Drugs were an unspeakable evil as a child growing up in the 80’s. The “Just Say No” campaign bludgeoned me with fear. Many of my mom’s friends experienced coke-fueled implosions. Shane fell off the bridge and got brain damage on Degrassi High.
But my adolescence was an unspeakable evil too. Without drugs, I was like a cold Chihuahua, thin, shivering, plaintive eyes, tail between my legs. I walked around certain that no one liked me, unpopular with both sexes. I offered guys no competition. I offered women no confidence. Most of my nights in high school were spent alone watching reruns of Quantum Leap.
Shortly after moving to Boulder, Colorado when I was 16, I was introduced to marijuana. I was working at a bike shop. One night after we closed, “Shorty,” a buzz-cut, army-fatigue-wearing, 6’5” Wisconsan, who grew skunk-smelling, crystal laden kind-bud (I’m not sure if they still call it that) lit up a bowl.
I took one puff of Shorty’s weed and was sent into paroxysms of coughing. When the coughing subsided, I spent the rest of the night in the bike-storage room hallucinating that my parents were at the front of the shop. It was not an auspicious start.
Undaunted, I worked past this initial foreboding experience. No feelings of near-death and extreme terror were going to deter me from squashing my depression. Throughout that summer, I learned to love marijuana. When I started my high school, that love blossomed.
Eighteen years-old. I had just spent three months sitting in my folks’ basement continuously high, working out, watching TV, in near-complete isolation, interacting only with parents and pot-dealer. Bleakness prevailed. I thought learning how to play my dad’s old guitar might help. I just needed $30 for a book so I could learn some chords. I asked my dad for money. He said no. I broke down crying like a baby. It had nothing to do with the guitar book. I needed help. I realized I had never asked for help before. I asked for help. I got help.
Twenty-three. I was in Munich, Germany, debauching my way through Europe after two years spent more or less continuously drunk. All my waking hours were dominated by drinking. My mornings—if I could get up in the morning—were pervaded by hangover-induced physical violence. My early afternoons were spent in regret and physical recovery. My late afternoons/early evenings were spent thinking about how getting a drink might not be a bad idea. My nights were spent drinking, repeating cycle. By Munich, I couldn’t handle it anymore. My body was shutting down. The myth of drinking to have a good time was being demythologized sip-by-sip. I couldn’t go on. I stopped. I asked for help. I went home. I got help. I got well.
Twenty-six. I finally broke up with my ten-year-senior, ex-stripper, adolescent-child-toting girlfriend after five unsuccessful tries. I couldn’t seem to do anything right, even break up. I was bouncing from job-to-job. I had no purpose in life, no direction. I was desperate. I needed help. I asked for help. I got help. I found direction.
Thirty-two. I was in a very unsatisfying relationship with a satisfactory woman. She was the picture of who I thought I should be with: pretty, successful, spiritual, worldly, etc. And I was totally fucking miserable. I had spent two years trying to make a connection. I moved in with her. She was under the impression that we were going to get married. I knew better. The weight of my lie was like an anvil bearing down on my chest. I distrusted everything I said. I went to bed early and got up late. One night, we had a fight—the same fight we always had. I saw the opening to get honest. I was honest. The relationship ended. I moved out within an hour. I had to rebuild my life in an instant. I asked for help. I got it.
At an event I host, a programmer named Amit Pitaru gave a talk about designing the best motorcycle to travel through South America. He said that when asked, most people said they would want the most reliable motorcycle they could find. The prospect of getting caught in the middle of Nowhere, South America is not an enticing proposition.
But he described the worst thing that can happen on a trip to see South America on motorcycle: not breaking down. When you break down, you have to ask for help. You get to know the locals. You create bonds through your interactions that would have never been possible zipping by on a problem-free bike. You might witness a beautiful sunset fixing your clutch. You might meet a great family or friend fixing a flat.
He went on to say that on your never-break-down-bike, you zip past little towns never interacting with anyone you don’t pay to help you (restaurant, hotel and gas station attendants mostly). You attract thieves because your fancy bike probably makes you look like an easy target. You move through the country efficiently, but detached. You have no problems, but you have no meaningful experiences either.