I am using this blog site as a platform to present my autobiographical book about heroin addiction and my recovery from it using the sacred, shamanic, psychedelic plant medicine, ibogaine. The introduction below offers a brief synopsis of the story; describes the book’s format and my approach to its writing; and presents my perspective so you’ll know where I’m coming from: my beliefs, assumptions and intent. If you accept these and want to read the book, you’ll find links to the books - sections of my story - to the right, under my picture.
Why another story about addiction? I had to write it for the therapeutic value the act held for me: after a decade and a half in recovery, the story simply burst out of me. But also, addicts harm others by their actions, including those they love—or loved when they still could, since loss of the finer sentiments is collateral damage of the disease—and this much larger segment of the population is left wondering how and why their child, parent, friend, lover, or spouse could hurt them so. As a result, addicts are often judged as “bad” people. If those who have been hurt by addicts are given a view into the phenomenal world of addiction, maybe they would better understand the addict’s behavior in response to the addict’s own, often invisible, always irrational, suffering.
This is also my way of reaching out to addicts who are at a loss to explain why they feel and act the way they do, and why they can’t stop. As a result of their uncontrollable behavior, which hurts both them and others, they judge themselves more harshly than the sternest magistrate or the most unforgiving prosecutor ever could. I hope to help them understand and forgive themselves, which is the first step to being able to love themselves. Perhaps my story, my way of talking about addiction, will resonate with those who have not been able to relate to other such stories.
Finally and especially, I offer my experience with a sacred medicine that helped me escape my bondage when everything else had failed, and I had given up hope. Those in the terminal stages of addiction, and especially those who have been on methadone for many years, may find a ray of hope in this.
A Story about Heroin Addiction and Its Treatment with Ibogaine
I am a Baby Boomer and a military brat: my Dad was a career Air Force officer. My parents were unhappy people who eventually became alcoholics with other addictions too: Mom used pills for depression and anxiety, while Dad became a gambler; both smoked like fiends. Their lives were unfulfilled and they were maladjusted; they passed their angst on to me. They tried to make me into a vehicle for the realization of their own, frustrated desires; so I became more of a trophy for them than a child.
I began collecting damage in early childhood, becoming increasingly alienated, depressed, and anxious until, by 21, I was diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression, anxiety, and migraine headaches. No one recommended therapy in those days; I just received prescriptions for my symptoms. Among them was a narcotic pain medication for my intense, agonizing, and incapacitating migraines. I used my pills as prescribed for a year or so; then one day, I took my narcotic pain medication for less pain than my migraines and immediately noticed an improvement in the tone of my life. I found that my pain medication worked much better for my depression and anxiety than the drugs I had been given for those conditions; and not only that, the quality of my life—which had gradually and unnoticed become quite dismal—suddenly improved dramatically after taking it. I began to self-medicate with my pain pills every day and, of course, I eventually became physiologically addicted. But there is much more to addiction than just this surface condition, and I hope to reveal some of its additional dimensions through my story.
And so I began the downward journey into Hell that characterized the next 22 years of my life. I was a hippie before I became an addict, so I was accustomed to a drug-taking lifestyle and I romanced the first five years of my addiction. But when it started to be too hard to continue, I tried to stop—then I found that I could not! Over the next 17 years I tried to escape my enslavement by entering 14 different treatment programs, but I relapsed every time. Meanwhile I continued down and down until, by early 1997, I was very nearly dead of morphine toxicity. This is like lead or arsenic poisoning: gradually, toxins accumulate in your body faster than it can dispose of them until your vital energy drops below functional levels and death follows.
In the final stage of my addiction, a transcendental experience heralded a series of miracles—or synchronicities if you prefer—that helped me escape from the prison of addiction. Just before my 48th birthday I entered the 15th and last program—actually it was a clinical trial conducted by Dr. Deborah Mash in which I was a subject—and there, through the agency of the sacred psychedelic medicine ibogaine, I was given a window of opportunity and the will, hope, and means to use it. Use that opportunity I did, and so I am here today talking to you.
I want to honor Dr. Mash’s concern that ibogaine not be seen as a magic bullet, an attitude that is unfortunately often promoted in the United States: “just take this pill and you’ll be fine.” No: it is important to note that it is not like someone waved a magic wand and I was freed. Ibogaine is a fantastic addiction interrupter and its initial, revitalizing boost lasts for several weeks or even months; enough time to begin reconstructing your lifestyle and way of looking at the world—but do the work you must, so that when its natural assistance eventually leaves you have developed a new way of living that generates a meaningful life, rich in opportunities to express the potentials with which we are born. Ibogaine performed a wonderful healing that got me off to a great start; then I worked hard on myself for years. But it is my feeling that I could not have achieved total freedom without the help of Spirit. Grace had afforded me a chance; then I had to take it and use it in order to honor that gift and to honor myself—a novel idea for an addict.
I am convinced that I was preserved by the agency of Source (higher power; the divine) to act in service, to the hundreds of thousands of heroin addicts who suffer the torments of the damned every day, by clarifying the nature and scope of the addictive process that underlies all addictive behavior—whether or not expressed through substance abuse—and also by doing my best to push forward the cause of making ibogaine legally available in our country. It is now used in a growing number of other countries, including Mexico and Canada, to treat the hellish affliction of opiate addiction on an in-patient basis. I don’t claim it is the only good addiction treatment; but it is an excellent one and, for terminal opiate addicts—especially those who have used methadone for a long time—possibly the only way to escape this degrading enslavement that eventually leads to death.
Now for a word introducing the mythic container of my story: because addiction is a progressive affliction, I found The Divine Comedy—the allegorical, epic poem of Dante Alighieri, a 14th century Italian poet and philosopher, about his progress through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise —to be a useful map describing my own descent into darkness, down and down through the hell of heroin addiction; and my liberation back into the light as I struggle to climb the mountain of Purgatory, which I equate with recovery. After being “lost in the woods” (as Dante was at the beginning of his poem) for most of my young life, I spent many years in the Limbo (anteroom to Hell) of severe depression before I began my true descent into the darkness. Then I spiraled steadily down through the circles of hell over two decades until I finally reached the frozen Ninth Circle of total hopelessness and black despair by the end of 1996. Dante’s construction of hell has the last three circles lie within the City of Dis, in whose streets I spent a lot of time copping junk while trying to avoid the demons (police). I do not pretend to have experienced Paradise, the last part of Dante’s story, which takes place in the heavenly realm; but I do suggest that I have reached The Earthly Paradise, the Eden-like top of the mountain of Purgatory, in the form of my intentional academic and spiritually-supportive school community.
In my story I describe the development of this affliction in my life; the miraculous events that led to my escape; others that supported my struggle for freedom; and my continuing growth since then. In Book II, I recount the stages of my addiction and illustrate them with episodes from my experience; these are vignettes from the netherworld of addiction describing first-hand the frantic life that swirls there. Those episodes were deeply burned into my psyche and when they erupted from my memory, their clarity was so overwhelming that I virtually relived the entire experience, feelings included. So it has been very challenging for me to return to the House of Pain in order to write my story.
Finally, a word about the voice in which I write: I was fortunate to not lose my native intelligence by taking so much poison, as many have and which I greatly feared. I was raised to be an academic—one of the few goals my parents pointed me toward that was spot on—and eventually I came to be a scholar. Of course my progress was interrupted during the Dark Years, but even then I still read hundreds of mostly non-fiction books from municipal libraries. After five years in recovery, I felt I might be able to once again attend school and began my return to academic life. Today I am a PhD. student, so my scholarly voice colors my writing. When William S. Burroughs wrote his first book, Junk (later changed to Junky), he wrote from experience; but his voice was informed by his education in anthropology, so there is an ethnographic quality about that book. My education aims at psycho-spiritual integration, so that perspective informs my story; but I also have a BA in cultural anthropology so I, too, address the sociocultural matrix that breeds and maintains addiction.
My story was composed in two streams of consciousness: an autobiography and a memoir, with a separate voice for each. The outer container is the autobiography, a recollection in which my academic voice is prominent, though it is relaxed enough to permit the colloquial expressions of the person I was at the times described in the story. Within that container is the memoir: episodes of illustrative experiences through which I give you a taste of what it was really like to be there. Writing in this re-lived, memoir modality, I drop into street voice because when I wrote those passages, I was back there again. I edited them so they would be comprehensible to those who have not been addicts or otherwise experienced street culture, so naturally my scholarly voice may have crept in to color the passage, but don’t be fooled by this: I was there; everything in this story happened to me. It is all first-hand experience, confirmed by innumerable conversations I had with other addicts both during my active use and in recovery.
And now, whereas Dante had Virgil for a guide through Hell and Purgatory, it is I who will guide you: first through my hellish passage through addiction, and then through my hopeful struggle up the Holy Mountain of Purgatory—or in my case, recovery.
I present my story in five books: Birth; Death; Rebirth; Reclaiming My Life; and Transformation. Each book is on its own page; the links to them are to the right, under my picture. Book 1: Birth relates incidents in my early life that created the context for my addiction; Book 2: Death describes my sojourn in hell and the features of addiction that I want to clarify for non-addicts, so it is longer and features most of my experiential memoirs; Book 3: Rebirth is the story of my saving ibogaine experience: this short episode is vitally important, so it constitutes a separate book; Book 4: Reclaiming My Life describes my early and middle stages of recovery: the process of healing; my return to school; and several miraculous events that contributed to my rescue and preservation; and Book 5: Transformation relates the most recent part of my story, in which I was guided to the California Institute for Integral Studies, an extraordinary graduate school where I am now a doctoral student; I consider that I began advanced recovery here. It is an intentional academic community that offers depth, transpersonal, and integral psychologies as well as other disciplines. It supports my continued healing and growth and is the launch pad for my life mission: to advance the cause of addiction treatment and contribute to the effort to reeducate our society about the potential usefulness of psychedelic medicines.
I’ve found that if you stop reading at some point and just close the blog site where you stop, when you open it again it will still be at the same point in the text. Thus you can read it in bite-sized chunks convenient for you.