as Dr. Hart says, that is the only thing that matters, and it seems to be the only thing we’re ignoring.
So, yeah, I like drugs. A lot. And it’s complicated. But I’m going to try to not be ashamed of that anymore, because that shame, that hypocrisy, only delivers judgment upon myself and others, and we know who has been paying the price for that prejudice.