A teacher once asked “How do you eat an elephant?” After getting answers like “KC Masterpiece” and “very slowly”, he answered with “One bite at a time”. I will share my story one ‘bite’ at a time. ‘Am I A Real Alcoholic?’ is the third installment of the One Bite at a Time Series.
One of the first mind-altering drugs that I experimented with was cough syrup. Not just any cough syrup. It had to be the kind with dextromethorphan hydrobromide, pseudoephedrine hydrochloride and guafenesin, otherwise known as Robitussin DM. Anything else was not going to get the job done, with the exception of codeine cough syrup. This was not readily available over-the-counter, however, so we were left with purchasing a bottle for $4, or stealing it from grocery stores. I had learned exactly what to buy from a particularly interesting colleague at my high school.
My First Experience
It was never my intention to share this experience with anyone else, at least not until I tried drinking it alone first. I chose a slow evening at the house, and retired early to my bedroom (which was lined with Led Zeppelin posters). It was my understanding that a 4 oz. bottle was a sufficient enough amount for a truly profound experience. I decided to only drink half of that amount, just to be safe.
I put on Dark Side of the Moon, turned the lights off and lied down in bed. It wasn’t too long before I started a sort of elevated, strange sensation. Eventually, I felt very peaceful and started having some serious visual hallucinations. It was enjoyable. The music and the visions swirled together perfectly. I had really arrived. For some reason, this was exactly what I had been needing. A real escape into another world. After about a half hour of full-blown alteration, I drank the rest of the bottle. I was perfectly content for hours, by myself in the dark, hallucinating and day dreaming.
Sharing The Experience
I told my best friend at the time what I had done. He was intrigued and said that he wanted to give it a try. If memory serves me well, we planned an outing where we would both drink ‘Robo’ with some other people at my high school.
The first time that we took cough syrup in a social setting it was just weird. My best friend completely shut down and could not speak to anyone. One of my friends asked me if he was mute. They literally thought he did not speak, ever. I just felt awkward and although I could speak, I felt like an alien. Cough syrup completely distorted everything and ultimately we deemed it unworthy of social settings.
On other occasions, we would both tell our parents that we were spending the night at each other’s houses, thereby leaving us able to do whatever we wanted all night. We would stay out for a while and eventually go back to one of our houses. It was easy to get away with this sort of thing. It dawned on me later that it must have seemed odd that grown teenage boys were asking their parents to spend the night at each other’s houses. In reality, we were experimenting with drugs and alcohol. To them, they must have just thought we were being kids. If you are reading this, my dear parents, I am truly sorry to have deceived you.
Ultimately, we refined our approach and really made a science of this cough syrup thing. We had it all figured out. We would only trip on cough syrup with small, comfortable groups of friends. It was best to be enjoyed without the interference of light, mostly to improve the day dreaming and hallucinations. We knew exactly how to consume it. Quickly. We figured out that milk was a good chaser, although you’d have to be careful to not make yourself sick.
I named our little group of cough syrup junkies The Tussinauts. It became a sort of club, whereby we would blast off into unexplored heights with each mind-altering bottle. At the height of our consumption, we performed bizarre spiritual sessions. We would do group guided group meditations and experience some really cosmic stuff. We had a really strong group connection and played music together. I would pay a lot of money to hear recordings of the stuff we played. I wrote a song later in life called the Tussinauts, which became my delusional and nostalgic anthem for our group of oddballs.
Maximizing the High
We figured out that marijuana really, really enhanced the experience. In fact, some of my friends who tried heroin said that cough syrup combined with THC was really similar to heroin. I was personally never able to confirm this. There was a very important rule that was occasionally broken, but always with negative results. The rule was: Never, ever mix cough syrup with alcohol. I know what some of you might be thinking. Cough syrup has alcohol. Actually, the kind of cough syrup we drank had no alcohol, because it has adverse effects with DXM (dextromethorphan hydrobromide). Codeine cough syrup, contrarily, has a lot of alcohol. Let’s be clear, though. Not all cough syrups are the same.
We studied the stages of the experience. First there was a tired stage, sometimes combined with a little nausea, followed by confusion. But if you stuck through it, you would get to a really happy, giddy stage. We sometimes drank more than 4 oz. There were kids who were drinking up to 4 bottles at once, or 16 oz. One of these kids incidentally died later, at a very early age, from drug addiction. We never really ventured much past 4 oz. at a time. There just was no need for that.
We drank cough syrup together for years, starting in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s. Personally, I experienced a noticeable decline in my brain function while taking DXM. It actually got really scary when I was about 19 years old. I quit cold turkey purely out of fear for my health. One of my less experienced friends (with DXM) had a really bad experience where he believes he almost died from 4 oz. of cough syrup mixed with alcohol. I don’t doubt it. He described some very dark hallucinations and a sinking, lonely feeling that seemed would never go away. He was grateful to be alive and swore to never do it again. All of us stopped drinking cough syrup, thankfully, at about the same time, as our college lives had really begun to get going. This type of abuse didn’t have staying power. This lifestyle just had to stop at some point or else we would have ended up dead or completely insane.
So, What’s the Point?
I am 44 years old. I have abused my body and mind with alcohol and drugs for about 30 years. My experiences with drugs might be romantic (in the general sense of the word) and entertaining to reminisce, but I am really lucky to be here right now. There is so much that I missed out on because I was an addict. There is so much that I risked, including my life. In one sense, I am a success story because I am now sober, and I would not trade my experiences for anything. In another sense, had I made better choices, I may have ended up with a more fulfilling career and an emotionally sober adulthood. My life is what it is, but drugs and alcohol have left deep scars. Perhaps others will think twice about what they are doing, unlike me.