In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, Brad Pitt’s character casually smokes an LSD soaked cigarette. Just as the acid-induced hallucinations kick in, three people bust into his house armed with knives and guns. He laughs at them. He doesn’t think they are real.
“Did you ever do acid?” Mark asked me.
Mark and I have been friends for almost thirty-five years. How does he not know this about me?
“Are you kidding? I used to take acid three or four times a week,” I shrugged, “For about six months. Maybe longer. ”
“Why’d you do that?”
“I wanted to see God.”
“Of course. At the end, I hoped I’d go to heaven overdosing on sleeping pills and booze, but ended up in a coma and went to an insane asylum instead.”
“Wow. What was that like?”
Here’s what that was like: In December 1970, a friend found me unconscious in the beach cottage I’d rented with my long-gone boyfriend that winter. An ambulance drove me (from the hospital where I’d been revived) to New Jersey’s notorious Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital.
Initially I was housed in a locked ward. For about forty-eight hours I suffered the shivering sweats and hallucinations of delirium tremens (DTs) due to the sudden withdrawal from alcohol. Swaddled in a straight jacket, I watched Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse playing on my floor. When they danced up the wall and out the window, I screamed for them to come back. After three or four days on heavy tranquilizers and anti-psychotic drugs, I was moved to a three-story dormitory, one of many Tudor-style hospital buildings surrounded by old oaks and acres of farmland in pastoral Monmouth County. Patients were supposed to be grouped by similar diagnoses. I have no idea what my diagnosis was but I do know I wasn’t as crazy as most of my eighty housemates.
Every morning I woke to someone running around ranting and raving nonsensically. We all had lockers but a patient warned me if I put anything in mine, she’d take it. I had no clothes of my own. I wore left-behind shoes and calico cotton dresses made by long-term patients. The huge day room in the center of the building had overstuffed chairs and couches organized in small conversation clusters. After breakfast most patients ran into the day room to their favorite chair and pushed it up against the wall. On my first day, I sat in a chair with my back to the open room. A patient ran up behind me and squeezed both hands around my neck until an orderly pulled her off. All the other patients laughed. That’s why they kept their backs to the wall.
At my first session with the psychiatrist, I thought he was mad at me. He showed me photos of babies without heads born to mothers who had taken LSD. I knew nothing about drug and alcohol addiction. Neither did he. He thought I had a choice.
I was in Marlboro for the month of December. Church groups sent buses to take us involuntarily to their Christmas parties. Time spent at church socials in my nut house clothes was equally as tortuous as recovering from my demons.
I never swallowed a hallucinogenic after that—not because headless babies scared me. I tried to reach heaven and didn’t make it so I figured God had other plans. It took four more years for me to recover from alcohol. My last drink was forty-four years ago today.