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Erowid Families and Psychoactives Interview Series
Dialog with Seth
Interview by Erowid
Spring 2002
Seth is a 24-year-old peer counselor and health educator. At the time of Erowid spoke with him [Spring 2002], he and his wife were the guardians for his 16-year-old brother.

Erowid: As someone who works with troubled youth and who trains others to talk about health issues such as drugs and sex with youth, I imagine you have a lot of ideas on the topic of "families & psychoactives." Plus, you and your wife are currently the primary caregivers for a 16-year-old. Finally, you are 24 years old, so not so long ago, the topic of drugs touched your life in your parental home. Can you tell me a little bit about attitudes around your house growing up?

Seth: My parents met as Berkeley students. I guess my first real exposure to drugs, at least as a topic of conversation, centered around my dad's record collection, Jefferson Airplane and Bob Marley records in particular. I remember I was never all that interested in drugs growing up, but I remember having my friends over and putting on my dad's old records, and joking that we were listening to druggie music. That's probably one of the first times I remember it being something I thought about. I must have been 13 or so. My parents never brought up drugs as a topic of conversation. In high school, the people who I knew had started using drugs were all the people I didn't like. Actually I didn't like most people in high school, I was not a very popular kid, but the people who were really big assholes to me were also the first people who were getting drunk and smoking pot. I guess that my own interest actually started up through popular music. I really had no real interest in getting high, but listening to a few mid-90s alternative rock songs got me interested in hallucinating. So I tried LSD, because someone was able to procure some for me.

I guess I was around 15 years old, and some of my friends that I'd started making in high school had had a few experiences smoking pot and eating acid before. The group of us who had grown up together who'd never tried anything before decided we were all going to get together and do acid together, and one of our new friends who'd done that before arranged it for us. They actually got it through an older brother, who they were living with, they had moved out to [our city] with their older brother, so there was actually something like a family orientation right from the beginning. I got really into it really quickly, because I really like the LSD experience. I guess the first time either of my parents talked to me about it was when my mom found the very first bag of pot that I ever bought. I had been doing acid for a little bit and started realizing pot was a little more mellow, and I could do it more often, so I got a bag, and I'd gone through most of it before my mom found it. My mom was alcoholic, so I'd had a lot of experience with alcohol as a very negative thing in my household. She was drunk when she found the pot, and I remember her acting like it was a very big deal, and like she was really mad at me, and me throwing it back in her face that it was just a bag of pot, it's not like it was something that she had never done in her life, and it was not like it was something that she even needed to worry about, because at that time -- I didn't know much about drugs but -- I recognized pot as something that was not really a big deal one way or the other. So, to show her I had no attachments to it, I told my mom that I would flush it down the toilet, at which point my mom said, absolutely not, wešre just going to put this over here and deal with it later.

Right at that point I knew that my mom was going to take it and smoke it and that I wasn't in any significant trouble. It was a week later that she actually asked me if I could get her some pot. That started a very open relationship between me and my mom. After the initial anger she displayed, she calmed down. Within a week she decided to get over herself, admit that she did it, and had me get it for her. And then it became a really open thing in our household. It was a way that we bonded, it facilitated conversations, it was one of the cool things that my mom did. If I was going out for the night, I didn't know how to roll joints but I could get my mom to roll me a joint, because she could roll a pretty decent joint, and I could bring it out with my friends, and that was sort of a point of connection that we began to have. It did a lot to build our relationship.

The first conversation with my dad revolved around him finding me reading the book Go Ask Alice. Considering that that book does a lot to try to demonize drug use, I wonder about my dad's reaction to it, because him finding me reading it on my bed seemed to signal to him that he better have a conversation with me about drug use. I was actually still high on acid from the night before when I came home and he had the book out and tried to do the "we're going to have a stern conversation about this," but I had this mixture of softly hallucinating and being sort of content in that LSD way, and at the same time lying through my teeth and assuring my dad that my friends were pretty good and all we did was smoke a bit of pot here and there and watch a lot of movies together, even though we were doing acid once or twice a week and had been for months by the time he discovered the book, and had been on tons the night before. It took a while before my relationship with my dad reached the level of honesty that it did with my mom.

Erowid: Where was your brother through this?

Seth: We had different fathers, and at that point he stayed with his father most often and I stayed with my father most often. We often uncommonly converged on my mom's place at totally erratic intervals. He would have been about 8 or so, and so he was probably totally oblivious to the developments in my relationship with my parents regarding drug use. Although I think he and my mom smoked pot in front of him, just because my mom smoked enough cigarettes that it wasn't something that he would have noticed even happening.

I have since found out that my mom and my stepdad, my brother's father, used to have their friends over and smoke tons of pot in front of me and I never noticed, because they both smoked cigarettes and so nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Erowid: So now you are raising your 16-year-old brother, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Seth: Well in general that's definitely a challenging experience, but it's really bonding. If you want to hear a little bit more about it in relationship to drug use and how I deal with it on that level... I moved out of the city that my family was in for a couple of years, starting when my brother was about 13. When I was 17, my brother was about 10, I started a medical marijuana buyers' club with some other people in my city, I got really into drug use and organizing around drug issues for a couple years. I talked to my brother a lot about drugs, and I tried to let him know that I was somebody that he could come to talk to about drugs, and that if he was ever interested in smoking pot that he could come to me. And he spent a number of years being simply not interested in it, being really honest, none of his friends were doing it, and it wasn't something that was even on his radar as an interesting experience.

Right before I left [our city] I remember him telling me that he and his friends had tried smoking pot. I felt a little disappointed because I kind of wanted his first time to be with me, but I left it alone. But I did go and smoke with him, and it was one of the first few times for him. He must have been about 13 or so, and smoking with him was my reaction to him already having tried it. The culture of open drug discussion and use I initiated around the house probably did set the stage for him to feel comfortable to try it at an early age, but it definitely wasn't directly introduced by me. However, I got stoned with him fairly early on when he was getting into it and we talked for a while about drug use at that time, as well as just talk about the universe in general and a lot about really abstract ideas.

Then a couple of years later, I had been living outside of [our city] a year or a year and a half, and I flew my brother down to the city I was living in to spend a coujple of weeks with me, and hung out with him for Christmas. I started talking with him, and found out he and his friends had gotten into all kinds of drugs, that they had done acid, that they had done speed, that they had done pot, and that at 15 they had fully entered a polydrug using lifestyle. So I took the initiative at that point basically to initiate my brother into my drug using lifestyle, full force. This was partly as a way to show him how much you get out of drug use in the manner that I experience it, in an effort to drive him away from some of the more dangerous patterns of drug use that I'd witnessed in my community at that point.

So I took him out to a party and gave him MDMA and 2C-B and at some point also a balloon of nitrous oxide. It gave him the full-blown absolutely psychedelic and entheogenic party experience which was definitely impactful for him. It was a very strong experience, we spent a lot of time hanging out and talking about life that night, and talking about our shared histories, and where they diverged and where they converged, and were able to say a lot of things to each other that had never been expressed between the two of us. With 7 years difference between us, there was a lot of communication that hadn't yet happened. We also both were part of a very abusive household for a while, before my stepfather and mother separated, and so we were able to talk about our different perspectives and the abuse that we witnessed in the household before they separated and both went through a period of ending alcohol abuse. That was very interesting for me, the bonding experience and closeness that it brought us. But I did witness when he inhaled the nitrous that there was a moment of fright in his eyes, and that definitely pushed him a lot further than he ever expected was accessible through drugs. I think that was perhaps a good learning experience for him, and that it was good that he did that in a safe environment where he could spend a moment going right up to the edge, and see that there is indeed an edge, and you can indeed go too far, but having comfortable friendly people that were able to usher him back from that edge very quickly and talk to him about the fact that it exists, and that it is not a comfortable place to go past.

Erowid: Can you describe a little bit more the setting that you were in with your brother?

Seth: It was a party but not a dance party, it was a loungy atmosphere with a couple hundred people. There was about half a dozen of my close friends and coworkers who had come to the party with my brother and me. We were very familiar with these drugs, and with in fact this specific combination of drugs together. There was an element of myself and my partner and the close friends in my life bringing my brother to this party as a group. The whole thing was quite a group experience, it wasn't just about me and my brother; he spent some time bonding with my other friends as well. There were comfortable things to sit on, intimate atmosphere, low lighting...

Erowid: When you say that you did a lot of communicating that night, do you think that it was attributable to the state of mind engendered by the chemicals, or the setting, like at a party with people who were very comfortable... was it a combination of those? Do you think it was the sharing of this experience that is not considered a conventionally acceptable experience within our society?

Seth: There is an element of all of it; however, I had brought him a week before to a different party that was an outdoor party where we didn't get high. I stayed sober and he stayed sober, and I demonstrated to him that that was something that was part of my experience, and something I valued as much as doing drugs at parties. We did have a very good time, we had a really bonding time, and we talked about a lot of stuff, but not nearly as deeply personal as the time where we were on MDMA and 2C-B. Without a doubt, being in those altered states of consciousness facilitated more intimate conversation than when we went to a party and we were sober. This despite the fact that the outdoor setting was probably more conducive, because we spent a lot of time leaving the dance floor area at the party and climbing around and looking down on the dance floor and spending time alone doing things, which could easily have lead to more intimate conversations. Instead --- they were very important conversations, but they went less into finding a way to -- this is a hard thing to articulate but -- compare each of our subjective experiences of the family that we come from. That was a very heavy-duty conversation and something that didnšt come out until we were both in very significantly altered states of consciousness. And since that time, we've smoked pot together a number of times, and we've only once done anything else, which was MDMA.

Erowid: Do you think that that first time where you did the MDMA and 2C-B together, do you think that experience had a lasting effect on your relationship? Do you think that it had effects that reverberated in your own lives or the lives of other family members, or was it just something like a milestone in your relationship in general?

Seth: I don't think it has affected our relationship with our other family members in a positive or negative way. It probably has affected our relationship in the fact that we now talk about our parents more than we did before that, but we also now live together. There was another 6 or 8 months after that experience over Christmas before we did live together, and we had very little communication during that time because we lived in different cities. So it's hard to say how our communication would have been without that experience, because once we started living together, we were both having to face the politics of our family. I had to start dealing with his father and my mother about the issues they had surrounding his moving in with me, and I also saw him on a regular basis, and asked him a lot of questions about how was dealing with his parents. So I'm not sure if the content of those conversations would have been less shallow -- or would have been more shallow rather -- if we had not had a really deep conversation about the subject before. We have always been able to pick up from where we left, my brother and I, we go long periods of time without seeing each other. Especially since we've lived in different houses since I was ten and he was three, we've always seen each other at irregular intervals and sort of picked up where we left off. I think that having had that conversation I was able to pick up that level of depth again, once we started living together. Probably not in a way that I would never have been able to get to without that experience, but in a much quicker way, because we had gone there before at least once, and so I was able to go back to that level without much effort.

Erowid: Knowing what you know now, and just thinking back on the experience, because it sounds like it happened just a little over a year ago, would you have done anything differently?

Seth: No.

Erowid: Is it something that came up, that occurred to you on the spur of the moment, after he came here for a visit, or is something that occurred to you before you had him come down, or even before that, when you knew that he had been smoking pot?

Seth: I hadn't planned it in any specific detail, and I hadn't planned it for that specific night, but I had given a lot of thought to having an experience like that with him. As it came close to that party and as it became apparent that all the elements were in place, it seemed like the right time to do it. So, in a sense it was planned, because I had been thinking about all of what I would have liked to have go on for the first time I had that kind of experience with my brother. And in a sense it wasn't planned, because it was a few days beforehand that I knew about the party and got tickets and one of my friends said that they had enough of these drugs to share with me and my brother. They actually just offered them to me and I asked at that point -- I realized that all the elements were in place and asked -- if they had enough for my brother as well. From there I put effort into talking to him about it, and what kind of experience he was going to go into. And again, it wasn't his first psychedelic experience, or his first experience with MDMA. It was definitely his first experience with 2C-B. Probably his only experience with 2C-B.

Erowid: So you brought up the topic of cannabis with him when he was about 10, and then you talked with him about and shared with him a psychedelic experience when he was 15. When you prepared for those experiences, what were some of the things that informing your approach? Was it seeing things around you that didn't work? Things that did work? Were there things that you read, or people that you met that had had experiences that you thought were relevant -- I'm just trying to get a sense of how you got to that point.

Seth: Well, my first drug experience, which was also my first psychedelic experience, was with LSD that my friend's older brother had procured for us. In that case, the older brother didn't come with us to do it, but the friend who was my age did and she had experience with it before. That was an extremely positive experience for me, so that probably influenced my positively in the direction of that interaction. I had also gotten a little bit frustrated at that point already -- from the time I'd started using drugs on, I'd been really frustrated with the hypocrisy of my parents. I'll use that word even though it was much much mellower than most parents' hypocrisy, in the fact that they had had tons of drug experiences. My parents really don't like each other, and so I was put in the position of each parent telling me their own story as well as each of them telling me the dark side of the other one's story. Both of them underplayed their own drug use, and probably exaggerated the other person's drug use, in the stories they were telling me. I was frustrated with the fact that whatever was going on, they weren't being entirely honest, and they weren't giving me the credit that they gave themselves at the same age... that they could talk about having these experiences, and at the same time were having negative feelings towards me having these experiences. So I was pretty frustrated at that.

I also read a lot of literature and have since I was 16 or 17 years old about drugs. I'd read a lot about cannabis for a while, and I read a lot about psychedelics after that, and have gone on to read lots about all kinds of drugs in my life. Aldous Huxley's book Island had quite an influence on me. Since I'd read it I always imagined about their model for adolescent initiation into psychedelic use, accompanied by a bonding physical experience of mountain climbing, and an instructive intellectual experience of the spiritual lecture and guidance when they all eat the mushrooms together. That had always struck me as somewhat of an ideal situation, that I would have liked to for myself and would like to make available to other young people as are they are coming into the later stages of puberty, to have that sort of an experience. A way to put altered states of consciousness into a context other than something to do with your friends on a Saturday night. Although I don't think that's a necessarily a wrong experience -- I've had many bonding and personal growth experiences with my friends on psychedelics on a Saturday night with no intention other than we wanted to get together to get high and have fun. So I definitely think that there is a place for that, but I would like to see other cultural contexts opened up for people in their mid-to-late teens. That definitely influenced me in how to share these experiences with my brother.

Erowid: I've heard you talk before about this idea of initiatory experiences for young people, and creating contexts for initiatory experiences. Is that something that you've seen other people do, where you're from, or is it like one of those things that you would think would be really neat to do but you don't think is going to happen anytime soon?

Seth: There was somebody that I talked to that had some grand schemes for doing a project that never got off the ground. There are some people whom I've met who've had an initiatory experience that their family or older friends set up as an introduction to psychedelic use. But most often, they started using them on their own, and then a little bit into their use some of their older friends put something together not as their first experience, but as something to reorient their thinking about the subject. More often than not, the families I've seen who were open with their kids, and talked about it and made it available for them to participate in drug experiences, were the ones who were the most casual about it and the least ceremonial. So there was a bit of a disconnection because I always wanted to find that open and honest sharing experience, but also the ceremonial and initiatory experience, and they didn't seem to go hand in hand at all.

Erowid: You mentioned conversations with your mother and your father that were frustrating because each tried to paint the other's experiences a bit more darkly than their own. Did that level of hypocrisy continue, or did you ever reach a point where you leveled with them, or did you feel like it just wasn't important to you to do that?

Seth: My parents stopped trying to use each otheršs drug use as a way to try to undermine my appreciation for the other, but they continued to do that on other subjects. I never pushed the drug issue with them, and I think that eventually it gave way to things that each felt was more relevant. As it became apparent that I showed very little if any judgment of other people's drug experiences, they stopped trying to use that as a way to paint the other in a darker light, and now they know me well enough that they try to get things that they know actually bug me, and convince me that the other parent is actually like that.

Erowid: Do you imagine that you might ever be a parent?

Seth: Yes.

Erowid: In imagining that, how do you imagine bringing up the topic of substances, licit and illicit, since it is something that we on balance don't handle well in North American culture? Would you talk a little about that?

Seth: I think about parenting a lot, and, would like to be a parent. I have been involved with a number of my friends who are parents, and I have been involved in their children's lives. Most of the parents that I know have the benefit of living in a rural community, where they have a lot more choice in how they live their lives without being scared of facing condemnation from the prohibitive atmosphere of our culture. I really like the models that our community has come up with so far, which is basically of not hiding things. All the children in the community that grow up with our friends witness us smoking pot, although we are conscious enough not to do it in small rooms, or poorly ventilated rooms. When the children are there, we are always conscious of the air flow, smoking either outside, or in rooms that are big enough and have air flowing through them, so that we're not going to get the kids stoned just because they're in the same room as us. However, we don't try to hide the smell, or hide the fact that we're smoking pot together. We talk to the kids about it, as they grow old enough to ask what we're doing and be curious in our activity. We make it clear that it's not something that we will hold back from them, but that it is something that they don't need to jump into. We try to demystify it in a way that doesn't make it something cool or romanticized, but simply makes it something that's recognized as an adult activity that they are free to indulge in as they grow up old enough to get into other types of adult activities.

In that community, it seems like 15 or 16 years old is when they start getting interested in smoking pot. That's about the age that I did, and it seems like a reasonable age for people to start. A few people start at 13 or 14, but when it's such an open thing in the community, there's the ability to set clear standards around it, like making it clear that the goals of the family and children are still getting met, that they're still able to complete their schooling -- whether that's public schooling or homeschooling -- and that what their doing is not impairing their education, that it's not impairing their lifestyle, that it's not impairing the social relationships with their peers and it's not something that their introducing to younger kids. I find that by keeping it all open the way that we do, we know what they're doing. They're not dishonest with us about what they're doing when they go party on Saturday nights. If it's evening, we're there with them and can see what it is they're doing.

It's similar for psychedelics. In that community, there's dance parties that happen on a semi-regular basis, that are open to everyone. So they're able to come to a community space, and see people listening to music and dancing. There's a little bit of alcohol drinking but not a lot of drunkenness, some glasses of wine or beers that people have because they like to do that when they're relaxing all night, but you simply can't get drunk and go till dawn so alcohol isn't used as a major inebriant. But they do witness a lot of psychedelic use and MDMA use, and they even witness a lot of DMT use that happens in those settings. It's all kept as something that they are free to explore as they come into adulthood. It's something that's contextualized culturally in a way that doesn't lead them to want to rush into the experience, or think that they're going to miss it if they don't actively seek it out. It's not portrayed as more than it is. They hear people around them talking about their drug experiences. Most of the adults in their community have had very positive drug experiences, so they hear people talking about personal growth stories through the use of MDMA and psychedelics, but not in a way that proselytizes it, or gives them the sense that everyone should go out and have this experience in any condition that there is. It's the fact that we're patient, that we use it with our good friends, when we're prepared for it, and when we're in the right setting. Without even having to lecture them, this probably has those sorts of standards built into it the culture, that they understand drug use.

My little brother grew up in the city without that sort of context around him, and without much guidance from his parents when I was living in a different city. He ended up getting into more abusive patterns with drugs before I moved back and was able offer him some mentorship and reorientation around drug use. The teenagers that I've seen in the rural community who have this openness around them, and this cultural context for drug use, don't seem to be interested in rushing into using any of the psychedelics, let alone into establishing any kind of abusive behavior patterns. They seem more interested in exploring alcohol, as they come into their latter teens, probably because being a teenager is such a horrible awkward time in their lives, that alcohol manages to dull the social discomfort that they have, rather than with using LSD, which would simply magnify their social discomfort. I think that whether they recognize that on a conscious level, there's some implicit recognition that the deep self-reflection and soul-searching that psychedelics open up to someone is not the best thing to do when they can barely figure out how to talk to the opposite gender in a classroom setting. But I haven't seen any of them -- I'm thinking specifically of the older teenagers I've seen in that community -- I haven't seen any of them enter into abusive relationships with drugs, do more than dabble with drugs, except for a few times getting drunk enough to puke and then talking about it as glory stories. As adults we make fun of them. Rather than condemn them we just sort of tease them about how silly it is to talk about puking as a fun recreational activity.

Erowid: This [families & psychoactives] is a difficult subject to discuss. There are so many different kinds of experiences people have had, depending on what their family of origin is like, and whether they themselves have had children. You've done a bit of travelling and quite a bit of talking with people in your peer group and people in their late teens. Are there general impressions that you've gotten, or general ideas that you've gleaned about what works, what hasn't worked, what have been some common themes among these young people's experiences?

Seth: I would have to say -- in terms of common themes in the experiences -- if I was to identify any contributing factor in somebody's lifestyle, that will lessen their chances of adopting an abusive relationship to the drugs they use, it would a strong supportive and large personal support network.

People who have a lot of friends and family, who care about them, are less likely to use drugs in an abusive way. And that extends to the family. People whose parents care about them, and are honest with them, and are able to discuss things in an open a way, that add a few more adults to their support network. People whose extended family is able to do that. I mean, no one thinks their parents are cool, at least not until they're into their twenties, and they can actually reflect on their parents lives a bit more. But I've heard so many stories about that aunt or that uncle, the one cool extended family member -- and sometimes even that older cousin -- that took them aside, and started up an honest conversation, and gave them a chance to say, "So what are you into, so are you having sex, what kind of people are you attracted to, are you doing drugs, what kind of drugs do you and your friends do, these are the things that I did when I was young, these are some of the mistakes that I made, and these are some of the really cool experiences I've had." People who talk about having that experience -- when they were anywhere between 12 and 16, even sometimes just in a single conversation with that older relative that was able to talk to them -- seemed to have added a gigantic amount of resiliency to their lives, and an ability to choose less destructive patterns of drug use. Parents definitely help to some degree, although like I said parents are never the coolest people in a teenager's life. And then friends that care that someone can talk openly and honestly with.

The people I've known that have used drugs -- that have not fallen into abusive patterns -- usually have one of those elements or all of those elements in their lives. I've known a lot of people who use drugs very abusively; I would in some sense implore other young people to be honest with their friends, because I have seen a number of people use drugs abusively and in an atmosphere of social tolerance where none of the friends wanted to be the one to say, "Hey look, I think you're fucking yourself up," because that would be really uncool and you're supposed to be tolerant. I would certainly not say that approaching someone with a condemning or condescending voice is never productive in this sort of an area, but being able to approach someone and say, "I'm concerned about you, I'm concerned about how much you're using drugs, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I use drugs too.." I definitely think a lot of people react very negatively to hypocrisy when it comes to drug use. Rather than say, "I think you should do this," or "I think that you should do that," they can come to them and say, "I'm concerned about you and I care about you, and if you ever want to talk, if you ever need some help, then I'm open, and available for you to use me in that way." That, I think, is a valuable experience, and a valuable thing to be communicated. I wish that when I was in my latter teens -- for the friends of mine who did slip further down into destructive behavior patterns, and spent some of their lives having to recover from that -- I wish that myself and my peers had more stability and ability to communicate that to the people who we were concerned about. But the people who have had that, I've seen, are better able to resist abusive behavior patterns.

I've also noticed in people in different drug-using communities that access to information does make a big difference. There's often a sort of leader figure in communities that takes an active interest in drug use, and reads a lot online, and reads a lot of books. They buy a few of the books about drugs, and maybe visit some of the more popular websites with drug information, Erowid and Dancesafe, they communicate that information to their immediate peer group. I've noticed some communities that don't have that, and they seem a little less grounded, they're kind of unhooked, and there's sort of this trial and error process where a lot of them have to go through really stupid excessive experiences before they figure out the boundaries, whereas if they have someone in their community who takes that active interest and leadership role and sort of gives mini lectures when appropriate about the things that they're reading, that can do a lot to ground a community of young drug users. That's another thing I've noticed. I try to identify those characters and support them when I'm travelling and working with different groups of young drug users, because I think that that's a really valuable cultural role.

Erowid: It sounds like it's people other than parents that have often played the decisive role in charting the course for more healthful choices for some of the people you've come across, except in the cases where there's a whole community of openness like the rural community that you've described, where everybody is holistically supporting a culture of openness. I think you mentioned that you haven't always seen more formal ritual settings or initiatory experiences, it's been more casual?

Seth: Yes, disappointingly so. There are small pockets of people -- and then the most ritualistic and ceremonial experiences I've seen have less to do with targeting young people in the community to initiate them into that sort of activity, and has more to do with a group of people that have used psychedelics casually for a while that want to give themselves a different experience, and then work together to form some sort of different ritual context for their use.