Silent lucidity

The sun fell on the hills again, the same way it falls every night. Falling off myself, a stranger passing through another town, another rented room. Taking stock of all we’ve taken in and everywhere we’ve been.

We are in Montana for a week now after a couple weeks in the deserts of Colorado and Utah, back home to Washington briefly before we headed off again, a long drive to a resort town called Whitefish with gondolas and beckoning mountains, the reassembly of family traditions they call reunion.

Today hiking up the trails with Dawn’s 24-year-old nephew, discussing the nature of loss and the role of drugs in its reconciliation. MDMA, DMT, ketamine infusions, psilocybin, LSD. We crisscrossed the avalanche runouts and dirt roads to keep on trail through the forest, spotting marmots sunning themselves on the rocks. Swatting horseflies as we stopped in the shade to rest, surveying the hills in the distance as we climbed.

He carries a pouch of Kratom powder and adds it to his kombucha bottle. Keeps a sleeve over one arm where he just had some new tattoos applied to protect the ink from the sun. The Kratom is a mood enhancer and helps with pain, though I’ve only tried it once and it gave me odd dreams. I am looking to sharpen my perception of reality naturally I said and declined his offer.

There are one or two times that really stand out, with the drugs. The kind of experiences that transform you he said. His dad (Dawn’s brother) died at 57 from a brain tumor. It came on quick, about a two-month window and he was gone.

Chase got debilitating pain in his pelvic seat for months, the kind of pain that burns like bad diarrhea 24/7. He competed as a body builder but had to stop as the pain interfered with his training and he got tired of having to consume 6,000 calories a day, eating pounds of chicken breast every two or three hours.

He describes the one experience on mushrooms where he imagined an elevator shaft with tiny workers chipping away at debris that had accumulated along the inner walls, thereby opening the shaft. He felt a wave of sadness coming, as he had not been able to experience the grief of his dad’s passing and so he went to his bedroom and closed the door. The sadness overcame him and he went fetal, then felt himself popping out of the back of his head and floating above his body. He then thought, “he’s going to be alright,” referring to himself (his fetal body, that is) in the third person.

And then he imagined a light on the ceiling coming from a geometric pattern, and began feeling sensory memories from his youth. The smell of his grandmother’s perfume, the unique sound his deaf grandfather made, a kind of grunt. The texture of his childhood dog’s fur. The light surrounded him with these sensations and let him know he was loved, in this way. And when he broke from the spell, his palms were cut from where his nails had squeezed into his skin, his eyes swollen from sobbing, but he felt released from the balled-up tension and grief, he felt healed.

In another example he’d gone into an orange portal and seen his dad there, his dad just fully himself, though he’d passed, and they were connected at the head through a double helix. His mom appeared too, though because she is still alive she was just beside him without the helix. And he was himself as a child again at a desk in a school classroom struggling but they reassured him he could do it himself, he would be alright.

These are remarkable stories, and I could see why they would make you a proponent of psychoactive drugs for therapeutic use, but I am coming from a place of utter distrust and contempt for the movement to normalize cannabis and related drugs, having experienced their negative effects on our daughter Lily and friends of hers, whose young lives were nearly ruined, whose families have gone into significant debt to help repair the damage, kids who have literally lost their minds and nearly killed themselves.

I am grateful I don’t have recent loss to work through and the temptation to reconnect with the dead this way; I’m conflicted over the extent to which it is a natural vs. supernatural act, the latter feels like it comes with a kind of monkey paw curse. I would like to train my mind to have experiences like that without drugs, though I don’t know if it’s possible. I have to believe it is.

Yesterday I ate the last of Lily’s oats. She had some food left over from wilderness therapy and the sentimental part of me (the frugal too) couldn’t throw it out, though it was just oats, tortillas, and trail mix. In fact I carried bags of all three with me throughout Colorado and Utah, as a way of trying to share in her experience by eating what she ate for so many days.

I mixed the oats with hot water and cinnamon, then added sliced bananas and strawberries, flaxseed, coconut flakes. They would eat the oats with a spoonful of peanut butter, powdered milk, and gorp.

At the graduation ceremony they gave each of the kids a dot or two of cedar oil on the insides of their wrists as a way of helping the students remember their time in the wilderness more vividly, in a more sensory fashion. I found and bought a bottle of the same oil myself, so I could too.

And so we have these memories, implied or explicit, to carry us through our days and connect us back through smell and sound, through pictures and familiar tastes. We are blessed by our senses and I feel alive and renewed by the smells in the morning pines and the feel of fresh air on my face. The love that no matter where I go is always here.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

32 replies

  1. I find myself frequently drawn to the idea of using cannabis again (not legal here, but Tourette is an approved disorder for cannabis use). Introducing an intoxicant seems rather stupid for someone who just went through a multiyear wringer giving up alcohol, but I think I’ve been drawn in by the notion that if it’s legal, it can’t be dangerous (although I can use my experience with alcohol to contradict that logic). My taste for hallucinogens faded away as my life got hectic and my responsibilities increased. I didn’t want to endure a bad trip because i began dwelling on my requirement to brief senior management on Monday morning. Although… the research on depression being done with psilocybin is intriguing. To get months or years of relief from a trip or two would be glorious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hear that! Intriguing research and my friend and nephew-in-law as a case study of one offers some interesting testimonies. Funny burden we have in the western world, in the 21st century. I guess if you dig into the mycelium and mushroom history some more, it’s possible our ancestors actually evolved as a species by taking mushrooms. Which sounds half-baked but at the same time plausible to me, at least! I agree on your thoughts about Tourette + cannabis in light of your years long slog through all that crap. Coffee, Jeff. Coffee. Arabica baby…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you that i don’t think cannibis needs to be legalized and normalized for all. Legal sends the message that it’s safe and healthy for all, and we know that’s not the case. Our kids are the test subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kristen, you’re right I think about the message it sends. There’s a gap now between legalizing and educating and I’m skeptical about who has the motivation to fill that gap. I’m deeply biased too, and it’s taken me most of my adult life to finally see the potential downside in weed and the liberating feeling of being totally sober. I’m betting this is on your mind now maybe as PA contemplates legalizing it. WA state was one of the first and it often feels like the weed presence is everywhere, but such it goes as a parent right?!


  3. I believe they’ve actually legalized psilocybin in Oregon, with caveats. It can only be done supervised by a doctor, with controlled doses, and psychological screening and follow-up. They’re still working out the details.

    I can’t say I’ve ever done full on hallucinogens so it’s hard to have an informed opinion on it. I have heard other stories suggesting Dawns nephews cathartic experience is not unusual. As for pot and teenagers, is self-medicating with anything a good idea for teenagers? (Or for anyone who has trouble with the notion of when, where, how much, and how often?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I’ve heard that psilocybin is going legal possibly in CO too and I can hear the opinion that the govt shouldn’t make drugs illegal per se, especially those which grow naturally. That’s an interesting debate. To your point, self-medicating for anyone, regardless of age, is chancy at best. I played that game for a long time myself! Hope you’re doing OK with the heat Dave, warming up here in MT but nowhere like it is in OR or WA from what I can tell. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts here.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s an interesting thought, that a chemical change can fix things. The recent review of serotonin that showed the concentration and level psychoactive substance and of depression are more or less independent is going to provoke lots more thought. Anyway the following might be off interest. It confirms my I bias towards avoidance. All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I shouldn’t be surprised the same kind of trend appears to be alive and well in AUS too David, thanks for sharing. Reminds me of the Netflix series Nine Perfect Strangers, that MMA outfit. In fact I lifted a song title from that soundtrack for this blog post, was a touching scene at the very end of the series they played that song. The seratonin deficit in some peoples’ brains (and resulting ill effects from MDMA especially) scare the hell out of me personally. So it goes!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, ‘it’d a small world’ used to be what mt parents said to mean not much chance of that happening but it’s not anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Working as a Psychologist in BC with youth and their families I can tell you that some youth using cannabis had bad reactions as it triggered psychosis or other issues that may have bern genetically in the family (previous generations had undiagnosed issues ).
    Drugs is not good for the developing brain .
    We need to work through our emotional loss and pain. I lost my dear sister in June and can start crying just seeing a photo of her on my devices.
    Hallucinations with help of the legal drugs scares me. What if it triggers something unknown in my brain and it never stops ?
    I love the Mountains and am looking forward to visit BC next week. Driving trough the Rockies …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi and thanks for reading and sharing your POV, so sorry for your recent loss too. Appreciate you sharing your perspective and hope you have a lovely drive through the mountains! That sounds great.


  7. Interesting post – fascinating comments – what an interesting hike. A mix of different “natures” and definitely different levels of experience (age on your side!)

    Sounds like your brother-in-law may have died of the same cancer that took my son. I watched my daughter (son’s younger sister) and myself through those 3 months as closely as I watched my declining son. Not easy. your “nephew” reached for something to ease his loss. But, as you well know, he’ll have to lose that “crutch” in time or it will ruin him. Maybe life is all about progressive coping with change?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you felt your pain, your son’s, and his sister’s through all that (maybe some others too). Talk about a lot. I don’t know the name of the tumor variety but it was one with a very low survival rate so his chances were not good. His family knew another colleague with the same variety who lived longer but perhaps that wasn’t a good thing. So we’re kind of grateful I guess it was relatively quick. Very upsetting to witness and experience of course; I hear you about the “crutch” too. I’m hoping that’s a temporary, arguably necessary mode of passage to take to process and heal. Which well may be the case for others in similar situations. It’s a compelling approach, using psychoactives, though for me I’ve played around with them enough from a recreational POV I fear I’ve taken my brain as far as I should from a healthy perspective. I compare the brain’s elasticity to a rubber balloon and fear if you stretch it too far it will tear. Hope NM is (or will be) restorative for you Jazz! Be well.


  8. Fascinating post, and interesting newish writing style in the middle there, very straightforward and earnest. An addiction counselor acquaintance of mine has said some scary things about what she’s seeing from people geting into all this CBD product out there, especially the vaping. Legal most certainly does not mean safe. That goes for the many vitamins and supplements out there as well, all the pills, powders, potions, etc, none of which are regulated by the FDA, which makes their ingredients and QC quite iffy. Best to stay away. The conventional wisdom among the experts seems to be that a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, low in fat and sugar, renders all of that other stuff moot, a waste of money, and potentially hazardous. Wishing all the best for Lily and friends and family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lovely to hear from you man! I hope things are well all around for you and yours. Yes, to your point I just swallowed my daily fish oil tab. Hopefully that’s not going to kill me but like Jerry Garcia said, “if the thunder don’t get you, then the lightning will.” Thanks for reading and happy to hear it made you think, thanks too for the note on the writing style. Trying to get this dang engine to start again. Or possibly to replace this dang engine. Peace out ✌️


  9. Bill. It’s nice to read you again. It’s beyond nice, actually. You write just as well as I remember, and that’s not something most of us can say.
    It’s hard to stick by, for me. I struggle a lot with mental health. Sometimes I can’t really get past myself at all, and sometimes that lasts a long while.
    I don’t have any experiences with hallucinogens, but I’ve taken some antipsychotics and sleeping pills throughout my late teenage years and early adulthood. They gave me traumatizing dreams. I had this recurring dream that my own mother would flay me and hang my skin on front of my childhood home.
    Addiction, however, is something I’m more familiar with. It takes unusually long for me to be able to write about things, I find. Addiction is something I’m beginning to uncover now, and while I don’t think I will ever be rid of it, it’s haunting and heartbreaking to think part of my pain can be taken away with something accessible to me, but that removal, in a Kafkaesque way, incurs another pain. A series of interlinking cycles, like a chainmail vest locked around you. I find moments of respite. Weed actually helps quite a bit, but I’m moderate with it, and even though it’s not legal in Portugal, authorities care so little it might as well be “soft-legal” at this point.
    It’s nice to see you again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JM! Was great to see you post again and then see your lovely note here, thank you for reaching out and sharing, and for the kind words. The chainmail vest image is really something, I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. “Kafaesque,” and the way you described the unique challenges there, sound hard and something I can relate to, having struggled myself for a time with alcohol. It feels good to be liberated from that now. And sorry it takes an unusually long time for you to write, as you say. I really enjoyed the last piece, it’s clear you are onto something very big and alien, in a good way (like not of this earth). I trust you find some solace and peace in that (as I do in my own writing) and am grateful for meeting up out here; it’s a gift in your gifting to us as well. Pardon my diction there good sir. Enjoy the remains of the summer…


  10. I worry for a friend of my daughter’s, who always had anxiety issues and now self-medicated with cannabis. Her parents, our friends, say they miss her. I don’t think my kids are too heavily into it. I worry more about their relationship with alcohol. I didn’t teach good habits there.

    Right now I’m hooked on granddaughter. Highly addictive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t start sucking your thumb hanging out with granddaughter! It won’t end well! But yes hear you and your concern. Drinking tips for teens is the best blog title ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting post Bill with much to ponder and open up for discussion. I find it odd that now that weed is legal it is also much stronger than it was way back when I used it illegally. I use it sparingly now, an occasional half or third dose before bed if restless nights are an issue, and used it for anxiety during the Trump administration years. I felt it lowered my bp just enough to keep me from stroking out over him. But I’m a sixty something adult with no addiction issues ever, not a teen learning to navigate through life.

    I haven’t been following WP for a while so I don’t know what your family has been through regarding your daughter, but I feel for parents because it has got to be much easier for kids to get their hands on it now. And there are plenty of adults using it without much restraint sending the wrong message to curious kids. It may just become the gateway drug that alcohol was in my day, when a fifteen year old boy with full facial hair could walk into the liquor store without id and load up the trunk with kegs of beer and Mad Dog 20/20 for a night of partying, and if that didn’t work there was always Dad’s liquor cabinet to raid.

    I hope your nephew heals to the point that he can walk through the pain without crutches, and I wish you and your family well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice! Thank you Ilona. Yes we’ve had an up and down year but definitely pulling through much better now, thanks for visiting and appreciate you still reading. I get the in and out of platform thing; I think I’ve unplugged all my other ones and I’m down to this. Pot during the Trump years makes sense to me, ha ha. Be well. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Rich comments on a dense post. Although I could not say it as neatly as Walt, I also noted the changes of register in this piece. What I particularly enjoyed was the contrast of the wilderness foodstuffs with the psychotropic substances. Both Earth, perhaps, but different topography.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. PS. Every couple of posts there’s a totally unfamiliar word for which context offers insufficient clues. This one has gorp. At first I thought of Hagrid’s half-brother but realised that probably wasn’t correct so I looked it up, and behold! it is the same as scroggin. Phew.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: