Archive for February, 2004

Don’t Try This At Home

Sunday, February 15th, 2004

There was a time in my life when seven hits of very good blotter acid seemed like a perfectly appropriate dose for a party.

I was hosting a party at my apartment in Chicago many years ago. Perhaps thirty people or so were present, local friends and acquaintances and a few out of town guests. Only a small handful of us were on acid, and certainly I was the only one on seven hits. Back then, I considered five hits of acid to be a starter, social dose; seven hits was a strong dose, but manageable; and ten hits was the benchmark for the so-called heroic dose. For the first several hours of that party, seven hits didn’t seem like a problem. I remember laughing a lot, making stupid jokes with drunken friends, generally carousing and having a good time.

At some point in the evening, however, many of the guests had left, and we were down to ten or fifteen die-hards. One person suggested watching a movie. Someone else suggested watching something trippy, something that the folks on acid might especially appreciate. A third guest made the fateful suggestion: “Let’s watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall.”

I’d never seen it before. Naturally I’d heard plenty of rumors that watching The Wall on acid or while stoned was an experience to be avoided. It would come up every now and then in hallowed, somber tones, as though the person sharing this bit of wisdom with you had personally lost his brother or cousin or grandmother to permanent psychosis as a result of mixing The Wall with being high. I’d never asked any questions about why – indeed, that was a hallmark of my behavior at that point in my life, not asking questions – and so I had no preconceived notions about what to expect. I knew it was risky, but so was being on seven hits of acid, and I felt perfectly comfortable with that.

“Sure,” I said, “let’s watch The Wall.”

We kept the TV in our bedroom, and so the guests and I retired to the comfort of the futon and the floor to watch this cinematic epic. I won’t go into any detail about the movie’s plot or basic premise, out of respect for future generations of acidheads and stoners. I will say, however, that my personal experience of the movie was a dark, vicious, suicidal nightmare – deep identification with horrible characters and situations, visions of totalitarian urges and despotic outcomes, the sudden surfacing of previously hidden waves of self-loathing. I was a shell-shocked husk by the time the movie was over. I was numb in the brain, in the soul; I couldn’t move, could barely form sentences.

I began to panic.

I don’t remember how much time elapsed between the end of the movie and my inspiration for what to do next. But before we had all left the bedroom, I had a solution in mind. I crawled over to my dresser, where at the time I was keeping a stash of pure MDMA for a special occasion. There was certainly enough there for everyone left at the party, just barely. Without really thinking about the consequences – another hallmark of my personality in those days – I began passing out the MDMA to a bemused and mostly willing crew. I remember thinking that the only possible way I could crawl out of the deep, self-destructive pit I had landed in was essentially to take an “antidote,” something that would slice through the despair.

Soon enough, the effects of the MDMA were upon me. A distinct rush of pleasure spread through me as I realized it was working. The dark cloud the movie had cast over me was dissipating rapidly, and a new, triumphant feeling was replacing it. I was suddenly catapulted into a place of deep, cosmic awareness, of pulling the curtain back and tuning in directly to the web of interconnectedness that informs all things. And by recognizing these connections, these resonances, I knew now that I could control them. I knew now that my future was assured. I knew now that anything I wanted would soon be mine, any outcome I desired would soon come true. I knew now that I had finally landed in the golden palace of paradise. I had been handed the keys to the cosmic Corvette, which I would soon be driving as fast I possibly wanted.

For the next few hours, my behavior reflected this new understanding of reality. I made pronouncements, gave orders. I passed out assurances about the future. I made phone calls, drove people out of the apartment, severely alienated my partner at the time by making sexual advances I shouldn’t have. I scarcely noticed; all would be resolved in my favor, in due time.

Then, a few hours later, the MDMA wore off. The acid, of course, had not.

In the aftermath, sympathy avoided me for many days. I was left alone to contemplate the magnitude of my idiocy, desperate and alone and miserable, and this was only heightened by the fact that this was not the first time I’d made such a preposterous, hideous mistake on acid. I believed for a long time that these mistakes were unique to me, until I came across Ann Shulgin’s description of a state called Inflation, described in TIHKAL in the chapter “Places in the Mind.” She writes:

“I was The Priestess, full of knowledge and power, seated above the rest
of humanity, dispensing wisdom. It was a picture of supreme intellectual
and spiritual arrogance… Now, here I was, blazing with the fullness of
this form of myself, knowing I needed nothing else and nobody else, and
that I could continue being utterly sufficient unto myself… I was

It was a relief, years after I had broken off my tumultuous relationship with LSD, to see such a cogent description of what I had brought upon myself more than once in the early days of charting my mind’s topography. (Indeed, the chapter “Places in the Mind” is an incredibly valuable contribution to understanding types of psychedelic experiences.) And as Shulgin also writes, “I had taken [the experience] as a warning: this was an aspect of myself that I had to keep under control.” This has been true for me ever since.

I would eventually reach a kind of peace within my community, through a vigorous, years-long process of apology for this and many similar episodes, and through a commitment to a sincere kind of humbleness I’d never broached when I was younger. I still make too many mistakes – indeed, I often say that while I rarely make the same mistake twice, I make the first mistake over and over again. I still have more pride than is probably necessary, although at least now I have a well-developed, self-deprecating sense of humor to balance it out. I finally reestablished contact with LSD, and so far, things are approaching friendly again.

I did, however, watch The Wall a second time a few days after the experience. I wanted to see it again, sober, to try to understand what had happened to me. The movie witnessed this way was considerably more mundane and irrelevant than the movie I had experienced in my head. Thanks to LSD’s merciless goading, I had added layers of significance, extra plot twists that were considerably more wicked and evil than the original’s, levels of frightening conspiracy that were nowhere to be seen days later.

There’s a part of me that still thinks my version of the movie is far superior.