How I Used Psychedelics To Support My Sobriety (Yes, You Read That Right)
I began using illicit drugs when I was 8 years old to blunt the pain of childhood trauma. This tragic scenario was made possible in part by the fact that I resided in a post-hippie 1970s California Bay Area town, rife with drug abuse.
While this coping mechanism carried an abundance of negative consequences, at the time, I felt it was far better than just being me, alone with my torturous feelings of existential loneliness. The alternating waves of anxiety and depression were a load too heavy to bear without constant self-administered anesthesia.
So, I perfected the fine art of getting high, and life was narrowly bearable for one long, suspended moment of a misspent adolescence.
Over time, the benefits of numbing escapism through chemistry were overshadowed by its devastating side effects on my life. By my mid-20s, I had devolved into a pathologically selfish, mentally ill, trashy-novel junkie, whose primary aspiration was to scrounge together eight dollars for a balloon of heroin each day.
Thankfully, this nightmarish existence proved itself to be magnificently unsustainable. I was fortunate enough to hit a devastating, subterranean rock bottom at age 26, and through a bizarre yet grace-filled series of events, I eventually found myself a patient in a budget treatment center in the same town where I had first taken drugs 18 years earlier.
Upon regaining consciousness on the first morning after my admission, I had a spiritual awakening that was both subtle and profound in its effect: In a brief moment, I was relieved of a lifelong, chronic obsession with drugs and alcohol. This liberation was nothing short of a miracle. However, it was made abundantly clear to me by my rehab counselors that this release from bondage, as unshakable as it seemed at the time, was contingent on:
- My willingness to commit fully to a 12-step program upon my discharge.
- To abstain from all mind-altering chemicals for the remainder of my life, one day at a time.
I was eager to comply. Little by little, over the next 22 years, I chipped away at the foundation of my addictive patterns and behaviors. As a result, my life steadily and dramatically improved. I worked the 12 steps, traveled to India to learn meditation, submitted to every form of therapy I could find, read dozens of self-help and spiritual books, and devoted myself to a daily Kundalini yoga practice.
Despite a sincere commitment to my evolution, over time, my former addictions began to shape-shift. They reappeared as other forms of dysfunction, which led me to explore further many of the various 12-step groups besides my original beverage-based program. Eventually, I began to teach others about spirituality and recovery professionally.
Although I had achieved success in both sobriety and life, there were still areas where I felt stuck and unable to heal.
Through my continued research into higher consciousness and trauma release, I learned about the immense body of history of plant medicines and psychedelics as a vehicle to make that last hurdle to self-realization.
I became fascinated by the prospect of psychedelics as a recovery tool.
As my research continued, I remembered that Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had his infamous "white light experience" while under the influence of a plant medicine called Belladonna. This drug was sometimes used in various detox concoctions in the "drying out" wards of hospitals. This psychedelic was, in part, a catalyst to his sobriety.
Later, I discovered Wilson also experimented with LSD during his later years of sobriety. He had many documented LSD treatments in a clinical setting, to replicate the spiritual conversion he had come to believe was the keystone to achieving his lasting freedom from alcoholism.
Of course, this fact contradicts the widely held belief that all drug use will eventually lead an addict or alcoholic back into the depths of uncontrolled and often terminal addiction. However, by all historical accounts, despite his experimentation, Bill died a sober man, and his inspired teachings went on to save the lives of countless alcoholics and addicts to follow.
I continued my research and gradually opened my mind to the prospect of stepping outside of the traditional confines of recovery to continue my spiritual growth. Then, a suppressed memory resurfaced one day while I was meditating: A few months before I committed to sobriety, I recalled an incident where I had ingested a "hero's dose" of magic mushrooms. This procedure was commonplace at that point in my life. I was frequently prone to taking combinations of just about any drugs available, in vain attempts to escape my misery. On this occasion, however, the outcome was very different.
Rather than achieving reprieve, the mushrooms I took that night brought me face-to-face with the harsh reality that my life had hit a dead end. An awareness of my life choices descended upon me, and more importantly, I realized the time to get sober was drawing nearer. It was during this moment that I sensed an ever-so-faint feeling of hope. An inner voice spoke to me with self-compassion, delivering the message that I was indeed worth fighting for, and under my many layers of self-hatred existed a pure soul with a potential for success in life. Somehow, in the dense fog of my intoxication, on that evening, I had committed myself to future sobriety.
I decided to give psychedelics a try to help my healing journey.
Fast-forward to my 22nd sobriety anniversary. The increasingly ubiquitous ayahuasca started to weave its mysterious vine into my awareness, appearing in seemingly random conversations, reemerging as a continuous curiosity. Then, the opportunity to participate in a series of shamanic ceremonies presented itself. I made the decision to fly to Costa Rica, where I would begin my sober exploration into the world of hallucinogens in four earth-shattering encounters with Mother Ayahuasca.
I'll never forget the moment I approached the ceremony altar, in nervous anticipation of my first cup of this mysteriously potent brew. While I was admittedly anxious, somehow, I knew that I had made a sound decision. After all the years of a diligent commitment to my recovery, I had arrived at a place where I could trust myself. When the ayahuasca's sublime effects took hold of my consciousness, I remember my amusement as I pondered the word altar, as I was being altered most beautifully.
During my first four ceremonies (of the eight in which I've participated in at the time of this writing), I was able to transmute a lifetime of trauma and hidden psychological blocks that had previously lurked in the shadows of my psyche. I was at one with source energy and in contact with my highest, most authentic self at a depth I never imagined possible.
I recall with crystal clarity the realization that although I was indeed under the influence of one of the mightiest medicines on Earth, I had never been this sober in my entire life.
Never had I been so free of my ego, chattering mind, and my neurotic personality. For a few glorious hours, I was indeed untethered from all that was not truly me. I was at peace with myself, God, and the Great Reality. It was tangibly exquisite.
While it may not be for everyone, psychedelics had a positive effect on my sobriety.
My initial foray into ayahuasca's realm was so profoundly transformative that in the two years since then, inspiration had led me to continue exploring enlightenment through the ceremonial, intentional use of plant medicines and psychedelics. Despite the contradiction to a traditional recovery model of complete abstinence, I have forged ahead in full confidence that I'm on the right path—and safely so.
Once I took heed to the first call and emerged as a more awakened version of myself, other excursions presented themselves in surprisingly rapid succession. Six traditional peyote ceremonies followed, one of which brought me into the most divine alignment with my now fiancée Alyson, due to peyote's ability to open my heart beyond what I had previously believed conceivable.
Then there was an MDMA/psylocibin ceremony with a healer that revealed the premise, title, and cover for my forthcoming book and connected me to the emotional root of a physical pain I've been suffering from for two decades. Further psylocibin exploration allowed me to connect with Mother Earth and nature in ways that have revolutionized my relationship with all of creation.
I forged through an ego death in a ketamine session that released me from numerous lifelong fears and deep-seated attachments in yet another journey.
But the crown jewel of my travels into the abyss was a recent paradigm-bursting explosion of consciousness that rattled me to my core in a shaman-led 5-MeO-DMT ceremony, wherein I smoked the dried venom of the sacred Bufo Alvarius toad. It was then that multitudes of past lives revealed themselves in Technicolor memories and allowed me to grieve the many distant past losses.
Through all of these incredible ceremonies, I made one critical discovery:
Despite the use of mind-altering chemicals, my commitment to sobriety from addictive, destructive drugs and alcohol is more secure than ever before.
My spiritual awareness has grown immensely. Many of the underlying issues and past traumas that led to a life of addiction in the first place have been put to rest. My exploration into this formerly forbidden territory has taken my sobriety and psychological healing to a plateau of exquisite and unexpected solidity.
Since beginning this second phase of recovery, I have continued to flourish in all areas of life. All of this is in sharp contrast to the existing paradigm that the avoidance of all drugs is the only way to achieve lasting sobriety and inner peace. Thanks to the innate intelligence of the medicine, collective wisdom of the shamanic traditions, and scientific inquiry that have brought such treatments forth, I have indeed answered the question "Can you take psychedelics safely in sobriety?" with a resounding "YES!"
Disclaimer: In the interest of public safety and solidarity with my fellow recovering addicts, I feel called to issue the following: These explorations are not appropriate for all people at all stages of personal evolution. Pure intentions, reverence, and respect for the medicines and the traditions that birthed their ceremonial use are critical when choosing to explore expanded states. The difference between using drugs to escape versus inscape is vast. The substances discussed here will not take you out of yourself but rather much deeper inward. Be prepared to face what you might discover when traveling into the depths of your soul, and be sure to be accompanied by a trusted guide when making the irreversible trek into the unknown. Prudence and discernment are of the utmost importance on this mission, should you choose to embark.
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