I usta do blow a lot. And pain pills. And obviously I drank a shit ton. I got drunk for the first time when I was 15 and my best friend and I did that thing where we each told our parents that we were sleeping over at the other’s house so we could stay out all night. We went to a party with these dudes. One of them offered to make me a drink and I said Ok but I didn’t know what kind of alcohol I was supposed to be drinking so I was like…um vodka? And he assessed that I hadn’t really had to make this kind of decision before so he suggested a rum and Coke instead (PSA: Never do this. Seriously. If I had a dollar for every friend who’d been drugged by a guy who made her a drink, I’d have 3 more dollars than I’d EVER WANT. Make your own drink and hang onto it).
So I had a couple rum and Cokes and I started to feel pretty euphoric. This older girl asked me if I wanted to make out and I was like, “Hell yeah I do!” I had a blast, crashed on some guy’s couch and woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning so my friend and I could go home and each make up a lie about how we felt sick so we wanted to go back to our own house and cut the slumber party short.
But I felt initiated or something. I had – along with many of my friends – been against drinking since the start of high school. I always boasted that I didn’t need booze to have fun…which was probably because I was already having a shitload of fun with sexual experimentation in various parents’ basements every weekend. I guess I changed my tune or something. But after that night, I wanted to recapture the jollies I got knocking back sugary rum drinks and acting lasciviously toward anyone within grabbing distance. I’m a charming drunk. Most of the time…
I really, really hate to espouse the “gateway drug” model of behavior I was warned about in Jr. High because I think it sends a confusing message. I also think it sets up a no-going-back kind of construct that damns adolescent stupidity as irreversibly damaging, and demarcates the do’s and the do not’s within your larger social sphere and kids are not nice about that shit. But more on that and my other anti-D.A.R.E.-type rants for another day. There are better ways.
AHEM: So I felt like I’d found something in alcohol. I’ve mentioned this before, but alcohol tends to affect bipolar people somewhat differently than non-bipolar people. It makes us slightly manic. That euphoria I felt after my first rum and Coke was probably fairly exaggerated compared to my friend’s. She teased me about how crazy I acted that night even though she’d been drinking too. Booze made her relaxed and more social. It made me impulsive and HIGH.
A few months ago, over dinner, my friend Conor and I had a brief conversation about how we don’t think we know any other people with bipolar who have zero substance abuse in their past (or, in some cases, present). The general conclusion was that, when you’re young, usually before diagnosis, you know there’s something different about you. Among your peers, you wonder why they seem more comfortable in their own skin than you do. They seem more relaxed. They seem like people and you feel alien (let’s just ignore the reality that most teenagers feel self-conscious at some point…or many points). So you turn to intoxicants to try to erase those parts of your brain that make you feel like a total fucking weirdo whose weirdness is visible from the goddamned moon. It’s not just about fitting in with your peers, it’s about fitting in with yourself – or at least the version of yourself that’s happy, comfortable and fun. When you’re drunk and when you’re high, you, somewhat paradoxically, feel more sane.
So after booze, I thought I’d try weed. I like(d) it. Then I gave ‘shrooms a shot. That was fun as hell. I got into my parents’ medicine cabinet and found Vicodin and codeine. My friends stopped there. I did not. After a really bad fight with one of my best friends – the teenage kind that brandishes the gravity of a thousand suns – my sister came home to find me in tears. She had some cocaine. I thought it would make me feel better, so we did some. I did feel better. We stayed up really late talking and I felt like my pilot light had been lit. I went to school the next day with the residual high you feel after having done something bad that you need to keep secret. I knew my friends would be really pissed at me if they knew I was doing blow. I knew they’d try to make me stop. I didn’t wanna stop. After about 3 months on this merry-go-round, I came home from a party one night after having killed well over a gram of coke, a bunch of beer and some weed. I hadn’t eaten in like a day and half and I crashed really hard. I was sweating bullets and shaking and crying and frantically tapping my feet and my fingers because sitting still at that moment SUCKED. One of my feet started to swell. My sister almost woke my parents to take me to the hospital, but after a few harrowing hours, I fell asleep. After that, I decided to back off on the blow. I did it a few more times over the subsequent years, but very sporadically and eventually not at all ’cause my sister and I promised each other we were done with that shit.
I tried out some other drugs over the years and I had kind of a rocky relationship with alcohol up until maybe a year ago. But I think I chased drugs the way I did ’cause I wanted to feel like my best self and I didn’t believe I was capable of feeling that way on my own. So I sorta wonder sometimes: are we destined for this shit? Is there a shred if inevitability in people with bipolar regarding substance abuse? It seems pretty plain to me that, on the whole, we’re a group given to self-medication, especially in the absence of prescribed medication and definitely pre-diagnosis. We don’t wanna feel like oddballs unless we’re the glorious oddballs of our own design.
I guess the obvious followup here is: how do we prevent this kind of shit from happening? I guess I don’t really know. I got pretty lucky and the damage I caused to myself and the people around me was fairly minimal, but I know a lot of people who can’t say that (because some of them are dead). So, I won’t lie, I did have a lot of fun when I was younger. I wouldn’t repeat any of those actions today, but I don’t regret them ’cause at least I learned something, right?
Oh, and I guess an appropriate note: don’t do cocaine. Cokeheads are the MOST BORING PEOPLE ON EARTH. You will think you’re fascinating and special. You’re not. You won’t shut up and HEAVEN HELP YOUR FRIENDS if you get your hands on the tunes at a party ’cause you’re gonna rock out like a total dumbass to this song, and this song is about 5 minutes longer than it needs to be:
I mean, yeah, the intro guitar lick is pretty cool and the drums are solid, but the rest of it is self-indulgent crap (which is basically shorthand for most of the Stones’ catalogue and I WILL argue with you about this, don’t start me up…see what I did there? Spar with me verbally if you dare!).
So that’s one from the trenches. Some of my ugliest memories hang out with some of my shiniest. I guess that’s life, but for us, life is often amplified. I just wanna feel good about myself. So does everyone, probably. And I do feel alright about myself, but getting here was tricky and I’ve still got more work to do. I mean, I’ll always have more work to do. Just maybe more psychotherapy and less coke for the future, y’know?. That’s probably pretty good advice for anyone, bipolar or no.
So, got some war stories you wanna share? Please do in the comments! (I’m allergic to judgment when it comes to this shit, tell me anything.)