My paranoia began when I started taking LSD at the age of fifteen. Does that seem young?
I knew a family in Franklin, the Osbournes. Mary Osbourne was given a dose of acid on her 10th birth by her older siblings. Her little brother Jeffery, aged five, could roll a joint. Teddy Osbourne and I, at age twelve, used to hyperventilate for fun. Do you know how that works? I would stand with feet wide, legs slightly bent, leaning forward with my hands on my knees. I would deep breathe, inhaling and exhaling vigorously with Teddy standing behind me. When I started to feel dizzy, I would exhale completely, and before I could inhale, Teddy would wrap his arms around my chest and squeeze me in a bear hug until I passed out and fell on the ground.
I’ll never forget my first blast of whiskey a year or so earlier. It was offered to me by Frances and this is how it happened: It was winter. Frankie and I were heading to the abandoned chicken coop, the first one, the smaller one, the safer one, the one on Partridge St. It was like a clubhouse. The other one only exists in my nightmares. No, that’s not true. It was real. This isn’t about that time.
Frances appeared. I did not know him. We were standing on the side of the road after a big snowstorm. Snowplows had created large snowbanks at the side of the road. Frankie and Frances greeted each other. Frankie introduced us. Frances held his hand. I thought that was so cool. It may have been the first time anyone offered to shake my hand. The gesture made me feel special. I took his hand. He clamped down hard, twisted his wrist, knocked me off balance, and threw me into the snowbank.
I lay there for a second, stunned. I had no idea what happened. I could feel the cold of the snow against my face. I remember feeling disoriented, dazed. Then came the second shock. His boot against my ear pressing my face down hard into the snow. The pressure was intense as he held me there like that. “Hi Eric, It’s nice to meet ya.”
I looked at Frankie. He looked as shocked as I was but he didn’t say or do anything. Frances took his boot off me and we went inside the coop to smoke. Frances pulled a bottle of whiskey from his jacket, took a swig, and offered it to me. I took it without hesitation and swallowed some. I’ll never forget the sensation. It was sharp and a little sweet in my mouth but burned like hell in my throat. I loved it.
After the boot, the whiskey felt not like an apology but an acknowledgment. Of what, I wasn’t sure. But I felt like I had passed a test.
From then on Frankie and I would steal liquor from our parents. In order not to get caught we would take just a small amount from each bottle in the cabinet, pouring them all into an empty peanut butter jar. We called it Jungle Juice. It didn’t taste good like the whiskey but the burn was what I was after. I don’t remember wanting to be drunk. I just wanted that burn.
Around the same time, I had a small posse of friends from school that I would hang out with. Rick, Kevin, Barry, Teddy, and Bob Crosby. Bob was the only one who had a last name, apparently. Most of the time we did normal kid stuff. Rick and Kevin were athletic so we played basketball and hockey. Rode bikes. Huffed turpentine and model airplane glue. The glue was called “Dope.” Not a nickname. That’s what it’s called. Look it up.
We also stole pills from our parents’ medicine cabinets. We were adventurous, brave, and stupid. We had no idea what the pills would do. We just knew that we weren’t supposed to touch them so they must have been good. I got caught at school once with a plastic baggie full of pills of varying shapes, sizes, and colors.
It was Teddy’s older brother Fred who turned us on to weed. He sold us our first nickel bag.
Things mellowed out, drug-wise, after my family moved from Franklin to Falmouth, on Cape Cod. I entered 8th grade without any friends and didn’t resume smoking pot until high school. In my freshman year, I made a new friend named Rick. We would buy an ounce of weed on Monday for twenty bucks, roll it into forty joints, sell twenty for next week’s bag, and have twenty joints to smoke for the week. We stayed high at school all week and spent most afternoons sleeping it off at home.
We smoked in the school, by the way. In the cafeteria. How did we get away with it? Unless you were there this is going to be hard to believe. Smoking cigarettes was allowed in school. I kid you not. My first two years of high school were unusual. No time to get into it here.
TLDR; Experimental, permissive, lots of free time, little to no discipline or punishment. I passed English having only attended a few classes during the entire school year. In shop class, my project was taking wooden door stops from the hallways and shaping them on a lathe into pot pipes. Drug dealers would park their van in the parking lot behind the school and dozens of kids would line up, single file as if they were buying from an ice cream truck.
LSD at 15yo doesn’t seem so surprising, after all. I took it the first time with as much forethought I did that first blast of whiskey. Someone put a tab in my hand and I ate it. I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea that there was a significant difference between it and everything else I had been mindlessly scarfing.
All kids experiment with ways of altering their consciousness. There’s a natural curiosity about our bodies and minds and, more specifically, the relationship between the two. Look at spinning for one obvious example. But my drug use grew into something more than curiosity. I was numbing myself. I was trying to hide from myself. I was denying something crucial. I was covering up my childhood trauma in the most effective way. I was recreating the effects of trauma on my brain. The feeling of losing control over my my self, over my body, wasn’t just comfortably familiar. I was also recreating the feeling of relief after the attack.
Does that seem implausible? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on if you’re me or not. Me? I’m pretty sure that was part of it.
The more plausible explanation, the one you won’t question, is that I was crying out for help. I was, indirectly and unconsciously, trying to show the world my pain.
Does that seem like a contradiction? Was I hiding from my pain or showing it off? I had no idea at the time. I was just a junkie always on the prowl for my next fix. And yes, I did make my way to snorting meth, freebasing cocaine and, eventually smoking heroin (freebasing was much worse).
I digress. LSD is the drug of the hour. My first trip wasn’t too bad. There was some fun, some weirdness, some fun weirdness, and then it ended with a petrified me at home in bed staring at the ceiling, believing that the sounds I was hearing were someone trying to enter the house and kill me. I snuck out, went to a friend’s house, woke them up, and had them talk me down. No real harm done.
I might not have done it again except for two things. The first was that the fun was *really* fun. Mind-blowing fun. I remember the delight in seeing trails as I waved my arms and from the lights of passing cars. I remember petting a dachshund whose tight fur-covered skin was so smooth and pliable that my fingers sunk deep into its body. My friend Keith turned into Popeye, not a flesh and blood version but the cartoon figure himself animated in 2-D. On our walk home the canopy of trees over the street waved and swayed over us in a glorious genuflection.
The other thing was that I was not making wise choices for myself at that time.
While interviewing for group therapy in Atlanta I talked about my paranoid experiences that were precipitated by LSD. There were two therapists, a man and a woman. How many times did you take LSD? I’m not sure, maybe a dozen. How many of them were bad trips? All of them. Long pause. Will you ever take it again? Longer pause. Christ, I hope not.
(They accepted me into the group and I did not.)
LSD is a drug that enhances sensation and expands consciousness. Hallucinations come from within. From the mind. It does exactly the opposite of what I was trying to achieve through my drug use. It cracked something open that I wasn’t prepared to see. Wasn’t equipped to see.
On a subsequent trip, I hallucinated a murder in the next room. I was in a public building. I saw him walk in. He asked where his girlfriend was. Someone told him she was in the next room. He went in there. I heard them arguing. I heard a gunshot. He came back into our room, looked at us in silence, then left the building, turning right.
Without saying a word to the people I was with I stood and walked out the same door, turning left. I was terrified. I didn’t know where I was going but I kept walking. This was on Main Street and there were a lot of cars passing by. In all of them, the people inside were staring at me in anger, shaking their fists at me, their faces contorted in rage. I was not safe.
I thought of my friend Randy who lived nearby. I went to his apartment. I entered without knocking. I said hello and a voice said, “I’m in here.” It was Randy’s girlfriend Laurie, in the bathroom, in the tub,covered with bubbles. I walked in. This was in the 70’s so the lack of formalities wasn’t remarkable. I looked at Laurie and words came out of me, “Is it safe?” Just like that. I stood there for a minute while she assessed the situation. Then she said, “Yes, it’s safe.”
I went and sat on the couch to wait for Randy to come home or for Laurie to finish her bath. I looked at the wall next to me. It was panels with fake wood grain. As I studied the grain the lines began to whirl and slither. I welcomed the hallucination with some relief. This is the fun stuff. I relaxed and let myself become absorbed in the moving whorls. The lines were morphing into shapes. Amoeba shapes. Slithering brown worms. Whoa, they were becoming three-dimensional, extruding into the room towards me. Wait, what? What are these shapes? They look familiar. Oh shit! They’re penises forming and growing towards me. They’re getting bigger! They’re turning into erections! I’m being attacked by dozens of giant erections!
It’s OK to laugh. I can, now. It’s like something out of a trippy comic book, isn’t it? But I wasn’t laughing then. I was triggered. The feeling that overcame me was the one from my nightmares. The sudden realization that I am most definitely not safe. The Prince of Darkness has emerged from the shadows and is here for me. Again. It’s time to die.
In a panic, I stood and quickly left. All I remember after that is that I somehow managed to hold my shit together long enough to get home, hide in bed, and let the acid wear off.
I didn’t realize until many years later that this was my first big clue. The acid had cracked open something that I had buried deep in the shadows of my brain.