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The 27 Club

When I turned 27 I thought a lot about what it meant to be this age; the age that struggling musicians kept dying at, forming a group called The 27 Club. I’m not a struggling musician, nor am I famous in anyway that my death would be particularly memorable or significant to anyone except my friends and family but I have had close encounters with drugs and death and this is why 27 is a significant age for me.

The 27 Club has been glorified in a way that unsettles me. I find the image of a group of deceased stars who have all overdosed on drugs sat in the sky holding hands together, as if it was their time a little disturbing. As if the young age of 27 is an acceptable time to die. Is creating a club about death not weirdly inviting? A club is suggestive of joining together. It’s like saying, this club of talented, beautiful people who had their deaths at 27 is also a club that you can enter as long as you follow one rule: being dead at 27. And if you are younger than this and alive today maybe one day you can join them.

All I had been told about drugs before I started taking them was not to take them. Although, if you were anything like me as a youngster, this automatically made them something you wanted to try. I was told that drugs are bad. Period. But all of our favourite rock stars take them… they can’t be that bad. To be told that drugs are bad, period, without exploring why is incredibly detrimental to not only people who don’t take drugs, but to people who currently take drugs and to those who used to take drugs. Not to mention, those who have died from them. Why? Because closing off potential diverse and intellectual conversations by suggesting something is bad (that you haven’t actually tried) also closes off conversations around how to practise them safely. Also, when we say “drugs” what drugs are we even referring to, cocaine or meth? Because the two are very different.

Truth is, I have gone to every bad place there is to go to whilst on drugs (except actually dying) and I still do not believe that drugs are bad. In fact, I’m a defender of drugs. They served as a method of escapism for me when I desperately needed to escape. When done appropriately in the right quantities and in safe places, I think one can have an incredible experience on (most) drugs. But, of the people who take drugs, who actually does this? No one that I know. Although, what I do know is that drugs such as magic mushrooms and mdma are now used in various forms of therapy in micro doses to aid the patient in connecting with themselves on a deeper emotional level as this is what these drugs are good for. However, when they are taken recreationally in large quantities on a regular basis the same drugs have the potential to cause damage and is not something I recommend.

I know what it’s like to purposefully (and not purposefully) overdose on drugs. I know what it’s like to wake up in hospital, a line of fluid attached to your vein like a leash tying you to the inevitable shame that comes with knowing you’ve hurt yourself, again. The pitying looks from the hospital staff, the hazy stillness of the following days. I remember feeling like my whole being was trapped inside my mind and all I could do was watch my body from this detached place perform all the automatic movements it needed to do in order to survive. I had almost normalised this experience and saw it as another way of escaping.

I haven’t taken drugs in over a year now and I would like to explain why. I took drugs (mainly mdma and cocaine and sometimes speed and ketamine) to feel good. Not to feel bad. Although little did I know that this bad feeling would cause me to create a cycle of addiction. But in the beginning, I just wanted to have fun and to feel good. And I did. For a while. And then I didn’t. But by this point I was already too far into my addiction to be able to notice (at first) or to be able to bring myself away from using.

The last overdose I had where I was admitted to hospital, I had taken a large quantity of mdma. The recommended dose is 50mg + your body weight in kilos. At the time, I probably weighed only about 50 kilos, so the recommended dose would be 100mg. I almost always took more than this when doing mdma so naturally I think my body built up a tolerance. In fact, it built up a tolerance so much that I had begun to feel little effects of the high feeling you would usually feel after taking mdma. This particular overdose, I knew I wanted to die. I was horribly depressed (hence my reason to start medicating with serotonin boosting drugs) and the depression was made worse by my frequent drug usage depleting all the happy hormones in my brain. I was certain that I wanted to end my life so I decided to take as much as I could. I took a whole gram in one sitting, ten times the recommended dose. Little did I know that it wasn’t going to kill me. What happened was much worse.

It took about half an hour before I started to feel sick. This was something I was used to and during my time taking drugs regularly, I would often make myself be sick. In fact, I enjoyed being sick, the feeling of heaving up all that was in my belly gave me an extra high and it felt like I had pressed a reset button. One that if pushed, meant I could start the intoxication process again. But this time, I was heaving so hard and nothing was coming up. My mouth and my throat felt so dry and my whole jaw and body began to stiffen. I became acutely aware of my bones because my body felt so stiff that all I felt like I was were bones. I noticed my fingers struggling to lengthen and reach out to grab the bowl I was heaving into. I thought I might crack. I was Medusa being turned into stone. There was no sick coming up, except there was but it was not the usual product that would come up when one is sick. It was dry mdma crystals scraping at my throat. I could feel the sharpness of the crystallised drug, all the way down my oesophagus making it hard for me to breathe. The dryness in my throat and the stiffness of my body meant that I began to seize up. My body started to jerk as though I was having a seizure. I was no longer in control of my movements. And then everything went black.

I went through cycles of these seizures then passing out and coming back, feeling like stone and breathing heavy and hard. I was lucky I had two other people with me to help calm me and to phone the emergency services. To this day I still feel a mixture of shame, gratitude and guilt for the situation that I instigated around these two people. But mostly, I know, I would have done the same if it was them.

I travelled to the hospital in the ambulance on my own because it was during the lockdown which meant I couldn’t have anyone accompany me. This was terrifying and was the beginning of when I started to slip into a different reality. I had experienced episodes of psychosis before this and quite frankly, I don’t advise that anyone overdoses to the point where they are in a drug-induced state of psychosis because, I guess it goes without saying, they are not great places to be. But this episode was significantly worse and lasted a lot longer.

I want to give more detail of my time in hospital and my experience with psychosis but at this moment in time I can’t bring myself to relive the terror of those experiences because who the fuck would want to? The point of this piece of writing is to highlight the dangers of mental health issues when combined with unregulated drug taking, lack of information on drugs, lack of appropriate support systems and lack of self interest and self care. Had I known the safe dosages to take, what would happen to my mind and body if I took too much, what mental health and addiction services were out there and had they been more accessible, would I have had the same experience? Would so many people have had negative experiences with drugs and alcohol? Would we still have The 27 Club?

I suggest that The 27 Club be dismantled as a place of age-glorified death and instead be seen as alarm bells to pay more attention to the mental health crisis and the war on drugs, and allow us to move away from drugs being a taboo subject and give us space to discuss and question our drug and alcohol culture.

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