What’s your poison? A glass of red; a snifter of port; a cheeky weekend line? A pint, a flute or a shot? Do you party every day, or are you a weekend flier? Your answers say a lot about you, you know?
For relaxation, in celebration or in memoriam, getting sideways, in one way or another, is a human instinct. In some people it can be a nice way to wind down; in others, a much-needed weekly release valve; for the unlucky few it is a highly addictive habit with incredibly destructive consequences.
Human beings will always find a way to justify meeting our needs, whether we are happy to do so or not; whether our social circle are happy for us to do so or not. It’s fine to take the edge off, but no one wants a burden; that’s a buzz kill, dear. Pleasure is meant to be sociable; so, why are fewer of us going out for it these days? We chase our bliss, and hide it behind our constructed justifications.
Social acceptability changes with time and with group; I am at the stage of life where a few gins is at the soft end of social acceptability: a bottle of whisky only slightly less so, depending on one’s ability to walk. A decade ago it was weed, and the more the merrier: a harder high, and private worlds of imagination and paranoia. The laughs were greater, but more superficial than we were apt to admit. Do our changing lives bring about the changes in our habits, or do our habits rule over our lives?
The life cycle of recreational drug use is one of peak and trough: Both the small scale and the large. The course of a night – or a session, a bout, or a “binge”, if you want – takes the same form: the first, the high, the dissipation; the second, the diminished high, the dissipation; repeat, repeat, repeat. The buzz of the first drink, or the first joint, is the benchmark. Everything else is replication.
Back in my student, and post student days, this would be a pipe of hash, followed by a joint. Sit back and settle in. Even after the first half of the joint is smoked, the buzz of the pipe has mostly gone. The rest of the evening is a chase of that first, debilitating buzz. It can never be attained, no matter how full the pipe bowl, no matter how strong the joint, no matter how great the protestations. At some point you have to put the paraphernalia away and slink off to bed, frustrated and fragile.
My experience of alcohol and its cycle is somewhat different. The first drinks, perhaps a glass of wine or an aperitif while cooking, takes the baggage of the day off the shoulders and offers a spring to the step. Alcohol takes longer to kick in, but its effects are cumulative. Food is a necessity in all things, and it tempers the effect of the bottle. Eat too soon, and you’ll never feel the high; eat too late and you’ll never eat. Food and conversation mediate the buzz; sleep comes amid fuzz of lost memory.
The small scale and the large; the evening and the life. If marijuana and alcohol could be described as softer drugs, and their effects so described, then the drugs we perceive as harder act on a much longer rhythm. And it all starts with a hit. It’s almost as if our bodies conspire with our minds to hate us and to drag us in to ruinous lives of dependency and torpor. Only the lucky get to break the cycle.
The first hit of an opiate is strong and wrong in equal measure. You are going to vomit: it cannot be avoided. In the release that follows the universe opens up like a blossom and all becomes clear. There is no pain, and there is no fear. There is no return: this is the only time you will experience the full impact. Users consume bigger and bigger doses, attempting to recreate that intense, emotional experience, to no avail. Such ever-increasing doses are at the core of the overdose: stop using, come back, and return to your familiar dose. Your body needed to reset and you missed it: Game over.
Stories abound of addicts “married” to their crack pipes. The rush from a hit of crack is faster than a speeding bullet through the brain, but it leaves just as fast. You cannot sleep when crack has you as its wraith: there can be no respite. Chase the rush, chase the rush, chase the rush. Tolerance builds, quantities grow, the grip of its icy hands around your over-worked heart gets stronger by the day.
Chasing the sun is a human ideal: Lazarus knew that, and so do you. Unlike Lazarus, however, you know you can never make it. You want that first flush, the conversational warmth of that first glass of wine: you want it back. You lie to yourself, that a shot will do the trick, but you’re chasing a ghost. But you know that; you’ve been here before. It’s the pivot about which a night turns: sour or sweet?
Personal gratification or social interaction: two different kinds of mask, behind which the sky chaser hides. One allows us to immerse ourselves in our own worlds, the other to enter in to the world of the others. Not everyone needs such assistance, but it is there for all, as and when it is needed.
For some it is harder to say no than it is to crash and burn: these are the people for whom our life of high will always fail: they have no opportunity to escape, no matter how hard they run. The booze promotions in the run up to Christmas: life saver to the impoverished present purchaser and to the hearty drinkers; a gauntlet to the passed, those with the will to stay clear and the power to say no.
Our emotional states dictate our need and our ability toward stimulation. The extremes draw us to the highs, not the median. A perfectly ordinary day should only need extra stimulation if you have a problem, or so we tell ourselves. Wherefore the middle class wine buzz? Wherefore the nightcap?
We live in a world of conspicuous consumption: why should that apply only to clothes, watches and cars? Why not champagne, whiskey and coke? Except that that is precisely where it does apply. We have mainstream musical artists singing about all of these things, venerating their use, and their overuse, as symbols of their heightened status. They are rich and famous, so it is their right to wake up fuzzy and short, teeth ground to the jaw, surrounded by the detritus of their ecstatic existence.
Everything which is joy is sadness. Everything which brings us pleasure is dirty. Everything a human being finds themselves enjoying will be used as a stick with which to beat themselves. It is true of drink; it is true of drugs; it is true of sex. A simultaneous barrage of the glamourous and dirty; of the privately enjoyed and the publicly flaunted; of the dark whisper and the cold hard truth. We cannot have fun without resorting to self-flagellation; we cannot know happiness without feeling its pain.
And therein lies the rub: these things are dangerous; your joys will kill you; everything in moderation except moderation itself. At some point we have to grow up and make the hard decisions. We have to put the kettle on and make a cup of tea, rather than pouring another gin. Open the window and clear out the smoke. Real life is less fun than the party, and where is the fun if we do it every day?