20 June, 2008

Partnership for a drug-free america

Location: someone else's friday night
Mood: paranoid

I want to tell you a story that was told to me. It's a pretty good story. While it might seem like it violates the privacy of the individual whose story it is, I pretty much got permission from him, and he's aware that the readership (of which he is a member) is small. Some of the facts might be a little bit messed up, because first of all, it's me telling you what he told me. And second of all, it is not entirely clear that his perception of the events is accurately recalled.

So... here it goes, best as I can do. I am sure he'll give me any relevant corrections, and thanks for allowing me to post this!

January 18, 2008 is where this story takes place. For the sake of convenient typing, I am going to write this from "first person" perspective, because that's how the story was told to me, obviously, and also because typing "I" takes a lot fewer characters than typing the protagonist's name.

Okay. So all the ground rules and disclaimers have been laid out. And I have my notepad here with all of the points of the story. So I'm good to go.

Back in January, I was dating online a bit (by "I", you know that we mean "protagonist").

(just checking)

I'd been out with a bunch of women, and some of them were moderately interesting, some of them were less interesting. But at this point in January, I was just meeting people. And it was not one of those things where people are "hooking up" online. Nothing like that. It was really just a lot of dinners, and some walks in the park, and some coffees and beers. Think "Match.com" not "The Stranger Personals". Though, these days, I am not sure if thinking "Match.com" really makes it a whole lot more innocent. But that's another story. [I will use italics if I am interjecting my own thoughts into the story - because as he told it to me, there are of course some of his own biases and defensiveness - I will probably feel compelled to make commentary in a number of places, and even try to correct things that I think were likely to be inaccurate perceptions. I can do that, because it is MY blog. It is out of the kindness of my little heart that I am giving him a readership for his tale. End of note.]

So. I (protagonist) was meeting a bunch of people, and having a laugh about it to some extent. Everyone got a nickname. And you can't publish the nicknames in the blog, because someone might be able to figure out who some of these people are, if other readers know me! (He is kind of paranoid in the first place... so you can imagine where this might go...)

So, my new criteria was that anyone whom I did not find to be outright hideous would get a shot. What's dinner? No big deal! How bad could it be. So right around this time, I discovered that Match.com had a new feature of Instant Messaging. It used to be in the "old days" you would send your little email blurb, and then wait x number of days, before they'd write back. And just getting to Date #1 could take 3 days to 3 weeks even if they were interested in you, just because of logistics. But the IM thing adds a new element. If you are online, and someone else online sees you and thinks you're "cute", then they can IM you right there on the spot, and one thing can much more quickly lead to another. In fact, back around New Year's Day I met someone on there to whom I chatted for like 3 hours on the spot, then went to telephone for like 3 more hours, and then had our first date the next day! So it can really speed things up a lot. Of course, since I am not telling you about that girl, you can conclude that speeding things up sometimes speeds up the endings as much as the beginnings.

So, January 18th, I have dinner plans with a woman whom I met online and had some chat. Let's say, for argument's sake that her name was Ellen. Actually her name was Ellen. I don't need to protect her anonymity because she's a stranger to all of us, including me, still. Ellen did not sound like a good dating prospect. For logistical reasons. She was presently separated. 40 years old. With THREE small children (ages 11 months, 2 years, and 4 years, or something like that). She did not want to "date" and she did not want a "relationship" and I am not even really thinking she wanted anything physical. I think she'd been married for a long time, and had just got out of it, and was just for the first time experimenting with the waters of "I am going to have a life after this". She was clearly very well off, living in a great part of Phinney Ridge neighborhood (I guess she "got the house", so to speak), and she was some type of Interior Designer (I think she helped people choose colors, and she got so renowned for it, that she started her own business, and realtors and other designers would use her as their color consultant - not a bad life, if you can get away with that!)

So Ellen wanted to meet at a Phinney restaurant whose name I cannot recall [Santa Fe Cafe], and have dinner. She arrived a little late - maybe 10 minutes after me. I am not sure why I agreed to do it, but I think it was because she just seemed nice, and interesting, and her honesty and her situation caused me to think, "Sure, why not?!". From her photos online, I did not even think she was that attractive, but it turned out that in person she was quite cute. She was very nervous, and apparently I was indeed the first "date" she had since before her marriage, which I seem to recall was quite a long marriage? [He didn't remember what she'd said it was, but thought it was like 10-15 years?]

We had dinner, which was excellent - seem to recall the food was Italian. And we drank some wine. Actually quite a bit of wine. I think it might have been at least 3 glasses each, and strangely it really hit me that night. I was pretty buzzed from three glasses. As she got more buzzed, she relaxed a lot, and became more conversational. And her story was very interesting. Just about the business, and about her life, and a tiny bit about her kids, and a tinier bit about her marriage. I didn't press on her personal life, and she didn't offer too much. It was just a nice time. And I was glad that I went. I felt comfortable with her, and though it was obviously not going to be a relationship, I think that at some point near the end of the dinner we were getting ready to pay or something, and she wanted to split it, but I said something like "I want to pay, but it's on the condition that you agree to go out to dinner again", and I meant it. I didn't expect anything. Just that we'd have another discussion and another good meal.

Toward the end of the meal, she got into an interesting discussion topic, and it was sort of out of the blue, but I think it just seemed out of the blue to me because I was not inside her head. She started asking me how I felt about "altered states", and now that I think about it, I am pretty sure she had made an earlier mention of that in the IM chat we had, but I don't think we delved too deeply into it, and I am not really compelled to go hunting around for chat histories to tell you those parts. Suffice it to say she mentioned it once, foreshadowing, and then brought it up again at end of dinner. And I asked her what she meant, and she proceeded to elaborate that she liked to get high. Okay. Fine. Not a big deal. Right? Lots of people do it. But interestingly she framed it in that context of "altered states" and also interestingly she framed it in a context that seemed to place a level of importance on it that was a bit unsettling.

She said she was having a nice time, and that she would like to go maybe get another drink someplace else - though I don't really think we needed it - but before doing that, asked if it would be cool if we stopped by her house briefly for her to achieve her desired state of alteredness. I had no problem with that, but at this point, I think I was just okay with whatever. I confided to her that I did not have much experience in this area, but that the minimal experience had been positive.

I should stop here for a second and note to you that I am woefully inexperienced with "altered states" of any kind, other than if you consider "self-delusion" to be an altered state of sorts. I had only ever gotten "high" once before in my life, maybe 2 years previously, and it probably constituted "very slightly high" and was in the company of an extremely close friend with whom I had complete trust and also with whom I had always noted "if there is one person in this world with whom I would be comfortable experimenting with anything, it would be this person". And that was it. That one time. And it was a very decent experience. On that occasion, it took place while going for a walk around a familiar neighborhood, and there was peaceful and comforting coaching. And I remembered feeling literally "light on my feet" and everything seemed "richer" than usual, but I also felt a strange feeling that I could only describe as "euphoric paranoia" - I felt like everything was happening for a reason, but that it was all for good reasons. I felt like this person had walked me down this particular street to see these particular sites, and walked me by the highway because the sound of the cars on the highway would be more stimulating than usual, and that it would be an experience worth having. I felt like it was all being controlled and everything for a reason. But a good reason. And after we got back to the house, we shared 17 mandarin oranges, and counted the seeds from each, and computed the mean and standard deviation of seed count, while listening to PJ Harvey, and sitting on the stairs to their attic. And all was good.

So that was my one data point.

Never had done any other "illicit" substance, though had been massively curious about many, especially LSD, though was probably way too scared to ever take a chance hopping in a ride that you can't get off until the conductor says it's time.

Back to Ellen. Before we left the restaurant, we both got up to go to the bathroom, and we had a brief, semi-affectionate moment, maybe holding hands for a second or something, and she says to me "so are you game?" and I perceived that to mean "are you going to get high with me?" and I was going with the flow... open to anything... not being limited... and I said "sure".

I got in my car, and she got in her white minivan, and I followed her back to her house which, as I said, was in a great part of Phinney Ridge, and was adorable even from the exterior. We went into her house, and we're in the kitchen, and she asks if I want something to drink, and I said I just wanted water, because honestly, for some reason, 3 glasses of wine was a lot on this night. She got me water from her refrigerator, which I am thinking was a Jenn-Air because it had the same fancy water spigot on the inside of the fridge, on the left panel, unlike most refrigerators that dispense water from the outside of the door. I had never seen this before, and it struck me as strange. I was keenly aware of her interiors. I saw a beautiful kitchen with hanging pots and pans, and nice counter tops. Beautiful antique furniture around. And the evidence of her kids, which were with a sitter tonight. I was looking for this evidence. Assessing the surroundings. And I saw the games on the shelf. But the place was beautifully decorated, and immaculate. Like a Better Homes & Gardens catalog.

She leads me through the living room, around a corner, through the dining room, to a small little sitting area/den like open space, and asks what music I would like to hear. I said I didn't really care. She remembered something earlier in our discussion, and decided to play Aimee Mann because she recalled this was something I like a lot. She says she'll be right back. So I'm sitting on the floor on a carpet I think in this nice den, listening to Aimee Mann. And she returns shortly after with a very ornate looking bong. I have never used one of these, though I have obviously been around plenty of them. This one is just about the fanciest looking thing I have ever seen, and I ask about it, and she says it is from the 60's or 70's or something and that it is very special.

She then made a few comments, suggestions, questions, instructions...

Are you sure you want to do this?

This is very strong stuff... just so you know....

Alcohol and pot can mix kind of funny, and just so you know, if you haven't done this much before (or in a long time), it is possible that you might just pass out...

[when he was telling me this part of the story, it was evident that just recalling those few memories actually brought about some type of emotional or physical reaction. like a flashback-y type of feeling]

It bothered me and seemed peculiar to me when she made that statement "you might just pass out". I had never heard anyone say that before. I have seen plenty of people drink a lot of alcohol and then smoke a lot of weed, and I have never heard nor seen people passing out. She probably was just trying to comfort me and prepare me. She is after all, a mother, and probably feels the need to nurture people. Right?

So, she gets things ready, and then she gives me "instructions" on how to use the bong. I probably did not require this, having seen it enough, but whatever. I was buzzed from the wine, and not particularly disturbed by that aspect of things. Then she offered me to "go first". For some reason, this did bother me a little bit, since I was the not experienced person. I don't know why, but it just seemed funny to me. But I was there... buzzed on wine... in the moment... and I went first. I definitely got a hit, but I don't think it was a particularly strong hit. Then she had some.

Then we sat there for a few moments. Both on the floor, leaning up against respective sofas. And we listened to Aimee Mann. And she asked me if I was feeling anything. And I might have been feeling a little bit, but whatever it was, it was probably less than the one previous time I had some. Maybe I felt something. We sat a little bit more.

Then she asked me if I wanted to have a little bit more, and I was thinking "well, I am not really feeling anything from that, so I guess I am okay... sure... a little bit more". She did some fussing around with the bong, and I think put more of it in there, another bud, or whatever she was doing. I wasn't really paying that close of attention. But I know she did something with it. And she gave me a little more "instruction" on use. And I took another hit. This time I made a conscious effort to take more than the first time.

And something happened.

And it was instantaneous.

The first sensation, instantly was a ripping burning sensation in my lungs that was completely unlike the first time or the previous time I had done it. That was followed, almost immediately, by the most intense wave of nausea that I have ever experienced in my entire life. It hit me like a massive wave, and nearly bowled me over - I was choking and reeling from the nausea - and she asked me if I was okay. I didn't really respond right away. I think that the nausea probably lasted 30 to 60 seconds, and slowly subsided. But it really took a lot out of me, because it was unlike anything I'd felt before.

She took a couple of hits, either during, or after this.

Then we sat some more. Facing each other. The music playing. A few minutes passed. And things started to "alter", so to speak. First thing I noticed was that the music became more "there". More distinct. More separate. The next thing I noticed was that the concept of "peripheral vision" was beginning to lose its meaning. The periphery was becoming unresolved. I saw Ellen. And everything around her began to become less clear. Less important. It was all about Ellen. And the music. Focused. And she was smiling. And she was nodding her head to the music, maybe. And looking at me. Staring at me. I was staring at her. She was staring at me. And I started to feel that feeling - controlling. I started to feel "she is watching me to understand what I am experiencing". I started to feel that she was holding the strings of the puppet and I was the puppet. And she asked me how I was doing, and I said I thought I was okay, and told her a bit about what I was feeling.

I don't know what time-dilation might have been doing to my perception, but based on the songs we heard, I think maybe after about 10-15 minutes tops we were at this present state where I felt very high. And I felt like she knew everything that I was feeling. And I felt that she knew everything that I was going to feel. And I started to feel like she knew something I did not know. Thoughts went through my head.

"if you haven't done this before... you might just pass out"

"why did she want me to go first?"

"why was she putting more stuff in there after only one hit?"

"what was the deal with that weird water spigot in the refrigerator?"

And I started to feel like maybe she knows something I don't know.

But I was drunk, and now high. And I was not able to rationally evaluate any of these considerations.

And at that moment, something happened. And it happened quite spontaneously. First I started to feel flushed. Then I started to feel my heartbeat escalating. And escalating. And then I can feel and hear my heartbeat in my head.

She asks me some question about what I am experiencing, and to me the thought is "She knows that I should be experiencing this right now". And suddenly everything is not okay. Suddenly I realize what is going on. The thoughts in my head, rushing, flying, racing...

This was a stimulant! This was not just marijuana! There is something else in this! Or maybe there was something in THAT WATER! She is WAITING for this to happen. She WANTS this to happen. And then she is going to DO something. And I don't know WHAT.

And the heart races faster, and I am sitting in front of her, still seated in front of me, and she asks if I am okay. And the thought goes through my head "I am about to pass out. And not only that, but if I do pass out, I am completely fucked in a way that I have never been fucked before, and this is not a good thing, this is not a good thing, this is not a good thing"

I say, "I need to leave here... RIGHT... NOW..."

And I muster all my will, all my strength, all my ability to combat flushed, faint, heart exploding, delirium of no clarity, and I get up to my feet and I staggeringly begin running through her house - thinking "left turns! left turns! left turns!" and making my way to the door. Running. And I remember thinking, I need to grab my coat on the way out because my coat has my keys and my coat has my CELL PHONE" and I am running through the rooms to the front door.

And there are 2 doors. Inner door. Outer door. As I open inner door, I am thinking "If outer door is locked, I am fucked!" because I think she's following me. I am sure she is following me.

Outer door is not locked. And I am out in the night. The night of January 18th. Probably around 11pm. And I am fucked up, and I know I cannot drive, so I don't even go for the car, I just start running. First running south, then left heading east. And I am sure she is coming after me. And she will come. And I even start thinking maybe she is not alone! Maybe she is not alone! Maybe this is a setup! Maybe she doesn't even live here! Maybe this was staged! Maybe there are some guys who were hiding until I get in that state of fuckedupness and then they rob me, or who knows what! And I must run. Run. Run.

But I must not just run in a straight line. I must do unpredictable things! I must make lots of turns, so that when THEY follow me, they cannot FIND me. So I get to Greenwood Avenue, but that won't do! I cannot run on Greenwood Avenue! That would be STUPID! So I cross Greenwood and am heading down steep hill, sprinting, heart exploding, mind racing, and feeling like any second I could pass out.

And it occurs to me...

"This is not good"

I am now 100% certain that I have been drugged with a potent stimulant that took a certain amount of time to kick-in and now it is hitting me, and if I stop, and pass out, I will go into cardiac arrest. This is my thought process. So as I am running, I get out my cell phone and I call my ex-girlfriend because I cannot think of who else I can call. And I am freaking out, and of course she is confused, and I am trying to relate the story to her...

"Was on a date... smoked something... I think it was laced... I don't know what it was... this is not good... I am scared. I am scared. This is bad. My heart feels like it is going to explode"

She says "I am coming to get you. Where are you? Stay right where you are!"

I say "I am at 65th and Fremont, but I cannot stay where I am. I need to keep running or I will pass out"

She says "Where will you be?"

I say "Heading north on Fremont"

She says she is going to come for me. But then I realize, THIS IS VERY BAD. My heart is exploding, and I do not want to have the burden of my life on her hands, and her responsibility, and I cannot make her own this. She would do it for me. She would own it. She would save me. But what if she is not here fast enough. What if she cannot find me? I don't want that on her.

I say "I think I need to call 911"

I say "I need to go. I need to call 911"

I go.

During this time, my phone was ringing, and it is Ellen leaving me a voice mail asking me if I am okay, and sounding confused as to why I ran away. But I am not trusting THAT! Not at that moment, anyway.

Running. Calling 911. Explaining that I took something, and my chest hurts. And I am running. They tell me they're sending an ambulance.

I am running. Then I am walking. Then I am pacing back and forth in the vicinity where I thought I needed to stay for the ambulance to find me.

I see a random person walking their dog on a side street. I am insane. Out of breath, heart pounding, Out of my mind. I say to the person "Excuse me, sir! I am really sorry to bother you, but if you see an ambulance, can you direct them to me, please! I had some type of drug and I don't know what it was, but it messed me up and I am just concerned they might not find me!"

Even in the midst of my insane state, I was apologetic, and trying to SEEM like I am normal. But I was not normal. To him, I was a madman in the street. I was not what he wanted to encounter at 11pm on a Friday night. He wanted to walk his dog and go home. And now he's implicated in some bizarre man's staggering frenzy.

Staggering more.

Firemen arrive. Great. I am too fucked up to be embarrassed.

They approach me, and ask me what happened. I try to tell the story. Fireman takes my vital signs.

Hold your hat:

Blood Pressure: 200/140
Heartrate: 180 beats per minute

Pupils fixed and dilated.

Fireman conferring with one another: "There's no way this was just marijuana. He had to have been given some type of stimulant".

This at least made me feel validated... as pathetic as that sounds...

Then ex-girlfriend shows up. She's trying to stay out of the way.

Ambulance arrives. And it is clear this is the "fake ambulance". I swear there are 2 categories of ambulance. Because the "real ambulance" also showed up. It's like one ambulance is the one that they put you in if they're NOT going to bring you anywhere! Like a "waiting room ambulance" and then the other one is the one for taking you somewhere.

Woman in ambulance with me is a bitch. She is also very butch, and I am not judging her for that, but it was just that she was the least compassionate bitch I have ever met. I am explaining that I have severe chest pain, and she is telling me to stop talking. I want them to give me something to make me stop freaking out, and she is telling me she has nothing.

At this point 3 new things are happening to me too. And this is over an hour after the "dose" of whatever.

First, my mouth is insanely dry.

Second, my body is going pins and needles ALL OVER. Head to toe. Entire body pins and needles (presumably, hyperventilating, I guess... I have had that sensation in one or two, shall we say, "more pleasant" situations, so I am guessing it was hyperventilation).

Third, every so often, maybe every 10-20 minutes, I would experience a MASSIVE rush in which I would feel flushed, my heartrate would go nuts again, and then I would feel like I was falling backwards and sinking out of control, like when you fall into your bed in a dream. But I was awake. And these persisted for hours!

Finally, because the EKG actually showed that my heart rhythm was in tachycardia, they decided that they couldn't let me sit there in the mobile waiting room, and they finally moved me to the real ambulance, and asked me what hospital I wanted to go to... so I said UW Medical Center, mainly because in my mind it was closest, and it was a place with which I am familiar, and it was also not an urgent trauma center, since I guess I suspected I was not urgent trauma, though I did feel like I was going to have a heart attack.

When I get to the hospital, ex-girlfriend coming along in separate car, they end up keeping me there all night. After about 2-3 hours of the "rushes" they finally give me Ativan, which is basically the same category drug as Valium and Xanax, to treat anxiety, and after semi-sleeping, I get out of there and go pick up my car at around 6am. The blood and urine tests showed no signs of amphetamine or cocaine.

[That's the end of his story... and from here onward is my assessment of the other tidbits that he told me in the aftermath]

So... in hindsight, I (and most other people to whom he told the story) realize that what happened was that he had a panic attack. The combination of the paranoid effects and the unfamiliar environment just launched him into a physiological place that he'd never before experienced. And the panic fed on the panic. He'd heard of people having panic attacks before, and even seen them in movies. But he'd never seen one in real life, and in truth - he did not really believe in them. Thought that panic attacks were just people overdramatizing their stresses. Not that panic could manifest as a full-fledged physiological condition that takes over and runs away like a train off the tracks.

There was an interesting philosophical question that he posed to me, and I am not sure what the correct answer is. He said "If I really thought I was dying there, sprinting away with my heart feeling like it was going to explode, does that constitute a 'near death experience'"? In other words, do you really need to be dying to have what constitutes near death experience, or is the psychological perception of that state equivalent? I don't know the answer for him, unfortunately. I guess if he believes it was, then that would suggest that he acted as he would if it had been, in which case it sort of was. He initially felt like he'd demonstrated some great survival characteristics by getting out of there without passing out. Like he pulled himself together in a moment of crisis and the "fight or flight" response had safely taken him away from danger. Took it as some sort of a sign that in a crisis, he would be able to "ACT". But is that really true? Because his crisis was a crisis only of the mind. She was just there to have a good time. We won't ever even know if the weed was laced with anything, and even if it were, most certainly the lacing was incidental and not intentional, and clearly it was something to which she demonstrated no ill effects. There was no malice. Only intent to have a good time. He talked to her the day after briefly only because he wanted to have clarity. It was recommended that he do not communicate with her, but he went against that advice because he wanted clarity.

He got no clarity. Ellen had a bad experience too. Let's not forget that. She hadn't dated anyone in YEARS, and she was just testing the waters, considering the prospect of embarking on a new life, and thinking online dating seemed innocent enough. And then this guy trips out, and goes storming out of her place, leaving his car, and ending up in the ER and then informing her that he had been paranoid that she'd drugged him.

That would not be what I would want my first dating experience in years to be.

He told a lot of people about this story - especially those friends who had a lot of experience with marijuana. At first he thought he would tell no one because of shame. But then, he said, he realized that it's just a life experience. It is not shame. And he wanted perspective. It helped to know that he'd had a panic attack. It helped to know that there was no malicious force out there. And it also helped to understand that the mind is a very very powerful deceiver under certain circumstances.

I have realized that as well. And his story helped me to realize that.

There have been a number of instances where I have been SURE of something, and then reflecting backward, I recognize that it was my perception, but it was not reality. And all of our thoughts are just chemicals popping around in our minds, so whether they be artifically infused, or generated intrinsically, our realities are a product of the chemistry that is occurring inside our heads. And that is both a comforting thought, because it means we may often have the power to craft our own reality through thinking towards our goals; but also a disturbing thought because it means we always need to keep in our minds the reminder that things may not be truly as we see them. Especially when we are in disagreement with others. We must consider that reality might be halfway between. Or all the way to the other extreme.

It makes navigating each challenge all that much more challenging. How do we sail a ship when the map of the ocean floor is subject to change?

Anyway. I thank our protagonist for his willingness to share this story. I am not going to call him brave or generous for letting me put it out here. But I will say that at least he's open to the possibility that it's a worthy story of sharing.


  1. I think I've tried it all in my youth, and I can't stand any of it for various reasons. But pot and LSD were just plain awful experiences for me, though not so awful that I didn't try them multiple times. Maybe that's why I'm so brain-dead.

  2. Inman Wheelright22 June, 2008 06:05

    And pot will sap your will, as well. Take me, for instance, I have only written one book in the last five years...

  3. After smoking steadily for about 10 years, I finally had to kick the habit about 6 years ago. Every single time I smoked, I had a reaction (much, much less severe) similar to your friend's. I don't know when it stopped being fun, but it took me about a year of it being not fun before I realized...it wasn't me, it was the pot.

    My boyfriend smokes now and it smells great, but even the thought of taking a hit off his pipe sends my heart into a full gallop.

    LSD on the other hand? Haven't done it in years, but never had a bad experience with it.