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May 2019
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2013-11 Alternative Highs

James column for the Sligo Weekender

As I weaved my way through the corridors, ashen-faced zombified creatures attired in shell-suits brushed by me, their glazed eyes dead to the world. I was in St James Hospital for my annual flu jab, but had quite forgotten how grave the drugs problem is in our nations capital. I didnt feel threatened or scared, as I felt confident that any of these drugged-up individuals wouldve been floored by the slightest gust of wind, or a feeble flick of the finger.

Ive never really understood drug addiction. My faith is such that I believe we have not existed for millions of years, if were lucky we may be around for up to a century or so, and then probably cease to exist for millions more years, so why the hell waste time being somewhere other than the here and now for our (possibly) brief stay on earth?

As I observed these devoted druggies float by, I felt sad that their lives are so miserable that they want to escape so desperately, or even die. As they add marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs, or whatever, to their systems, in an attempt to escape whatever living hell they think theyre in, searching for that high to raise them to a new Utopian plane  somewhere better  but as we well know, its not better. Its a little like the world never learning from the past and realising the futility of war  the consequences of addiction end up being way worse than the original problem. We all know the dangers of drugs, and yet as people alter their lives, relieve boredom, experiment, rebel, or respond to peer pressure, it quickly dawns on them that drugs are not the solution, but become the real problem and an inescapable hell. Whether its stimulants or sedatives, as the drug of choice begins to act on the limbic system, bodily actions are altered, memory blurs, acadamic results suffer, health is undermined, lives are destroyed, and desperation can lead to theft and worse, in order to fund the habit. The negative, yet descriptive terms of pothead and cokehead say it all.

During my time at UCD, aged 17, at one of the many all-night Dramsoc parties, as a joint was passed around I did feel pressured to partake. I sucked, inhaled, spluttered, floated, but didnt enjoy losing control of my senses and chose not to do it again, for a few years at least. In Amsterdam, the hash-cake capital of the world, I was somehow convinced to briefly travel the drug-route one last time. As the effects of the magic muffin / brownie kicked in, I began to laugh hysterically at the most ridiculous of things. At the end of the night when I stood, I wobbled, floated, and laughed uncontrollably. However, back in my hotel room, alone, on lying down the joke was no longer funny, as my room locked into a high-speed spin of psychedelic purples, oranges and greens, my stomach cramped, my toes twitched involuntarily. My second and last experimentation with drugs. Never again! I hold my hands high and admit my stupidity, but I now know I will never be convinced to try it again.

Joan Armatrading, in a recent interview, put it very well by explaining that she never experimented because she was simply never attracted to the notion of sucking toxins and burning weed (or whatever) into her system. Why would you do such a stupid thing?

I am fortunate to have my own daily high of music. Perhaps, therein lies the solution. As well as providing information and skills to rid the world of drug misuse, maybe the urgent message we need to get out there is to search for alternative highs, highs which wont harm you or those around you. In a similar way to chocolate (though way more serious), the high from drugs is short-lived, unless you partake 24/7. If your life is so miserable, perhaps you can escape through music, literature, nature, animals, friendship, laughter, cookery, food, faith, religion, exercise, sport, travel, to name but a small selection.

When I sang with Scottish Opera, my landlady worked with troubled kids from difficult backgrounds. She told me of one little boy, born months premature down a toilet, rescued from the U-bend. His permanently stoned mother hadnt realised she was pregnant, went to the the loo, and screamed when she realised what was happening.

The Irish drugs scene is as bad as ever and urgently needs serious addressing. Perhaps focusing on alternative highs might be a good starting point.