#58 Using psychedelics in recovery, part 1
A long road to a complicated decision
I’ll be in Brooklyn on September 27 in conversation with Amanda Montei about her new book, Touched Out: Motherhood, Misogyny, Consent, and Control (which I’ve read and is GREAT). Space is limited, register here
My friend Ann Dowsett Johnston is running her Writing Your Recovery course (an 8-week memoir course) starting October 4th. I give a short talk in each program — you can sign up here!
Last week I drank Ayahuasca for the first time. Two ceremonies back-to-back in a retreat setting that was five days total.
I’ve been writing and re-writing that opening, trying to wade into it gently; but each of those attempts felt hand-wavy and flaccid and distracted from the sheer point of saying it without qualifying it, defending it, couching it.
Obviously, this is a risky thing for me to share, which is part of the point: On my way to deciding whether or not to try it (a many years-long process, (which you can read some about here), I consulted with a number of people in recovery; enough of them had used Ayahuasca (a form of DMT) or similar compounds, and very few had ever disclosed it, and I sat on this for five days before sending it to make sure I was ready to discuss (I am).
It’s not the first time I’ve used psychedelics in recovery (which I’ve acknowledged a few times in this newsletter but never directly discussed). I tried psilocybin (for the purpose of relieving/lessening depression) a few times starting in late 2020 and again in 2021 and 2022 — three large doses — and all of these were deeply terrible, unhelpful experiences1 I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I also tried micro-dosing psilocybin for three months, which had no perceptible effect.
Drinking ayahuasca this past week was different, and because it’s the second kind of entheogen I’ve used in my recovery, and because it was deeply impactful, I’m interested in writing about it. I’m currently in the middle of a longer essay (for paid subscribers only) on the following:
9-year deliberation of whether or not to try ayahuasca
why I did it now
how I conceptualize it as part of my recovery
the impact using psychedelics has had on my sobriety (not the impact ingesting them has had on my sobriety, but the psychological impact of including psychoactive substances in my recovery)
the most helpful resources I found both making the decision and going through the experience
Today, I’m looking for your help and input.
I’m interested in your questions and thoughts and experiences regarding psychedelic use at the intersection of recovery, not to do some kind of AMA or Q&A, but to get a sense of what this population thinks about the use of psychedelics (therapeutically or recreationally).
What are your experiences with them? How do you conceive of them as part of recovery (your own recovery or others)? What questions do you have? Fears, opinions, suspicions? You can ask me anything about my own experience as well. Mostly, I’m curious about what you’re thinking and curious about. I’ve create a survey to capture responses.
A few things before I close this.
For years I’ve felt responsible in a ridiculous kind of way, and have thought that I had to be some model ambassador of sobriety. I feared that what I did you might do and that I was responsible for everyone else’s recovery by maintaining my own. I don’t feel this way anymore. I expect anyone reading this has made it to a certain level of awareness, self-trust, and accountability, and can make decisions for themselves, and take responsibility for those decisions.
The above does not mean I don’t take my influence and impact seriously. I take it very seriously.
I don’t think these substances — and they are substances — are for everyone. I believe that they can be of great and deep benefit, but I also know from personal experience that they can (along with many other risks, especially for certain populations with histories of mental health issues) confuse your relationship with sobriety — I 100% believe using any psychoactive substance, no matter the intention, can make your vows thin and your definitions blurry. This does not mean that I think sober people should be ascetic it only means I think it’s important to consider what the addition of certain compounds can do to your own logic and values, and whether your recovery is strong enough to manage this.
I researched using psilocybin and ayahuasca heavily, considered them both for between 7 and 9 years, and discussed it with many, many people (therapists, psychiatrists, mentors, sponsors, friends in and outside of recovery, philosophers, providers, healers, etc.) I trusted before trying it. I did not rush into this, I snailed into it, and I am extraordinarily grateful I didn’t either psilocybin or ayahuasca a day sooner than I did.
There is a lot of hype around psychedelics as therapeutics, which you’ll know if you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while or just like, are alive right now. I’m not interested in the hype. Psychedelics are a tool — so is Prozac, so is meditation, so is a meeting. Psychedelics have downsides, some of them major and tragic, and the hype clouds this very real aspect.
Remember Bill W.! Twenty years into his recovery, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous tried LSD and proclaimed it to be an important intervention for the recovering — and then he was shut down by A.A.: “The scandal reflects a tension in A.A., which touts abstinence above all else and the use of ‘mind-altering drugs’ as antithetical to recovery.” [It’s also important to note Belladonna might have been responsible for his spiritual awakening/initial recovery, i.e., there’s an A.A. origin story that can be seen as quite psychedelic]
I know a lot about addiction, recovery, recovery frameworks, alcohol, the influence of media and capitalism/free-market systems on alcohol and consumption, blah blah blah. Psychedelics are not an area I lay any kind of claim to having expertise. I have thought painfully, deeply, theoretically, philosophically, practically, and so on, about the intersection between these substances (and their re-emergence and capitalism-fueled cure-all wonder drug hype) and recovery/sobriety/abstinence. But again: I am extremely novice when it comes to understanding these compounds, their effect and impact, etc.
I think that’s enough disclaimers for now?
Comments off this week, questions/observations/personal accounts can go in the survey or be emailed (respond to this email).
15 Things Right Now
Can we just become crones already, AI as a trend, really good writing advice, the olds getting shit-faced, the perfect coffee creamer, responsible drinking, deflecting appreciation, brain injectables to cure AUD, more.
This article written by Rebecca Jennings of Vox on “‘Girl’ Trends and the repackaging of womanhood”, paired with this article by Jessica Bennet (“I refuse the graceful slide into cultural irrelevance”) and this article on how Gen Z doesn’t understand Gen Alpha’s memes, had me thinking about how much “girl” trends (girl dinner, girlbossing, hot girl walk, lazy girl job, divorce girl summer, etc.) and other TikTok-centric trends penetrate my ecosystem—despite having spent perhaps two hours total/ever on TikTok, being off social media2, and being closer to fifty than I am to forty. How is it that I’m still hyperaware of these trends and feel as if I’m in on them, or at least peripherally in on them, vs. observing them or (even better), being totally unaware of them? This trifecta of articles got me thinking about TikTok, Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and how many women my age (including myself) are still deferring to this age group (kids), or even trying to be part of it or keep up with it, and then it got me wondering if this is stunting us in some way, or how its connected to youth-cling, anti-aging practices, thinness, and what in general feels like a society more obsessed with youth, beauty, and ‘perfection’ than I remember it.
In more direct words, the center of gravity of culture — since culture is primarily digital — are Gen Z and Gen Alpha, and what I’m wondering is whether or not refusing to age out of youth culture is somehow infantilizing us, dumbing us down, keeping us image-focused, and preventing a whole generation of crones from coming forward?
“The AI hype is collapsing faster than the bouncy house after a kid’s birthday.” Ted Goia, whose newsletter I’m thoroughly enjoying, with a counter-take on AI-hype
Related: Steven King on AI using his books to train itself (also how is this even a fucking sentence what)