You think everyone enjoys drugs?
sex, drugs and rock'n'roll; Meet Anne Baker, the Woody Allen of substance abuse; it's great to be straight
Sunday 28 January 1996
It's not that I'm anti-drugs. Far from it. Their allure - in theory at least - is compelling. Arguably, in the absence of certain mind-altering substances, major areas of literature and music wouldn't exist. Looking at the list of partakers it seemed clear to me that - from Coleridge to Kerouac, De Quincey to Burroughs, Miles Davis to Brian Wilson - getting off your tree could be highly productive as well as pleasurable. What better reason to try them?
The problem was that my expectations, unlike my experiences, were impossibly high. As well as the hedonistic appeal, I was attracted to the humour that seems second nature to those that undergo the "unforgettable drug experience". Like the advanced paranoia in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Jack Nicholson tripping in Easy Rider, these scenes were as much about the buddy-buddy camaraderie as the drugs themselves.
Add to this the attractiveness of those louche, rakish figures famed for their "live or die" excess: Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Keith Richards, Nick Cave are elegant wasters who managed to elevate something as sordid as drug addiction to a romantic art form. They seemed invincible - especially Keith, who could shoot up strychnine and laugh about it. Foolish of me, I supose, but their extravagant feats in the chemical department inspired nothing but awe on my part. What I admired most was their fearlessness - above all else they were never scared to lose control.
Treating one's body like a laboratory was the sort of achievement a drugs wimp like myself could only dream of. In contrast to a survivor like Keefy, I would describe myself as pharmaceutically challenged: the Woody Allen of substance abuse.
I worried that whatever I took would have no effect, that the potential highs I'd read about, watched and listened to, would eternally elude me. I panicked that I'd taken too much and would (a) be sick, (b) become a drugs bore and embarrass myself, or (c) spiral into drug-induced psychosis.
Cannabis, I reasoned at college, was a happy compromise: everyone knows it makes you feel mellow and super-relaxed. Not me it didn't - however much I tried. Once I even got the giggles, but for the most part when dope didn't send me to sleep it made me feel twitchy and paranoid. At some point in the evening the same three thoughts would always pass through my mind: "If I stand up now and walk to the loo everyone will look at me"; "Didn't I just ask my friend exactly the same question three minutes ago?"; and "Oh God, my throat is seizing up and I can't swallow properly."
Perhaps my palette is too refined, I told a friend. In the hierarchy of hedonism, if cannabis is the lager of drugs, I wanted champagne. Nobody dislikes cocaine ... until now. Sitting with friends, a brand-new tenner neatly rolled for action, it all seemed so rock'n'roll; until I attempted to stick it up my tender nostril.
Just before the long-awaited snort, I pushed the crisp note way to far, and cut the top of my nose, which then bled profusely.
When I eventually managed to imbibe the stuff successfully, I felt as though my heart was attempting to beat its way violently out of my ribcage. Ditto speed. This was, I'm informed, the chemical rush that heralds a feeling of well-being, increased confidence and general euphoria. I began to lose faith in other people's eulogies - they must be making it up or perhaps they're just easily pleased.
"You've got the wrong attitude," said one friend, a seasoned recreational user. "Relax. Stop thinking about what you've taken. Don't get so hung- up." Heroically, I decided to give it one more chance.
The same friend recommended Ecstasy. "You feel as though everyone in the room is your soulmate." At the next crowded party, I scoffed a disco- biscuit with glee. It was downhill all the way. After two hours of being "on one", I felt irrationally irritated by anyone who approached me: with their inane smiles, pupils the size of dinner-plates and only two things to say: "Are you sorted?" and "Are you all right?"
But the night was something of an epiphanic breakthrough. My journey to possess the unattainable was over. I realised, finally, that drugs can never change your personality - only exaggerate what's already there. If strangers en masse tend to irritate you when you're straight, you'll feel like strangling them when you're not. There is no loved-up alter- ego to let loose, just the same old boring you.
After that, I was no longer impressed by those who were able to "handle" drugs - in fact the whole ritual bored me: watching people emerging from the toilet cubicles sniffing conspicuously, having to tolerate their chemical- induced arrogance and vacuous conversation. I wonder how I fell for the hype.
Those boys from Oasis may sing about being chained to the mirror and a razor-blade, but all they really need is cigarettes and alcohol.
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