“How psilocybin helped me quit drinking”

Therapist: Pete, do you think it’s possible you’ve exhausted your adrenal glands?

Me: I have no idea.

Therapist: Would there be another reason why you just can’t feel anything?

I recall his question lingering in the silence for several moments, before he eventually moved on. The reality was that I was beginning to feel things. I just didn’t like what I was feeling.

After being sober for over twelve years, I was drinking, again. Booze and I had never worked well. I quit when I was 29. I was now 42 and the 2-4 hours of sleep I had managed throughout my career as a first responder had dwindled to no more than 20 minutes at a time. I had difficulty remembering the simplest of tasks. Problem solving had become nearly impossible. I was getting irritated about the simplest of things. The discipline I had relied on throughout my sobriety was dissolving. I was actively avoiding challenges and I didn’t want to think or talk about any of it. I knew I was on the edge of a cliff, teetering forward; and I had no idea why.

I removed myself from the agency and the SWAT team. I went to a doctor and he diagnosed me with PTSD (after checking off the appropriate boxes on a checklist) and prescribed me Xanax and Lexipro. I took the meds and waited, but nothing got better. I kept drinking. I was regularly consuming a bottle of bourbon and a twelve pack of beer every day, and once I decided I wasn’t going back to law enforcement, I began to mix 60-80 mg of THC. That was on top of 20-30 mg of Xanax. I would still only sleep for 3-4 hours at a time; wash, rinse and repeat. My mind, a funnel cloud of thoughts and emotions, spinning too fast for me to attach to anything at all.

I don’t recall a lot about this time. There was a short stint in rehab, a return home to my family in the Midwest (where I did manage a month off booze), a handful of failed relationships and friendships, and likely more damage done to my body than I will ever know.

After more than 18 months of this cycle, I was introduced to a doctor who explained to me that I had an injury to my brain and endocrine system, and he had a protocol for fixing the injuries. At this point I was regularly experiencing 2-3 week waves of depression, so dark that suicidal ideations felt like a transient roommate. There were times that I would “come to” driving and have no idea when I had started or where I was going. I would swear off booze, make it a couple days and then go to some dark place and have no memory of buying a bottle of bourbon and consuming half of it before I would “wake up” and wonder how it had happened, again. I had difficulty formulating sentences during conversation and relied on a notepad to remember anything at all. I would often get finished taking a shower and, once dressed, have to go back into the bathroom to see if there was evidence that I had actually showered, or not.

I began the hormone therapy, as the doctor had suggested. Testosterone, estrogen blockers, human growth hormone and a pile of high dosage vitamins and supplements, that filled an entire cabinet. I was told it would take upwards of a month to feel a difference. Ten days in, something felt different. I woke up, had a thought, processed the thought and came to a conclusion. I sprang up in bed and thought, “my brain’s working again!!!” It’s hard to describe how significant this felt.

My mental capacities began to return, slowly; hampered by the time actual healing takes, and that I still refused to come to terms with the fact that I had to quit drinking. I was still attached to this idea that I needed the booze to sleep. I had developed this theory in my head that I had never really had an issue with drinking; I had injuries and once I healed those injuries, I’d be able to drink like everyone else. So, I took meds to heal the injuries, then exacerbated them with more alcohol. I was essentially kicking a horse and pulling back on the reins, at the same time.

I knew I had to quit drinking. I’d go a week, two weeks, sometimes more, without anything to drink. That would feel like an accomplishment and I would then convince myself that a six pack wouldn’t constitute legitimate “drinking.” Afterall, I wasn’t drinking a fifth of bourbon and a twelve pack of beer anymore. I was off all pharmaceuticals and my THC consumption was down to 20-30 mg/day. Only drinking a six pack was essentially proof that I didn’t have a problem drinking. But that six pack would inevitably lead to a twelve pack; the twelve pack to eighteen, twenty and so on. The anxiety would grow the next day and I resorted to drinking mouth wash on more than one occasion just to steady myself enough to go get more beer.

I made it through a month or so without any alcohol. But I was fighting the daily urge to tempt my capacity to drink, again. I just wanted to be able to drink, like most people. I wrestled with the concept of “responsible drinking.” Finally, I decided to take the advice I had been offered several times: to eat psilocybin and explore the questions revolving in my head.

I committed one Sunday morning and ate a substantial amount. It wasn’t my first experience eating mushrooms, but the immediate constriction in my guts suggested that it would not be an enjoyable experience. Thankfully, I had recently heard a discussion about “bad mushroom trips,” and heeded the advice that, “more often than not, a bad trip is simply someone trying to control the experience.” So, I did all I could NOT to control the experience or ask any “why” questions. I allowed the journey to take me where it wished, and answers soon appeared.

I saw myself on two paths: the first was that which would come should I choose to continue drinking. It appeared manageable- but was covered in a shade of underwhelming possibilities. I was able to stay with this and continue to experience the limits this life would produce. The overwhelming sense that I had about the drinking path was that of shame and the darkness that accompanies that sort of shame.

It’s difficult to describe, but seemingly at the same time I could view the path of my life when I’m not drinking. This view was covered with light. It was full of overwhelming possibilities and potential. And throughout the experience there was a sense of, “you can always choose to be on either path.” There was no sense of judgement. It was simply an offering of options, in the truest portrayal of realistic opportunities, and I was and will always be free to choose to step to either path, for as long as I live.

I stayed in this space for several hours; but it felt like a dream- a dream that seems to last for an infinite amount of time and mere seconds, alike. The greatest gifts in life are like that.

I had been sick for so long, all I wanted to be was better. I wanted that “better” to include alcohol. But they couldn’t be inclusive. I had to admit to myself that the life I wanted, what I had always REALLY wanted, was to not WANT to drink; to not want to escape- to feel peace. For the first time in my life, I felt just that. And after both paths seemingly blended to one and I was left feeling reborn, I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t the substance that had provided the information; it had simply been the key that unlocked the door.

I have not had the urge to drink since. It is as though the want and desires were washed away in this singular experience. If that is not evidence of the power of this medicine, I do not know what is.

I have yet to meet anyone who is proud or happy with their addiction to any substance. Individuals self-medicate to fix underlying issues, that they are either unwilling or unable to process and deal with alone. I believe my underlying issues stem from a lifetime of not understanding the long-term ramifications of head trauma and endocrine system dysfunction. But fixing those neurological and physiological issues didn’t remedy my desire to numb out and escape. It wasn’t until I was offered the opportunity to gain a higher perspective- a key in the form of a fungus- that I was able to see all I had been wasting; and all that I could gain.

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