Speaking Under the Influence

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I have always had great difficulty speaking in front of an audience.  It’s strange because most of us grow up having fantasies of being popular or even acquiring celebrity status.  I can remember the crippling fear I would get just before presenting a project in class or even reading aloud.  I couldn’t imagine standing on a stage and reciting lines or kicking a guitar solo.  That amount of confidence and comfort has always alluded me.

I managed to get through high school unscathed; we are all a little awkward at that age I like to think.  Several years after graduation I decided to give a college a try at long last.  It was very exciting even though I didn’t really fit in.  I was twenty six at the time, and I was married with a small child.  Most of my peers were fresh out of school and had never held a full-time job.  I already felt like everyone was staring at me and the semester had not even begun.

I knew ahead of time that I would have to take a public speaking course.  The class was part of the core curriculum and there was no way around it, so I thought I would hold off on taking it for a few semesters and try to get more acquainted with college life and just overall be more comfortable.  My second semester I took a Psychology class not fully knowing that it was a discussion class: all students were required to bounce ideas off of the professor in what seemed to me to be a cacophony of ignorant children with self-diagnosed disorders.

There weren’t very many grades in the class.  We took a few quizzes, a test or two, and there were four speeches that we had to make.  They weren’t speeches per say, but rather we had to stand up and state how the subject matter affected our lives.  Naturally this spawned the nonsense I mentioned earlier.  I never had any issues with a social disease so the assignments were extra hard for me and it was only my second semester so I still felt extremely out of place standing up referencing my wife and kid.

The fear had begun to become so severe that I had to seek a solution to my stage-fright and I only had a few options.  I’ve had my fair share of Scotch, and I have experimented with a cornucopia of various drugs and I knew I needed one; ‘a shot of courage’ my mother would say.  I knew from experience that marijuana was out of the question.  People would smell it on me and I would probably get extremely paranoid.  I couldn’t drink alcohol because of the smell also, and I never liked any stimulant.  That left pain pills. They would make me mellow and very talkative, two qualities I needed, and they were practically untraceable outside of a fluid analysis.

The day of my third speech arrived and I popped two Percocets that I acquired the day before.  I was all set.  I was confident before they even took effect.  I waited for a few classmates to chimp around up there and then decided to take my turn.  The exact moment I stood up it felt as if the pills in my blood stream, after had been denied the veins in my legs for so long, rushed down to my feet. My knees got weak and I knew then that I was stoned.  I got paranoid before I was standing fully erect.  I knew they could tell I was under the influence, or at least I thought I knew.  I pressured on and tried to speak to say my few sentences about Pavlov and I couldn’t even understand my own words.  I said what I thought was the ending of my speech, sat down, and waited for the blood to leave my face.

Nothing was ever said about that incident and I got an “A” for participating, same as everyone else, but I feel like I took a little something extra home that day.  I actually learned something, and that’s saying a lot considering most of the class consisted of every other kid saying “my mom has bi-polar”.  On that day I learned that using a substance for any reason than its intended use is wrong.  I felt shame standing in front of the class stoned. With the exception of a stiff drink here and there I have been sober since then.  I still can’t stand in front of a crowd and mutter a word, but I am proud that I can’t.

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