There is one pause and “second guessing moment” during my drug and alcohol use I remember well during the climb to the apex of the addiction roller coaster when I still got the feelings of confidence and euphoria I was looking for. It was in 1986. The very first time I used cocaine. The downstairs bathroom of one of the nicest hotels in Dallas befitting of my powdered cocaine only status and my new status as a licensed attorney (at least in Pennsylvania, I had not take the Texas Bar yet).
Shiny marble, mouthwash and breath-mints and the ultimate bonus, a toilet door that closed completely so no one could see in. With the bathroom attendant standing just outside my door handing out towels and mints, (when bathroom attendants were common in upscale hotels) I carefully laid out three lines of cocaine given to me by the drug dealer I was introduced to for the first time twenty minute earlier. I rolled up a twenty-dollar bill and bent over the white Kohler commode. I laid out the lines of blow on top of mixing my cocaine in with grime, germs and undoubtedly the residue from previous guys like me.
As the cocaine begin it’s journey up the straw to change the course of my life, I had a thought. I thought about a man I had never met. I thought about a sport I hated, college basketball. I thought about a life tragically cut short by drugs. I thought about Lenny Bias. Lenny, a first round draft pick of the NBA Boston Celtics in 1986. Lenny, a “can’t miss” future NBA. Lenny, a cautionary tale that anyone can die using cocaine the first time or the one-thousandth time. No warning. No second chance. Just dead.
Lenny died in such a way on July 19th 1986. Just under three months before I leaned over the toilet in that bathroom with a straw up my nose. It was international, front page news. It occurred to me in that moment that I had no idea what I was putting my my nose any more than Lenny did. I was chasing a feeling that I had been chasing since my teens. That chase was more powerful then thoughts of Lenny. The chase was more powerful than the other fleeting, cautionary, sound judgment thoughts that went through my mind. Addiction hijacks caution and judgment. It didn’t matter. Moments later, I would love who I saw in the mirror. I would be invincible for short period. I would want to be invincible again. What happened to Lenny would never happen to me. He just had bad luck. The mind of an addict.
I am pleased to present a new excerpt from my upcoming book,”The Addicted Lawyer”. The usual disclaimers. These excerpts are solely for content preview. These excerpts are not professionally edited. That occurs when I pay someone later. They also may not appear in this form in the published book. While your waiting for this book, feel free to read my previous book, Shattered Image.
One of my favorite lines is from a dark comedy entitled, “Swimming With Sharks.” With the “sharks”reference, you might think it’s about lawyers . It’s actually about the cut-throat world of the Los Angeles movie production industry. In one particular scene, the character, “Buddy Ackerman” a top movie executive, played by Kevin Spacy, is on the phone berating a subordinate over differences in opinion concerning how a movie should be made. He closes with:
“Say this one time with me: “Would you like that in a pump or a loafer?”… Good. Now memorize it, because starting tomorrow, the only job that you’re going to be able to get is selling SHOES! “
While Swimming With Sharks had not been made yet, and not said in quite that way to me, if you changed “selling shoes” to “job after graduation”, that is exactly how I felt as I walked out of my first and last moot court competition at Pitt Law. It would have helped if I was sober. Moot court, meet Jose Cuervo.
What is Moot Court? For the non-legal types reading this book, it is competition between burgeoning litigators, appellate gurus and law students who want to hone their debate and critical thinking skills in various legal subjects. Not a required rite of law school but many voluntarily participate to have their legal arguments and sometimes self worth, verbally hacked to death by law student student judges, professors and sometimes actual judges.
For me, volunteering to participate in a process that would further degrade my sense of self worth was akin to agreeing to be water-boarded. So how did I end up sitting before a moot court panel of law student “judges” trying to argue the in’s and outs of the 4th amendment implications of Illinois vs. Gates. How did I end up drinking before I walked into that room so I muster up the courage to show up for the competition? Much the same reason I ended up in the Marines Officer Candidates School the summer before. If I was able to show up, look those who are trying to break me down in the eye and make and argument. It would fix me. I often wonder if I am the only law student ever to show up for such a competition, probably not legally intoxicated, but certainly not sober. In the history of history, probably not, but I feel safe in saying I am in an “elite” group.
A week later, as we walked I walked out of my post-argument evaluation with the same student judges who smirked and sighed at my incompetency, wondering if they smelled the alcohol on my breath but not really caring, my moot court, partner Eric, said, “I think I did ok. They told me I had the potential to be a star. How did you do?” I said, “about how I expected to do” and walked away thinking about my future selling shoes.
The National Council On Alcoholism And Drug Dependence, St Louis Chapter took the bold step of creating an anti-heroin public service announcement(PSA) and air it during the Superbowl, apparently only in the St. Louis area.
The gist of the PSA, which is below, is a white cheerleader struggling with heroin addiction with images of her all-white cheer-leading squad cheering.. “Give Me An H!…. Give me an E!… you can figure out the rest. Let’s not forget to leave out the sad eyed white dog. (I’m color blind so if Rover is more off-colored white, my apologies) Vivid images of white suburbia, solidifying the disenfranchising, “addiction is just a white ,suburban problem” message.
I would have been more diverse in my portrayal of the issue and the ‘drugs are bad” message is tried an failed on multiple levels on both a preventative and awareness level. It just does not work. Teens know heroin is bad. Addiction transcends that message. This is not rocket science. Anyone in the recovery sphere knows this. “Just Say No” does not work. End of story. Do your research. Ask your friend who is struggling if he/ or she already knows heroin is destructive.
The most bizarre part of all is that this PSA aired only in St. Louis. A community which according to latest stats, has an overall minority demographic of about 50 percent. I won’t look it up, but I suspect some them are teens addicted to heroin. I am sure a group of suburban ,all-white cheerleaders really resonates with that community. Add sarcasm font.
In short, while the PSA is well intended, it comes of as sexualized, creepy, and as disenfranchising everyone who is an addict other than white suburban teens. How could the St. Louis Chapter of the NCADD not see this before they hit upload?
Back to the drawing board. Hopefully the next PSA will focus on the underlying reasons teens make the choice and the treatment that is available for those who do. I think we all agree. Heroin is bad. WE don’t have to keep repeating it. Let’s try something else.