Ecstasy, Misery and Revolver Upstairs
When I was 22, three things happened that will forever mark the narrative of my life. I graduated from university, I broke up with someone who I loved, and I fell apart.
Adulthood had arrived with an unwelcome suddenness, and, terrified of being rejected by my dreams, I instead retreated into a shimmering expanse of meaningless good times. And by that, I mean I made Melbourne’s choice den of debauchery, Revolver Upstairs, my home base. I became a mess, and in a way, it was exactly what I had always wanted.
Since the end of my 21st year, I have been kicked out of a club on six different occasions. I would go out at least twice a week, and going out meant getting as fucked up as I possibly could; meant blasting a hole through my consciousness. I wanted to embarrass myself, to have a good story to tell the next morning, to be able to play at self-disgust but really loving every second. Up until this time in my life, I was always afraid that I wasn’t brave or interesting enough to disintegrate completely. Well, I disintegrated.
I threw up in bars and on bars, into gutters and into bins; I threw up on the Sandringham Line train so frequently that my friends referred to that act as “doing a Jane”. I passed out in toilet cubicles and at parties; a friend woke up to me passed out in his backyard with my shirt off on one occasion. I threw glasses across the dance floor and out of car windows; I pissed on the dance floor several times rather than line up for the bathroom. My feet, for a long time, were blistered and rubbed raw and spotted with blood from dancing for hours on end.
I would drink all the time. There was a bottle of wine perpetually next to my bed and I would start drinking out of it as soon as I woke up. I drank at work, either out the back or out of a glass I kept under the counter that I would top up throughout the shift. I would go into work cooked – I would go to Revs at 9 or so in the morning, take a pill or two, and start work at 12. It isn’t a huge surprise that the store closed down, with employees like me. I got a new job, and spent my first shift struggling through a comedown. My previous job I had quit because my panic attacks had gotten too intense for work.
In my room, dirty clumps of ash sunk into the paint of the windowsill, smeared into a permanent, think black layer. Cigarette butts clogged every available surface. The room – the house, in fact – stunk of smoke, sweet and stale, but I was in it so much I didn’t notice. Plastic wine glasses and ceramic mugs, rimmed with the deep red of old wine, sat for weeks beside piles of dirty dishes, scabbed over with congealed grease and sauce. The corners of the room were home to masses of tiny shards of broken glass, the result of kitchenware that had fallen victim to adrenalin-fuelled attacks of anxiety. My bed was big and soft and comfy, floating solidly in the chaos. It was an entire world I would turn into a nest, and sleep curled up around my laptop and my clothes and my half-empty bottles.
When I was alone, I mainly felt blank and apathetic and lacking in energy, lacking an interest in anything except when I would be going out next. I didn’t really want to see my old friends; I didn’t feel like we had anything in common anymore. I was usually either coming down or hungover, and it felt like there were constantly chemicals bubbling away under my skin, like my skin was stretched thin and taut and close to cracking. My muscles struggled with the simplest of tasks; my eyes strained to stay open. My heart was pounding all the time; I was shot through with sharpness all the time. I was heartbroken, and sometimes the emotion would break through the blankness and I would curl up into a ball and cower against the full weight of my loneliness, of how much I missed my former boyfriend.
In the quiet hours I felt broken down and defeated and like I wasn’t good enough for anyone.
Living with my best friends, though, I was almost never alone, and almost never, therefore, had the space to really think about those things. We would sit in the lounge room, and the TV would be on, and we would talk and talk and talk and talk. About nothing, really, wonderful nothing, sharing the stories of our misbehaviour. There would always be wine, and there would always be so much laughter. I think I took it for granted, how much laughter there was.
We were all struggling and not really trying not to struggle – I remember writing at the time, “there is beauty in the struggle”, and thinking that it meant something. We were all a little sad in our own way somewhere private, but full of life in company. I was completely miserable and completely happy at the same time, and I remember thinking, all the time, even in the depths of my anxiety, I love my life. This is the life I want to be living.
When I first started going out a lot – always to Revolver – we would do pills. It was over a year ago now, but I still remember some of the names from the first few times I climbed those infamous red-lit stairs. Grenades, they were green, and Red Ladybugs. My brain would knit with honeycomb, and I would be propelled around by a force that wasn’t my own, kissing everyone in sight, sharing the superficial secrets of my soul. I felt like a delightfully insignificant little fairy, extraordinarily lovable and full of confidence. I was fascinated in everyone and felt flattered that they were fascinated in me. Life was simple and good and happy, light as fairy floss, and I wanted to keep doing what I was doing forever.
At other times MDMA would make me go deep underwater, but speed would keep the heaviness at bay. Speed turned me into a demon, and soon I wouldn’t want to go out without it. It made me feel triumphant, glorious, I would dance for hours at a time without stopping; I would do the strangest shit without the decision to do so every passing through my conscious mind. I felt fully alive and out of control and glinting on the edge of psychotic; I just wanted to see what would happen next, and to laugh at it. I would spend the whole night dancing with crackling energy, loving the joy of movement, of my limbs snapping around and the soles of my feet bouncing up and down, and the beat fizzing through my blood. And then we would go to kick-ons, where there would inevitably be ketamine.
The first few times I tried K nothing really happened, but over time it became magic. Really, the feeling is magic. A soft sparkle everywhere inside you, like wandering into a cloud, and suddenly everything makes total sense and you don’t have to worry, and the people you are with are the best people, and the music is coming in direct from God, and you are special and lucky and anyone who is doing anything else in the entire world is missing out. I would snort bumps at Revolver and dance, and snort it lying in my bed, listening to the Velvet Underground and Debussy, and it would be heaven in both settings.
As well as the drugs, though, and all wrapped up in them, I was high on the facts of my lifestyle, and on the people. The most beautiful people make Revolver, and all the other sparkling spots of Melbourne, their home. People who dress well, who always look bizarre and incredible and effortlessly so. People whose charisma is like being licked by tongues of flame, who draw you into their light and make you want to be around them, to be one of them. I felt like I was being let in on a secret, like this was a world overlaid onto the Melbourne I knew, perfectly visible but only admissible to a certain type of person, and I was that type of person. It’s the time in my life that I have most felt like I belonged somewhere. I wore green satin and black mesh; I became a Party Girl, a Revolver Regular, and my life was crushed velvet and I was on edge and alive and so miserable and so happy.
I don’t want to be a mess anymore. I want to feel awake. I want to read, I want to experience the world, I want to live in a nice tidy house and I want to feel like I am getting somewhere. But there were times, when I was 22, shamelessly disintegrating, when life filled with flashes of exquisite glamour, and I don’t know if I will ever feel so precisely touched with light again.
Cover by Michael Discenza