“If you can’t laugh at yourself, life’s gonna seem a whole lot longer than you’d like….What do you do? You laugh. I’m not saying I don’t cry, but in between, I laugh.”

– Sam (Natalie Portman), “Garden State

Never mess with poppy seed tea.  While its ingredients may seem harmless, don’t be fooled. The concoction, made from poppy seeds, lemon juice and warm water, is incredibly addictive and induces a potent high. Unwashed poppy seeds are coated with opium latex. I knew this, of course. But I never fully expected to fall under the spell of the opium poppy.

I’ve done my fair share of opiates and opioids (along with a myriad of other drugs). But that was years ago. I managed to maintain a clean streak for nearly three years before finally throwing caution to the wind and relapsing.

The recipe for poppy seed tea was straightforward. Immerse the seeds in an acidic bath, shake for a minute or two and strain. That’s pretty much it.  The result? A revolting brew consisting of dozens of opiate alkaloids. The recipe’s final instructions read, “Chug that shit.”

I was drawn to experiment with poppy seed tea primarily because of its legality. There’s no law, as far as I’m aware, against buying a kilogram of poppy seeds and a jug of lemon juice. But I failed to read the postscript included at the bottom of the recipe, “Don’t chug this shit every day.”  So addiction ensued with my daily use of the “tea.”  I always learn the hard way.

I never fully grasped the extent of my chemical dependency. Why isn’t everyone doing this? I would ask myself. Probably because not everyone is as stupid as I am.  But I take comfort in knowing I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to fall victim to the poppy seed.

Despite the monkey on my back, I managed to remain high functioning. I used the tea for six months straight, with few breaks. Occasionally, I would go a day or two without my usual dose, only to find myself making an impulsive trip to the supermarket as withdrawals set in.

It was only during the last couple months that I began to notice an impairment in my judgement. I made rash decisions while under the influence, sending erratic emails and text messages and making ill-considered phone calls. As a result, I damaged a few relationships with valued friends. And that was just the beginning.

I became an insomniac and had difficulty getting out of bed in the mornings; some days I opted to stay in bed until late afternoon. Much of my free time was spent sitting on the couch, lost in my vacant thousand yard stare. Unmotivated, I had little ambition to engage in activities I once enjoyed. My passion for life gradually vanished.

I put on a good show for the rest of the world. I suppose I’ve got a knack for acting. Few knew the severity of my situation. There’s a great deal of stigma associated with addiction. Many view substance abuse as immoral, and wrong. We are taught from an early age that “drugs are bad.” This kind of thinking only reinforces society’s contempt for drug users.

Addiction is not a moral issue. It is a mental health issue. And mental health education has not yet broken through the stigma of addiction – “self-inflicted pain.”  Clearly, those who share this belief have not walked a mile in an addict’s shoes.

It is because of this stigma that I was unable to reach out for help. So I cleaned up on my own. However, I feel an obligation to raise mental health awareness and expose my struggle with addiction and relapse. If not for me, then for others who may find themselves in a similar predicament.

I could set up a one man picket line at the entrance to the supermarket and chant the dangers of poppy seed tea. That might work. I could hang anti-drug posters in the bulk foods aisle. Also plausible.  But maybe just telling my story is enough to deter others from downing the bitter brew. I hope so.

To quote James Thurber, “The wellspring of laughter is not happiness, but pain, stress, and suffering.” So, I laugh.  I mean, who else can attribute their undoing to poppy seeds? They’re so tiny! What can I say? I guess I won’t be ordering a poppy seed muffin any time soon.

I’ve still got my thousand yard stare, I don’t think that will ever change. And I’ll always carry a lot of scars. But I’ve got a new lease on life and I look forward to what the future may hold. I chose recovery for a reason. Because I think squeaky clean Andrew will knock your socks off.

About Andrew Woods

Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago). I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications. Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.

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