Before I started to explore drugs, I heard all kinds of ominous warnings. The D.A.R.E program in school showed me my brain on drugs: an egg frying in a pan. My mom always reminded me that addiction is in my blood—her brother is an alcoholic and my cousin was an addict, who only found a way out through suicide. Everything I’d heard about the fabled “hard” drugs like cocaine and heroin was that nothing would ever compare to my first high, and I would become a slave to chasing that feeling.
Of course, I didn’t heed these warnings. My curiosity got the best of me. I even thought I could prove these warnings wrong. But now, living in recovery, I can see how these warnings all became realities in my life.
Why are we always chasing the first high? In recovery, does this hunger for sensation and new experiences go away? For me, I’ve let go of drugs but I’m still chasing the feelings behind my first high. Are you?
Bob Marley, Cookie Dough, and The Stars
I was a late bloomer when it came to drugs. I drank alcohol a few times as a teen, but I wasn’t a fan of the taste or the hangover. The first time I ever got high, I was 17.
It was my senior year of high school and I was captain of the soccer team. The entire season, I was a big party-pooper and even made a rule saying that no girl on the varsity team was allowed to drink or get high. I thought partying would make my team lose its fitness and become lazy. Deep down, I envied my teammates who could let loose and live recklessly.
After our last soccer game of the season, and the last game of my high-school career, I went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. One of my teammates pulled out a Play-Doh container and peeled off the lid, letting out a thick, stinky smell—weed.
“You wanna get high?” she said with a smile.
I resisted at first, but I didn’t take much convincing. I wanted to know what all the hype was about, and to be included in the party.
We rolled an amateur joint with a page from The Great Gatsby which we’d read in English class and went out to my friend’s dock. The girls showed me how to hold the smoke in so I’d actually get high, but, when we threw the roach in the canal, I said, “I don’t feel anything.”
When we were back in the house, everything started to change. Bob Marley was playing on the stereo, and I could feel the music undulating like a wave through my body. I heard each of the instruments, understood what Bob meant when he sang “One Love.” When I closed my eyes, I saw a rainbow of colors, shapes shifting in a kaleidoscope. We made Funfetti cookie dough and ate it all before the oven finished pre-heating—it just tasted so good.
The part that resonated with me most was the sense of warmth and comfort I felt. I was at ease with my friends, I could laugh at my own silliness, the couch was hugging my entire body. I tapped into my sense of wonder at all things, big and small: the trees each sprouting from a single seed, the light of the stars traveling so far to get to me, the ecstasy of a fuzzy blanket against my face. For the first time, I wasn’t crawling out of my skin—I finally felt at home in my body.
My First Spiritual Experiences
I was a nervous, anxious kid. I always worried about what other people thought of me. I’ve heard it said in so many recovery stories—my first high was my first feeling of relief. I imagined “normal” people experienced that ease and comfort all of the time. I thought being high was my solution to the problem I called life.
In rehab, I was introduced to The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and there was so much talk about “spiritual experiences.” In the book, spiritual experiences are:
“huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”
At that time, the only thing that had completely altered my view of life was drugs. The first time I smoked weed, I had my first taste of peace. When I first tripped on acid, I finally saw that I was an important piece of a larger whole. When I first rolled on ecstasy, I felt utter, uncontrollable joy for the first time. When I did my first line of cocaine, I felt like I had awoken after a lifetime of sleepwalking.
Every time I tried a new drug, it altered my understanding of myself and the world. I kept chasing these experiences. I believed that I was put on this planet to experience as much as my human senses and consciousness could handle—which turned into doing as many drugs as possible. I thought drugs had awakened my spirit and gave my life meaning.
But, after a certain point, drugs numbed my senses and blurred my consciousness. My substance abuse became a repeated and compulsive search for peace, enlightenment, and myself. Yet, I always failed to re-create my first high, always told myself I’ll get there if I just do one more. I threw the search for enlightenment out the window. Drugs turned into a crutch, my self-medication, my refusal to grow up or participate in reality—they only prolonged my fear of living.
What Are We Really Chasing?
A lot of people distinctly remember their first high or first drink. What’s so special about it? Well, it was a completely new experience, our first sense of an altered consciousness. Our bodies and minds have no preconceptions about what a new substance will feel like, so the effects are intensified. We are impulsive, sensation-seeking people and we crave the surprise of a new experience—it gives us a sense of insight and enlightenment.
Think about the first time you tasted chocolate, how it deepened your understanding of your tongue and flavors and sweetness. Think about coming across a word you don’t recognize, finding its definition in the dictionary, and making sense of what you’re reading. As humans, we crave understanding, making sense, and gathering the meaning of things.
With drugs, I was chasing a bigger understanding. I wanted to make sense of life and existence. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved being high so I kept doing drugs. But, for a long time, I justified abusing drugs because I thought mind-altering substances offered me answers in my search for identity and purpose.
Curiosity drove me to get high at 17, to try so many new substances, to keep doing drugs in pursuit of new dimensions. Drugs awakened a very human hunger in me—for life, new experiences, self-knowledge, belonging—but they didn’t satisfy my hunger.
Now, leaving the drugs behind, I still have the spirit of a curious, hungry child. I still search for meaning in things, for my place in the world, for “who I am.” Drugs played a part in my searching, but I’ve learned that drugs do not bring me answers. In recovery, I have the chance to explore a whole range of new experiences in pursuit of these same answers.
Looking for meaning in life started with drugs, but now it’s my idea of spirituality in sobriety—a lifelong quest to learn and experience new things. There is so much to see and experience, but I will never know it all. Eventually, drugs got in the way of this quest and my spirit was lacking the fuel it needed. In sobriety, I have the chance to continue exploring, to feed my soul with new people and places and things that deepen my understanding of myself and the universe.
The first drink or first high introduced many of us to peace. We were curious enough to keep seeking it through substances. Use that curiosity to find peace in recovery. Explore new elements of yourself and those questions you have about life—without the fog of drugs and alcohol.