Once upon a time, a young relative left for university. I forget if they asked for advice, or if I just gave it. I may have begun the discussion with "Listen, about clubs..."
I believe the young relation smirked and said something like, "Don't get drunk?"
And I said something distinctly unPauline like, "I don't care if you get drunk, as long as you're with your friends, and you are always with your friends until you get home, and as long as you always keep an eye on your glass. No, I want to say, Don't take club drugs. They're horrible and you never know what's really in them."
So the young relative took that advice with him or her to university, and is still alive and sane today.
I was brought up in an ordinary (if rather old-fashioned and divorce-free) middle-class family, and although I have had economic ups and downs and various social crises and professional disappointments, I have always been okay, and I am sure this has something to do with the fact that I have never touched cocaine, heroin or the various club drugs on offer in the fair streets of Toronto and Boston and presumably in Edinburgh, one-time AIDS capital of the UK (not Europe, that was Barcelona).
This is not to say that I have not drunk too much on occasion, for I certainly have, most memorably at one party when I was 21, although my best friend Trish remembers that incident better than I do. Oh dear, dear, dear. Nor have I left the room in horror when the grass has come out although I must say seeing a 6'2" guy felled by the stuff like a tree was rather scary.
This is merely to say that there seems to be some fearful alchemy in narcotics that removes whatever magical protection lifelong middle-class-ness seems to provide and can send you to an earthly hell, so I have not messed with them.
I also have not messed with them because I always wanted to keep the moral high ground for conversations about drugs with my children, if I had any. The Baby Boom generation looked a bit foolish when it tried to have serious conversations about drugs with its children because of all the stuff it did at college. My mother, however, told us at least five times that she had once been invited to a party where there had been marijuana, but she hadn't gone because she had just washed her hair and it was in curlers.
Hello, whatever, when I was seventeen, I was hearing about coke parties from my fellow barista down at the cafe. And although I had a keen desire to have wonderful adventures, I didn't want to go anywhere near coke parties, thanks all the same. It wasn't just that Regina in the Sweet Valley High books died right after her first wee snort. It was the nasty criminality around it all, plus the fact that coked-up men often get violent. And a priest called "The Junkie Priest" came to my high school to warn us in advance about crack, which (believe it or not) hadn't reached the streets of Toronto yet.
Crack made cocaine affordable and even more addictive than usual. Whereas cocaine was trashy in a decadent evil rich people way, crack was trashy in a one-way-ticket to gutter and brothel way. And, no word of a lie, the only crack users I have ever to my knowledge met, were the extremely jittery shells of human beings who queued up before me at one of my government jobs for their support cheques. Their fingers were dyed black from burnt tinfoil or whatever it was. The cop standing by, apparently to protect me, made wisecracks about them and pointed out the prostitute among them. Have a nice day.
(I contrast in my mind this young Canadian cop with a young Slovak nun who worked with recovering heroin addicts in Europe, and his voyeuristic contempt with her compassionate love.)
Being involved in the Spoken Word scene in the 1990s, it was only a matter of time before Ecstasy (MDMA) came my way, although amusingly, when a poet turned up outside a club with a handful of the pills, he said somewhat apologetically that he hadn't brought me any, for he assumed a devout Catholic wouldn't take Ecstasy.
I don't think Ecstasy is mentioned in the Catechism, but as a matter of fact I had read up on the side effects of Ecstasy, and at the time everyone thought it could make you permanently depressed. ("And it was illegal," points out B.A., to whom I have read this post aloud.) Also, the poet looked so embarrassed, I patted him on the shoulder and said, No, no, that was quite all right, I had no interest in E. What I soon had interest in was ear plugs as, dear me, that rave was LOUD.
As for Edinburgh, I am about to shock local eavesdroppers by linking to the Guardian, but all you really have to do is recall Trainspotting to get an idea of how nasty life in Edinburgh can be if you are dumb or bored or depressed enough to get involved with heroin. Very occasionally I have seen a seriously strung out junkie staggering along Leith Walk or even--heaven help us--early Sunday morning on Heriot Row.
It's interesting how even drug-use has class implications. Alcohol is the most democratic. Cocaine is associated with successful (if louche) professionals like lawyers, film directors and poor Father Corapi. Crack is associated with the homeless, possibly because it generally makes you homeless. Heroin is associated with the formerly-working classes, thieves and prostitutes, possibly because it can make you a thief or prostitute. Marijuana is associated with slackers and students. E is associated with middle-class kids with money for clubs, particularly the ones who die after taking it. Gasoline fumes are associated with the poor, rural Innu.
As an urban Canadian who was in university for a very long time, I don't blink at booze or the occasional use of grass although I would go mental if my niece or nephews touched the first before they were 18 (except wine at home) and the second before they were 25. (And even then I might moan at them about the dangers of chronic use. "And it's illegal," says B.A.) I also think chronic users make lousy boyfriends--at very least for ambitious girls with places to go and people to see and babies to have.
I am not at all blase about the other stuff and, in fact, would not associate with anyone who used them, except in a professional capacity, as indeed I did when I was handing out the welfare cheques or reading funny stories at Spoken Word events. They are just too darned dangerous, they make people dangerous, and they funnel money to dangerous people.
As someone who drinks coffee and wine almost every day, and enjoys the occasional cocktail or glass of vodka, it would be hypocritical to condemn the human fascination with altering consciousness. However, anyone who thinks honestly has to admit that when short-term pleasures inspire long-term damage and human misery, not only to oneself but to society--of which the heroin-fuelled AIDs crisis in Edinburgh is but one example--it is best to give them a miss.
Nota Bene: B.A. keeps pointing out that it is illegal to consume illegal substances, and as Catholics we are obliged to follow just laws. I point out, however, that there are all kinds of substances that the law doesn't in fact cover, and we should avoid them anyway.
Update: Children in Britain are allowed by law to drink alcoholic beverages at home with their parents' consent once they are five. Five?