My girlfriend left town, enrolled in an all-girl boarding school in the middle of nowhere in central Pennsylvania. It was safe to say that I wouldn’t be able to keep in regular contact with her throughout the end of winter and spring of 1999 in Hudson, Ohio (in between Akron and Cleveland). The months leading up to her departure in late February were filled with an over-abundance of drugs. We had been taking ecstasy every weekend, sneaking out and going to all night rave parties in the city in the middle of the night, smoking dope all day, every day, continuing daily to be fueled by Adderall– prescription speed that Jaime’s parents had prescribed her to for her supposed ADHD. When they were available, we’d take mushrooms, or do LSD, and we did a fair share of weird designer drugs like Nexus (2CBs- a designer hallucinogen) and Special-K (horse tranquilizer).
God and conscience had been the furthest thing from our minds, as the powerful experience of the drug ecstasy rolled us into an inter-twined love affair of blindly idealistic proportions. This drug, technically named MDMA, brought one to an emotionally open state of mind, and a willingness to love and share deep emotions. There was no moral compass to guide this love. It was a blind love, a feeling, a moment. It has been said that ecstasy is used in psychotherapy to repair broken marriages. Any drug that would release all of the serotonin in one’s brain at once could potentially lead an individual to fall in love with a chair or a rainbow. Jaime and I were certainly good friends and attracted to each other. Ecstasy made us feel like we were Romeo and Juliet with the whole world crumbling around us. I would literally sneak out in the middle of the night and come to her house. She had a balcony at outside of her bedroom at her parents’ beautiful, large home. She would tie together bed-sheets and throw them out of the balcony. I would climb up, we would take whatever drugs we had, and the night would go wherever we felt like. It was an intense physical, emotional, drug-fueled relationship. She was a sophomore and I was a senior in High School.
Ecstasy had side effects, also. I would try to sleep after a night of being high on it, and would have nightmares where my teeth would be grinding together, and I would be weeping and witnessing an illusory world of phantoms and angry minions cackling at me. I would literally feel at times that I was grinding my teeth to the point where there were cracking and breaking in excruciating pain. It wasn’t until 2 years later that I would read of the end of time and hear that “the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:41-42) Much like my many horrific experiences on LSD, continued use of harder drugs plunged me into an experience of hell. A few times, I woke up in the middle of the night after doing X, and my eyes were open, but I could not move my body. I would begin to freak out, thinking that I was in a coma and would never awake again. I would look around at the room and it would be hazy, though behind would lurk dark shadows that formed the faces of demons staring at me. By some weird force of divinely inspired will, I would shake myself awake, as it would be drenched in sweat and fear. I remember the sound in my ears resembling the feeling of sand being poured in my brain. It was what I imagined an aneurism would feel like. Many people talk of the euphoric and idealistic world that ecstasy creates. Not many people talk of the after effects of this extreme drug.
Whatever idealism existed was now over for Jaime and I. She was in Pennsylvania, given a new chance to pull her failing grades up and life together. I was stuck, strung-out and lovesick, in Hudson, Ohio. I had one semester of High School left. I had scored nothing but F’s and one D for the first two quarters of my senior year of High School. I was in the third quarter, and had nothing but F’s for grades. In some classes, I had done so little homework and miserably failed so many quizzes and tests, that I had percentages of 20 and 15 and 38. Mrs. Romito, our Assistant Principal, called me into her office…
“You’re on the ‘hot list’ Ben.” She said into my beet-red, tired eyes.
“What’s the ‘hot list’?” I apathetically replied.
“It’s a list with about seven people out of the three-hundred and eighty in the senior class who are in danger of failing twelfth grade. Ben, if you don’t pull your grades up to at least D’s and C’s, you will not graduate High School this year. You’ll be held back…”
I sulked in despair and despondency.
“But Ben…” Mrs. Romito continued. “I know that you are a bright kid. Your record shows that you were once even in gifted programs in school. Now what you’re doing in your personal life is not your business, but I really believe that if you pull it together, you can make it to graduation this year.”
Mrs. Romito offered me what many during this dark period of life would not have offered- hope. I also remember being at home and talking with my Mom and Dad about this situation. Obviously, Mrs. Romito contacted them about it.
“Look man.” My Dad, Gary White, the once hipped-out, tripped-out 70’s musician turned successful businessman said. “I know that you are so bright and gifted Ben! I know you have done amazing things before! I don’t see why you can’t do the impossible now! Pull your grades up buddy!”
My Mom supported completely this idea. “Yeah Ben! I know you can do it!” She would say. “You’re such a smart guy! You don’t want to be left behind and watch all of your classmates graduate without you!”
My parents also believed in me when I felt the least worthy. So I resolved to do the seemingly impossible, and in 3 months time, I would attempt to pull 15%-40% F’s up to 70%-77% D’s and C’s.
Jaime was gone from my life for the time being. I was filled with sorrow and withdrawal from our Candy Cane world of ecstasy fueled love the months before. But without her, there wasn’t any point in continuing the wild party. We would converse on the phone about our dilemma.
“Jaime, we have to get out of this crap-hole we have created.” I said
“Yeah Ben, I know. I’m totally going to get good grades while I’m here.” She answered back from her rural Pennsylvanian, all-girl dorm.
“I will too Jaime. We can help each other through this. We’ve just got to stop getting high. Will you stop if I stop?”
“Yes Ben. I love you.”
“I love you too…”
Was it real love that we felt? No… It was infatuation that began with a heavy drug experience. But we were leaning on each other more than ever. We both had a chance to pull it together.
But I was still a drug addict. By this point, I was smoking marijuana all day, every day, and doing hard drugs whenever I could. I decided that I would just change my addiction to drugs that would make me function at a higher rate and not slow my brain down. I didn’t want to tell Jaime, but I connected with other kids that were prescribed Adderall, a lighter form of meth-amphetamine. I began to steadily supply myself with Adderall pills. I resolved to not smoke pot, drink, or take hard drugs like psychedelics or Ecstasy. I would, however, take stimulants.
This is how a day at school looked for me when this shift in habit began.
6 a.m.- wake up in a groggy haze, have a bowl of cereal or toast and then a cigarette or two.
6:30 a.m.- Brew an entire 12-cup pot of double-strength coffee. Drink half of it at home- dark and black.
6:45 a.m.- Fill up a 6-cup thermos with the other half of the pot of coffee, say goodbye to parents. Get in my 1988 Buick LeSabre and head to school. Down an orange, 20 mg. pill of Adderall with a swig of coffee. Smoke 3 more cigarettes.
7:00 a.m.- Arrive at school. Talk to no one. Study or read for 30 minutes before homeroom. Let Adderall, nicotine and coffee begin to speed me up into a frenzy.
7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.- Go about my day of school in an over-stimulated, over-talkative fit of madness. Smoke a cigarette in the bathroom in-between every period. Participate in class and turn in homework at a more consistent rate than ever.
12:30 p.m.- Skip lunch, snort 20 mg. of a crushed up, orange Adderall pill. Begin speeding. Depending on sleep and food intake, potentially begin to hallucinate or get delusional.
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.- Finish day of school, speeding out of my mind and making all sorts of new friends. Some scared of me, some finding me amusing.
3:30 p.m.- Drive home, finish the last of the pack of cigarettes that I had started that day, and open another.
4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.- Arrive home, Brew more coffee. Snort or eat 20 more mg. of Adderall. Smoke more cigarettes. Begin to do homework.
9:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m.- Snort or eat 20 more mg. of Adderall. Do more homework, reading and studying. Talk to Jaime at some point on the phone- telling her that I was staying clean, and hearing the same from her. Do more homework. Record music. Write poetry. Go outside and smoke. Play music. Do homework. Talk out loud to myself while smoking outside in the dark. Stare at the carpet on my floor and see demons writhing and gnawing at each other’s flesh. Try to sleep. No success. Force myself to eat a couple of pretzels- they taste dry and disgusting. Do more homework. Smoke. Play music. Think about Jaime. Try to sleep. Cook a can of vegetable soup and force myself to eat it. Speed wears off. Crash into a deep oblivion.
6 a.m.- Wake up and do the same thing, with potential variances but consistent stimulant intake, again.
I was drinking 2 pots of coffee, smoking 2 packs of cigarettes, and taking between 60 and 100 milligrams of Adderall a day. I was a speeding frenzy. I would barely eat one and a half meals a day. I was six-feet, zero inches tall, and weighed 160 lbs. After doing this amount of speed for 3 months, I weighed 133 lbs. My ribs would show through a t-shirt. I had long hair pulled behind my ears and deep blue, skeleton-esque circles under my eyes. Yet through all of this, there would be nights when I would literally do between 3 and 10 days of homework for all 7 of my classes in one night. I had no study halls in school, because all my periods had to be full for me to even consider passing twelfth grade. I was running myself ragged and crazy, with speed, caffeine and nicotine fueling me all the way.
During this time, I may have slipped up and smoked weed a couple of times. I would always tell Jaime when it happened, and she would act disappointed. I never told her about the speed intake, though.
Granted, Adderall was a legal, prescribed drug given to kids with ADHD. But this stuff was speed- it had meth-amphetamine as its’ active ingredient! When taken in higher doses, it kept my brain working functionally. But there would be times that I was so sleep deprived, that I would begin to dream lucidly while awake. I would look at the chalkboard in the class I was in and see skeletons made of chalk dust begin to swordfight. One time I was deeply low on food intake and sleep, and tremendously high on Adderall. I saw a dark purple figure before my eyes every time that I blinked that looked like a cloaked man. The ghost of Christmas future. The grim reaper himself- the bringer of death. I thought that I was going to die of a heart attack and he was going to take me away.
People saw this drug as a help to society. Most of the kids prescribed to it abused it as much as me, and were just as delusional and messed-up as I was. When the drug would take a hold of you, it would give you such intense euphoria that chills would run all throughout your body constantly.
The end of high school neared. My once failing grades were now all C’s, D’s, and even a B. I was called in once again to Mrs. Romito’s office.
I scurried in to her room in a frenzied state. My hair in a pony-tail. My face all flushed from speed and caffeine. My pupils dilated and eyes wide open.
“Ben…” Mrs. Romito said. “You made it. You graduated. I knew you could do it.”
Though I was a crazy, frenzied mess. I had stayed over-stimulated enough to pull my grades together. I wouldn’t be held back. I would graduate High School. Jaime did well at her school in Pennsylvania. She got A’s and B’s. She wanted to transfer back to Hudson High School to be with me and her friends.
But were we strong enough to begin a new chapter? We were still addicts. When she first arrived home she saw how skinny and dilapidated I was, and I had to admit to my speed abuse. I would soon after quit taking speed. But what was the summer to bring us? We were to be released into the wild world of graduated freedom, crazy kids, smoke filled air, bright sunshine and ponds where people took drugs, drank beer and had sex. The dark nights ahead were screaming our name as Jesus lingered, hidden behind the clouds as the prodigal son was knowingly about to squander his property in reckless living. (Luke 15:13) It seems as if He may have known that one day His arms would be open wide, as the sick child returned in unworthy tears and grief. Only to embrace and hold close to this tattered mess of a person in reckless, forgiving love.