16 January 2009

Half My Friends Are Drug-Crazed Idiots

But none of them, at least as far as I know, has pulled a move quite so boneheaded as BOY GEORGE, who's now been sent to prison for 15 months for himself imprisoning and attempting to torture a Norwegian rent boy.

None of us likes to make light (what am I saying? of course we do!) of someone else's troubles, especially when they're almost certainly a result of drug or alcohol abuse (Boy George's own lawyer, pleading to the court for mercy, likened his behavior to that of a "drug-crazed idiot"). If we've had our own substance abuse problems - as yours truly most certainly has - our reaction is likely to be twofold: on one hand, we're tempted to get up on our high horses and make snide comments, on the other, we're overcome with a mixture of relief and gratitude that somehow we managed to dodge that particular bullet.

So I never took anyone hostage - at least not physically - nor did I, as did George in a previous adventure, call the New York City police to my apartment and complain that someone had been stealing my cocaine, though there was that time I called the Ann Arbor police after being up all night on acid because some kid was skulking around the neighborhood checking doors - including my own - to see if they were locked. Because of being on acid, of course, I had to weigh the morality of cooperating with The Man in helping them arrest an oppressed member of the underclass, which took at least half an hour or what seemed like it - you know how time gets away from you when you add a couple thousand micrograms to an existential dilemma - and when I finally made my choice and the cops showed up, the perp was of course long gone and I, suddenly aware of my precarious situation (not only were my pupils the size of dinner plates, but there was dope of all kinds lying in plain sight around the apartment), could only stammer a description that consisted of "He was black, wearing a black shirt, black pants, all black" to which the cop responded sardonically, "So you saw a black guy dressed all in black? Okay, we'll keep an eye out for him, and maybe you ought to think about getting some rest" (it was dawn, and the morning light was not, I suspected, being kind to me).

But the paranoia induced by acid is a minor detail compared with the mind-bending delusions cocaine has to offer. It starts out pleasantly enough, in most cases, convincing you that you are the smartest, sexiest, most fascinating and most vital person in the room if not on the planet. If you've ever seen a couple cokeheads deep in "conversation" (generally consisting of an interminable recitation of banalities presented with the assumption that this is information you and the world have been waiting for all your lives), you might get a feel for the sort of person cocaine most appeals to: those with low self-esteem, the insecure and shy, whose egos, with a bit of chemical goosing, can suddenly run rampant and (especially if you're sharing your cocaine) unchallenged.

Sadly, it doesn't stay the way. The social butterfly effect soon retreats back into its cocoon. The bold self-assurance initially offered by cocaine shifts into a level of paranoia and self-consciousness that makes the thought of interacting with other people almost unbearable (especially if there's a chance they might ask you to share your drugs with them). "When I first discovered cocaine," one addict said, "it made me want to have sex with everyone in the world. But where it left me was locked alone in my room not even able to masturbate."

Quite apart from the social/antisocial aspects, the drug wreaks utter havoc on one's judgment, and this, I suspect, is what went wrong for the no longer quite so boyish Mr. George. It probably seemed perfectly reasonable for him to ask the cops to help him find the villain who'd been stealing his cocaine, and equally reasonable to handcuff someone to the wall and subsequently chase him down the street wielding a bicycle chain. Luckily these were not the sort of activities that appealed to me during my cocaine years - I wasn't even that social - but the many ludicrous risks I did take - sniffing cocaine with one hand, holding a joint with the other, a bottle of red wine between my legs and steering with my knees as I sped across the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of the afternoon being one example - didn't seem risky at all to me. In fact, if a cop had pulled me over in that particular circumstance, I probably would have greeted him as a buddy, a fellow man of the world who of course would understand that those silly drug and alcohol laws didn't apply to someone like ME. I would wish him well in his criminal-catching exploits and he'd say "Thank you, sir, have a good day and drive carefully!"

Against all odds I never got arrested or endured consequences more major than wasting all my money and most of my brain cells for about ten years. When I was almost totally broke and my life in pretty much total ruin, some vestige of common sense finally kicked in. I stopped using cocaine cold turkey, and have never touched it - and rarely even seen it - again. That was 24 years ago, and the drug still scares the shit out of me. Not because I think I'll start using it again - I'm pretty sure I won't - but because I know with terrifying clarity exactly what would happen to me if I did.

Maybe not the precise details, but in relatively short order, it would turn me into a babbling idiot, bankrupt me, destroy all my relationships, and kill me. That's the basic progression for anyone gets seriously involved with the drug. Not all at once, at least not for everybody; some people will go for years using it occasionally and show few visible ill effects. That's how my first five years or so were; then a bad relationship breakup combined with a sudden increase in discretionary income sent me over the edge, and it's not the sort of edge you get to come back from. Once you've reached that point, you either stop or - not to be too melodramatic or anything - die.

So as sad as it is to see a once fabulously successful rock star reducing to a convict trying to beg or borrow a few thousand quid to pay his fine and court costs, going to prison may end up being the best thing ever to happen to Boy George. He'll get some breathing space, some time to experience what life can be like with a mind and body not operating at perpetual warp speed - or just plain warped. Most prisons these days offer 12-step programs and other counseling to help inmates overcome their substance abuse problems; enlightened criminologists are well aware that if it weren't for drugs and alcohol, about 75% of those inmates wouldn't be there.

So Boy George gets a chance, and here's wishing him well and hoping he takes it. It might be hard for him to believe right now, but if he does, his life is going to get a whole lot better. Or he could keep on doing what he's been doing, and it will almost certainly get worse. It won't be pretty.

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