Published on Page A11 of the October 12, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
ON an early morning road trip to Batangas province, my bout with drug abuse began. I was 17 then, riding in a packed mini-van with a dangerous company of young friends and friends’ friends. I knew from the start that the whole journey wouldn’t be innocent as our average age suggested. So when a thin marijuana joint was handed over to me (in much the same manner as food being served on a silver platter), I wasn’t at all surprised.
I took a first drag of what would become, from that point forward, a long list of various kinds of illegal substances. I tried to suppress a cough after the first inhalation, conscious of the curious faces staring at me. The group cheered, and I proceeded to contort my face into the nonchalant frown of feigned experience.
As we sped by fields of green, I closed my eyes for a split second and saw the most vivid, most hypnotic red I had ever seen. The next moment, when I opened my eyes, it seemed as if we had outraced the sun and stormed past the sluggish grey clouds. I can remember seeing a nipa frond hut in Lipa City and thinking it was the world’s greatest architectural wonder.
The next few years saw me growing to love the pleasant sensation of drugs. Together with those who showed me the gateway into another world of new addictions, I habitually popped party pills, sniffed rocks like a hungry wolf, sought quick jolts of pain to achieve an altered state of mind, and became figuratively hardened to a lifestyle of sinful indulgence. Often, the occasion for such transgressions was a social activity. I realized early on that how strongly you came under the influence of what substance largely depended on how much you were under the influence of whom.
Now when I look at the people with whom I have been, it is not hard to explain the whys and wherefores of our affinity to psychedelia. “M” lives with an alcoholic father who usually beats him bad and even bloody. “C” was orphaned at the age of 7. “D” is an artist who believes brilliance can be achieved only through inspired euphoria. “F” is simply too rich for his own comfort and good.
My reasons for venturing into drugs were not as tragic and sad as those of my friends. I was an average student, previously fairly functional, secure in my family’s stable finances, and hardly immature for my age. It was not that steady hits of “shabu” [“crack”] would give me a personality, but I wondered, “What else am I when I’m not high?”
I would never have gone through the agonizing process of withdrawal if not for the news that came last year. On an otherwise uneventful Sunday evening, a reality-impaired “D” brought a razor-sharp shaving blade into his bedroom. He proceeded to slash his wrists as deeply as he could. A handwritten note by his bedside contained a quote from Anton Chekhov: “A good man’s indifference is as good as any religion.”
Perhaps “D” thought it poetic that his life as an agnostic artist would lead to such a dark, dramatic end. Perhaps he didn’t feel understood (in large part, by his own religious parents) or perhaps he himself didn’t understand (for the most part, his own irreligious convictions). But whatever it was he was thinking at the time, what he did confirmed many truths we had all been reluctant to confront. Where we had sought a happy escape, we found an abnormal psychosomatic life. What had been a harmless game became an engagement which indifferently staked precious lives, however dysfunctional. And after we had flown the heights of an altered plateau, we had come down with a bottomless vertigo -- and to each by his own sad sedation.
While “D” lost an obscene amount of blood, his suicide attempt fortunately failed. And so did the appropriateness of his suicide note. We had been indifferent, I suppose, and in many dimensions outside religion. We weren’t good men and although I realized this from my first taste of drugs, it’s only now that I have accepted the fact that bad boys aren’t fashionable and that drug abuse isn’t justifiable. The crazed, hallucinating, blasphemous fools we were transformed into after every session were creatures outside of ourselves. They were not at all human, for they were devoid of reality, of reason, of emotion, of a sense of consequence, of an eye for natural beauty, and most of all, of life.
It isn’t a way of living to be chronically dependent on chemicals and to be seeking the ephemeral pleasure of a drug-created world. On the contrary, it’s a way of dying -- a stupid, fear-induced choice made by people intent on developing antipathy and hatred for all that life has given them. We were stripped of everything life had to offer because drugs offer nothing precious.
Morbid as it may seem to celebrate the day “D” got curious with a pair of Gillette blades, I now mark it as my epiphany. “D’s” blood is our blood, our burden is everybody else’s burden, and the burden of everyone can and will always be lifted. I feel as if I am embarking on a new trip now, experiencing a natural high -- and drugs be damned. With a body and mind that have been scarred, yet with a soul that has been saved from corrosion, I can now look at the gold, glistening sun and smile to myself. And I am glad it is still there.
Artel Decosta, 22, has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He has been drug-free since last year and now works as a freelance writer. Reactions to his story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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