Too Much to Dream by Peter Bebergal

from Introduction: Back in Through the Out Door

Sobriety is its own kind of altered state of consciousness. For the addict, it is nothing less than a complete rearrangement of perception, both internal and external. A consciousness that beforehand was a fraying patchwork quilt of alcohol, THC, cocaine, LSD, and sundry delusions is unexpectedly pushed face-to-face with things as they really are. And those things are not very pretty. The kind of rationalization required to give up basic dignity in order to maintain being high and drunk is really a strip of gauze that lets just enough light through to allow you to get around without bumping into things, but not enough to really see any detail.

Removing the pall of daily addiction is like flash powder going off in your face. At first, it’s nearly as blinding. There are the spots of light that keep you squinting. But soon, as reality itself starts again to take shape, you get to see in perfectly illumined clarity the true state of your life.

Garbage is heaped in piles in the kitchen. The cupboards are empty and the refrigerator is filled with nothing but a once-used jar of mayonnaise and some old soy sauce packets. Then there is the lack of anything around of value; everything of worth has been either sold or stolen by someone else. An empty water bowl for cats that have long since disappeared sits dry in a corner. By the phone are the stacks of bills that seem so incongruous, as if they belonged to another dimension. There is nothing here to love, not really much to hate, but there is shame and a sicklysweet disgust at what stares back from the mirror.

There are other realities as well. Sleeping for the first time sober and waking up clean is a mystery of boundless grace. A cup of coffee in the basement of a church during a twelve-step meeting tastes like the nectar of the gods. A roast beef sandwich on rye with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles from the local deli is like eating something from Eden. The first time I saw the new buds of spring while clean, I finally understood what Aldous Huxley meant by the “is-ness” of things. Of course, not being afraid after a very long time—my whole life, in fact—made me only that much more afraid I would lose that gift.

Excerpted from Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood by Peter Bebergal. Copyright © 2011 by Peter Bebergal. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Soft Skull Press.