Addicted to Elsewhere

Michael Ortiz Hill

Sometimes a simple statistic opens up the shadowlands that border all that we love.

Seventeen percent of people over the age of sixty are addicted to prescription meds.

A sixth of our grandparents are addicts.

Every nurse knows this as does every doctor. We are, after all, the pushers. Anyone who has been to a narcotics or alcohol anonymous meeting knows how vast and ordinary is the geography of addiction.

Twenty seven percent of Americans will suffer from a substance abuse disorder during their lifetime.

One of four Americans will die of substance abuse.

Utterly ordinary.

We are America and Drugs R Us.

A friend suggested that I write about how the crucifiction of Britney Spears distracts America from our complicity in crucifying Iraq and Afghanistan. No doubt about it: we drink the blood of the addict du jour with our morning coffee. A sexy young thang that we drag through the mud is always compelling and we seem to require such scapegoats to die for our sins. But the truth is that this addict and all the others are sister or brother.

Blood relative or dear friend: they beckon from the shadowlands of all that we deny.

That we might get real

My father died a drunkard’s death. I was eleven when my parents separated. Dad had his first major heart attack three months after my mother left him. I came of age watching his slow motion suicide. Liquor and cigarettes. He was my first spiritual teacher and my first partner in intellectual dialogue. And I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to save him.

Dad taught me to meditate and even those years as a homeless teenager I was a creature of his library. Buddhism, Jung, Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross, Sri Aurobindo, Allan Watts, Herman Hesse. His library carried the voices of the ancestors and I knew it.

As he descended into the dark night of the soul, I also. My life was gathering garbage to eat, sleeping under the freeway bridge if it rained. Meditation, reading, prayer, solitude, dysentery, lice, scabies and madness. I had dropped out of high school, thank God, and was getting a real education.

When I was mad I called my father and spoke to him of ecstasy and terror. He listened deep and said, “I know it’s frightening but it’s a rite of passage and you can trust it. I went through the same thing when I was your age.”

I am now exactly the age my father was when he said these words to his psychotic kid. When I reflect of stepping forth as an adult it carries the shade of that moment and in the layering of time that moment is now. He seeps through. I witnessed my father stepping forth as junior elder and now he speaks to me of the open secret of it.

My father went crazy as a teenager when his uncle was shot over poker in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. We shared this, he and I. For the two of us this baptism in the waters of psychosis was formative.

My father was a profound man and profoundly broken. Radiantly imperfect. His slow suicide was swift enough. It took him all of nine years to find death.

A week before my father died he dropped me off at a freeway onramp to hitchhike four hundred miles home. There was a lack of grace between us, a clumsiness we shared. The previous night I’d burst into tears.

“I think you are dying,” I said.

A sorrow song carries the dark notes of what a son knows of his father’s soul and what he know they share in common.

“God bless you,” were his last words

“God bless you too, dad.”

So I m sitting in a parking lot eating chicken with anonymous

Bill and pondering the mind of the addict which is to say “all of us.”

In Buddhism the suffering we perpetually live

is called samsara – wherever you are you refuse to be. There is

always a “better now.” An addict is not really addicted to

a drug.

He/she is addicted to elsewhere.

Likewise the ordinary liberation we perpetually avoid is the

simple fact of this present moment – not another.

A light comes over Bills face.

“You mean where we are now?”

“Precisely. Now.”

I recall the months I‘ve spent alone in the forest, meditating.

Returning again and again to the present moment. Blessedly

stark and uncompromising. Where could I conceivably be but the

present moment?

But forever the mind of the monkey, barrel-assing to nirvana.


And here I am inching up to being my dads age when stumbled off the edge of this life to … elsewhere. Drugs for me? No . But this is a totalitarian world and I sometimes jones for the fascism of distraction as my wife Deena Metzger calls it.