Can self love and comedowns co-exist?
Look, comedowns don’t happen if you’re not taking drugs, that’s basic maths. Just as hangxiety ceases to afflict you Monday through Wednesday if you don’t drink alcohol.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to realise that the profile of a drug-user, typically scapegoated for society’s issues, is actually far from the nature of the beast. If your social landscape is anything like mine, behind closed bathroom doors, cocaine is the activity a lot of the time. And alcohol is it’s meek little friend that anchors people to the public spaces we frequent.
Here at Channel Void, we are very aware that there’s a lot of institutional resistance to legalising drugs, particularly here in Australia, making it hard to regulate the quality of drugs. We also acknowledge the lack of education around drug-taking and the cultural existence of shame around the topic.
Many drugs were originally conceived as tools for healing the ailments and illnesses that life imparts on human beings. So if you’re finding the opposite effect is happening, and things are getting destructive, now’s the time to consider employing greater self-care around your drug-taking habits.
We spoke to drug and alcohol clinician Alex Draper (she/her) to roadmap a more self-loving relationship for anyone who uses drugs. First and foremost, she believes addressing the stigma that surrounds drug use is the key to ensuring safer experiences:
Often, shame is the exact thing that stops us from reaching out when we need help. Alex suggests that if we have people we can trust, those who we feel we can be honest with about our drug usage, we’ll be better supported.
Personally, I entered the world of party drugs rather blindly. MDMA was the first party drug I was exposed to at age 16. The fact that MD retails for around $25 made it an easy sell for us on our $15/hour wages. “Are we getting caps for tomorrow night?” was the text/call you could expect next to conversations about which outfit was the right ratio of hot and “chill” vibes for the night. Meanwhile, you could expect the group text to be consumed by calculating how many of us were putting in for a bottle of Oriloff, and how many of us would be needing to borrow money until we got paid. I never considered that questioning where these drugs were coming from, or making plans in case of emergency was something that should’ve been included in such text chains.
Back then, there was something really innocent about comedowns – blame the untampered stores of serotonin I possessed, or my need to hide my escapades and their aftermath from my family. But, I recall several of us crawling into my friend Izzy’s queen bed at 9 am, exhausted but enthralled by the vividness of the night that had not quite ended. We’d be awake just long enough to swap stories of our come-ups and the “cooked” things that had happened just hours before in play-by-plays.
Here’s the thing about comedowns and hangovers: they seem to get worse with age. And the high you once felt becomes more and more elusive. Moving into new social circles may even see the crippling anxiety of regular drug use being masked by more expensive drugs. I personally am so interested in the notion that putting in $300 for a bag of cocaine is sometimes an easier yes than committing $150 to a psychology session.
Alex weighs in on this neural pathway fuckery:
Over the years, I’ve found myself gravitating towards mentors who aren’t entirely straight-edge themselves. Here are some of the wisdoms I’ve inherited.
Seasoned partying advice
1. Less is more.
Drugs and alcohol should be enhancers to an activity, not the activity itself. I.e. Playing tag-team to the bathroom for lines is not fun for anyone if the party itself is suffering. The more you take drugs, the more desensitised you become to their effects, often meaning you have to spend more to achieve highs that are not even close to your first euphoric experience.
2. Don’t buy drugs you can’t afford.
Mentally, this means if your comedowns have been severe recently, you shouldn’t be taking drugs right now. Your brain needs time to regenerate. The anecdotal rule of thumb for MDMA is to wait 3 months between sessions, and for coke, using it as little as possible will help you enjoy your experience with it more. Financially, this means not buying drugs on tick. As soon as you begin accruing drug debt, whether you like it or not, even your sober time will become about drugs.
3. Set intentions for your social life.
What is it that you want to get out of socialising or partying? Are you wanting to relax? Are you trying to find a significant other or create romantic situations? Are you trying to have inspiring conversations? Maybe you are simply wanting to have fun? By identifying the need for your socialising and partying, you give yourself the power to make decisions that can help you enjoy the environment in the best way possible. Sometimes, drugs can accompany you on your journeys. But when you assign the role of compass to your heart and what it’s asking for, you’re likely to hurt less in the morning.
How do I know if my drug use is normal?
Whilst it’s always important to consider the experience of others, at the end of the day, you are the only one who can decide what is right for you. If your comedowns are becoming too frequent, you will know. If you aren’t sure about where you sit with your drug use, Alex asks you to consider:
1. Quality of your relationships
2. Your memory
3. The way you feel about yourself and those around you
4. The quality of your mental wellness
5. The frequency you engage in activities you love/used to love
6. Your physical wellness
When considering these things, Alex says:
“It can be troublesome when you find the time spent with friends, the bulk of your activities, or your general thought-space is taken up predominately by using, planning use or thinking about consuming. If you can’t sleep without it, if you can’t have fun without it, if you can’t regulate your emotions without it, it could be time to reassess it.”
After all the times I’ve used drugs to self-destruct and all of the wakeup calls that accompanied such experiences, my personal philosophy now centres around the idea that if I’m going to take drugs, I’m going to do it in a self-respecting way.
To be crystal clear, I’m not advocating for drug use. I have spent a lot of precious time and resources on drugs I wish I could get back. But, if any of these tools can help connect you with more positive, self-nurturing habits, it can’t all have been a waste.
Planning beyond the high
Here are some of the steps I take to softening my comedown experience in advance.
1. Clean your room. Make your bed so you can come home to a sanctuary
2. Weather report. It’s worth asking yourself: if it’s not raining tomorrow, is it worth wasting the day with a comedown.
3. Precook yourself a meal. Something carby like pasta is good for rebuilding your HTP.
4. Hydration. Leave a bottle of water beside your bed and a couple in your fridge.
5. Makeup for your soul. Set an intention for what you want to get out of the experience. Some personal intentions of mine are sometimes: “Connect with at least 3 new people beyond asking them what they do for work” or “Dance in a way that makes other people want to dance too”.
During the comedown
1. Re-evaluate your life productively. It might sound counter-intuitive but in a vulnerable, ego-less state, it’s kind of a great time to make a list of everything you want to change in the coming week, and do it with clarity.
Alex also encourages documenting the experience of your comedown:
Write down in the moment (when you’re actually experiencing the come down) how the comedown makes you feel. Try your best to describe it with as much detail as possible, so your future self can really re-experience your emotional and physical state upon re-reading. It’s very natural for our pleasure centre in our brain to rule our behaviour, even when there’s a ‘come down’ consequence. We often just ignore it for the quick dopamine and oxytocin hit. So, it can be helpful to document what the aftermath of any behaviour affords you.
The more you re-visit this information, the more you will be able to make choices that align with you, your values and your needs. It’s your body and you get to guide the decisions.
You might be experiencing darker thoughts than usual, and coming to some pretty outlandish conclusions (although they feel very true to you right now). Write them down. Don’t do anything with them until you are feeling more stable. Re-read them. You can experience IRL what frontal lobe disconnect does to your perception of yourself and the world. Ask yourself whether they are still the conclusions you would draw?
2. Soothing sounds. When you get home, take ten minutes to listen to binaural beats to ease tension in the head, particularly delta waves which are empathy enhancing and regenerative as they mimic deep sleep. This is particularly potent practised alongside different conscious breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 technique. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7 and breathe out for 8.
3. Eat serotonin-boosting foods. Bananas, chocolate, milk, oats, bread, turkey and chicken all contain high levels of amino acid tryptophan that builds serotonin. 5HTP and tryptophan are also amino acids prescribed as after-care by MDMA therapists that can be bought in supplements. They are available on websites like iHerb and are great to help overcome comedowns.
4. Take probiotics or eat prebiotic-rich foods to support your body’s natural regeneration of mood stability. If you suffer diarrhoea, stomach cramps or altered hunger levels after drug use, this can help replenish your gut flora to ease such symptoms.
5. Get into the ocean, under a waterfall or into an Epsom salt bath. Studies are being done on the presence of negative air ions (NAI), particularly on bodies of moving water here on Earth, and their potential to positively impact human mental and physical health. Suspending yourself in these NAI rich water bodies is also great for decreasing the heart-rate and sending the body into a state of recovery and rest. Epsom salt baths and the magnesium they contain also help ease muscle cramps/tightness remaining from the night before. Add some relaxing essential oils to make it super luxurious.
6. Water your houseplants or garden. Knowing that you nourished something when you feel low, is a weirdly self-supportive practice that reminds us of our ability to grow.
7. Do a hair mask or face mask. Make your own or invest in a pot mask to bring back some feelings of embodiment in the wake of a comedown.
8. Time your sleep. Try not to nap throughout the day so you can get to bed at a time that’s going to match the regular routine of your week. Listen to a guided meditation to help you get to sleep if need be. Alex says:
“Most of our regenerative processes happen during sleep, so late-night Netflix bingeing is discouraged. Prioritise some shuteye. If you experience some mental and emotional health disruption here (most people do!) then it’s very important to register that your brain is operating in a very depleted state where you are highly likely to have much lower levels of your pleasure chemicals.”
9. The power of herbal teas. Chamomile tea and ginger tea are particularly good at calming the stomach and nervous system.
10. Avoid redosing or using pharmaceuticals to lessen the effects of comedowns. Your body needs time to recalibrate and come back to its natural rhythm. Mixing drugs like benzos or Xanax with cocaine or MDMA can be lethal. If you can’t deal with your comedowns unsedated, it’s time to reassess how often you’re coming down.
11. Reflect and express. Take time to integrate your experiences with the substance- both good and bad- either by talking with loved ones or self-reflective journaling. If you are just experimenting with drugs, or even feel it’s gone too far for you there are non-judgemental people you can speak to. Oftentimes people think that a drug and alcohol counsellor is going to make them feel guilty and annihilate them with facts and figures about how what they’re doing is bad. Alex urges you to know that this isn’t the case:
“We can be a rich resource for understanding different classes of drugs so that you can party safe. No judgement. We can also build a therapeutic relationship with you to help you see any blind spots you might be missing. Also, if you’re wanting to stop or reduce use, we can help you build step by step plans to achieve this.”
12. Have a comedown shower. Rinse the inside of your nose with saline or warm water, wash your face and behind your ears, and soap between your toes. It sounds weirdly specific, but when I spend time consciously caring for these particular extremities of my body, it helps prevent dissociative feelings. End the shower with a cold burst to kickstart the lymphatic system.
13. Vitamin C. Get the yummy chewable tablets or drink some orange juice. Vitamin C is a building block for serotonin, and it will help prevent colds/flus or general sniffles acquired from partying.
14. Brush, floss, scrape your tongue and mouthwash the remnants of the night away. Important every day, but ghastly wonderful as a key step of comedown remedy- there’s nothing worse than rotting with a vat of last night’s regret in your mouth.
Finally, to get real about how your drug usage stacks up, try the Drugs Meter app. It’s anonymous and independently funded, allowing you to see how your drug usage compares to other humans with similar life circumstances to you. It also gives you some personalised feedback. Similarly, you can check your alcohol consumption on the Drinks Meter app.