How Psychedelics Changed My Relationship with Myself
How Psychedelics Changed My Relationship with Myself
It’s taken me years to try to write this story, as impostor syndrome has stopped me several times for many reasons. I’m no expert on psychedelics nor is my experience an example of how one should use psychedelics. That said, I feel like my experience, and the shift I made in my life as a direct result of the experience, is a testament to the monumental power of psychedelics.
A few years ago, I had everything I thought I wanted but, at my core, I was still miserable. It was a tale of two lives: the one that I outwardly lived and the one that I inwardly lived. Outwardly, my story seemed to be one of success, and I pushed that story to friends and
My experience is a testament to the monumental power of psychedelics.
family– and on social media. I was able to get into veterinary school and realize a long-held dream. I graduated, got a well-respected internship, a series of great jobs, and even some accolades. I found a woman who loved me, and we married and started a life together. By most accounts, I had it made, but my inner experience was one of constant anxiety and depression.
I lost my grandmother at fourteen to a plane crash. I lost my mother to aggressive pancreatic cancer when I was 21 and never forgave myself for not spending enough time with her. I spent most of my time trying to run away from myself with drugs and alcohol. At 25, I lost a good friend to a motorcycle accident. Two weeks after my wedding, the dear friend who served as my best man died in a car accident. I recall sitting at his funeral and hearing what I had heard at the other funerals: “It’s all part of God’s plan” and “Everything happens for a reason.” I clenched my fists and strained to keep myself from storming out of the service. Having heard something similar after my mom’s death, I stopped believing in a higher power and decided that, if this was the plan, I wanted nothing to do with the planner.
At my core, I told myself that anyone I loved would leave or be taken away from me–that I wasn’t meant to be happy. That I was not worthy of being happy. That nothing ever goes right. That I was a victim. That life is the blink of the eye between birth and death. No real meaning. Certainly, no God. All my loved ones who were gone would never be seen or heard from again, as I had no belief in a soul. This inner monologue ran my life. I “doom-predicted” what would happen every day. I would create a list of theoretical problems that might occur during the day while I was in the shower to “prepare myself”. This would lead to me dry-heaving most mornings before I left my house. I could not escape my negative thought patterns. When something bad happened, I would say “See! I knew it. Today was going to be bad.”
All this came to a head after a very bad stretch at work–an unexpected patient death, and increased pressure from hospital management. One day, attempting to escape and have fun, I took psilocybin mushrooms with a friend. It was a terrible mindset for a psychedelic
I felt like I did die, but in hindsight, it was just the psychological death of the person I was convinced I was.
experience, and I would not advise anyone in a similar situation to use these potent medicines in this way. The subsequent psychedelic experience, or trip, would be described as “terrorific” in the words of Paul Stamets, and, in my case, it nearly resulted in arrest and divorce. Due to my negative mental state and lack of preparation, the experience was extremely difficult and created unnecessary suffering for those around me.
After taking the psilocybin mushrooms, I soon felt the full weight of my pained state of mind and I ran out of the building in spectacular fashion. Having lost my glasses in the escape, poor vision compounded the other-worldly nature of my experience. I was whisked into a car while the trip continued to devolve–reliving previous tragedies I had experienced, negative thoughts I frequently dwelled on, and past mistakes. This went on until the world got very still and I was convinced that I was dying. A voice within me told me that all I needed to do was let go. So, I did. At that point, everything went black and fell away, and I was convinced that I was dead. In this surrender, I felt like I did die, but in hindsight, it was just the psychological death of the person I was convinced I was.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
During this “death”, I saw my life in review, which gave me a third-person perspective of my life. This type of perspective in psychedelic experience is triggered by a profound disruption in the flow of normal consciousness. This “separating” from the ego allowed me to see my psyche from a distance, freed from the constraints and emotional baggage of my daily existence. I’d been in a prison of my making. Once I realized the illusion, however, I felt an outpouring of love for all people and creatures, as I saw them as myself and me as part of them. I saw that all people and things are not just interconnected, but truly one and the same. From a seed knowing how to become a tree, I understood the intelligence and beauty that exists in everything in the world. I felt that there was nothing outside myself. I was a wave in the ocean, a part of the whole that would exist for a time and then return to and become part of that larger ocean when I died.
Integration is an integral part of processing any experience; it is the process by which mental patterns can be rewritten.
After a few hours, I came down from the experience and had no choice but to take a hard look at myself, my mental health, my habits, and my overall worldview.
I started fervently reading and watching documentaries about philosophy, psychedelics, and consciousness from such minds as Ram Dass, Alan Watts, Paul Stamets, Aldous Huxley, Sogyal Rinpoche, Eckhart Tolle, and Don Miguel Ruiz. All of this became part of my psychedelic integration, which is the process of understanding and incorporating the insights of the psychedelic experience into daily life. Integration is an integral part of processing any experience; it is the process by which mental patterns can be rewritten. I went back into therapy.
Despite lacking an understanding and appreciation of the power of psychedelic substances prior to my experience, something amazing still happened. A crack formed in the mental paths that I had walked throughout my life. This allowed me to make choices in directions I never thought possible. Research shows that psychedelics enhance neuroplasticity–the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli, which can empower individuals to break free from rigid thought and behavior patterns, creating transformative shifts. My egoic sense of self was always unfulfilled and resisted the present moment. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t in conflict or grasping for some future moment where I would have the thing that would then satisfy me. I have found that the only real way to enjoy this world is when you no longer need it to make you happy. In the years since my experience, I have come to understand that everyone goes through pain and tragedy, but suffering is a choice, not always made consciously, but a choice nonetheless.
After living most of my days in a constant fight or flight response, causing constant stress, this new sense of spacious presence allows me to find my inner calm and control my thought patterns. I may lose that inner calm multiple times a day, and sometimes for days or weeks in a row, but it never truly leaves me. I understand that difficult experiences help shape us into the people we are and are thus needed to catalyze important shifts. I guess maybe everything does happen for a reason.
This experience fueled a complete shift and caused me to change my thoughts, habits, and life. I am fortunate to have had my awakening and find myself in a loving marriage with a career I consider part of my life’s purpose. In my grasping to figure out exactly what happened to me, I found a love for the study of consciousness, a fervent drive to help the mental health of the veterinary community and a potent love and respect for the power of psychedelics. For those interested in psychedelics, I recommend avoiding my mistakes by doing research, learning harm-reduction techniques, and considering working with a psychedelic-assisted therapist. I think that psychedelics like psilocybin-containing mushrooms are a potent therapeutic tool when used with a qualified psychedelic professional. The more of us who share our stories of psychedelic use, the more we may shift the public narrative about these substances, help reduce the stigma, and lead policy reform to eventually tear down the psychedelic prohibition.
Related: Heal the World?