I used to drink gin because it made my legs feel numb. That numb feeling is what I miss most about alcohol. But lately I’ve been feeling it without a drug at all.
Anxiety is a motherfucker. It’s mentally exhausting. After therapy and after crying and after explaining myself to myself and after explaining myself to my therapist and then after taking a breath, I am done. I am empty then. Too tired to feel anything else.
I want to be empty. I feel empty and numb but I want to be physically empty. I crave it. I want nothing to occupy my mind and I want to be reminded of nothing. If it were a state or place, I’d live there. This is my anxiety.
I feel too much worry, too much planning, too much retaliation, too much fear, and too much nervousness to feel.
What is it to be without feelings? I desire this frozen feeling but in reality I am the opposite: full of the things I want to escape: uneasiness, dread, revenge, and anger.
Feelings are stupid and I have to name them. Feelings are stupid and I have to wonder how they even got inside me in the first place. Feelings are worthless and meaningful. I cannot exist without them even if I tried. That’s where the gin came in. But gin and whiskey and beer and tequila all started to hurt me too much. It started to hurt those I loved too through the stupid portal that is my drunk mouth. With alcohol I am too loud, too opinionated, too numb to the world, and ready to tell it what I think.
Without alcohol I am better off. I don’t drink my money anymore, and I could drink it like water: loose change rattling down my open gullet for hours. Pitchers and pitchers of clear gold flowing through me, right down the porcelain pee hole.
Without alcohol I watch the world drink glass after glass of cool, smooth, golden, yellow, brown, luscious colors. I listen to promises made that I know will be broken, I listen to ideas that won’t leave the bar. I listen to people repeat themselves every few minutes and I know I was the same way.
Without alcohol I see myself in the drunk at the bar alone, or the drunk on the bus, the drunk waiting for the subway. I want to offer them a glass of water. I want to ask if they’re OK? I see myself in public splatters of vomit, wondering how far someone was from their own bed.
Without alcohol I am happier. I only miss it on summer afternoons when I see someone clutch a sweating glass, when I see an ad, when I see a delivery of kegs being unloaded. I want my sneakers to stick to the floor and I want to rest my feet on the poles under my seat, where they know my face and expect my order: a PBR, a Guinness, a whiskey sour, a gin and tonic, instead of a glass of water, a Coke. I wish I could drink for hours and read quietly. I wish I could swallow my rage and furies so they don’t, instead, overflow. But then I smell a PBR, a Guinness, a whiskey sour and my stomach curdles while my brain swells at the thought. I cannot fathom putting that sweating glass to my lips.
My anxiety is anger and my alcoholism was its rage.
Without alcohol I see myself differently: nothing is muted, and that sweet lovely dear emptiness alcohol filled me with, is gone. Now it’s just me in here.
I did not anticipate this numb feeling from within. I didn’t know I was capable of it, not that I’ve chosen to feel numb. Some days I cry a little bit sooner and some days when I’ve dried up, there’s simply nothing left inside.
I am arm’s length from a panic attack on the subway. I’m crying, my hand on the cold pole, my eyes full, swollen cheeks, and Nina Simone is in my headphones: “I wish I knew how/it would feel to be free.” This song is not about anxiety but it is soothing to cry into the pain of being trapped in your own body.
This feeling bounces back and forth in my heart like an endless game of pong.
I try to remind myself to breathe because anxiety is about breathing.
Lemon Jack makes me chatty. The leaves are sticky and the more they stick together the more they get stuck in the grinder. I need to poke them through the holes so they go down with the rest of them. So I can pour them out, load my bowl, and tip fire to it. Light, inhale, bubble, bubble, pull out the slider, and exhale. White smoke pours from my lips.
I do it again and again. Until I realize that I’m not the same. Until I realize that I’m slower or faster or lost in thought or not thinking at all.
I smoke and inhale and pick out the stems to grind bud up to pack and load, again.
This time Lemon Jack makes my head swirl, but not in circles. It does not make me nervous or anxious or worried about screwing up or getting in my own way.
Instead I look to the green to let me go. I don’t want to be myself. I want to escape and see my living room through a tint of haze, of gloom, so the music will play louder, so my mind will wander just enough to follow along with this plot.
I prefer the less sticky weed. Sometimes I leave the cap off so the bud will dry out a bit. When it’s so wet and so fresh, it burns differently. It’s harder to inhale, to take in the smog. The important thing is for green to never get too dry. Then it will crinkle in my hand like sand and will be lost to the carpet below.
The names of all the bud I buy—Pink Hawaiian, Pineapple Dream, Animal Cookie, Orange Skunk, Platinum Wreck, Lemon Wifi OG—are funny. I keep a list of them, dates bought, notes about the high, sativa or indica, munchy, chatty, or just a good stoney high? The letter grade next to each is a reminder of how much I loved the bud, but also it’s a reminder that grades don’t matter. They’re just labels.
Green is what matters. The green my hands are fumbling with and the green outside: can I look to it to soothe me? It tells me the time of year: how much green is there? Can I see the sky through it? Is there enough water? There is never enough water.
When the bud is ground, or torn apart with fingers, it comes in any shape and size. There are bigger chunks better to break down so they’ll heat faster, get into my lungs faster. And there’s the tiny bits that are barely dust. I can pick all of it up with my fingertips. I press them on the ground greens and moisture helps lead the bud to where I want it.
Once the jar is open the smell hits and there is nothing else.
Words to describe being stoned: chatty, productive, snacky, excellent, buzzy, mellow, headache, zoney, silly but in control. Like too many words to describe the sound of a guitar, of a drum machine, there are too many options to tell people how high, how stoned, how blasted, how ripped, how fucked up you are.
I crave the high to forget. I crave it as a reminder because nothing is real, because we must remember we are not in control. I want to remember I am in charge of my own decisions. I want to show my brain that I can make it do what I want: jumping jacks, calisthenics, stretching, sleeping, I can make it forget as soon as I can make it sharp.
It’s the sharp brain I want to forget. I want to wade through the muddy loops and pops of slushy funk music. I want bass and timbre to overtake me so it’s all I hear. I want pure volume and I want my head right next to the speaker.
I am derpy, I am forgetful, and it’s because I smoke weed daily. I smoke it when I want to turn my brain off, when I’m ready to stop being trapped inside myself, when I’m ready to come out as a different me.
Alcohol was a temporary mute button. Weed just lowers the volume.
I know what the news has to say about weed, about green things that make me feel good, that make me forget. But that news is likely written by people who would never admit publicly to smoking it. Do they smoke it at home once their deadlines are filed? Do they smoke it at parties?
It’s one thing to toke up at a party. It’s another to be blazed all day.
Do they smoke it knowing they won’t get caught? Are they a nice white lady like me who wouldn’t be bothered?
Is it because they don’t want us feeling good on our own time because then we will not need them? Is it because they are undereducated about the drug and they have no idea the power it has to help a human body heal, eat, process, feel less alone, feel a little better?
Weed will make you dizzy, cough, it will make you remember, it can make your head so full of one memory, one time, that you’ll remember the smallest of details.
When I hear “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley I can feel myself in the backseat of a friend’s car ten years ago. The music was so loud it rattled the windows around me. Shark was in the driver’s seat, his wood worker’s hands on the steering wheel, his blond hair wrestling with the wind. He zoomed between red taillights around the mountains, and the cool desert air of Los Angeles threaded the cracks of my teeth.
Even a stoner has memories.
Altered states are misrepresented. They are also misunderstood. I seek them out to find myself, and I always find something new. William Blake said, “The true method of knowledge is experiment.”
Are you there? Woah. What was that? Wait, I can see clearly now. The sky is moving, but I guess it’s always moving? We’re moving on this tiny glass marble Earth. I lay back and look up and see the blue and white swirling around each other, viewing myself from outer space.
In the park on our blanket my toes stretch out, relaxed and rested. The sun beats on my back, I take stock in all the other surrounding blanket-islands: a couple reads in the UV rays, a group of friends bullshit around some snacks, and several women and one younger man corral a toddler, her hair in spiked pigtails, her feet bouncing awkwardly. She hasn’t figured out how to use her knees yet.
It’s been a long cold city winter of constant wind grazing my cheeks, of bundled layers, of lingering snow that keeps coming back, first in March and then in April. But now its 75 degrees, yesterday it was 40 degrees, and today we have eaten some acid.
I put my hands in the air, waving my fingers and they ripple with a wake.
I lay back to look up because people watching became too intense. I sit up again, blood rushing back, because the sky might swallow me.
When I eat acid my mind wanders off, time slows down and speeds up, and everything becomes true. There is no ego. Ego is death.
I fall in love with the color green. I realize it’s so bright, so everywhere, making a network of sunlight through the patchy tree canapé. I cannot take my eyes off it.
I watch a couple take their wedding photos by a fountain, just after the sun went away, just as everyone was passing them. A white suit and a wedding dress accented with gold, they smile and pose and look unsure. Their flower girl follows directions.
I watch this black couple struggle to get a simple photo without anyone in the background. White women and their sons get in the way without realizing it. The look on the couple’s faces is familiar. “We’ve been here before,” it says. I think this is a symbol for white people constantly getting in the way of black people in America: all this couple wants to do is take a nice photo together on their wedding day and white people are ruining it because they do not pay attention to anyone but themselves.
This is disgusting, I think, and I am just as guilty as they are. Look at my color.
Acid is twist-tying my brain and I only see color: bulky blocks of thick greens, blues, reds, and patterns. The white of the wedding gown, its lace, its tool is bold against the grey coming over the sky, the grey of the stones she balances on. The flow of moving water behind them from the jet, edges ever so closely to their wedding day best.
The first time I ate acid and went to the park, I saw a wedding not far from a picnic house where there were public restrooms. I waited for my fellow psychonauts outside alone and saw the nuptials.
My first thought was I could scream and ruin their wedding, their perfect, stupid day. But I won’t.
Leave me alone when I’m on acid so this chemical can wrinkle my brain. I want to feel it in there, moving around connecting what otherwise is lost. I want to check out for ten or so hours. I want to reset myself.
When I eat acid, I reset.
I am always afraid to put a tab on my tongue. I’m scared I will not return as myself.
But I have never come back as myself. I keep coming back as a different woman. My ego died when the LSD shimmied through my brain, closing off certain receptors and making others more readily available to negate the idea of self and self-preservation. Nothing matters. I have no control over anything.
If it rains, I have no control. If it’s crowded, I have no control. If a child shows up reminding me that society sees me only as a vessel to create and take care of someone else, I have no control. If someone pulls out a gun, if something explodes, when something goes wrong, I will have no control.
Squeeze me like a tube of toothpaste so my insides come out. I want to stick my hands in its goo. I want to smear it on myself, across my cheeks, in my eyes, self on self.
The human body is disgusting. During hour three or four, everything is revolting. I pull out my tongue and rub my hands all over my face. My lips are dry and nothing is more disgusting than the thought of my human body. I cannot bear to be in mine. It makes me gag.
That’s how I know the trip is starting. I want to puke at the sight and thought of my own human existence.
I stare into piles and piles of garbage, the human waste of a Saturday in the park. I see myself, New York City, I see you, and I see how truly sickening the human experience is on this tiny filthy island. The next garbage pile twenty feet down the path is just another reminder. The cigarette butts, the pizza crusts, the empty bottles of wine poke my psyche, branding it with its flabby, extra scum and foam of reality.
The garbage touches my bubble. The outside world is tapping to remind me that human beings are filthy animals who only create waste.
When I live in a city on top of everyone, on top of the neighbors, on my lover, on your lover, on that French Bulldog, on those kids, on that restaurant’s eggshells and vegetable stalks and orange rinds and banana peels and all the plastic and cans. As I live in a city and eat acid and look around, I see the universe as if I am back on my blanket, an island on the grass, looking up at another one, too big to exist.
I am small and meaningless. I only create waste.
Eat acid and stare into 30,000 Years of Art while Wish You Were Hereplays on the living room stereo and, you too, will see: art is power. ART IS POWER my notes read. Color is how I feel, sound is what I see. I knew this could happen but to inhale and exhale in this reality is where I love to be.
I eat acid and take notes. In this fever state I document my thoughts about the thoughts I have about making notes instead of living. I worry about not existing in the moment so I write that down too. I scribble away about nothing about nonsense, mapping out the circles in my brain with too many conjunctions, but never any adverbs.
Psychedelia is: tripping on a cloud and falling eight miles high, and tearing my mind on a jagged sky, it’s pushing my soul in a deep dark hole and following it in.
Turns out dropping in to see what condition my condition is in is all I need. To suck in texture and timbre and let it take me over until I am only red or purple or yellow, until all I am is moist, crisp, and eerie.
I wash my hands in the bathroom sink and look down. My fingers curve around each other covered in suds, my arms stretching further, extending. I am a cartoon.
Eating acid and seeing the other side of my consciousness: it’s dark. I am terrified. Where will it lead?
Eating acid and seeing the other side of my consciousness and laughing: I see the other side of myself. The darkness is in me. Its face is my face, my anxiety, my self-sabotage. It was always in me.
Sarah Paolantonio holds an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She contributes music reviews to the independent site Albumism. Every other Tuesday from 4-6p EST Sarah hosts Theme Time Radio on KPISS.fm. This is her second essay for Entropy. She’s always #amwriting on Twitter @sarahpaol and lives in Brooklyn, NY.