Disclaimer: please note that the following is not medical nor professional advice. This article is a description of my personal experiences and my personal opinions that are grounded in the research I have done for myself (a mix of historical, anecdotal, journalistic and peer-reviewed content). The choices I make regarding my own health and well-being are individually informed and do not necessarily reflect the recommendations I make in the context of my professional role. This is not necessarily because I don’t have the grounds to believe that it could help others, but simply because I have to respect the legal and professional frameworks within which I am licensed, and for now, I am still trying to figure out the details of how this could all come together in a helpful, meaningful, and, ideally, legal way.
I was so humbled by all the feedback I received after I published the first part of this series and I just wanted to say thank you to those of you who took the time to comment or message me to share your thoughts and to encourage me. Writing about psychedelics feels extremely vulnerable and even risky because of stimga, as explored in part 1, but also because of the legalities of it all. However, just because something is illegal, doesn’t always mean it is inherently bad. Most psychedelics actually weren’t even illegal until some American politicians decided to declare a war on drugs in the sixties. More on that in a later post.
For now, let’s talk about the drugs themselves.
I’ve never been someone who was very tempted by drugs and substances in general. I was raised in a family that taught me that drugs were bad, and addiction was frowned upon. Even though I consumed alcohol and cannabis in my teens, my parents did a really good job at having an open and honest approach to it. I guess they realized that I’d do those things anyway – their choice was to have me do it behind their backs or for them to tolerate the behaviour with the expectation that I be honest with them, and that we have conversations about safety. I know my mom was likely very concerned about my consumption of substances as a teenager given my mental health struggles – worried the drugs and alcohol would forever damage me. I can’t imagine the lack of control a parent must feel in that situation, the fear for their child’s wellbeing. Thank you, mom and dad, for choosing the hard road of honesty rather than using shame and prohibiting substances all together.
I remember the dreaded rides to work or to the mall with my mom – the opportune time to corner me into an uncomfortable conversation about her concerns for my substance use. I remember being hung over and tired after late nights of partying, and my parents reminding me that how shitty I felt was a direct result of my choices.
But I also remember the times when I was so fucking thankful I could rely on my parents, even when I made less than honourable choices. I was at a party once, and accepted a puff of a joint that was being passed around, only to soon realize that there was more than cannabis in that joint. I immediately felt overwhelmingly high and got sick. Because of the relationship I had with my parents, I was able to call my dad and tell him I had taken unkown drugs and didn’t feel well. He was there in minutes, not an angry bone in his body that I was waking him up at 2 in the morning, so he could come pick me up, equipped with a puke bag.
I guess this built that inner awareness for when I would later dabble in MDMA (i.e. ecstasy, molly) – I had the insight to realize how much the drugs affected my mental health after I took them and made the decision that the amazing experiences on MDMA weren’t worth the fall out, especially when I was starting my career as an ICU nurse. I couldn’t afford to not be on my A-game when I literally had people’s lives in my hands. I thank my parents for that.
So out of a mix of good parenting, genetics and sheer dumb luck, I never developed the tendency to reach for illicit substances for my wellbeing or to cope with life (instead I developed socially-acceptable dependencies such as shopping, eating, and perfectionism – likely more on that later). If anything, I viewed them as an escape, as the cowardly way out of things. So when a friend shared she had done some acid, I was totally judgmental and I remember thinking “I would NEVER touch those kinds of drugs. Those are the really bad ones”. Little did I know that 10+ years later, I’d be blogging about psychedelics on a Saturday morning.
I want to be careful not to paint psychedelics as the “answer”, nor confuse the recreational use of these substances with the therapeutic uses. Eventually, I also want to write about addiction in general and how most of us who use substances are actually doing it as an unconscious attempt to self-soothe, which one could argue, is therapeutic. Again, a topic for a future post.
I guess the point I want to make in this post is that turning to psychedelics was not something I planned, nor something I’ve done on a whim. The reason I ended up interested in psychedelics was because of my 15+ years of struggles with mental health, and the fact that the medical system and every other framework, self-help tool, theory and approach, had yet to provide me with actual answers to my difficult-to-describe experience.
Similarly to my aversion to illicit substances, I also developed, with time, an aversion to prescription drugs for my mental health. During my teenage years, I was tried on at least 3 anti-depressants that I can remember: Cymbalta, Effexor and Pristiq. None of these ever worked wonders for me. I tried counselling a few times, but mostly had sub-optimal experiences; a therapist once telling me that “assuming makes an ass out of you and me” when I was describing the shame I felt after I had lost my virginity to a boy I thought loved me, only to later find out he had been using nice words to lure me into bed with him. My 14 year old brain just further convinced that I was an idiot for believing the boy, shoving that shame into deep parts of my body, hidden from others, where it undoubtedly belonged.
I suspect that this traumatic experience, along with another significantly traumatic experience around sexuality that happened a few years later, taught my body and my nervous system to keep that stuff in, and to not trust boys. I also suspect that this later translated into my inability to feel loved and safe in relationships, even though, objectively, I had amazing partners.
It wasn’t until a month or two after the breakup with my ex, in 2019, that I seriously considered committing to therapy. In a conversation with my ex where I shared how confused I still felt about everything, he sternly, and lovingly, told me to get some fucking help. So I did.
With the grace of God, I was referred to an amazing therapist where I could, for the first time since my teenage years, talk openly about my deepest, darkest thoughts. She made me feel like nothing was wrong with me, she listened without judgement as I expressed how I felt lost, crazy, anxious and hopeless, all at once. In her loving presence, I was able to start looking at the ways my brain and body had developed automatic, unconscious ways of being. I started to develop awareness of these patterns.
To first enter the realm of our subconscious, is one of the most terrifying things. I actually think most people live and die without ever tapping into that part of themselves. And I don’t blame them – that shit is intense. But I also think that this is the birthplace of true happiness, peace, love and vitality.
As I worked intensely with this therapist, I was also doing lots of soul-searching in my life. This was summer 2019, and I was in a full identity-crisis; questioning my sexuality, my career and everything in between.
By another stroke of sheer dumb luck, the day that that guy stood me up (you can read more about that day (here), I ended up at my friend Danika’s to get ready for our good friend’s brother’s wedding reception. Danika and I are akin to soul sisters, and share in a lot of our spiritual and artistic interests. So when she suggested a documentary on psychedelics, I was in.
Little did I know that watching this documentary would lead to one of my most profound and meaningful journeys yet.