You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
Then I floated out of here
Singing…ha la la la de day
Ha la la la de day
Ha la la de day
Dateline: Chicago, 1971
The acid kicked in while strolling through Old Town with a band of merry pranksters from Lamphere High in Madison Heights, Michigan. Ostensibly there for the purpose of a school field trip, we had our own definition of what a trip entailed. The specimen ingested was in the form of a small, light green pill, affectionately known to us as “Green Flats” LSD.
Bright lights burned brighter from head shop windows enticing mad-dog youth with “counter-culture” paraphernalia. Music resounding and abounding through the haze of Marijuana smoked openly on the street was a norm for the time. Far out…killer…groovy. Hallucinogenic visions took hold with counterfeit magic. Our group no longer appeared as young tourists–we were Eight Miles High above the clouds. Laughing at otherwise innocuous forms of reality through a prism of an illicit organic compound (C20H25N3O) had us rolling on the sidewalk.
Finally, near the midnight hour, we made it back to base camp. Ensconced in the YMCA next to the L-Tracks, the boys were on one floor and the girls on another, separated fiercely by a rent-a-cop with a bad-ass weapon that looked more like a mini-candelabra than a knife. While most made a night out of eluding the guard by going out windows, and scrambling up fire escapes in a quest to biblically connect with the opposite sex, Murph & I stayed sequestered in a dark room. Plans made before the trip included experimenting with my first shot of heroin. By the early morning, my mind felt like runny, scrambled eggs. A year of intense, cognitive-shifting research with a powerful hallucinogen left this young mind dissociated from reality. Every high came with a ball-busting bummer of a down and I was ready to graduate to the Hard Stuff. The transition from lysergic utopian fantasies to grimy spoons and spent needles commenced.
Connection with God ~ Not detected
Connected with self ~ Fahgeddaboudit
The cooking smack had an unmistakably unique smell that filled the hotel room. After drawing the contents of the spoon into a syringe, Murph slipped the needle in my vein and drew back enough to see a squirt of blood confirming a “hit” followed by a pushing of the plunger to nirvana. A pleasant, low-key sense of warmth filled a soul left ravaged by irresponsible choices and the depravity of sin. For the first time in a long time, things were chill & mellow. It was like taking a warm bath on the inside while going on vacation without ever leaving the room.
Authenticity ~ Not detected
That one shot led to a 43-year losing battle with the White Witch. Left swirling in the wake were many close friends and family members deeply hurt by my love affair with opiates. A subjugation of the call on my life by a loving God with a much higher purpose planned than that of a dope fiend was the worst of it. The low-lights of broken promises included; unfulfilled dreams; the deaths of three family members, deep wounds to the souls of two sons; divorce; complete estrangement from family; firings from three bluechip jobs; lies; deceit; jails; prisons; two cults; institutions & six near-death overdoses–only begins to scratch the surface of a scab covering decades of pus.
Near the beginning of this deviant living entered a man with a capacity for love like no other I’ve known. Bill took me under his wing through 31 years of incarceration, freedom, defeat, victory, relapse & recovery. Were it not for him, I’d have probably not been blessed to experience good periods of recovery in between pilgrimages to the wasteland. When doing so, he never lost hope when the mounting stack of empirical evidence would suggest otherwise. Remaining clean & sober for the last two years of his life, is something I’ll always remain grateful for. We had a non-stop blast walking down his final days on this temporal planet. This shot was taken at the last Alcoholics for Christ men’s retreat Bill attended.
Waking one day in a psychiatric ward where I’d landed after Dan’s death. the guilt and shame was so oppressive, suicide had become a viable option. Contrasting that reality against the years Danny and I were as tight as brothers could be, proved impossible. There were decades when we loved our children, music, rockin’ out, the Lord, and each other like no others. That’s the trufe.
Tight with a capital “T” doesn’t begin to define our brotherhood. We were thicker than thieves and jumped at every chance to experience live, rock n’ roll music. During most of the go-go seventies, we took up residency at various addresses in San Francisco. This spot in Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco was my favorite. Dan would probably rate our flat on Potrero Hill as his top spot. Wherever we lived, we worked hard and partied even harder. There ought to be a law against having so much fun. Actually…there was.
Renting out the top flat of a massive Victorian in the Haight, near the Golden Gate Park’s “Panhandle” In the mid-seventies seemed like a good move. The Haight was considered a rough hood by San Franny’s Wimp Standard. Being from Detroit, that didn’t faze us one bit. On a fairly regular basis, we’d back off wanna-be gangstas–laughing in their faces as no more than a nuisance. Exercising big brother prerogative, I set up camp in the top corner turret bedroom. Did you ever try to hang wooden shutters in a curved Window? That one job took more than a week, requiring four grams of cocaine to complete. Danner chose the bedroom at the end of the hall with the big square window. With six large rooms, there was plenty of space for Joe after springing him from Synanon. Collectively, we gave Keith Richards a run for his money on the party tip.
There’s a period of substance abuse where it definitely has the potential for serious fun. That’s not said to glorify it, only to state the truth. Addiction is a cunning, insidious and baffling malady. People take drugs because they work. As it progresses from use, to abuse, and then finally addiction–the user is the last one to know, long after they quit working. Taking responsibility for his death (a POV held by most family members) would be the height of alcoholic grandiosity, because that’s playing God. Moreover, to define the totality of our brotherhood based on the last night of his life would besmirch our bond of brotherhood as road dogs on the Road Most Traveled. For years, Danny and I lived by the words Springsteen sang in “No Surrender”
Well, now young faces grow sad and old
And hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
Now I’m ready to grow young again
And hear your sister’s voice calling us home
Across the open yards
Well maybe we’ll cut someplace of own
With these drums and these guitars
‘Cause we made a promise we swore we’d always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in the stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender
In the end, our respective addictions had eroded our bond to the point where we only got together to get high. No more music, no more joy, no more nothing–except drugs. On the last night of his life with Danny, he overdosed and died just three feet from me. Being too screwed up to even notice at first, it was too late to do anything about it. In the end, at the minimum, I broke the vow of promise to defend Danny, failing as his big brother, something oldest brother Tom has never done.
For reasons I may never understand, my fiance’ at the time, chose to stick it out and walk through a fire that consumed others. Dropping off a stack of support letters from friends five days into the psych ward stay, a note from my pastor had the most impact–expressing something along these lines;
“Megan & I miss you. We miss your ‘Amens’ during sermons. We miss your love for life and love for God. The kids miss your willingness to pop out your dentures when they scream; ‘Take out your teeth Mr. Tim!‘ Despite your present circumstances, God hasn’t given up on you…nor will we. Praying for your recovery brother. Love, Jim”
Setting down the letter, an awareness of a power greater than I rose from the catacomb of a soul-dead heart. For the first time in years, I could sense God’s alive, palpable presence.
Hope ~ Detected
Over the next nine months, reality would hit hope, slamming me down like a drunk on the barroom floor–followed by enough grace to get up, strap on a pair and keep moving forward. After a lifetime of episodic debauchery fueled by self-will-run-riot, this very human temple took some hellacious hits. Apparently, it didn’t discourage Amy from marrying me, but were sufficient enough to warrant concern by my primary physician, who’s the absolute bomb. Over the ensuing months, she’s engaged in a vigorous, intentional mission to put humpty-dumpty back together again. Amy, granted access to details of a prescribed health regimen, provided some motivation to press on when stuck in moments of rebellious, cantankerous silliness.
Direction ~ Detected; Simplicity ~ Detected
Dateline Berkley, MI 2014
Amongst the many referrals made by Dr. Dillon to a myriad of specialists, one of them warrants noting here. Dr. AlSabie at Beaumont is quite the character and explained my hepatitis C had a viral load of over three million. A viral load 800,000 and above generally is indicative of a need for treatment.. Probably contracted around ’89, I came to the dance 25 years late. He prescribed two drugs costing approximately $50,000.00/month for three months. He said not to worry because they worked hard on insurance companies for approval. One week later, a call came in from the Beaumont Specialty Pharmacy instructing me to come and pick up the prescriptions of Sovaldi and Olysio. My normally stingy Part D prescription plan approved the $150,000.00 treatment.
It was all systems go
Grace defies any human limitation of measurement. Grace defies the lie of Karma. What a crock of crap Karma is, because if what truly went around, came back around…I’d surely been dead many years ago. For 90 days, this was one prescription not to miss. Mixed with hope and folks willing to stand-in-the-gap for a wretch like moi’, treatment proceeded propelled by prayer. The goal is to achieve what we Heppers and Doctors refer to as SVR (sustained virological response), which means that you have no detectable hepatitis C virus in your blood. The results came in yesterday.
HCV ~ Not Detected
Sharing the good news first with Amy, we just hugged while tears of gratitude dropped. That the results hit on my oldest son’s birthday is not lost on this writer. Calling to wish him a birthday greeting via a twist on the Stooges “1969” sung into a speaker phone, Timmy cracked up. After the greeting, it seemed timely to share the good news with him.
“That’s great! Does this mean you’re cured?” Timmer asked, adding he’d been praying for a good report. “Yes it does son. There’s a follow-up confirmatory test in another 90 days. Don’t sweat it Timmy and thanks so much for the prayers. because they had an effect on the outcome”
This blog is dedicated to the loving memory of nephew Ryan and brothers Daniel J. Hurley & Joseph P. Hurley
Through the miracle of social media coupled with God’s grace, Murph called recently after hooking up on Facebook. His purpose was to make amends for introducing me to heroin. Of course, I received his heart-felt apology. Then he shared how he’s been clean & sober for 27 years “carrying the message” to other suffering alcoholics and addicts. That’s how it’s supposed to be. The therapeutic value of one addict carrying the message of recovery, hope and grace to another suffering addict is without parallel.