Citation: fortymore. "Touch and the River: An Experience with MDMA (exp115298)". Erowid.org. Apr 2, 2021. erowid.org/exp/115298
[Trigger warning for frank, but hopefully empowering, discussions of body image, food, and weight.]
I am moved to write this report because the experience I'll describe has profoundly improved my life. I am reluctant to devote so many words to my own very narrowly focused observations, when I know that others can grasp and explain what matters far better than I can. That said, if someone out there is struggling in the same way I was (or loves someone who is) I offer this data point in the hopes that some small part of it might illuminate a step your journey of healing and growth. The amount of detail that I feel is necessary will probably make this report boring to most, but that is to be expected. Since I don't know which variables were essential to my healing, I'll try to present them all for future healers to identify which ones (if any) feel relevant to their situation.
I am 30 years old, approximately male, and fat. This experience took place in the first few days of 2021, during a dark period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the almost-year of pandemic disruption, I had been making small steps towards breaking out of some entrenched routines. In terms of experiences, my roommates and I had been enjoying some lighthearted mushroom and LSD experiences, and spending lots of sober time supporting each other through various rough spots. We had been marching in protests, but still spending much of our energy on conventional work. I had been listening to an almost-constant stream of podcasts and news, but also listening to a few books. “Why Fish Don't Exist” by Lulu Miller and “The Overstory” by Richard Powers were both very meaningful to me and the ideas were very much rolling around in my head when this report starts. I had very rarely been listening to music. Concretely, my roommates and I had moved into a new house, I was in the process of quitting my high-stress job of 7 years, and was making attempts to connect more intentionally to friends and family.
For most of my life, I had been struggling with my relationship to my body and food. Philosophically, I was aware of and invested in the body positivity movement, but with the benefit of hindsight I recognize that my behaviors at the time matched the clinical definition of binge eating disorder exactly. While I only had a vague grasp of it at the time, in retrospect I see that the secrecy, shame, and constant body discomfort had been woven into every facet of my life. In general, I saw my life as rich and good. I was very aware of how lucky I was in so many ways, but I had grown largely disconnected from joy and pleasure.
Over the past 10 years, I had had maybe two dozen experiences with LSD and mushrooms, all with close friends in relatively controlled recreational settings. I found the experiences both enjoyable and meaningful, but always returned rather quickly to the material world. For a number of reasons, I often found myself in a plus two state, wishing I was in a plus three state, and the experience was tinged with a sense of yearning. I had tried MDMA once before with a friend, but only a very low dose was available, we both ended up having a plus/minus experience. I was a regular weed user, smoking maybe 1-2 joints per week and occasionally partaking in a 10mg edible on a weekend night. I don't think it matters, but for sake of science: I take 450 mg of magnesium daily, and no other baseline medications.
The Cast of Characters:
S is my best friend of 13 years, 9 of which we have spent cohabitating. We believe in saying “I love you” and our hair is slowly turning gray in unison.
M is another close friend, and roommate of 5 years. We've been slowly growing closer over our whole friendship. M is deaf, but usually communicates in English, largely by lip reading. None of the rest of us speak ASL, which is his other language.
J is a new roommate of 1 year, but and old friend of S's and we have quickly become close.
E & D are a couple and have been good friends of the whole 'family' for quite some time, they are frequent house guests. They are around 5 years younger than the rest of us, and have knowing artistic souls. E's pronouns are they/them, but when we met they went by she/her, so my perception of them includes the safety and power that I associate with being around feminine energy.
Everyone except for M and myself had fairly extensive experience with MDMA in recreational settings. I don't think any of us would identify as following any particular spiritual school, but we certainly all believed that life is meaningful and tried to live by an ethic. While we all had our own individual practices, and nurturing relationships with each other, I don't think any of us would consider ourselves to be experienced in any form of healing. None of my relationships with any of these folks had ever been sexual.
After some time searching, we had finally come into a semi-reputable source for MDMA and bought a number of doses. We tested the material with reagents from DanceSafe, and while it was hard to be 100% certain differentiating among the Mdxx family, we felt confident that we had ruled out dangerous adulterants and it was probably MDMA. For the record, I have done more research after-the-fact, and the pills were as described in the PillReports.net entries for “Orange Reddit Cp” (ids 38458 & 38406). Because some of us were having a rough time emotionally, we put the tablets away to be used at a time when we were all in a good mindset. While I was out of town visiting family J, S, E, and D had an experience with this material and reported subjectively that it was “good” and “pretty strong.” E & D also took tablets that appeared to be the same material at another event and had very positive reports. Based on all this data, I feel fairly confident that the material is MDMA and I certainly wasn't worried about its identity at the time when I took it.
At dinner one night, this group concluded that we would all like to have an MDMA experience together, and scheduled a night. As the night came around, the COVID risk in our household had gotten somewhat elevated, and E & D determined that they were uncomfortable with the idea of being together, so we all agreed that it was not the right time. Nobody made the move to reschedule immediately, but we did plan a weekend together in a cabin to celebrate the new year. We didn't explicitly make a plan for drugs to be a part of the weekend, but we brought all of the options we had around in case inspiration struck.
On our first day at the cabin, we spent time outside exploring the property we had rented, hiking in the foothills, and tending to logistics like firewood and water. During the whole trip, D & S cooked most of our meals, and we ate and cleaned up as a family. E & D were planning to take January off of drinking alcohol, and S and I don't drink much anyway, so I didn't have more than an occasional beer with dinner. At night after everyone was asleep, I would graze on some snacks I had hidden away in my suitcase. This wasn't related to hunger, but in the spectrum of my eating habits, it was comparatively mild and harmless.
On the day of the drug experience, we woke up and ate breakfast, then drove into Sequoia National Park. We went on some short walks, saw the incredible trees, and played in the snow for a while. The sights were incredible as always, especially with the tree conscience of “The Overstory” still heavy on my mind, but the park was crowded, which was especially distracting with COVID safety in mind. I enjoyed our time, but didn't feel the kind of serene connection that draws me towards nature. I suspect the others felt similarly. On the way back, we stumbled across a rocky pool in the middle of a river. Very few people were there and we each got to have our quiet moment with the earth. I mostly sat, reflecting on the discipline of the water, the way the rocks bore witness to all the forces of the earth, and the ways that the formation was sure to change as time marched on. S, E, and D explored around the rocks in ways that would have felt stressful to me because my balance and reflexes aren't so sharp. I noticed some dark feelings of not being able to participate in their experience, but quickly remembered that for me, the experience I was having held more meaning anyway. After an hour or so, we proceeded back to the cabin and ate sandwiches.
The Experience (Finally!):
After some discussion of which drugs to take (we had mushrooms and MDMA for everyone, and E had a bit of LSD), S made the decision that she wanted to do MDMA because M and I had not experienced it. She thought we would like it, and I'd learned long ago to trust her judgment. I was very excited to try something new, if also a little apprehensive about this particular one. I associated MDMA with the rave and club scene, a place where I felt deeply unwelcome on account of my body. I knew that I loved mushrooms, and had some concern that MDMA's effects might be lost on me as a person who lived mostly in his mind, not in his body.
I loved mushrooms, and had some concern that MDMA's effects might be lost on me as a person who lived mostly in his mind, not in his body.
(Spoiler alert: that wasn't an issue.)
After finishing our lunch/dinner, we each swallowed one of the glittery orange tablets. S told us to expect not to feel much for close to an hour. J went off to take a shower, and the rest of us decided to sit near the river that cut through the property that the cabin was on. We never discussed intention explicitly, but my underlying assumption was that like all of the trips that S, M, J, and I had shared, we would be centering our enjoyment, some degree of peacefulness, and the sense of rejuvenation that always followed. It had been an intense year and we could definitely each use some fresh energy. I hadn't taken a psychedelic with E or D before, but knew they were likely to be on the same wavelength. I certainly didn't expect the experience to be any more healing than my previous experiences appreciating hummingbirds or waterfalls on LSD.
As we got to the river, E and I discussed the beautiful clouds staging themselves for the impending sunset. I'm a student of sunsets, but never get to discuss it with anyone, and really enjoyed their shared enthusiasm. Around half an hour after we took the tablets, E asked if they could squeeze my thigh (I was wearing shorts, as I usually do.) This was unusual to me, and the first sign of drug effects, but I consented. The sensation was aggressive, but it was a very affirming feeling to me to realize that E wasn't just performing some gentle service for me, but was actually being steered by their own pleasure of sensation. Although I was not even at a plus/minus yet, this concept was a crack of light shining under a door. E complimented my legs, a comment I mostly brushed off by saying a quick thank you and trying to divert attention away from myself as quickly as practical. I didn't imagine that they actually meant it.
S asked me if I was feeling anything. I wasn't feeling anything beyond the normal openness of a day around nature and friends. Not wanting to pull the others out of their experience though, I said “I'm inviting it in” which was true. S knew what I meant. E asked D if they could squeeze him. In what seemed like a well-rehearsed interaction they both said in unison “not too hard.” After the experience I just had, I understood why that boundary had been established even though they were an intimate couple. The effortless honoring on verbal consent boosted my confidence that this wasn't going to feel like any club I'd ever been to.
S said to me “You're so far away” as I sat on a comfortable rock maybe 4 feet from her. I moved closer, being careful not to invade her personal space. As soon as I sat back down she said “You're still so far away” and I scooted a few inches closer so the left side of my torso touched the right side of hers, we both faced the sunset. I can't remember exactly what order things happened in, but we hugged, and acknowledged how much we had helped each other through a troubling year. She shed a few light tears, and assured me that I was her family. Because our beliefs in independence and impermanence are at the center of our relationship, I think she knew that I needed to really believe that our bond was that strong. I felt sorry that I didn't have anything as meaningful to offer, but tried to make up for it in my hug.
Around 45 minutes had elapsed since we took the tablets. I was just barely at a plus/minus myself, but E and S were well into the experience. We discussed this a little bit, and D and S asked me to research if there was a risk of overdose if I took more. I was somewhat surprised that this was a question, since I thought I knew that the risk was vanishingly small, but agreed to look into it. Around this time, someone tried to talk to M and he didn't respond. That's not unusual, we often have to get his attention visually, but even after that he was non-verbal. He was clearly in fine shape physically, but we were concerned about not being able to communicate with him where he was mentally. I used a phone app to type a few simple questions and by nodding we established that he was having a good time and not concerned. This wasn't unusual for him based on our mushroom experiences, so we want back to watching the last of the sunset. As usual, I felt a great sense of awe and serenity as the clouds and trees and water were painted by the last tendrils of the day.
Just as twilight was settling in, M rather abruptly stood up and started trying to stagger across the rocks, alarming all of us a little. I don't know if the challenge was with his perception or motor control, but his movement was awkward and uncontrolled. We were worried he might trip and fall, so S and I each took one of his arms and held him up. We struggled a bit to communicate that we wanted to help him, not to restrain him. Pretty quickly he understood that and we understood that he wanted to go to the cabin, so we started the walk (maybe two hundred yards, across rocks, dirt, and gravel road). Before each step, we had to wait for him to plant one foot, so the trek went slowly. I considered that he might prefer if I carried him, but it felt too complicated to get consent so we just walked slowly, holding up his top half and letting his feet steer his bottom half. Needless to say, any plus/minus feeling I had was quickly dissolved by these practical concerns. I was stone cold sober, hoping that he was OK, and that the night wasn't about to take a turn for the worse. I tried to keep my doubts to myself, and remember that this was objectively a lower risk activity than many of the hikes he and I had taken together.
As we approached the cabin, J heard us and came outside to help. It turns out he had been done with his shower for a while and coming up, but wasn't sure where we had gone. Once inside, M was calm and enjoyed sitting on the floor of the living room. J and S and I all sat with him, relaxing back into the okay-ness of the situation, but keeping a close eye on the status. I think this is the place to make a retrospective note that M takes some daily psychiatric medication, and this interaction likely explains the difference of reaction. Speaking to him after the fact, I have confirmed that while this part of the experience was not his favorite, he does not see it as traumatic or harmful. In the future, I know to be more proactive about possible interactions like this.
At some point, S checked back in on how I was doing, and she and J were trying to decide if I should take more or not. J advised that I smoke some weed, and S agreed that it wouldn't hurt. At this point we were distracted by M suddenly becoming verbal again. He asked for his iPad so that he could show J something. It turned out that the thing he wanted to share was a piece of erotic video that he had been making but hadn't told anyone about. The concept of the video was somewhat overwhelming to me, but S an J were curious about it, and also eager to engage him in something. While they watched the video, a little over an hour after we first took the tablets, I went to the kitchen. Partly I didn't know how to engage with anything erotic, but more than that, I was pretty sure that I wanted to get into the drug. After a brief bit of research, I determined that if this was a normal-to-heavy dose for the experienced users, a little more would not be toxic to me. I took another half of a tablet. Recognizing that it wouldn't take effect for a while, and the peak for my friends was coming soon, I decided to also take J's advice and smoke about a quarter of a joint. (For sake of science, the joint was a “Social Sativa” which is 17% THC.) While waiting for them to finish the video, I went to the restroom and considered the fact that my three friends were experiencing something erotic in a way that didn't destabilize their friendship or threaten anyone. I heard E come upstairs, and S quickly warn them about the content, in case they didn't want to participate. E was curious, not bothered. Understanding that the video wasn't harming anyone and didn't have to be secret was another cognitive leap for me. The doorknob was unlocked and I was curious about the light shining under.
5 or 10 minutes after I smoked, I was at a plus one. I felt very open and safe in my surroundings and community. I was ready to go as deep as the drug wanted to take me. With the video over and all of us gathered in the living room, S organized a mission to gather all of the blankets and clear out any unnecessary furniture. M's energy was still too disorganized to participate much, but the rest of us had fun with the project. Quickly I started enjoying the textures of the blankets and the light hugs of my friends, and moved into a plus two. I was entranced by fuzzy surfaces on my skin and by the light words that were floating between us. Often we would ask to hug each other or hold hands, and enjoy this kind of touch. The freedom to ask for touch was empowering, and also a little scary.
The freedom to ask for touch was empowering, and also a little scary.
I tried to ask myself if I might be taking more than I was giving, or centering my experience at the expense of others. After a bit of nervous thinking, I decided that a few things were true:
#1 By asking, I made sure that I was at least behaving ethically.
#2 If my friends were feeling anything like me, it would be really hard to say yes if they meant no. (I guess that means I'm at a plus three now!)
#3 Every indication tells me that my friends are enjoying this touch too, and if that's true it's a beautiful thing to be sharing.
I hadn't really internalized the idea that touching my body could be inherently rewarding for anyone else before. I had always assumed that if it was to happen, it was a sensory sacrifice someone would make in order to honor the connection between our minds. I didn't take the time to parse this feeling, and I definitely couldn't have put it into language at the time, but the feeling itself was stronger and deeper than anything I can remember. I felt completely convinced that it was true, I had shed the pervasive fear that my friends always treated me with more charity than love. The door was wide open and the bright sun of a California afternoon shined through it.
I relaxed into the leadership of our experts, and tried to participate fully in the experiences they offered. We all cuddled in various calm and comfortable configurations, we listened to music, we danced gently. Mercifully, my brain was less verbal than usual, which made it easier to not take up all the air in the room. D curated most of the music, and it fit perfectly into the day. At one point, S, J, E, and D went downstairs to brush teeth and apply deodorant. It sounded like a fun project for them, but I was enjoying my break from all the anxieties that I have connected to such bodily matters, so I decided to stay with M who had returned to being nonverbal. I don't remember what my body was doing during this time, but I remember feeling confident that I was in the right place, not wishing I was with them. It was a great relief to know instead of wondering. I enjoyed this interlude thoroughly.
Around this time, we all agreed that we wanted to go back to the river. It was dark and cold by this time, but not yet midnight. I wasn't sure if the drug experience was going to get more intense for me, but I think that the others (who had only taken the initial dose) were settling into their plateau. I knew that cold, wild water was one of the few sensory experiences that I did know and love, so I carefully evacuated my pockets before going. I didn't want to lose a wallet or cell phone. M was verbal for long enough to agree that he'd like to go to the river too, and started talking some on the way down there. The walking was much easier this time, now that we all had our sea legs.
Sitting on the rocks next to the river, D initiated a 'dome connect' where we all gathered in a circle with our heads bowed towards the center and improvised some music. The concept wasn't explained, but somehow I knew my place. While the song was nothing special, the singing brought me great joy. The togetherness of the exercise was even more moving.
Pretty quickly, I lowered myself into any eddy on the side of the river, with all of my clothes still on. This was how I usually enjoyed the water. Only S had seen me swim without a shirt before, and even then it depended on how remote of a place we were in. I submerged most of myself in the cold water, sitting with my legs outstretched downstream. As always happens for me, taking deep breaths of cold air as the water enveloped me awoke something in my soul. The effect was more intense than it's ever felt before. I think I have the MDMA to thank for some of that, but also the company, the nature experience earlier in the day, and the philosophy that I'd been marinading in. I had some concern about being swept away, and communicated it, but since nobody else was concerned I decided that the sensation of rushing water was probably being amplified by the drug.
I stayed in the water for what I think was around half an hour. I was cold, but as I often joke, “I'm well-insulated” and would have been comfortable for some time longer. While I was enjoying the water, we had light conversations, but I was mostly focused in my sensory experience. I'm not sure exactly what the others were up to, but I didn't get the feeling that they were in a hurry to get inside. At some point, M got into the river completely naked for a minute or two, before deciding that was enough of being cold and getting back out. I felt like that marked a good time to go inside, before he had to deal with serious chills, so I pulled myself out of the water. D and S were next to me, chatting about the process of going inside. I asked for the warm shirt I had brought with me, since mine was sopping wet. D made the useful suggestion that I might want to consider taking the wet shirt off before putting the dry one on.
This was a revelation, I hadn't considered how nice the dry shirt would feel on my skin. But it also presented a problem, because I was still very nervous about the idea of taking my shirt off in front of these friends. As I fumbled with the machinery of my mind to process these feelings and ask the question, they clearly understood how I felt. Even before I finished asking the question “Would you mind turning the light out, because I might feel self conscious?” it was already done. We were all souls floating pleasantly in the darkness and I put on the dry shirt. On a logical level, I had nothing to be surprised by, but on an emotional level I was overcome by the compassion my friends had for me, the depth of their knowing, and the delicate touch they used when they knew I was fragile. I think this moment must have been my first step through the threshold, into the sunshine.
We made our way back up to the cabin. J suggested that I might want to change my shorts too, since they were still wet, and I appreciated his care for me. Empowered by the revelations of the night, I had a thought. I asked him if anyone would be harmed by me just not wearing shorts. I would feel more comfortable in my boxers anyway, and I knew they dried quickly. Plus, after all, M was walking around stark naked and nobody seemed to be bothered by that. I paused for a moment to admire his braveness. J reassured me that this would be fine, and I went to the bathroom to towel off. J even told everyone in advance so that I wouldn't feel like I had to talk about my minor costume change.
I don't know where to put them in the chronology, but the evening was sprinkled with moments much like this, where M and I felt compelled to ask the group “Is this OK?”
I think we were both so used to thinking that our pleasure probably came at the expense of others, that we couldn't believe we were feeling this good and still participating responsibly. Our friends reassured us in the most loving way, and since this time I've rehearsed my response for anyone else who asks such a question. Courtesy of the Shulgins, I would want to say:
“You bet your sweet ass it's all right to be alive!
It's a grace to be alive!”
M and I actually discussed this during the night, he explained to me how sometimes he feels like he's taking all of the energy out of the room. I held his head tight to me and told him that I feel the same way all the time, but in this moment I somehow had the confidence to tell him that it was absolutely not true. After the experience I've thought about this interaction a lot, because I think that fear is valuable to us and it's part of what keeps us both in line, but I do think that this night brought both of us to a better point of balance with the fear.
Around this time, E was lying near me on the floor and asked “Can I touch your tummy?” I contemplated for a moment, and decided that this particular fear was under control for now and the connection with their soul was likely to be very rewarding. I said “Yes,” but felt the need to add a disclaimer “ordinarily that would scare me.” They gently reached under my shirt and rubbed my stomach. After feeling it, they said “It's a very good tummy” in a way that I felt couldn't possibly be a lie. If I hadn't already walked through the door, this moment probably wouldn't have ever happened, but since I was already in the sunlight, I felt this incredible sense that even my unconventional, and in some sense grotesque, body is actually, meaningfully part of the beauty of the tapestry of human existence. I got a brief glimpse that my existence as a fat person isn't just valid in principle, it's also viscerally life-affirming in the same way that any other person's skin is.
By the time we were back inside, it must have been approaching midnight, and before long I was losing the first bits of the clarity and energy I had felt. My memories are slightly scattered, and this time was largely dominated by collectively listening to music (much of which was performed live by D) and enjoying the blankets, but there are a few moments that stood out.
At one point, S stood right in front of where I was standing and took my head into her hands. She looked at me with eyes wide open, silently inviting me to communicate with my own. Somehow, in the moment the whole concept overwhelmed me. I think maybe I was trying to figure out what my eyes were supposed to say in words, and I'm sure I was also afraid of what jumbled messy corner of my soul would be visible to her. On some level, I thought that I still had a few secrets from her, and I was afraid of what would happen if she saw them. Perhaps the most fruitful thought that has come out of integrating this experience is the realization that none of those things are truly secrets. She knows about all of my flaws by intuition if not by disclosure, and we're best friends anyway. She was giving me space to be at peace with who I am, and next time I hope I take the chance. Instead, I awkwardly pulled my head away from her hands. We haven't talked about this interaction, but I hope it didn't upset her.
At one point, E, D, S, and J were sitting on a couch having some kind of relaxed interaction. M was laying on the floor near the couch, and I was laying next to him. I don't remember exactly how the touching started, but soon he was exploring all of my upper body with his hands. Through my shirt, he squeezed and rubbed my shoulders, my arms, my chest, and my back. I can't remember specifically if he touched my breasts or my stomach, but I remember not being afraid that he might. If he did, it was just part of the experience. I enjoyed the sensory experience some, but far more importantly, I felt that I could sense that he was really enjoying it. He moved his hands deliberately and urgently, and I became aware of his breathing. As if to affirm the message that E had delivered earlier, I saw proof right in front of my eyes that there was joy to be gathered from my corporeal self. I don't know exactly what led this interaction to stop, but it lasted for many minutes and ended at just the right time, before I started to worry about any greater meaning it might carry.
S was still sitting on the couch with the others, and I didn't want to interrupt their experience, but I felt compelled to share the familial love I felt for her. I asked if I could touch her feet, since they happened to be near me. Immediately I was nervous that someone might perceive this as a sexual interest, and tried to explain in words, before giving up on English. The disclaimer didn't matter, she was enthusiastic about the idea. With my hands, I felt the tops and bottoms of her bare feet, which had been walking in the wet dirt outside, but were relatively clean from time spent inside. I was reminded of the biblical theme of the washing of feet as a meaningful gesture of hospitality, devotion, and acceptance. I became absorbed in this spiritual connection between us (although I doubt that she saw the metaphorical angle) and began gently kissing her toes. Pretty quickly I became concerned that I hadn't asked for consent to that particular thing, and I started worrying that my experience might not look to others the same way it felt to me. I stopped rather abruptly. I hope to someday ask how she experienced this moment. I think part of living in the light is probably going to include navigating lots of such situations.
As we entered the early morning hours, the intensity of the effects started to diminish, and we drifted slowly towards 'normal.' M's jaw was bothering him, so he found a wine cork to use as a bite block. That lasted for a while, but pretty quickly he had chewed it to pieces. S mentioned that she had similar discomfort, but didn't try a cork. At one point, I became very interested in the sensation of weight on top of me. I invited E to lay on top of me, which lasted for a while, and then invited M who declined. During this period I felt a real desire to share touch with people, but (probably because I had taken my second dose an hour later) nobody seemed to be wanting to experience touch. I put on my list to bring a weighted blanket to my next such experience, as I think it would help me feel more comfortable in this phase. At one point we all sat quietly outside on a deck, covered by a pile of blankets, enjoying the bits of cold air that got through.
At some point, we collectively decided that it was time to sleep. I had a restless night in a sleeping bag on the floor, despite a perfectly good couch right next to me, but I did manage to sleep for a couple of hours at a time. At daybreak, I took my sleeping bag out to the deck and spent some time in a rocking chair, before curling up to sleep a little longer. D made breakfast, and we had a relaxed, if subdued morning.
That afternoon, S, J, and M all had to head back home to get ready for work the next day. We packed up and hugged goodbye. E, D, and I stayed at the cabin for one more night. We had dinner, drank a little beer, and watched a beautiful animated movie that they had heard about. We talked about some light things, and some deep things, but I tried not to squash them with my nebulous discoveries that still hadn't been translated into English.
The next morning after they too left, I had the cabin to myself for a couple of hours. I enjoyed the luxury of a long hot shower, while listening to a song that had been stuck in my head all morning on repeat. I started processing all of it, and allowed myself some time to cry in the shower. In this moment, I thought of one very clear truth about my friendship with S. Now with the perspective of 2 months since the experience, I still think it's very true, but I'm not sure that saying it out loud is the best way to express it:
“You've said kind things to me for many years. I'm sorry for all the time I wasted doubting that you really meant them.”
On my way home, I stopped and picked up snacks for the long drive back. I wasn't actually hungry, and options were limited in the small town, but I settled somewhat unenthusiastically for a large bag of chips and two bars of chocolate. I ate them as I drove, and listened to a new-to-me podcast called “The Heart.” I paused it often so I could just think, but also appreciated the stimulation that gave me a break from myself. Driving back roads through orchards and oil fields, I felt open to receive the ideas that the podcast presented in a much deeper way than I had before.
Now on the interstate, I pulled in to a familiar rest stop to go pee. On the way across the parking lot, I had another unexpected sensory experience, this time diarrhea. It was much less pleasant than the experiences of the past two days, but as I went through the somewhat delicate process of cleaning myself up in the parking lot without indecently exposing myself or soiling my car, I couldn't help but think that my sensory self was communicating with my mind in its own way. I didn't focus on regretting what I ate, but I did consider how clear it was that my mind's desire for control had been subjecting my body to an altogether-unpleasant set of physical sensations. I hadn't enjoyed eating the food, and obviously I didn't enjoy how it made my stomach feel either.
Since I hadn't been expecting or seeking this kind of healing experience, I hadn't made any arrangements for guidance before or after the experience. The first day back home was dominated by a frantic sense that these revelations were fleeting, and that I needed some sort of support that my friends couldn't offer me.
The first day back home was dominated by a frantic sense that these revelations were fleeting, and that I needed some sort of support that my friends couldn't offer me.
I worried about talking to S too much and making her feel claustrophobic, and at the same time about talking to her too little and making her feel ignored. The fact that all of us were feeling the post-trip blues didn't help our communication. I struggled to focus at work, since it seemed so trivial in light of the deep connections I had just experienced. I considered seeking out some kind of integration therapist, and I still might someday, but the task seemed daunting and not nearly immediate enough.
One night, D brought by some 5-HTP, and I took 100mg around dinner time. That night I had a couple of drags off of a joint. I put on headphones and listened to music from playlists that D maintains. The break from language and the sensory experience of the music made space for me to process my feelings on all the different levels they operated at. Although I have always loved music, engaging with it in this way felt like a new discovery. I wrote myself a belated set of goals for the new year, among which were:
“Don't forget about music.”
“Practice feeling your skin, your skeleton, your stomach.”
“When bored, breathe better.”
Two months have elapsed since then, and I feel like my integration is still ongoing. I have started a journal where I store some of my provisional thoughts. I've discussed some of these topics with some of the people in the story, but not the real heavy-hitting ones. I've done some reading, some listening, and a lot of walking. This group has gathered for lovely dinners together a handful of times, and I've practiced bringing intentional energy to those kinds of settings. Last weekend, M and I had a very intense, but mostly fun-focused mushroom experience. I've been integrating more weed into Saturday nights spent on my own dancing to music in the back yard. Work has been up and down, but I'm quitting in a couple of months anyway. My relationship to food is still complicated, but secrecy and shame feel like they are fading fast into the rear-view mirror. I've lost some weight, but at the same time, I finally don't care very much about it! I've been enjoying my body as it is in a range of new ways. There's a new longing now for someone to share my body with in some yet-to-be determined way. That longing feels hopeful to me, maybe even a little exciting, and I'm clear that there's no rush.
I've been feeling an urgent need to somehow reciprocate and share some of this abundant energy with the rest of the world, but I haven't figured out the best vehicle to accomplish that. What I know is that my mind was locked deep into a cycle that was pretty destructive. It took this perfect combination of ideas, people, energy, nature, and chemicals to show me the off-ramp.
Writing this account has been the most comprehensive retrospection I've done, and I'm sure that in a year I'll feel like it needs revision. All the same, I want to share it now while the ephemeral is still close at hand. I don't know if it's realistic to expect that anyone will ever even read this, but I know that a great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders and I would like to imagine that someone else will find one helpful trick in here to lighten their own load. I don't think the people in this story know just how much they helped me. So if you're trying to help someone in your life, please know that even the smallest, most subtle things do add up. Also know that a few missteps along the way just give the heavy stuff room to breathe.
What Worked for Me:
There are a few sources of outside ideas that have helped me in my solo attempt at integration. In case someone else is trying a similar process with roots in nature and body, some of these may be useful:
At the recommendation of E, I listened an interview with Charles Eisenstein (episode 348 of the Duncan Trussell Family Hour.) I think this is a beautiful bridge to help bring the subjective experience into the verbal world.
I read the entire narrative half of “PiHKAL” by the Shulgins, and found it to be a gold mine of useful perspective, as well as a useful primer on techniques for less-constrained thinking. If that's a lot to ask for your attention span, I would recommend reading just Part 3 or even just chapter 28 “Crisis” although they do benefit from the context of the whole book.
The Valerie June album “Live at KCRW” is almost a guided experience for gentle thought and feeling, all wrapped into a beautiful sensory experience. (I recommend skipping the interview in the middle because, while interesting, it's much less artful.)
The Ross Gay poem, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” as recorded with Bon Iver has become an almost daily meditation. It paints a beautiful picture of how hope, sorrow, and the material world can all live together.
As I mentioned before, really the entire body of work of the podcast “The Heart” has a lot to offer. Even the parts that I can't relate to illustrate the fundamental truth that most everyone has some kind of struggle with their body, even the kind of people I used to assume were flawless.
The song/poem by Florist, “Thank You” is a great shortcut to gratitude when I find myself caught in a loop that I want to get out of.
Mandarin oranges are fucking amazing, especially when you're stoned and listening to great music on headphones.
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