In a Village Voice article last May, Tricia Romano interviews a clique of aging New York club-kids who have hung up their trademark vices for the sake of living to party another night. After decades of after-hours shenanigans and chemical abandon, these professional revelers (DJs, promoters and dancefloor celebrities) eventually found themselves faced with the choice between cleaning up their act or winding up another nightlife tragedy. Dubbed “The Sober Bunch,” they are conspicuously abstemious hipsters in an industry characterized by hedonistic excess.
Their stories prompted me to examine my own history. I've had a love affair with psychotropics since high school, when I first courted Ms. Mary Jane. My junior and senior years were some of the most exciting times I've known as I ran dizzily down the corridors of my psyche, twisting doorknobs. I can honestly say, had I not had these initiatory experiences with drugs (especially psychedelics) at this early age, I wouldn't be even vaguely the person I am today. There was a brilliance and magic and electricity about those years that shimmers in my memory still.
College life dulled my perceptions for one reason or another, and I lost that sparkle in my synapses for a while. I didn't indulge in alcohol yet, which made me a social outcast of sorts (We're talking UGA here). But I still toked on the daily -- certainly out of habit, yet perhaps also out of deference to my not-so-distant past, in which new discoveries abounded and all things were gilded and shot through with promise. I had slipped from that Kairos moment into the banal mechanisms of "real life," and it got me down a little. So I got high, you know -- to try and get back up.
After two years of high marks and low interest at UGA, I dropped out. There was a girl involved in all of that as well, but the larger issue was a need for visceral experience, all but banished in the keg-and-football milieu of Athens' collegiate life. Somewhere along the way, I started driving to Atlanta to spend long nights dancing in dark warehouses. I’ll just say that ecstasy and the rave culture was what I’d been searching for -- a social experiment on par with the Acid Tests of the 1960s and one that elevated me from detachment to a delirium so sublime, it seemed almost revolutionary. Recreational drug use took on a literal meaning for me during this period as I began to re-create my world and myself. Like all truly radical cultural movements, the Rave was a brilliant spark that soon burned itself away, leaving thousands of tuned-in, turned-on kids no choice but to drop-out … or fall-in. Here again, the fantastic circumstances that made my chemical adventures so meaningful melted back into the mundane. The pills were still there, but the passion was noticeably lacking.
The substances of choice among the post-Rave set are unmistakably blow and booze. It seems the majority of people find these the most comfortable intoxicants to settle down with, when the vibrancy and daring of youth gives way to marriages, mortgages, and Blackberries. Noncommittal and socially minded, cocaine and alcohol are quite simply easier to incorporate into adulthood than their more dazzling chemical cousins. Unfortunately, they are also highly addictive, destructive, and shamelessly egoistic. Drunken coke binges are purely self-indulgent endeavors, in my experience; few enlightening breakthroughs have been facilitated by a 40-ounce and a 40-bag. At least none that I can remember.
I turn now again to look at these events, and realize that it is both natural and healthy for humans to seek altered states of perception. And yes, it is an escape from “reality,” for we have fabricated an essentially unsatisfying existence out of empty artifice, delusion, and distraction. It can only be expected that we, as a species, continually turn to the infinite frontiers of consciousness for a sense of completeness, limited as we are by our reified consumer identities and dogmatic belief systems. Drugs have the inimitable ability to reveal the charlatans in the grand charade.
Eventually, however, even the most hardy of debauchees may reach that point at which toxicity threatens to tip the balance. Enter this discussion: the choice between sobriety or death, as it were. For certain individuals, the “moderation method” is a lost cause this late in the game. And for this reason, I have the utmost respect for the Sober Bunch.
I can’t help but think, though, how regrettable it is that we often let the worst things in life get the best of us –- slipping into downward spirals at the hands of nature’s foulest offerings. I consider those few, mystical journeys I’ve taken under the spell of a mushroom, and how startlingly awakened the hidden world appeared for a few, eternal moments. How achingly substantial, nourishing, are these memories -- especially in light of the myriad mindless benders I’ve suffered through, after which I was left with nothing but a numb migraine.
Taken to their limits, certain paths grow tangled and dissolute. Certain others, however steep and thorny, will loose the intrepid traveler clear off the map. It is to our society’s tragic chagrin that we are conditioned to trudge the same circuitous trail, when what we truly require is to get helplessly, fearlessly lost.
-S. Corey Thomas