Self-Development | My Dysfunctional Relationship with the Self-Concept
Finn Mertens shares an intense 1V-LSD experience and how it helped him improve his relationship...
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.
This is a story that must be told out of order. The epiphanies we receive during psychedelic experiences, as well as during life itself, rarely conform to a linear timeline. They are circuitous, confusing, and often defy logical order. We see themes and challenges we thought we were done with appear over and over again in different people, different places, and through different versions of ourselves. This leads us to question who we really are and how much control we truly have over our own lives. Many of us find ourselves stepping radically and emphatically into the unknown. I am Lilith Andromeda, a disillusioned academic, avid rave-goer, budding artist, and secretive psychonaut, and this is my story.
Please know that nothing I say is true. I am always learning, integrating, and exploring. All of my words are snapshots of where I’m at when I write them. In a similar theme to Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, I aim to create a mosaic of thoughts and experiences that can be seen through different lenses. None of them are true alone, but nevertheless, I hope that they will provide inspiration when explored within the context of our collective psychedelic experiences. I mention this because I began my journey searching for the absolute Truth and lost myself in the process.
In 2018 I handed a letter to the head of the Department of Biology excusing me from my duties for the remainder of the quarter due to medical hardship. I was a graduate student partway through my Master’s program and I could no longer handle the pressure of being a student, researcher, and teacher while being compensated with a paltry living stipend. I was experiencing what most would term a mental breakdown.
I was starting to feel insane. Prior to handing in the letter, I was having panic attacks under my desk before teaching classes. I couldn’t sleep for more than four hours at a time, and I awoke to a state of utter hopelessness. I was so anxious that I would often end up vomiting after eating. I felt like a worthless failure. I blamed myself for not being able to keep up with the pressures of academia, and assumed I was too stupid to cut it.
I see this part of my life as analogous to The Tower card in the tarot. It was a period of upheaval that forced me to reevaluate the trajectory of my life. I began my journey into science because I wanted to know the truth behind the mystery of life itself. I figured majoring in biology, literally the study of life, was a good way to pursue that. I also had a lifelong dream of studying marine biology as I had always felt a strong connection to the water since I was a child. However, as I went through school it seemed to me that science was getting farther and farther removed from what it claimed to be studying. It had become industrialized.
Competition for limited funding was causing researchers to cut corners and I saw systematic biases creep into studies. Bringing up ideas that were too far against established paradigms was met with judgment and a potential tarnishing of one’s academic reputation. Where, I wondered, was the spirit of advancement and exploration that brought me and my fellow students and colleagues here in the first place? I was realizing that I wasn’t the only one who had gone mad.
Around this time, I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). Although I was in therapy, I wasn’t feeling any better and my therapist at the time kept pushing me to retry antidepressant pills that I had already failed with disastrous side effects. Resentment towards the cold, clinical language of the mental health industry was steadily building inside me. I’ve always been of the opinion that the words we use shape our experience of reality. Being labeled with the term “mentally ill” felt pathologizing. It meant my perspectives couldn’t be trusted, and I internalized this as self-doubt. I gave away my power of healing over to professionals who told me they knew better than I did.
Although I have found this opinion to be controversial, I believe PTSD is an adaptive response, not an illness to be treated away. While the symptoms I was feeling certainly felt “complex”, and in a literal sense I suppose I was feeling “dis-ordered”, I didn’t feel like the emotions I was feeling were out of proportion to my experiences. They were simply occurring well after these experiences had happened. In other words, my responses weren’t following logical, linear time.
This lens has helped me to value the discomfort I was feeling and learn to sit with it. I managed to find a bit of curiosity and started questioning the emotions as they came up. They certainly had a lot to say. For example, depression told me that I was being mistreated and it put my life on hold until I addressed it. Anger screamed that the people in my life weren’t right for me, and the anxious meltdowns seeped into me until I saw the exploitative environment of grad school for what it was. All of these emotions were trying to help me see my worth. These realizations helped me reclaim some of my personal power, and lessen the shame and doubt that blocked me from processing the trauma.
Psychedelics have been incredibly helpful in reframing my traumatic experiences and in gaining different perspectives on my life. Trauma, especially when sustained over a long period of time, causes parts of our ego to fracture away through a process called dissociation (it is worth noting psychological dissociation is a little different than what is experienced through taking dissociative drugs, such as ketamine). We hide the hurt parts of ourselves away for safekeeping, hoping for a better day when we can put them together again.
In October 2018 I took my first 200μg trip on LSD. By this point I had explored acid and mushrooms about a dozen times but had yet to do anything that I had considered to be a deep dive. I remember waiting in my bedroom with the tab under my tongue. It was a rare sunny day and I had just gotten back from my therapy appointment. After a few hours of staring at my walls in wonder and experiencing the magic of seeing the painting my mom made for me dance in front of my eyes, a serenity washed over me. The hallucinations occurred in waves of three, like a waltz. An inner orchestra conductor arose within me and cued different aspects of my ego in time with the waltz until they reached an internal harmony with each other. I realized that I could literally use language to shape my reality in this state of mind, so I decided to write in my journal:
“I feel like I am a rock,
Sitting on the streambed
As the ocean flows around me.
The entire room feels alive,
Breathing around me,
Keeping me warm.
I’m not sure which reality I write in
As the graphite letters FLY across the page!
It feels like an eternity realized in just one moment
…and everything was alright.
I can finally do anything I want.
Today is the day I write myself free
–Out of the cage my soul is usually kept in–
Opened tonight with LSD.”
My writing gets less and less linear, but some other highlights include:
“All of a sudden I feel like all of reality just stood aside to tell me it’s ok 💓”
“It’s not just me anymore it’s everything! It’s all one. It’s all just me. Time just ceased to be. Everything ceased to be and it was me. All of the Me’s, all of the memories and fractions and parts… this is how we fit together. Today we can make a full Self. We don’t have to be stuck anymore.”
“Wondering if the full, undissociated, post-trauma Me would like to come home? Welcome home Lilith! It’s the loops! All your thoughts will loop today to remind you that YOU ARE SAFE. YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE HOME 💓”
“The secret to life, the Universe, Everything… it’s just love. We love you!
I ended with:
“I’m just the pebble that’s left as the stream washes everything else away.”
I have since discovered a type of therapy called Internal Family Systems (IFS). It describes an internal state where the individual is identified with the Self (capital ‘S’), which is analogous to the orchestra conductor from my trip. This objective presence stands behind the ego and watches without judgment. From there, the relationships between the parts of the ego can be gently observed. The energy that drives their conflicts is unblocked when they feel understood. Flow is returned, patterns are released, and the stream of consciousness can make its way back to the Source.
The timing of the Universe is impeccable. As I write this article on this arm of spiral time I am anticipating my first session of IFS that my current therapist offered for me next week. I will embark on a spelunking journey to find the lost parts of myself. My internal explorations through both therapy and psychedelics function as methods of soul retrieval. This is the process of discovering, listening to, and transfiguring lost parts of the ego under the watchful eye of the conductor. This is reclamation.
The tradition of reclaiming oneself after trauma is one I learned from my mom and her mom. I grew up hearing my mom chant to the Goddess under her breath as she washed the dishes or folded clothes. The words of the songs always referenced topics like the changing of the seasons and cycles of birth and death. As a child I didn’t fully understand them, but as an adult their meanings became apparent and simultaneously challenged me and brought me comfort. They tell stories of how the Earth reclaims everything and how death is never the end. They show us how to apply the Earth’s processes to ourselves.
I have learned to view aspects of my trauma as part of a larger narrative. Learning about the challenges the other women in my family have faced has helped me understand how things came to be. During a trip in 2020 I addressed some of the burdens of my inherited family trauma. I stood as the conductor around a campfire I conjured in my head and invited my family members to gather around. I gave space to each of them to tell their side of their stories and thanked them for helping me understand their perspectives. Finally, some of the anger, resentment, and secrecy I carried on their behalf was allowed to wash away.
Art and creation are acts of reclaiming. Creativity helps to express the ineffable and facilitate the re-writing of our personal narratives. I have found that art is helpful when integrating and exploring psychedelic experiences. That is why I recently started an art project called Profundus Studio. It aims to explore the dark, uncomfortable, bizarre, taboo, and shadow sides of the human experience. The overall theme is to learn to go through the difficult aspects of life, rather than trying to move away from or transcend them. This is how we accept our wildness and step into our personal power. The essays I write for Chemical-Collective will follow similar themes.
I find myself being a part-time denizen of the underworld in a culture obsessed with the Light. Reclaiming lost parts of a soul is a lonely task. However, it is becoming increasingly important to me that I embrace all of the aspects of myself as I discover new parts of my ego and learn to work with them. Inspired by this, I drew a picture in honour of Persephone on Bicycle Day, 2020.
Lilith Andromeda is a pen name. It is helpful to me to keep a bit of separation between my scientific persona and my underground personas. These facets of humanity both have their merits, however miscommunications tend to ensue when these worlds collide. I therefore try to choose my words carefully when interacting with each group and strive to meet folks where they are at whenever possible. This is an example of how I use language to create my world, and it is one of the tools I use to maintain a multifaceted identity.
If you’d like to follow my artistic journey from its beginning, please follow me @profundus.studio on Instagram and consider sending a tip to my PayPal to support my creative endeavours! I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lilith Andromeda | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective
Lilith is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at email@example.com
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