In 2006, I began taking the prescription drug Ambien (a.k.a. Zolpidem) as a remedy for my insomnia. The drug’s mind-altering effects often kicked in before I fell asleep, leaving me wide-awake while, with closed eyes, I watched what I would be dreaming if I were sleeping. The brain-movies I saw under Ambien’s influence were hilarious, disturbing, surreal and psychologically revealing.
An article that I wrote about my experiences with Ambien can be found here.
In 2013, an associate producer of Katie Couric’s daytime talk show invited me to come on the show and talk about their experiences while taking Ambien after she saw a reprint of the above article in the webzine Acceler8or. I didn’t end up going on the show, but the thought of Katie Couric reading about my visions of flying elephants in diapers and rams with candy cane horns gave me a good chuckle.
Scroll down to see some images from my adventures in Ambien Land…
Drawings and paintings copyrighted Damon Orion. Use prohibited without permission.
Then Came You
The first night I took Ambien, I learned that the drug had some unexpected properties: The face of Emmanuel Lewis, cuddly child star of the ’80s sitcom Webster, appeared out of nowhere, surrounded by several brightly colored concentric rings. Smiling, he pulled back a rubber band, using it to shoot a burning Satanic pentagram at me. The pentagram expanded several times in size as it traveled toward me—by the time it reached me, it was larger than me. There was no pain, only awe, as the flames enveloped me, scorching my everyday consciousness and taking me fully into Ambien Land. All this happened within the space of a few seconds.
The Cupcake People
I cheerfully took Ambien again the following evening, curious to find out if last night’s loopy feeling and wacky visuals were some kind of fluke. In wordless answer, The Cupcake People appeared before my closed eyes.
Just For You
Yes, that’s Gene Shalit. And yes, that’s a real Frisbee.
On with the Show
Mind Playing Trix
Your Money Is No Good Here
Warp Factor Three
Between the black cat (or “panther”) and the fact that Lieutenant Uhura was one of the first major black characters on an American TV series, I’m seeing some kind of empowerment theme here…
But What’s It All Mean?
The cherries and eye sockets seem to be stand-ins for spermatozoa & eggs. I don’t really want to think about what that might mean.
Up, Up and Away
Hey, I don’t claim to understand them. I just draw ’em like I see ’em.
I think this may have been my brain’s way of sending me a distress signal… as in, “Get this strange chemical out of me.” It didn’t occur to me until after I did the painting that this image is a play on words. But in spite of the apparent wishes of my subconscious, I refuse to call this “Brainstorm.”
Emmanuel, False Savior of the Restless
Feeling skeptical of Ambien’s safety—and concerned about the increasingly dark tone of my visions—I decided to stop taking the drug. This decision coincided with the fact that I was down to my last pill. While on Ambien for the last time, I took a look at my drawing of Emmanuel Lewis and the pentagram (“Then Came You”). Here’s what I later wrote about the experience:
Seen through Ambien goggles, Emmanuel’s face appears to be moving—it contorts and sneers in a way that can only be taken as sinister. I’m aware that it’s a hallucination, but the movement sure as hell looks real. I can honestly say I never thought I’d see Emmanuel Lewis looking threatening, but his hardened gangbanger snarl warns that anyone can be threatening on the wrong chemicals.
And all at once, this image, which I once savored as the ultimate in random, is revealed for what it truly is: an impressionist portrait of Ambien itself—a devil in the disguise of a goofy, harmless little buddy; Emmanuel, false savior of the restless, smiling gently as he burns his followers alive with hellish fire.
Many of the other Ambien visions that I’d thought were so deliciously meaningless are now unmasked as the Demon Zolpidem himself, shape-shifting into his manifold manifestations: a leering death-skull hiding behind maraschino-cherry-red eyes; a dangerous hallucinogen costumed in ice cream sweetness.
Where Gene Shalit fits into all this, I’m not sure yet.
The Mouth of Madness
In June of 2009, I took Ambien again for the specific purpose of creating a drawing while under the drug’s influence. This is the result. The other drawings and paintings in this series capture my recollections of Ambien visions; this one captures an Ambien vision in progress.
I suspect that I’m the one being sacrificed to the porcelain god here…