Backyard Rituals

Mike Hartog (Satyasandhan, Holland)

The title has two meanings: living in a big city I had to create a backyard of my own in my little apartment. The second meaning is more psychological and spiritual: I had to clean my karma. After twelve years of drug abuse I had to change my life and start all over again. This happened about seven years ago and I would like to tell you about how I got there and how it went on after 1993.

First I would like to read from the diary I've been keeping since 1993. The fragments are from the first months of my detoxification. It shows in a way the mind of an addict.

Fragments from a diary

9th August 1993

“Yesterday is gone and now all that I want is a smile.”
Good morning world! It feels so good to be alive, honestly I can say this because I can feel it inside me.
I don't need much to have this feeling. Some food and water, a book to read, music and just a little bit of self-confidence. The whole world lies at your feet and then there's nothing else to do than to accept this. After the complex caper of my mind now it is time for this ocean of simple acceptance. And it feels good. It's good to be alive.
I haven't been looking after myself for a long time. For many months I had no money at all in my pockets to buy food. And now I enjoy every piece of bread, I enjoy every sip of water, I enjoy every muscle in my body, I even enjoy every cheerful or gloomy state of my mind. Then you really know that you're alive again. My body is my altar, my place of worship is the universe.

14th August 1993

I'm back at the source of light and darkness, so I'm back at myself again. I'm plodding along heavily through life. There's an enormous gap between my inner world and the outside world, which I can hardly cross. I know now that I can't have too high expectations of myself, but still every day raises a wasteland of rising and downward states of mind. For now the luminous points are in the minority, but I can't deny that there's some progression, although it is not much.
I can't have too high expectations of myself. First I have to learn how to survive. Every day again a warm meal, fresh fruit and vegetables and tons of water to quiet my hunger and thirst. I have to learn how to take care of myself. I have to do this to avoid falling back into the repulsive and destructive patterns I just escaped from.

15th August 1993

What a day! What kind of days I have left behind me and above all how many days stretch out before me. Step by step I enter the world of my fellow human beings, which is not an easy path, by the way. Every day I have these moments of pure despair, along with an almost unbearable headache. It feels like someone has put a huge piece of rock in my head, pure torture, this enemy of stone, that comes and goes whenever it pleases, and I don't know how long it's going to stay this time. Previously I used to run to the nearest drug dealer and buy myself something but now I fight this battle with sincerity and open eyes. I feel like I'm a prisoner who is sentenced for life.
The battle against the illustrious phantoms seems more and more to be a light illusion, which can be demasked by an attitude of biting the well known bullet. Step by step, a plain rhythm, that walks at the base of human existence: the breathing.
This morning, for the first time for more than a year, I tasted the pleasure of a full hour of attention to my own body. Practising yoga felt less hard than I had thought before and brought back a certain joie de vivre.

16th August 1993

Sketches of stone. I'm back, back on earth, back in the furious marine clay. Step by step I bring my mind back into the real world. After a long flight over this city by the river, I glow over the rippling water back into the world of every day. And I'm going to put my feet back in the sand.
I'm glad to be still alive, I'm happy that I survived this act of over-boldness. It strikes me now that I'm living on borrowed time.
On the balcony of my little apartment two sparrows give me a significant nod as if they want to tell me that they are also happy that I still exist and ask me if I would be so kind now to as walk to the kitchen and offer them a sandwich.

I found this little poem in a biography about the life of the famous Japanese warrior Musashi, the first book I read in my period of detoxification in the summer of 1993.

And now I laugh about my ten years of pilgrimage
– a worn out habit, a damaged head,
knocking at the gates of Zen temples.
In reality the law of Buddha is simple:
Eat your rice, drink your tea and wear your clothes.

It took me almost six weeks to get through the thousand pages, which shows the difference in someone who used to read four or five books a week when he was at university. I really had to force myself through the book because I could not concentrate for more than fifteen minutes. Every time I started reading again I had to reread a couple of pages, because I had completely forgotten what had happened before in the story. Sometimes I was so tired that I fell asleep after reading one page.

But how did I get there? I remember that when I was just a little kid, my mother used to work in a chemist's shop and sometimes I was there with her. In the shop they had this special cabinet, with a big lock, for opium, cocaine, morphine and other drugs and I remember that I once asked my mother if she could open that cabinet for me. I think I was only ten years old at that time.

Another strange thing was that I was scared to go to the Far East, even when I was little. Somehow I knew then that I was very vulnerable and I foresaw that I was an easy prey to opium. I knew that going to the Far East was very dangerous for me. But it wasn't the Far East that scared me, it was a part of me that became more and more manifest. I smoked my first cigarette when I was twelve, I got drunk for the first time when I was fourteen, and I smoked my first cigarette with marihuana when I was fifteen.

The question that I ask myself now is: why, at such an early stage, was I interested in drugs? I understand now that I was not a very happy child. On the outside everything went well because I could learn well, I always had friends and loving parents who wished the best for me and gave me all the material things I needed. But on the inside there was this restless wandering soul who was never satisfied with himself, who felt alone from the day he was born, who felt misunderstood and who felt that a big part of himself was neglected.

I remember I had big arguments with my mother when I was still at primary school, not only about politics but also about spiritual and religious subjects. My grandfather died when I was eleven. I felt very connected to him because from time to time he would take me for walks and take the time to answer all the questions I asked him. When he died, my parents thought I was too young to go to the funeral so I was not allowed to say goodbye. I was so angry that I said to myself that my parents would never see the real Mike again. I uttered a curse that affected me more than I could imagine. From that day on I started to live a double life. On the outside nothing changed, in fact I did everything not to provoke anyone and was an honest guy. On the inside I became an angry monster and whenever I had the time I went out on my own.

By the time I was fifteen I had met people who smoked marihuana and this substance I found to be my best friend. Marihuana was just what I needed at that time. It helped to keep the demanding world at a distance and at the same time it gave me the opportunity to fly away whenever I wanted to. It also helped me to reflect on life in general, particularly my life. Now I could finally live the life I wanted to. Experience time the way I had felt it to be for so long. But at the same time I became more remote, more withdrawn from everyday life and people. I started living in a dream world, escapism was certainly a part of my drug-using.

So when did things take a turn to drug abusing? I was at the University of Rotterdam when the relationship that I had had for more than four years broke up and I found myself alone again in a big city. I grew up in a small village, which wasn't so bad. But I became disappointed in love and disappointed in science, two things I really believed in at that time. I started to use heavy drugs to forget about the past and also to help stay focused on my studies. I started to sniff amphetamines to help stay awake for a long time and read as many books as possible to finish the paper I was working on. But the paper grew and grew and I became more and more distant from other people. And I took less care of my health and started to become distracted. I had used up my reserves and I felt more and more like a stranger in a strange world.

I could not go on like this. Then I obtained a large amount of LSD, a drug I had used before and had loved very much. In my desperation I decided to go all the way. It was all or nothing for me. Either it would kill me or it would lead me to a new way of life. I wanted to free myself from the burden of the past, I wanted to find out who I really was and what it was that I had to do in this life, because I had had this vague notion of destination and vocation since I was a little boy. I wanted to wipe out all these fake identities that I had formed and find my inner self again. I wanted to be pure again and young, because at that time I felt like an old man, both physically and mentally.

I also wanted to know what it was like to live completely outside ordinary society, to have no strings to hold on to. To be free of goals to achieve, to be free of roles to play. All I wanted was just to be there. Being there, nothing more, nothing less. I wanted to feel again, I wanted the reassurance that I had felt things right about myself and to wipe out all identities that people had given me.

But there was something else that drove me, which was a bit more dangerous: I wanted to live life on the edge, I wanted to live life on the razor's edge. I wanted to know whether I could survive such a trip. Was I strong enough and could I handle all the kinds of situations that occur to you when you live outside the normal boundaries of society? I was curious about how I would deal with poverty, with having no home, not physically or spiritually, with having absolutely nowhere to go, no goals to achieve and no religious or spiritual system from which to look at the world. But you never know what is coming to you and when you jump you can't go back and then there's no stopping.

The whole trip took about six months. Not once did I regret then what I had done and still I can't find any regrets. I would do it all over again if I had to.

In this period I only had two really bad days when I took a drug that people from Eastern Europe had brought with them, called pervertine, and it was really horrible. At that time I took a whole bunch of different drugs. I took LSD, XTC, amphetamines, cocaine, crack, mushrooms, opium, and sometimes I took marihuana and alcohol to cool down the fire inside me.

After about five months things went wrong in that I started to lose control. I got mixed up with the wrong people because in my arrogance I sometimes felt I could do anything and get away with it. But I was slowly losing my strength, my endurance was weakening and the problem of living in a constant here and now is, that from time to time you are confronted with things you did before and you didn't think about any further. I also underestimated the fact that I was living in a big city where a lot of energy is going around which your senses have to regulate. And my senses started to reject the high amount of impulses.

And then early one morning in July I stood before the mirror and looked at myself. I looked terrible, I must have weighed about 48 kilograms then and my face looked like a battlefield. I asked myself a simple and honest question. What do we want, Mr Mike, do we want to live or do we want to die? Somewhere deep inside of me was this little voice that answered that I wanted to live, and so I did.

And then the battle really began. Before my drug abuse I had once done a yoga course for six months, which actually was not a very good course. So I had to do it all by myself. In the first twelve months I was so tired and weak that I could hardly do any yoga. To distract my mind and to get healthy and strong again, I walked every day for two hours. I was focused on food, water and sleeping. I hardly left my house those days. My neighbour sometimes wondered if I had been home last week. But I was there. Silent, but still alive.

After that year I found an advertisement for an Iyengar yoga teacher. I had heard about it before. It was a rather physical form of yoga and I thought it would be the right way for me to start. So I trained for three months, four or five times a week, and I also did a kind of spiritual training by walking to the yoga school, which took more than two hours every day.

At last I found out this was not really the place for me and I had to look further for education. Somebody told me about the Saswitha Foundation of Yoga. For the first time in my life I found a true teacher, when I went there for a talk. Not once during five years of college had I met one teacher in the true sense. I subscribed to the first year of the Teacher Training Course and then life really took a turn.

After some hesitations in the first year I started to practise really hard by myself in my own house, relying on my instincts to do what was right for me, and sometimes I got a friendly tap on my shoulder from my teacher.

The lesson in this for me, and maybe for everyone who is dealing with drug addiction, is that in a way it is good to give them a certain responsibility for their own lives. Let them confront themselves and have some patience. Give them time to find their own way and to invent their own wheel. Because every addict is different. Treat them with respect and from time to time try to empathize with what it is like, not only to be a drug addict but also to be under the influence of drugs for twenty-four hours a day, day after day, without any escape. At least until they come to your doorstep.