So when we left off, I mentioned a documentary I watched with a dear friend that really started it all for me; started this fascination (read obsession) with psychedelics.
After watching the documentary, I immersed myself in books, podcasts and documentaries about psychedelics (which I have included at the end of this article, although this list is not entirely exhaustive).
Truly, this search for a deeper understanding of my self and of life has been present ever since I can remember. Only, it was pushed into the forefront after my breakdown/spiritual awakening in 2019, after I left my job, left my ex, and started questioning everything about my life and my identity.
After reaching out to my ex a few weeks after our break up, a complete emotional mess, telling him I was lost and confused and thought I missed him, he told me (with some compassion) to get some fucking help.
So I did.
I started going to therapy weekly, dishing out about 600$ per month, the story in my head at the time was that clearly I was broken and needed fixing. But mostly, I was lost and just so done with living a life of struggle and emptiness.
Through psychotherapy, and mostly because of the truly safe and compassionate relationship that developed between my therapist and I, I started to foster an awareness of my thoughts, behaviors and patterns.
I was waking up.
You can see this in my blog posts from 2019 and much of 2020. The slow, painful realizations of how hurtful my thoughts, behaviors and patterns were towards myself. I really tried to move towards compassion for myself, I welcomed new perspectives and read and listened to many authors and thinkers. I was dedicated to therapy and healing and I threw myself fully into that process, taking responsibility for my mental health.
And so, as I gained awareness of my subconscious ways, I began to see how much of my thoughts, behaviors and patterns were so automatic. The conclusion, inevitably, since I was responsible for my mental health, was that I was also responsible for changing those thoughts, behaviors and patterns. First build awareness, then change the damn thing.
Truth is, it is really hard to put down our rose colored glasses and look at things objectively. Put down the reactivity. Put down the defensiveness. Put down the perfectionism. Put down the busy-ness. Put down the people pleasing. Put down the denial. Put down the toughness. Put down the armour. And see what is left.
This process of unraveling, is certainly not instinctual. It goes against every survival mechanism we have. The reason we have developed our personalities, our habits, our patterns and, frankly, most of our addictions and our materialistic lives is because its what we needed to survive. Its what we needed and continue to need (in today’s society) to feel connected, loved and secure in relation to others. Unfortunately, in the process, most of us become disconnected from our true selves, often repressing parts of us to be accepted by those around us (and to function in today’s societal structure).
As I look back, its so obvious now. I remember sitting on my therapist’s couch, it was either our first or second session. I bawled as I tried to summarize my pain into a concise story. I talked about my recent break up. I talked about work and how overwhelmed I felt. I talked about how deeply confused I felt about who I was, what I wanted from life, and even more confused about how to figure it all out. I felt entirely disconnected from my true self. That is trauma.
I think what is also evident from my writing back then is the amount of self blame that was present. Because that’s the messaging I had received most of my life. Michèle is sensitive, she cries easily. Michèle is depressed. Michèle is suicidal. Michèle is burnt out. It seemed that all my troubles were always just who I was. And all I had to do was follow the recipe of self care (i.e. take antidepressants, engage in cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, sleep, eat well, work hard, be successful), and I would be just fine.
But I wasn’t. Despite doing all the things, something still felt amiss. Yet I persevered, refusing to continue living a life of apathy and disconnection from my self, part of me convinced that there had to be something more out there.
In the documentary, they explore the vast benefits of psychedelics and there is this one moment where they explain how psychedelics can help our brains create new neural pathways.
And thats when I got hooked.
After being in intensive therapy for months, and after years of trying to figure my self out but continuously returning to this place of burnout and deep dissatisfaction, I still felt powerless in the face of my unhelpful thoughts, patterns and habits. Try as I might, those automatic ways of being would just entirely override my free will. I am sure most of you can relate to that. That stuckness. That frustration of realizing how our behaviors hurt us, and yet, feel entirely powerless when trying to change them.
No matter my efforts, no matter my awareness, no matter my suffering, its like my brain just could not change. At least, not in any rapid or significant way.
And finally, while watching this documentary, I felt like there was hope. Like there was a way to truly re-shape the way my brain functioned and how this impacted my daily behaviour, thoughts and patterns.
You see, we have evolved to save energy. Its how we survived. Our brain is amazing at taking complex things that require a lot of effort, and downloading it into an unconscious part of our brain, so that we don’t constantly have to think of every detail. Remember how hard it was to start walking? Probably not. Okay, remember how hard it was to learn to ride a bike? Now imagine if every time you rode a bike, your brain still required all that conscious effort. We would never get anything done.
These unconscious pathways become like well traveled trails in our brains. They are like highways, clear of debris and neatly wrapped with myelin to speed up the transmission of information. It is brilliant.
However, a lot of the things we learned in our childhood in order to survive (i.e. in order to feel loved and connected to our parent figures, which is literally essential to our survival), are no longer relevant or applicable to our adult lives. Our brain does not know this, though.
So the highways are there. And now it is 2019, and I am in therapy, aware of my self-defeating habits, and I am trying to create new pathways in my brain, but that shit is hard. Its just so much easier for our brains to use that original highway, rather than trailblaze an entirely new pathway.
Psychedelics can facilitate the formation of new pathways (albeit, in combination with therapy, intention and honestly, a lot of daily hard work and practice; this is called Integration).
Since watching the documentary (and since doing extensive research and weaning down on my antidepressants over almost a year), I have had multiple experiences with psychedelics. I have also had to play around with my prescribed medications due to the lack of research about the interactions between psychedelics and antidepressants. I endeavor to share these in the following blog posts.
I have also continued to do a lot of therapy, research, healing and just damn hard work.
And what I understand now is that this healing, this recovery, is truly one of returning to our selves. As Dr. Gabor Maté puts it, trauma, in essence, is the disconnection from our selves.
Psychedelics, in my experience, research and perspective, can really help us re-connect to this part of us that has become entirely alienated. Of course, psychedelics are not everything. But they are certainly a great tool and I am excited (and scared shitless) to share my experiences in the coming blog posts.
In essence, I really believe that healing is this journey back home, back to our nature. Some days its empowering and wonderful. Other days its brutal, and it feels like I am forging a path that no one has traveled before. It can get lonely, scary, messy and confusing. Thankfully, psychedelics can offer some much needed guidance as we journey, trailblazing in our brains, and trailblazing back home to our true selves.
Here are links to the things I can remember listening to/reading/watching. I also attended a number of meetings, conferences and listened to a lot of podcast episodes that I can’t all recall at this time.
- The mind explained, episode 5: Psychedelics.
- How to change your mind by Michael Pollan. I listened to it 3 times in the last 2 years because there is so much information. It is really comprehensive from the history, his own experiences and current/ongoing research.
- This podcast episode featuring Dr. Gabor Maté interviewed by Tim Ferriss
- Ram Dass: Coming Home. Honestly I listened to A LOT of his lectures from the 80s-2000s.
- Fantastic Fungi. Amazingly, I got to watch this at a screening in Ottawa when it was released
- Neurons to Nirvana
- Dying to Know. A really fun one to get a look at the counter culture movement.
- The Way of the Psychonaut
- Dosed. This one really show cases our failure of helping those who struggle with drug addictions and the failure of the canadian healthcare system. It may be very triggering for some.
- MAPS canada is a great resource and organization doing great work
- Roots to Thrive. Great work happening in Vancouver, and some great articles by psychiatrists about the failure of our system, amongst other things.