Put a couple of hundred miles on my motorcycle recently, cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway, a bunch of winding mountain roads and a few towns along the way. Arrived back in Floyd shortly after the sun went down, enjoying the breeze of a Spring evening.
Amy says I always arrive back from a ride with a smile on my face. She’s right. Riding my bike is one of the ways I enjoy every day of whatever time I have left on this Earth, living life one day at a time and always to the fullest.
When enjoyed, life itself is the most powerful — and addictive — intoxicant of all: Looking through the viewfinder of my camera and capturing the exact second when a talented high school athlete scores the winning point; piecing together bits of video that turn into a film that captures the music of Floyd County; uncovering that last piece of evidence to catch a public official violating his or her trust with the public or simply cruising a country road while the wind whips my face.
Wasn’t always that way. Like too many others I faced life through a chemical-induced haze. My drug of choice was booze. For others, it can be marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin and even the prescription drugs that doctors hand out like candy.
I was 46 when I stood up at a meeting in the basement of a church in Arlington, Virginia, and told a room full of strangers that "my name is Doug and I’m an alcoholic." In 27 days, I will stand up in another room and tell fellow travelers that "it has been exactly 15 years since my last drink."
The last 15 years have shown me just how much life I missed while under the influence. As an alcoholic, I’m an addict and addicts must be addicted to something. I chose an addiction to life.
A rambunctious youth has left me with pain from too many broken bones and too many surgical procedures to repair damage to bone and muscle. As an addict, I cannot take pain medication. It’s too easy to become addicted so I let the endorphins that my body produces naturally overcome the pain. Once you learn to trust your body the need for drugs often goes away.
I’ve thought about life a lot more over the past couple of days because of a contentious debate with some members of Floyd County’s stoner community. They are upset because I had the gall to suggest that someone who raises and distributes illegal drugs should be punished for the crime.
In some ways, it has been amusing to see how some who argue for unrestricted use of grass have displayed all the classic symptoms of frequent marijuana use: particularly paranoia and angry talk of government conspiracies. But their comedic behavior is overshadowed by the knowledge that their drug use is destructive — not only to themselves but to those around them.
Those who choose to smoke grass made a choice, just as those who drank, snorted or shot up their drug of choice made theirs. As an addict, I know that no one who is addicted to any drug can turn their life around until they themselves make the choice to do so. But those who choose to make drugs part of their lifestyle must also accept responsibility for their decision. A drunk who crawls behind the wheel of a car becomes a deadly weapon. A person who raises and distributes illegal drugs becomes a criminal. As Sammy Davis Jr. sang in the opening theme of the television show Baretta: "Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time."
Fifteen years ago, I faced a choice: Choose to keep drinking and die or choose life and live.
I chose life…and I’ve been high on it ever since.