The muse strikes when she sees fit. It doesn’t matter what I am doing, it doesn’t matter where I am. She calls, the words flood my mind, and my heart begins to race, “time to write”. The knowledge that I could force this, if I were to be Pressfield’s “turning Pro”, seems so ludicrous to me; I’ve always operated, regarding my writing, when inspiration beckons me, and anytime I’ve tried to force it, there isn’t authenticity and I hate whatever comes.
I was driving, windows down, chasing the sun this evening when a song came through the speakers. Drops of Jupiter, Train. In that moment, as the first notes flooded my ears, so too came words. So too came… Her.
Honestly I cannot recall the last time I wrote about her, moreover I cannot remember when her face has been this vivid behind my eyes. For a long time, I suppressed memories as it was too painful and I couldn’t handle it, so when her face came to me, I’d intentionally drive my mind elsewhere, anywhere. It worked, for a long, long time. Recently, I would say since probably some time early 2019, I began to accept something that I had not been ready to face since her death, and I began to “see her” differently.
The pain of her passing laid dormant in me for quite some time, that whenever she came to mind, once I began to allow it in, it felt like mourning at times all over again. It would just be a moment – the way she smiled or passing in a hallway or watching her standing at the stove – moments. They would come, just as quickly, they would pass, and at times I would have given anything to reach into the memory and pull her into today, just to hear her voice one more time. It got easier, then occasionally knock the air from my chest; Layla’s birthday has always been one such strange scenario – born on the date my mother died. I have learned how better to cope with all of this, and I thought I was doing a pretty decent job.
As I was driving tonight and these words were coming to me, I very intentionally conversed with the Muse (rather what is my self, to decide how this would go) and I very cleverly discerned that this wouldn’t be just about my mother, but ties in well with what I will dive into next. The fact that my mind found her face so easily, merely because a certain song came at a certain moment – clearly my heart was receptive and ready – it got me thinking. The road wide before my eyes, few cars to contend with, an open highway, a loud stereo, and an obedient mind, I trailed through the many thoughts coming forth and decided to focus on something I haven’t really written much about yet. If I have it has only been in minor detail, for this experience was intensely personal and deeply controversial to some: MDMA Therapy, specifically, the MAPS Protocol therapy for PTSD.
I remember the day I agreed to try this approach. I was standing in my kitchen, absolutely exhausted, overwhelmed by life, pretty much ready to set fire to it all and burn it down just to get a moment of rest. I was tired of being in my own flesh, trapped inside my mind’s own torturous cycle of anxiety, old thoughts and feelings I couldn’t seem to shake, and feeling like I was a failure as a mother and wife because this whole domestic thing just didn’t seem to fit me. John asked me to hear him out and we discussed it at-length. My favorite mode of digesting information is podcasts so we found a few of those and listened to other’s experience with the medicine – I was reluctant right at first, mostly because I didn’t like the idea of “medicating” in such an intense fashion, not knowing what to expect, and knowing that once I took that pill, I would have to just accept whatever was to come. It was – scary.
Eventually I realized, what have I got to lose? I could try it and if I hated it I never had to touch it again.
We studied exhaustively how to do this. Everything of what to expect as you go through treatment, potential side effects or complications, dosage, safety, environment, music – everything was meticulously and carefully examined: I knew that if this was as promising as it had begun to seem, I would need to take is fucking seriously, so that is exactly what I did.
Part of preparation was building out my intentions: What do I want from this treatment? Where are my trigger points, where is my hurt, and how can I best get to the heart of it to make the best of this? I felt ready… It was clear to me, for sure, that the first thing I would need to tackle is my Mother.
The way the treatment normally works, as they’ve done in clinical trials thus far, is that the patient gets psychotherapy for a few sessions, and then when they are prepared, they lay down for their first medicinal experience. If all goes well and the patient wants to continue, they’ll repeat this process for a total of three sessions. Because we were doing it under the table, so to speak (we had the product tested for purity from a reputable source) I didn’t have the therapy sessions prior to, but I was comfortable with that honestly; I’ve done so much counseling in my life it felt like I could list my issues on my hands in five minutes, no problem. I wanted to go deeper, I was ready.
I think it was the day after my 35th birthday that I did my first session. I took a single pill, laughed for about ten minutes at the absurdity of it all, and then went to prepare. It takes, from my experience, about 40 minutes for it to begin taking effect, so in that time I laid down, placed a secure blindfold over my eyes, got comfortable where I was laying, and began a specific playlist – the MAPS playlist – once I could feel the medicine working. The sessions typically last about 4 hours, start to finish, peaking about an hour and a half in. I remember so clearly when it hit. I got an overwhelming urge to laugh. Belly-laughter, true from somewhere deep, deep inside. I was also flooded with an intense bright light, it overwhelmed me with how gorgeous it was. Just, radiant light and laughter. It was funny as hell, but it was only the beginning of what would prove to be one of the most intense and beautiful experiences of my life.
The sensations of MDMA were very new to me. I had a burning in my chest, when it got intense, like the most pressure-filled, deep panic attack you ever had – and it coincided specifically with the visions in my eyes, behind the blindfold, in the darkness. As the medicine grew stronger with each passing minute, my body began to rock in a rhythmic primal dance, breathing heavily as waves of emotion came over me, entirely pulling me in to accepting their power. Entirely succumbed, but entirely unafraid, of what I was seeing, and how intense and heavy it was flowing through my body – Grief, sadness, regret, anger, rage. I was feeling it, all of it, because what I was seeing took me to a place I had denied for 14 years: The very moment my mother was dying.
I am very visual, so I could go into great detail of the scene that unfolded, but I would spare those who loved her the heartache of seeing what you might not be prepared to see: For me, it was desperation, it was anger. I found myself kneeling beside her bed, screaming out. My voice rang out aloud into the frozen air all around me, “why did you leave?” I screamed and cried, with a force, with a longing, with a depth I had not ever felt before or since, and the weight of her choices were entirely dwelling right inside my chest as I grieved the scene, knowing intuitively I couldn’t stop it.
All the while, John is painstakingly taking notes and making sure I am okay. All the while, the world is moving on all around me. All the while, the music in my ears, beautiful tribal beats and ancient songs that curated the intensity of my visionary experience, it all existed, but all I could see was her.
At once the music would be a wild, passionate drum beat that made me want to dance in my sadness, then it would shift two songs later to a more peaceful, even sometimes somber tone, and this would send tears running down my skin – the music is a very profound and important part of the experience and I think honestly one of the big reasons this therapy works so well for me…
At one point, I remember the song changed and my rage subsided. I stopped screaming and the pressure in my chest was less daunting… I remember feeling ready to accept it. I was ready to… Let her go. Even now as I write this, in a room that has no correlation whatsoever to that day, I felt it – knowing what I am about to write, I felt it still. The calm. The peace that came over me, when I accepted that I was about to watch my mother die. In reality, she died alone in her bed in her apartment. In reality, nobody knows what her last moments looked like, when she left this world and became a memory.
My heart still feels it – what a trip. I grabbed her hand and watched her face, I saw her chest rise and fall, and tears fell as I let her go.
What happened next, well.
You have to understand. There was nobody guiding this, and what I mean by that is the medicine doesn’t just “know” – not this one, anyway. What this does is it allows you to face trauma directly. It allows you to feel, and process, and understand – it allows you to sit in the midst of this kind of pain and see and feel and know it in a way that makes it easier to accept. So, there was no way to predict that the story would unfold the way it did, there was no way to know what would come for me… But I am fucking amazed, even now, that it did.
What I was given was not just acceptance that my mom had died, how she died, but rather a far deeper more important acceptance of what came after.
For a long time, I blamed her for the way my life had gone. I was angry, I was bitter, and I turned off her memory because it was just too much to bear when I believed she was the cause of losing so much. In that way of thinking, I basically almost convinced myself there would be no redemption for such a lost soul. What a dire, depressing, fucked up way to see your own mother, yes? It was the truth though, that is how much it hurt and how my mind decided to cope with it. What I didn’t realize was that condemning her would also inevitably condemn me: If she was beyond saving, if she was beyond grace, then what the hell do I have to look forward to?
So enters the vision that unfolded, and the glory of seeing some truths exist beyond our mind’s ability to comprehend – one of those things is the grace of God, and what comes when we leave this place. Now, I don’t presume or declare that I know heaven, yet I am a dreamer, and my eyes were given a gift to see something that my heart really needed to see. It was the beautiful balm to my soul, that I shall close my eyes the day after my 35th birthday and see my mother in heaven, so gloriously enraptured in what exists beyond time that she didn’t even need to look back.
With a gentle kiss upon my head God stopped time for a moment and put peace to my spirit, that I needn’t worry if how I saw my mother was how God saw her; I needn’t worry that my condemnation of my Mother was any match for the sovereignty and wisdom of the One whom made her. He knew her heart, not me. He knew her story, not me.
I was so clearly able to see that I don’t need an answer anymore. To the why. … Why she left, and why she broke me before she left, a moment that would completely change the direction of my life and then leave me empty, without love, and without a mother. The light showed me she was at peace, and that took away all need to have a why – I understood someday I would know, and there is no sense wasting my life trying to know what isn’t meant for me now.
As I watched this radiant light behind my closed eyes, each soul not a physical form like you or I but rather points of bright light, all centered around the most glorious universe type swirling energy mass thing you ever saw (detailed, eh?) a friend that I loved whom died back when I was in High School came front and center, all dressed in white. My friend Nick – I swear he’s been a guardian angel for me ever since the day he left (I was the last friend he saw that day, it made quite an impression on me – his sudden death). He appeared, smiling, oh I can still see it now, and he pointed to a spot next to my mother and I understood it was for us – those she left behind. That she was waiting, and everything would be okay in the end.
Normally I don’t detail things like this so publicly because then I open myself up to criticism, especially from certain people who think I ought not care about any of this anymore, and who the hell takes MDMA to try and heal themselves? Ha, well, I felt it best to just be honest, love me or hate me at least I am working on my shit! (She says, eyebrow raised, challenging anyone to tell me what kind of self-work they’re doing before they correct or label mine).
I “came back” from that experience with tears flowing, my heart completely accepting something that had taken me years to even process, knowing a fundamental truth about my mother, and how I could cope with it. . .
It was the first experience I ever had, since her death, that I walked away from feeling entirely empowered.
It was the first time I was able to reconcile that she died alone, and the sadness of that – how profound and how deeply I needed to grieve that. Nobody wants that, to not be at their parent’s bedside when they die. It was brutal to experience it, but ended up being EXACTLY what my heart needed to do, and the medicine gave me the safety and the loving space of acceptance that I had been looking for.
I must have listened to Drops of Jupiter ten times in a row tonight as I made my way back to this little apartment. One more night here alone, tackling a monumental task of quitting tobacco (yes, I’m a smoker – most people don’t know that unless they actually hang out with me, but I am stopping so who cares if I say it now) – figured it would be easiest to do it out of my familiar environment, plus the time without the kids is a wonderful reprieve and allows for the time to do things like this. Listen to the Muse when she strikes – clever girl always seems to know when I am “free”.
I did two more MDMA sessions after this first one, the second one was indeed quite difficult as well, but went an entirely different direction. The third, same story – focused on yet another facet of my life, who I am, and what I need to process to work past all the bullshit that holds me back. I would do it again, but I don’t feel the need for it recently… It is quite remarkable, when I sit here and reflect, just how amazing it is that we can be given just a little pill, in the right set and setting, with the right preparation and willingness in the “patient” to be brave enough to try it. . .
It is quite remarkable that I arrived where it took me, where my mind needed to shed some light, where my heart knew I had work to do – brilliant that I can sit here now and see my mother behind my eyes, hear one of ‘her songs’ and not just push it away. I can feel that my chest is aching a bit, I can feel that I miss her – yes, that still comes up, especially when she is so close to my heart in this moment having remembered that whole experience. But it is different now, after that experience. It is different, and I am forever grateful.
Time is strange. It seems undertaking that healing just, surprise, opened me up for even deeper work to do. So I’ve been just … Trying. Every day. To do this all a little differently. To feel when I need to feel, to hurt when it hurts, to sing when the song comes on, the one I always used to turn off.
This life is brief, and too often I’ve spent it sad. I’ve gone to great lengths to work through some very hard things, and it feels wonderful to look back now and realize all these stories will come together soon into something wonderful. If only the damn Muse would magically appear when I call her instead of hitting me straight in the soul while I’m driving 75 down the highway. She has her way with me, sometimes, but I think now it is time to turn Pro and just start writing every damn day. I think I have a lot of words in me, and I think it is time they just come pouring out. Too good of a story not to tell…