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Mindful : August 2014
36 mindful August 2014 media Then I discovered ecstasy. I was with some friends in New Orleans when someone started handing out little blue pills. As I waited for it to take effect, I strolled through the French Quarter. I knew I was high when we passed a piano bar where they were playing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and it sounded transcendent. How could one pill make me so happy? I felt as if my torso was swaddled in heated cotton balls. Talking, the mere vibration of my vocal cords, was blissful. Walking was a symphony of sensual plea- sure, with waves of euphoria melting all the calcified barriers of self-consciousness. I could even get out of my own way to dance. Sadly, the pain of the comedown was propor- tiona l to the power of the high. Reality reentered the scene with a picka x. There is no free lunch, neuro- logically speaking. On the day after ecstasy, my sero- tonin stores would be utterly depleted. I often found myself over whelmed by a soul-sucking emptiness, a hollowed-out husk of a man. So, I was meticulous about never doing drugs before a workday. Not only did I largely quarantine my substance abuse to weekends, but there were also long stretches of time when I was traveling for work and completely abstinent—covering the 2004 Democratic presiden- tial prima ries, for example. The pull of drugs was powerful, but the tug of airtime was even more so. In fact, during one of my drug years, I was ranked as the most prolific network television news corre- spondent. This only served to compound my master of the universe complex, convincing me I could fool everyone and pull it all off. The on-air meltdown changed that. My superiors expressed sincere concern. When they asked what happened, I lied—it must have been a fluke, I said. I was ashamed, and also afraid. I feared that if I admitted that I had just had a panic attack, it would expose me as a fraud, someone who had no business anchoring the news. For some reason, they seemed to accept my explanation. Maybe because it all hap- pened so quickly, or because it was out of cha racter, or perhaps because I managed to get through my next newscast, just an hour later, without a hitch. In the news business, memories are mercifully short; everyone moved on to the next crisis. Not me. I moved on to meditation, eventually screwing up enough courage to go on a ten-day retreat. My alarm goes off at five and I realize, suddenly and unhappily, where I am. I pick out one of the three pairs of sweatpants I packed in anticipation of long, sedentar y days. I pad down the hall to the bathroom, perform the ablu- tions, and then walk outside into the chilly morning air and join the stream of yogis heading out of the dorms into the meditation hall. Everyone’s walking → few occasions, pot had made me so intensely pa r- anoid that I felt like I was incarcerated in an inner Mordor. I figured harder drugs had the potential to be even worse. However, coming home after spending several years covering wars overseas had left me feeling weak and adrift. One night, I agreed to go to a party with a guy from the office. We were having a quick drink before going out, and he shot me an impish look and said, “Want some cocaine?” I’d always demurred, but this time I caved. I crossed what had always been a distinct, bright line, in an utterly hap- hazard fashion. I was thirty-two years old. At first, it was just a pleasa nt electric sizzle coursing through my limbs. Then I noticed a dis- gusting ammonia-flavored postnasa l drip. It didn’t bother me, though, because it was accompanied by a triumphant horn flourish of euphoric energy. After months of feeling run-down and ragged, I felt normal again. Better than normal. Rejuvenated. Restored. Logorrhea ensued. I said many, many things over the course of the evening, one of which was: “Where has this drug been all my life?” Thus began what my friend Regina sardonically called my Bright Lights, Big City phase. That night, at the party, I made a bunch of new friends. And those people also did cocaine. With coke, you never reach satiety. It hits, it peaks, it fades—and before you know it, every cell in your body is screa ming for more. I chased this dragon with the zeal of the convert. Late one night, I was partying with another new friend, Simon—a man who had, to put it mildly, a great deal of experience with drugs—and when he was ready to go to bed, I insisted we stay up and keep going. He looked at me wea rily and said, “You have the soul of a junkie.” Coming home after several years covering wars overseas had left me feeling weak and adrift. One night a guy from the office shot me an impish look and said, “Want some cocaine?”