Time + Tenacity = Hope

Story time! Time to visit my Really Not Finest Hour.

There’s going to be a lunar eclipse on Saturday, July 4.

As many of us know, the Moon’s phases run in roughly 19 year cycles. What that means is that 19 years ago, a full Moon with a lunar eclipse fell on the 4th of July.

And 19 years before that, there was another: July 4, 1982. That 4th of July is a date I remember vividly.

I saw the bloody Moon that night from the walled outdoor enclosure of a mental hospital called Oakcrest.

I was twenty.

Less than a month earlier, I had graduated as valedictorian of my community college and was set to transfer to a university.

But three days before, I had slit my wrists in the bathtub.

The details don’t really matter. I was a complete mess, as I have described previously. I had freaked out and harmed myself and I was in a locked facility. I would spend a week there before release.

I remember that it seemed apocalyptic, that red Moon in 1982. My world was burning, the air was still and hot, and the Moon flew over, sullen and bloody. I was enclosed by locked doors and walls, denied anything with which I might hurt others or myself. My fellows were various flavors of depressed or delusional; I remember a sorrowful, distracted young pregnant woman who stood before a mirror for hours, combing her hair and singing the same single line from a pop song, 867-5309, over and over.

I am now closing in on three times the age I was at that sorry time. I look back at the sad, lost, self-deluded boy/man I was at that time—and trace the faint white lines that still persist on my wrists—and I feel tremendous gratitude that I was foiled in my plan.

Side note: depression is a bastard. I have written about this before. But that’s not what this story is about.

No: this story is about how—no matter how bad it gets, no matter how hopeless it seems—if you have time, you have the possibility of something better.

You have hope.

I’ve been through peaks and valleys since. Especially in the following few years, there were serious valleys. Even when I succeeded, I alienated people and loathed myself.

But I was never hospitalized again. And things got better. I healed.

Now, I have reached the third of those lunar cycles. The July 4th, 2020 Night of the Red Moon.

The pointless, baseless self-hatred has at last subsided. An effective combination of medications has become available. Life, once so awful, has become a rich amalgam of beauty and horror, and somehow I have come to peace with it, choosing a path that both rigorously focuses on the real and chooses to celebrate the glory of What Is.

I have chosen the joy.

I will look up at that red Moon this Saturday, and I expect I will cry: cry at its beauty, cry at the passage of the years, cry in relief that I have had these 38 years since my night under the blood Moon of July 4, 1982.

Friends, I don’t know whether it is possible to communicate this except by living it, but if it is, please know: it can get better.

However bad it is.

That red Moon will come around again, and with it, bring hope.


Shown: Oakcrest mental hospital. Closed 2016.

Settling for the Awesome Universe

Goddesses and gods. Fairies and ghosts. Magic spells and hexes. Dragons and griffons and mermaids.

Epic. Mythic. Heroic.

Awesome.

Well of course they are. We are story-telling creatures, and who doesn’t love a good story? If these were pedestrian tales, and boring, why would we listen to them? Why would we long for them to be real?

It’s all very human.

I can’t blame someone for wanting to live in a world where such things are real. A childlike* world of magical beings and epic wonders.

But…

But.

Reality is. We can imagine many things that are wondrous and beautiful and yet which do not exist. And fairies and hobbits and elves and ghosts and gods and goddesses are among them.

Or so the scientifically credible evidence suggests.

Woe be unto us, right? Our world is stripped of wonders. Cue sad trombone.

VVRRRRRTTTT scratching needle sound

What???

I’m sorry, but please.

We are intrinsic parts of a spectacularly beautiful planet in a Universe that showers us with gifts and wonders on a second-by-second basis: oxygen burning in our cells, leaves alchemically converting sunlight to sugar and breathing out that oxygen for us to consume, soil bursting with food…auroras and glaciers and deserts and mountains and rivers and sunsets and rainbows and oceans and all the magnificent creatures. The pleasures of food and drink and art and music and dance and love and flesh.

…And that is just this world.

Beyond, so much. SO much. A Cosmos filled with enough beauty and strangeness to stagger even the coldest heart.

How can this not be enough? How cannot all the worship, all the reverence, all the transported joy a person can possibly muster not be engendered simply by looking around and paying attention?

My Paganism is the spirituality of reality. Just this: just what is here.

Because it is enough. It is more than enough.

If there’s more, it will have to either stop playing hide-and-seek and show some real evidence of its existence—at which point I will begin to marvel at it, the way I do everything else—or it will have to go without my attention.

Because there is already so much—SO much—to revere that we know for certain exists.

Questionably factual stuff will have to wait in line.


*NOT childish. I am not saying that.

Image: Migrating manta rays

Confessions of an Obligate Psychonaut

I’m a psychedelic survivor.

No, wait. I said that incorrectly.

I have survived because of psychedelics.

There, that’s better.

Now, people have varying opinions about this class of drug…and all drugs which are used by some for fun and recreation.

This is a big subject, and I hope to unpack it, but let me disclose my bias at the outset: Illegal psychedelic drugs saved my life.

True story. I’ll get into that in a minute. Settle in: it’s a long one.

The backstory of all of this, of course is Calvinism: the deep, inchoate Protestant fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.

Pleasure phobia is deeply baked into Western culture. It is hypocritical, of course, in countries awash in alcohol and caffeine, but there it is. We have demonized mind-altering substances, with only a couple of exceptions.

Fear mongering and indoctrination from an early age have frightened whole generations of people into a childish, reflexive fear of such substances which results in a number of dysfunctional responses, including an authority-flouting tendency among many young adults not only to use them, but to use them to excess and under dangerous circumstances.

Not to mention the criminalization of such usage and the wholesale railroading of millions of people–overwhelmingly people of color–into the criminal justice pipeline simply because they enjoy altering their perceptions in a manner not sanctioned by their societies. Mostly completely harmlessly.

The result of all this puritanical nonsense has in the end been complete and utter disaster, suffering and ignorance. Countless have been imprisoned, their lives ruined. Research into the beneficial uses of these substances has been choked to a tiny trickle for decades. Without study, there are only anecdotal reports and amateur research, little of which has any traction with the established canons of academia.

It has literally taken the aging of an entire generation of people who experienced psychedelics in their youth into “respectability” as doctors and scientists and litigators and legislators to mature our culture even to the point of considering that they might have some legitimate usages.

But that generational shift has happened, and now we have solid scientific evidence that drugs such as psilocybin, ketamine and MDMA have extraordinary potential for treating such conditions as PTSD and depression.

I have lived with crippling depression since elementary school, and the miserable, alternately abusive and indifferent household I grew up in—and the utter disconnect of the Baptist/Mormon foster homes thereafter—ensured that when I emerged on my own at 17 to move away and start working my way through college, I was a thorough psychological mess.

Ask anyone who knew me in my 20s. I was just…well. An offputting mix of screamingly insecure and too smart for his own good and absolutely unfamiliar with how to deal with others and flailing—flailing—to somehow come to a place of centeredness and calm. Manic, pompous, histrionic…a psychological disaster.

With a sweet heart down in there, somewhere. But under a lot of layers of pain, anger, reactivity, and bullshit. I was intermittently suicidal. I smoked like a chimney. I stepped suddenly into traffic, daring it to kill me.

I hated myself. I was on my way to dying young.

And then came MDMA.

It’s a long story, and a more personal one than I care to go into in detail. But the synopsis is what matters: a deep, loving relationship coupled with several experiences with Ecstasy over the period of two years completely changed me and my view of the world.

She was older than me by 11 years, and wise for her age. A grounded person, and deeply familiar with the emotional landscapes I floundered in. She was kind, and forgiving; creative and loving. There were things I offered (somehow) that she needed or wanted, and certainly who she was and what she offered were a desperately needed tonic to me.

It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. But it changed me forever.

Central to that change were the brief windows, six hours at a time, when the world was an exquisitely beautiful place, and I—like all of us—was a luminous, extraordinary being.

When I was on MDMA.

The marvelous thing about that experience is that after you come down, you don’t forget what you have seen. For a depressive, the ability to see the world and myself in this way was healing in a way I cannot possibly describe.

And this is the power of psychedelics. Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it.

Now, many years later, a more whole and healthy person, I have very few opportunities and not much inclination to experiment with psychedelics. I may have done them three times in the past ten years.

But I remain permanently changed by them, and by the antidepressants I finally acquiesced to taking in the early 2000s. They, too, are psychoactive drugs, though not psychedelics. And so I call myself an obligate psychonaut: a person who depends on—indeed, cannot survive without— psychologically impactful drugs.

I do not make a moral distinction between these two classes of drugs. Indeed, I think it would be hypocrisy to do so. One was an acute intervention; the other is an ongoing support.

The result is that I am happy, functional, and the person my current friends know today.

Now.

When I created the Atheopagan Principles, there were a lot of reasons for #10: Pleasure Positivity. I believe that joy and happiness and pleasure are our birthrights: physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, intellectual pleasure, sexual pleasure. But specifically, I wanted to refuse the puritanical, joy-hating convention of the Overculture which rejects the value and legitimacy of experiences such as those we have on psychedelics.

I write all this to lay my cards on the table. I was saved by psychedelics, and I believe many others could be, too. I believe there is a deep kindness and a moral obligation for us to learn what we can about how best to deliver our fellow humans from the hells that our minds can create, and our abusers can arrange.

I support the legalization of psychedelic drugs. Yes, some will abuse them, but probably not any more than abuse them now, under the shadow of law enforcement.

And I wish—truly, I truly wish, so much—that every human on Earth could have the experience of MDMA in a loving setting. Just once.

It would change everything.


Image is “Shaman”, by Manzel