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Rock Bottom in Cambodia

I read a quote the other day about the problem with social media being that, “…we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” That really resonated with me. When you’re feeling down, what’s one of the first things you do? Pop on the computer and check out Facebook. And it’s filled with pictures of your friends at that music festival or in Vegas partying it up, and then you feel worse because why aren’t you having fun like they are? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: they’re all filled with moments of when we’re at our happiest. They provide a slanted perspective of life. Shit, life is hard. Some days you feel sad and alone but you’re never gonna see a tweet like “feelingaloneandconfused #existensialcrisis” even though I’m sure that’s a feeling that everyone can relate to. No one is happy and loving life all the time but we try to make our social media personas come across that way.

I’ve realized that I’ve been doing just that with my blog. If you knew nothing else about me, you’d think that my life is one crazy party, where I hop carefree from country to country, concerned only with where to find my next beer. Yet the partying is just a sliver of my life. What I haven’t talked about are the times that I get down when I’m traveling, and I aim to change that by telling you the story of the time I found myself down and out in Cambodia, smoked opium, and got mugged in a local village.

I’m 22 years old, traveling through Cambodia and partying it up with friends. By all accounts I should be happy… but I’m not. I’m in a city called Sinookville and I’ve woken up with a feeling that I’ve never had before. I’m not too sure what to call it. Depression maybe? All I know is this: I no longer wanted to be myself. I was disgusted with who I was and  wanted to be anyone on the planet save myself. Unfortunately, that isn’t something I get to change. I’m stuck with myself, til death do us part.

How did I end up feeling this way? You’ll have to forgive me for this is a bit off a cop out but it’s a very long story of apathy, insecurity and self-loathing that I’m not quite ready to share on the internet. In a nutshell, all I could ever see were the negative things about me and I ended up in a position where I didn’t like myself and no longer wanted to play a role in my own life. So I devised a solution. The ingenious plan was to drink and do as many drugs as I could find in the hopes that someone would recognize that I had a problem or that I would end up in the hospital and my parents would have to bring me home. What a cowardly solution it was but that’s the truth of it. I no longer wanted to be at the steering wheel of my own life and I didn’t have the balls to ask for help. I would just get so fucked up that the help would have to come to me.

I think I’ve always romanticized the idea of hitting rock bottom in my head. It’s like a preemptive strike to failing. Once you’ve hit bottom you’ve got no where else to go but up. What can be expected of me after I’ve just been airlifted out of Cambodia for a drug overdose? It pains me to write that now but it’s true. I was so afraid of failing, of not living up to expectations and I just wanted a way out from the pressure. Pressure that I now know doesn’t exist. Pressures that I imagined in my own head but at the time were all consuming. Hitting rock bottom seemed like a way to free myself from the shackles of my own mind.

Initiate plan overdose. I begin the night drinking with some friends like any other night. We go out to a bar on the beach. No one knows about my plan. I’m all smiles and jokes as always. I’ve mastered the art of covering up my emotions with a constant mask of laughter. We head to another crowded place on the beach and I start pounding shot after shot. I give my friends the slip and hop to the next bar – my rough plan being to do several shots at each bar down the beach.

After an hour or so of this, things begin to get real hazy. My memory fades in and out. I’ve got no idea how but I’m on the beach with a local Cambodian dude snorting some mystery drugs off his hand. When I drink I’m like a Toucan Sam for coke and ecstasy. Plan overdose is going swimmingly.

We go to the bar, get a few more drinks, then back to the sand for some more mystery bumps. He asks me if I want to smoke opium back at his village, free of charge. You bet your ass I do.

I hop on the back of his motorbike and we take off.

A lone sober neuron fires a brief warning: hold on Nick. I’m pretty sure getting on the back of a very drunk Cambodian’s motorbike to go to his village, by yourself, without letting anyone know you’re leaving could be a bad idea.  Alas, wise neuron, you’re advice falls on deaf ears. The rest of my brain is focused on getting obliterated tonight and you’re coming along for the ride.

We ride for what feels like 25 minutes. We arrive safely in his village and head into his home which is just one big room. His wife and two daughters (ages roughly 3 and 6) are sitting on a bed watching what appears to be the Cambodian equivalent of Spongebob. The husband and I sit down on the ground next to the bed. He pulls out a gatorade bottle contraption that has metal and tinfoil shit attached to the top. He lights it and tells me to inhale it. As I smoke it, the 3 year older daughter locks eyes with me. She’s in her mother’s arms. I’ll never forget that look for as long as I live. Her eyes, questioning “Who are you and why are you in my house?”. I wish I had an answer.  The last coherent feeling I have is one of overwhelming shame.

The man tells me to keep smoking. I gladly oblige. I have no idea what the drug is but I certainly feel strange. I’m not too sure I can move. I sit for a while and then the man tells me I owe him $200. I tell him to fuck off, he told me it was free. He leaves and then comes back with four angry looking Cambodian men. I tell them to please take me to the nearest ATM.

He brings me back to an ATM, I pay him, and he drives off. I’m unbelievably shitfaced. A local Cambodian lady grabs me by the arm and starts taking me somewhere. I’ve got no clue where. Could be she was trying to help me, could be she was gonna hop on the robbing me train. Either way, by the grace of some gods, I run into my friends. I apologize profusely for being a massive idiot and they take me back with them to our room.

Whatever I smoked had some serious uppers in it because I am fucking wired. There is no chance I am going to fall asleep. I pull out my kindle and proceed to finish “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. It’s a great book, although I’d take my recommendation with a grain of salt. I doubt it was Hemingway’s intention for the book to be read under the influence of mystery Cambodian drugs.

I finish the book and have nothing to do but wait for the others to wake up. I stare dully into space and don’t really think about much of anything.

Morning rolls around and finally everyone wakes up. We’re taking a ferry to a new island that day so we pack up and head out.

We get on the ferry. I’m in a strange state of exhaustion but am still unable to sleep from the effects of whatever I smoked. Since I just finished my book, I ask my friend if I can borrow his. He hands me “The Tau of Wu” by the RZA. I’m dubious but have no other options so I crack it and start reading.

I’m captivated. It ends up being a solid book about the RZA’s life philosophies. I get to a chapter that talks about forgiving yourself and in that moment, everything clicked. Everything I had ever done that I wasn’t proud of, I clung onto. I was constantly beating myself up for every little mistake that I had ever made. Of course I didn’t like myself, because all I could see was the negative. But past mistakes cannot be undone and beating yourself up does nothing to resolve them. It traps you in a cycle of negativity and keeps you from living in the present. The key is to forgive yourself. I cannot take back the shitty things that I’ve done but I can try to be a better person. To quote my man Hemingway, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Now, my life hasn’t been all sunshine and sprinkles since then. There will still be days when I catch myself in a cycle of negativity. But the difference is that I catch myself, and I’m able to change my mindset. I still mess up and do things that I wish I hadn’t. But I don’t cling to them like I used to. Trying to change who you are is no easy task and I think people are far too hard on themselves when they make a mistake. To err is to be human. Don’t be pissed at yourself for making a mistake, be proud of yourself for trying to change.

Ultimately, I wrote this post for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an attempt to change the dynamic of social media a little bit. Instead of solely using it to highlight the best of our lives, why don’t we use the vast community at our disposal to help each other out? I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with posting pictures from your vacation but, on the flip side, I don’t think there should be anything wrong with posting a status saying “hey, I’m having a real hard time today, can anyone talk?”.

Secondly, I wanted to be honest with how I felt so that others who feel the same way know that they’re not alone. Whoever you are reading this, if you ever feel like you need someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I certainly can’t promise to have any answers, but I can listen, and sometimes that’s all a person needs.