Drugs were an unspeakable evil as a child growing up in the 80’s. The “Just Say No” campaign bludgeoned me with fear. Many of my mom’s friends experienced coke-fueled implosions. Shane fell off the bridge and got brain damage on Degrassi High.
But my adolescence was an unspeakable evil too. Without drugs, I was like a cold Chihuahua, thin, shivering, plaintive eyes, tail between my legs. I walked around certain that no one liked me, unpopular with both sexes. I offered guys no competition. I offered women no confidence. Most of my nights in high school were spent alone watching reruns of Quantum Leap.
Shortly after moving to Boulder, Colorado when I was 16, I was introduced to marijuana. I was working at a bike shop. One night after we closed, “Shorty,” a buzz-cut, army-fatigue-wearing, 6’5” Wisconsan, who grew skunk-smelling, crystal laden kind-bud (I’m not sure if they still call it that) lit up a bowl.
I took one puff of Shorty’s weed and was sent into paroxysms of coughing. When the coughing subsided, I spent the rest of the night in the bike-storage room hallucinating that my parents were at the front of the shop. It was not an auspicious start.
Undaunted, I worked past this initial foreboding experience. No feelings of near-death and extreme terror were going to deter me from squashing my depression. Throughout that summer, I learned to love marijuana. When I started my high school, that love blossomed.
Nancy Reagan lied. Drugs were great. I spent the next few years continuously high.
I had few things to offer at my previous high school aside from insecurity, muted anger and poor coordination. But now I had weed. The guys over at the bike shop were able to help me score, and because of my natural parsimony, solid work ethic and bone-crushing depression, I was never without the stuff. This made me quite popular with the guys at my new high school (not so much with the women unfortunately).
My first “best friend” was Green (I changed his color-based-name to protect his identity), an affable, not-too-bright senior who lived in North Boulder with his mom and her husband—a younger-than-his-mom, lanky, blond-ponytailed layabout who was supposedly convalescing from some on-the-job injury. His days were spent waiting for a huge workman’s comp settlement, watching TV and smoking my pot.
The two things holding Green and I together were: 1. My loneliness. It was one of the first times someone wanted to hang out with me. Sure, it was because I had weed, but that was better than being alone I thought; and 2. He provided a safe place to smoke. Sure, neither him nor his step-dad ever had weed and their company cost me thousands of dollars, but they had a cool two-chamber glass bong and a warm, safe environment to hang out in. Did I mention I was lonely?
Weed is a gateway drug, and the first stop after the gates is acid. I was a bit scared of doing it, but since I had been so wrong about weed, there was no telling what other lies were being perpetrated about drugs.
It was a fall evening when Green scored some Red Barron blotter—little red paper squares with iron crosses on it. It was hard to imagine that something so small could have any impact, but I dropped a tab and a half and trusted.
Despite the acid’s size, the high was overwhelming. It wasn’t a full-on hallucinatory experience, but it was an expansive one. For lack of less trippy language, the boundaries of my perception were obliterated for those 6 or so hours. I saw the world in a qualitatively different way. Reality breathed. I breathed with it. I was no Chihuahua. I was infinite intelligence, consciousness and power.
And I remember looking over at Green, his eager, Golden Lab-like eyes looking at me, and I thought, “What the fuck am I doing hanging out with this guy?” We were hiking together in the foothills near his house when I got the overwhelming urge to leave him. “I gotta go,” I said without explanation, unknowingly dissolving our relationship.
For the very first time in my life, I recognized that I was worth something. I saw that Green did not care about me. He and his freeloading step-dad used me for my drugs. We had nothing in common. We were not intellectual peers. I needed more from my company, from my life. It was time to stop shivering. This was a real quantum leap.
I would try to induce such an experience with psychedelics over the next couple years—tripping on my days off school or work, tripping in museums, nature, concerts, New Zealand and so on. I was not privy to Alan Watts’ statement about psychedelics, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.”
Nonetheless, the power of what I saw that night stuck. It’s something most people never see.
I saw that the way that I see the world is not necessarily the way the world is.
All of life’s problems stem from certainty. We are certain that our perceptions are the way things are; they are “true.” And when our perceptual “truth” is different from what is actually occurring—the true truth—we have problems. For example, my perceptual “truth” is that I should have $50K in the bank to be secure. The real truth is that I have far, far less. The difference between the two truths is the problem.
Applying what I learned on acid, I can loosen up my grip on my perceptual “truth.” Maybe, just maybe, I don’t need $50K to feel secure. Maybe that’s just a perception—one among many.
Please note that my reality has been loosened far more times sober than tripping in the intervening years—through meditation, emotional exercises, seminars, etc. But I won’t discount the power of that acid trip. I needed my existing perceptual reality to be smashed, and smash acid did.
Using this acidic logic, here is an exercise to perform if you want to see around your problems:
- Make a list of one or more of your problems–fears, anxieties, etc.
- What perception must be true in order for these problems to be true? For example, in order for your weight to be a problem, it must be true that being thin is preferable to being fat.
- Can you be certain that your perception of reality is true? How?
- What way could you live if your perceptual truth wasn’t the truth?
- What might you do if your problem wasn’t a “real” problem?
- Choose one action based on #5 and take it now.