LSD liberated me from the prison I had built for myself

I was twenty years old, freshly (dropped) out of college, and a couple months removed from my first drink.

I bloomed into rebellion later than most, because I grew up in the shadow of my sister’s addictions, multiplicitous, but primarily oriented towards methamphetamines. I’d always seen all drugs as shades of the same. I abstained from the high school revelries of my friends, the backyard pot-smoking, the immoderate house party drinking, the medicine cabinet treasures — xanax, adderall, et al.

My panic attacks began, as far as I can remember, on my first day of kindergarten. By second grade, I’d taught myself how to fake sick well enough that I missed half a semester with “allergies.”

When middle school rolled around, my anxieties manifested in a physical way. My blood cell counts plummeted. The doctors ran every test imaginable. They talked of AIDS, of cancer. I laid in bed all day. I wore a surgical mask when I left the house. A cold would kill him, the doctor whispered.

The suicidal thoughts started when I was 16. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I flew into fits of mania and ran barefoot in the middle of the night until my feet bled and I no longer recognized the setting. There was a dragon in my chest. He sat atop my stomach, chewing my heart.

I had scarcely made it through freshman orientation when I swallowed a bottle of pills and awoke in a hospital, charcoal on my shirt. I was institutionalized. My scholarship revoked, my invitation to an education rescinded, my family scared to look me in the eye.

So now here I was, a year later, as anxious and depressed as ever. I’d tried a dozen different SSRIs and mood stabilizers. Nothing worked.

I was working at a coffee shop, and I’d started hanging out with a hippie coworker named A. I’d text him late at night when I found myself spiraling and he’d bring me a gram of pot and we’d smoke on my porch until my eyes grew heavy and I could sleep.

When he mentioned LSD to me for the first time, I scoffed. I’d seen the cartoonish depictions of acid trips in movies, and I’d heard all the scare-lines: it stays in your system forever, it drives you mad.

But of course, desperation can awaken in a man any number of possibilities of which he never thought himself capable. A called it spiritual. I was so tired of hurting.

Two weeks later, he showed up to my apartment one night with tin foil and a book called Be Here Now. I placed the stamps on my tongue, and thumbed through the book. I couldn’t make head or tails of it. All the hippie jargon and imprecise language. Why had he given this to me? What was I hoping to find?

I laid in my bed and turned out the lights, hoping to sleep through it. But I was restless. I shuffled my bedtime playlist, and it settled on a Barr Brothers song. My fingertips tingled, electricity from the computer running through them.

When the chorus came around –– even the darkness has arms –– I began to see trails of armlike light across the dark corners of my bedroom. An impossible conjuration. A giggle rose in my stomach and spilled out of my mouth.


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I felt stirred to stand. The hardwood floors beneath my feet, smooth, cold. The song changed, and my reality in accord with it. My tiny room grew huge. I felt like a monk in a vast prayer room. Or a student of some metaphysical martial art in a holy dojo.

My legs folded beneath me automatically. My spine straightened. I closed my eyes. The music stopped. I drifted towards the window, but instead of urban blight, it was pure light, living water. I floated atop the water of the endless ocean. Not a wave or ripple as far as the horizon. A place of strange and perfect calm.

My busy head quieted. I had no fear of the future. I had no regret of the past. I lived in the timeless present.

My anxieties of inadequacy crisped clean off. My to-do lists ablated. The precarious sinew of my ego stretched and snapped, my costume flew off, and all that was left was pure awareness. I sat in boundless beauty. It was a miracle, and it was totally ordinary.

When I opened my eyes, I was back in my room. The song played itself out. I had slipped out of my pain for a lifetime and fallen back into my body here, three minutes later.

I rushed to the mirror, and surveyed that imperfect vehicle that carried my pure consciousness across time and space, and for the first time in my life, I felt total compassion for him. I forgave my body for its asymmetry; I forgave my brain for its limitations; I gave up the narratives I’d created. And it liberated me from the prison I’d built for myself.

Four years since that trip, I’ve had no major depressive or manic episodes. I haven’t taken a psychedelic in two years, and I’m no longer prescribed antidepressants. I’m working to cultivate a daily meditation practice, and I’m lighter, happier, and more stable than I ever thought possible.

Like a fish can’t see water, I couldn’t see that the point was right in front of me. Everything is everything, and I’m part of the unfolding. Call it God, or the Tao, or Indra’s Pearls, or consciousness, or the simulation code, or the quantum fabric of our physical world. Whatever the name, whether technical or woo-woo, the good, the bad, the pain, the ecstasy, it’s all divine.

I can’t go back and teach my younger self that lesson, so I’m writing it down. I hope it finds someone at just the right time and place to receive it.

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