Michael Heil has been a gleeful storyteller from the time he began first forming sentences. He likes making people laugh out loud and finds joy thinking that his writings might help others to avoid making the same mistakes he has.
Several months into my probation, I found myself utterly incapable of refraining from weed. After a while, I just couldn't help it anymore. I had to smoke, but I also had to find a way around my randomized drug tests. My solution: go to the sauna for six hours, drink lots of water, take niacin, cranberry extract, and goldenseal, get clean, pee in a bunch of ziploc baggies, and store them for later. But what happens when you're down to your last bag?!?!
A Hot Commodity
During the most awful time in my life I got arrested five times in just as many months. I wasn't really that bad of a kid. I was a stoner with hair down to my shoulders and girl pants round my butt, but I grew up in the heart of the most religious county on earth. It was like growing up in the truman show and I was the anomaly. Wearing tight pants, a stoned face, and long hair in my city was paramount to placing yourself on the "Most-wanted list."
Although I was no longer using drugs, my inner hippie could not resist the temptation to stand out and make a name for itself. College was the chance to redefine myself, I thought. So, I called myself Mac and went without shoes for a year. I kept telling myself that I wasn't doing it for attention but rather because I liked the way that the bare ground felt beneath my feet. That perspective quickly changed once the winter months hit, and I found myself trudging around the steep mountain campus barefoot in the snow. By that point, I'd committed myself so much to the idea that I wasn't willing to give it up.
The Mud Man
My desire to have fun and live a meaningful life has always been there. From my very earliest memories, I can recall gathering kids together for night games, board games, video games, sports, and every other type of activity I could think up. I wanted everyone to feel included and have a fun time.
Teetering on a Cliff of Regret
In High School, I was a drug addict, and then all this happened. I was a drug addict who felt extremely guilty about doing drugs. I hated lying, and I hated getting arrested. I hated the fact that I needed drugs in order to feel okay. My guilt drove me to excel in school. I guess I was really guilty because somehow, I finished High School with my Associate's Degree in college. I took the distance education program through which my High School actually paid for my degree. I went to class high pretty much every day. I'd take ADD pills to give me energy and help me focus. In the evening, I'd take other things to help me sleep. I felt pretty messed up inside. During the summer where I was set up to finally finish my degree, I worked hard every day and pretty much locked myself inside.
Do Drugs, Sex, or Pleasure Help us Find Meaning in Life?
I remember being told if I do drugs, I’ll become an addict, but I always thought only weak people became addicts. I didn’t like being told no, it made me feel obstinate. I needed to know the why behind the what. I needed to know about how hard addiction was to recover from, even for strong and disciplined people. I was one of those stubborn people who had no capacity to learn from the mistakes of others. Instead, I needed to try everything myself, I didn’t trust the opinion of anyone. I remember being told one thing was good and its counterpart was bad, but I wanted to know about the grey in-between. I wanted to know who called it good or bad, and why they did so. I needed the evidence and the statistics and the reasoning behind it. I don’t recall being taught the process of addiction or the reason it’s so hard to come back from. I don’t recall a discussion about how addicts are perceived by the rest of society or how the decisions I made now would start a lifelong battle with ongoing ramifications. Maybe I trusted the opinion of my classmates more than that of the intimidating offer, and they told me drugs were fun and felt good.
How We Try to Fill the Hole Inside: The Crazy Cycle
It’s astonishing how feeling-based, subjective, and cyclical many of our beliefs are. It’s not only us drug addicts, but food addicts, womanizers (sex addicts), bulimics, anorexics, alcoholics, nicotine addicts, social media addicts, game addicts, all of us, relentlessly seek the things that make us feel good. As we pursue them, we experience a sensation of momentary but fading satisfaction. If we want to feel that way again, we need more. Round and round we go, each time through the cycle our dependence increases. Outwardly, as we strive to find purpose and meaning we go through cycles. Inwardly our brain goes through similar cycles.
How Forming Habits Happens in the Brain
Both good and bad habits can produce dopamine dumps in our brain. Bad habits are often easier and take less work but can deliver similar or higher amounts of dopamine to our brain. When we act on these bad habits, we create long-term potentiation in which we are training our brains to be more responsive to these things. The more we do them, the more we strengthen the connections between these neurons. Over time the desire for these neurons to release the neurotransmitters that give us pleasure grows to becomes so strong that these tiny little turd-buckets rule our lives. When this happens even small triggers like smells or taste or memories can excite the synapse, making us feel an inert need to act on that bad habit. Our brains, neurons, and synapses will ultimately end up where we have trained them to end up, and after a while they will lead us there too.
Studebaker Studios Presents
This was not your average celebration of life. Canes were swinging, the elderly were dancing, and champagne corks shot across the room like fireworks with streams of liquor trailing behind them. Uncle Studebaker was much like the Count in A Series of Unfortunate Events. No one, except his nephew Hansel, was disappointed when he passed away. In fact, the town was so relieved to hear of his passing that most of the people who attended his funeral went solely to make sure he was actually dead. The result of their findings created a rhapsody of relief that was nearly palpable. People ran around with expressions so exuberant you'd think they'd just been freed from slavery or won a war. The raucous partying continued all night.