Recovering My Childhood

Submitted by a professional researcher

The positive drug experiences I want to describe happened to me about 30 years ago when I was in my mid-thirties. They completely transformed my life, which is why I have chosen to use them as examples for this project.

The context of the experiences was important. At that time I was a scientific researcher and my life was a complete mess. I was divorced. I had two children that I saw fairly regularly and was in a diabolical relationship with Laura. Looking back I can see that a key reason for the repeated failures of our relationship was that internally I felt completely worthless. It is hard to convey what that was like realistically – because it has not troubled me for at least the last 25 years. But at the time it governed most of what I did.

I suppose that the story starts when Laura and I were on holiday staying with some friends in Scotland. We were watching a movie set in World War II. I cannot remember anything about the movie itself. But what I can remember very vividly is that at some point in the movie an air-raid siren sounded. As it did so I noticed that I was flooded with fear – the sort of adrenalin rush you get on a scary fairground ride or when you narrowly miss having an accident in a car. I was startled and puzzled and watched the reaction inside my body. After a few minutes the ‘all clear’ sounded in the movie – and as it did so the adrenalin rush completely faded. This puzzled me a lot and, to cut a long story short, I realised that the reaction was caused by being in my mother’s womb during the time when London was bombed. I was experiencing her fear with the air raid siren – and her relief when the all-clear sounded.

A number of my friends at the University were involved in therapy processes and understanding themselves and I started to read books on the subject – which is what researchers do. I was impressed by books by Carl Rogers, Jung and Janov. The one that fascinated me the most was the one by Janov titled Primal Scream. His thesis was that as children we experience traumas that fashion our adult psychology and that we can liberate ourselves from these effects by reliving the traumas – literally by screaming out the emotions that overwhelmed us when we were children. Given my growing awareness of my own worthlessness and how this trapped me, this seemed like worth exploring.

I had a very limited experience of using so called recreational drugs, principally cannabis, LSD and psilocybin. I had an aversion to going to dealers to buy drugs, so I relied on friends – or on finding psilocybin in the wild. I also liked the fact that with picking your own psilocybin one could control one’s dose quite accurately, whereas buying substances from an unknown person was more of an unknown. I had another girlfriend at this time, Maria, who was an experienced psychotherapist and when I told her of my interest in Janov and self exploration she suggested that we go off on a camping trip to explore the domain together. We went to a remote wood somewhere in Shropshire where I felt far enough away from everyone else to scream without inhibition – though I wasn’t sure I knew how to scream in the Janov sense. In the field near where we camped I found quite a lot of psilocybin, so that evening we decided to have a psilocybin trip together.

During that trip I had two powerful experiences. The first was of being a crystal. This manifested itself as sounds reverberating around my body – echoing from my feet to my head and back again. As this died down I then experienced myself as having an enormous lake of tears stored up behind a large dam – and it was clear to me that to resolve all the sadness in the lake I had to take the dam down quite carefully – otherwise I would drown in the flood of tears. This image provided a strong counter to Janov’s arguments which were all about breaking down a person’s defences and letting rip to resolve the traumas.

Later in the camping trip Maria helped me to understand the process of letting go emotionally and either crying or screaming as appropriate. It is indicative of how closed I was at that time that I needed someone else to show me how to do these things. I came back home with a renewed interest in exploring my inner world – and discovering what had fashioned me – and my worthlessness. At that time I had no memories of my childhood prior to about age 11. I didn’t regard this as unusual – largely because I didn’t talk to people about their childhood memories.

Before I took LSD for the first time I read quite a lot about what people had recommended – in particular the lesson that came from the late 1960s that what one experienced depended a great deal upon the setting and one’s intention. The key seemed to be to set things up so that one felt completely safe – and to have a clear intention of what it was one wanted to discover from the trip. Although we hadn’t done it consciously with our psilocybin trip, I could see that we had actually set it up to be safe – and that I had a clear intention to explore my inner world – and it had worked. So I resolved to use psilocybin to explore further, in fact I set out to undertake primal scream therapy on my own aided by psilocybin.

The first step was for me to create a sound proof den in the house where I lived. I did this by covering the walls of a small room with sleeping bags, putting a block of foam in the window and then covering the entire floor with foam mattresses. The effect was that I could shout and scream in that room and no one else in the house could hear what was going on. I had set it up so that I felt safe. I then collected a large number of psilocybin from the fields around where I lived and took time off work to begin exploring.

I would start each session a few hours after breakfast. Taking psilocybin on a full stomach is not a good idea – it can lead to nausea and discomfort in my stomach – so I waited until I would not suffer in this way. Then I took between 30 and 50 psilocybin mushrooms. It would take between 45 minutes and an hour for the trip to come on strongly. I spent the first part of that time deciding exactly what it was that I wanted to explore – I set a very clear intention for myself. In the beginning my intentions were rather vague, such as understand more about my childhood before age 11. Later on they became very specific – for example to discover what happened in the kitchen the day that I was so scared without knowing why.

As the psilocybin started to work I experienced tingling in my throat, then a swirling feeling – and then fear. It took me a long time to understand what the fear was about – now I know it was just a fear of letting go. But when I started I just had to be willing to face the fear and go through it. Facing the fear could take 10 or 15 minutes; it might involve some shaking, or just holding myself, or covering myself with a duvet and hiding underneath it. At some point the fear would pass. Then the trip would start! I would often experience intense hallucinations – seeing colours on the plain white walls, watching the patterns of the sleeping bags on the walls move in and out as if the bags were breathing, seeing my skin as intensely wrinkled or just closing my eyes and watching a kaleidoscope of coloured patterns endlessly change. I would usually be caught up in these hallucinations for a while – and then at some point I would start to have a strong emotion – often sadness. As I allowed the emotion to be there I would suddenly find myself in a childhood scene. I wasn’t simply remembering the scene – I was reliving it. I experienced what I saw and felt as a child in vivid detail. I noticed that my voice had changed to that of a child, especially when I was screaming or crying loudly. I found it amazing – and at first unbelievable. But over time I learnt to trust the process and later was able to verify a great deal by talking to my mother and sister.

Most of the scenes I relived were extremely distressing. I discovered why I had chosen not to remember my childhood. It was brutal, lonely and completely devoid of love. I regularly cried myself to sleep wanting to be held; I was beaten, hit and told how bad I was every single day. It was a fairly typical working class childhood of parents who had been completely traumatised by the War. I relived feeling terrified, feeling powerless to protect my younger sister, feeling I was unlovable, feeling abandoned and lonely. I kept a journal of what I discovered in each trip and I undertook about 40 trips over a six month period –roughly a trip every two or three days with a few weeks with no trips at all. Each trip uncovered a different aspect of my childhood – I was literally exploring areas of my psyche that I did not know existed up to that time. I was fascinated, appalled and exhilarated – and it marked the beginning of a complete transformation of who I was and how I was in the world.

Quite a few of my friends and colleagues at the University thought that I was suffering some kind of mental breakdown. But my friends who were familiar with therapeutic processes understood and supported me. Indeed they were excited by the transformation that they saw unfolding in me. At no point in the process did I feel that I was losing it – I was always consciously choosing to have another trip and clearly setting my intention about what it was that I now wanted to explore. Sometimes I felt as if I was losing my way – in the sense that I was experiencing a strong feeling without being able to identify the precise cause – and the feeling would keep returning without resolving itself. I found it really helpful to discuss this with Maria – she was often able to make a helpful suggestion about where to look based on her extensive experience of working with people.

When I decided to write this example of a positive drug experience, I realised that I had actually accomplished the goal that was set in that very first psilocybin trip in the Shropshire countryside. Over the last thirty years I have undertaken a lot of therapeutic processes and meditated a lot. Almost every time I meditate, and in virtually all the therapy sessions I have done, I have cried. I have cried and cried and cried. It started with crying for the anguish and lack of love in my childhood. Then it was crying for all the lost opportunities and ways in which I had unknowingly caused hurt for other people. More recently it has been tears of gratitude for the wonderful life that has emerged from such an unlikely beginning. And as I reflected on the whole journey I recognised that I had dismantled the dam that used to hold back my tears, the lake has drained and I feel that there is a healthy flow of tears in my life. There is much to be sad about in the world, much to be grateful for. And I have an enormous gratitude to psilocybin and the early explorers of the late sixties who discovered what you could do with these amazing mind altering chemicals.