The Magical Link
Vol. III No 2 • Sol in Leo, Luna in Cancer, An IIIxix • Summer 1989
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
DIARY OF AN EX-DRUG FIEND
BY AD VERITATEM
Musings on Aleister Crowley's
DIARY OF A DRUG FIEND
From the Point of View of Recovery
[Author's Note: An early draft of this essay was so severely criticized by the Head of the Order that I am adding this cautionary paragraph. (1) The writing of this piece was for me a highly charged, emotionally cathartic release of the tensions of early recovery and the grief over my closest friend's drug induced death. (2) I am dividing the world into two kinds of people, chronic substance abusers and everybody else. (3) I believe Aleister Crowley was a chronic substance abuser. (4) I am not a trained drug therapist or a professional on any level regarding addiction so everything I say is merely an opinion based on 22 years of chronic substance abuse. (5) I believe that the only cure for chronic substance abuse is total abstinence. (6) If you haven't read Diary of a Drug Fiend yet, what follows will not be as clear as it otherwise would. (7) The opinions expressed in this essay in no way represent official Order policy on anything.]
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
I first read and enjoyed Diary of a Drug Fiend some 21 years ago at the age of 20. It was one of the first Crowley books I read. I was much impressed with his philosophy, having had at that time no small acquaintance with drugs. In fact, I had taken everything the 60's had to offer, including intravenous methedrine, cocaine and heroin, in addition to the more standard fare of grass, hash, mescaline, LSD, etc., etc., etc.
And I thought the book was brilliant. I read it several times during the intervening years, each time equally impressed. In fact I wrote the majority of the back cover ad copy for the Weiser paperback edition which has remained unchanged since about 1975. You're all, I'm sure, familiar with my deathless prose, "Through the guidance of King Lamus, a master Adept, they free themselves from the entanglements of addiction by the application of practical Magick." And, "It will also prove a useful document to doctors, lawyers, police and addicts for its unique and precise presentation of the psychology of addiction and the possibility of its cure through the development of the True Will."
Well boys and girls, things have changed a bit in my life since then and I thought I'd share some of the changes with you. From October of 1987 to December of 1988, I was hopelessly addicted to heroin for the first time in my life. I'd been slightly strung out before, once in 1970 for about 3 months, using a needle on a daily basis. Some mild discomfort and a move out of town straightened that out. In 1977 I had about six week's worth of fairly incredible intra-nasal Bangkok pure, which fortunately came to its conclusion when my source returned to the East. Intermittently, before and after those two periods I enjoyed heroin, using a needle for the last time in 1978.
My best friend in life, whom I met in 1973, Richard Gernon (or Gurney), is dead at the age of 39 from an overdose of heroin, self-administered on the Ides of March 1989 e. v. We both started our last bouts with heroin at the same time and discussed it at great length during the course of our addictions. As the two great Thelemic magicians that we were, we used Diary of a Drug Fiend as a touchstone of our talks. The Master's very testimony and direction oozing from every page to guide his adepts in the proper ordering of our lives, free of the need and craving for the drug, equally free to indulge and enjoy at will. Right?
To the best of my knowledge, Crowley was strung out when he wrote the damn book. It is a junk fantasy. That type of thinking ("free to use," "free of need") killed my best friend. And it would have killed me too (could at any minute in fact). It just doesn't work that way in the real world, at least not for chronic substance abusers. (There were obviously many other causes for our addictions and Richard's death besides the ideas contained in Diary of a Drug Fiend. But one best not ignore the power of an idea, even when other life issues are involved.)
I will never "blame" Crowley for Gurney's death. That would be a real insult to both of them. If Gurney was foolish enough to allow his illness to ignore the probability that Crowley was addicted when he wrote Diary of a Drug Fiend, that was his problem. And Aiwaz knows, I'd be the last person to blame Crowley, either for being addicted or for writing the book. I know how it is to be strung out, and I also know that what he concocted therein as the "cure" is every junky's dream. "Lord, just let me be able to enjoy this shit today and be free of it tomorrow."
I, on the other hand, have joined the "other" A. A. , Alcoholics Anonymous. And I've been drug and alcohol free for nearly six months. I wouldn't touch a drug or a drop of alcohol with a ten foot pole. And as long as I maintain that attitude, I will remain alive and well, productive and happy, sober and sane. And why? Because for an alcoholic and drug addict, that is the only cure. Gurney was both, I am both, and Crowley was at least a drug addict, if not alcoholic. He couldn't, in my opinion, "take it or leave it" any better than I or anyone else suffering from the problem of chronic substance abuse.
If you read his famous Liber Nike [Magical Link, Vol. 1, No. 8, Oct/Nov 1987, pp. 57-64], you will find a brilliantly insightful, scrupulously recorded journal of a drug addict who reduced his dose successfully over a period of some 3 weeks, and remained as addicted at the end of the record as he was at the beginning! I tried the same thing so many times during my 15 months of heroin addiction that I can recognize the syndrome perfectly. If that doesn't sound like a long enough period of time to comment knowledgeably, I tried it with alcohol and other drugs for some 20 years. It doesn't work. Period. It didn't work for Crowley, it didn't work for Gurney, it didn't work for me, and it won't work for you. Not if you have the problem of alcohol or drug dependency.
[Author's Note: It is possible that there is a second part to Liber Nike which we are missing. It may be that Crowley was an exception. His particular case is already complicated by his use of heroin as a medically prescribed asthma remedy. When we are satisfied we have all the evidence, we can see if it is necessary to re-evaluate my opinion that the man had a problem with drugs. For the moment, my advice to chronic substance abusers who are adherents of Thelema is to take it on faith that he may have, and could therefore have been a little blind about the issue. If it turns out that he didn't, my advice would be, don't try to compare yourself to the Magus of the Aeon!]
It is no insult to the Prophet to say these things. It would be an insult to hide the truth. Crowley's attitude about drugs was certainly romantic, courageous and admirable as can be. His scientific mind, and ability to so thoroughly record and analyze his feelings and honestly monitor his behavior, are truly impressive. He pioneered and explored in uncharted realms and we of today owe him a great deal for his efforts. However I believe he was dead wrong in Diary of a Drug Fiend,. and I think Thelemites with a substance abuse problem are liable to twist his already confused message even further to their own detriment, and the detriment of others around them.
Crowley obviously was aware of the nature of the problem because he wrote the following.
"Give cocaine to a man already wise, schooled to the world, morally forceful, a man of intelligence and self-control. If he be really master of himself, it will do him no harm. He will know it for a snare; he will beware of repeating such experiments as he may make; and the glimpse of his goal may possibly even spur him to its attainment by those means which God has appointed for His saints." [italics added - Quoted from the Magical Link, Vol. 1, No.7, p. 52, Aug/Sept 1987]
Here is a black and white exposition of what I believe to be the truth, and it is in fact, in three sentences, a perfectly succinct summary of this essay.
* * *
Gurney and I discussed at length the difference between this runaround with heroin and our past experiences (of which he also had plenty). Why was it so impossibly difficult for either one of us to stop using this time? What had happened? Through the good graces of a doctor and friend, I think I understand. What he explained was that the nerve endings have a coating on them which allows one emotional sanity. When one drinks alcohol, that coating is thickened, thereby inducing a more relaxed state. However, the alcohol also progressively deteriorates the natural coating, so that over the years one is more raw-nerved. The only way to achieve any sort of emotional normalcy then is to drink, so that one temporarily re-coats the alcohol-damaged nerves. The true definition of a vicious cycle. In our younger days therefore, it was much easier to take or leave heroin because we were healthier. After 20 odd years of alcohol-induced nerve damage each, the problem was that much more complex.
You may ask - how could we face ourselves in view of our Oaths and responsibilities within the Order? Over and over, that was our main topic. I am convinced that we were both given a certain amount of time to handle the problem. I had to embrace sobriety to save my life. Gernon had to die to maintain his honor and the honor of the Order. And I can only say to my best friend, "Thank God you're dead. Because that way I know you're not scum. And I know the O.T.O. is real."
Further details of my own drug use are of little importance. Suffice it to say that I "bottomed out" at the end of December 1988. All hell broke loose. (This was coincidently the time when Gernon began lying to his closest friends about having quit heroin, and when he began using a needle.) I had been seeing Frater Chub sems dpa' [author of the Magical Link outreach article, Vol. 3, No.1, p. 1, Spring 1989) on a weekly basis for about three months after losing a bet with the Caliph regarding my ability to stop using heroin on my own by the Fall Equinox. I had stopped again for the hundredth time on the Winter Solstice, and this was definitely the last time for me with drugs (as it had been a thousand times before). I was in a session with my wife who was finally leaving with our kid after 10 years of marriage. I had convinced her to talk with him and me one last time before she left.
Halfway or more through the session, he brought out a book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous (the famous AA Big Book). When he handed it to me, it was as if I were receiving a slime coated reptile. God, how I hated him. But he had me by the balls; I couldn't very well refuse in view of the situation with my wife and the bastard knew it. I accepted the book with the immediate silent oath that it would remain the absolutely most unread and unopened, dust-collecting book on my shelves, and that was that. Of course on the subway ride away from his office I had no reading material, and in pure book-junky form, cracked it open for a look. I didn't close it for 3 days. Here was the most honest and straightforward material I had ever seen in my life about drugs and alcohol. And I was ready. I joined AA that night as I read, because finally I had an insight into my problem. Pure and simple, I was an alcoholic. I could weigh it, label it, hold it in my hand, examine it. No more heavy drinker, problem drinker, person with a drinking problem or a will power problem; no, I was an alcoholic, and everyone knows the only way to handle that problem is to cut off alcohol. An enormous burden was lifted from my shoulders that night after so many, many years.
Alcoholics Anonymous has simply got to be one of the most Thelemic groups on the planet. There is one rule for membership: a desire to stop drinking. Other than that it is an almost totally anarchistic fellowship. It makes the O.T.O. look like the Republican Party. In the same room are gorgeous young women, seedy old men, business people dressed to the nines, and hippies in headbands. And they are communicating with a depth of self-revealing honesty that few "normal" people will ever know. The love and compassion and understanding that flows through these rooms is phenomenal. The experiences of "sharing" and "qualifying" add new dimensions to the injunction to "be shameless before all men." The arrogance and pride of the loner, which so crippled Richard in his attempt at healing himself, are dealt with masterfully by this group, as is so much else. These folks really understand how to live without drugs. No rules! The anti-AA propaganda about born-again christianity is about as accurate as some well-known modem "exposes" of the O.T.O. To the Thelemite, the Holy Guardian Angel = "God as we understand Him" of AA's Twelve Steps.
My experiences with early sobriety have been neither as easy nor as instantly curative of all my problems in life as I might have imagined. On the drug side, I am reminded of spending an entire day 2-1/2 months into it when I "white knuckled" it through a heroin compulsion. (Mercifully, that was a real exception.) About a week later, Gernon had been found out and was about to kick, and had painted himself a kind of resort hotel kicking experience with an O.T.O. family to nurse him through. He was describing to me his expectations of the kick in really glowing terms. I told him to stop glamorizing the kick part because the real work could only start after he was sufficiently detoxified to feel again. I told him about the "white knuckle" day and he was really amazed and impressed that someone could go through that kind of hell so long after the physical addiction was broken. He did in fact enjoy the world's most comfortable kick, and three weeks later he was dead.
4-1/2 months into my recovery I remember another doozy of a day. My marriage had ended after my sobriety, within days of Gurney's death. My new Lady is an Order member in recovery also. I was picking up her kid from a party on the Lower East Side. I had to drive past two heavy dope scoring areas on the way to get him. I became hyper-anxious. My eyes had to sweep the street (city driving) and I was freaking out that I would see a drug dealer. I would have given anything to be able to just close my eyes and not look. I didn't want any drugs, there was no temptation. It was just that there was so much raw pain for me to deal with. I got the kid and drove back the same way, with the horror building and ballooning inside me at every moment until I crossed a certain street, the "dividing line". I got home and went to the kitchen for a snack. My hands were shaking out of control as I tried to put jelly on a rice cake. My Lady came to the kitchen and I told her how nervous and terrified the experience had made me, that I really just wanted to cry. She held me and encouraged me to do so, which I did instantly!
Whatever pathetic, cringing, vulnerable, weak and unkingly feelings I may have had or could have been accused of having, the bottom line was that I was clean. More than Crowley could say for himself, let alone Gernon prattling about Thelema and freedom and dying of a fucking overdose.
Curiously enough, the two oldest Thelemic male magicians I have known, and for whom I have the greatest respect, both had heavy alcoholic careers and both had to stop drinking totally. It blew me out to see Grady not take wine at the Mass. But I knew even then that my future would somehow move me in that direction, the "Major Grady L. McMurtry Grape Juice Communion".
* * *
Note: in this section I discuss the contents of Liber AL in terms of sobriety. You have been warned.
"wine and strange drugs" in recovery? Well now ...
What in fact is so strange about cocaine for example, the drug of choice of every Wall Street stockbroker and high-school janitor; crack, the modem gaseous nirvana; heroin, probably the most widely documented drug in the world. Lest there be any misinterpretation, I don't find "designer drugs" any more "strange" than yesterday's newspaper. I give Aiwaz more credit for subtlety than to label the media darlings of the 80's "strange"; perhaps if He had said "commonplace", I would be more concerned about not following my religious orders.
"sweet wines and wines that foam" . . . ? I will risk revealing to you that I do not feel negligent in my spiritual duties as a Thelemite in sobriety.
The instructions concerning the cakes of light do seem to me more like a physical recipe. As a recovering Thelemite, I am willing to continue to make them in the traditional way I do, because of the chemical principles involved in heating the wine for 5-7 hours to get the leavings (although I might recommend arranging to cook it at a non-alcoholic member's house while you take a little walk so you don't breathe in, or fill your home with, the fumes - pathetic, right?) See "Mama Nuit's Cosmic Cookie Recipe Comer" for details. [Magical Link, Vol. V, No.5, May, 1986]
"They shall not harm ye at all." . . . Here we quote Crowley in Liber Had. "Let the Aspirant take wine and strange drugs, according to his knowledge and experience, and be drunk thereof. (The Aspirant should be in so sensitive a condition that a single drop, perhaps even the smell, should suffice.)" [italics added]
Note: end of section discussing Liber AL. You can relax again.
* * *
Sobriety . . . God how I used to hate even the sound of that word. Yet now I am in a kind of heaven with it. Integrity, to know that I am not hiding and lying, either to myself, my friends, family, business associates, especially my Angel. To remember where I've been and what I said and what happened there. Pride, to be able to see and face things as they are. To feel kundalini unimpeded by continuous daily poisons. To experience sex with the gloves off. To realize that I had mistaken being low for being high. That the Qliphoth is not the Empyrean. That ida, pingala and sushumna are not the waste pipes of the New York sewer system.
Forget drug induced mystical experience; it is an oxymoron. At least in any lasting sense. As Crowley says above, one can learn of the existence of higher states through drug experimentation. But drug "use" is completely contraindictated for one on the Path.
My truest, most intense and permanent mystical experiences always happened without drugs. Drugs certainly had their value and place in my mystical life. They helped me to undo the early cultural, materialistic conditioning of an American childhood, and definitely opened up new realms of inner experience for further exploration. Through my reading and searching along the Path after my initial drug experiences, I encountered ages old techniques of consciousness expansion, "those means which God has appointed for His saints." If I had pursued those techniques with the same zeal with which I pursued drugs and alcohol, I would probably have been God by now. I guess I needed the other 20 years of pathology for karma yoga and character development.
To understand and accept this and not be rendered spiritually impotent by shame, guilt or hopelessness, but to pursue my will as a free man is my task now.
And the sobriety which I wanted so much to share with Gurney when he was alive is something I must do for the two us now, for my brother walks within me.
These words are primarily addressed to those Order members with a drug and/or alcohol problem. Most of the people in this world do not have that problem. To those who don't, here's a report from Planet X for your consideration. I'm not writing for you - I have never been able to understand your drug use. For my own psychic health, I've had to stop trying to be like you in my relationship to drugs and alcohol. But to you who share the problem, I'm afraid you may be reading the first lines of the obituary of your own drug use. For your sakes at least, I hope so.
From the ashes of his self-immolation, the Phoenix shall arise anew. "With courage conquering fear shall ye approach me: ye shall lay down your heads upon mine altar, expecting the sweep of the sword. But the first kiss of love shall be radiant on your lips; and all my darkness and terror shall turn to light and joy."
Love is the law, love under will.
7/4/89 e.v. An IIIxix
New York City