How Drugs Didn't Ruin My Life

Would You Like a Candy by Eva Andrews //

How Drugs Didn't Ruin My Life by Christina Vidal //

You drop the word “drugs” and it's as if you're just waiting for everyone to panic, for the world to explode, for all your friends to leave you, for your lover to break up with you, for your family to disown you, for everyone's eyes to be on you, waiting for you to feel ashamed for what you've done, or at the very least, for a SWAT team to come and break down your door, smash in all your windows, and throw you into solitary confinement for the rest of your life. 
But it really shouldn't be like that. 
I have only tried your basic, entry-level assortment of things: marijuana, 'shrooms, cocaine, and ecstacy. Allow me to clarify: this is just my definition of “basic” and “entry-level”. Given the vast assortment of uppers, downers, hallucinogens, psychedelics, opiates, methamphetamines, and god knows what else exists, what I have tried is pretty elementary. Honestly, I've got nothin' on Timothy Leary or Ken Kesey. I've never even gotten my hands on some LSD, a fact that I often lament. And, for one reason or the other, my overall drug use only dropped off once I grew up and moved from San Jose, California to Salt Lake City, Utah. But it wasn't always that way.

I guess you could say I went through a rebellious phase growing up, as many teenagers are infamous for, and by the time I was sixteen I was sneaking out of the house to “party” with friends. Sometimes it was just driving around, smoking pot, drinking cheap beer. Other times, we'd goof off in neighborhood parks until the cops shone their angry lights on us. But mostly we'd go to house parties thrown by a friend whose parents weren't around: big, empty houses filled with suburban teenagers with too much access to booze and drugs and not enough adults to tell us otherwise. It was perfect.
By this time, I had thrown away my virginity. Why use the euphemism of “losing” it? - It's not like I misplaced it. But I wasn't nearly as promiscuous as the girls (and guys) I called my friends. In fact, I had only ever had sex with two boys, both of whom I had been in long-term relationships with. Sex was, and still is, a big deal to me. For the other girls, partying seemed to be about getting fucked up and hooking up with as many people - guys, girls, it didn't matter - as possible. I was just looking to have some fun, to experiment, to experience something out of the ordinary.
Most of us are aware of the stereotype surrounding the type of teens who experiment with drugs. They're the rebels, the troublemakers, the burn-outs, the drop-outs, the losers, the freaks, the ones who come from broken homes, the ones without a future because they threw it all away to drugs. They're the ones placed in remedial classes that they're going to fail anyway, the ones that give you dirty looks in the halls, the ones with “how to build a bomb” in their recent Google search history, the trench-coat-wearing, Crayola-color hair-dying, class-cutting, pot-smoking, going-nowhere-fast crowd that your mother always told you not to get involved with. They're those kids that cause the protagonist in that awful teen movie to reach the conflict in that nauseatingly predictable plot. They're the ones who are looked upon with pity, the ones “acting out” for attention, the ones looking for an escape.
Those are just stereotypes, of course. To me, they were just normal kids, or at least your normal assortment of kids. The kids I knew who did drugs were representative of many different demographic factors. There wasn't a distinguishable socioeconomic gap: there was “rich” and “poor” and everything in between. Racial differences didn't matter; San Jose is representative of a very diverse population. It wasn't even something you noticed. Hell, sometimes age wasn't even an issue. At any given time, I'd bet there were sixteen to twenty-six-year-olds hanging out together. 
But more than being a diverse group of people, they were a very welcoming group that just wanted to have a good time – though, as I've mentioned, we all had varying definitions of what “having a good time” meant. As for addressing the stereotype, sure, some of those kids fit the mold of what a drug-using teen should look and act like. And, to be honest, I never really got to know them all that well to be able to say otherwise. It wasn't really necessary to know someone's favorite color when the only objective was to party and get fucked up.
Personally, though, I never would have been suspected of being a teenage drug user. My average GPA throughout high school was 3.87. I was in advanced placement classes. I was the kid who would stay after class to talk to the teacher. What also may have been deceptive was the company I kept. I had friends from every different crowd on campus: the jocks, the popular kids, the Asian kids, the band kids, the smart kids, the theatre kids, the skater kids, upper classmen, lower classmen, kids who ran for student government, kids who ran the yearbook committee, and pretty much whatever other group you could think of. The general assumption after this statement is usually, “Oh, so you were popular in high school?” And the answer to that is always an incredulous, “Are you serious? I was not popular.” While I may have known many people, I didn't fit into any one niche. I just felt like an anonymous nerdy kid who wanted to shake things up a bit. Being perfect is boring, and everything is boring when you're sixteen.
This was the just the prelude to the pill-poppin', joint-rollin', beer-drinkin', shot-chasin', chain smokin', shroom eatin', line snortin', partying all night until the mornin' years of my life. I guess when I say it like that, it sounds excessive, like I began to develop a problem. It was nothing like that; It never got out of hand. Now, I may not know how other people's minds work or how their bodily chemistry functions, but – and I am absolutely just speaking on my own behalf – I definitely became aware of when enough was enough. Example: when I knowingly put my checking account into the negative because that's how much I wanted to get high. Yes, I will admit to doing that. That's when I knew I hadn't gone over the edge but I had seen it, if only for a brief moment. And perhaps for others and whatever predisposition to addiction exists, that may not have been enough to act as a deterrent. To borrow the wise words of Hunter S. Thompson, “The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is, are the ones who have gone over.” I guess I was just lucky enough to have recognized it when I did.
Normally, this is the part where I'm supposed to go into Aldous Huxley mode and tell you about opening “The Doors of Perception”. Or perhaps I'd borrow a snippet from “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid  Test”, or any other account that comes close to describing what it's really like. Everyone always wants to hear the intricate details of someone's drug trip. And more than that, they want them to be communicated in such a way so as to simulate what the actual experience was like. But as articulate as anyone can ever be, I find that even the most seemingly accurate depiction serves only as a gesture meant to trigger something else, some event that would have already had to previously exist in your memory so that you would recognize it as something similar to your personal experience. Hence, if the memory does not already exist, then the time spent trying to re-conjure it is wasted.
And so, I thought a list would be better, especially if it contained familiar concepts rather than foreign ones. Even if just one thing struck you, and even if it reminded you of something else entirely different from what resides in the catalog of my mind, if it could conjure a memory, just one thought, that reminds you of how beautiful and absolutely fascinating the world could be, then I would say that is what drugs are like. And, just to be clear, this isn't my advocating for legalizing drugs or going on a three-day acid bender. These are simply my musings on the reasons why I don't regret my experiences:

*  *  *

A burst of pink polka-dots, 
a flash of black and white vision, 
water droplets moving backwards, dancing back into the showerhead, 
crawling wood patterns, 
bathroom walls and stalls stretching out of control, like never-ending planes in mathematics, 
glowstick tracers, 
the indescribable giddiness of cold, wet sand between your toes, 
the way a lollipop tastes, 
the way someone else's mouth tastes, 
the way you-can't-believe-you-happened-to-see-a-shooting-star-at-the-exact-moment-you-looked-up-at-the-night-sky-hoping-to-see-a-shooting-star feels, 
how you know you're thinking the exact same thing as someone else at the exact same time and you know they know it, too, 
the way music feels (not sounds), 
living in the moment, 
experiencing the here and now, 
washing your hands, 
a favorite hooded sweatshirt over your naked body, 
looking into the mirror for too long, 
lions and tigers and bears OH MY!, 
wanting to make someone happy because it makes you happy, 
a gigantic glowing moon, 
the way a strawberry could continually blow your mind with every sweet, cold bite, 
the way a sunset could make you sigh heavily with how exhaustingly, overwhelmingly beautiful it is,
how rolling around on sleeping bags in a tent could make you feel like a kid in a blanket fort again, 
the honesty, 
the wonder, 
the loss of ego, 
the laughter ringing in your ears, vibrating in your skull, 
the feeling of your cat walking into the room, 
the smell of menthol, 
light-up bouncy-balls, 
holding hands, 
touching tongues, 
kissing lips, 
black lights, 
strobe lights, 
any kind of light, 
a heated swimming pool, 
your friend coincidentally playing your favorite Beatles' song on piano after it's been stuck in your head all day, 
the way grass feels on your bare legs, 
the soft lull of ocean waves in the distance, 
the world seen through the eyes of a child.

* * *

I have had and continue to have some of the best, most enlightening experiences with drugs. Sure, my approach nowadays is more cautious and reserved. Growing up has seemingly uprooted what was left of my reckless abandon streak, though it makes the occasional, unannounced visit and leaves me with one hell of a hangover. But that was just it: when I was younger it wasn't about the expected outcome, the chemical reaction, the end result – it was about the adventure! It was about exploring new pathways of my consciousness. Looking back, I feel like it taught me quite a bit about myself, about the world we live in, about the part of the world we grow up learning to forget, about opening yourself up to things you never knew existed, or just the things you forgot existed in the first place. 

Now I see drugs – mainly marijuana and ecstasy – as a sort of mental vacation. They offer a  break from the mundane, from a post-adolescent life now overwhelmed with due dates and school and work and paying bills and questions like “Shit. What the fuck am I doing with my life?” - an incessant query I am told never really goes away. It's just like the occasional cocktail that makes the world feel less heavy. It's a moment to take a step back from all the crap that being a “grown-up” entails. It's a deep breath. It's a sigh. It's a reminder to take life one day at a time. It's all that other cheesy, glass-half-full kind of shit but with an actual, real-life application.