Some find recovery in a church basement. Others need something with a little more Satan. I was first introduced to the Satanic Temple through participation in the Harvard Black Mass because, you know, sometimes in life you're the windshield, and sometimes you're the bondage nun. As a politically active organization—you may have read about their statue in Oklahoma—the Temple separates itself from the Church of Satan by doing away with elitism. Instead of worshipping demons through child sacrifice, as Satanic panic might have you believe, many Satanists use the Temple's emphasis on free will and personal empowerment to overcome their personal demons. To learn more about how Satanism can help alcoholics and drug addicts overcome addiction, I turned to Lilith Starr, the head of the Seattle chapter of the Satanic Temple. With a BA in English from Harvard and an MA in Journalism from Stanford, Lilith scooped up the ashes from a charmed life destroyed by drugs and sprinkled them in the shape of a pentagram, recast as a happy Satanist. (That's even the name of her book, The Happy Satanist, due out this spring.) I spoke with Starr about how she beat a nasty nitrous addiction with the power of Satan.
VICE: Hey, Lilith. Can you introduce yourself?
Lilith Starr: I'm Lilith Starr and I'm the head of the Seattle chapter of the Satanic Temple. I live in Seattle with my husband who is also my full-time slave boy.
How did you become involved with the Temple?
I've just been following them online and seeing what they are doing, and I got really excited. I was digging into their website and there was a section on how to ask about a chapter, and I decided to ask about it. There wasn't [a Seattle chapter] so I decided I was up to the task of chapter head.
I love learning how many women hold power within the Temple.
Right? It's amazing. Our group has a lot women and it's really diverse.
How did you end up involved in drugs?
My drug past is basically all of my adult life, after I got out of college. Before college I never tried any alcohol or drugs. Then I got into college and I found alcohol. I really liked alcohol and I became the social director for the band. That was my life, throwing parties and partying. When I got to grad school and joined the [Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band] they were doing drugs. So I got my taste of soft drugs. I got addicted to nitrous oxide, of all things. It's super rare, but in the Stanford band we used a lot of it. It was legal to get. I also did mushrooms there, I did acid for the first time, and I really liked the mushrooms. They had a really good antidepressant effect for me.
I've credited acid with helping me get over an eating disorder.
Wow! I totally believe it. They're doing studies now for it. So I wanted to do more mushrooms but I wasn't cool enough to know anybody who sold them. So I ended up doing nitrous oxide because it was legal. You go down to the head shop and buy some whippets, which is what I was doing. I have major depression that runs in my family; I've had it since I can remember. I spent my teen years thinking about ways to kill myself, some of my adulthood too. And I ended up getting really dependent on the nitrous. It gave me a quick dissociative high where I was no longer myself. Of course the more I used it and wanted to stop, the worse I started to feel about myself, and the more nitrous I used.
How did your drug use become problematic?
Right after I got out of grad school I was really successful. I went into the tech industry and ended up at Amazon, and I had all kinds of stock money and a giant house. I lost it all because of nitrous oxide. I would spend every dollar on it. So everything fell apart and just kept getting worse and worse and my partner left me. I moved out; I wasn't paying the rent. I started doing other drugs, and picking up strange people. [Nitrous] really ruined my life.
Did you try Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other 12-Step programs?
It was in 2003 or 2004 that my boyfriend suggested I try NA. He had gone to AA when he had an ecstasy addiction. Although he also told me that he was only there to pick up chicks. They call it "13th stepping." I really wanted to stop, so I went to the NA meetings near my house and right away I could kind of see a problem. They say you should take out of it what you can, so I tried to ignore the fact that you had to have a "higher power" other than yourself. In my view, your own will is the most important, powerful thing. I was trying to use my will to stop using the nitrous and they were telling me that I couldn't, that I had to let God fix me.
Whereas 12-step programs ask you to find a higher power, Satanism encourages self-will and individuality. Was that helpful in your search for recovery from addiction?
100%. Finding Satanism was the path that I needed to get out of the addiction. Because it was so self-empowering. I did meet my current husband at NA; we fell in love and almost immediately I stopped doing the nitrous. However, I started doing meth. I'm pretty sure I just transferred my addiction. My life kind of fell apart, both my husband and I had different partners, we lost our housing, we were on the streets homeless for a while. Once I was stabilized, trying to get off these drugs, I went back to the concept that I was the one that had the power to stop. In the middle of the homelessness, that's when I had picked up the Satanic Bible. I read it. The parts that kind of advocate violence aren't really my thing, but this concept that, Hey, you're actually worth taking care of and you should have a passion for yourself, and you're the only one with the power to do anything in your life: that made a lot of sense to me. I took that as my banner and I ran with it.
What attracted you to the Satanic Temple? What do you like most about being involved?
What I really love about the Temple is that it makes so much sense. I really feel like everything the Temple is doing is fighting for the common sense changes that nobody else is willing to stand up and do because they're afraid of the religious right. What I really love the most of it is how much it's brought together a community that hasn't existed before. That's a really beautiful part. I think most of us always thought we would be practicing alone.
I like that you brought up the word community, because the fellowship element of AA is often credited with its success. But that can be problematic for those who don't believe in all AA stands for.
It's the key. There are other recovery programs out there like Smart Recovery, where you get the community plus science-based ways of dealing with addictions. What I learned from looking at the science is that it seems addiction comes about because you feel cut off or isolated.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with addiction but feeling out of place and struggling with the mainstream prescribed path to recovery?
My first bit of advice to anyone struggling with addiction is give yourself a break. We get so many negative messages about addiction and you end up feeling like you're the worst thing on the planet. Second, go look for community. Go online, take some time and find some other people that share your worldviews that are also struggling with it. See what they have to say, and see if you can meet them in person.
What does your life look like now?
It's night and day. I'm living with the life that I always dreamed. All those days I thought I would never be able to stop nitrous… but I did. Today I'm realizing just how wonderful my life is. There's a lot of pain, but there's a lot of joy, and I'm sober enough to enjoy it.
Do you credit the Satanic Temple with your recovery?
The Temple work is what gives meaning and purpose to my life. It was the community I was searching for all those lonely years of depression and addiction. It's even inspired me to finally find effective therapy for my depression, so I can be everything my community needs me to be. It's what gets me up out of bed in the morning. It's my anti-addiction! Now I actually have something to live for, and it's not the false promises of the drugs.
If you or someone you know struggles with addiction or substance abuse, please call the Free Addiction Hotline at 1-855-315-4766.
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