Episode 272: HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict

Things could have played out very differently for Leonard Lee Buschel. A powerful combo of early-childhood trauma, a “professional” opportunity, and luck combined to foster a 27-year drug dealing career that might have gone disastrously wrong. In fact, a great many things did go wrong, which became undeniably clear when Leonard looked at the Top 10 catastrophic close calls he was asked to list while in rehab. “I read it and thought, ‘Whoever wrote this is crazy and suicidal,’ ” he says, recalling the wallop of having all those near-misses condensed into one place. “No one notices when you go insane slowly.”

This fascinating conversation takes a look at addiction and recovery through the lens of film with lots of insights and movie recs from Leonard, who is — among many things — founder of the Reel Recovery Film Festival. Going strong for the past 14 years in Los Angeles and venues around the U.S., it’s a unique platform for honoring shorts, animated and feature-length films as well as documentaries with follow-up panel discussions whose focus is on journeys to the brink — and beyond.

Leonard also shares highlights from his compelling book, HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict, thoughts on ingredients for sustained recovery, and various resources to support healing. For Leonard, the point of sobriety isn’t labels or regret, but celebration. However we got here and whatever we do, the goal is to welcome growth, self-understanding, and the beauty of moving from surviving to thriving!

Key Takeaways

  • Addiction Survivor: The phrase Leonard coined as a re-frame for the label “alcoholic,” which felt contrary to the growth and self-understanding that recovery represents.. …
  • Trauma can impact us on a molecular level, creating a trough that demands to be filled.
  • An early gambling compulsion subsided once Leonard figured out that he could be popular and make money by selling marijuana.
  • Early “mentors” on the streets introduced Leonard to arthouse film in downtown Philadelphia — a game-changer especially once he got sober and founded the Reel Recovery Film Festival in Los Angeles 14 years ago.
  • About the Reel Recovery Film Festival:
    • Some 150 submissions come in annually from around the world.
    • It features shorts, animated and feature-length films and documentaries.
    • People don’t walk out because the films are uniformly compelling!
    • Post-viewing symposiums reveal additional facets of featured films and how their message has landed in a sober context.
  • Leonard believes that the so-called “war on drugs” was in reality a war on underprivileged people.
  • About the return post-Covid of the Experience, Strength and Hope Awards honoring celebrities who write memoirs about addiction and recovery.
  • Leonard shares just how challenging and emotionally taxing it was to tackle the process of writing his memoir, “HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict.” It was a labor of love on behalf of the sons for whom he wanted to leave a complete story.
  • Not your typical career path: Leonard was attracted to drug dealing because it was so unlike the 9-to-5 drudgery he associated with his widowed mom’s life. So when an opportunity arose to go all-in with a Miami connection, he was “off and running.”
  • The excitement of seeking or dealing substances can in itself be an addiction, recovery from which ultimately depends on learning to be bored.
  • Leonard believes the best rehab programs keep addicts busy from morning ‘til night.
  • Here’s an exercise Leonard found illuminating: He was asked to write down 10 incidents that could have ended catastrophically based on his using and drinking. After he completed the assignment, and could see events distilled before him, he realized: “Whoever wrote this is crazy and suicidal.”
  • John and Leonard share perspectives on so-called character defects, like lying, simply as coping mechanisms, ways to survive and avoid confronting the scary unknown.
  • Leonard leaves us with a top film pick from 2006: “Half Nelson,” starring Ryan Gosling.

Memorable Quotes

 “The language of recovery is very important and you really need to tailor for whomever you’re speaking with at any given time.” (John)

“Being ‘in recovery’ sounds like being in a box. I don’t want a border or frame around it … Recovery is a very personal journey.” (Leonard)

“My bottom was when I was confronted by other people: ‘We know about you.’ ” (John)

“I have two sons and wanted to leave something where they would get to know me. I’ve never been as proud of myself. The most difficult thing I’ve ever done is write this book.” (Leonard)

“You’ve got to be a nerd from time to time. You’re not always going to be hip, slick and cool. Get used to reading. If you’re reading a book, you can’t be bored.” (Leonard)

“More people have relapses not when they get fired, but when they get a raise. Because now they have some freedom, some energy, some money.” (Leonard)

“Anybody who is on the cusp of a disastrous drug or alcohol mistake, going to rehab for a month is better than any vacation. Self-discovery is more exciting than most anything else I can imagine.” (Leonard)

“A lot of us get lost in our addiction … I needed to figure out why I reacted the way that I did to things. So taking the time to look at my past was constructive in that I was able to see some patterns in how I was reacting and change my behavior going forward.” (John)

“Denial is more powerful than active addiction because it’s all brain chemistry. It literally is in your head and you can be in full-on denial about other people and certainly your own habits.” (Leonard)

“When an addict is lying about something, they’re just doing it to keep the parade going. To not get off the merry-go-round because they feel comfortable in their uncomfortableness.” (Leonard)

“People will do anything to keep their habit fresh or alive … “ (Leonard)

Additional Resources

About Our Guest

Leonard Lee Buschel is an American publisher, substance abuse counselor and author of “HIGH: Confessions of a Cannabis Addict.”  He is the co-founder of Writers in Treatment, which supports recovery and the arts, and executive director of REEL Recovery Film Festival, focusing on stories of addiction and recovery.

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