[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or — no surprise here — a party.]
I scored a big batch of Oxycontin not too long ago, and I have to say, I liked it a lot. It soothed me, and for the first time in my entire life, I truly felt pain free — physically and emotionally. Even though I know it can be dangerous, I’ve honestly not seen any drawbacks so far — I just finally felt good. The thing is, now I don’t have anymore pills, and all I can think about is taking the next step: heroin. I’ve just lost my job and don’t have a girlfriend or any close family, so I don’t really have any responsibilities. But I’ve got enough money saved up to survive and just want the world fade away for a while. I want to go away from everything. Should I?
– High Right Now
Dear High Right Now,
Why do some people go all the way into oblivion and give up on “regular” life? Why do other people never seem to even consider giving up? I think wanting to find a way out of life is a completely understandable desire. And in many ways, the entire human struggle is centered around finding a way out of suffering. Why do we keep on striving every day forever? What are we hoping to find? Why is it so hard just to get by, let alone to thrive? It takes an untiring commitment to the belief that if we keep trying to succeed, someday everything will be perfect and we’ll finally be truly happy.
Does that perfect happiness exist? And even if it does, what’s the point of getting to that state if 99% of our time is spent struggling to find it? There might not be any point to anything at all, so why not remove oneself from the entire process and just focus on feeling as good as possible right now? Why do we feel we must participate in this version of life, with all its efforts, jobs, drama, and social interaction? Who invented this version of the world? And is it really the best way to live? Did we really agree to it? Or were we forced into it? Who taught us how to live like this? And who taught them? Why bother trying to be a good person? Why not just opt out of the whole system and embrace the oblivion that we’ll all face eventually?
Becoming a drug addict can be a perfectly reasonable reaction to the incredibly exhausting project called “being alive.” We must do our best to remember how close each of us is to the edge of oblivion at any moment, and not be too quick to judge the person who chooses to take another path to get there. The easy way out is often the hardest way, and there is something strangely heroic about the person who chooses to venture into the no-man’s-land beyond the trappings of “day-to-day life.” Who are these people who fling themselves into the abyss, and then try to exist there?
The drug addict, the homeless person, the hermit, the ascetic — the deviants both frighten us and fascinate us. As easy as it can be to see them as weak or crazy, we also sense some sort of courage in their decision to not live like the rest of us. Most frightening of all, perhaps we can relate to it — perhaps we fantasize about it only to shove the thought back into the darkest parts of our mind. The amount of effort it takes to live is undeniable. We must have more compassion for those people who choose to live in another way. Their life choices shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as a negative judgement of our own lifestyle. Society doesn’t like people who don’t participate in society because it makes us think of jumping ship too. We should never feel that we’re “better than” people who use drugs. The terrifying truth is that no one is ever really better than anyone, just different.
So, should you become a heroin user? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t think less of you if you did. And that scares me, and I hope it scares you too. One of my best friends who did heroin said he realized “humans aren’t meant to feel that good.” There are many paths that lead to many outcomes, and it all depends on what your ultimate goals are. If your goal is to achieve a bunch of “accomplishments” and “succeed,” then becoming a full-blown drug addict might not be the best path. If your goal is to avoid pain by whatever means necessary, then becoming a full-blown drug addict might be the right path, at least for a while.
But always remember: the pain that comes from being alive is also what makes pleasure feel good, so we need that contrast in order to feel either. If all we felt was pleasure, then that pleasure would soon become pain. It’s a law of nature that one can’t exist without the other. The true scam is believing that there ever will be a perfect way to live. So you have to be careful which version of the scam you choose to believe. It’s like someone always looking for the perfect way to win at roulette. The odds are always the same, no matter how many times the ball lands on black. And despite what many people believe, it’s OK to not feel good all the time. No one knows what’s really going on. Everything is neither true nor false, except that everything is neither true nor false… or maybe not. Try to stay in that state of mind, and the pain and pleasure will just be another aspect of this absurd and perplexing party called “life” — it’s the best party we can have — it’s the party of not being dead.
Stay strong and live it up, my friend.
– Andrew W.K.
P.S. I think all drugs should be legal.
P.P.S. About a month ago, I had the most vivid and lucid dream I’ve ever experienced. It was more detailed and believable than any other dream I’ve had. In this dream, I woke up to find myself living in some kind of shared squat, anarchist flop house. The more deeply I entered this dream-state awareness, the more extreme my feeling of horror. I slowly looked around in the dream and noticed an unsettling familiarity with my surroundings. It felt like I was actually emerging from another dream and I couldn’t tell which was real.
I groggily tried to pull myself together and make sense of where I was. What was I doing here? And why did it seem so familiar? The feeling I had during the dream was that I was emerging from amnesia. A deep sense of dread began to set in. I was in a dumpy living room with extremely grainy stucco walls painted mustard yellow with a single bare light bulb hung overhead, exaggerating the sandpaper texture of everything. It was low-lit, hazy, damp, and cold. The air smelled like dead skin cells and old oil.
I had been slumped in a bean-bag type chair, and as I tried to stand up and clear my head, I noticed other people hanging around the room. Some were asleep on shredded couches, others were looking at me from the corner of the room, and some were moving about in adjacent rooms. As I explored the space, it seemed we were in an old rectory attached to a small abandoned church. I figured that I was part of this group of crust punks who had converted the space into a crude music venue and communal living space. It became clear that I had been living here for a long time.I started to panic and desperately began asking people, “Where am I? What the fuck is going on? What happened?”
A young woman, half passed out in a ratty recliner, responded lazily, “Dude, what the hell are you talking about? Are you on acid or something?” I became more frustrated, like I couldn’t snap out of it or remember how I got to this place. It felt like I had been asleep for years and was finally waking up and trying to piece my brain back together. A guy hunched over a table said, “Come on, Andrew. You’re just freaking out. You’ve been here all along. You’re just waking up from some nightmare. Stop freaking out.”
It began to dawn on me that this place was my real life, and that my other “real” life had all been a fantasy — just a dream I had. What I remembered as my real life was just a vision I experienced while I had nodded off in my bean bag in this flop house. It all came crashing back at once: I was a full blown drug addict, alternating between heroin and speed, and living in this house with a bunch of other addicts. I had never moved to New York City. I had never toured the world. I had never experienced so many awesome fun times.
It had all been a dream in the midst of this true nightmare reality. The sadness was overwhelming — the most crushing sense of despair washed over my entire soul. I staggered around the rest of the house and into the church area where a bunch of people were working on setting up a show for later that night. I remembered back to the moment when I decided to just give up on myself and life. It had been so easy to just quit caring about everything. In fact, it had been euphoric. One step at a time, I had made my way deeper into this nightmare and further away from any ambitions or interests. My “real” life faded away like a blurry memory, and I felt stupid for ever having had any enthusiasm or motivation for anything.
Towards the end of the dream, I began to have a panic attack and actually started to pry open my eye in a desperate attempt to wake up. It worked, and I came back from the junkie nightmare to find myself rejoined with my actual life here in New York, where I still have friends and a family, and still play music and have fun doing all the stuff I’ve always loved to do.
Words cannot express how glad I was to be back. It was by far the happiest I’ve ever been upon waking from a nightmare. The closest comparison I have is the feeling that Scrooge must’ve had when he awoke from his night of ordeals and visions in A Christmas Carol. But the most frightening part of all was how close that other reality felt, even after I woke up. It seemed like maybe I actually was living a version of that life in some parallel universe, and that if I wasn’t careful, I could slip into it again and never come back.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.