Freaky-Ass Voodoo

The rage burning inside my brother emerged through his hands as they wrapped around my mother’s neck. She was saying his name in strained protest, “BILL! BILL!” …as if trying to make contact with the little boy that was, not her violent 15 year old teenage son that backed her up against the wall at the end of the tiny hallway.

I stood nearby, paralyzed. My own experiences with Bill’s “mean-streak” rendered me useless. I was afraid of him, pure and simple. He was unpredictable, much like my father. Not knowing what someone is ultimately capable of leads to a belief they are capable of anything.

Our brains have a magical way of switching off the electrical wiring that sends power to our muscles during sleep. This grants us the freedom to dream of running or flying, frisbees or footballs, angels or demons, all while lying still in our beds. But on occasion, the dreams in our head are so intense, the emotions behind their creation so strong, they sneak past the gatekeepers and cause us to lurch in our sleep. Many, many times it happened that I awoke in the night with my body fully tense, only to realize I was having yet another dream where my fist was swinging directly towards my brother.  

What if I had been strong, brave, and fearless enough to throw an arm around his neck from behind and yank him backwards, off of his feet, off my defenseless mother? We might have crashed into chairs, lamps and tables while fighting inside the confines of our small apartment. I may have ended up bruised and bloodied in the exchange, but I could have stopped the assault and sent a clear message that the days of being afraid of him were over. 

But that’s not what I did. I stood there in shock and threw another layer of hatred for my brother onto the pile, and swallowed another dose of fear for myself.

Only in my dreams did I ever throw a punch.


How to Change My Mind

Back in January of this year, even though I had not done any psychedelics in over 30 years, I was feeling a renewed sense of excitement about their potential. After that chapter on psychedelics in the book Civilized to Death, my interest in the topic was reincarnated in this matured man’s body. I told a coworker I was learning some really cool new stuff about psychedelics from a book. He thought I might also like a very specific, almost 3-hour long, Joe Rogan podcast with some so-called “expert” on psychedelics- an ethnopharmacologist. I know I’ve already mentioned the Joe Rogan Podcast several times in previous posts, but at that point in time- January of 2020 -the one my coworker suggested I check out was the very first Joe Rogan podcast I’d ever listened to. I count it as a 2-fer… I finally got exposure to Joe Rogan, a bona-fide cultural phenomenon, plus, his interview with guest, Dennis McKenna (a person I’d never heard of before in my life), was marvelously fascinating. [Link]

That Joe Rogan podcast led me to listen to another of his with best-selling author, Michael Pollan. A few days later I began reading Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind. If you don’t know Michael Pollan, he’s a popular author of several books that have become big-time cultural influencers: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is perhaps the most famous among them. From there I launched into a second book on psychedelics called, The Explorer’s Guide to Psychedelics. Books, podcasts, articles, Netflix specials, YouTube videos…all about psychedelics. I was totally geeking out on information about psychedelics from every source imaginable and it’s blowing my mind. The only thing not happening was me actually doing any. But that’s coming. 

All of this new information, I can sum up for you as follows:  When done in the right setting and with the right intention, psychedelics offer most people astonishingly positive benefits. It’s just a plain simple FACT at this point. The jury is in. All legitimate debates are over. There is no way psychedelics should be illegal in the way they are today. Through smartly controlled clinical channels, they should be legally available to everyone who thinks they might benefit from them. [No, I do not believe we should add LSD to the public water supply.] 

It’s the testimonials that are irrefutably convincing. Did you know a stunningly high percentage of people who do psilocybin (magic mushrooms) in research studies end up calling it one of the 2 to 3 most important experiences of their life?! Read Michael Pollen’s book How to Change Your Mind, and you’ll see some of what I’m talking about. 

Who Doesn’t Like a Shortcut?

One of the things I pick out of this abundance of information is the term “psychedelic-assisted therapy.” Hmmm, that sounds interesting. I wonder if they have that around here. I google the phrase and add  “Denver” to it. A few clicks later and I’m on a clinic’s website, watching a video, and learning more about this compelling new method of therapy that involves the use of psychedelics. Interesting!

Throughout my life I’ve never been shy or unwilling to seek out therapy; meaning individual counseling, talk-therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy, life-coaching…whatever you want to call it. I’ve mostly found it helpful. But can we all please admit it’s also kind of a huge pain in the ass? It’s expensive, it takes up your time, it makes you sad, and progress is typically so slow it can take years and decades to materially improve your life. 

I know I’ve got stuff to work on, and I’m even willing to share it with you. But I’ve also had the thought that working through all my issues simply isn’t worth it. When I weigh it all out, I have to consider the fact that my particular “-isms” are not debilitating. All in all, I’m in a pretty good place now. So why would I bother? 

Because… psychedelics appear to be offering-up a shortcut. Yo! I’m no fool. If there’s a method of therapy out there that can replace a decade of weekly visits to a therapist, with 3 – 4 months of work…? C’mon, I gotta find out more. 

What Is My -ism

The psychological rabbit hole runs deep with everyone and I’m no exception. But I think I can give you a quick summation of what my problem is. Y’all ready for this? Sitting down? Hand over open mouth in scared anticipation?

I don’t get mad. 

Yes, that’s it. I don’t get mad. Booooo, you say? Oh ‘poor baby?’  Wait! Hear me out. Let me tell you why this is a problem. Getting mad has a far happier counterpart called feeling joyful. It turns out that if you can’t feel one, you’ll struggle to feel the other. The part of the brain that generates emotions regulates them as a set. If one goes down, they all go down. Anger, happiness, fear, sadness, love, these are all the basic emotions we start out with…. because we are human. When I tell you I don’t get mad, I’m also saying I don’t feel happiness, fear, sadness, love, etc. …at least not in the same way most people do. No, I’m not a robot. I do feel enough of these emotions to know what they are, but overall, I navigate life with all the worst… and best emotions tightly reined in. 

The truth of this dawned on me in a funny way also back in January. I went to a yoga class one Friday afternoon. At the close of class the instructor said something about having “joy in our hearts.” This made me do the Gary smirk. I couldn’t relate to the phrase. Later that same evening I met up with friends at a bar/restaurant. Because I’m generally not graceful in social settings, I bring up the yoga teacher talking about “joy in our hearts,” and how I couldn’t figure out what that even means. As I’m talking, I’m also looking at my friends around the table…looking for some nods. You people feel me, right? Amiright!?

But nobody nods. Nobody seems to know what I’m talking about. They’re looking at me like I’m the oddball for not knowing what joy in our hearts means. Oh SNAP! I am the oddball.   

Convulsion in the Lazy Boy

As I watch the video from that Denver psychedelic-assisted therapy clinic I’d found on the Internet, it starts getting a bit freaky. The sincere, matter-of-fact doctor that narrates the video explains their therapeutic approach this way: The body and the mind are not separate entities, they are integrated and must be healed together. My own analogy is that they are not two scoops of different flavored ice cream on a single cone, body and mind are the chocolate-vanilla swirl from the soft serve dispenser- completely intertwined. The doctor explains that if our minds store trauma and memories from our past, by default, our bodies participate in that storage. 

Psychedelics are utilized as a tool in this type of therapy to help patients access psychological and emotional “injuries” that lay buried within their nervous systems. Injuries of this type quite often occur in childhood when danger is present but the option to run away from it does not exist. In order to cope with the everyday, trauma gets sealed away within our biology as a means of protection. If we can dig these traumas up as adults, we are better able to process them in a safe and healthy way.

The freaky part of the video is when we see a patient wearing an eye-mask, lying back in a lazy-boy recliner, and experiencing this phenomenon in real time. Suddenly, the patient starts moving his legs like he’s running within a dream-state. He’s fully on his back so his legs are thumping on the foot-rest of the recliner; he is visibly in distress. This goes on for about 20 seconds, then the man starts tensing up his whole body. A second later he crests some invisible emotional hill and immediately begins to relax. “There, he’s made it through,” voices the doctor. 

The doctor explains that the patient, an ex-marine who served in Afghanistan, was working through his PTSD. What the video let’s us witness is the soldier mentally, emotionally and “physically” revisiting the site of the extreme high-stress, traumatic event; in this case an exploding IED. As he re-experiences it in this controlled way, with the aide of a trained therapist and the measured assistance of a psychedelic, he is then able to, in a sense, “release it.” He is able to shed it like a snake breaking out of its unwanted skin.

Okay, the clinic, the website, the doctor’s credentials, they all look legit… but what the hell?! This is some freaky-ass voodoo shit for sure, right?   

I’m intrigued by this innovative method of therapy but also extremely skeptical. A little deeper research finds the main guy that pioneered this type of what’s called somatic therapy. Hmmm, still seems legit, but no way, right? The next thing I do is ask my PhD friend Becky to check this quack out. Dr Becky’s day job is doing social science research at a university. If anyone can sniff out a quack, it’s Becky. 

It takes her a couple of days to research and get back with me, but when she does her conclusion is…it’s legit. WTF!

Stay tuned…. and I’ll soon tell you first-hand all about the freaky-ass voodoo somatic therapy.

But next up…we visit the breeding ground for suicide.