Did I waste my youth by not being wasted?

640px-Sensation_White_08.03.2008_015In my early twenties, there was a brief, glorious period when I went to dance parties. Raves, they used to be called, if my fading memory serves. They were so cool, I thought; and so, briefly, I was so cool – even though, in hindsight, tickets were on sale to the general public.

My approach was to have a drink or two along with copious, overpriced bottles of water, and dance until dawn while hoping the lighting was dim enough to hide the mediocrity of your dancing. In fact, I think that’s why the strobe light was invented, to make it impossible to see dancers in motion. I’ve always been very grateful.

There was a dance party (even the term seems so archaic now) every few weeks. seemed achingly cool at the time. There was Tweekin’ at Club 77 near Kings Cross, and Disco Kitchen which packed out a city pub and Scissors Paper Rock at the much-mourned Dendy in Martin Place and, most curiously, Sabotage at the food court of Skygarden, a shopping centre that’s now part of Westfield Sydney.

Yes, I went to all-night dance parties at a food court, and yes, I genuinely enjoyed it, even though the kebab stand was closed.

In truth, I was hardly a regular – I probably only went to about a dozen of these kinds of things all up – but I still remember how intimidating I found it, and how desperately I wanted not to stand out as someone who didn’t belong. And I still remember how exhilarating it was when finally, with the aid of a gin and tonic or two and the sheer energy of the music, I danced enough to the trippy house music (or whatever it was) to stop feeling self-conscious. It was an incredible feeling, topped only by the taste of a greasy breakfast on the way home after the venue closed at dawn.

But the sheer delight of staying up all night and jumping around sweatily to excellent music wasn’t enough for many of the participants, of course. They would take ecstasy to add a certain – well, I don’t exactly know what, because I never had the guts to try it. Presumably it was a heightened version of the joy I was feeling, coupled with that intense grumpiness that inevitably follows when you come down, as though you’ve used up your week’s supply of pleasantness and have to spend the next few days glowering at other people.

There were plenty of opportunities to partake myself. People would sidle up to me on the dancefloor and offer pills. The first time this happened, I loudly replied “SORRY WHAT WAS THAT?”, thus entirely ruining the dealer’s attempts at subtlety. He correctly interpreted it as a no.

Other people kept telling me how great it was, and how I was missing out. And there was one point when I considered trying a half, or perhaps even just a quarter, but the fear never quite left me. Everyone knows that those pills are cut with all kinds of other rubbish – and of course, the more adulterated they are, the more money the dealer makes. What’s more, the narcotics industry isn’t exactly known for its stellar after-sales service.

“If you could buy them from a chemist, and you knew they were pure, I’d give it a go,” I’d tell people, lest other people take me for the total square that, of course, I was. “But I’ve heard too many horror stories.” A few years passed, and we all stopped going to dance parties, and I never got the chance.

My other problem was that people who took ‘e’s didn’t seem like the greatest advertisement for the product. Sure, they seemed to be having a brilliant time within their own heads, but the dumb look in their eyes and tendency to hug you for far too long a time made them seem like they were carrying some kind of brain injury. Paying a lot of money to lose significant amounts of mental function and your dignity didn’t seem like a compelling offer.

In subsequent years, cocaine seems to have become the social drug of choice. I had the same concerns about purity, but coke’s effects are, if anything, even more troubling than ecstasy, at least to a casual observer like me.

As has, I think, been more than adequately portrayed by The Wolf Of Wall Street, the biggest problem with cocaine is that it makes you insufferable. It’s obnoxiousness in powdered form, and while I’m sure it’s amazing to have that “feeling of invincibility”, it’s far from amazing to be around people who are acting like the love child of Donald Trump and Kyle Sandilands. I’ve occasionally been at events where I’ve realised that lots of the people around me seem to have sniffly noses and a constant need to visit the bathroom, and that’s when I generally decide that it’s time to head home.

Now, while I’ve never tried anything else, I should admit that I did try marijuana at university. But I didn’t inhale. Honestly.

Everybody mocked Bill Clinton when he said that – but in my case, I didn’t inhale because I genuinely didn’t understand what you were supposed to do. I stuck the thing between my lips mouth and sucked a tiny bit of smoke in, and it promptly left my mouth without actually entering my lungs. Which is why when it was finished, I said “gosh, that mustn’t have been all that strong, I don’t feel any different.” Thus revealing to my younger friends not only that I had no idea how to ‘toke on a doobie’, but that I’d wasted a substantial portion of their expensive ‘jazz cigarette’.

Fortunately, they were too busy giggling to notice.

Shortly thereafter I developed adult-onset asthma, providing me with the perfect excuse for further indulgence – which, given how affected my lungs now are by any kind of smoke and even by what optimistically passes for air in China, is probably a good thing.

I don’t have any major moral gripe with people who take drugs now and then, except that I don’t tend to enjoy being around them while they do. As Lisa Pryor has pointed out, some people use them recreationally without suffering any real adverse effects. I certainly know a lot of successful people who indulged occasionally when younger, and more or less grew out of it.

That’s a bigger debate than I can address here, but some of the arguments that led to the removal of alcohol prohibition certainly have some resonance when applied to other drugs. And I do tend to buy the argument that adults should be able to do what they want with their bodies – especially since they currently can and do, anyway.

But as time has gone on, I’ve never found much reason to regret my youthful abstinence. Now I’m 37, I’m clearly too old to begin experimenting. Being home in bed has never seemed to appealing.

Some of my friends talk nostalgically about their days of excess. I am left to talk nostalgically about my days of abstinence. I’ll never know how much fun I missed, but I had sufficient fun enough, without ever accidentally drooling on one of my friends. In hindsight, that’s not such a bad deal.