How I kicked drugs by writing

(I’m guest-blogging today on Bookaddict4real. I thought I’d share it here as well.)

People who know me know my consumption of chemicals was pretty robust at one time. Shooting crystal meth (1 ½ years), dropping acid (200+ times), smoking pot (daily, for years), drinking alcohol (daily, for many, many years). I had a nice mind-mess going, and despite a little time in jail for sale of the some of the above-named substances, I had no intention of stopping.

At one point during these early years I decided I wanted to direct movies and videos, so I went to NYU Film School. One of the mandatory courses was Screenwriting 101. I begged to get out of it—I had no talent for telling stories—but mandatory is mandatory.

If you write, especially if you write fiction, you probably know what happened the first time I tried to create something. Even if you just read fiction, you know what I experienced—a kind of mesmerizing dream-state, a kind of alchemical, mind-melting trance. The blogger Laurel Marshfield has a good post on writing as entrancement (, and I think entrancement is a good word for describing what happens. Even if you write and read non-fiction, when you’re deeply into a text, you feel as if your head is turning to butter like it did when a story was read to you as a child.

In other words, I was getting high on writing. Just like I’d get high on drugs. In terms of finding that entranced, lightly hypnotic, taken-away feeling, the writing high and the drug high have a lot in common.

Right away this presented a problem. I liked the writing high, I liked the drug high. Trouble was, I couldn’t do both at the same time. The writing high is a controlled state. The drug high is an uncontrolled and often wildly unpredictable state. Whenever I tried to write when I was stoned I’d get a serious case of entrancement-clash.

So I had to decide between the two. The choice might sound ridiculous now, but it was soul-searchingly serious at the time. Eventually I went with writing—it was free, it was legal, and you didn’t have to carry a gun to cop it.

I think I reached the right decision. Once I made up my mind, I never did drugs again. I loved writing too much to let any bizarre drug static interfere. A lot of times in recovery they tell you to get addicted to something that won’t kill you. For me it was writing. Not only did the word-high get me clean, in time it gave me the tools I needed to make a living as a magazine writer and editor.

The alcohol? That took a lot longer to kick. The entrancement level of booze is nowhere near as powerful as the drugs, so there was no competition with the writing and I had to use rehab and 12-steps to find my freedom. But that’s a different story, a different drug. Still, I think my battle with the bottle was helped by my fight with the needle. I’d chosen writing, and I’d saved my life.


About Richard Sanders

I worked as an Executive Editor at Entertainment Weekly for 11 years and (in two separate stints) at People magazine and for 12 years. I often speak to young journalists and try to use myself as an example for inspiration—a guy who spent time in jail, rehab and a psych ward and somehow went on to become a successful editor at Time Inc. and managed to stay sane and alive. I’ve tried to reflect those experiences in my books. View all posts by Richard Sanders

22 responses to “How I kicked drugs by writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: