By Gary Swoboda
    There were no tell-tale signs in my youth pointing toward any reason for deviation from the norm. All signs pointed, instead, toward success and fulfillment. I was relatively intelligent (again, by societal standards). I seemed to be popular, always having a diversified set of friends. I wasn't physically revolting or anything. In my mid-twenties I actually had a woman tell me I looked like Robert Redford. I kept shouting at them to let her talk as they were dragging her out of the bar. I don't think the fact that she was grossly inebriated made her a totally unreliable witness. Of course, that's my opinion.
     To this day, I can't understand the mind of a non-addict, just as a lot of non-addicts simply can't understand addiction. They wonder why we don't just stop if it has become a problem? Or they ask why we started in the first place? But for me, the opposite is just as puzzling. I know non-addicts who will have a drink or two once in a while and call it good. I ask them, "Why do you take a drink in the first place?" Their response is invariably, "Well, it relaxes me" or "It makes me feel good." Precisely. So why do you stop? Why don't you want to do it more often? If something relaxes you and makes you feel good, why wouldn't you pursue more of it and pursue it more often? In fact, why wouldn't you want to feel that way all the time?
     Perhaps it's because they know what the inevitable outcome of addiction is. Perhaps they can simply rationalize in this manner and call it good. And they're right, of course. Because once the drugs begin to turn on you, once they begin to show the other side of that double-edged sword, it's too late to go back. They will eventually bring you to your knees. Or they will land you in prison or in an institution or kill you. . . 

For the world had painted me a picture of what I should want in life
And I had allowed myself to stare at if for far too long,
Until the picture became real to me,
And I became mesmerized by it
And felt I could no longer escape its embrace.
Then one day it became clear to me that I must put the picture down,
For I discovered it wasn't the picture that was holding me in its grasp,
But rather I who was clutching the picture.
And this "I" that was clutching was not my True Self,
But rather the self that I had allowed the world to paint for me as well.
My True Self had never been attached in the first place.

It was pretty cool for me, coming from the other side of the tracks, to hitchhike up to the exclusive Eastmoreland area to visit my buddy Duane at his family's five-bedroom, three-bath, two-story home. Hell, in my neighborhood if you had two stories it meant you varied tales about your upbringing; if you had more than one bathroom you were either lying or you were counting the back yard; and if your house had more than three bedrooms it meant your parents had thrown a curtain up in the room you shared with your brother and told you that you each had your own bedroom now. The Keaton's had a frickin' piano in their house, for God's sake, and a bunch of fancy-looking-colonial-style furniture to go with it. We had a couch with three-inch pads for seats and back cushions that looked like foam rubber spray-painted orange, and it was the nicest piece of furniture in the house. Don't get me wrong -- Mom and Dad busted their butts to get us what they could. It's just that not everyone gets dealt the same hand in life. That's just the way things are...