I began struggling with alcoholism at the age of 18 during my senior year of high school. When I moved away from my hometown to attend college in a larger city in 1993, a combination of factors compounded my escalating drinking and drug abuse.
At last, I’d achieved a degree of freedom from my parents. I was raised in an upper-middle class family where external appearances were everything. My parents had complex and unresolved issues of their own, and my upbringing was often traumatic. Much later in life, I would learn that the years I spent with my parents and their emotionally-neglectful style of upbringing would result in my living with Complex-PTSD. I would also be diagnosed with anxiety disorder and substance use disorder, all the while living with high sensory-processing sensitivity, making me a “Highly Sensitive Person” per Dr. Elaine Aron’s book by the same name.
Free from the perpetual lock-down of my parents’ clenched reins, I exploded onto the college party scene. While marijuana was more my thing, I had initially begun coping with overwhelming feelings by using alcohol, because it was legal and more readily available. After only a year and a half at college, I went from being a high school honor student to one who rarely attended classes. I usually crawled into my dorm room bed at dawn. Between alcoholism, anxiety and depression, I could barely function.
I had begun experimenting with many different drugs. At the time, my attitude was that all these substances were created “equal,” that they all had certain risks, but were essentially party tools. In one way or another, they helped me to numb my emotional pain for a while.
I did not yet understand that not all “drugs” are created equal. I grew up in the era of Nancy Reagan wagging her finger to “just say no.” I did not yet understand the healing potentiality of psychedelics . . . nor did I respect their power.
Then one night, hanging out with a friend in a small trailer outside of town, I had my first life-altering psychedelic experience. My friend had spent a period of life living and traveling with a community of hippies at something he called “Rainbow gatherings.” We were kindred spirits – emotionally wounded, mischievous flower-children misplaced in the grunge era.
I dropped no more than two tabs of LSD that night in his trailer. I had done mushrooms with a different group of friends once before, but the experience had not yielded more than a soft-focused sense of wonder and connection as I rambled through nature. This night was different. As my friend was only renting a room in this trailer, and his landlady occupied the rest of the residence, we stayed inside his bedroom. It was a cozy space, albeit sparsely decorated with a simple mattress on the floor. He turned Bob Dylan on his radio, and we both began to dance at opposite ends of the room. But it was a dance unlike any other I had ever done, for as I began to peak, I not only sensed an intense telepathic connection with my friend, but I felt a very keen tingling of electricity spiraling up from my lower back through my spine, and sensed a large ball of energy rolling out of my chest. I incorporated this ball of energy into my dance, as did he with his own, playing with it as though it was a tangible ball. Over and over, the energy spiraled up my spine and rolled out of my chest. Over and over, the ball of energy surged down my arms and into my hands. There was also a sense that, although the two of us were alone in a small room, we were in fact among a much larger crowd of people dancing. It felt very much like my mind had tuned in to an unknown radio frequency, but one of a spiritual nature. My friend smiled and winked at me in some secret knowing, as I must have eyed him in wonder. “We’re over the rainbow,” he smiled.
Occasionally that night, I would step out into the hallway to use the restroom. Whenever I did, the telepathic connection would cease. When I re-entered his bedroom, the connection would resume as strong as ever – almost as though I had entered some kind of time-space portal. The effect was intensified as we smoked hash.
To my surprise, on subsequent occasions when I again dropped LSD in my own apartment, I was able to return to this portal . . . or whatever it was. I affectionately termed it “the Frontier.” I once replicated the experiment with a different friend in my own apartment, after which he stared at me blankly and helplessly shrugged, “This kind of thing is not supposed to be able to happen.”
Reality, as I had known it, turned sideways. I lost interest in participating in society in a whole new way. Everything man-made seemed petty, egotistic, pointless and even repulsive: politics, organized religion, consumerism, attending school. Since everyone close to me was interested in those things, I experienced a whole new sense of isolation from everyone and everything around me, except for Nature and my concept of Spirit. That feeling of disconnection from society led me to drop out of college. While that may sound like a negative consequence of my experience, in retrospect, school was not where I needed to be at that time. I felt like I was being taught much larger lessons that I would need later on in life. (I later returned to school and obtained my B.A. with highest honors.)
Another unexpected outcome of my psychedelic use was that I lost my desire to drink for 12 straight years. The urge had simply vanished. I did not attend AA once during that time. Eventually, I did relapse on alcohol, and when I attended AA and mentioned my 12-year sober stint that resulted from LSD, you can be sure that nobody in the program wanted to hear about it! I pointed out that even Bill Wilson, AA’s founder, had experimented with psychedelics and had positive things to say about them regarding his recovery. Nobody wanted to hear that, either. Fully immersed in the AA culture for nearly five years, I read all the recovery literature and was keenly interested by the concept of ego-death in recovery. Had LSD prompted such a temporary ego-death in me? Certainly, psychedelics command a degree of humility and surrender.
Always fascinated by metaphysics, over the years I began to research some of the bizarre physical sensations that I experienced back in my early days of psychedelic usage. The blossoming of the internet suddenly made answering odd questions easy. I read of something called kundalini energy and kundalini awakenings. Those seemed to be pieces in the puzzle, as kundalini is often described as a serpent-like energy that lies dormant in the root chakra at the base of the spine, climbing up the spine and activating the chakras as it induces spiritual awakening. Further, I learned this might sometimes be triggered not just by intense yoga practice, but also intense drug experiences. I knew nothing of chakras or this type of phenomena in the old days. Readings on qi and the Tao were also applicable and of interest.
I no longer drink alcohol or use other drugs. I stopped attending AA years ago for a variety of reasons. I continued embarking upon psychedelic journeys until my early 40’s, though in a more deliberate and spiritual context, several times as part of shamanic rituals. The same distress tolerance that psychedelics cultivated now helps me cope with chronic pain from fibromyalgia.
I will always have great reverence for the power of psychedelic medicines and hope they will continue to be explored for their healing potential.