Ayahuasca Part IV: Takeaways

What do you say about an experience that challenges your notions of what’s real and what isn’t? Well… This, I guess.

I had done plenty of psychoactive substances prior to my experience with Ayahuasca, and I did a fair amount of academic research on it leading up to the ceremony, but there just isn’t anything that prepares you for the kind of journey I was taken on. Every image that I saw with my eyes closed felt real – as if I wasn’t coming up with the images on my own, but I was being granted new eyes to see things that had always been there. Like in dreams where you’re convinced that you’re actually in that reality, but I never lost the sense that I left my reality – only added on new layers.

I interpreted the universes I saw as universes that exist simultaneously with this one. I knew that the spirits I encountered were very real, and many were there to help me. Not only that, but the other people in the room seemed to be able to tune into the visions I was having, and react to them in ways aimed at assisting me with them.

Prior to “releasing the dragon,” I had vivid images of the Spirit of Ayahuasca in a humanoid form, her hair made of long vines, her skin translucent, her heart and veins clearly visible, green, and glowing with life. Her and the Shadow Dragon stood side-by-side, arms outstretched, clearly holding space for my healing process as a blinding white light came from behind them. 

At the end of the ceremony on night two, Randy said, “I don’t want this to come off as egotistical, but I view myself as somewhat of a healer, and I was trying to help Sean release some spirits.”

“Let me set your mind at ease,” I said when the feathers were passed my way, “You hit the nail on the fucking head with that one.”

I view myself as an empiricist – I hold a very scientific worldview, but as any good scientist would, I leave open the potential that my view can be improved upon or disproven based on new evidence. This particular set of evidence caused me to challenge a lot of notions. It also ripped open a lot of old wounds, reexposing them to the open air, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t ready for it.

I can see how, with the right guidance in the weeks following the ceremony, this would’ve been ultimately very good for me. I did not, however, have any plan whatsoever for the integration of this experience into my life. I should have set myself up with counseling to accompany this event, but I did not. I should have sought help to interpret these images and form constructive ways of dealing with them, but I did not. 

I do not see myself doing a ceremony again for some time – I still have a lot to go over spiritually, mentally, and emotionally after this go round. If/when I do embark on anything even remotely similar to this, I will have a very particular counseling plan set up so I don’t fall back into depression like I did this time. Without that plan, all those wounds just left me thinking, “Ow, this really fucking hurts,” as opposed to, “Here’s what I can do to help these wounds heal.” 

Ultimately, I’m glad I did the ceremony. I’m glad that I stepped outside my comfort zone to explore my reality in such an expansive way – I am, afterall, a dedicated explorer. Also, now that I’ve done this the wrong way, I feel certain that I’ll do it the right way going forward. If you choose to do anything like this, make sure you’re set up with a strong support system afterward, and be open about the fact that things aren’t okay. This particular form of medicine is powerful and can lead to amazing insights, but it’s also unrelentingly honest about where your weak points are, and without the proper guidance, that can really fuck your shit up for a while.

Take an honest inventory of whether this or any other psychedelic is the right choice for where you are in life before you do it, and make sure you’ve got a plan for afterward, otherwise you’re just doing drugs, and potentially causing more harm than good. Happy traveling.

The Radio Silence Is Hurting My Ears

Yesterday afternoon around 5:45pm a woman jumped in front of The L in what police are calling an “apparent suicide.” She jumped off the same platform I find myself on most days, as it’s two blocks from my apartment, and it connects me to the rest of Chicago. Per my MO, I was glib when I talked about it with my coworkers last night.

“I mean, suicide is a selfish act already. Why do you have to add to that by screwing a bunch of commuters out of being on time?” I said.

“Right? Plus now there’s a guy that has to power wash the front of that train. He’s fucked up for a good week.”

I think we both had pretty good points there, but I still can’t help but relate to the lady. Lately, I’ve had serious depression gnawing at the edges of my consciousness, waiting for moments of quiet to chew threw my mental walls and say, “Jump in front of that train!” or “You’ve got that gun… Have you considered…”

My schedule is full and my dog always needs walks, so I’m pretty capable of pushing those thoughts back with reasoning or the emotional appeal of sticking around for the pup, but that doesn’t make the thoughts go away. It just delays them – suicidal procrastination, if you will.

The dark thoughts aren’t all about ending it, obviously. That’s just sort of a fun fantasy that the thoughts play around with. The more prevalent rumination is meaninglessness. The feeling that the days don’t matter, that my contribution to society doesn’t matter, that I don’t matter, etc. I’m reminded that all of that isn’t true when I talk to friends or family, but I find it difficult to reach out to anyone, and if someone reaches out to me I tend to reject it, so I strongly encourage you not to view this as a call to arms.

In fact, stop worrying! I’m fine. I’ve always been fine. I’ll always be fine (I mean, we all die eventually, but I won’t be dying any time soon). I can’t always worry about your worrying in my writing, otherwise I’ll just be stuck not writing anything at all. Sometimes I just need to write things down to process them – share where I’m at in order to move forward, which is what I’m doing right now. I’ve been stuck in a quagmire of writer’s block that stems from my concern for your feelings, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been healthy for me, so we’re all going to have to suck it up and power through it.

My point – if there is one at all beyond the need to vent – is that I understand that woman. Her choice presents me with a stark contrast between my feelings and her action. It highlights for me the fact that I don’t want to be her. I’ve got very cool things to accomplish in the near future. I’ll be applying to grad schools soon to study things I’ve always had a sincere interest in. I’ll get to research and teach ways of viewing the world that I believe in strongly, and that’s cool as fuck. This little vortex of negativity is temporary.

Mother Nature is wasting no time in driving the point home, as it’s raining heavily outside right now. Annie might’ve been a little overly optimistic, as the most recent weather forecast says it’ll keep raining for a few more days, but the sun will come out again. This storm will pass as all storms do, and unlike our sister on the L, I’ll live to see that happen.

In case they have WiFi in the afterlife, I’d like to take a quick moment to say, “Thank you, you kind, tortured soul. Whatever your misdeeds in life, in death you’ve had a strong positive effect on at least one person, and I appreciate the fuck out of you. Rest easy, dear.”

Sitting and Breathing: Day 22

Slow start today. I’ve been trying to take advantage of the fact that my cousin is out of town for the month to catch up on some deep cleaning. The apartment looks great, but – in part due to his absence, and in part due to the fact that I was busy and on my feet all day – my dog has been particularly anxious.

When I decided to take advantage of a short break in today’s rain, so too did every other dog owner in the neighborhood, so we did a lot of turning around and my body ached from trying to restrain him. Also, he was already amped up because there’s this rabbit that lives right outside the apartment next door, and once Maximus spots that little bastard, it’s nearly impossible to get him to wind back down.

I’m totally gonna kill that fucking rabbit, you guys/gals. I haven’t decided how, though. I don’t want to put out poison because I don’t want my dog or any other household pets getting ahold of it, and I don’t think bringing a gun out into the streets of Chicago is a good idea. Still brainstorming. Feel free to put in some suggestions.

Luckily, today’s meditation session was titled Lovingkindness Meditation for Times of Emotional or Physical Pain, so I got to pretty directly deal with some of the emotions that cropped up earlier in the day. There were a few different options for mantras, but I chose, “May I accept my anger, fear, and worry, knowing that my heart is not limited by them.” I was to start by repeating that for ten minutes or so, then switch to breathing meditation.

As I meditated, I customized the phrase bit by bit until I felt like it fit me a little better.

First, it became, “May I accept my anger, fear, and worry, knowing that they do not define me and my heart is not limited by them.”

Then, “My anger does not define me. My fear does not define me. My worry does not define me. I am not limited by them.”

Then I added sadness to the mix. I repeated the mantra again, but got overtaken first by anger, then immediately by sadness. Sadness took hold, and it took me about a minute to bring my body out of its physical response to the feeling. This seems to be a recurrent theme – the “sadness underlying my anger” thing.

I read an interesting article recently about how angry outbursts can be an indicator of depression. Apparently, nobody’s really been looking at anger as a marker for depression, but there’s a fair amount of evidence correlating the two. I can say with certainty that I related to the subjects in the article as I was reading it, and the things I’m digging up in this meditation practice seem to support the main point of the article (at least for me).

After I pulled my body back into the proper position for some intentional breathing things evened out again.

Earlier today I heard back from the admissions folks at the University in Vienna, and they seem to have confirmed that many of my plans are viable (still not assuredly in, but it was good news). I also got a job offer to barback at a Michelin Star restaurant on the weekends, so that’s pretty fuckin’ cool. As I write this, I’m sipping scotch and thawing a steak to enjoy in my clean apartment.

Life is alright, but clearly there’s some stuff that needs sorting out. More tomorrow, probably. And the next day. And the day after that.

And probably the day after that, too.

Spinning Wheels

I’ve cycled through so many career plans in the past year that it’s hard not to feel a little lost. I was going to be a SeaBee in the Navy, then an architect, then a firefighter, then a search-and-rescue paramedic, then a veterinarian, then a writer/actor/comedian, then a clinical psychologist, then… well… Who knows? I’d like to think I’ve settled, but history would indicate that there’s another shift just beyond the horizon.

What (if anything) do I know for certain? I know I want to write, I know I want to live abroad, I know I want a family, I know… no, that’s it.

I think that a PhD will provide me with a base of knowledge to fuel my writing, and I think that it’ll provide me the type of stability I’m looking for in the upcoming stages of my life. I think that I will enjoy studying psychology, in that I remember enjoying that field when I was younger, and I miss feeling like a subject matter expert.

While I’m on the subject of missing things from when I was younger, I miss being viewed as a leader. I was young for my accomplishments once. I was hungry for my future, and I was pursuing it voraciously. Then I got fired from the lobbying firm (I seem to have blocked the specific reason, but I imagine it was related to my partying-influenced attendance record). Then, after some scrambling, I landed a job as a campaign manager. I lost that campaign hard, and in response, I partied harder.

I’ve dragged you all down this rabbit hole before, I know, but it’s hard not to dwell on the feeling that I’ve lived a decade of squandered potential. So, now what?

Presently, I’m working at two different bars (soon to be three), and I do this well. It’s physical, it’s never the same night over night, I get to socialize and drink while I’m at work, and it gives me the time and mental cache to write during the day. To put it shortly (I know, it’s a little late for that), I enjoy this line of work, but I’m not proud of myself.

I’m not proud of what I’ve done because it’s hard not to focus on all that I haven’t done, or all that I could have done by now. When looking myself in the mirror, I can’t help but echo the words of my stepdad when he said, “I just wish you would pick something.”

Realistically, I don’t know that I’ll ever just pick one thing. I’ve always viewed myself as a Renaissance Man, but I think that’s gotten in the way more than it’s helped. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Farrell, stop spinning your wheels! Let yourself gain some traction by slowing down long enough for the tread to catch and move you forward!

The fear of becoming nothing has me exhausting myself sprinting in each direction that offers even the slightest bit of potential for longevity, and it’s preventing me from gaining any clarity on which way I should go.

I’m tired. I’m tired of wasting my potential. I’m tired of looking down on myself for not being what I could have been. I’m tired of being disappointed in me. Also, I’m just actually tired from the insomniac-like existence you get when you combine working in a bar and my dog’s ceaseless need to go outside in the morning (I’m not faulting him for it, but it’s definitely part of my issue). Also I have a cold.

Sleep will help. Sobriety will help. Exercise will help. Meditation will help. Exposure to nature will help. I should probably find a counselor of some sort… Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Sometime.

Whew… That’s some depressing shit. I’ll make the next one funny again. That’ll probably help, too.

In Case of Emergency: Apply Videogames and Junkfood

I went out on Tuesday night for a friend’s birthday. I had already committed to going, but like with most of my plans, I second-guessed my decision all the way up to when I got there (and until about 20 minutes after). The bar was pretty badass – it was an old school punk bar that had skulls and motorcycle parts and whole motorcycles as decorations. It was the night before Halloween, so I suppose some of it could have been seasonal, but I got the impression that most of it was there year-round.

I danced and spent money like an idiot. Get two drinks in me and all of the sudden I’m flush with cash, and I find it unacceptable that the birthday girl pay for her drinks (or her partner’s drinks or her friends’ drinks). Per usual, I partied as hard as I could until they closed down the bar, and progressively more gruffly asked me to leave.

To no one’s surprise, I was hungover the next day. I had the day off from work, so I expected to spend most of my day indoors, anyway. The evening’s poor choices all flooded back to me over the course of the day. I experienced my usual set of hangover symptoms: nausea, fatigue, distaste for sunlight, increased desire for greasy foods, general deficit of happiness, inability to focus on anything but my flaws – the usual. I was in and out of sleep for most of the day.

When Thursday rolled around, I couldn’t help but notice that I felt exactly the same as the day before. Nothing showed any signs of improvement. In fact, I’d say that things had gotten markedly worse. Then added to that was an anxiety around going to work. Every time I thought about it, I felt my body pull in on itself – each limb connected to my center by invisible strings that grew tauter with each fleeting thought of going to my place of employment.

I called in sick. It screwed over my coworker who was by herself for the whole day, but thinking about that only tightened the strings. I applied what methods of self-medication I could find without leaving my cold, dark apartment (weed, Netflix binging, and Postmates deliveries), but these were just bandaid solutions. None of it fixed the fact that I’m almost 30 with no career path to speak of, no money to do anything outside of paying my bills (and barely enough to do that), and no friends or family for thousands of miles. Then again, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk to anybody even if they had reached out.

I’d take my dog on walks and think about the litany of life decisions that put me where I am. I’d mull over all the times someone said I wasn’t good at something or all of my early life successes that have left me spinning into obscurity as a result or in spite of them. I thought about what a sham I am – how crazy I am for pursuing anything in the arts. “I’m not that funny,” I thought. “My writing really isn’t good enough for anyone to want to read. Certainly not good enough for someone to pay for! I’m so fucking stupid for thinking I was good enough…”

Round and round it went. I had effectively isolated myself via Do Not Disturb Mode on my phone, so I only had my own feedback loop to go off. Well, that and my dog’s input, but I have the sneaking suspicion that a lot of that came from me, as well.

Friday was more of the same. When you’re in and out of sleep and running mental laps on a track, it’s easy to lose track of time. Or rather, it’s difficult to give a shit about its passing. After calling in sick again on Saturday, I was finally able to pull together enough energy to put myself in the shower. That helped. Then I went to trade in a bunch of old videogames for new (used) ones. That helped. Then I used those accomplishments to justify playing videogames and watching more Netflix through to Monday morning.

I could stomach the idea of going to work on Monday. I was of course concerned that all of my coworkers hated me forever at that point, and that I was likely going to be fired for being out. I felt a moment of panic accompanied by hyperventilation in the car on my way, but I still made it in. None of those concerns came to fruition. Life continued on, as it does.

I’d venture that my bouts of anxiety and depression are fairly tame. They happen infrequently and only last for a few days in most cases. At most a month. For some, these bouts go untreated and can last for years. What starts out as self-imposed isolation is perpetuated by the people around them that assume they just need space. I can’t speak for everyone, but space from loved ones – from people who can counter the negative feedback loop – is exactly what I want, and the opposite of what I need.

I spoke to my coworkers about what went on in my head. I talked to my family. I talked to friends who get me. I feel better. Not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes depression wins, and it ushers people we know and love out of this world. We are at war with our own brains, friends. Arm yourselves with love and support.