Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 5.9]

When we returned to school, Chris got back to his coursework and I began working on my dissertation. Even with my growing disillusionment, I was scared as hell of not finishing my degree. At the same time, Chris and I increased the frequency in which we went to the club…and took “X.” I could sense a real craving for the drug now. I thought of it often, and it was a powerful motivator for me to make progress on my project. I went on long research and writing binges throughout the week, sometimes working for eight to ten hours straight, just so I could live my life guilt-free and high on the weekends.

As the techno scene grew, we noticed an increase in the number of people going to the club and getting insanely messed up. We learned a lot of them weren’t there for the music either, which seemed almost blasphemous to me. When we’d arrive, we’d ask someone which DJ was up, and they wouldn’t have a clue. The crowd seemed to be getting younger, too. Eighteen-year-olds were eating ten to twenty pills in a night, to the point they were vomiting and almost having seizures. They would fall down and stumble and sometimes just pass out in the middle of the dance floor. Witnessing this behavior made it tougher and tougher to still enjoy the night.

This made me thankful I’d tried “X” for the first time at twenty-five and not eighteen. At least by then I’d learned that I could get high on life without drugs. I was committed to goals and had some achievements behind me. I knew it was possible to find joy and meaning in other things. Chris and I were going to have to stop “rolling” at some point, and I hoped the memory and possibility of life being good without drugs would be enough to pull us out of it. What was there in an eighteen-year-old’s life to rip them out of the grips of such a powerful experience?

We watched some close friends go off the deep end, too. One dropped out of law school and holed herself up in a trailer, which she called her “cocoon.” She told us not to contact her until she’d finished her “transformation” and had emerged as a butterfly. When she finally invited me over a few months later, she sat smoking a joint and explained how she was thinking of writing a book about female pirates. She’d gotten a boob job, pierced her nipples and hood, and was changing her name to Jade and franchising her own traveling stripper bus.

Another friend got into coke—a lot of it—and then got into Japanese animated porn and S&M. She lost interest in us when we wouldn’t try on her sensory deprivation masks one night and shock ourselves with this electric “zapper” thingy she had. Another guy we’d met on the night he’d taken his first pill was now fully addicted. One night at someone’s apartment, I watched him chase one buzz after another. He swallowed six pills at once, wandered off into the corner by himself, and manically began stimulating himself with lights, music, Vicks, nitrous oxide, candy, and then weed. He came out of his corner only to beg people to massage him. I could barely stand to be around it anymore.

And, honestly, after almost a year of being on it regularly, I’d noticed a change in me too. More and more, I sensed a painful contrast between the beauty and high I had once felt at the club and the ugliness and disillusionment I saw around me when I wasn’t high. It depressed me. I kept doing the drug, but I no longer really enjoyed it. The music began to sound harsh and uninspired. My head felt heavy and frazzled. I remembered what I’d read about the long term effects of the drug on your serotonin levels and how your receptors could “down-grade” if you didn’t allow your serotonin to replenish in between trips. It panicked me to think I’d done permanent damage to my brain. I yearned for the days before I tried it.

As I started feeling like an outsider in that scene, I also started feeling like an outsider in my regular life. Whenever I was around my fellow graduate students or professors, I would listen to their conversations but feel 1,000 miles away from them, hovering in that space above again. They seemed so grounded, so focused, so in control, and like everything in the world was fine and going to be okay. They didn’t really know me at all. And they wouldn’t approve of my behavior if they did. I felt like an imposter. Outwardly, I held it together and went through the motions trying to meet everyone’s expectations. On the inside, I was fragmented and on the verge of insanity. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt like this—dissociated—from everyone, from what I was doing, and especially from myself. Were the drugs making me this way or did I use drugs to deal with who I’ve always been? I began to wonder whether I might be inherently crazy after all.

Equally upsetting was the further demise in my relationship with Chris. We had warped our emotional worlds and become so obsessive about the music—to keep the high going when we weren’t high—that soon, there were no real emotions passing between us at all. When I pointed out the growing distance between us, he said he couldn’t sense it, which I took as a betrayal. I kept trying to discuss it, which only made things worse when I knew that Chris knew I was unhappy but made no efforts to change anything.

I started having thoughts about fleeing our marriage. I associated Chris with the part of myself I was starting to hate. As the wedge grew between us, I evaluated Chris’ actions brutally under a microscope. I started noticing how we didn’t really enjoy each other’s sense of humor, how he had stopped noticing me when I walked in the room, how he never made eye contact with me—let alone touched me anymore—and how he seemed to completely check-out when I spoke. I seemed to be doing all the work in the relationship, planning all the fun, trying to make everything nice for him. I couldn’t stop thinking that I was happier before I met Chris and how it would solve everything if I could be alone to find that place in my mind again, if it still existed, where I was happy and sane.

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