How Hallucinogens Ruined My Life, section III


It is an axiom of politics and physiology that certain problems are fixed only by hastening the crisis. The hope then is that the disease will perish before the organism does, whereas any measure of treatment would only protract the worsening process and allow it to gather force. No one looks back upon their youth without wondering how they survived it. Mine however had an additional element where the one instant which, more than any other, should have destroyed me was also the most important. This is why I refuse to regret my mistakes.

Suddenly the acid began to turn on me. For a long while I could not imagine what would constitute a bad hallucinogenic experience, and even doubted its possibility. And then in quick succession I had several. The difference was severe, like firecrackers and dynamite. Although it was more than just a matter of intensity. With certain cells in the body there is a phenomenon called the all-or-nothing response. Neurons, for example, create their electrical impulses through a switching of polarity: ion gates in their membranes allow oppositely charged molecules to flow in, without changing anything, until finally a certain threshold is reached called the action potential — then it snaps from positive to negative and a charge spurts out. There is no transitional state. My first horrific acid trip was like this: absolutely different, a glimpse into the real terrors of insanity for which I was unprepared. One can always find ways to disassociate oneself from physical pain, but madness is inescapable and complete.

For the first catastrophe I was spending the night with friends who I was not certain even liked me, and who before long did finally shun me in annoyance. I could not help what was happening. I wandered restlessly through the rooms, sat down only to stand up immediately, fetched glasses of water I couldn’t drink, sprawled on the floor, hugged my knees in the corner, looked at my watch every other moment and replied to simple questions with bewilderment. Thus the night passed. At four in the morning when things had reclaimed an aspect of normality I got in my car and left; the others were still asleep, blithely untroubled. I drove around in the dark until what I thought was an appropriate time to go home. Each house I went by concealed lives in which I could not participate, and that pained me because at that moment I wanted to be anything but myself — who had become hateful to me.

From whence came this abrupt self-loathing? It is now clear to me that it had always been there, but hidden. After all, who pauses in the midst of joy to investigate its origin? And who feels ridiculous (asked Rimbaud) when powerful? Yet I had just suffered my first real trauma, and that cleansed from me like a corrosive any illusion of security and sufficiency. Not only had the the acid thrown me into a living nightmare (where each moment dilated instead of hastening by) but I sensed only contempt from my friends. If their eyes were on me they were glaring; if they asked me “how are you?” it was a judgment; if they were patient with me it was only to diffuse a possible inconvenience. People are not fools — even distracted ones — and nothing is more conspicuous than a patronizing gesture. So at times I froze up with anxiety, ceased breathing even, because my corrupted logic convinced me only by turning to stone could I avoid accruing further condemnation from my friends. The thing worked, for with me eventually quiet and still, they carried on as if I were no longer present. From the corner I observed them. I watched them talk and joke with one another, play guitar, play cards and so on; and what soon occurred to me was the way each was in total control of this situation, this thing they were creating. Every comment embellished and expanded the preceding comment perfectly; insights and jokes always seemed at hand; if someone began picking at the guitar it never conflicted with another’s telling of a story, but somehow coalesced. It was awe inspiring. I could not understand how they achieved this ease and grace, since in my solitude I was a wreck of agitation. I imagined myself joining in like a bear lumbering into a meadow: trampling the wildflowers and chasing the butterflies away. They were right to shun me, I finally concluded, for they were noble whereas I was pathetic, stupid and inept. They were my betters.

In the following days all the unhappiness which had so long been seething now bubbled forth. I remember staring at the piano I had sought to master and feeling defeated; I held a dollar in my hand and wondering if I would ever hold a job. Neither melancholy nor depression were the proper words, for these conditions dim the world. And that was not my case. To the contrary, the world was deeper and more beautiful than ever — it was just that, I was not worthy of it. “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure . . .” Rilke has aptly elegized. Indeed, I realized that hell is not fire and brimstone, but an inability to cope with the majesty of God.

And then, contrapuntal to the unfortunate state I had fallen into, a wonderful thing happened. One Friday at the end of study hall a girl who I had had a crush on for many years gave me her phone number. The bell rang and while I walked towards the door she walked towards me, and had to call me several times because I kept walking: I could not imagine she was speaking to me. I don’t remember doing anything more than nodding my dumb head like an automaton as she put her number in my hand, told me of a concert that weekend and asked me to call her. I pocketed the piece of paper and hurried away.

For my present purpose I will call her Hellen. She was very beautiful and kind. We went to separate junior high schools and I used to spasm in joy whenever I espied her from afar at church or dances or school sporting events. Then freshman year of high school I sat next to her in English class — and I was never so well behaved as I was then. That winter we had confirmation classes together every Tuesday and Thursday night, and when we finished those sessions by kneeling in the church she was the perpetual subject of my prayers. I must decline to describe her, I would never succeed.

The concert she invited me to was already known to my friends and me: a few local bands were performing at the river park. We had planned to drop acid and attend. Although my friends warmly congratulated me on my date, none cautioned me against taking acid. So when I stood at the pavilion where we were to meet I was giddy and sweating and nervous for multiple reasons. Through the crowd I finally saw her walking towards me and I waved. She smiled and waved back and sort of half walked, half skipped towards me. I blessed the spring-time: she was wearing a light blue sundress with a purple and white phlox print, and through my odd hallucinogenic lens I watched her approach, observed the sublime perfection of her womanly frame and gasped, felt as so remote from me the greatness of femininity. LSD has this sort of neo-platonic way of emphasising the pure forms of things as if they were responsible for reality, instead of simply being inferred from it; and thus it was not Hellen coming towards me but the template of all woman-kind. I immediately panicked, remembering the fate of every goddess’s young consort. Those poor boys who chanced to stumble upon the divine in meadows, or dared lift her veil as she slept, always met gruesome ends.

“Hi,” she said brightly — and I replied with a timid and deferential “hello”. She stood very close to me and I had to take a step back. Already I glimpsed with fear how the rest of the evening would unfold, as she would talk and flirt I would recede further and further into myself. But I managed to salvage at least that first hour. For a while we sat on a picnic table and chatted, thankful I suppose that we knew one another so little and so were permitted to ask about silly things, like favorite movies and books. Soon I failed at the small talk and tried to ask larger questions, but she just shrugged and laughed. Then when a pause went too long unbroken she said, mercifully, “I think the band has started, let’s go listen”. We strolled across the wide lawn in silence with me sort of trailing behind. I followed her into the crowd.

Being amid so many people felt oppressive, but I could still endure it. The song rolled on clumsily and sweetly. Hellen grinned and began swaying. I stood still. She took advantage of the tight space to press her shoulder into me, and through the occasionally fortuitous gear-work of error her hand eventually fell into mine. She kept pulling my ear to her mouth to say things and I felt her breath on my cheek. I could understand none of this. What could possibly be the attraction? I felt foolish and sad. People danced around me, the leaves danced on the trees, cloudlets in the darkening sky, the gnats and mosquitoes around our heads — and I was like a dull fencepost sunk in the ground.

Allow me to say this in gratitude about women: they are far more forgiving than men. Men seek out weaknesses to exploit them; women seek out weaknesses to know where they may offer support. Hellen must have found something endearing in my timidity and awkwardness. Yet had I perceived even the slightest fissure in her grace or charm she would have ceased to be for me the Eternal Feminine — and thus, no longer an idea, would have been nothing.

In the space between two songs she took my arm and led me along through the crowds, stopping once to whisper in my terrified ear something about the traintracks, and laughing, began to pull me towards the woods. The acid was swelling in me and growing sinister. Strange geometries spread like inscrutable signatures along the lawn, and I tried in vain to read them. Shadows seemed to congregate and outline every shape with menace. I glanced at my watch: one hour in: I knew that very soon I would no longer be able to shape full sentences. But Hellen still held tightly to my arm, whereas I had no idea what to do with my hands.

On the way we passed groups of people whose eyes I kept catching, until one huge fellow I knew from school, who I had always considered a dimwit and a brute, came walking towards us. He looked at me, then at Hellen, then at me again and burst into a tantrum of obscene gestures, crying out, “Alright, little man!” and clapping me hard on the back. I turned as dry as a stone and my face flushed crimson. I was not naïve. There were precious few reasons why she would want to walk with me along the secluded traintracks. But to have this brute express it in such a way? . . Images began assailing me, of lathered cattle heaving, of squealing swine, of reeking dogs foaming at the mouth. Even on a good day I was sexually neurotic, and this was not a good day — I was nigh psychotic. I am in fact somewhat handsome: I think it is important to state this in order to make clear the extent of my timidity and neurosis. Women look at me often, young and old, and when despite myself I smile with a little insouciance and move with a measure of fluidity (although I am conscious of every tendon and joint in the process) the whole thing becomes clear to me, like morning or a fiery wheel in the sky. I mean, that I am basically empty. For a long time before I ever went on a date I had a recurring nightmare about how it would go: the girl and I sit in a sunroom, sodas on the table untouched, the cicadas screaming, the girl swinging her feet to the sound of tedium, her face too bored for disgust, and above it all the mantle clock tocking with ever insistent fury, reminding her that time vanishes forever. Then suddenly I burst like a soap-bubble, turning into a fizzle of iridescent nothingness. In dreams as in life I could touch, but I could not talk. And I wanted the latter. I studied books to fill me with things, so that when girls looked at me they would see philosophy, poetry, lepidopterology, instead of the actual void therein. Between classes, after school, in groups and pairs, I listened to boys and girls converse and was amazed to find they spoke of nothing, nothing. Not one intelligent idea. Yet it did not matter. I could see that that was beside the point, that there was a live wire throbbing beneath the banality of their words. Talk was merely incidental.

Talk, however, was not incidental for me: it was the whole thing. So many months of eating LSD had turned me hyper-cerebral. Other boys, in their fantasies, might imagine flowing hair and eyes framed by kohl, parted lips, the gasps, and hands disappearing in dark rooms. My fantasies, however, consisted of somehow uniting a girl’s thoughts with mine, walking her step by step through the subtleties of a poem or the intricacies of a symphony: and then my spirit would ejaculate beneath her gratitude for having opened her eyes to art and beauty. I regarded physical eroticism as a fetid cloud befouling everything. It was never sex I desired, but like a psychological justification. I could feel my personality vanishing and I scrambled to shore it up (or replace it) with words. Perhaps a rape victim, traumatized and abused, feels objectified by her attacker, feels that she was no more than an anonymous stimulus to his lust — but in her mind he remains equally objectified, a nameless brutal force like an earthquake or a flood. And this objectification was the thing I was anxious to avoid. The asylum was drawing near: physical sex was brutality and only that which went on within my skull had any significance.

So we cut into the woods. A small path hedged with blooming myrtle quickly faded into a less formal footpath which led down a hill towards the train-tracks. I walked flatly along the ties kicking at broken bottles while Hellen balanced delicately along the iron track. That was somehow emblematic. It occurred to me that, secluded thus from any other distraction, whether or not Hellen enjoyed herself really depended now upon me alone. The acid, of course, made this prospect seem vertiginous. I knew that she would just want to sit beneath one of the bridges and kiss, but that I could not bear. I began talking frantically. Almost slipping once she took my hand, which felt weak and sweaty clasped in hers. Any story I remembered, any joke or anecdote at hand now bubbled from my mouth garbled and incoherent. She hardly had a chance to say a word. I scrutinized her lovely face for boredom. “Let’s sit here,” she said, pulling me towards the bridge.

A spiderweb shimmered between grass stalks near where we sat. Naturally I began expatiating on how spiders’ legs function on a pneumatic principle and that the dew soaked gossamer covering fields in the morning are abandoned threads that spiders used to fly. She kissed me on the cheek. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said, “but calm down.” I could not calm down. “Why did you do that?” I asked. “Does it bother you?” she said, “it’s hardly a secret that you have a crush on me.” “Not a secret?” I said, astonished. She laughed. “Tell me, what am I supposed to think when every time I look at you I catch you looking at me?” That was true, there was no denying it. I had never felt more ridiculous and humiliated. “I have to go to the bathroom,” I said, “I’ll be back in a moment.” I went up the hill into the woods near the top of the bridge, but not before she kissed me once more on the cheek. Then when I was out of sight I ran away. I walked the four miles home, feeling free.

At the time I had no idea why I ran away. All I knew was that I was seething with anxiety; I felt perpetually on the brink of a disaster; I had to get away. But now I understand. Although I will always maintain one cannot take acid to escape reality, if by “reality” one means a person’s problems, insecurities and fears — the preceding episode should prove that — I cannot say escaping reality was never my intention. Certainly I was fooling myself. I kept telling myself that I was seeing the world as it truly was, with the “doors of perception” cleansed; that I was in possession of the root experience of all religions; that I had been breathed upon by the muse; that I understood how to resolve the contentions of the world; that I was nearer truth than most. But that was all rubbish. What had actually happened was that I had developed a taste for things only in so far as they were idealized, unreal, like in a dream. This proclivity afflicts me even today: it is the reason I keep this blog. After all, it was neither inspiration, nor peace, nor truth that I fervently prayed for those Tuesday and Thursday nights before God: it was Hellen. Neither did I ask for more acid. And whatever else I might have desired, in my heart of hearts I wanted nothing more than her — as it should be. For whatever else one seeks in life, whether as exalted as truth or as trifling as fame, in the end we measure ourselves by our relationships. Had I paused a moment to consider, I would have realized that my deepest wish had been granted, and granted lavishly. But that was the problem: my profound, very personal desire had somehow seeped from idealization into actuality. Therefore I could no longer tolerate it. Just as, this very day, if some publisher where to stumble upon my blog and offer me a book deal I would immediately reject it and never write again, from an abiding sense of being unworthy of my dreams, or because I simply prefer them as dreams. Thank you, LSD.

The next day Hellen called me. I think I would have expected to hear God’s voice on the other end (a thousand times over) before I would have ever expected to hear her’s. She asked what happened to me, but before I could begin to stammer an excuse she asked if I would like to meet her and her friends for lunch. What choice did I have? I reluctantly agreed.

There is no reason to go into any further detail on this subject. Every day I would spend some time with Hellen in timid and uncomfortable silence, and every day I expected that would be the last I would hear from her. Then the next day she would call me. As far as I was concerned the whole thing was doomed from the start and I could not understand why she allowed it to languish thus. I almost began to resent her for it. So after a couple months (sometime in June, I think) when Hellen finally put an end to it I felt nothing but relief.

That was my first girlfriend. She never once lowered in my estimation, which was why I could not tolerate her. In every gesture of the masquerade of dating — the hand holding, the sharing of drinks, showing affection and special consideration, charged glances hid by idle talk, shy smiles, private jokes — I felt ridiculous, utterly clownish. I was happy to be free of it. Free to abandon what the rest of the world considers good and real. Free to recede again into my foolish spiritual reveries. Nietzsche speaks of being free of God as being like a planet unchained from orbiting its star. I was that. I dove with vehemence back into hallucinogens and dissipated in the abyss.

~ by Peter on June 6, 2008.

10 Responses to “How Hallucinogens Ruined My Life, section III”

  1. I have never dropped before and am contemplating it for spiritual/consciousness reasons. Would you dissuade me from doing so? On balance, do the harms outweigh the potential benefits?

  2. What had actually happened was that I had developed a taste for things only in so far as they were idealized, unreal, like in a dream.

    For whatever else one seeks in life, whether as exalted as truth or as trifling as fame, in the end we measure ourselves by our relationships

    A fascinating piece, I copied the two lines that really struck me…….I enjoyed reading it very much……it’s insightful, thought-provoking and is very well-written. I only ever did acid a couple of times, I was far more into marijuana, a different experience, acid was too distorting, what you write here makes me glad of my drug of choice though a little envious of the disconnection, if that makes any sense. Anyway, it’s late and I’m half asleep, so not at all coherent. I’m awaiting the second part of Lobelia.

  3. Perhaps I’m missing the point of the writing, but it seems to me that the acid represents no more than the focal point for the assignation of fear, in an attempt to explain to the world an introverted personality. Underlying the entire piece, I hear a cerebral trying to explain away his obvious intellect by dropping acid ‘Look, world, I’m really just like you’… while references to Rilke, Nietzsche and the understanding of brain functions on the molecular level would tend to belie the premise.

    Honestly, I’m fortunate that I’ve never had to worry about such eventualities… proclivities toward deep-thinking ended as I stepped into the car for another trip to the liquor store.

  4. This piece is so comprehesive in its examination of its subject that it really leaves nothing to be said except that it dazzles me in its intellect and attention to telling detail. The narrator seems to exist behind the careful cloak of the diction, the girl seems like a projection of the real, he cannot describe her in any way that humanises her because he never saw her that way. And so on, awe inspiring writing, beyond anythingelse I’ve seen in bloggoworld.

  5. Johnny: I would recommend it, but do it once.

    Jo: Thanks. I was, unfortunately, into both. I should have the second half of Lobelia up by the end of the month.

    Bob: I don’t think you have missed the point at all, but it was an unconscious point on my part. I wouldn’t call myself an “intellectual” in a good way (is there even a good way to be intellectual) — I have been harassed by all thought and little intuition for a long time, and for the sake of convenience I blame the acid. My intended point with this essay was just to write something entertaining — so long as it does that I am satisfied.

    Paul: your sentence “the girl seems like a projection of the real, he cannot describe her in any way that humanizes her because he never saw her that way” is so clear and hits the nail on the head so well that I wish I would have thought of it earlier: it would have saved me having to write this long winded essay!

    Thank you all for reading and for leaving comments!

  6. again, simply amazing… Its as if you captured the essence of innocence. My first love lasted three years, yet through all of the trials and tribulations, I could reduce it all to that kiss on the cheek.. as if time had no place and the form of beauty was all that was left in its place. Still and forever.

  7. This story is at once disturbing and thoroughly enthralling. Probably because it mirrors my own life so well. And yet, I have to say with or without psychedelics I think my life would have followed a similar trajectory regardless. I won’t lie as some people do, drugs will change people, I’ve witnessed such changes in my friends and in myself, but at the same time you get out of such substances what you put into them. No one drops and suddenly becomes an intellectual. Nor does everyone who smokes weed suddenly pick up a guitar and play like a virtuoso as pop cultural mythos would expect one to believe. That said, the lack of self-satisfaction does seem to be a common side-effect.

    Otherwise, though, I love your writing. Should be titled: Confessions of an American Acid Eater… or would that be too cliche?

  8. Where are you now? Not literally of course-pychologically, philosophically, artistically?

  9. Who are you? What are you doing now? You describe things in a way no one I know has done before.

    This line in particular was the highlight of the post for me:
    “I could see that that was beside the point, that there was a live wire throbbing beneath the banality of their words. Talk was merely incidental.”

    I would very much like to read more of what you’ve written. Please respond.

  10. You have put into words experiences I had with LSD very well. Though my life is now “normal” 20 years later, I still struggle from the insights of those bad trips. Have you finished this series? Would love to read more…

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