The names used in this blog post have been changed to protect people’s identity – and because it’s an excuse to have some fun.
My best friend Maurice and I sat on the wall outside the corner shop. We had just purchased some cans of cider and were contemplating whether to open one each straight away or do so when we returned to the flat where he lived.
It was the summer of 1991 and that day was my 16th birthday.
We had been to the shops so I could spend my birthday money. I remember that I had bought a music single on cassette tape only to discover that I had been mistakenly given the album instead. It was a good omen, surely.
As we pondered what to do a school friend came around the corner accompanied by a girl we had not met before. After informal introductions we discovered that her name was Sigrid and that herself and her friend Jana had run away from their respective homes.
Within the space of a few hours we were all, including Jana, at Maurice’s flat drinking alcohol and smoking, with any troubling issues set aside. Maurice’s mother was in hospital and, lacking an alternative, his younger siblings were in temporary foster care. As much as he had few restrictions under normal circumstances there were none now, and by extension neither did the rest of us.
I can’t say anything about the others, but although I had consumed alcohol before it certainly wasn’t a regular thing, and until that day I had never smoked a cigarette in my life.
I don’t recall exactly when but either that night or one of the nights soon after we found that not a single one of us had funds, individually or combined, to buy alcohol. We were disappointed that our fun would end and were resigned to a relatively dull evening. Jana was not deterred, she disappeared to the kitchen and returned with a tea towel and a can of air freshener. Showing all of us what to do she proceeded to ‘gas’, or to inhale the aerosol filtered by the tea towel. In turn the rest of us foolishly followed suit.
The immediate effects for me included a sense of euphoria, a slowness of time, and a warm friendly feeling. Yet as the days passed by and as we were beginning to consume air freshener in larger batches I noticed other effects – depression, headaches, unhealthy skin. There were even occasions when I had inhaled so much aerosol gas that my urine was purple. I had no medical knowledge but even I knew at 16 years of age that it was not normal to produce urine in that colour.
Inhaling aerosols, or for that matter abusing any drug or substance, is not something I’m proud of, and I strongly advise against it. Apart from psychological and physical damage it can also kill.
Thankfully a neighbour who was a friend of Maurice’s mother became aware of the situation after a couple of weeks and intervened. Although she was successful in dissuading us from abusing aerosols her tactic was in hindsight very questionable. She argued that if we really needed to be high then we should instead move on to smoking cannabis resin, something much safer. An argument that met no resistance in our little collective.
So it was that by the end of that day we were all stoned and enjoying a lethargic numb tranquility.
It is interesting just how quickly we all learnt to roll. Starting with little rolling machines, then mats, and within a month or two quite adeptly by hand. Our taste in music changed to bands such as Pink Floyd and the Beatles. Our dress sense changed too – I slowly moved to wearing only black and growing my hair long.
We always managed to find the money between us to keep the habit going, from allowance to part time work to selling possessions, but never anything criminal. Cannabis resin and eventually regular cannabis would continue to be a constant in my life until the age of 34. I still crave it sometimes, not as you would with an addictive substance but psychologically for the calming effect.
Myself and Maurice were pretty much always in each other’s company with Sigrid frequently joining us. Jana disappeared a few months after we met her, with the occasional story reaching us of some new hell she’d managed to find herself in. I wonder sometimes what became of her but I fear what the truth may be.
In the last quarter of 1991 the boyfriend of Maurice’s mother, Pedro, approached us both one evening and asked if we’d like to join him at his flat across the way. With nothing better to do we agreed.
Pedro shared his flat with Timothy but they had little interest in living comfortably. Cleanliness and tidiness were not high on their list of priorities. This quality of their living arrangements made me very uncomfortable as I sat there with Maurice. After a short while of smoking cannabis Pedro asked if we’d like to take some LSD. We were aware of LSD but I don’t think it had occurred to either of us to seek it out. Regardless we said yes and were each given a small square of blotting paper with a logo printed in the center that we placed in our mouth and swallowed.
As we sat there listening to Supertramp, smoking and engaging in idle conversation I became aware of a strange sensation, building gradually. It began as a tingling in my mind, something unknown on the edge of my awareness. Within half an hour my vision had started to change and I was seeing trails from anything that moved. As the ‘trip’ continued I experienced increased intensity in the colours around me and objects began to alter appearance. At the height of the drugs’ influence my thoughts turned to existential questions and I sensed more than understood answers to profound matters, answers that could change everything.
As the drug wore off in the early hours of the morning a mental tiredness crept in and a physical exhaustion. There was also a feeling of being deficient in some essential nutrient, as if the drug had stripped it from me. That day myself and Maurice slept until late afternoon.
So not only were we getting stoned almost every day but we began tripping several times a week. At its height we were taking LSD every day for weeks at a time.
Over the course of the next few years I took a wider variety of drugs, some of which on a regular basis. These included ecstasy, cocaine and speed.
From the age of 16 through to when I reached 21 I had spent half my time in employment and half my time claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, I had my first sexual relationship with a woman 10 years older than me, I had been in a year long relationship with an alcoholic, I had a breakdown and spent 6 weeks in an NHS psychiatric hospital, I had lived with Maurice in a flat for two months before we parted ways due to irreconcilable differences, I had lived for two months by myself, I had experienced life at it’s most desperate in the people around me, I had my appendix out after it nearly burst inside me, I had socialised with drug dealers and heroin addicts, and across all that spent over 80% of my time under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
All of this potentially because me and Maurice decided to go and buy cider on my birthday. Although, maybe we were destined, given our circumstances, to consume our lives as we consumed those drugs. I know that those years have compounded the issues I have now, but to what extent I do not know. I also see quite clearly how easy it was to jump from one drug to another, chasing a better high. I’m glad I never took heroin as I honestly don’t think I’d be here right now if I had.
When I reached 21 I went to college, as suggested by my father, and subsequently university and a a technical career. I left my old lifestyle behind. Almost – I continued smoking weed for a long time after.
What made it so easy to waste those 5 years was not just the availability of those drugs but the circumstances in which I found myself. I was young, aimless and seeking anything to rise above the bleakness of the perceived future before me. I had a distinct lack of responsibility and self discipline, and I was easily swayed. To what extent the BPD played a part I am not sure – after all there were plenty of my peers doing the same thing. I am certain though that of all my fellow drug takers most had issues of their own, their particular reasons for seeking escape, euphoria, oblivion. I was certainly not unique.
The challenge society faces is not just removing the supply of drugs in order to stifle the temptation of the weak, but also to provide an alternative, to offer hope.
The correct path is easily overlooked by those influenced by confusion and doubt.
And finally a reminder, I’m not condoning the use or abuse of any drugs or substances.
It’s really not a good thing.
Don’t do it.