Am I addicted to struggle?

A sober alcoholic grapples with resistance to the idea of treatment with psychedelics

Photo: Daria Nepriakhina under Creative Commons license.

My drinking was always about the whoosh. The sensation nestled between the second and the third drink where the world would melt away. My cares and concerns melting off me into the ether, and for a brief fleeting moment I found what I was looking for relief. Relief from the endlessly looping narratives in my head. My failures, shortcomings, memories of missteps and mistakes I didn’t know how to move beyond. Pain and grief.

When I set down the bottle, I wasn’t able to set those stories down with it. Early sobriety, which is to say my first days of not drinking, was about learning to survive, moment by moment without relief. Netflix, peanut M&Ms, runs around my neighborhood would give temporary escape, but my ability to not drink was directly correlated with my willingness to be uncomfortable and to persevere through pain.

Slowly self-examination, therapy and connecting with a new community helped me to unpack and reframe those narratives. Relief didn’t come in an instant, but instead was hard earned over years, revealing itself in moments of realization that time had passed without impulses- to drink, to need escape, to demand momentary relief. I formed a new story line, one that I carried into everything I do: sustainable relief is a result of hard, painstaking work. If you didn’t fight for it, it doesn’t count.

Tales of the use of LSD and other psychedelics as part of treatment for alcoholism and depression first came to me as folklore. Offhand comments from friends, in asides or comments on recovery blogs, did-you-knows in dinner conversations. I brushed them off as rumors and hearsay- both because that was what they were and because of my own knee jerk reaction, “That’s not sobriety!”

Then, in 2015, Michael Pollan- a favorite writer of mine- published The Trip Treatment in The New Yorker. I read it, and read it again numerous times, and then didn’t say a word to anyone out of fear that being honest that it had piqued my curiosity would be seen as not sober or an indicator of my own sobriety unraveling.

This wasn’t a solitary essay for Pollan, nor is he the only journalist following this issue. Add to this the recent release of his already New York Times bestseller on the subject, How to Change Your Mind and it’s become quite the hot topic- in the sober community and beyond.

Somewhere in reading the reviews and articles and listening to Pollan speak to his personal experience (this episode with Sam Harris is my favorite) the black and white moved closer and closer together for me, and now I am left wading through a gray of feelings about the subject. I started to ask myself, why was I so closed off to this idea, when it so clearly seems to be making a profound shift for so many people? Where was all this contempt prior to investigation coming from?

Why am I so jealous of all these people who have experienced such a profound shift as the result of this approach?

Why I am closed off to the idea that relief or happiness is possible without struggle?

It doesn’t take but a moment of seeing the words on the page to recognize that it’s a bullshit belief system. One guaranteed to keep me in misery and tension for the rest of my days. I am quickly noticing how it touches every area of my life — my professional work, my relationship, parenting, my relationship with my body and food, friendships, the list goes on and on and on.

If it hasn’t been a struggle to achieve, I can’t appreciate it, enjoy it, or be grateful for it.

This belief needs to be shed.

Will I seek out treatment with psychedelics? That’s unlikely — for now. Nascent treatment protocol and the whole legality issue are outside my current comfort level. I’m also not currently struggling with depression, which honestly would be a more motivating issue for me at this point in my life.