I was sitting in the back row of a class on substance abuse with two jovial colleagues. The various drugs of choice were being cataloged along with their effects, symptoms, and treatments. When the presenter got to hallucinogens, he explained a history that goes way, way, back, way before LSD. He suggested some of the primitive societies' shamans, the priests and the seers who were in touch with the spirit world, were most likely using some herb to smoke their way to wherever it was they were going. He added that in the Amazon, or some other jungle, there was a frog that secreted a powerful substance. It was used as a poison on arrow heads but somehow someone found you could get a heck of a buzz if you ingested it. My guess is "shaman" means "frog-licker" in Amazonian. Another guess is that it started out as a dare from one shaman to another and shortly thereafter, all these colleagues were hooked.
Well my two colleagues and I put twelve and twelve together, got a 24 carat result, and cleared up the fairy tale frog/prince story for once and for all. Note that this topic really does come up from time to time. When giving advice to nieces and other young women, I like to use the adage: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find Prince Charming." The first response is usually "EEEWWW!" But the metaphor doesn't make much sense anyway. Is "Prince Charming" really charming or is he just using the frog scam to get kisses? The "Handsome Prince" persona doesn't hold up much better. Maybe it's fun to kiss Handsome but is he good at anything else? How many frogs is "a lot"? Doesn't the adage "Beauty is only skin deep" address the issue better? I mean aren't there a lot of really nice, reliable, successful, trustworthy, supportive, not so handsome "frogs" out there who are wonderful just the way they are and deserving of a young lady's company and smooches?
Still, I see a parallel between ancient people's spiritual, ritual substance abuse and a popular fairy tale. Here goes:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful, lonely princess. She was walking along the beautiful river that flowed through the beautiful kingdom. She came upon a frog sitting on the bank. The frog said: "I am a handsome, charming, reliable, successful, trustworthy, supportive prince (this frog was really bringing it.) put under a spell by an evil witch after I spurned her evil advances. Only a kiss from a beautiful princess like you can break this terrible spell." The princess' first reaction was "EEEWWW!" But then she thought, what the heck, stranger things have happened in fairy tales, so she put a lip-lock on the amphibian. Both of them swooned and when she recovered, sure enough, there was the handsome prince. They kissed passionately several times a day and lived happily ever after.
Those who saw these strange goings-on, strange even for a fairy tale, kept asking each other: "Why does the beautiful princess continually carry around that frog?" It remained a mystery until centuries later, when, at a substance abuse seminar, a jovial and astute trio realized that the beautiful princess had stumbled upon one of those hallucinogenic frogs and was in a constant altered state in which the frog appeared to her to be a handsome prince. (Maybe this accounts for all those instances when we say: "What in the world is SHE doing with HIM??!!")
But seriously, folks, if it's not too late, this is pretty much a classic case of what substance abuse does to people. If becomes a sort of lens that, when peered through, distorts every single thing in one's life. The ugly looks beautiful, the beautiful looks ugly, the important becomes trivial, the trivial becomes important, the completely worthless (the abused substance of choice) becomes primary focus and everything of value becomes lost.
We like stories with happy endings. For a person with substance abuse issues, that takes a desire to change and a great deal of hard work. Happy endings can come to pass, though, in real life.
Gary Lester, M.S., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.