During my second experimental MDMA session on Saturday there were moments when I felt I had solved some of the mysteries of my universe, and yesterday I could barely get out of the bathtub. I was exhausted, feeling immense sorrow and hopelessness to the point I had to skip my favorite parade because I accidentally napped for over three hours. A few weeks ago I looked across the room at Andy and asked him how he was feeling. He replied, “You know when you feel like all the fun is gone, like it’s all been used up and will never return? That’s how I feel.” We both laughed that day because the idea was both ludicrous and acceptable. Right now I’m finding it hard to laugh, and I can’t wait until the day when the humor returns. I know it will, so I’m holding out.
On Saturday I received a total of 180 mg of MDMA. The days leading up to this session were punctuated with anxiety, fear and sorrow. My nephew, whom I love very much and who is also a heroin addict popped back into my life. He arrived on the Greyhound bus at 7 am on Thursday and told me that he had been clean for the last few weeks. It felt so good to hug him, but I could feel that he was holding back. I know the sad predictability of loving an addict and I’m never truly surprised when it is eventually revealed that he has been dishonest to me, but that understanding doesn’t negate my sorrow. I have been consciously trying to allow myself to experience my emotions, instead of distracting myself or trying to rationalize them. It has been a devoted effort to allow myself to be with my feelings, even when I fear that they will destroy me. My nephew’s return provided an opportunity to work on this practice.
That Thursday afternoon after he was no longer with me, I received a phone call that confirmed my fears and suspicions, he had indeed once again lied to me. This phone call occurred fifteen minutes before my scheduled Skype date with an independent rater for the MDMA study. Because of the protocol, I understood that rescheduling this interview would completely disrupt the schedule of the experiment. I did my best to pull myself together and then endured nearly two hours of discussion and questions in which I was asked to describe and consider the most traumatic event in my life. It took everything not to simply burst into tears and slam my computer into the wall. As one can imagine, I was not in a good mental state when we finished.
As soon as I logged off, I broke down. I felt desperate and hopeless. I cried profusely, but my tears didn’t provide any relief. I felt as if I was drowning in this helplessness, and that there was no way out of this darkness. I believed that my pain was futile. This is the danger zone. This is when I know that isolation can become deadly. It is hard to describe this mental state to those who have never contemplated suicide. There is a moment when death feels like the only option that makes sense. I was in abject misery, and I considered what it would be like to kill myself. My handgun was a mere three feet from me at that point. I imagined punching in the code, removing the gun from the safe. I thought about the taste of the cold metal in my mouth, and how Andy would find me. My blood and bits of brain splattered across my art collection that I loved so dearly. And in these thoughts I saw my son. That is when I texted a friend. Just the action of typing the words of my despair helped to pull me out of it. A balloon, a life preserver, a weak tether to sanity, but a tether nonetheless. I tricked myself into getting up. I told myself that I couldn’t die in an unvacuumed house, and decided I would vacuum the entire house and then see if the feeling persisted. By the time I finished I wanted a bath and it was in this more relaxed state that I asked my friend to come over because I knew I shouldn’t be alone.
This is an important development. After being with this feeling and not acting upon it, I didn’t turn to my normal routes of distraction. I did not go fuck someone, I did not start drinking or take something to calm me down, I did not instigate a text or telephone conversation with the purpose of avoiding my current mental state. I texted someone who was able to provide me with what I most needed- empathetic, active listening. He arrived not long after I asked him to come and we sat for a few hours on opposite ends of the couch. He drank apple juice while I cried and talked. He listened, only commenting when necessary to help me process what I was going through. If this had been a date, it would have been the worst date ever. I felt ashamed that I had been so weak. It was a challenge to allow myself to be that vulnerable in person, as this has always been hard for me. I am eternally grateful to him for his willingness to support me and in turn potentially saving my life. It’s true that we often don’t understand the magnitude of our compassion.
I met with the doctors the following day and was able to further examine my feelings toward my nephew. The truth is I don’t see much difference between the two of us. We have both chosen means to distract ourselves and avoid our pain. Over time I was able to cultivate techniques that are more socially acceptable, whereas he is younger and turned to opiods and became addicted. My nephew lost both his parents to drug overdoses and then suffered the same pain caused by the loss of my mother and the women she killed. Instead of society understanding that his addiction has been a means of survival, he has been labeled an addict and criminal. He has served time in extremely violent prisons for non-violent offences and has discovered there are little to no social services available that can offer effective help to him. I feel disgusted and guilty that this is his reality. While I am incredibly grateful to be a part of this study and I do believe it has already caused some changes within me, I feel at times that it is pointless. What’s the benefit to feeling better if my counterpart is still stuck in the same cycle of pain? My nephew has been my lifeline at times. He has been the one who “gets it.” I am terrified when imagining a life without him. There is also guilt mixed in my intense love because needing someone desperately is not a burden I want to place upon them. I feel as if he and I have gone to war together. Not against one another but with one another. We can tell other people about the battle but they can’t truly know what it was like, because they weren’t there. I have to admire him for everyday that he chooses to live. As fucked up as he is, he’s still here. And that is more than the rest of them. Maybe he will read this and it’s meaning will be more than a paragraph in this essay. Regardless, his random arrival created an intense emotional environment for my second experimental session.
This time around, things were a lot more profound. I was given more of the drug which I think helped to facilitate the process more quickly. It’s difficult to recall all that I spoke about and to find words for the things that I can aptly remember. I believe the drug helped to place me in a state of well-being where I was more easily able to be open to my feelings and create a space between them and my ego. I was able to witness more of my thoughts and emotions instead of feeling tied to them. The process felt similar to descriptions I have read of deep meditation, although I’ve never experienced anything like this. The environment, including the Shari and Ray were conducive to a sense of safety and openness. I did not feel as though there was an agenda, so the possibilities of my thoughts and reactions were endless. The session was approximately eight hours and I would say that I cried for five to six of those hours. I also urinated a lot. I joked at the end that I had probably lost over ten pounds in water weight. The crying was cathartic though, and at times mixed in with joy and not just sorrow. I spoke a lot of my family and my perceptions and beliefs as a young child. I talked about some of the people and animals I had lost through the years, pulling out my phone at one point to make everyone look at pictures of Brando. I experienced memories that I hadn’t thought about in years. I was able to witness situations and events from a different perspective. While a lot of it was very hard work, there were a few moments of levity where we all found laughter.
I had put on the headphones for a while and was listening to music when all of a sudden I had an epiphany. I asked for a notebook and pen and began scribbling madly. I wrote for quite a few minutes and then took my headphones off. In my memory I said something to the effect, “Ok y’all, hear me out, I think I’m onto something now.” In reality, who the fuck knows how I prefaced it, or how this knowledge came out, but I’m going to try to explain it. In my first session I talked about my experience with a local medium in which I had been so depressed afterward because it was presented that my mother and the other people she had contacted were still stuck in the same mental state as when they had died. She claimed that my mother’s energy was unpredictable and sickly, and that no enlightenment had occured after her passing. This had been a real bummer, and I wrote about that experience. So in this heightened state of awareness in my second session I wrote the following statement: “Perhaps the way we hold space for the memories of people, keeps them locked in that state of energy.” Meaning that the medium had not been reading my mother’s energy from the afterlife, but that she had been reading my perception of my mother from within my own energy. The current question for me in the session was, how had that perception affected me over years of harboring it? It’s about to get even deeper. Next I had written, “Liberation comes from the ability to respect and accept the memory without allowing it to create the same reality.” There’s truly so much going on here in the ways I’ve recently been able to draw specific parallels to trauma experienced as a young child and my current PTSD manifestations including lack of self-empathy and crippling fears of abandonment. I’m trying to allow space for these thoughts to develop, without judgement or impatience. I understand that these thoughts may not seem profound at all, but for me they were like peeking behind the curtain.
I feel like I’ve viewed the world through dirty lenses for years, and in these moments, the glass has been wiped clean. I also was once again able to be in my feelings and experience them fully without fear or judgement. And while the session only lasted for a quarter of a day, the effects no doubt continue to manifest. That evening after Shari and Ray left and my night sitter and I ate some food and watched horror movie trailers (which is a brilliant thing to do when you are sleeping on the campus of a mental hospital), I checked my phone as I lied down to go to bed. I had received a text, and upon reading it I immediately felt a sudden sense of despair in my solar plexus. This text had triggered my fear of abandonment, and I was able to come to that realization by staying within my body and allowing myself to explore what I was feeling. It was certainly uncomfortable, but as I stayed with it, and continued to breath, I felt it slowly dissipate. I was reminded that I am not just my feelings or just my thoughts, and that there are reactions that are sometimes beyond my control. I refused to distract myself by either waking my night sitter, or engaging in a conversation via text. I allowed myself some time to witness what was occurring, and in those moments I realized the reaction had nothing to do with the text at all. My limbic brain just did what it has done for years, but this time I acknowledged it and asked it to politely shut the fuck up.
On Sunday before I was released into Andy’s care, I had a follow up session with Shari and Ray. I explained that I was feeling extremely exhausted and that I hoped this was partly due to catharsis. I told them about feeling triggered the night before and the visceral reaction I had to such a non-threatening occurrence. I also talked with them about how I feel somewhat defeated that my brain can do this to me whenever it wants to. We discussed how in the past my reaction would have been to latch ahold of the trigger and try to “fix” it with little acknowledgment of how it is tied to the deeper issue of abandonment. Meaning as hopeless as it feels at times, I am making baby steps. I explained how frustrated I am with myself for not being able to figure out the puzzle that is my brain. They explained that the paradox is that there isn’t anything to actually figure out. You just have to be the witness.
When Andy got home on Sunday evening he found me in the recliner where I had been for hours. When he asked how I was doing, I began to cry. I can’t help but admit that since I’ve been allowing myself to feel things, I have found myself incredibly sorrowful. I looked at him through teary eyes and said, “I hate to say it, but honestly I feel hopeless.” I was partly afraid of his reaction, as my instinct has been to protect him from my vulnerability. He quickly responded, “Of course you do! This is a trilogy and you’ve just finished part two, you’re going to get to Return of the Jedi and then it will make a lot more sense.” I thanked him for a perspective that I had not been able to find. In order to build something new sometimes you have to destroy what is there, down to the slab. My slab is in a million pieces presently, so please handle me with care.