death. week 17.

date. 2022

city. nyc

Image by Tanya Trofymchuk

September 21

 

There’s something I haven’t been completely open about. I wasn’t really avoiding it, it just never crossed my mind to write about it. Which makes it all the stranger.

 

Since taking shrooms last January, I haven’t really been myself.

 

Here’s what happened:

 

Usher had been wanting to do drugs together, and since shrooms had never really affected me in the past, I figured it was a low risk option.

 

Little did I know.

 

They kicked in about 15 minutes after I swallowed them. If I recall correctly it was maybe 3 grams or so. As soon as I noticed that time/motion were getting all screwy I knew that I was in for the long haul.

 

I tried to hang out with Usher and Shantanu as long as I could, but very quickly realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I barricaded myself in my room. Headphones in, laying in bed, staring at the open window as the sun filtered through and the curtain swayed in the breeze. I was relocated into… shroomland?

 

As with my last acid trip, I was lucky to experience some of the most beautiful moments of my life. But, as with acid, it was simply too much for me.

 

It was so overwhelming, actually, that I haven’t full recovered from it.

 

I feel like I pushed my mind, and my sanity, too far, and now I need to lean in the other direction (toward the normal, the grounded, the stone cold sober).

 

Ever since the shroom trip, each time I smoke weed, I find myself plunged into some sort of psychological darkness. I’m forced to grapple with some demons.

 

I’ve allowed this to shine through in my last few posts, but to be honest it’s been something of a daily occurrence. Things that had previously been my friends—things like meditation, drugs, or philosophy— had turned their backs and now threaten to capsize me.

 

And so, since January, I’ve been charting a hasty retreat back into the superficial, sensitive to my new fragility, cognizant of the darkness that waits patiently at my door.

 

As long as I avoid ‘tripped’ activities or thought patterns, I’ve been more or less able to keep my feet on the ground and avoid the worst of the storm.

 

So that’s the background to the following story:

 

When I got back from Europe, I bumped into my friend Effy and, against my better judgement, smoked some weed with him. Fortunately, as long as I was with him I was okay. But as soon as I arrived home, alone, the familiar darkness swept over me. My world became empty, hostile, ominous, erratic.

 

I felt, once again, that was losing my mind. I felt, once again, that I was going insane.

 

But this time I decided to reach out to Effy for support. (Effy is studying to be a therapist and also has a rich history with psychedelics. He is a deeply spiritual, mystical, and emotional person, and I trust him with my soul.)

 

Here is a transcript of our WhatsApp conversation.

 

Me:

 

Hey. I wanted to share something with you. Half as a psychodelist and half as a therapist. I don’t know if it’s going to make sense. I’m a bit high, so maybe this makes sense in my mind, but not on paper. But, if you don’t mind, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

 

As I said before, smoking weed has become more complicated for me. I often end up in a bit of a dark place. When I was with you I was completely fine, but when I got home it started to turn dark. And I’m beginning to realize that it’s not the weed. It’s me. And when I’m with you my mind is in one place, and when I’m alone my mind begins to drift into a different place.

 

And this is something you’ve told me many times; that the weed just presents to you things that are already there. It makes me think that that darkness is in me, and the weed is just opening my eyes to it.

 

What do I do about that? Maybe the darkness is just because I’ve been studying about death, or maybe because I’m in a bit of a lonely period in my life, or it can just be my normal depression.

 

So one side of me thinks “okay, you’re just living in a dark moment of your life” and if that’s the lesson of the weed, then that’s the lesson of the weed. That this moment of my life contains darkness and that’s okay and it will pass.

 

The alternative is that the weed is presenting me with an opportunity to identify the darkness and to heal it.

 

I guess the answer is both. On one hand I can identify and try to heal, and on the other hand give it its time and trust that it will pass when it needs to pass.

 

Effy:

 

Whenever you smoke, you should try to tell yourself that things are going to come up. Don’t avoid them. If darkness comes up that means that you have something more to learn about your darkness. If you don’t have anything to learn about your darkness, then it won’t come up. It comes up when it needs to.

 

Me:

 

So you’re saying that I should continue to smoke and allow myself to go to all these places, but I don’t know… it’s not a good place for me to be. It’s not a good place for me to be. And the best I can do now is just to notice that that’s a place that I seem to go and just be aware of that. Just keep it in mind. So when I make my next decision, I’ll have more information. I’ll make my decision knowing that I’m currently experiencing a darker side of my mind. Even if it’s just subconscious. I believe that if this is coming out when I’m high then this is there all the time subconsciously.

 

So this will influence my decisions moving forward. But I really don’t like spending time there. It’s really dark and hopeless and painful. I spent many years there and I didn’t find anything.

 

I can even tell you what the darkness is. It comes from this sensation that everything is real. That everything around me is real. And that, for some reason, manifests itself as, or it produces, that realization, for me, leads directly to some sort of horror. Some sort of darkness. I don’t know a better word than that.

 

So in that sense the darkness isn’t coming from a bad place, it’s coming from a true place. A recognition of what’s actually going on. And I prefer to just be in the function of it all. I prefer to be asleep.

 

Wherever there is kedusha, that’s where you’ll find tumah.

 

Effy:

 

To me it sounds like you agree with me that it belongs and it’s here for a reason and when it comes up it means it has to come up and that kind of stuff.

 

But it’s a conflict. It sounds like you’re very conflicted. And it’s not the first time; we’ve had this conversation many times where you tell me “I don’t want to take mushrooms and go to that place. I don’t want to smoke weed and go to that place.” But then you do continue to do it. Let’s be honest. And I think the reason why you continue to do it is because there’s a conflict. Part of you really wants to accept and embrace all of these parts of you, but it’s really hard. And that’s the part of you that rejects it.

 

Continue the journey.

 

I’m not telling you to smoke more weed or not smoke more weed. Just continue the journey. There’s nothing wrong with either way. You’re learning as you go.

 

I would love to encourage you to go through the gate more often. Even if its a dark gate.

 

Me:

You’re 100% right. The thing I’m most afraid of is also the thing I’m most attracted to.

 

Effy:

Yes, I get that :) have a goodnight.

 

———

 

And this really is the whole moral of the story. The thing I’m most afraid of, is the thing I most love.

 

I can try to avoid it, but at my own risk.

 

———

 

I recently finished reading Death, Society, and Human Experience by thanatologist Robert Kastenbaum.

 

He mentions a study (Nagy, 1948) that found that children between ages 6 and 9 tend to personify death:

 

Many of the [6 to 9 year old] children represented death as a person. Interestingly, personification is one of humankind’s most ancient modes of expressing the relationship with death. One nine year old confided:

 

Death is very dangerous. You never know what minute he is going to carry you off with him. Death is invisible, something nobody has ever seen in all the world. But at night he comes to everybody and carries them off with him. Death is like a skeleton. All the parts are made of bone. But then when it begins to be light, when it’s morning, there’s not a trace of him. It’s that dangerous, death.

 

When I was younger I would have a recurring nightmare in which a robber would break into the house in the dead of night. (I would experience it from the point of view of whichever bed I happened to be sleeping in. I would try to wake someone else up, but was always frozen, unable to alert the family. Even when I was sleeping next to my dad.)

 

Eventually the robber would find me, and that’s when I’d wake up.

 

(Sometimes the ‘robber’ would take the form of a two SS officers.)

 

I always assumed that this was a normal nightmare and that many kids have it. But I now wonder whether the robber was a personification of death, which arose after my brother died. Perhaps I was afraid of death striking the family again, suddenly, in the ‘dead’ of night.

 

———

 

Safier (1964): The youngest children seem to interpret both life and death as a constant “ongoingness,” a flux. “Something goes, then it stops, then it goes on again.” Next, there is an intermediate stage in which the dominant idea is of the outside agent. “Something makes it go, something makes it stop.” An external force gives life and also takes it away. The highest stage embodies the principle of the internal agent. “Something goes by itself, something stops by itself.”

 

 

———

 

In another of his books, On Our Way, Kastenbaum tells the story of a 9/11 widow who lost her husband in the Twin Towers. She relates:

 

After my husband died, I tried to think, ‘what was the last thing I said to him?’ We think this way when we have lost somebody we didn’t expect to lose so suddenly. So I try always to say, ‘I love you,’ as though every parting might be the last.

 

I tried this when I said goodbye to Effy tonight. It felt great but I’m still not sure about it. Might be too morbid. Even for me.