The Catholic Thing
Bad Trip Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 04 November 2012

I once had a drug-induced foretaste of Hell. I was in college. It’s the sort of thing we did then.

It was, to understate the obvious, an unpleasant experience. It was also the best thing that ever happened to me.

I and three friends – another male student and our two beautiful girlfriends – decided to “drop” some synthetic mescaline. I don’t recall how M. “scored” the drugs (he also had some “opiated” hashish on hand), but I suppose he got it from a chem major.

We gathered at M.’s off-campus apartment and took the capsules, then went about fixing dinner and generally acting like immature twenty-year-olds.

Nothing happened. An hour passed, and we felt nothing. So M. brought out a Meerschaum pipe that his sailor uncle had given him, and he put the sticky ball of hash into the bowl, lighted it, and passed it around.

In those days I didn’t call myself an atheist, because even then I had a modicum of humility, but as the drug – the hashish, I assumed – began to kick in, I said to N. (M.’s girl):

“You know . . . there is no God; we’re the gods.”

I was articulating euphoria.

But then I coughed, spitting up phlegm onto the back of my hand and flushing with embarrassment. N. laughed. I forced a smile, and she said:

“You should smile more often.”

We’d been standing in the tiny kitchen, and now I crossed the small living room to sit on the couch. P., my girlfriend, came over to join me. I watched her walking towards me. My heart began to pound.

Her eyes are wide and her mouth is gaping, and I’m sure she’s choking, dying. She collapses beside me and . . . laughs.

“I was trying to yawn,” she says breathlessly. “It’s hard to yawn!”

Theyre all convulsing in hysterics, but I’m sitting here with pulse racing, stomach churning, and my bowels burning, when suddenly I realize time has stopped. A question forms in my perfervid brain: What does it mean when you are suffering in eternity?

I look at my chest, see my heart smashing against my ribs. It’s going to burst out of my body.

There’s just one answer to the question: You’re in Hell.

            The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, c. 1890 (Musée Rodin, Paris) 

M. is pacing in the room and talking about baseball, an explanation for all existence, and the other two are still laughing, and I think they’re laughing at me, and I don’t understand why they can’t see the hopelessness that’s descended.

Some terrible cycle has trapped us. M. makes that pitching motion, N. looks at P. and laughs, and P. looks at me and says:

“It’s like being in Heaven.”

Then around the room again. My head bobs; I’m rewinding and fast-forwarding my life, trying to understand my damnation. Memories rise; but I always fall back. I can’t change a thing.

I’ll break this! I run from the apartment.

I run as fast as I can the mile to my room in the casa orgia I call home. Two voices, one on each shoulder, taunt me:

“Will he make it this time?”

“Not this time.”

I come to a railroad crossing a few blocks away. Bells are clanging and the crossing gates are coming down.

“Will he’ll make it?”

I bolt towards the crossing, trip and fall. The train thunders by.

Lying in bed now, my arms are spread wide and my ankles crossed like Jesus crucified. I weep for half an hour.

Then P. is pounding on my door. She sits down beside me:

“It’s the drugs,” she saysIt’s the drugs. Don’t give up hope!”

A week later I was walking to class. Left, right. Left: I didn’t believe in God; right: I believed.

What I’ve realized all these years later is that what I “saw” in “hell” was not just the greatness of God (better to say I “glimpsed” it) but also my own greatness: great because God made me – an alarming realization then, since I had denied His existence and was agonizing in my sins.

Pace Dante, I’d seen the sign, the one that counsels the damned to give up hope. Believe me, you never want to feel hopeless, worthless. It is the eternal sin.

Yet even that wasn’t what made me burn. After all, I wasn’t so despairing of my transgressions that I reformed my evil ways. Oh no, I did not. A couple of years later I converted to Catholicism, but still persisted in my sins, such as they were.

No, what it was that scared hell out of me was love. God didn’t just make me; He loves me. My shallow self-righteousness damned me.

But I am not a random thing; not an insignificant speck. I am beloved by the One who called me from darkness, which He did by showing me that darkness, which I thought was light.

Finally I saw the true light.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you/before you were born I set you apart.” God didn’t call me to be a prophet to the nations, as He did Jeremiah, but He showed me the love that changes everything, in His good time.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (22)Add Comment
written by M.L., November 04, 2012
I believe the picture posted of "The Gates of Hell" is from the Kunsthaus Zürich.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, November 04, 2012
My first thought..."Amazing what God can do."

My second thought..."No, not really."
written by Manfred, November 04, 2012
I envy you your C.D.S. (Controlled Dangerous Substance) epiphany, Brad. Unforunately, some of us who are older than you had to spend hours studying Theology, Philosophy, Epistemology, Cosmology, Moral Theology (which has not been taught for 44 years,cf.Cdl Dolan) in what was then a Catholic college. That explains why there are at least two "Catholic" religions in existence today. Pope Benedict is trying to make the two into one with a "hermeneutic of continuity" but "all the king's horses and all the king's men....."
written by Grump, November 04, 2012
I'm 70 and never did drugs in my entire life. Maybe I should have and now I would believe in God.
written by Phenobarb, November 04, 2012
Drugs never give true insight. It wasn't the drugs that made you interpret the experience you had in a moral direction leading to repentance and conversion. It was the combination of synderesis and conscience which, in the light of your drug-distorted experience of the natural world, prompted you to turn to God. In your case it took an extended period to make that turn, but you made it (thanks be to God). But don't give the credit to the drugs. They were just an occasion of sin, like St. Augustine's problems with concupiscence.
written by Maggie-Louise, November 04, 2012
Now we know why, in your generation, you were called "college boys" and, in my generation, were called "college men." Of course, you only need to compare the between-play behavior of football players to confirm that statement.

If this is supposed to be an encouraging tale for parents (Your kids will survive college) and a cautionary tale for college boys and girls, it falls far short, I'm afraid.

Have you apologized to your parents for wasting their hard-earned money on tuition, room and board, books, entertainment. Have you apologized to them for causing their heartache and sleepless nights and the agony of blaming themselves for having failed you somehow when they thought that they were doing everything right and making up to you for the years when your father was away from home fighting a war in Europe or the Pacific?

Pardon me for expressing my pent-up anger, held in after listening to a Book-TV author on his psychedelic club at Harvard, as if he were describing just another boyhood prank or something as inconsequential as a picnic where someone slipped on a rock and got wet in the stream, a as if it were "all in good fun and no one was hurt, after all."

Well, it wasn't good fun for the parents who paced the floor at night, the parents who are now facing death without ever hearing the words, "I'm sorry for the pain I caused you, for the broken hearts, for all the wasted years, the wasted money, the waste, the waste, the waste . . . . . . ."

Many of your turned out OK, and maybe you have even cared enough about your parents' pain and heartache to have said, "I'm sorry." But many of you ended up with no great epiphany, and, in spite of it, even moved into the White House and soiled--descecrated--the national culture with your mantra, "after all, nobody got hurt. It was only . . . (fill in the blank).

I am happy that you survived, Mr. Miner, and I admit that I have been the grateful beneficiary of your excellent work and I thank God for you and for the work you are dong. I also admit that I did not read completely your essay because it was too painful--not to read of your pain but of the pain--the so unnecessary pain-- of the ones who loved you and the pain of all the millions of mothers and fathers who loved their children through the pain and forgave them even when they didn't say, "I'm sorry."
written by Jack,CT, November 04, 2012
Mr Miner,
Great honesty.....thanks
written by Christina, November 04, 2012
God is so good. Your story is an example of how God loved us even in our sin and how His perfect love can and does bring good out of evil. That is why we know as Catholics that the will of God is good in all things, even in suffering. The permissive will of God is a great mystery. God does allow evil and allows us of our own free will to choose evil over good, such as drug use. Of course this does not justify the evil. It does not mean that others should pursue evil to find God, as the Grump has suggested. To me it means that God's mercy seeks us out even in our sin and iniquity and can use it to turn us to Him.
My own reversion/conversion also involves God;s mercy in pursuing me in my rebellion and sinfulness until I could no longer resist His call. I also took years to finally get the great gift of obedience to God's commandments. He had to take me through several stages of conversion and repentance. He isn't called the hound of heaven for nothing. He seeks us wherever we are. It is up to us to respond. We have to pray that others have the grace to respond and grace to continue in conversion to obedience to his commands. He says in scripture. The way that I know that you love me is if you obey my commands. That is when we really begin to return His love and make reparation to those we have injured in our sins.
written by Christin, November 04, 2012
Great honest conversion experience. God is so good.
written by Mack, November 04, 2012
Why do conversion / epiphany narratives always include the phrase "when I was in college?" Why does one never hear "when I was plowing" or "when I was in Marine recruit training" or "when I was working double shifts at the factory?"
written by Bjørnekongen, November 04, 2012
That's nothing like Hell. There are no relationships in Hell. You didn't experience Hell at all.
written by DomJP, November 04, 2012
The commentators angry at the writer for what he did before being forgiven and embraced by God sound like the sulking brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Praise God for his mercy! Wonderful story. I can relate. The old enemy uses drugs to trap and ensnare but NOTHING can seperate us from the love of God. The love of Jesus Christ overcomes all things!
written by Sgt. Mac, November 04, 2012
When I was in Parris Island Recruit Depot training as a Marine Recruit, this man had an epiphany, that he needed to make his Confession and I darted out of my platoon without permission and made a B-line for a priest I saw walking by. A few years later I heard that priest jumped off of a bridge during a drug induced hysteria.
written by Robertlifelongcatholic, November 04, 2012
So what your saying is you used to be messed up on drugs and then you got messed up on Jesus?
written by RJH, November 04, 2012
What a heavy trip man.
written by Patrick, November 04, 2012
This is an interesting story; I think some of the commenters are being a little harsh by suggesting it has no value. Clearly the point was that drugs are NOT good, in that the author found himself in a "hellish" psychological state. God, though, can use evil to accomplish good, as we see most clearly in the cross itself.
written by Jacob r, November 05, 2012
I had a very similar experience with aderoll and started to have a seizure and, for some reason, me and my friend thought it was God so we started praying and the seizure went away.
I haven't taken another pill of any sort since.
But God always seems to make good out of the worst mistakes because my faith was increased massively by the seizure instantly disappearing after the most fearful prayer of my life.
I know how unhealthy it was, but I'm glad to know that God still answers even in our mot pathetic moments (even if I had died, feeling God so intensely would have made it quite bearable).
written by billy, November 05, 2012
Great comment, Robertlifelongcatholic. Is that from Cheech&Chong or Firesign Theater?
written by BidenMyTime, November 05, 2012
A life-long Catholic can still be a bad Roman Catholic. And often is ...
written by Mowery, November 06, 2012
'If this is supposed to be an encouraging tale for parents (Your kids will survive college) and a cautionary tale for college boys and girls, it falls far short, I'm afraid.'

No, but that's pretty clear if you read the whole article.

'I also admit that I did not read completely your essay...'

That was also rather obvious.

I'm no expert, but it would appear that this is more a case of someone baring their soul and retelling the terror they experienced in an effort that those who read may benefit and learn from it. Similar to other articles out there by women who suffered through the agony of abortion. It's easy to have a lot of pent up anger over those injustices as well. Should we rake them over the coals like you did Mr Miner? Sounds like a great idea. I'm sure it will do wonders for the pro-life movement and advance it in ways that it hasn't in the last forty-plus years. At least if we do that we'll increase the likelihood of producing a few martyrs for our cause due to homicides born out of righteous indignation. That and the many claims made against the pro-life movement by the culture of death would actually be true for once.

Also, it's logically fallacious to assume that just because someone did drugs in college or made other such mistakes in their youth that they were wasting time and money and not applying themselves. While that may be the case at times, it no more follows than assuming that one who engages in weekly fornication with a wide variety of women is not applying themselves and wasting their parents money.

Besides, it's not like the silent generation didn't have its own degenerates and drug abusers (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac are good examples respectively), they just don't get the same press (good and/or bad) that the same crowd from the following generation receives. They existed, they just covered it up a whole lot better.

And yeah, I'm sure we can lay the blame for the Lewinsky scandal at Mr Miner's feet. But I guess that means we get to blame you for JFK and/or FDR's many extramarital, White House sexcapades. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

If anything, you should probably move out to California and talk to a doctor about some medical cannabis. It might lead to an increase in the virtue of charity.
written by debby, November 06, 2012
the vitriol in some of these comments allows the world to see that Holy Mother Church still has many Pharisees among Her members, like the weeds with the wheat.

which one of you who has no sin, please, oh please, cast the first stone.

i for one am always grateful for the self-disclosing souls who show their gratitude to a God Who Loved them while they were yet dying in their sin.

thank you, brad, and all other members of this sinful human race who are working out their salvation with awe and trembling before a Holy God Who is Father. you keep me on track with your honesty and help me remember that the Abyss of God's Mercy far surpasses the abyss of my misery. i need but repent to taste and see the Goodness of the Lord.
written by Micha Elyi, November 07, 2012
"Why do conversion / epiphany narratives always include the phrase 'when I was in college?'"-Mack

Good question. There are no atheists in foxholes, perhaps college is the inverse of a foxhole.

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