Up In Smoke

Note: This is an excerpt from “Not My Child” by Dr. Paul Hardy (2018)

The Korean war was not kind to my father. He would often awaken in the middle of the night with severe sweats and nightmares. I always wondered why he could never watch war movies. This was soon translated into a very stern demeanor and ended in a drive to make his sons into little soldiers. I had the privilege of being the first born. By the time my youngest brother came along, dad had mellowed a lot and was just too tired to carry on the military tradition.

It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand the symptoms he had shown all my life. The anger and frustration he had and the ability to “check out” emotionally and mentally began to make sense – PTSD. As you can imagine, I grew up with a lot of stress, both in our home and within me.

That stress soon developed into a world view that everyone was out to get me. After being bullied in school for years, I began to seethe with anger. With no outlets, I became frustrated constantly. I remember, soon after getting my car, it wouldn’t start. One of my classmates had gone out and re-wired the alternator. What may have been funny to them became enraging to me.

Wanna toke?

One day, late at work, a friend came up to me and asked if I wanted to “smoke.” Innocent as I was, before I knew it, we were smoking a joint behind the store. The first couple of times I tried it with my new friend, nothing happened. I felt nothing, but I wanted to please my friend, so, I kept trying it. Peer pressure set in.

The third time, I got it. The euphoric feeling of the green cloud swept over me. A big smile on my face, I forgot all my hurt and anger for a couple of hours. It really worked! Immediately, I was swept in. I became overwhelmed and obsessed with chasing that feeling every chance I could get. My life became centered around smoking. A group of us began to buy and sell whatever we could find. We were a group of buddies who just wanted to get high.

This went on for three years. Eventually, any drug that came into the neighborhood became my drug of choice. My every day pursuit of “feeling good” led me to shop-lifting, stealing from friends, and selling drugs. I lied to my parents at every turn. This was now my lifestyle.

I remember coming in the night of my high school graduation. Family had come in from out of state. The cake sat on the dining room table. At that time, I had gotten some marijuana laced with DDT (as in, rat poison). Since I had been smoking it for several days, it was doing something strange to my brain. I had the sensation that I was constantly rolling down a hill. I was becoming a zombie.

Quickly, my mother ushered me into the kitchen alone and began to cry. I will never forget that conversation. “Why? Why? Why? What’s wrong with you?” On an evening of great celebration, I was lost in the green cloud.

My big breakdown

I was systematically breaking my mother’s heart. I was consistently angering my dad. He was taking away all my privileges. High, I almost totaled my car. I was arrested for shoplifting. I was suspended from school for marijuana use. This all happened within a few short weeks. It felt like a thick rope was tightening around me. In the midst of it all, I still just wanted to get high. That’s all that mattered.

We had not yet gotten cocaine or heroin into our area, but I had graduated to taking phenobarbital as I could steal it from the pharmacies. Everything seemed to shift into slow motion. There I was, angry and depressed, taking a drug that made me feel heavier and depressed.

After a full Saturday of binge-smoking with my friends, I felt exhausted. I had become so empty and only had one aspiration-the next high. I remember falling into my bed that night and questioning many things in my life. I began to envision all the bad things I had done. All my life was centered and focused on what I wanted. I had a desire to get better, but had no ability within myself to change.

A cry for help

In my desperation that night, I cried out to God for help. “If you’re real God, please help me.” A sense of peace came over me, and I found rest I had never felt before. The very simple decision to invite God into my struggles and seek His healing was life-altering. Sure, I had my struggles after that, but from that day until now, I have never been the same.