This Is Your Brain On Drugs
Can psychedelics change who we think we are?
I've been stressing over what to write since my last bombshell essay about my "core wound"- the abandonment of my mother 35 years ago. I gave myself a deadline to complete a new essay this month as I'll be traveling around New England in the next few weeks see old friends and to my family reunion (the Mermin side, not my mother's side.) I want a fresh, fun story to share that isn't just old family trauma. I saw a client I hadn't seen since the pandemic last month and he said to me, "I hope this doesn't offend you but I'm going to have to unsubscribe from your Substack. It's just too painful for me to hear about your mother and all the tragedies you've faced. I feel terrible for you."
It's also too painful for me to read my own story. To live my story. I need to write a new story. So I've been doing what I do when I want to avoid writing. Overwatering the garden and pulling excess weeds for hours. Cleaning the lint trap. Vacuuming. Steaming my face and squeezing out my blackheads. Organizing the garage and purging shit on Craigslist. Calling contractors to get quotes for a new fence. Taking long walks and bike rides trying to clear my head (hey exercise and fresh air is good!) Making excuses that it's too nice outside to be inside in front of a computer. Yet somehow I managed to watch Netflix in the middle of the day today and binge two hours of How to Change Your Mind, a docuseries on the power of psychedelic medicine and how it's being used to treat depression and PTSD. That got me texting my friend Neal who takes psilocybin (AKA "magic mushrooms") to help heal his depression. We started texting back and forth and I told him I took acid and mescaline in high school but it wasn't a therapeutic life-altering experience like the people had in the docuseries. I actually did acid when I was IN school. I remember in my junior year taking a taking a hit of "mescaline" that was sitting in my book bag for months I got from a friend (I learned years later it wasn't real mescaline; it was a strychnine tablet soaked in LSD. I have no idea why we called it mescaline other than it was teal green like the peyote plant. ) It was 7am and I washed it down with a Diet Coke as I ran to school. By 11am I was peaking and it was the start of English class. The teacher had us taking turns reading aloud a few paragraphs of the Shakespeare book we we reading at the time. I was relatively shy, didn't have any friends in this class so I was nervous and I felt all alone. It was like being in a bad dream that I remember vividly. The formica top of the desk was squishy and I formed little piles of sand with my hands which was kind of fun. Then I looked at the walls that were breathing and lace patterns of paisley appeared. I had an epiphany about Prince. I could barely hear anyone speaking, I felt like a big plastic bag was over me and I was in my own world. I was however, very aware that once the person in the desk in front of mine was done speaking it was my turn to read aloud the next paragraph. I remember turning to the guy in the desk to the right of me and mouthing to him I AM SO FUCKED UP which made him giggle but I hoped he would somehow rescue me. After the girl in front of me stopped reading I knew it was my turn and I took a deep breath. I have no idea how much time elapsed but I saw a few faces in the class turn their heads towards me before I spoke. I started reading the next paragraph as if I was speaking through a loud microphone that I couldn't turn down. I hated how my voice sounded, so wooden and dead reading such poetic words. I imagined myself in England in the sixteenth century and I started speaking as if I was in Shakespearean play. I got louder and more people started turning their heads to see this strange sound of a normally quiet girl belting out "For art thou!" in a British accent. I was relieved when the page ended and I could catch my breath. I could hear kids laughing in their seats but I kept my eyes down as I made sandcastles on my desk and went back to barely hearing what everyone was saying.
That was just one of the times as a teenager I did psychedelics for fun.
So back to the present and watching this show. I'm texting my friend Neal, who also happens to be a former coaching client from an intensive workshop on intimacy and love I did a few years ago. In our texts messages I opened up to him about my own insecurities and how I'd like to try mushrooms or MDMA in a supervised therapeutic setting but I'm scared of what will come up. I told him about my own struggle of loving myself and the core wound I carry around (I sent him a link to the Mother's Day essay.) We shared stories of what it was like not having a loving mom and how we re-created relationships with people we knew would reject us because it justified how our mothers treated us. We both knew these relationships were bad for us and the narrative is false, yet something in our brain pattern has it wired as Truth. As I started talking to him about my story, I could feel the "hot processing" happening-- the tightening of my head and neck, the pain in my eyes of tears wanting to fall, the knot in my stomach and the restlessness of my body wanting to start running down the street. In the MDMA episode (or maybe the Magic Mushroom episode?) of How To Change Your Mind, they feature therapy patients in sessions with different types of trauma and PTSD. After going through a supervised session, one of the patients recalled the process and revelations of his experience. While under the influence, the patient spoke to the man who raped and murdered his mother when he was a young boy, and was he surprised that he didn't get upset or angry. He let that man go along with the pain and suffering it has caused him for years.
"I could be with the sadness but not be sad", you know what I mean?" the patient said to the therapists in the room. He only did this one session and yet it completely changed his life.
I also want to be with the sadness but not be sad. Just typing that sentence has me crying and struggling to breathe to keep on writing.
I want to be able to write about my past, share my story without reliving the emotional state as if it was happening in real time. I've been in therapy on and off since I was 18 and my brain feels like a ride that won't let me off. It feels weird to admit I've been a guide and healer for other people's trauma yet I've been secretly stuck in my own. Guiding clients to become physically and/or mentally naked and vulnerable feels so easy and natural, yet my own demons are always waiting to assault me outside the door when the session ends.
As I watched this series, I realized I need to get over my fear of going deep into the dark and uncovering what's there, or just having a scary dark "trip". I'm ready to do an MDMA session with a guide or therapist and let myself go. As in, let every part of myself just go and see what stays with Melissa and what doesn't come back. There's this Jonathan Richman song lyric that keeps coming up in my mind-
Let her go into the darkness
Let her learn from all the things there
Let her go
Let her go
Let her go
The only recreational drugs I've done as an adult is cannabis and I've regretted the experience of (edible) weed every time. I think of it like an amusement park ride: it's fun for a little bit but then you start to feel queasy. The carnie dude laughs when you ask him to stop the rollercoaster because you're ready to puke. Then he makes the ride go faster and faster and tells you that you can get off the ride in six to eight hours. So you just close your eyes, white knuckle the safety bar and experience the longest, trippiest night of your life in the fun house of mirrors. That's basically my experience of recreational drugs as well as most carnival rides. I haven't been into either since I was a kid.
I believe having a psychedelic session with a guide will be a very different experience. I imagine the therapist wrapping me in a soft blanket in a darkened room with soft piano concerto music playing in the headphones, as I fly through space and time and come back down to earth knowing the universal truth and feeling only love and acceptance. Not like than that time I took some LSD rat poison while I sat in my high school gymnasium watching the clock melt, grinding my teeth and wondering if there were magnets in my shoes that made me stick to the floor. Basically, tripping balls as the kids say. Which was actually kind of fun to do as a teenager, before I became an adult with trauma, demons and baggage. I'm looking forward to going into the darkness with an open mind and wonder, just as I did as a kid.
Let her go, let her go, let her go.
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