Off The Hill: Z Griff talks addiction, depression and hope in the High Country
Physically and emotionally I have put myself through the wringer a time or two. Luckily, I always see the light at the end. I never exist too long in the peaks or too long in the valleys. I know they both come and go. All things are temporary and also infinite, including love and pain. I know myself and I know I have power to change what I can and forgive what I can’t. I have vision unclouded. I have found it is when we lose track of self, our identity and self worth that we become unmoored, or, worse yet, zombies and slaves.
This life is beautiful, but it is not all milk and honey. These days especially it can seem ferociously futile: In the land of sour sentiment and bittersweet surrenders, the death merchants are the most profitable vendors. We must run them out and change what’s on the menu. We must demand life.
I’ve seen more young people pass away from addiction than I have any other way. I escaped it in a lot of ways. I learned to party at 15 years old and I’ve had my taste of the nightlife. We were wild kids in high school — not the craziest, but no Cub Scouts either. I went to Europe backpacking after high school and met some folks who’d seen a thing or two. I partied straight into (and then out of) college at University of New Hampshire.
I was playing a part with dangerous consequences yet to be seen by me. I was anxious of the future, fueled by many substances, feelings and fears. Lost on love, I was found on drugs. By Christmas break I had a party problem and a broken heart, and I had broken another’s. I also had earned an academic suspension. It fell apart.
Sublime and snow addiction
Luckily, I had an out: I found solace snowboarding. I was unhappy at school, I was abusing myself — I was blowing it and knowing it. I ended it and refocused on snowboarding entirely.
So I get to snowboarding — my saving grace — and addiction is there, of course. I knew it was. Many of my heroes have had hardships or a dark twist in their method. Many literary and artistic heros, like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Basquiat, Jerry, Jimi and Bradley, were all looking for ways to cope.
Addiction has been taking people since well before I was staying out past my bedtime. Bradley Nowell was gone before “Poolshark” went on my playlist and he spoke to me from the grave:
“Now I’ve got the needle and I can’t change/ But I can’t breathe/ Take it away but I want more and more…/ One day I’m gonna lose the war.”
Bradley didn’t kill himself, or at least he didn’t mean to. He didn’t want to die — the drugs took him. A bright, intelligent, talented and troubled soul I never knew, but whom I keep with me as an angel against adversity and addiction.
I consider all who lost the fight as standing examples: real angels who protect me from falling down that path, real reminders to always seek and see the good in this world. I have lost and been a loser, and I have been an in-patient myself. This world can be brutal and often we make it more brutal than necessary on ourselves. When they say you can choose your destiny they mean you choose your outlook — you are autonomous and you can choose life at any time.
When I was 20 years old, my first roommate got hurt, got pills, got down, ran out, got on and went until he went overboard. He pulled up his sleeve to show me his track marks and, sobbing, told me he could not stop.
Some years later it was another friend — one of the best skaters at the park in my early Breck days. Always smiling and laughing, he was bright, personable, powerful, smooth, compact and consistent. Clobbered. Then, it was one of the old guard, a guy I looked up to, and now two guys around my age this summer, and so many others, too.
I did not know them all that well, and in this way I was able to shirk responsibility. I am detestable. I am sorry. I am responsible in some way. I try my best to show the good in this world: the healthy activity, the travel with friends, the adventure to be had out our door, the power of positivity, laughter and connection. I do it for those who can’t and to encourage others, and, quite frankly, to keep purpose, to keep myself “on track.” I need to reach more people. We all at times feel our voice is too small.
If you push this poison…
I do not want to say the angels I know all fell for the same reasons. We all have a backstory that’s often times complicated and those stories can sometimes suck. Summit is a place you can go where everyone shares an addiction to healthy pursuits and clean air — literally above the BS.
But the evil that is drug addiction is always there, everywhere. There is a loss of respect issue happening in the world: for others, for oneself and for existence itself. But existence is not futile. You must take ownership and start to write your own story. Hold your friends and yourself up to a higher standard. You cannot let the bullies, the booze, the bullets, the anger, the anxiety, the cocaine, the painkillers, the meth or the heroin control you. Nobody speaks for you.
It is crazy to think, but I have dealt with each of these evils in some way since I was 14. I was 14 when I saw my first heroin death — and it was a friend’s father. When I was 17, my best bud went to a private school and had to talk a classmate off a bridge. The kid was upset and confused and mentally unstable and hung up on the hardships that had befallen him. In New England, one can be jealous of those prep school kids with all their money and privilege. It was sad and sobering to realize they had a lot of issues and a lot of drug problems regardless — there was just so much pressure to succeed. My friend was able to talk him down, and though I was not there, it has remained as a stark image: a life teetering on the brink, a helping hand extends and life goes on. If only it were so obvious always. Often that is not the case. If you are in a hole, stop digging, and if you are going through hell, keep going.
A better battle
I’ve seen addiction ruin a life or two and take more than five from this earth. I am sick of it. You simply cannot control these drugs. I hate the culture that celebrates such a state. Abuse is the worst because it is right in front of your face. You know it is happening if you have any sense of your friend. The lights go out, or when they do get happy it seems weirdly contrived, like they are harkening back to a time before. They make you an enabler. I hate that. And here I sound selfish again. How can I speak of myself when a person is gone?
“You don’t know him or what it’s like to be hooked.”
I don’t know — I only know myself. I know what it’s like to live right next to it, which is a pretty hopeless feeling when you are unable to help. We only know ourselves: our person, our perspective, our plight is personal.
I can only say that it is hard to see the light when under the suffocating blanket of addiction. We must seek the light. We need clarity and focus to fulfill our personal destinies. We need fellowship and acceptance. We need control of self to topple the demons that feed on fear.
We must choose life.
Z Griff is first and foremost a snowboarder. A longtime local, he is an adventure writer for the everyman. He can be seen as the winter host of On The Hill at http://www.summitdaily.com or vimeo.com/user/zgriff and reached at ZGriff_1@hotmail.com.
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