Deciding to try psychedelics and trying psychedelics are farther apart than the rules of conjugation might suggest.
The first obstacle was my deep-seated fear of drugs. I was only ten years old when the Partnership for a Drug-Free America started scaring the shit out of kids every Saturday morning with their “Just Say No” public service announcements. They even hired Mr. T to threaten children with physical violence if they even thought about getting high. It was an effective campaign because there I was, decades later, still worried psychedelics would instantly scramble my brain like a fried egg. That is some powerful advertising. Then again, I can still sing the entire Big Red gum jingle, so I guess commercials just hit different in the eighties.
Next up were the mostly, but not entirely, false stereotypes associated with hippies. I feared even a tiny taste of the forbidden fruit would make me want to sell all my possessions and move to a commune where we would dress in matching hemp tunics and sell organic handcrafted soaps at local farmers’ markets. Our compound might be off the grid, but that wouldn’t stop Mr. T from finding us. Not to mention, I look ridiculous in Birkenstocks and tie-dye. Even today, I think twice before following a hippie to a second location.
The final challenge was finding mushrooms, which was pretty easy since I had recently learned how to buy drugs online. Remember, I was 43 when I smoked my first bowl (fuck you, Nancy Reagan). A few years before, I started having random episodes of acute abdominal pain. I had suffered from various GI issues most of my life, but these attacks were scary. On more than one occasion, the pain was so excruciating that I went to the emergency room, convinced I was dying. I ended up seeing numerous specialists who ran dozens of tests, but they never figured out what was causing it. It wasn’t until a few years into this healing journey that I finally learned the gut is where my body stuffed all the pain associated with my sexual abuse.
Eventually, a friend heard what I was going through and suggested I try weed. He even introduced me to his dealer, Matt. The cannabis did help manage the pain, but the procurement process was frustratingly slow. The transaction was quick enough, but before you knew it, Matt would pass around a fatty and spin some Rush records on his vintage stereo system, leaving us no choice but to hang out. I feared for the day he would break out his reel-to-reel of the 1970 Grateful Dead Harpur College show, trapping me in a jam band hellscape. It only took a couple more trips to his place before I googled “how do you buy weed on the dark web.”
Say what you want about the underbelly of the interwebs, but it was an easy, safe, and conscientious way to procure illicit substances. Easy because it only took a couple of YouTube videos to learn the entire process. It was safe because I never had to interact with an actual person who might be an undercover cop or, worse, a divorced Grateful Dead fan with a few hours to kill. Finally, it was conscientious because I could purchase directly from independent hippie growers in Oregon who got squeezed out of the legal markets instead of buying from someone tied to the cartels. Once you learn how to navigate the dark digital alleyways of the internet, you can find just about anything. All it took was a few clicks and some bitcoin, and two days later, I had some mushrooms in my mailbox.
Everything I read suggested starting with a tiny dose to get acquainted with the plants. Each person’s tolerance is different, and since this was my first time trying psychedelics, I decided to play it safe and start with one gram. I took my medicine with a swig of juice, put on my headphones, made myself cozy on the couch, and waited patiently to shoot the shit with the Buddha himself.
It took about forty minutes for me to feel the first effects. Nothing crazy, but I could tell something was happening. All of my senses became crisper. Everything looked sharper, and colors were more saturated. Music separated into layers, allowing me to shift my focus between the various instruments. I could even smell the unlit candle on the other side of the room. Then a sense of calm and peace washed over me, so I closed my eyes.
It took a minute to get my bearings, but it felt like I was somewhere deep underwater. It was pitch black and cold. While I couldn’t see anything, I sensed something swimming nearby. I was nervous but not scared. Then, I remembered reading an article that said you shouldn’t resist anything in your journeys. Even if something scary is happening, turn and face it with curiosity. So, I stuck out my hands and started to inch my way further into the darkness. And that’s when I met Frank.
I felt something reach out and grab onto my hand. I could see a dull light shimmering in front of me. I couldn’t determine what it was, so I pulled it closer until I was eye-to-eye with a giant bioluminescent octopus. I could feel his tentacles wrapping up my arms as crazy patterns of blue and green flashing lights danced around his skin. Both of us just calmly stared at one another in amazement. Then he tightened his grip and began to tow me through the water as if he wanted to take me somewhere. But I was stuck. He sensed the resistance and began tugging harder, trying his best to free me from whatever was holding me back. Eventually, I freaked out and opened my eyes. I was still safely on the couch. When I worked up the courage to close my eyes again, Frank was gone.
The most potent effects lasted less than an hour but lingered, to a lesser extent, for a few hours more. It was as if someone had increased life’s “better” slider by three percent. I got up and went to find my wife hanging out in the other room. She was curious and began peppering me with questions. How was it? Did you have crazy visions? How are you feeling? I reassured her I was okay and paused to gather my thoughts.
I had trouble finding the right mix of words to describe the liminal space between a dream and reality. My rational brain knew I was on the couch the entire time, but my soul sensed I had been transported somewhere deep in the ocean. I hadn’t met a glowing sea creature yet felt his energy pulling me towards something. I kept my explanation simple, hoping I wouldn’t sound too crazy. I told her that I had met a giant octopus who was trying to show me something, but he disappeared before I could figure out what it was.
It only took a few days to figure out what Frank was trying to show me.