For the first time I saw the effects of drugs on people I knew. I have experienced the effects of drinking too much alcohol on a night out, but I never saw how it affected others and how others would have seen me. I describe what I saw in detail, noting on how my flatmates changed in appearance from what they typically looked like. I describe how they lurched forward, as if their bodies were covered in slime that kept sticking to the floor with each step. I think about the extent of the damage inside their bodies, because their physical appearance looked ragged and consumed, that no amount of make-up could hide their pale faces and shrivelled skin.
I often reflected on my decisions of the ‘night before’ as I endured the consequences binge drinking the following day. Some mornings I could find that I have been sick on the floor, or my clothes were stained with urine. I remember one time I had returned from Vinny’s birthday party where we had almost a full day of drinking. We started out drinking a few beer bottles in town, before embarking on a private tram to take us around the city. On board, there was more alcohol to be consumed in cases, while some salmon sandwiches were passed around. At some point, when already intoxicated, the tram operator gave the reigns to Vinny, who operated the tram for about 20 minutes. Tram driving under the influence, that was a first I thought as we all held tight not knowing what would happen. After the tram, we ended up at a pub in the city, where we enjoyed more drinks until after midnight. That night, I remember trying to pee on the street, but almost being caught, which resulted in wetting my favourite trousers. I took a cab later, and about 10 minutes from my flat asked the driver to stop so I could throw up. He seemed to be cool about it, probably happened often. The morning after, I noticed that some of the sick from the manoeuvre in the cab had stained the inner arm of my also favourite jacket, which I washed myself out of embarrassment. I don’t remember if this was the night my mother had to help me up the stairs to the flat, since we lived on the top floor, and I found it extremely difficult to walk. I remember laughing uncontrollably, probably at the fact that I couldn’t climb up steps, though my amusement was not met with much in return.
I suppose I never really thought about my physical effects from another perspective, but rather only of my own. Seldom did I ever see my reflection whilst doing actions, but there was one occasion when Percy had filmed me trying to beat up a poster of an Italian chef-like character outside of a restaurant on the night of Vinny’s birthday. Percy was a nice guy, while nothing stopped him from filming me in such a ridiculous situation, he encouraged me to say no to peer pressure, as some random guys egged me on to attack the poster of what I found to be an annoying stereotypical caricature. I asked to see the video later in school the following week, and I was utterly disgusted by my behaviour and unnatural movements as I swayed side to side as if my legs were made out of spaghetti cooked by that Italian chef who I felt mocked me. I remember my legs looked even more stringy as I wore my grey skinny jeans. I asked Percy if he could delete the video as I feared that it could leak to the school or even worse, to the internet. I think Percy deleted it, but after so many years I would be fine with seeing it again as a reminder of the effects of drinking. Over the years, I never recorded another event like that, apart from a few photographs taking snapshots of a night out drinking. I do not show my behaviour in these pictures, but I remember the context and how I was behaving, up to what I remember.
More often did I see the effects of alcohol on other people, which made me repulsed of the idea of drinking. However, appearance and effect are not entirely important while doing the action of drinking. I think part of the aspect of drinking is to detach yourself from reality and appearance, and focus more on raw personality and behaviour, although one probably has less control of it once intoxicated. Throughout this book I have mainly reflected on my friends’ appearance before and after taking drugs, but I had never until university seen the devastating effects of drinking alcohol. I lived with two other women in university halls, and they didn’t party hard, maybe a few nights out every week, but didn’t really come back to our flat intoxicated. One night remains in my memory as the worst I had ever seen them, as they strolled into the kitchen late in the afternoon after their night out. I was not close friends with them and hardly ever socialised outside the flat, but even I could see that her behaviour had changed. I was already acquainted to behavioural changes after drug usage, as I often saw my friends’ attitude change, but none as much as Will, who got confrontation almost on every situation as well as mildly, light humoured. The physical signs were much evident such as dilated pupils, blood shot eyes, and increased sweating.
I knew other people in the block of flats who smoked weed more openly and on a daily basis. The same people would decant volumes of vodka into empty water bottles before heading into the city on Friday nights, in a bid to prevent police stopping them for carrying a bottle alcohol. I adopted a similar strategy later on as I chose to mix orange juice with vodka, a combination that we had grown to like while on the trip with my high school friends. Not sure how we decided or were able to convince others that Vinny and I were professional mixologists, because the combination of vodka and orange juice does not taste as great when sober. Regardless of this, later during university, this combination became my signature drink. Unfortunately, one time my friend Eleanor had mistakenly taken my drink in an attempt to sober up by drinking a non-alcoholic drink, only to get more intoxicated. That night, we met in a friend’s house and I had brought Marley’s friend, Nathan, to the party. He was a reserved individual when sober but had a tendency to drink more than he could handle. On the way to the club later that night, I asked the cab driver to stop so I could refreshen him outside with fresh air, after concerns that he might get sick in the cab. As I stepped out to look after him, I bet someone in the cab told the driver to keep driving, something that I will never forget that counts to me as equal as betrayal. I didn’t know where I was and Nathan, which whom I had gotten close to, was visibly ill. I noticed a few people walking towards our direction, so I told Nathan to sit on the ground near a tree and to remain calm so I can ask for help from the people passing. As I approached the students, I imagine, several of the girls avoided making contact with me, probably thinking I was a scammer or a thief. It wasn’t much a surprise to get this reaction as the area was creepily empty people and dark with hardly any street lighting. Although I was disappointed and scared myself to have approach random people, I defiantly went back to Nathan with a plan to reach the nearest populated area. Moments later a few guys from the large group I had tried to talk to approached us, as they noticed that I was caring for a friend who was laying down on the ground motionless. The group of guys apologised for their friends’ reaction as they said the area was not generally safe and they were just being careful.
“So, where exactly are we?” I asked as the guy gave me a confused look. “We were just left here,” I explained, “the cab we were on sped away after we got out to get some fresh air, and I have no idea where we are.”
“This is Hackney” he said.
Great, I thought, one of the most dangerous parts of East London, a great place to be in while tipsy with a friend who could hardly move.
“Nathan,” I said determinately at my friend as I shook him into attention, “we’re in the shit now, this is Hackney. If someone jumps us, I need to know you’ve got my back.”
I made sure to look at him straight into his eyes and receive an answer in return, which I took as yes, he did have my back. We managed to reach a crowded place with pubs and some people on the street, but it still didn’t seem safe. Nathan recognised a bus number and said he would get on it, as I made sure that he would be okay. After sorting him out, I thought that I needed to get back to the club that Eleanor and her friends planned to go, although only remembering that it was in Islington. I managed to convince waiters at a closed pub to let me in so I could make a call to a cab company, as I still had no idea where I was. Having been kicked out moments later, as they said I couldn’t wait in the pub, the taxi came and we went to Islington in an attempt to find my lost friend Eleanor, who I had promised to look after the entire night, as she was a mild drinker and hardly went out clubbing. I told the cab driver to drop me off near the busiest club in the area to have the greatest chance of finding them, working off the idea that they were trendy people. As I approached an open courtyard a few yards from the entrance of the club, I saw a random orange juice carton next to a bin. I walked closer to inspect it and noticed that it was less than half full and smelling of alcohol. Literally, seconds later like a scene from a movie, I saw Eleanor stumble out of the club as she seemed disorientated and confused. I carefully approached her as she seemed unaware of what was happening, making sure that she recognised me. She appeared to, but I was careful to gain her trust before making any sudden decisions.
We sat next to the carton of orange juice as I had explained how I became separated from the group and rejoiced at finding her rather easily without having an idea where she was. I asked her what happened, and she said that after they left me behind, she took my orange juice from the cab and started drinking it to have something other than wine she had brought. I had left the carton in the cab because I planned on getting back on, I explained, and I apologised as I told her that the contents were almost an entire bottle of vodka. As we sat and talked, some dudes walked over to the club, noticing the carton of orange juice standing near the bin and kicked it. Some of the contents spilt all over Eleanor and myself, as I looked over to what had happened. The dude that kicked it said he was sorry, but I hardly minded, as I was so happy see that Eleanor was safe. We ordered another cab, and just before it came, I threw up in a plant pot as my adrenaline levels dropped.
A few girls walking by asked if I was okay, to which I said “Yes, it’s only stress.” I don’t think they believed me as they laughed and walked away.
I feared that Eleanor didn’t recognise me and kept reassuring her it was me, a known friend, while in the cab, as I noticed that she was holding her purse tightly. I also didn’t want the cab driver to think anything suspicious was going on, as I led a visibly drunk girl to the back of the car with the pretext of ‘taking her home’. That night I had cared for two people as they got seriously ill from drinking. With Eleanor I saw the effects of alcohol the next day as she woke up pale and still confused. I was still weak and didn’t get much sleep on her sofa, but I still felt responsible for her wellbeing, as I partly blamed myself. While we laughed at the idea and coincidence of the orange juice carton being the key object during the night, we agreed to never let that happen again. While still weakened I went over to the shop to buy two bottles of Coke and green grapes, my hangover cure in those days. I told Eleanor to drink the Coke and get the sugar in her system solely. She thanked me later that day.
In retrospect, caring for my drunk friends and seeing them under the influence was not comparable to seeing two flatmates return after a night of heavy drinking. The compassion effect is not there for the flatmates, as I noticed that I thought more objectively when caring for my own friends. While I was displeased to see the state they were in, I felt it was important to not let emotion play a role in making sure they are well cared for. I did help one of my flatmates into her bed as she returned to the flat and couldn’t make decisions by herself. In fact, it wasn’t the first time that I had helped a girl I knew get into bed, obviously with myself not included in that bed. When I worked in a Summer school in 2011, a girl from Ethiopia had gotten drunk as her alcohol tolerance was inexistent. Knowing that rest was important, especially for someone who was not accustomed to drinking, I led her away from the pub and walked over to her room. She was distraught as she hardly knew of the effects that she was experiencing, so I stayed with her for a few minutes until I was satisfied that she would sleep and rest. After that, I left her room as another workmate turned up making sure that everything was alright.
There was only one time I helped my drunk flatmate and it had gone exactly as I had helped my co-worker a few years before. I suppose their safety was my primary concern, rather than if they were going to feel well, as I must say was of equal importance when looking after my friends. The following morning, as I took a closer inspection of the flat, I noticed shoes and garments thrown all over the corridors. The kitchen was in a worse state, with empty bottles on the floor and on the tables. Burnt cigarettes were in the sink and the fire alarm was deactivated, a trick we learnt from our smoker friends in the flat on the top floor. No surprise that my flatmates did not wake up at the time I did. In fact, I was able to go to bed around the time that they woke up. I do not know if they could see themselves, but it was not pretty. I do not think they even cared about how they appeared to the rest of us. They came into the kitchen, pale as if they had their blood drained. Their faces were emotionless from a night of dehydration. They had always been well-dressed and keen on how their appeared, but I don’t think they gave that much of a thought that day. Their bodies seemed like corpses that had awoken from their burial. They walked, hunched over, unable to bring themselves to stand erect. Their bodies, which had been consumed by the alcohol, and after having worked so hard to detoxify themselves, had now become their burden. Their hands and legs argued with their movements, as if they had just learnt how to balance. I do not know what they were feeling, but I could see that they were not having fun anymore.
My flatmates forced themselves to eat, but I could hardly imagine their exhausted stomach had sufficient energy to breakdown any added foods. After all I assume that all night it had been damaged by the high concentration of alcohol that was ingested, probably beyond their control. Alcohol molecules that had been absorbed by the stomach, diffused into a nearby blood capillary, and transferred to liver tissue, where it was being broken down by enzymes. One could only imagine the damage that is made to the stomach lining after the consumption of alcohol. By the end of the night the mouth, the oesophagus, and the stomach would have been the organs are directly affected by the alcohol. Their physique, inability to process information or remember something that happened that night or mere dehydration of body cells are some of the effects that come later, but likely to the surprise of the individual, as they fail to understand why such effect happens and how damaging it can be in the long term. Despite of everything, my flatmates made it through the night and went to sleep after the two hours or so that they were awake for. They continue to live and continue to party, nothing stopping them. If they think they are having fun by drinking, then I do not have the right to judge them.
I was discussing with one of my good friends and we were discussing the purpose of drinking. We concluded that the British dogma of drinking was to sit in the pub and drink a pint. It is sociable and bond, where the purpose is not to get drunk, but to be in a close gathering with friends and pass the time over a few pints of beer. The pub in England is important to the community. Ideas are spread and people are close so they can communicate. The idea is not to drink and get wasted nor is it to drink to have fun. Fun is not achieved by quantities drank. Once in the pub, those who do not drink can drink any other beverage, and may too have fun, because they are still socialising with their friends. I found that my conversations with Shaemus and John at pubs quickly evolved from day-to-day personal topics, to problems with society, economy, and ultimately existence. Alcohol in these cases only accentuated each other’s argument, and somehow, we found understanding and common ground by speaking beyond our own understanding—the ‘drunk talk’. Drinking large volumes in this case is not something that is sought, but an outcome of having an in-depth conversation that amplifies the need to consume more. Now, one in such situations must decide what their drinking limit is. Once that limit is achieved, that is when it is highly advisable to stop.
I never really thought about the next day when drinking alcohol as much as I thought about the previous day during the hungover. Of course, it is easy to see the effect of a decision once that decision is made, with very little comfort that it can be changed after it has happened. Our only chance is to prevent it from happening again. ‘I’ll never drink again’ has been a common phrase in my teenager years. Rarely did I keep my promise as I found myself having terrible hangover days many times during university. Perhaps I am no better than my friends that know about the effects of drug-use, and still choose to take drugs. Perhaps, by thinking that I might have a terrible day afterwards is enough as a justification to drink beyond my limit. The problem for me is that despite not drinking to enjoy the effect, I enjoyed the effect once I started drinking. I felt alcohol relaxed me, that it made me more sociable and more fun to be around. I was less afraid of consequences and actions, and felt I had the power to show my potential in creativity, quirkiness, passion, uniqueness and cheekiness. I felt I had more power by being less in control, as I am the type of person to overthink every situation. I still wonder if great nights are justified at the expense of terrible days afterwards. I didn’t like wasting days feeling ill and unable to eat, until I thought that that was enough to demotivate me from doing it again. But it seemed like nights drinking kept getting worse and worse. Over the summer of 2013, while working at the Summer school again, I drank more regularly and often in very large amounts as I wanted to keep up with my co-workers, who were more routine drinkers. There were nights when I was physically ill or was even sick on my line manager, to other days when I woke up and broke my glasses as I had placed them on the floor beside my bed. Unable to eat or be continually nauseous were enough punishments to me, but not harsh enough to make me avoid such a lifestyle. Later on, when health was a priority and drinking would mean I could fall ill more easily, did I make the decision to not drink excessively. As my health deteriorated even more, I eventually stopped drinking all together, with an occasional bit of tequila once or twice a year. It’s a terrible hit for my cultural drinking as well. As a fan of drinking vintage Champaign and casualness of paying £500 for a bottle of Dom Perignon, I felt that it was my entire lifestyle would change. Every year on the anniversary of completing my IB exams, I would buy a bottle of Champaign, which I would drink on my own. On May 18, 2010, I finished my last exam in Biology, and went into town with other classmates. Leslie came along because he had become integrated with the group by then and he was still a good person, despite having very selective likes and habits. We bought a €40 bottle of Champaign and smoked a celebratory cigarette, which started the tradition of buy a bottle and smoking a cigarette every year after that.
I want to make it clear that I do not want to appear as if I am judging my flatmates from London or those from Germany. I too have awoken in similar state as them, but never realised how my condition appeared to others because I never saw myself. I’ve had friends that have judged others for smoking weed, though they themselves ended up joining in. Roy, Vinny’s closest friend, would hesitate smoking because he was afraid of the side-effects of smoking, rather than the effects of the active chemical in weed. Once he found out about vaporised weed, he quickly took part in the drug culture, even justifying weed because of its class as the most natural drug. What separates me from people like Roy is that I would never judge anyone taking drugs, but rather question their decisions. My decision to not take drugs is as personal as it is objective, as I rationalise the effects that I know of and how unknown several of the other outcomes may be. I hold little prejudice for drug-use or the marketing of drugs, as economically it is the same as any other item that is demanded by a growing market. The violence and corruption that arises from the drug trade is merely what happens as governments fight each other for their views on drug usage and legality, at the expense of the millions of dollars lost in untaxable goods. The same corruption is applicable to other highly sought products, albeit with less visible violence and effect on consumers. In many contexts, selling drugs gives individuals an easy way into financial profit, only to be measured by their diligence and manipulation to be part of the global drug trade. Like many whose lives are dominated by leaders of the drug trade, their financial gain is nothing of what drug kingpins are making. A-not-so-secret mini-economy that possibly has no chance of ever stopping. But it is not about drugs or selling of drugs that is at the root of the problem. The problem is the human desire to control and dominate and meet demands of those who are willing to pay any price. The product is irrelevant, but the way that product is manufactured and brought into the market is key to this argument. That is why I cannot have an opinion about the drug market or think of it as something that alone is wrecking underdeveloped countries. Our attention is not aimed correctly at who really is to blame. I am convinced that none of my friends know about the origins of drugs and the bloodshed behind every gram of marijuana or cocaine they buy and use. The problem is that we may not know either about our unethically grown coffee grounds or the source of the cocoa for our chocolate bars and how much impact is made on domestic trade under the umbrella of international free trade. The fact is that as consumers we have little understanding of how items are brought into market, and the least that we should all do is try to seek some of that understanding. My international friends, many of which are sons and daughters of the world’s elite, might fight for human rights and inspire for world diplomacy and peace, unaware that the drugs they take have been tainted by blood and death.