Why "Less Than Zero" Was Everything to Teenage Me
As a teenager, my favorite movie was Less Than Zero with Robert Downey Jr. In the film, Downey Jr. plays an LA son of a wealthy movie producer who struggled with addiction. He was my hero. I was super intrigued and weirdly fascinated with that movie. I started smoking whiskey tobacco from a pipe and would sit in a circle strumming the guitar. Of course, I had no idea how to play, but it seemed like the right thing to do when you were cool like me. I would mix several different types of alcohol from my parent’s liquor cabinet and make what we called in Sweden a “witches mix” and drink that. In return, I would always blackout and always be completely drunk every weekend. Around me, some of my close male friends were smoking hash (boring) while others were taking amphetamines. I loved amphetamines, but they were hard to find.
That Time at a Pink Floyd Concert: Drugs Enters the Scene
The first time I tried cocaine, I was 17 years old. My friend, a model and 15 years old, had been invited backstage to a Pink Floyd concert, and afterward, we went with the band to some nightclubs in Stockholm. I sort of had a fling with the bass player who was traveling with them on tour. His name was Guy. He was big into cocaine, and of course, I tried it and loved it.
High School and My First Real Boyfriend: Finding Some Balance, Sort Of
During the last year of high school, I had my first serious boyfriend. And for some reason, I can’t explain; I realized that I needed to get better grades if I wanted to do something with my life. Because of my boyfriend, I was able to have a better routine, and things were a little more calm and balanced. He was not a crazy partier like me. In school, I did a pretty good job and got adequate grades to go on to college possibly. However, in Sweden in the late 80s, no one had any serious plans after high school. No one ever went straight to college; most took their time and traveled and did other things before going on to University.
Trying to Find My Way and Stumbling Upon Siddhartha.
During my high school years, I had many weekend and summer jobs to make extra money. I was a cleaning lady at a Sheraton; I worked at a coffee shop in a museum, a jewelry store, and a newsstand by the subway station. At the newsstand, I would eat candy and read porn magazines when it wasn’t busy. The place was small, and I kept it meticulously clean. Ironically, this is where I had an awakening moment. It was here that I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.
I remember thinking, “Huh. There IS something else out there.”
I wanted to know more, and I wanted to read more. But at the time, the place I lived and the people in my environment weren’t the type of community steeped in spirituality. I couldn’t find any books or find anyone with whom I could discuss what I had learned.
Taking the Other Road
Looking back, it’s interesting to me that for so many years, I took the other road. I could have chosen to go to India or the like, but this was before the yoga revolution, and no one in Sweden would even come up with the idea to travel to India. It was just too foreign. So I did the thing that was the closest to me, which was the nearest in my reach. In Sweden, people studied, worked, and went to parties. They had summer vacations and summer houses and skied in the winter. In my mind, I couldn’t even come up with a career, job, or anything else that I desired to do. Being wasted and going to parties was a huge incentive and the only thing I wanted to do. It was quick, and it was accessible.
During my high school years, I would travel to London and Paris in the summer or during breaks to go to large nightclubs and take ecstasy and whatever else I could get my hands on. It was 1989, and ecstasy was at its peak, and everyone was doing it.
In Italy I Learned What Life was Supposed to Be
After high school, I lived in Florence, Italy, and studied Italian, graphic design, and photography. Photography was my big love. I would spend hours walking around Florence taking pictures and hours in the darkroom. Here in Italy, I stepped into my second serious relationship. My boyfriend was Italian and didn’t really speak English, so I learned to speak Italian reasonably quickly. He showed me a way of life that I didn’t know was possible. He was into art and architecture, and he would show me the beauty of Tuscany. On Sunday, we would have lunch with his family. They were a large group, all yelling at each other over long 5 hour lunches.
I was mortified. Was I sitting this long with people yelling at each other?
My boyfriend just simply said, “This is what we do! It’s totally normal.”
From the Italians, I learned that life, art, and food are the pleasures of life. And life is for enjoyment, not for quiet suffering like I thought it was.
My Addiction Gave Me an Identity
After Italy, I moved to London. And here, my drug use took off. Ecstasy was huge, and we were doing it every night. I measured everything in how many tabs of “E” I could get.
I remember being like, “Oh this shirt is nice, I wonder how much it is?”
“Oh no, that’s too much.”
London was crazy. It was all massive nightclubs with thousands of people high on ecstasy, with many of them taking many, many pills. I never wanted the party to end. I never wanted to go home. I hated the end of the night and the sunrise, which I saw almost every night.
In the early years of addiction, it worked for me. I loved using, and it was who I was. It was my identity. I loved the gritty darkness of it all. I loved staying out late until the morning hours and being in the destructive energy of it all. Drugs and parties were the only things I cared about for several years.
My Addiction Gave Me an Identity
This phase was the first time I had scares relating to drugs. I severely wanted ecstasy almost all the time. I remember being at some large nightclub in the Piccadilly area, and I was so high I couldn’t find the way out of the nightclub. Once I finally did, I had to take the tube home since I had run out of money. It was likely around 7:00 am too. I shudder at all that could have happened and all that could have gone wrong, but thankfully did not. Of course, I was only 20 too.
My parents had also traveled a lot during their teens and twenties, so they didn’t think anything was strange with me going to different places, doing other things. They didn’t know the reality of what I was doing and with whom. They innocently grew up in the late 50s and 60s when heavy drugs weren’t really around, so of course, they never suspected that I had a large ziplock with ecstasy under the bathroom sink.
Besides being out at large nightclubs dancing all night, I walked a lot in London. I went to video and photography school on Tuesdays. I would walk home from school, and it would take me almost 4 hours. I loved walking through the streets of London and the beautiful parks. It was how I connected with this enormous city, the people, and with myself. These are my most fond memories of living in London.
A Documentary About Ecstasy Should Have Been a Wake Up Call
Towards the end of the year, we made a documentary about clubs and ecstasy. It was a big surprise that I would make a documentary about what I was most passionate about, right?!
We interviewed some doctors that explained the effects of ecstasy on the brain. Most notably, it’s the effect on serotonin. Ecstasy boosts your serotonin while you are using it and then basically kills it off slowly. So, inevitably, you will become depressed after prolonged use. The sneaky thing about it, which is the same as most drugs, is that when you use it, it only really works well initially, and then to get the same high, you have to keep taking more and more pills. In this process, you are messing with your brain chemistry. We heard stories of stockbrokers in London coming down off ecstasy so hard they would jump off their balconies.
I think all of this scared me a little but not enough to make me want to stop. However, I believe that ecstasy was one of the reasons I’ve struggled with depression throughout my life. I took massive amounts of ecstasy, and of course, it affected me and my brain.
From London to New York; the Addiction Deepens
Miraculously, during this year, I had started thinking about applying to college in the U.S. My mother had hooked me up with a college counselor in London, and I applied to various colleges and studied for the SAT. On the day of my test, I arrived at the testing site and started doing the test. Midway through it, I felt as if I was about to faint. My head was spinning, and I was sweating. Finally, I was allowed to leave the room and get some water.
I don’t remember my score, but I received a good enough score to get into NYU. To this day, I still cannot understand how my parents agreed to send me to a school in the heart of the world’s party capital, New York City.