Not long ago, my girlfriend and I took the train up to Vancouver for a little romantic getaway. The date coincided with the anniversary of our first date, but the trip was also an excuse to not be in Seattle for a couple of days without spending more money than we could afford.
We had also been trying to make time for a bit of psychedelic drug consumption, which we had both done separately many times, but wanted to try together.
For whatever reason, we wound up with two doses of MDMA and two hits of LSD. These are my two favorite drugs, but I’d never thought of combining them. After a bit of research, she discovered that they are said to pair well together. Like most drug activity, the combination even had a special name: Candy Flipping. We joked that it would be like having a three-way with a drag queen.
Anyway, of course we felt nervous (and potentially stupid) about bringing drugs across the border, but we also reasoned that what we had was difficult to detect, and that the customs people would be too busy looking for explosive devices to worry about two little capsules and two little pieces of paper. Worst case scenario: You keep them on your person and if things start to look bad, swallow them, and hope you aren’t detained very long.
But nothing like that happened. We were welcomed by the most genial border security agent either of us had ever met. He even recommended a place to get good coffee, and we went there, and it was actually good coffee.
Anyway, long story longer, we settled into our hotel and took our MDMA capsules around 9pm that night. It worked, as it always does, like a total charm.
(I have no idea what the difference is between what we used to be expected to call “Ecstasy” and what we’re now meant to call “Molly,” but my sense is that the latter involves less speed? Whatever it is, I’m all for it.)
The great ascension began, and along with it came the laughter, the light physical contortions, the turbo sincerity, the powerful combination of extreme loquacity and extreme short term (as in mid-sentence, mid-syllable even) memory loss.
And everything was going fine, so after about an hour, we decided we might as well go for it and placed the little squares of paper on our tongues.
It would be several hours—which included the intervention of fellow guests, hotel employees, and medical professionals—before anything was fine again.
Probably the easiest way to communicate what happened, much of which remains obscure due to obvious perceptual factors, is to begin with my experience. My experience was as follows: One minute, we were laughing hysterically, losing control of some but not all motor skills, and gradually sliding from couches and chairs onto floors and into empty bathtubs.
I have a strong memory of all sound becoming elongated, elasticized, and wobbly, as though processed through a guitar phaser pedal. At roughly the same time, it became incredibly difficult to focus my vision. Were my eyeballs trembling? It felt like it. I said something about a carnival, not just the fact of a carnival, but “carnival” as a measurement of time.
This made my girlfriend laugh, not because the idea itself was funny, but because I was already so goddamn high that I was saying ludicrous things like that. In other words: The tripping part was underway, in what seemed like only a couple of minutes, far sooner than any other time I had ever taken acid.
This seems like a good time to disclose that I have taken LSD dozens of times. Probably not as many as 50, but definitely more than 30. I won’t be taking it again.
What I remember of the next period of time is blurry at the temporal edges. There is no sense of connection or causation. How I got from giggling on the floor with my girlfriend into the Russian-Sleep-Experiment-meets-2001 A Space Odyssey-style gulag interrogation room—where I was sitting on an uncomfortable surface, being examined by nightmarish inquisitors whose faces were undergoing every phase of decay, from living human to rotted corpse, simultaneously and continually, as if I was able to see all time at the same time—I'll probably never know.
They didn’t beat me—or maybe I should say they didn’t beat me—but the sense of threat and vulnerability were absolute, and petrifying. It was very much like the familiar bad dream scenario of wearing clothes that don’t quite fit, so you can’t quite cover yourself. Cold sweat poured off me. It was unbearably bright, violently flickering light. And no matter how hard I tried, I could. Not. Speak.
I knew I was being asked questions, but I couldn’t properly hear them. I just knew that I was incapable of making my mouth say whatever answer I was supposed to say, so I would just flinch and nod and beg forgiveness. And I knew that there would be severe consequences for my failure to cooperate. I didn’t know what I had done to deserve this incarceration. I only knew that I was powerless to break free of it, and that the next blow would be agony.
Also, it was freezing cold.
This scenario lasted however long it lasted—10 minutes? 10 days?—and the next thing I knew I was standing in some sort of chamber, again blindingly bright, again, vaguely reminiscent of 2001, and whichever way I leaned, I would get brutally bludgeoned by some large, unseen object that seemed to be about the size and weight of a refrigerator.
Whatever dimension I was in, the laws of Newtonian physics still applied there, because the blow would send me reeling in the opposite direction, which would, in turn, occasion another, equally overwhelming and violent blow from this same force.
I was like a pinball, or a superball maybe, enduring impact after impact, every one of which was painful and utterly disorienting, and each one made inevitable by the last. Two things became clear to me. The first was that I had no power to interrupt this continuum; the painful sequence of concussive body blows would never end, because they were an illustration of the infinite and self-cancelling nature of reality.
The second was that my job was to deduce what the best—or, in this circumstance, the least worst—form of submission to this cycle should be, and to adopt it. It was obvious that everything depended upon the answer to this conundrum, but every time I came close to understanding my predicament, WHAM, another collision would stun me into further excruciating bewilderment.
At length—again, 10 minutes? A thousand centuries?—I understood that the only correct response was to go prostrate, let myself fall in space and time and accept the agony of the constant barrage as simply the fate I had somehow inherited. At some point, surely, the pain would become so intense as to let me lose consciousness, or whatever non-/un-/sub-/pre-conscious state I was in. Maybe that was death, or maybe it was simply Not This. Either one was preferable. Anything was preferable.
Again, I had no idea of how long this ordeal was going on, no sense that I was a human in the midst of a drug experience, no sense of going through a process that would eventually resolve. It wasn’t metaphorical. There was no before, no after, only an endless during. I was an infinitesimal particle in an indescribable vastness, a perpetually colliding atom with no power or even influence over my circumstance—unarmed, unprotected, unwitnessed. The only hope seemed to be the absence of self-awareness.
But in the midst of all this, I gained a different kind of awareness, something about the way we conceive of infinity as an eternally outward expanse, when in reality (in this reality, anyway) infinity was contained in the negation of any two tiny forces that simultaneously attract and repel. Press your two fists together. That’s infinity.
Somehow, it seemed I had been granted an insight about humankind’s tendency toward collective self-negation, manipulation, and competition. Between (because of?) the blows I was receiving, I believed I could identify the precise point at which all human interaction was revealed as inexorably antagonistic, inimical, solipsistic. I believed I had arrived at an essential, unprecedented insight, and that all I had to do was speak it aloud and we would move beyond it, beyond the primitive construction of life as a series of competing self-interests that occasionally offer common benefit, and toward the possibility of a greater mutualism in keeping with the elementally undivided nature of our species.
Maybe this was the real challenge presented by the cycle of shocks I was enduring. Just say this thing and the violence will stop. So I tried. But every time I drew breath to speak, I would lose track of the idea. Every blow would send me reeling back to a state in which I knew I knew something about something, but I just couldn’t remember the crucial part. Then I would get it back, and WHAM. I tried to say it, to say anything, but the only sounds I could make were guttural, pre-verbal moans and grunts. Like an animal.
Everything was so fast. The lights were strobed. The sounds were, too. I couldn’t come close to keeping up with the speed of the neural impulses that were conveying the energy I was meant to be translating into ideas. Finally, the only thing I could do was surrender—not like surrendering was an action I took. I was simply overwhelmed.
When I woke up in the hotel bed, I was soaking wet and freezing cold. My girlfriend was sitting on the floor next to me, holding my hand. I quickly remembered that I was on an acid trip, and felt a huge wave of relief. She gave me some juice and some dry clothes. Weakly, I pulled her towards me into the bed, and stuttered out some things about the incredible darkness of what I had just been through.
The TV was on, showing a strange old black and white movie about a lifeboat full of passengers from a ship that had sunk. A man was shooting a handgun at a shark in the water. One of the actors looked like a cousin of mine, and that somehow made me think our childhood had had some role in the things I had just seen, but on reflection that wasn’t the case.
My girlfriend was incredibly gentle to me and said she knew how dark my trip had been, then slowly started asking me if I remembered anything about what had gone on there in the room. I tried to piece it together, but I had no memory at all, except that we’d taken the acid around 10pm. It was now 2am. Only 2am!
Then she told me what she had gone through while I was stuck inside my weird infinity chamber nightmare. It was way fucking worse.
Some time shortly after I had said that weird thing about carnivals, I had essentially stopped laughing, stopped speaking, and essentially stopped responding to any attempt she made to communicate with me. Instead, I just sank further and further into my chair, and eventually wound up on the floor. When she tried to ask me if I was okay, I responded only with a series of gurgling, burbling baby noises—vocalizing but not verbalizing. When she touched me, I would flinch, and appear genuinely scared. At all other times, I was essentially benign, but unreachable, and unable to execute the physical movements I would occasionally attempt.
Needless to say, she was alarmed. Also needless to say, she had taken the exact same drugs I had taken, which aren’t exactly sympathetic to alarm.
Then it got worse again.
I was face down on the floor, burbling like a fool, and trying to get up. She attempted to help me, which was basically like trying to deadlift a punching bag full of wet cement. I made it about halfway up and fell back down, landing with a loud thud on my forehead, which instantly gave rise to an enormous, unslightly lump. I didn’t pass out, but the impact left me even more dazed than I already had been, and her state of alarm naturally took a turn toward something resembling panic.
Reasoning that she might need to go down to the front desk to request some help, she opened the door and encountered our neighbors. They could see her distress and asked if there was anything they could do. Pushed beyond the natural state of self-preservation paranoia familiar to anyone who has ever taken drugs in a semi-public setting, she confided in them.
As luck would have it, they were not only sympathetic to our plight, they were, in fact, experienced psychedelic drug takers themselves, who came into the room and tried to assess just how dire my situation was. They spoke to me very gently, tried to make contact, or at least to nudge me up off the floor.
My response was to shrink into myself, to cover my body as if in shame or fear, and above all to apologize. Apart from that, I was unreachable. The neighbors agreed that this, combined with the bump on my head was legitimate grounds for concern, and that it would probably be a good idea to call a paramedic, which they then helped my girlfriend to do.
She led me into the bedroom, reasoning that it was the place I was least likely to harm myself (and least likely to grant me access to the balcony). When she went downstairs to let them in, she forgot to grab the room key, which necessitated letting the hotel staff in on some, though not all, of what was going on. Back in the room, they found me in the adjoining bathroom, pants-less, having urinated in the tub, and lost in the three-quarter length mirror.
Amazingly, it turned out that the EMTs were also experienced trippers, so they had a good sense of what things looked like: not the worst, but not the best. They addressed me with the same warmth and gentility that the neighbors had, and again, I responded with timid contrition, shrinking from contact, embarrassed, struggling to cover myself with my hands.
The only words I managed to utter were “sorry” and “I’m disoriented.” At one point they pricked my finger to draw blood. My girlfriend said I looked like a child whose blanket had been confiscated.
They determined that the bump on my head, though nasty, was probably not a concussion, but that I shouldn’t be allowed to sleep for a while. The biggest mystery was how I had wound up a cautionary tale for wayward teens while she remained comparatively lucid even though we had taken the same dose and I am several inches taller and many, many pounds heavier.
The important thing, they determined, was to shake me out of the weird sleepwalking state I was in. They advised her to douse me with cold water, which she did. She said I looked utterly betrayed and then, again, ashamed. But I still didn’t respond, so she did it again.
Then she finally led me to the bed, where, after a long period of stubborn and agitated sitting, I eventually surrendered to lying down.
About 20 minutes later, I awoke to find her next to me and began to try and tell her where I had been. Then she explained what she had been through, and without a note of recrimination. I tried to imagine having had the composure not only to deal with seeing someone I cared for retreat into some bizarre psychotropic fugue state, but then to actually contrive, somewhat elaborately, to care for that person—all while being massively high myself—and my heart swelled with admiration and gratitude that still haven’t subsided.
Important point: Though I had been right there for everything, I remembered NONE of what she described.
As time went by, I was able to relate the things I had seen in my paranoid terror vision to the things she told me were happening back on planet Earth: The melting-faced interrogators I was so scared of were kindly strangers trying to ease me back into reality. I was cold and wet from the water my poor girlfriend splashed in my face in an effort to revive me. The blows I thought I was receiving were likely from being stuck in the corner of the bathroom, walking into walls I could see but not perceive. The head bump and the finger prick didn’t correspond directly to any specific memory, but they definitely fit into the overall picture.
As for the insights into infinity and the metaphysical nature of the human species? What can I say? I was high on incredibly strong acid. And because it was acid, there was still a ways to go.
We spent the next four hours of waning drug alteration trying to reclaim some fraction of a positive experience for her. And it worked. In addition to the relief that it was over, she also felt the pride of having dealt with what needed to be dealt with. As the sun came up, we both expressed surprise that all that had happened this same night.
What is the point of writing in to I, Anonymous to tell this somewhat embarrassing story of a grown-up who clearly can’t handle his chemicals, and the amazing person who saved his ass? Well, I can assure you that it’s not to brag. I can also assure you that it’s not intended as a Just Say No parable. I’m not trying to tell you not to do psychedelic drugs, though I’m approximately 100 percent certain that I won’t be doing them again.
No, the real reason is just to point out how lucky we both were—me, especially, but her, too—that this debacle did not take place in our home country, the United States of America.
It’s technically possible it would have turned out the same way, with both of us emerging essentially unscathed, and to some extent chastened by the experience. But the next day, as we trudged around B.C., we made a short list of the ways in which having a drug meltdown in Canada was a lot safer than having one at home.
Our greatest stroke of luck was that no one called the cops. Even the small volume of illegal substances we had with us could have carried a federal penalty of up to three years in jail apiece and a fine between $1,000-$25,000, and the even stronger state penalty of five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both. Times two. That’s to say nothing of the hellish scenario that I would have faced upon waking up from a vision of incarceration, interrogation, and paranoia to a jail cell.
The one place it would’ve been worse to wake up? An emergency room. Never mind the incredible good fortune of having gotten EMTs with relevant experience to help treat what I was going through—they were also extremely reluctant to shunt me into an ambulance and dump me in the ER, where the whole ordeal would have been compounded exponentially.
It could have led to a stay in a hospital or even an institution, and a stain on my record that would be hard to explain away to future employers. As it stood, all I had to live down was an unsightly forehead lump and a grotesque bruise on my shoulder. And the memories.
I might also mention that we’d have stood an excellent chance of being reported to, or at least detected by, police. This is, of course, to say nothing of the enormous expense, four or possibly even five figures, we’d have incurred getting emergency medical treatment of any kind in the States.
Let’s not forget our hotel neighbors, decent, big hearted Canadians who extended themselves to our aid without a second thought and (as far as we know) without judgment. They knew I was in trouble. They knew she was in distress. Their response: How can I help? Which was a huge help all by itself.
My gf said she practically started crying, she was so grateful to them. After she hugged them both, they asked if she was all right. She said yes, she was just taken aback by their generosity, because where she comes from people just don’t look out for each other that way. They said something like “we’re all in this together,” and to knock if she needed anything else, no matter how late it got.
Again, this whole mess could have happened in America and turned out exactly the same. But you really only need to think about it for a minute to realize how things could have taken a far more ominous turn. Which would probably have made a much better story, but no one would’ve had the time to tell it, since we’d both be in jail, or mired in some legal hell, or desperately trying to figure out how to pay an exorbitant hospital bill.
The point lies in the philosophical difference between the way the two nations think about health care in general and drugs in particular. (Not to be all Michael Moore Sicko about it, because there are many better illustrations than this. But this one happened to me.)
One country views the former as a retail enterprise governed by a permanent seller’s market, and the latter as a moral lapse that threatens the public and requires severe punishment.
I’m glad I had my bad acid freakout in the other one.
To submit an unsigned confession or accusation, send an e-mail to email@example.com. Please remember to change the names of the innocent and guilty.