After a night of drinking your phone becomes like the lil’ black box of a downed aircraft—you begin to sift through the documentation to piece together a story of what happened in those harrowing final moments before everything disintegrated into oblivion. Many times I have been so terrified of what I might find on my phone after a proper bender that I would unlock my screen while looking through the webbing of my fingers as if I am watching a Stephen King movie and some poor soul is about to get laced the fuck up by whatever monstrosity awaits them.
Although I recognized early on that my relationship with alcohol was different from most people’s, it took me stretching my mind in different directions to finally understand why I kept returning to what in essence was a toxic relationship. An alcoholic who continues to drink is a lot like Rihanna going back to Chris Brown talkin’ ‘bout, “this time gonna be different.”
Don’t get me wrong, the initial glow of those first few drinks is undeniable. The shedding of baseline anxieties and inhibitions followed by a brief interval of elation is appealing, but that mirage of relief was always followed by a level of buffoonery and consequences that would leave me aghast and ashamed.
The mental, physical, and spiritual experience alcohol would provide was vastly different than the times I have dipped my finger into a bag of molly or graced my synapses with a responsible amount of psilocybin or LSD. Let‘s put it this way: I have never woken up after a night of rolling and had to apologize to anyone. Like, “Yeah Steve, I’m sorry we listened to music for four hours straight, discussed the fabric of the universe, told you I loved you 15 times, actually meant it, and helped clean your apartment.” I would, however, ALWAYS owe someone some sort of apology after a night of heavy drinking. One time I dyed my friend’s white cat red with beet juice and his mother came home and thought her adorable little fur ball had been attacked by an animal and was hysterical. Not an awesome feeling.
If I was to describe the difference between alcohol and psychedelics to the uninitiated I would first give them a telescope. I would ask them to aim the telescope at the moon but instead of looking through the lens, I would ask them to flip it and look through the eyepiece. As they struggled to focus they would be presented with a reality the size of a penny. Our miraculous moon that commands the tides and inspires wolves to sing their feral love songs would be reduced to a mere white spec in a slightly larger black dot. Everything disconnected and a million miles away. This I would tell them is the reality alcohol would provide them.
I would then ask them to flip the telescope and look at the moon through the lens in which it was intended. As their eyes were gifted with the intricacies and beauty of each crater, each crevasse, I would tell them that this is what psychedelics would provide them—a temporary glimpse into truths and beauties beyond our natural abilities of perception that are worth the look.
For me, that glimpse illuminated my tendency toward self-sabotage. It made me realize why that reality where everything is disconnected and a million miles away was so appealing to me—it was safe. In this reality, I was the only one who could really hurt me. I was fine with that. I held a long and romanticized relationship with self-destruction. To me, there was a certain poetry in poking holes in a sinking ship. But this was just fear disguised as fearlessness.
Psychedelics helped me to identify the difference between appropriate fear and poisonous fear.
Appropriate fear tells you not to pick up a rattlesnake and french kiss it because it won’t end well. (There is a metaphor for my earlier dating life in there, but that’s another article altogether.) Poisonous fear is the liar within that tells you not to try new things because you will fail, not to get your hopes up, not to bother caring. This is just our brain’s misguided attempt to protect us from the trauma of rejection.
I was in essence rejecting myself first before others got the chance to, and I was using alcohol to make this a cohesive philosophy to live by. Psychedelics played a role in reframing that philosophy into the theatre of the absurd, which is where it belongs.
Although those glimpses through the telescope of psychedelics were beneficial, I would also caution anyone reading this that, albeit beautiful, if all you do is stare through that lens, your life would assuredly pass you by.
I can find beauty in all things. In the moon, in music, in a father and mother’s anxiety-ridden sprint to an airport gate pushing a stroller with an army of small children in tow. It became clear to me that beauty in any form is a mirror of sorts. We see something beautiful for what it is, but also because we see ourselves, our love, failures, life, and pain, shining back at us through that in which we gaze. As we evolve, so does our ability to perceive and appreciate.
There is an old tree on a hiking trail I have frequented for the past two decades. Its massive trunk split open by lightning, blackened, and forever marred by that instantaneous and violent strike. But still living, growing, and reaching for the sky. The first time I saw this tree at the mere age of 15, I could instantly recognize its beauty. But just this past year as I walked past it another countless time, I saw it differently. I saw the resilience of a scared life persisting against catastrophe. The tree had not changed all that much—I had, and that change in me brought forth new beauty in the tree.
This is a very long-winded way of saying If you gobble psychedelics all the time like a jerk off, you are missing the point and disrespecting this beautiful telescope which we are given. Besides for me, beauty is magnified by my systematic deprivation from it.
Lastly, I would like to end by saying, if you are like me and have struggled with alcohol or other substances, you owe it to yourself to explore deprivation from altered realities—in the end, the real beauty is the world, just as it is, with you in it.
Much love, Adam