Fourteen years ago today Andy ended our relationship for the first time. It was messy and he said a lot of cruel things. “We have nothing in common and if I wasn’t fucking you I wouldn’t want to be your friend.” Oh, and my personal favorite “The first time we had sex was a ten and all the other times have been like five’s.” I was devastated but also relieved as I had expected things to fall apart. I remember even after he said all of this and assured me that we were done, I still gave him a blow job. It was on the rear balcony of my uptown home and it was raining outside. While on my knees I could hear the droplets hitting the metal overhang. Today, this same man who my therapist at the time said was “uncaring, completely immature and emotionally unavailable” put rose petals in with the snack I brought to work. He has no idea that today is our weird “first breakup and farewell bj” anniversary. Women tend to have a better memory for these occasions. Still there were petals with the snack that he prepared with the same care as our son’s school lunch. He is an amazing father, partner and even after all these years much better than a five as a lover. I’m not mad at all about what happened fourteen years ago. I can actually find so much hilarity in it. We were immensely different then. Some would say that just wasn’t our time. I might say that my bj’s are just that good.
Timing is everything. Part of me has always hated to admit this because in it’s acceptance there is also a sense of our own powerlessness. Months before I even had an inkling that I would be participating in an FDA clinical trial for MDMA- Assisted Psychotherapy, I kept fixating on the idea of being in the right place at the right time and it’s unfortunate opposite. It bothered me that a person’s complete life experience could be altered simply by timing, beginning with the precariousness of our existence based on the design of ovulation. I’ve had to balance out my fearfulness of poor timing with my inherited belief in luck. My father would regale me with tales of his youth in which he would often just barely avoid a terrible circumstance by sheer luck. He told me that he was lucky, and he believed I was as well. A productive placebo perhaps, but reassuring regardless. Occasionally though we all need a little more than luck.
Here’s the thing. Before I began this trial I didn’t truly believe that I had PTSD. I understand how ludicrous this sounds when the tragedies I’ve experienced are put into context. Nevertheless when told by my current therapist whom I trust very much I would nod my head in agreeance but not accept what she was saying inwardly. It wasn’t until I went through the first battery of psychometric testing did I realize that I was really fucked up. Before then the timing hadn’t been right. Even if someone I loved and trusted had told me “Hey the way you view the world isn’t really the way the world is,” I would have been incapable of believing them because I had made the world the way I truly believed it was. I now understand that no one would have had any luck in challenging my convictions. I needed to see, absorb and understand the truth that I had come to believe so intensely was not the truth at all. I needed to also understand that I had been powerless in this mode of thinking and reacting. I wasn’t choosing to be the person I had become.
The disconnect that I had developed over years between my mind and my body, became the disconnect between me and the world. I used to sit in therapy and cry. I would tell my therapist of how incredibly lonely I felt. I would explain that losing my nuclear birth family left me feeling desolate and untethered. I would question – if I was less intelligent, would I be happier? I felt exhausted all the time from either suppressing my sadness and discontent or faking my joy and happiness. I had been working so hard to give everyone the reaction they expected that I had forgotten that my reactions were mostly fabrications, straw men. I was going through the motions and believed I was holding it all together. But now I know I wasn’t. Now I realize just how close I was to the edge. I had spent years pretending. Years of thinking that what I was experiencing was reality. Years with very little truth and understanding. My mind was in control – planning, protecting, diligently on guard – and my body was dangling flesh. My body felt nothing but occasional sadness and pain. Tiny bits of emotion that would make their way past the high guard. At the time I didn’t know or understand any of this. I just knew I was different, alone and incredibly unsatisfied with all that I had worked so hard to attain.
Being a part of this trial has allowed me intense introspection that I feel would have been possible through therapy, but would have taken decades. Andy’s analogy of the trilogy is actually quite fitting. In my first experimental drug session, I was figuring out what was available to me. My trust was being built, not just with Shari and Ray, but my trust for myself. In that first session I was able to recall memories that were not necessarily related to a specific trauma but memories that allowed me to feel things in a way that I had forgotten I could feel. This set a precedent for the second experimental drug session. In the second session I was open to a lot more of what was coming up. The dosage of the drug was higher so I felt more of the effects of the drug, but more importantly I was able to access more feelings than before. Most of those feelings were sorrowful and after that session I was no doubt depressed. In reconnecting with my body, I was riddled with fear and anxiety including: lack of self-worth, guilt over the past, projection into the future, and the quiet desperation of loneliness. Thankfully I made it through which proved to me that the darkest wasn’t nearly as terrifying and defeating as I had believed it would be for years. This gave me hope and strength and moving into the third session my team and I devised an intention.
I knew there were specific things that I wanted to focus on including the death of my mother and my rape. In regards to my mother and the circumstances surrounding her death I had always been able to discuss the tragic events that occurred with a feeling of removal from the situation. It was as if I was telling the story of something that happened to someone else. I had always been able to remember a good amount of specific details but I had never been able to connect to my feelings. While on 180 mg of pharmaceutical-grade MDMA, I placed myself into the memory of that day. I replayed the tragedy and not only did I remain present in my brain, but I also allowed myself to feel what I didn’t allow myself to feel that day. As one can imagine, it was very sorrowful and the sheer terror of the truth reverberated through me. Incredibly though, in the experience I was able to find shocking amounts of empathy for my mother. I considered how terrified she must have been once she had killed Julie and Lark and felt that she could only end things by killing herself. It was a profound experience to mentally go back into that space and remain present to my feelings and not just my thoughts. It has significantly changed me.
Shari and Ray were my support system. They held the space for me to go into these memories and allowed me the safety to do so wholeheartedly. Reminiscent of the scene in Poltergeist where the mother has to rescue Carol Ann and the family and psychic tie a rope around her, Shari and Ray were my rope. I knew if things got too intense, I could tap out. That they would be there to pull me back if I needed them to. They did not need to. Thankfully. After I went through the traumatic event of my mother’s death with the loving support of my team, I decided to tackle the trauma of my rape.
For the first time in over a decade, I told the story of my rape aloud to two individuals who actively listened and showed incredible amounts of empathy. When I finished they were both struck with how dejected I had sounded and had physically presented. I had discussed with them how my rape has continued to affect me specifically by causing a visceral, unpredictable reaction in my body during times of intense arousal. I have described these reactions as feelings of being smothered, suffocated and silenced. In order to process this tragedy, Shari and Ray implored me, asking about triggers that elicited that feeling of panic within my body. I had admitted to them before, and did so again during the session that certain yoga poses immediately cause that reaction within my body. These poses being shoulder stand and plow. For over a decade I have avoided doing these poses even when I was teaching yoga. So there I was, high as fuck, and I suggested that I put myself into a physical posture that I knew would make me feel completely terrible. I had to find the levity in the situation in which then after deciding I would go into the poses, I came up with the short list of things I needed to do beforehand. Hello avoidance. I needed to blow my nose, have a drink of water, eat a mint, have another drink of water. I was like a child avoiding bedtime. Finally I made my way to the mat and after some simple stretches I carefully got into plow pose.
Immediately I felt intense panic, fear, shame and sadness. I struggled for my breath, from the panic as much as from my tears. Shari and Ray were right there with me holding the space for me. Even so, I felt terrified and paralyzed. Shari calmly and lovingly asked me, “What does that feeling need?” So I asked the feeling, and simple enough it just wanted to be heard. I just wanted to be heard. Me, Lori Tipton, lying on a mat in a building on the campus of a mental hospital, high on MDMA, just wanted to be heard, believed and empathized with. Bada bing, bada boom. There are so many circumstances surrounding my rape that caused me to be silenced at the time. I never realized how toxic that silence has been. Being in that miserable pose and allowing myself to feel everything, and being seen and heard by people who I have grown to trust and care for immensely was incredibly healing. I stayed in that first plow pose for a few minutes. Then I came out of it and relished every moment of easy breath. I went back into the pose two more times. And by the end of the third time, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t unbearable. For me that’s no short of a miracle.
I am still processing all that has happened to me. I feel like I’m standing on the shore of openness and action. Part of me wants to feel the tug of the waves and allow them to take me wherever I am supposed to be. To trust in the pull, the process. The other part of me wants to dive into them. To thrash against them and feel the power of myself, my desires, my volition. I’m walking that shoreline like a tightrope. This walk is the integration, the practice.
To reconnect with my body has been one of the most harrowing and rewarding experiences of my life. I have had to mourn the loss of myself, my time and my potential. I have had to accept the parts of Wilder’s life that I was physically there for but not emotionally available for. I have had to treat myself with kindness and patience, which have taken time to cultivate. It has been a reconnection lubricated by immense sorrow and a plethora of tears. But it has also left me with something more beautiful than I could have imagined. Feeling. Presence. Awareness. My truth has released me from the guilt of my past and allowed me to acknowledge that great things are still available for me. Right now. In this very moment. Andy confessed that over the last few weeks he has found immense satisfaction in silently watching me experience mundane things as if for the first time. And that is how so many things are feeling right now. Awkwardly delightful.
I am falling more in love with my life every day. I am finding it so much easier to laugh the way I used to years ago. I feel lighter, calmer and less agitated. This is not to say that I’m now free of all fear and anxiety. I still have that voice that so badly wants to question everything and constantly self-criticize. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as loud. I have a new, small fear that I’m listening to but limiting its growth. This fear worries that I’ll wake up one day just as crippled by my PTSD as I once was. I hold this little fear close to my heart and whisper soothingly “that’s impossible, because you can never unknow the things you’ve learned.” And when it wants to sweep me away to that oxymoronic comfortable place of feeling bad, I bring myself back to the moment. My son’s laughter, the tenderness of my husband, the taste of my lover’s skin, the love of my community. These moments are where the magic happens. And I want to be open to all of them.