What LSD Therapy Taught Me
Two years ago, I took a large dose of LSD with a psychedelic therapist that would change the course of my life. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I like to think that LSD saved me from myself.
It saved me from thinking that happiness was something to be bought, sought, and worked for, and it genuinely scares me to think of where I’d be without it.
I turned to psychedelic therapy because the life I was living was beginning to take its toll on my soul. I was climbing the corporate ladder, hopping from one insecure relationship to the next, and binge drinking religiously on the weekend. I didn’t want the anxiety and depression which had come to be expected to be with me for the rest of my life. I’d been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade and still felt completely stuck.
I was drawn to psychedelics because I knew they’d force me to face the truth I’d been avoiding. When I read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollen I felt hopeful that maybe I could finally find what I was searching for. I just didn’t want to believe that life as I knew it was all that there was.
It was a life experience that was undoubtedly transformational and although difficult for me to put into words, this is my attempt to explain what it taught me.
It is okay to need other people.
Had I not had a psychedelic therapist by my side for the 10 hours that followed the consumption of 500ug of acid, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up. This lesson began before I even took the LSD, as it pushed me to trust another human with the deepest and unknown parts of my psyche.
In his book, James Fadiman talks about why having a guide is important for a safe, therapeutic, and sacred journey in his book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide:
“For most people, the predominant feeling during a session is not discovering something new, alien, or foreign, but of recalling and reuniting with an unassailable clarity that has been latent in one’s mind. Despite the intensely personal nature of the experience, the importance of a guide cannot be overstated. During the experience of awakening to oneself, it is invaluable to be with someone who supports you. Your guide knows the terrain, can sense where you are, and will be able to advise or caution you as appropriate.”
I had someone there for me during the experience which was what I did right. What I wish I had known, however, is how much I was going to want someone there with me after the experience.
The person I ended up calling was a man I had met on Tinder only once before. He was charming and experienced with psychedelics, so out of everyone in my life, I felt most comfortable calling him. He did not end up being kind or safe yet it was easier for me to call a stranger than to call someone I knew.
Calling someone I knew would’ve meant really letting someone in. I had kept the people in my life at a safe distance, where they couldn’t really see me. I was comfortable being the helper or the one who had it all figured out, but I had no idea how to be the person who needed help.
It’s also okay to ask for help.
Asking for help would’ve made the months that followed my LSD therapy a lot less lonely. I think this was part of a bigger lesson for me. I needed to learn that it is okay to need people. It was easy for me to be there for other people but I never dared to ask for help myself.
Psychedelics are known to invoke feelings of connection to the universe. The thing was, I had become so disconnected from everything and everyone, that this insight left me with a strong yearning to connect but with no idea how. The LSD taught me that to find deep and mutual connections, I needed to be vulnerable enough to admit I can’t do this whole life thing on my own. In that way, it made me softer.
Question everything you’ve come to know as the truth.
In the words of Terence McKenna:
“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third-story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”
When the LSD first hit me, it was quite marvellous. When it really started to hit me, however, I remember desperately trying to hold my grip on any semblance of reality. I was afraid to let go because it felt like if I did, I would lose everything I had ever known. Given the dose of LSD I took was so strong (for me), I eventually had no choice but to surrender.
And there it was: my life was nothing more than a simulation:
It was as if the LSD needed me to disconnect from everything I had known to show me what I needed to see.
I saw all of these things I was certain of become meaningless. I could no longer define myself by the things that I did of the labels I ascribed to. The LSD had left me naked.
LSD helped me to wake up and see that I had inherited many of my values and beliefs without a second thought. I needed to let them go, or at the very least, question them, and that felt a lot like losing everything I had ever known.
I need to work 40 hours a week until I retire. I need to look or act a certain way to be worthy of the respect of others. I need to reach some imaginary milestone by a set age to prove to myself and the world that I am enough. I need to exercise this way, eat this and not that, and certainly not take up too much space.
LSD just snapped me out of a trance. I don’t need to do anything. With this came the need to figure out what I believe, what I value, and how I want to spend my time on this planet.
If you want to change your life, you need to accept that change is hard.
I look back and I almost do not recognize the person who I was before the LSD. It had stripped away so much of who I thought I was that in many ways, it left me more lost than I had ever been.
Aldous Huxley beautifully captures the experience of coming back to a waking consciousness following a psychedelic experience in his book The Doors of Perception:
“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which he tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.”
I learned that there is no magic pill.
Although naive, part of me thought that I would take LSD once and my anxiety and depression would disappear. That it would deal with the pain from my childhood. The only thing is that it doesn’t deal with any of that.
LSD may have given me a map but it was up to me to find my way home.
LSD helped me to see things clearly for the first time. What I didn’t realize was how difficult this would be. Once I saw my truth there was no turning away from it and no way around it. I realized that the only way around my pain was through it. I needed to let myself experience the existential fear that comes with being a human and realize that I can be scared, and I can also be okay.
I am still feeling the reverberations of the LSD two years after my experience. I can’t help but see my life as being split in two: before the LSD and after the LSD.
Although I had anticipated being extremely high on LSD was going to be uncomfortable, I wish I had known that it was going to leave with a lot of work to do in the months that followed. I didn’t realize the integration work was going to be as difficult as it was and that it would extend into the months that followed.
If you are considering psychedelic therapy, please be safe. Be mindful, and do not take this incredibly powerful and life-altering substance lightly. In the right dosage, it can quite literally change everything (at least it did for me).