A trip down memory lane

“We’re the only two real wreck-heads in this whole building, Tom.”

Those words had an unexpectedly powerful moment of kinship for me. This was the guy I busked with, drank with, was briefly locked up with and ultimately fell out of contact with. At that time, we also talked drugs and took drugs. I recall him telling me he’d take drugs over sex any day of the week, and thinking that yeah, I more or less agreed.

We were both experimenting, trying our absolute best to live hard and fast, and not particularly concerned with what studying abroad had to offer us. It was a remarkable relationship, dominated by drugs, alcohol and music, that grew into an unhealthy reliance on one another. We were Shakespeare’s ‘star-crossed lovers’, our bond raw and chaotic, built entirely on a foundation of extremes. Extremes of drug-abuse, behaviour and depravity. And like all that burns bright, it inevitably had to fade, and fade fast. Relationships interwoven with heavy use, don’t last.

Even now I link that relationship to all my drug-taking experiences, years down the road. It is the base off which everything is compared. Are the drugs as good, are the emotions as desperate, will this moment etch itself into irrational memory? Can you recapture a time that felt wildly punk-rebellion but in reality was more likely just a couple of kids figuring it out?

First off, it’s important to note the vast difference in position that I can afford, over others that have gotten themselves caught up in this whole drug-rigmarole. For people like me it can be a brief interlude: I can experiment through my 20s, and emerge almost whole. Not so for some, who see it not as an appealing sojourn, but as a brutally desperate path, an inevitable obstacle that will not be overcome.

In Monopoly, sometimes you start with a handy get-out-of-jail-free card in your rear pocket, and a chummy banker surreptitiously passing you an extra $200 every time you pass Go. Other times, you start at Old Kent Road, and you only ever make it as far down the board as the jail, before getting unceremoniously dumped back where you started. Drug taking can be a luxury, it can also be an omnipresent struggle.

That’s my biggest issue with the problems inherent to drug use, and also what allows me to have such a blasé, carefree relationship with the stuff. Someone like me has an effective enough support base to escape the more sinister trappings of addiction. I’ll potentially move into middle age largely unscathed, with a couple of decent stories and acid flashbacks to keep me interested.

Not everyone has this comfort. For many, addiction starts young, there’s no escape, there’s no support, and we all cross the street to avoid an uncomfortable interaction. So yes, drugs can be fun, they can be wonderful, better than sex, better with sex… but we don’t all emerge clean-cut and fully engaged.

My closest brush with that life was a three day crack bender. We had a good amount of the stuff, and no social encumbrances over the weekend – at least none that couldn’t be rudely cancelled last minute. So three of us went a little crazy on the stuff. I remember the feeling, and it terrifies me more with every recollection. All that mattered was the next hit. I’d be gently turning the glass pipe as the vapours entered my lungs, and already thinking about my next turn, or whether we should be organising more. It was all-consuming, overwhelmingly so. The trappings of addiction and a life wasted have never seemed so tangible.

But I emerged, a little worse for wear and none the wiser. Maybe because of that it’s still a pleasant memory. The lowest point of my drug taking life was an LSD trip. Not the first, likely the last.

The pre-dawn light had fused the horizon and tranquil ocean into one borderless mass, and the acid was still entirely in control. Two larger than life figures floated serenely in the shallows, and they could well have been Greek gods frolicking among us lucky mortals. But they were just my two close mates, and they had a much better handle on themselves than I did. Over three years later, the thought of LSD still makes me feel frail, emotionally vulnerable. That was a trip I barely emerged from, taking months to fully recover.

There’s that old adage, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Yeah, great. I only imagine it’s the kind of archaic talk that originated in a locker-room; it definitely isn’t the musing of a freak with a head full of acid.

But how did I get here? My experience with drugs is largely positive, and in the interests of sheer unadulterated honesty, I’m all for them. I guess it’s important to acknowledge there are reasons for the stigma, the stereotypes, the swirling debate. Drugs aren’t for everyone, and drugs can do bad things to semi-decent people. Even decent people. Hell, they can wreak havoc on the bad ones too.

Enough, enough.

Let’s talk about the good stuff for a while. Why do we do drugs? Why do we crave those gnarly, heady-highs? Why do we seek to destroy ourselves? Answer to all the above: in the interests of fun? No, that’s a cop out; I demand more.

I started off on the ‘gateway’ drug, pot. “It’s not a gateway drug, that’s bullshit. It’s just weed, it’s harmless.” Well yeah that’s nice and all, but no. Experience tells me that ‘gateway’ is a pretty apt descriptor for the green green grass. Not in a fear-mongering type of way: in the sense that it does indeed make you feel that open-mindedness all us freaks talk about. Am I being gripped by that broad-shouldered beast, denial? Maybe, who knows? I’m certainly too biased to answer.

But weed does have that affect, at least on me. See, I left high school under the firm impression that drug use was not for me. And it seemed like a pretty rigid stance at the time. Then I tried pot, then I tried pills, then I tried other things. I briefly slung dope: only to friends, but it was a damned nuisance. It was a slippery slope from wide-eyed teen to bleary-eyed, part-time junkie – and I just seem to keep coming back for more. There are phases without, then I’ll be smoking for weeks on end.

Enough has been said about the biological effects that are the byproduct of drug use, the science behind the high. If you want to know about marijuana’s influence on dopamine production in the brain, or neurotransmitters because of MD, there’s plenty of information out there. But what is it that keeps people like me coming back?

Well I enjoy weed for its affect on creativity. Not in the sense that I’ll write high, I don’t think that works. But if I’m stumped for an idea, or just want to process and make sense of a large amount of information, weed is a good go-to at the end of a day. You can become quite procedural in your thinking manner, going through concepts step by step. This can make ideas form more clearly in your mind. It’s a thoughtful drug. And sometimes not, because paradoxically, it can also be a mindless drug. A way of switching off, detaching yourself, or floating through a hungover sunday.

I like MD for the solidarity, the companionship that it creates within a group. For a few short hours, you and your friends are at the very centre of the universe and the world seems like a pretty wonderful place. You fabricate a community where, ever so briefly, you’re certain this group of people are incredibly important to you. And then it wears off, you eat a banana and cringe at how affectionate it all was. But I’ve never been able to replicate the intimacy of a bunch of people on MD together.

There are others, too. Hallucinogens widen your perceptions of the world; you have all sorts outlandish revelations. They’re mostly nonsense, but they make the other thoughts that aren’t so ridiculous feel a little more realistic. What’s important here isn’t so much the crazy theories you come up with, it’s the training of your mind to think with more perspective. We tend to get more close-minded as we age, hallucinogens are good for avoiding that.

Stopping short of going through the list one by one, why do I take drugs? Well I enjoy the various effects, the altered states of consciousness. I like to think about things differently every now and then, whether that be rational or irrational thought. Will I do them forever? It’s certainly not the plan, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s to keep an open mind.

So to all my fellow wreck-heads, stay safe. And to any non-users that have made it this far, your mind is plenty open.

Words by Tom Hunt

Art by Rochelle Oh

IG – @therochellefish

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