Archive for June, 2003

A Year Without Psychedelics

Tuesday, June 10th, 2003

originally published in Trip – the Journal of Psychedelic Culture

The year 2000 was an insane year for me. I’d been taking psychedelics since 1992 for reasons ranging from psychological exploration and spiritual confrontation to pure hedonism and outright debauchery, most often within the same weekend. But 2000 got to be pretty intense, on both a professional and personal level. Coincidentally, I chose 2000 as the year to actually start keeping a log of my drug use; I figured this log would provide valuable information for metaprogramming purposes by giving me insight into patterns of usage in my life, as I continued the seemingly never-ending process of questioning the role of psychedelics in my life. By the end of the year, the log was threatening to consume me with its sheer corrosive malevolence. I eventually un-un-un-un-unencrypted it, surprised it, dragged it behind my apartment building, shot it several dozen times, drowned it in cement, and threw it into Puget Sound, spitting on it a few times for good measure. I had gleaned all the information I needed to know – my psychedelic use was approaching wildly unhealthy levels, and it was time for a new approach.

I decided to take the entire year of 2001 off from doing any strong psychedelics whatsoever. I had two caveats, which I determined before 2001 began, so that no one could later accuse me of cheating: 1) I do not consider MDMA to be a strong psychedelic, and 2) the week of Burning Man would be a reprieve from this abstinence. The goal was to attempt to analyze my appetite for altered states by depriving myself of access to the usual ones. I’m not a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst, nor can I typically afford one, but after years of wrestling with questions about the value of psychedelics, and additional questions related to examining self-worth, spiritual focus, and community involvement, I believed that shaking myself free of patterns of drug use accumulated throughout the years would offer me valuable information that I might not attain otherwise. Indeed, by the end of 2000, I felt as though I was wearing my soul thin; it was definitely time for a break.

My friends immediately suspected my personality had been hijacked by puritanical aliens, but I calmed them, reminding them that due to interdimensional peace treaties, aliens are no longer allowed access to my personality without appropriate paperwork. For the most part, my friends were supportive of my effort to take a break. Over the years I’ve developed a reputation within my little microcommunity as [deleted for security reasons], and I think many of them were relieved to see that I wasn’t progressing directly to injecting bleach into my eyeballs. Others seemed to believe I was staging a publicity stunt, as though I might start taking pledges for my favorite charity group. I waved goodbye to psychedelics at the turn of the new year, and started my long, long year without psychedelics.

It turned out to be relatively interesting timing for such an experiment. 2001 wound up being “The Year Of Sucking Serious, Serious Ass” for me and many of my compadres. And I realized that I had been using psychedelics as a way of “enforcing relaxation” upon myself in times of significant, awful stress. The catch of course is that as 2000 got more and more intense and my drug use increased, I wasn’t actually getting any relaxation at all; I was working even while tripping, examining the previous few weeks’ endeavors under the harsh psychedelic microscope. That was why my soul was wearing thin, but now, as 2001 got steadily more awful, I no longer had the reflexive tool I was so accustomed to.

Apparently in psychoanalysis practitioners use a term called “substitution” to describe what happens when a person bails on one addiction, only to replace it with another. In this case, what immediately happened when my psychedelic use stopped was that my alcohol intake increased astronomically. I’ve always been a drinker, but this got to be quite ridiculous. The rest of my body actually posted armed guards around my liver to prevent it from actively fleeing in abject terror. I justified and rationalized by noting that my actual life wasn’t particularly impaired by my alcohol intake; I continued to help publish this magazine, held down a day job for most of the year, produced theatre and music and books and stories, maintained a wonderful relationship, and so on.

But as the year rolled on, and my professional life got uglier and uglier, it became apparent that alcohol was no particular substitute for psychedelics in the realm of facing up to an immense, encroaching depression, and trying to do something about it. However, I was learning an enormous amount about the essential appetite that lurks at the heart of this entire landscape for me. Recently I was asked at a party if I felt my psychedelic intake was healthy, and I still don’t know the answer. I have managed to identify an essential appetite for altered states that isn’t going away any time soon. For better or worse – sometimes it truly is for better, and occasionally it truly is for worse – I seek these states with a kind of voraciousness that I can’t understand or explain, only address and learn to live with.

The fact is that psychedelics have helped shape my personality in ways I find to be immensely positive and powerful. When I was first introduced to LSD years ago, I was at a time in my life when I had quite recently lost my faith, and lost my best friend to suicide – two events that are inextricably linked. Over the course of many challenging years, years in which I made wild, preposterous mistakes and caused quite a bit of anguish, I nevertheless managed to find my way to a kind of maturity that I treasure and respect. I don’t have a god to trust, and I don’t have a spiritual path that could comfort me, but the psychedelic state has been a rigorous training companion as I’ve approached adulthood. Even in those occasions where my companions and I simply sought recreational bliss – and don’t ever underestimate “because it feels good” as an intrinsically valuable part of the psychedelic experience, especially at a time when so many people medicate themselves on a daily basis because their life does not feel good – I believed I was making genuine progress as a person toward someone more compassionate, more deserving of trust and respect.

Losing that psychedelic accompaniment for an entire year happened to coincide with some unfortunate life events. As the year progressed, I began to regret my decision in some ways, but I was also quite happy in the meantime to demonstrate to myself that I could stick to it. It was like running a marathon, knowing that I would feel satisfaction at reaching the finish line, and also, of course, knowing that I truly could “quit at any time.” It became very informative over time to realize exactly how often and under what circumstances I instinctively or habitually thought about taking psychedelics, and months into the new year, my sense of awareness about those decisions feels heightened in a positive way. My decision did affect a number of close friends as well, who mysteriously found their own use declining without my presence as the constant “inciting incident,” so to speak.

Burning Man arrived, and I experienced a mind-blowing trip on three hits of liquid LSD that I won’t ever forget (think very large video screen, and I’d never seen Repo Man before); then it was 2002, and I immediately leapt back into guinea pig mode, promptly having a wig out on one of those bizarre research chemicals that was a throw back to the days when I was just a toddler on these drugs. It seems you can forget a lot of really good habits in a year’s time. But soon enough, I was back up on my feet, and although my appetite remains much as it once was, I’m at least aware of my intemperance now in a way I never bothered to be before.

The years have long passed when I would try to proselytize on behalf of trying psychedelics. There seems to be an exuberance among new users that no longer appeals to me at all. The questions posed by the psychedelic experience, both on its own merits as the mysterium tremendum, and as it relates to our increasingly bizarre Western mindset, are too complex and fraught with a kind of existential peril for me to ever again try to convince someone this is the path for them. By the same token, if someone has already chosen this path, I remain quite full of enthusiasm for discussing its relative merits, working out strategies and techniques, and perhaps most importantly, participating in and helping develop notions of psychedelic community. Ultimately my year without psychedelics left me with several important questions to consider, several more questions than when I entered the year, and far fewer answers than I was hoping I might encounter.

And then, I had my first AMT experience after more than a year. AMT is one of my favorite drugs on the planet; I realize for many people it’s a cold, boring, irritating space, but for my compadres and I, this experience is a kind of delightful manna, a slow, luxurious empathogenesis that offers less intensity in a given moment than MDMA, but because it lasts so much longer (12-14 hours), offers instead the ability to truly relax, follow tangents, explore ideas and moods, and not worry about cramming in all the emoting you need to cram in before it wears off too, too rapidly. That day, I experienced twelve solid hours of happiness for the first time in too long to remember, and what a precious gift it was. At one point, we decided to let our ground control drive us to a different location that was hot tub-enabled. It was one of those insanely beautiful days in Seattle where it was sprinkling rain and yet completely sunny out, the kind of day that no one tells you about when they’re warning you away from Seattle on the basis of weather. As we left location one, we saw the most enormous, beautiful rainbow towering over the cityscape. It was almost too beautiful to believe, but there it was… and as we crossed a street on the way to the car, we saw one end of the rainbow landing, not in a pot of gold, but directly in the street perhaps a block and a half away from us. Nature was putting on one of those shows that it seems to reserve specifically for tripping people, and even just remembering it as I write this puts things into a kind of perspective I often forget as I stumble through the rest of my life. How might I have felt about that rainbow if I had seen it in my year without psychedelics?

Citation: Moore S. “A Year Without Psychedelics”. Trip : Journal of Modern Psychedelic Culture. Spring 2002.

Also published as:
Citation: Moore S. “A Year Without Psychedelics”. Erowid : eScottology. June 2003