“you can’t get addicted to weed.” wanna bet?
Hi y’all, I’m Alex and this is Both Are True. This is prolly the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m grateful to y’all for creating a space where I feel like I can share it. Thank you.
I originally shared this as a paid only post on April 6 2023, (this date comes up in the essay). Today I’m releasing the whole thing as Episode Four of Season One: I’m (Not??) The Best, a multi-month deep dive into the ideas of competition, comparison, testing and achievement etc. If you want to support my work and explore these questions more deeply, please consider becoming a paid subscriber today.
A FINAL NOTE: The essay is too long for email, so if you’re reading it in your inbox, you will eventually come to a “View entire message” link - click on that and the rest of the email should show up normally. You can also click here and read the entire thing online.
I’m definitely stalling lol ok let’s just do this.
I’m awake by 5:30 am. No alarm clock, just me and the sun, both ready to rise.
Lots to do. Let’s go.
I pee in our tiny bathroom, resisting the urge to clear the phlegm from my throat so that I don’t wake Laur up. God, that word – phlegm. It sounds exactly like what it means. Respect.
But how do you spell it? p, definitely, then what? g? pghlem? pleghm? plhgem? Phlegm is the greatest word in the english language. The 8th wonder of the world. I should write that down.
I sneak through the room with the grace of a garbage truck, hoping Lauren isn’t awake, yet knowing she is. It was hard not to be.
A gnawing thrill bubbles in my stomach as I close the front door and, beep-beep, get in the Prius that’s parked perpendicular to our steep-as-shit street, Scott Ave. It isn’t as bad as Baxter, the legendary Echo Park attraction, with its 32 degree incline, the steepest street in the country and probably the world. There’s a moment, right before the top, when it feels like your car is about to drop off the edge of a cliff. They say that’s where you meet God. Right there, on Baxter.
God isn’t here though, on Scott Ave, not yet at least. Baxter is the 4th steepest street in the country, actually, I learn on google while driving while listening to a podcast while placing my Starbucks mobile order while driving.
That’s wild. What if gravity didn’t work sometimes on Baxter? Or in general. Picky gravity, lol. Pickle gravity - a different gravity for pickles. Na, picky gravity is better, remember picky gravity and… wait, what was the other thing? PHLEM!
Picky gravity + phlegm, picky gravity + phlegm, picky gravity + phlegm, the 8th wonder of the world. Baxter could be the 8th wonder of the world too, though. Baxter is 9th. What's the application process like to become a wonder of the world? Seems like they were just handing them out and now, it’s impossible to become one.
Remember all this, remember all this, remember - shit, I gotta focus finishing this Starbucks mobile order: a venti BIG BOY americano WITH AN EXTRA SHOT and JUST A SPLASH of soy milk, plus of course everyone’s favorite: the undisputed champ of breakfast sandwiches that make you feel healthy at Starbucks, yes, the 230 calorie REDUCED FAT turkey-bacon egg WHITE and cheddar sandwich.
Sure, it tastes like sponge but man, at least it’s healthy sponge.
Driving home, goods in hand, I am a 16-year-old on his way to the mall. The possibility. The anticipation. The craving! Craving. Raving + C. Not much there, no need to remember that one.
Anything can happen, I think as I sip that giant-ass iced espresso and pull that cheesy steaming hot yet somehow also cold sandwich out of its paper bag home. I take a bite.
But let’s be clear, I’m not much aware of any of this. Not the hot/cold sponge sandwich or the rising anticipation in my chest or my heart rate increasing from the espresso. I’ve got a podcast on – Tim Ferriss Explains It All – and also phlegm + gravity phlegm + gravity phlegm + gravity. Plus wait was the other thing oh right the wonders of the world and I’m back home now, in the office, plopping myself into the chair. It’s time.
I unscrew the dab pen and get everything ready. It’s 5:49 am, and I’m about to get stoned as shit.
Do the dab thing
My dab pen is sticky. That’s the ‘wax’, which is weedspeak for ‘absurdly strong concentrated weed oil’.
According to WeedMaps: “Dabbing is hands down one of the most potent methods of dosing cannabis; the cannabinoids in weed wax are highly concentrated, and you can feel its effects within seconds of inhalation. Dabs can contain up to 80-90% of the plant's major psychoactive cannabinoid, THC. Comparatively, raw cannabis flower contains up to about 30% THC at most.”
Unscrewing the top half, which feels like it’s covered in dry, crusty maple syrup, I’m hit by that dank stench – not ‘that dank sticky icky,’ but dank in its original meaning – a musty, thick stench of burnt earth, prehistoric vapors from the land before time.
I take the tiny shovel the size of a mini screwdriver, aka ‘the loading tool’, and scoop up a small ‘dab’ of the sauce/wax that comes in a shallow tub, the kind you’d use for nice lip balm. As if I’m performing surgery, I pack it on top of the coils as Tim Ferriss explains how to outsource your high-leverage, low-joy tasks and I’m nommin’ on some mostly cold spongewich with turkey bacon, and the wax is on the coils, but the coils smell bad, like burnt toast, so I say, out loud, ‘yuck,’ and then screw the top half back on, push the blueish purple button and wait as the coils begin to heat up, hotter and hotter and finally, it is time.
I bring the pen to my mouth and I inhale as the sweet mother’s vapor fills my nostrils, fills my throat and especially that place where phlegm usually gets stuck (there it is again! a sign). I can taste it, weed-like but not, an ounce of weed made super compact, purified down to its basic atomic element, a genie returned to his lamp, and then, once in your throat, kablam, it explodes, and I exhale.
My body unclenches,
My brain loosens,
the darkness lifts
finally, the sun also rises.
This is my favorite moment in the day. Everything comes alive, like we didn’t know we were in the dark, but now that someone flipped the light on, it’s like duh - this is much better.
The world breathes and I breathe too, for I am of the world and in the world and I’m allowed to be here. We’re all allowed to be here. Sure, this might be a bit of a lot of smoking before 6am, but honestly, who cares? I don’t. Right? Right. Left. Left, right, left. Funny how left goes first in the order always. Jot that down.
Phlegm and gravity and the subtext of left and I’m coughing because it’s been about six hours since I last smoked, and the vapor is too hot because I don’t take care of the pen. This isn’t a ritual I undertake with great care. This is simple.
a means to an end.
an end to the means.
To be honest, and I would like to be honest, now that I’m high and realizing how vital it is: this isn’t really my first hit of the day. I’ve hit the normal vape pen about ten times on the drive to Starbucks and back. It’s just, that wasn’t getting me high anymore. Not like it used to. Just like a lil cup of black coffee from Jim and Jan’s diner doesn’t do shit for me anymore. I’ve graduated, and the vape pen is necessary, but not sufficient. Also, not really necessary lol, now that I had Mr. Dab. The dab pen though. Now there was some news I could use.
News you can use - that’s good. A character in a show I write could say that. I write it down in Drafts, the app I use to keep track of my notes. I log the other stuff - phlegm and gravity and whoa, what about the gravity of phlegm, which connects with this moon-opera I wrote yesterday! And there could be steep ass hills on the moon and, look at this, I’ve become the comedic version of Russell Crowe in ‘A Beautiful Mind’.
A Humorous Yet Also Profound Mind.
Everything works, everything makes sense, everything connects to everything else because I am simply saying ‘yes’ because that piece of shit who’s been squatting in my brain is gone. The critic is gone, and now, finally, I am me, full of ideas and questions:
Which do I love more - being high, or the thrill of getting high?
Bliss, or the anticipation of bliss?
The ideas themselves, or the story of me as a guy with ideas?
By 8:30am I’m napping.
Paging Dr. Dobrenko
19 minutes later, I’m awake.
I head back to the office. Quinn is there too, sitting at his desk across the room. We both sit and we both pretend to work. I run him through today’s big ideas - phlegm et al, but he doesn’t seem convinced.
Time to start juggling the full-time job stuff – the meetings, the spreadsheets, the customers! – and Distance, my baby my show my everything, my web series that we released last year but still isn’t done because there’s always more to do -- outreach, audience development, social media, investor relations! Releasing a movie is the start of the work, not the end!
I take some adderall – 10mg – prescribed by the nurse practitioner who said I definitely had ADHD. I didn’t tell her about the weed, but that’s not really her business. Big time ADHD for this lil guy she said, for sure. She’s staring at the poster child for ADHD, she said. Well, not with words but her eyes, for sure. I tell her I want to do comedy, she asks me for a joke.
“Which came first: the chicken, or the egg? The very fact they were having sex at all is a problem, no?”
She didn’t laugh. She probably didn’t get it.
But which came first? The chicken, or the egg?
Wanting to make a great show, or wanting to be the guy who could make a great show?
The weed addiction, or the ADHD?
Adderall helped, a lot. But it killed my creativity: I wasn’t funny anymore, I was just efficient, or at least I felt like I was. And which is more important, really? The truth, or the story one tells about the truth? (write that down.) Luckily I have an endless supply of medicinal grade, very-much-legal-and-very-much-way-more-potent-than-anyone-in-the-history-of-the-human-race-has-had-their-hands-on marijuana. So I’d smoke more, as prescribed by Dr. Dobrenko (also known as my OCD). He was like a mad scientist (what’s he mad about?), tinkering with the subject (also me), trying to figure out just the right mixture of Up and Goof to create Super Alex, the one who would finally do what Normal Alex couldn’t: succeed.
Great, the doc said, seeing how I was handling more weed, but we’re losing focus. Add some more adderall, STAT!
He’s losing focus, a nurse screams. More weed, the doc says, and he sounds so confident!
But still, something’s off. Dr. Dobrenko looks out at the ocean through his window (he lives by the ocean) and says, gravely, “I know what to do.”
It’s 8:55am and I’m in the kitchen, grabbing the nip from the freezer. It was labeled DO NOT DRINK, but that wasn’t for me. That’s for the normies. I’m different, I’m special, I’m taking a sip from the bottle. Now, we wait.
Dr. Dobrenko said microdosing LSD was the hot new rage. All the silicon valley fucknuts were doing to lower anxiety and increase creativity without any hallucinations or anything.
As someone who loves acid, this was stellar news. LSD was my favorite drug, because of where it could take me, how it could reset my brain and make all the bad thoughts go away, and how it let me Finally Figure It All Out. So, of course, I was happy to oblige Dr. Dobrenko’s request.
I had some leftover tabs from Burning Man, the ones we’d bought on the dark web and were advertised as the most potent LSD the world had ever seen (confirmed), which I’d dissolved in one of those mini nip bottles of vodka (the reddit forums were clear on this: to properly microdose, you must dissolve in vodka).
Except I’m not feeling anything. It doesn’t really seem like enough, so I take another sip and another, and now half the little bottle is gone. This is no longer a microdose, Dr. Dobrenko realizes with glee.
A macromicro. A half of a tab of military grade hallucinogen designed to swing the doors of perception wide open and - am I a little drunk? Honestly, cool. Plus, that’s not up to me to decide. Dr. Dobrenko’s goal is simple: create a high functioning (lol), super funny super creative super focused super Alex. Oh and super alert. Speaking of, time to get another Starbucks. And I’m pretty hungry too, so how about another one of those spongewiches. Great. I cruise there, as Tim Ferriss explains why Athletic Greens is really the only supplement he recommends.
On the drive, I buy a tub of Athletic Greens.
When I was eight years old, already living in America, I loved eggs. Specifically, the omelettes my mom and grandma made. However big the portions, I always wanted more, and so my mom left me a little slice of omelette in the pan.
“More iyichka!” I’d demand, like a little capitalist.
And always, there was more.
I was the egg man.
Or was I the walrus?
Walruses, I learned just now, are sociable, aggressive, and have very sensitive whiskers.
I loved it
11am. I’m on a work call, crushing it, making everyone laugh, surprising even myself. This was before Zoom, so we did old fashioned telephone conferences, meaning I could pack another wonderful sticky dab of wax during the meeting. I’m doing it. I’m really doing it. And I’m better. I don’t hate myself. I don’t even hate other people!
And fuck, I feel good: perfect and good and creative and funny and enough. There is nothing better than the cozy warmth of enough.
Is that so bad? To finally find something that helps me not feel so awful? Even if it is an illusion, sure, who cares! Life is an illusion, and I’d prefer to have one that didn’t feel like Dante’s Inferno.
We end the call and I pack another dab. Everything’s a little smudgy too, like it’s breathing. That’s the acid, which doesn’t work as well on me anymore, because I’ve been macromicro dosing every 3 days, as per the forum's recommendations, and plus I’m on antidepressants that dull its effects. Sometimes 3 days is too long to wait so I go every other day, but don’t worry, I’m good.
Right now things do not feel dull no sir. Two more big inhales of the wax and, holy shit.
I am not exaggerating when I say that everything, and I do mean everything, finally makes sense. The borders of ego that separate me from Quinn from Lauren from the little bushes from my bicycle from our mailbox that fell and now sits jimmy-rigged to the fence, it's all one thing. I am that thing as much as everything else is. Like Ram Dass and Buddha and Jesus before me, I am realizing the eternal truths of the universe. Pretty cool! I realize this as I realize everything. Time stops and its just me and the coffee and the weed and the LSD and the adderall and, holy fuck. I get it.
Not only do I understand God, I am God. We are all God. Once when I took way too much LSD, I spent a good six hours talking to myself. It didn’t feel weird at all, it just felt like the most normal t thing to do. It would have been weird not to talk to myself.
That is how I feel about God. I don’t expect you to understand, though I also don’t feel like I should hide the truth just because you might not be able to handle it. This is enlightenment, I’m fairly sure. And here it is, right now, which is also then and now and later and hey, why did the chicken cross the road?
There’s cosmic significance to that question, I am sure. I google it to see and, wait. The other side...is death? The chicken...died by suicide? Is that the joke? Damn, but also, I get it. Break on through, to the other side, said Jim Morrison.
We all want to break through, not die getting hit by a car like the chicken but to die and be reborn. To become something other than we are. To escape the trappings of our bodies and minds and become what I am right now which is the infinite. I am here, I am now, I am enough, and things make sense oh shit do I have an audition today?
Hi, my name is Alex Dobrenko, I’m 5 foot 7, and yes I am willing to shave.
Santa Monica. The promised land, with its beaches and breeze and relentless California spirit. It’s the ‘trying way too hard to be cool’ uncle of LA, the one who just got divorced and wants you to know HE IS DOING WELL THE WATER IS FIVE MINUTES AWAY EVEN IF HE NEVER GOES HE’S BUSY.
That’s a good bit, actually, I think, here in this cattle call commercial house, as I look around at all these hopeful idiots. What were the bits from earlier? Phlegm.
Actors. I am not them. I am different. They’re all thinking this too. We are each the most special winner in the room, except I know something they don’t. There is no I and there is no them. We are all one thing and so whoever books the role to represent Buffalo Wild Wings as a Football Fan who Is Comfortable Eating Wings and is Over 25 Years Old As There Will Be Beer On The Table, so too shall we all.
Except it would be nice if I booked it. I could really use a win in that department. Or any department, really but that one specifically. I can’t control that though focus on what I can control like getting better at my craft and improv and
Shit. We have rehearsal tonight. Our improv team - Shell Company. Shit, it’s at my house. Shit, it starts at 4pm and it’s...320pm. Shit.
I’m so fucking tired now, too - the day has melted its way through me. Why do I forget all this stuff why am I so fucking stupid I need to do better I can do better I need better systems better plans better everything. I am not right, but I can be. Maybe I can’t be.
Hope, that thing with feathers, I think as I order a nightcap Starbucks coffee and turkey bacon sandwich from the app.
“Yea hi!” I say, too excited, still after all these years. Or is that the Football Fan who’s excited? I am method and this is my method. Seth Rogen is high all the time and he’s a big star, why can’t I be?
The audition is humiliating. “I love it here,” I scream, just like the director asks. “You’re a simple, carefree man,” he tells me.
I love it here!
I finish the take and wait. The director looks at the ten people sitting with her - studio people, producers, Buffalo Wild Wings execs, who knows. A couple small nods and she says “Ok, I think we got everything we need.”
I won’t book it. Or maybe I will. It’s so hard to tell, but who cares I am gonna stay present which means... shit I’m late, shit I forgot I’d said we could grill at my place after rehearsal which means we need stuff to grill. God, I’m tired. Nothing a lil Starbucks can’t fix and also some more adderall which, although it does help with ADHD also does, without a shadow of a doubt, help me stay awake too. Two birds, one stoned.
At Starbucks now, making the mobile order while inside the store. This should be illegal, I think, when I remember: I’ve got the backpack with me, maybe I can bang out a few emails real quick for work? An efficient king, yes sir that’s me.
I open a couple emails, close them. Mark as unread, what a gift, I think. Better than sliced bread, even? Crazy how nothing’s replaced sliced bread as The Best Thing in that saying. Like, we’ve done so much. Gotta take a note of this it could be so good in standup. Or a character could say it or
“Yep,” I say, flatly. Here at Starbucks, they don’t need me to be anyone other than who I am.
Crawling forward in rush hour traffic on the 10, I feel myself coming down. Returning to baseline, descending back into the hole, the place I cannot go. Coffee helps, but it's not enough, not really. God I'm so fucking tired. I prep another dab hit - sticky pen and sticky scooper and sticky wax, the smell alone brings me back to a better place, like how an ocean breeze can remind you of a vacation with your family, dang, wait. I remember I’d promised Lauren I would cut back on the dab pen.
It was too much, she said. It made me erratic, super sensitive, unpredictable and so angry. Not to mention all the other drugs, too. She loved me so much, she said, and wanted to help me stop. She’d do whatever it took, she said, one time suggesting a 12-week yoga+meditation+sobriety program, which did piss me off. Big time.
We got engaged last New Year’s Eve. I proposed to consider proposing – my way of saying I don’t like how on the spot a proposal is: ‘decide how you want to spend the rest of your life NOW!’ – so what if we spent a month deciding if we wanted to propose to each other. If so, then we’d propose and tell everyone. But that first month was ours. PCP we called it, missing the obvious problems with such an acronym.
PCP, but for love
During the PCP, we talked a lot about our biggest fears. Lauren’s was, in no uncertain terms, whether I would be stoned all the time when we had kids. She didn’t want that. And neither did I, but that’s, I mean, that’s not this. We aren’t even trying to have kids yet. I mean okay we’re in therapy and that’s a big part of it but that therapist is so fucking weird she talks about her boat all the time why does she do that. She didn’t get it, and neither did Lauren. No one got it, not really. Lauren sorta got it more than everyone else, yes, but still. Fuck though, I need to be good, to care. Ok, no dab pen, I decide.
I eat an edible. I’ve got half a big gummy block in my backpack, the kind that you’re supposed to break up and take over several doses, 100mg. I take a little bite. They sure know how to make these shits taste good. I take another bite.
And then I drive home while Slack messaging my coworkers while texting my troupe that I’ll be late while taking a small hit from the dab pen while texting Lauren to see if she’d be cool letting the improv dudes in while refreshing my email to see if, miraculously and in unprecedented speed, I’d already booked the Buffalo Wild Wings commercial while taking a longer drag of the dab pen now, not even noticing I was doing it, ritual turned habit turned reflex.
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get way too high.
But once the chicken is there, up at the top of Baxter, as high as high can be, there’s really only one thing that can happen.
Which fell first, the chicken or the egg?
With every inch further along the highway, I fall deeper into a hole. I hate it here. It’s too dark and everyone is evil here even Lauren especially Lauren why doesn’t she get it??? Because she’s not broken like me, not even close. She doesn’t get it because she’s reached her dreams. Her job is her passion, unlike me who isn’t even good enough for the fucking idiots at Buffalo Wild Wings She cannot understand how far away from that I am, and how I may never get there because of how hard I suck.
The real trick of the dark is how it makes you forget there’s ever been anything but.
Light is a fairy tale now, just like time. There’s just this eternal, miserable hopeless present. Sure, I can run from it but clearly I return and how can she not see that? My life is the most fucked up life. It’s unique and different and frankly the #1, A+ perfect score sort of fucked up.
That’s funny, I think, grabbing my phone to write it down. What were those other things from earlier? I gotta write them down sooner. Or did I? I record a voice memo, “remember to remember the stuff about gravity.”
I grab some Armenian meats from the Armenian meats store (chicken thigh chicken breast steak tips all marinated all good prices). I realize it’s gonna be weird if I roll in with a coffee and haven’t ordered any for the guys. They’ll deduce I was late because I got coffee like a selfish little piggie.
I text them to see if they want coffee. They do - hot joe for Dave, nitro for Troy, iced coff for Michael.
I open the Starbucks app for the 4th time today, a day that feels like it’s lasted a week. Time does this, when I’m strange. It wiggles and wobbles and sometimes it stops entirely. I love that. I love thinking about time as simply another story, one we all believe collectively for so long that it becomes truth.
What came first? the chicken or the egg?
Time, or our need to keep it?
The pain, or the ways we escape it (that actually cause it)?
I walk into the backyard and I can feel it, the edibles kicking in, rendering my whole body jello but good jello ready for improv ready to say yes.....and. The guys are goofing, these guys my guys my friends my people. My crew. I’m late, but hey, I’ve got coffees and meats.
We rehearse till about 6pm, half bullshitting, half scenes, often forgetting where one ends and the other begins. My cooking the meats makes its way into the scenes. Use everything. Steve Martin said that once, right? Use it all.
This is the beauty of performing with the same people for so long, you become attuned to one another’s rhythms, know when to come in for support and when to -
“Yo, dude, real quick,” Michael says, as we all sit down to eat, “We just wanted to talk to you for a sec.”
“Since this is a sort of reset rehearsal, for us to get our shit together, one thing that’d be really good -”
“You gotta stop being high at shows. And rehearsal. Before the last few shows you’ve looked high af and isolated, paranoid, and mostly just unhappy.”
He keeps going, explaining he’s no saint either, that he smokes too much too, when – gah, my stomach. What the fuck? Christ that really FUCK.
The stabbing pain starts in my lower right side, fanning out across my body. I am woozy, I am being carved up I am being lit on fire what the fuck this really is not great I can’t pay attention to what Michael is saying which spins me I am spinning and spinning and throwing up I am in the bathroom throwing up into the toilet like a college freshman.
Lauren is worried she’s asking how much I smoked and she's panicking which means something is really wrong.
But nothing is wrong. I’m fine. I’m good. It was the steak. That damn tri-tip. I’m good. Where is everyone?
They left, Lauren says. Hours ago.
Shit, that musta been some really bad tri-tip. I’ll talk with the meat guys tomorrow.
Looking back on that night, I don’t remember much. But, lucky for us, I did what any millennial detective worth their himalayan pink sea salt would do, I checked the Drafts.
And lordie lord, did I write some shit down that night. Here’s one I wrote, I think to Lauren:
hey i just wanna say the chicken soup with the chips is super good is not something i ever thought id say to my rideordie immediately and i do mean immediately following what might be later described as the manic episode and/or an expression of the shame and madness in that order dormant inside all of us trying to eek its way out through the strange little wounds that the oh god hes gonna say it that the light shines through ok i may have to delete that i feel like a friend wrote that exact poem
Twenty minutes later, 4/5/19 12:09AM
FOR EMMA AND LAUREN FOREVER AGO a book of poetry. is this some sort of low grade mania I feel? and is that really a condition or just a sort of excited period inside the meat sack that can as all things can be explained through the voodoo of words wordoo that’s the thing about that sometimes the word combos that most seem like they’ll be bff end up not working out disasters disasters. we are all, in the end beautiful disasters
I went three times. The first two were life changing. By the third, I realized how much of my time there was spent doing drugs. The rest of the time was spent thinking about drugs. Molly, especially. That one really made me feel great. It was an obsession. I’d need to know when we were all going to take it. And as soon as I took some, or all of what I had, I needed to check if people had extra. I didn’t want to run out. I just wanted to keep going.
I am the more man.
They call it burning man because, surprise surprise, at the end they burn ‘the man,’ a giant wooden structure that’s been a central hub of activity for that year’s festival. That final year, I remember sitting on the sand, cold and already feeling like shit, coming down hard from whatever I’d taken last night.
The Man went up in flames. It was beautiful, and it was scary. It was warm, which felt nice. Sort of hot even.
To my right, I heard screaming, then silence, like all the air in the desert had been sucked out.
We all turned to see a naked dude fighting his way past the guards and toward the flames. He fought off three guards who tried to stop him but he got away, breaking free. He kept running and dove into the flames. Head first. Or did he trip? They pulled him out and he fought them off and jumped back in. And then a big part of the structure broke off, crumbling, and the firefighters had to hold back. It took so long to get him out. We didn’t know it yet, but we also did: he was dead.
I searched through reddit this morning, finding threads of people all talking about feeling traumatized by what they saw. Rumors spread that he was sober but had taken a big dose of LSD that night. Others say he was sober, period. No one knows.
There’s a common refrain in the comments - how did everyone keep partying that night? people ask, after what they saw. Others make the good point that grieving takes many forms, with which I agree.
I couldn’t do anything though, so I went back to the camp with a couple people and tried to sleep, but when I closed my eyes all I saw were the flames, I could feel their heat, and that guy that human person, backlit, just a silhouette, running into the fire.
I’d forgotten the night of throwing up at rehearsal ever happened. Lauren reminded me, when I asked her for some good ‘rock bottom moments.’ There were a few.
She remembered that she’d secretly taken some videos from that night. I was being mean, and she’d wanted to show me the next morning.
But she hadn’t, and now, staring at the seven little boxes with the timecodes that contained a visual record from that night, we started to watch but couldn’t. It was too much.
I avoided them. Not wanting to know, yet knowing But there’s something in them that I need to see, and so I’m gonna click play. There’s one of me lying on the couch, a blanket wrapped over me, I look like a dying child with the eyes and philosophical curiosity of a stoner trying to figure out why he just threw up, “What is this a sign of?,” I ask, “Why does anyone do that? What I just did?”
It’s Dr. Dobrenko. He’s back. Classic doctor stuff, lying there like a puddle, running his tests. In the video, I continue, “Like a doctor would say, ‘it could be A,B,C.’”
Nice dude, now everyone’s sure you have your shit together.
“Right, it could be the meat,” Lauren says, humoring me.
“That’s what I’m saying,” I say, condescending and shitty.
“It could be the new marijuana, maybe it's too potent,” Lauren offers.
I bristle at this, smug and confident that it couldn’t possibly be true.
“I don’t understand that. I’ve…never ever had problems before. That feels weird to me, I’m curious what that was, what happened, why?”
God, I sound like such a dumbass.
She says it might be the weed because of all the psychological symptoms I’m having.
This next part I hate the most.
I close my eyes and say nothing. For twenty seconds, nothing but little nods of the head.
Finally, “I’ll look into that.” Dismissive, like I’m talking to a subordinate at work. I’ve shut down.
The next few videos are from our bedroom - they’re of an empty door into an empty hallway. I’m on the other side of it, screaming, making myself the victim. Here’s Alex Dobrenko, Esquire at Law, trying to prove how she’s wrong. What if the roles were switched, I ask the jury, how would Lauren react if I was freaking out about her being sick from, oh I don’t know, drinking too much?
Sure that hasn’t ever happened, but what if, I ask you, jury, what if?!
I start to bawl, an underutilized stratagem in the legal community.
“I’m good. I don’t need help. It was food poisoning. Don’t come out for my sake.”
It makes my stomach hurt, watching it back, how good I am at gaslighting her, at convincing her that she’s the crazy one, at making myself the victim.
More than anything else that happened, this is my greatest shame. My greatest failing: putting her through that.
“I’m just trying to take care of you,” she says, and 2019-me can’t hear it. It makes me angry now, angry at that past version of myself, for being so fucking stupid and selfish and -
This isn’t helpful. It’s 2023 and Lauren is here, watching some of the videos with me. I feel like I’m watching a different person. A guy I barely know. But, is that wishful thinking? Does that asshole lay dormant in me, waiting to come out?
Lauren says it’s hard to see how convincing I am in making her think that she was crazy.
And now, for something different
It doesn’t take a Shakespeare to see the poetic justice of that night. The lightning-sharp stabbing pain in my stomach started right when my improv team began a pseudo-intervention about my weed usage? That can’t be a coincidence. As the 2023-me, the guy writing this, I refuse to believe that.
Isn’t that what matters? To cobble together the moment of our past as we create a story of our present, and with that story, hurtle forward into an unknown future?
Because that night was four years ago. Like, almost exactly - 4/4/19. Today is 4/6/23. Is that a coincidence? Or is it fate or does it matter?
Lauren jokes that we’ve graduated from it - a four year degree in.... I don’t know what. Maybe in another four years I’ll know.
I wish I’d been able to just stop after that night. Nope. I tried and failed to get sober. I denied I had a problem. Back then, I truly didn’t think I did. When that stopped working, I began negotiating. No more dab pen, just edibles. No more edibles, just flower. No more adderall either. A return to me, if that guy was still around.
November 13, 2019 11:55am - six months of fits and starts later, it finally stuck. I know that exact date because of the Grounded app, which is designed specifically to help people quit. It tracks how long you’ve been sober. My first check in was 11/13/2019, which means I’ve been sober for 3 years, 4 months, 25 days, 17 hours, 28 min, 53 seconds, 54 seconds, 55 seconds, etc.
I can still hear the voice of 2019 me from those videos. The rage in my voice, and the little boy I sound like when I’m crying. The same little boy who just wanted more iyitchka.
Maybe it’s always been that way - a life that operates on one, simple truth: whatever is, isn’t enough.
Maybe it’s simply, ‘whatever is, isn’t right.’
Here’s the fourth verse in Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”:
The Walrus and the Carpenter Were walking close at hand; They wept like anything to see Such quantities of sand: If this were only cleared away,' They said, it would be grand!'
If the sand were only cleared away, that sandy mess of dark and pain and sad, then, THEN, things would be grand.
So what did the Beatles mean when they sang, “I am the egg man, I am the walrus?”
Lennon says he wrote in response to people trying too hard to find meaning in Beatles lyrics. “Let ‘em try finding something in this,” he said.
He’s right, but he’s also wrong. The meaning people find in art is as valid as they believe it to be, including whatever batshit crazy truths one finds in “I am the egg man, I am the walrus.”
I love looking for meaning in words and ideas and jokes.
So which came first?
Alex or his addictions?
Burning man, or the man, burning?
The walrus, or the egg man?
Both are true
I’m writing this at Starbucks. I don’t go that often anymore, but I found myself here this morning, and so I got myself an iced americano, except this one was half calf. A few sips and I’m zooted, probably won’t sleep for days.
And, of course, a turkey bacon sandwich. I forgot how wet the paper envelope it comes in is, like its sweating, terrified of its fate. Grabbing it inside that wet bag feels just like it used to, most of the cheese sticking to the bag. I bite in and…yep, it’s hot as fuck. The outside of the sandwich is cold.
I’m not God. I don’t think anyone is. Maybe it's like what Kurt Vile said in a book I randomly picked up this morning while finishing this piece (another coincidence??), “I have come to see that maybe the search is the religious experience…perhaps God is the search itself.”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not.
But either way, I love the search. Once, during an early acid trip, I realized that nothing matters, which means everything does. Or, more specifically, anything can. Nothing mattering allows us to create our own meanings. Stories of truth, love, drugs, rock and roll, money, chickens, and eggs, walruses – all stories, sure, so you better pick the ones that really matter. Which stories really matter?
My chicken and egg are Lauren and Wilder. She came first, and then he came after. And now, we’re all here, on the other side.
This is the other side. Welcome. Grab a turkey bacon spongecake, stay a while.
We’ve always been here. Me, my chicken and our egg. And there’s no better story than that.
I think there was always a yearning in me for something else, something beyond myself, from which i felt excluded. Even in the most chaotic times, when i was struggling with addiction, i always felt desirous of those who had a religious dimension to their lives. i had a kind of spiritual envy, a longing for a belief in the face of the impossibility of belief that addressed a fundamental emptiness inside me. there was always a yearning”
“As I’ve gotten older , I have come to see that maybe the search is the religious experience - the desire to believe and the longing for meaning, the moving towards the ineffable. Maybe that is what is essentially important, despite the absurdity of it. Or, indeed, because of the absurdity of it.
When it comes down to it, maybe faith is just a decision like any other. And perhaps God is the search itself.”
—— Kurt Vile
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This was Episode Four of Season One: I’m (Not??) The Best, a multi-month deep dive into the ideas of competition, comparison, testing and achievement.
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Gonna leave this one open-ended - lemme know in the comments your thoughts feels vibes etc just don’t be a dickhole.