The Ecstatic Adventure
Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World
Chapter 15 The Eyes of the Child-Corpse Were Open Wide
by LINDA SONTAG
THERE ARE ESTIMATED to be between one and three million regular users of amphetamines in this country, including many very busy persons in industry and government. An unknown number of these are "addicted," in the sense that they would experience withdrawal symptoms if use was discontinued. Although the occasional, selective use of amphetamines can produce enhancement of psychological and physical performance, the enhancement is one of speed and vigilance only; only the quantity, not the quality, of neural energy is increased. There is not the multilevel perception of even small doses of psychedelics. If normal consciousness is like walking, amphetamine is like running, and LSD is like flying. (We may continue the simile by suggesting that alcohol is like stumbling and marihuana like floating a few inches off the ground.)
The regular use of high doses of amphetamines produces a constant need for movement and restless activity, and any interference with or thwarting of this need meets with pain and hostility. Amphetamines are sympathomimetic, that is, they simulate the psychophysical condition produced in the body in stress, appropriate to the instinctual reactions of fight and flight. Thus they reduce appetite and mask fatigue. Note that these effects are produced in the brainthe body's need for nutrients or rest does not actually lessen. The energy loss which follows such a period of stress must either be restored through sleep or masked by more amphetamines. Physiological tolerance requires larger doses. Thus a spiraling cycle is set up which leads to rapid deterioration of physical health because the necessary restoration is avoided as a "comedown."
The author of the following account, who was attending a college famous for its intellectual standards, demonstrated unusual courage and presence of mind in allowing the heightened perception and symbolic selfimagery produced by LSD to break through the self-destructive amphetamine cycle.
EARLY IN FEBRUARY of 1965, alone and with no previous preparation, I took my first dose of LSD. I was seventeen, in my first year at a college near New York City, and had been taking methedrine intravenously at least twice a day for three months prior to this session.
Earlier in the school year, I had gone to the campus doctor feeling tired and generally run down. When vitamin BI., injections showed little outward change, be prescribed methamphetamine tablets, leaving the dosage to my own discretion, though suggesting Do more than three tablets a day. For a month and a half, I took increasingly larger doses of the tablets until the doctor, noticing increasing nervous tension, changed the prescription to 16oo mg. of meprobamate (Milltown) a day. However, my physical dependence on stimulant drugs was sufficient motivation for me to find a regular source of methedrine in the city within twenty-four hours after leaving the doctor's office.
For three months I managed to maintain my grades despite poor class attendance and two part-time jobs, one of which was a weekend job in an area of the city where I could easily purchase my weekly supply of meth.
I approached my first LSD session curious about the consciousness-expanding qualities of the chemical and spurred on by four extremely pleasant and stimulating experiences with DMT. I had hoped that the LSD experience would be helpful in writing, which was my primary interest. However, I had absolutely no desire to stop taking stimulants. I enjoyed the high induced by amphetamines, and had had only one bad experience with the drug when I narrowly escaped an overdose.
At 8 A.M., about two and a half hours after an injection of methedrine, I swallowed 750 mcgs. of LSD in capsule form, and sat back in a leather sling chair waiting to "get high." That I was to be dead, that I was to be born again, that I was to be thrown into the midst of an entirely new way of life, and that I had just taken the first step toward escaping from the powerful grasp of a brain-destroying, body-damaging narcotic never once crossed my mind. After waiting for about a half hour, I concluded that I had taken a blank capsule and decided to go into the bedroom for a cigarette. Less than a second later, I became aware of an embrace firmly preventing movement of any kind. The chair was warm, breathing, alive against my back. It's arms encircling my body exuded faint, sweet incense. My mind was opened to only love vibrations, and I leaned back, surrendering my body and mind to color and movement, as each and every object in sight began to breathe in its own distinct rhythm. I looked at my band. The skin was suddenly porous as if I were seeing it under a microscope, and yet at the same time, smooth and translucent as an infant's.
I moved my fingers. There were hundreds of them moving as if they were animated cartoons shown in slow motion.
I looked at a seascape on the wall. The surf pounded the shore; the salty cold air touched my face. I was aware of no physical discomfort other than an occasional chill.
The chair breathed more deeply, almost provocatively; every part of my body that it touched was loved and loving in return. The chair and I were breathing as one. Still unable to get up from the chair, I turned my face toward the ceiling where I witnessed the creation of the universea multi-act play in radiating, pulsating color. Planets born in flames and eventually dying to multicolored embers warmed the chill that had been tightening the muscles in my back and arms, banishing all consciousness of the body until re-entry.
Memories of the following few hours are very vague. Since I was alone, I have no way of measuring the time I spent in each stage of the session. I was conscious of my mind slipping beyond my grasp and then out of my sightand then was conscious no more for hours that now seem like years. The memories of this period of time are flashes without sequence. The chair relaxed its embrace, and I rose upward to somewhere else, was sucked into the energy of the air surrounding me. Flashes of color, movement, floating, swirling, spinning. I was touched only by the molecules of air around me. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and my face muscles bridged a smile that seemed permanent. The awethe profound release into absolute insanityfilled my lungs and veins. All hate and fear were washed away by the tears. I saw the sun so close I could touch it, and a ray of light through my temple pierced my brain; I cried outOh, God, I'm dying! And death brought peace and the high-pitched drone of silence.
The sound of death was disturbed by a painless and involuntary labor contraction. It was followed by another maybe twenty minutes later. I got up from the chair and put one of my favorite records on the turntable. The sound was distorted. I tried three or four more particular favorites, none pleased me. I was kneeling on the floor in front of the record player. Hallucinations were very vivid and colorfulsometimes forms I recognized, some color flashes, some swirling prisms, some geometric patterns. All around was constantly changing. Patterns within patterns merging, pulsating. Another contraction came. I sat on the floor and picked up album after album. I chose several records, paying no attention to what they were, noticing only which covers were pleasing to my eye, harmonious with my visions. After placing the stack of records on the turntable, I crawled across the floor to the chair. The chair seemed so high off the floor... I climbed into it unsure and grasping, reaching as an infant into his mother's lap. Closing my eyes, I was absorbed by sound. The choices I had made were unusual; only the first recordBob Dylanbeing one I normally would have chosen. The Iyrics recalled every idealistic belief that I had ever nurtured and then given up. I felt myself degenerating into cynicism. I saw myself as a small child in a coffin clutching a hypodermic needle where there might have been flowers. The eyes of the child-corpse were open wideglazed, immobile, cold. The lips formed a sneer.
This vision was erased by the next recordRavi Shankar, followed by about five other recordings of Indian music. I inhaled the tabla; the sitar entered through every hair in my body; the vibrating warmth of the tamboura filled my belly where I rested waiting to be born. I remember no more contractions until the final Indian record. There was no tamboura to relax the child in my womb. The prominence of the drum awakened the child, and the contractions began to come more and more frequently. The final record was playing at the moment of birthOlatunji and the Drums of Africa. Passionate; moving fiercely. From the African drums came warmth, and from the passion of the music, the strength for the final effort, for the delivery of myself out of the universe to the earth.
Though the hallucinations were still intense, I was at last able to identify my surroundings. The air was clean and crystalline. Daylight touched every part of the room with a golden halo. My hands for minutes verged on fluorescent blue before absorbing the golden tones of the room's aureole. With the velvet child clinging close to my body, its arms about my neck, I walked to the record player and turned over the records. I walked with the strength given by female ancestors of the soil, who squatted on the ground to deliver their children and then hurried with them to the safety of a nearby cave or tree.
Awareness of my surroundings was steadily increasing as the infant blurred into my mind. Returning to the chair, where the music worked its magic, I drifted into visions as intense as before. I held my bead in my bands. The sensations filling my mind seemed to be pushing my brain beyond the confines of its skull. Outward and upwardperceptions too pleasurable to channel or even to comprehend. Confusing, overpowering my conscious mind, they conquered once again; and once again I sighed a smile and surrendered, seeing no alternative but to give them complete control.
My next memory of conscious thought, some time later, was of the sun outdoors. It was unusually warm for February. I walked to the window; the world beyond the pane of glass was wondrous, new, alive. Everything in sight breathed, throbbed with vitality. I found a jacket and set out to wander through the West Village. I remember a tree-lined street where the trees, at that time of year bare, were rich evergreens. I could smell themthe cedar smell I associate with Christmas as a child. Buildings moved before my outstretched hand. I wandered into a church and sat in the back to watch the people kneeling before statues and lighting candles. I was aware of the antiquity of the ceremonies. I felt the emotionless expressions of devotion as they repeated words of prayer, the meanings of which they no longer remember. The worshipers were a museum display, and 1, a future observer. I thought, how sad, they can't or won't see that the power they sing to, pray to, kneel before is asleep within themevery one of them.
I walked out of the church, got into a cab, and went to the Central Park boat pond, where I sat looking at the water and thinking.
In twenty-four hours I saw much that previously I never would have believed possible. I had taken a long journey and was weary in mind and body. I had experienced enough to realize there was much remaining to be explored. Before this session, I had been fully aware of the properties of methedrine which were hazardous to the body. However, as I sat in Central Park, I felt certain for the first time that I no longer wanted to take a drug which impairs the memory, attacks brain tissue and destroys the body. I had discovered the delightful challenges of a world within the brain and wanted to return there again and again. I had traveled through the realms of insanity and returned wiser and happier.
In the course of the next two days, I discovered the withdrawal from amphetamines to be comparable to a case of influenzathe chills, stomach pain, nausea, headache and trembling. The worst of these symptoms are the result of the brain's awareness that every nerve in the body is tautwaiting fordemanding the drug to which it has been accustomed. These aspects of withdrawal from a drug addiction can be alleviated to some extent by synthetic drugs. The most difficult problem for any addict is refraining from adopting the same patterns of behavior once the physical craving has been eliminated, for the same social or psychological problems which instigated the addiction in the first place can still be present. A complete and uncompromising determination to escape addiction is vital in preventing a relapse. My own experience leads me to believe that with LSD as a vehicle of transport, many addicts could find the determination to carry them through the remainder of the journey to freedom.
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