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A potential benefit of opiate addiction

Opiate addicts (maybe not some other forms of addiction) are more familiar with Death than squares. It was an intimate part of our using lives, with the constant knowledge that each day could be our last shadowing us for as long as we used.

It is possible to transform the simple fear of Death into a more nuanced grasp of It’s role in a material world incarnation.  Castaneda said that Don Juan told him that a warrior of knowledge used Death as an adviser.  We all know this is the final transition, yet most people fear the end of this life because they’re caught up in the materialist worldview.  This is just one of many reasons that some form of spiritual practice is required in any successful, lasting recovery.  It may, among other things, lead to the realization that death is just the last transformation of one’s current incarnation.  Our souls are eternal and move on to the next appropriate learning experience, which may be another birth on Earth, or not. This viewpoint can free us from some of the fear of Death.

I used a capital letter to embody the Person or Angel or Agent of death because at the end of my using career, I had an encounter with this primal force or being.  It “told” me (through a visionary experience, not in so many words) that if I didn’t change my lifestyle I would have only two months left to live.  This encounter initiated the chain of events that resulted in my finding a way to do ibogaine, which in turn gave me a chance to re-boot my life.  So, I am grateful to that Dark Being – the Angel of Death – for showing me the way to live (Death as an adviser), instead of just taking me away.

A reduced fear of death can be a movement toward a more cosmic view of life.  The choice is ours.  As ever, more consciousness leads to enhanced understanding – and thus a probable improvement – of any situation.

“You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Have you ever heard this statement?  Was it directed at you?  Or at someone else?  How did you feel when you heard it, in either context?

Here is a section of the Wikipedia definition of “shame” (highlights are mine):

shame may stem from volitional action or simply self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough. Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialization. Though usually considered an emotion, shame may also variously be considered an affect, cognition, state, or condition.

For clarity, I’ll put the highlighted parts together:

Shame may stem from self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough.  Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialization.  Shame may be considered a state, or condition.

The meaning is different than embarrassment or guilt.  Here’s an effective aphorism I heard in 12 Step meetings: “You feel guilty because you made a mistake; you feel ashamed because you are a mistake.”

Tragically, this dreadful phrase is often spoken to little children, who are still assembling and developing their mind and sense of self; so, this is absolutely the worst time to say it to anyone (though I don’t feel it should be said to anyone, anytime).  Just see the results: it’s a common enough feature in the stories of addicts that the Fellowship developed an orienting, informative saying about it.

Look at the statement.  First, it’s negative criticism, meaning criticism without indication of what is wrong or how to correct it.  Second, the speaker assumes a morally superior position respecting the person they’re addressing, to put themselves in the position of being able to pass judgment on them.  Also, this phrase has a “should” in it, a typical indicator that a moral judgment is being passed.  Finally, it suggests that the speaker has prescient powers to know what other people should do next.

Of course, people who say this hurtful phrase are rarely conscious of these elements or even of what they’re doing and saying.  They may say it because it was said to them, unaware that they are hurting someone perceived as weaker or less developed because they were hurt that way themselves, when they were small or weak.  It is a common component in the avalanche of unconscious generational wounding that rolls down through the ages via family dynamics.

But it may be one of the most devastating.  Perfection isn’t the human condition, but it’s tragic how often people strive to hold themselves to this impossible standard.  In my case, it was inflicted upon me by my parents.  Humans commonly learn by making mistakes; the hope is that one makes a mistake only once or a few times before learning not to make it again.  Criticizing someone for making a mistake is valuable when the criticism is meant to point out how the mistake was made and to teach a right way of doing that act.  If this feature is absent, then it’s not criticism but chastisement: it’s only meant to make someone feel badly.

When primary adults in a child’s life say this phrase to children, the child doesn’t have context to understand that adults may be mistaken or behaving inappropriately; they arrive at the inevitable self-judgment that they must be bad, “less than,” unlovable and so forth because to children, adults are like gods.  A child exposed to such behavior arrives at a suite of feelings and attitudes that inform the child that it doesn’t measure up.  These beliefs, attitudes, and self-images are woven into the warp and woof of the child’s world by the time it develops a sense of identity; so, their identity includes the certainty that “I am a loser,” “I am unloved and unlovable,” etc. along with “I have two legs,” “my name is__.”  As a result, later in life this child has no healthy “factory default” setting to which they can strive to return.

Criticism helps one to learn what they’re doing wrong and find a way to correct their actions.  Shaming hurts, harms, poisons and paralyzes, with no redeeming features.  It is an evil to be avoided.

My Statement On the 12 Step Issue

 

As a “recovering person” (and other things), I found the 12-Step program a boon to my early recovery, and I’ve certainly met and heard of many others who feel similarly. But I’ve also read and heard of others who feel strongly that it’s a bust and doesn’t really help anyone. I don’t butt heads with anyone on a rant (pick your battles), but I also don’t want anyone who’s trying to escape their addiction to be turned away from a resource of possible aid to them.

Sometimes, the criticism of 12 Step comes from someone (I just saw such a post, for instance) who complained that it was a religious (Christian) program and they didn’t want to be proselytized when they weren’t feeling it. I certainly agree that no one should be dragooned into a religious movement when that wasn’t their goal or interest. Not all 12 Step meetings are identical, and sometimes they do get all Christian about things when the socio-cultural milieu where the meeting is being held is in a devoutly Christian area. But in the NA meetings I went to, one of the readings at the beginning of every meeting said, “This is a spiritual, not religious, program,” both in deference to historical roots and to make it as open as possible to every addict, whatever their cultural and religious background. Once, when I was doing service at the Area level, I was dispatched to sit in on an NA meeting that had been alleged to be “going Christian” and report my findings back to Area. This meeting had certainly “gone Christian”: they had a Bible on the table in front of the chairperson and some of the sharing had the flavor of a Revival meeting. When I reported this to Area, there was unanimous agreement that this was unacceptable to NA standards for the reasons I mentioned. Area didn’t have any right to tell these people they couldn’t hold their meeting as they wanted to; but if they didn’t return to a non-denominational meeting, they wouldn’t be advertised as an NA meeting in our area and Area would issue a brief statement in the monthly newsletter announcing the issue, so everyone would know the meeting’s overtly Christian character – not denouncing Christianity, you understand, but pointing out that this was against nationwide NA policy.

However, a more common complaint I’ve heard about the 12 Step program relates to its oft-stated position regarding “powerlessness.” This is an important topic and, as someone with positive regard for 12 Step, I want to share my thoughts on the subject which are distilled from 20 years of clean time, during which I’ve “worked my program” of self-examination, study, contemplation, and review – in Jungian terms, individuation coupled with spiritual quest – pretty consistently (though I’m not claiming perfection, nor saying that “because I have this clean time, I must be right”).

NA meetings were a great boon to my early recovery. I did the routine by the book, so to speak (heh heh): a meeting a day, meeting after the meeting, hanging with recovering folks, and lots of service. But after a couple of years, when I’d finally gotten my feet under me, I began to realize the difference between the Steps – which are archetypal and perfect, capable of being interpreted as necessary according to one’s current stage of healing and development – and the Fellowship. It is also a great thing, since it gives isolated, alienated addicts that don’t trust anyone a place to feel like they’re part of a social group which, because it’s composed of others like them, encourages them to begin opening up and sharing themselves with others. These are crucial steps for recovering people, because otherwise we remain in the hiding, covering up, lying, and manipulative frame of mind that characterized our using period. However, this society is made up of screwed-up addicts, for God’s sake, so we need to dig that the “people” part of the 12 Step community is a human venture and thus, by definition, less than perfect.

For instance, after a while I began to feel that continuing to announce myself as an addict every day for years might increase my chance of relapse. So, as a mark of how much better I felt about myself, I began to introduce myself as “Adrian, human being in process,” regardless of any flack I got from others. In fact, I didn’t get too much, because I’d made myself an integral part of my home group, so I suppose my odd introduction was accepted as just another addict oddity. But the act of declaring myself as I felt myself to be, instead of following convention without thinking for – or being responsible for – myself, was one of my first acts of self-respect – and thus, a huge step forward. A dreadful self-image is one of the core elements of junk addiction, and a major feature that keeps us beating ourselves up and trying to run away from ourselves by getting comfortably numb.

The whole “powerless” thing perplexed me for years. I sensed that it was true in some ways; yet it also seemed to condemn me to being an addict for the rest of my life, which is the traditionalist position of AA when it was formed in the 1930s.  Finally, I resolved the issue (for myself) by realizing the we are both powerless and powerful: powerless to control people and situations around us, as we tried to do while using in order to survive and get what we needed; but powerful, too, in that, so long as breath remains in the body, we have the power to change: to heal, grow, and evolve into a better person than we were before we began to use, what to speak of better than our addicted self.

There is a revolution in paradigm going on, brothers and sisters: the old algorithm is “either/or”, but the new one is “both/and”: inclusive, not exclusive; cooperative, not competitive.  Fundamentalism sucks wherever it rears its ugly head, which includes in 12 Step meetings.

Still, the newcomer is so fragile and afraid that at first they may need to feel securely a part of an in-group by clinging to “the old tried-and-true ways are the right and only way” because they’re not ready to develop their own program.  We want them to keep coming back long enough to heal and get to the point where they can take responsibility for, and charge of, their own life as independent human beings.  That doesn’t happen automatically; and yes, there are many who never get there and stay in the traditionalist fold; but it can and does happen.  The Fellowship is a safe haven and an incubator of possibility.  If some fall short or misuse it, we shouldn’t condemn the entire process.  That, too, would be fundamentalism, an “all-or-nothing” position that doesn’t jive with the ebb and flow of life on Earth.  We should try to avoid being judgmental, which after all implies that “we know what’s right” in some ultimate sense.

And yes, I know I’ve used the word “should.”  Let’s say “I implore you to consider,” instead.

Thanks for letting me share.

 

An Indictment of the Materialist Worldview

The materialist worldview denies that there is anything real other than matter; or that the things which aren’t material but do seem to exist – like one’s own sense of consciousness and of self-identity – are unreal illusions; just accidental, inconsequential byproducts of material interactions.  The universe has no inherent meaning and there is no “point” or direction to its existence or ours.  We are born due to chemical interactions resulting from the union between our parents and when we die, we “wink out” and that’s it.  There is no afterlife, and the sum of our lives has been zero.  We inhabit a pinball universe of random collisions between atoms, so any order and structure we see just happened to build up out of random possibilities over a vast span of time.

This worldview has at least two devastating consequences upon the human psyche:

  • Human beings are the meaning-seeking creature. At least some of our species have always been engaged in this search; whereas one never sees other great apes gazing at the stars, scratching their chins and contemplating the meaning of it all.  Primatologists have determined that their intellectual development terminates at what Piaget termed “concrete reasoning”: they are completely present in the immediate environment and the present moment – which makes them highly adaptive for survival – but are incapable of imagining a time other than now or a place other than the immediate environment, so they can’t plan for the future; and they’re incapable of abstract, symbolic thought, so they don’t have art, philosophy, religion, music, science, etc.  As human beings, we have such capacities.  Not everyone activates them, which leads to the popular differentiation of being “awake” or “asleep” – that is, leading Socrates’ “examined life” or not – but clearly we do possess these capacities.  It is the position of some forms of psychology – humanist and transpersonal – that without attention to these parts of our psyche, humans suffer various deleterious psycho-emotional consequences.  So long as they live in a culture and society in which these questions and issues are widely and openly aired and discussed, those who are asleep can be held in a relative state of mental health.  But in a stridently materialist society, where all people are being told incessantly that there is no meaning, and those who do address those questions are sidelined as being flakes or at best well-meaning, harmless eccentrics, then a widespread ennui grows and pervades the mainstream culture.  Over time this can lead to a pervasive angst, as meaning-seeking human beings are told repeatedly that there is no meaning to anything, including them and their lives.  This angst will be expressed least in those who are most asleep, and thus only leading lives as human animals  – not to denigrate our animal nature; I only point out that we are distinguished by being more than just animals – but more so in those who are more awake and who will thus be aware on some level that they are experiencing cognitive dissonance.  The more awake, aware, and sensitive to the spiritual dimensions of human potential a person is, the more their psycho-emotional health will be challenged by materialist claims and the more they will suffer.  This is one reason we see widespread and growing mental health issues – chiefly anxiety, depression, and addictions – in modern and postmodern Western societies and, thanks to corporate globalization, most other societies as well.
  • A second unfortunate consequence of the materialist worldview is that anything which doesn’t lead to immediate, concrete material benefit is denigrated as less important if not completely illusory and meaningless. Thus a cultural orientation develops that encourages people to direct their attention exclusively to the outer world, paying little attention to the inner development of their psycho-emotional health and spiritual growth.  Why would you if that was all nonsense, as a materialist worldview maintains?  As a result, most individuals are developmentally stunted and immature.  A widely-held, unexamined assumption is that one automatically grows more mature as one grows older.  Unfortunately, this is not so.  Many (most?) biological adults function at adolescent if not childish levels of conceptualization.  We can see this in the international posturing among leaders of nation-states, which of course leads to conflict and suffering; and in many social groups based on concepts of “us versus them” that promote bias, prejudice, bigotry.  This results in fear and even hatred of “others” who are “not-us.”  One can readily see such dynamics of social interaction on playgrounds among children.  In those cases, however, there are supposed to be mature adults around to see that no one gets seriously hurt and to impart instruction based on “play nice with others.”  Unfortunately, the few mature human elders who attempt to instruct the majority who are acting like children are ignored by sociopolitical leaders, or at best paid lip service to, without any real change in consciousness and thus in behavior.  Fear-driven, immature leaders can only lead humanity to ruin and suffering.  On a personal level, one can’t have healthy, happy relations with others if one doesn’t know who and what they really are in the first place.  At this level too, leading the examined life is required for the development of successful communities which promote healing, growth, understanding, safety, and evolution.

So philosophical and spiritual inquiry is not simply the provenance of a few, irrelevant academics but a vitally necessary, functioning component of human society in order for the social container to support human development in general; and safe, happy, healthy human lives in particular.

But even scientists and other intellectuals who are unwittingly trapped in a materialist worldview, by virtue of having been brought up in it, don’t generally carry their lines of thought to their ultimate logical conclusions.  It is astonishing to me that intelligent people can claim that consciousness is just an accidental byproduct of brain function, simply a meaningless epiphenomenon – using inconsequential consciousness to make such an assertion!  They don’t notice the circularity and self-defeating nature of their statement: if they’re right, then their assertion is no more meaningful or likely to be true than any other position, so why should we pay any attention to it?

I have developed this argument to support my assertion that the materialist worldview is a major, fundamental cause – though certainly not the only one – of addictions, which is my academic topic and personal mission.  Yet I think one can see that it has widespread ramifications throughout all aspects of human society.  I see it as not only a significant contributing factor in the current unfortunate state of world affairs, but also as a major stick in the spokes of human evolution.

Fortunately, it is the Old Paradigm, in terms of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A New Paradigm has been developing since the beginning of the 20th Century, beginning with quantum physics and relativity theory in material science, and evolutionary theory in social science.  At first and for quite a while, these issues were confined to arguments within some disciplines of scholarship and research.  I suggest that the sense of a developing New Paradigm arose from seeds planted during and just before the Hip Revolution (which my view includes the psychedelic, spiritual, consciousness, sexual, civil rights, and ecological revolutions).  Groundwork was laid 50 years ago, when psychedelics were a hot new topic in psychology and psychiatric research and discussion due to their ability to reveal subtle aspects of human consciousness and treat otherwise intractable mental illness, including addictions like alcoholism.  Then around 20-30 years ago, the distinct sense of a New Paradigm began to coalesce into overt commentary and proposals for a coherent theme.  I suggest it is “integral,” but much work awaits.

Welcome to the Revolution!

Some Practical Realities of Opiate Addiction and Its Treatment in the U.S.

Methadone or suboxone maintenance is just the substitution of the state for the street dealer.  Addicts remain addicts, but now they’re strung out on non-natural chemicals that are much more destructive to their bodies than natural or semi-natural opiates, and which are harder to kick.  The implicit assumption behind this policy is “once an addict, always an addict.”  It is a means of socio-political control for the economic benefit of the state at the expense of the addict.  The reasoning which generates such policies is that addicts are criminals, so let’s bag and tag them and keep them on a short lease so we can monitor their location and actions, controlling them through their addiction – which we maintain.  Ignore the fact that they are criminals because we have defined them to be so by having made any opiate use beyond the control of the medical and pharmaceutical gate-keeping communities illegal.  Eventually, of course, they will become criminals by virtue of having been forced into contact with the criminal community which has control of the illegal drug trade; and by having to commit theft, breaking and entering, script forging, prostitution, etc. in order to get the money necessary to maintain their habits because they have to buy exorbitantly expensive, illegal opiates.

Remember that it was not illegal to obtain, possess, or use a variety of opiates in the U.S. before the 1914 Harrison Act.  Anyone, your grandmother, could walk into a pharmacy and request to buy an opiate preparation – laudanum, codeine cough syrup, morphine tablets, or in some areas opium balls – over the counter without a prescription.  Citizens buying these medications were not adversely judged by their peers unless they committed socially inappropriate acts while under their influence – just like alcohol today.  Recall that Bayer manufactured heroin tablets, which could be purchased by mail order and in pharmacies, for headache, cough, bronchitis and other pains, and which were used by both adults and children for 23 years between 1890 and 1913, when they discontinued production after it had been discovered that their claim about heroin being non-addictive was false.

So opiate addiction is as much a socio-culturally and politically defined condition as it is a medical one.  Alcohol can lead to alcoholism, which is now recognized as an addiction; yet it remains legal.  We see and hear the phrase, “Drink responsibly.”  Why can’t there be a broader statement: “Use substances responsibly”?  Like, well, marijuana, for instance?

Addiction is usually first detected through the addict’s behavior.  In fact, most addictions are expressed through behaviors other than substance abuse, as in addiction to gambling, sex, food, dangerous thrill-seeking, the internet, and of course the one addiction that is not only not proscribed in the U.S., but is in fact encouraged: work addiction.  Behavior is secondary; consciousness – in this case, state of mind – is primary.  Addiction begins as a developing psychological, emotional, and possibly spiritual problem that finally demands expression through behavior.  It grows in the personal subconscious from suppressed or forgotten origins and influences the behavior of the addict from there, which explains why in early-stage addiction the addict is the last to recognize that anything is amiss, and why they react strongly against suggestions that they need help.  Claims that behavior results from physiological and biochemical imbalances are therefore, in most cases, a matter of putting the cart before the horse (so to speak).  After addictive behavior has continued for a period of time, of course such imbalances develop; but they cannot explain why the behavior began in the first place.

So what’s this book thang all about? An explication of Climbing the Holy Mountain of Recovery

What it was not was an intended, deliberate book project.  I did not set out to write the Great American Novel, a definitive treatise, or an effort to achieve fame and fortune.

Instead, it began as a spontaneous and natural effort of my psyche to purge itself of unprocessed toxic material that was evidently an impediment to my health.  I had 15 years clean as a recovering addict and evidently Inner Healer had determined I was ready to withstand this grueling but necessary effort as a stage in my continued, successful recovery.  It happened like this:

One morning in the summer of 2012, I awoke from an intense, nightmare-quality dream which was the re-living of an episode from my using career.  It had the quality of a lucid dream, except for the fact that I had no control over its outcome; the script had been written in the summer of the late 1980s.  Thus the nightmare quality: I knew where it led but could not avert the outcome.

When I awoke shaking and exhausted, and realized that I had dreamed the episode – that it had not just happened, thank God – I suddenly realized that this was the third time I had had this dream within a few months.  When that salient fact dawned upon me, I knew at once that I must write it down while he details were still crystal clear.  I sprang up and began writing in a stream of consciousness, Kerouac-style.  My only deliberate act was to refrain from editing or elaborating in any way, so that the narrative would as closely as possible be a true record of my recent experience.

By the time I finished, I was almost as shaken as I had been when I awoke.  The act of writing it took me right back there again.  So when I finished, I breathed a sigh of relief and put it aside, knowing that I had done the right thing: a purgative journaling effort.  I thought that by writing it down, I had expunged this toxic memory and could now rest easy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  I had pulled the cork from the genie’s bottle, and over the next several weeks a tremendous outpouring of other material from my using history came gushing forth.  By the time this natural process dwindled to an end, I had written about 125 single-spaced pages of material.  Over and over I had been reduced to a shaking ball of tears and snot, exhausted and devastated, so I was very thankful when I perceived that the episode was over!  I gratefully stashed the whole mess in a folder on my computer and lay back to rest and recuperate, in order to prepare myself for the coming fall semester of classes of my doctoral program in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

That was my last semester of coursework.  After it, I looked forward to beginning my dissertation work the following year.  Inner Healer, however, had other ideas.  I began a gradual slide into what became a two-year long passage of inner work.  During this time, I “peeled the onion” right down to the core, or close to it.  I was incapable of doing almost anything but surviving during this period.  I had a sense that a process was unfolding, but had no idea of how to handle myself.  I floated in an opaque soup of thoughts, feelings, insights, and impressions, with barely a sense of self to form a focused core.  Sometimes I felt like a jellyfish adrift in an amniotic Gulf Stream that was taking me somewhere; but at other times I seemed to stagnate in a Sargasso of vaguely-sensed, primary material.  Ultimately I came to feel that I had returned to Grof’s BPM I, becoming aware of a sense of my mother’s feelings about having me.  I experienced many unpleasant revelations.

In 2015 I began to emerge from this soup.  By the summer I felt I could begin to focus and write again, and managed to complete the first chapter of my dissertation.  But halfway through the second chapter, I suddenly received a constellation of signs and symptoms which created a sense in me that it was time for me to reopen the work I had begun three years before in order to bring it forth as a book.

I should pause here to mention that I have a definite sense of having been preserved in order to fulfill a mission: to bring about a new, deeper, and more complete understanding of addiction and recovery.  At the end of my using career, when I went to the island of St. Kitts to become a subject in the ibogaine research of Dr. Deborah Mash, I felt that I was only two weeks away from dying.  The reason I had this sense is explained at the end of Book II in my book.  Dr. Mash hesitated to give me the ibogaine because I looked so weak, she wasn’t sure that I had enough vital strength left to withstand the “flood” dose used to treat opiate addicts.  Yet the ibogaine experience was nothing short of miraculous for me, not only saving me from death but transforming me and setting me on a new path to a new life.  As a result, I feel that I was preserved by Grace; and thus I have a responsibility to use the additional time granted me to advance the cause of addiction treatment.

I don’t want to sound evangelical, but I do feel that I possess special insight into the nature of addiction, the principles of recovery, and of course the worth of ibogaine for the treatment of opiate addiction.  To quote Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy (1998):

It is of interest that the heroin addict and the illuminated Buddha end up at the same place.  The void.  The junkie is a deeply religious person.  The alcoholic is, too.  Thus our physicians and psychiatrists have no luck in ‘curing’ addicts.  If you see an addict as a social misfit, a civic nuisance who must be rehabilitated, you completely miss the point.

To cure the junkie and the alcoholic, you must humbly admit that he is a more deeply spiritual person than you, and you accept the cosmic validity of his search to transcend the game, and you help him see that blackout drugs are just bad methodology because you just can’t keep holding the ‘off’ switch and that the way to reach the void is through psychedelic rather than anesthetic experience. (p.43)

When in 1956 William S. Burroughs published his first book, Junkie, there were only 20 to 30 thousand heroin addicts, mostly in New York City.  The words “addict,” “addiction,” as well as “junk” and “junkie,” were not in the public lexicon.  The terms “alcoholic” and “alcoholism” were also unknown; the public just knew that some people had “a drinking problem.”  And yet this book, followed by Exterminator andNaked Lunch, established Burroughs as the Godfather of Junk.  How?  Burroughs was an intelligent, educated man, possessing a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology at a time when “a college man” was equivalent to having a graduate degree today.  Junkie was essentially an ethnography of the junk subculture.  Burroughs was strung out for 15 years, which puts his duration of exploration on a par with Michael Harner’s ethnographic investigation of the Jivaro people of the north Amazonian rainforest over the course of 17 years – though Harner periodically returned to U.S. culture to assess and write about his findings.  Burroughs had a literary gift, so Junkie was cast as literature because Burroughs explored the inner characteristics of that subculture through the agency of a fictional character, William Lee, a thinly-veiled representation of himself.  If he had “come out” as the fully-immersed investigator, it would have been styled an autoethnography – like my book – if that methodology had been developed at the time.

Unlike Burroughs, I have chosen to self-reveal, or “come out of the closet” about my junk history.  I was strung out for about 19 ½ years of my 22-year using period, with most of the remaining 2 1/2 years spent in jail and treatment programs.  I have two BAs, an MA, and now a Ph.D.c, so I bring my academic education as well as my spiritual and shamanic experiences to bear on the topic of addiction; and I’ve been told by many that I have some literary gift, too.  So like Burroughs, I’ve been there and am equipped to speak about the experiences of addiction and recovery.  I am strongly influenced by Burroughs’ work; by his raw and descriptive power to capture the surreal and despairing nature of addiction.  I am not, however, also a homosexual, as he was; and I don’t use his “cut-up” writing style, which he used in writing Naked Lunch.  However, I endorse his use of the terms “junk” and “junkie” because they bring to light the the ugly and grotesque nature of the condition as well as the hypocrisy of society in its dealings with addicts, which further degrades them in the course of their habits.  I feel about this situation as African Americans feel about slavery or as all Americans should feel about our national treatment of Native Americans – that is, as any conscious and humane human being does.  Addicts are enslaved, and society plays some, though not of course the only, role in this.  Gabor Maté speaks about this in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, most specifically in chapter 23.

So while I do not overtly style myself as the inheritor of the mantle of Burroughs, I do feel I am an inheritor walking in his path, with sufficient credentials to do so.

I characterize my mission as one of teaching the professional community and the affected public as well.  Because I’m a scholar, I’m writing my Ph.D. dissertation about this topic; but it is unlikely that anyone outside the Academy will read it, and not too many even there.  Besides, it will be partly incomprehensible to the general public, who actually need it more than academics.  My realization of this, and that the loved ones of addicts need it almost as much as the addicts themselves, was why I decided to transform the incomplete narrative I began in 2012 into a finished book as an important and legitimate part of my mission: to express my vision to the public who need it and not just to the Academy.

The Extraordinary Value of Ibogaine Therapy for Treating Opiate Addiction

(Note: ibogaine and all entheogens can be of great value in the treatment of all addictions, since the condition is, at the core, fundamentally the same however it is expressed, as I describe in my book Climbing the Holy Mountain of Recovery.  However, ibogaine is especially effective in the treatment of opiate addiction.  This essay is a reflection on what I learned from my experience, the study of biomedical research on ibogaine by people like Dr. Mash and Dr. Alper, and other scholarly and/or therapeutic experiences shared through GITA, the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance)

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The ibogaine experience lasts much longer than all other naturally-occurring psychedelic/ entheogenic sacred medicines.  Additionally, the experience includes two distinct periods: the initial, acute phase of intoxication; and the prolonged, sub-acute yet influential period attributable to the long-lasting action of noribogaine, the form into which ibogaine is metabolized not long after ingestion.

The phenomenal experience of the acute phase may be likened to psychedelic therapy in the scheme of Grof; where the therapist is, however, Plant Teacher or Doctor.  This phase is reported to last from eight to 36 hours; it was about 18 hours in my case.  The second phase, during which one is under the prolonged, milder influence of noribogaine, may last from two to eight weeks after the initial, acute intoxication.  This period can be clinically measured in terms of whether the subject is a rapid or slow metabolizer of ibogaine/noribogaine.  The phenomenal effects of the “teachable” period can generally only be assessed during the period externally by therapists or other observers; subjective assessment on the part of the subject must wait for hindsight.

Assessment of the value of the acute phase for addiction treatment may be achieved by such qualitative methods as narrative analysis and heuristic evaluation of self-reports and post-treatment interviews; and case studies.  These can be conducted by outside researchers upon live or archival interview or self-reported material.  But only an addict in recovery can conduct autoethnographic assessment of their own experience of addiction and its treatment with respect to the socio-cultural milieu in which they lived, based on their life story.

Jacques Mabit has experimented with using ayahuasca for the therapeutic treatment of opiate addiction and this practice has been taken up by Gabor Maté.  Also, it is well known the Native North Americans have used peyote with good effect both to treat and prevent alcoholism, another devastating substance abuse addiction.  So what difference exists between ibogaine and ayahuasca or other sacred medicines in the treatment of opiate addiction?

Dr. Maté told me that he preferred ayahuasca because he can treat a larger number of people at a time, being involved in guiding and helping those being treated; whereas ibogaine is a more singular, personal experience where a guide or therapist can only work with one person at a time.  Yet I feel this difference is a major reason why ibogaine is so effective: the human agent is removed and replaced by Plant Teacher.  Of the several shamanic views of healing, one major category is that the shaman acts as a conduit for spirit helpers who come through them to do the healing; the shaman does not directly do this work.

While some therapists like Claudio Naranjo have written of their experience using ibogaine as a psychotherapeutic adjunct, they used lower doses of ibogaine than the “flood” dose typically used in addiction treatment.  Again, this refers back to Grof’s distinction between psychedelic psychotherapy, where the patient is give a large dose, has an experience, and then the therapist works with them after that and in reference to it; and psycholytic psychotherapy, where the patient is given a lower dose so they remain relatively coherent and the therapist can work with them while they’re under the influence of the psychedelic agent.  With ibogaine, a massive dose is administered and therapeutic work has to wait till the subject has recovered themselves; therapy then refers back to the recovering addict’s experience and helps them to clarify its value for them.

I have analyzed addiction as passing through three phases: early, middle, and late, or terminal.  No work of an overtly “addiction therapy” nature can be done in the early phase because it is partly characterized by the addict’s lack of awareness of their condition, and typically by their vigorous denial of it to others and to themselves.  I propose that ayahuasca may be most effective in treating middle phase addicts, who know they’re addicted and have tried various tactics to control or escape it on their own, but have failed and are finally ready to seek outside help.  Ibogaine would work here too; but in my scheme, it is superlative in the treatment of late, terminal phase addicts.  Their condition is essentially morbid in all respects and the addict is virtually without personal resources to mobilize on their own behalf.  In this stage, the addict is fully aware that they are killing themselves, but can’t stop anyway.  This state does not lend itself to therapy because the subject can’t inaugurate change in their life.  Supernatural help is required: enter Plant Teacher/Doctor.

One outstanding characteristic of addiction is the near-total cessation of maturation processes, a rigidity of thought process, and the suppression of vital, emotional, heart-centered input to perception and the decision-making process.  The acute phase of an ibogaine experience has the effect of abruptly reversing all of these impediments to the addict’s adaptation to their environment and to their personal growth.  Despite its duration, this phase of ibogaine treatment can be characterized as Maslow’s peak experience.  Huston Smith and others have observed that the effects of this experience may be lost over time without integrative efforts.  I have personally known addicts who were treated with ibogaine and reported having had very positive experience, yet who relapsed anyway.

The value of ibogaine’s prolonged, sub-acute phase for addiction treatment cannot be over-emphasized.  It amounts to a prolongation of the flexibility and impactful memory of one’s broadened and/or entirely new perspectives induced by the acute phase.  Also the new or newly-resuscitated experience of a vital (re)awakening – and thus, of emotional input to the recovering addict’s enhanced ability to evaluate and respond to relational and other social situations – must be given time to develop or revive in order to persist.  This way of knowing the world typically requires a more gradual developmental process, because it is a more intuitive and less rule-oriented one.

For addicts recovering from the terminal stage of addiction, mental rigidity and emotional shutdown are deeply-ingrained; or in terms of Sheldrake’s morphic resonance, those creodes are deeply engraved.  Thus there is a very real danger of falling back into them, despite the extraordinary liberation from them experienced in the acute phase of ibogaine intoxication.  Despite its relatively long duration with respect to other sacred medicines, it constitutes only a brief interruption of mental rigidity etc. relative to an addict’s lengthy entrapment in those states for years or even decades.

Thus the prolonged sub-acute phase of noribogaine “support” continuing the beneficial effects of the acute phase is of inestimable value.  It provides an opportunity for the recovering addict to establish new behavioral motifs and begin to adapt to them; to carve new creodes deeply enough that they can, by both personal effort and communal support, remain in them without slipping back into the old, deeply-etched ones.  Then, when the long-term effects of noribogaine finally wear off, the recovering addict has had a chance to be actively engaged in healthy new behaviors long enough to begin noticing rewards from them, which is necessary to convince them that recovery is, in fact, possible.

My own experience of that period involved immersion in a holistically constructed treatment program.  During the dangerous and critical early phase of recovery, I had a one-on-one psychotherapy session once a week; two or three group psychotherapy sessions at least five days a week; a 12-Step meeting once each day, varied in type and location; and special treatments such as sauna, acupuncture, physical exercise of different sorts, exposure to Universalist Unitarian meetings on Sundays, and attention to nutrition—typically long-neglected by opiate addicts.  Finally, I lived in a ¾ house maintained by the program, which produced a sort of “pressure-cooker” intentional community where, quite naturally, discussion of various treatment experiences was commonplace—but also such normal social behaviors as cookouts, music, TV watching (with others), and games could be reintroduced in a lightly-controlled fashion.  As a result of this treatment milieu, I never noticed when the noribogaine wore off.

Such a program constitutes a comprehensive use of this invaluable period during which the post-acute “iboganaut” is in a “teachable,” or receptive and flexible, state.  From a pragmatic perspective, it may be regarded as an effective capitalization of the monetary and time investment represented by an ibogaine treatment; but this is only a base and wan characterization of the almost inconceivable benefits to a human being who has suffered prolonged enslavement in a dehumanizing situation.  The retrieval of such invaluable human characteristics as hope, trust, faith, and the belief that more is possible and that the future can be better—indeed, that there may be a future—constitutes such an improvement in the subjective quality of the recovering addict’s life that they have significantly improved chances of maintaining the newly-established behaviors which will prevent them from relapsing, the baseline measure of recovery success.  This, however, is assuredly only the beginning of a full description of successful recovery.