The Trauma Narrative

CW: Childhood abuse
This is a post about my journey through and healing from trauma. I’m going to describe some things I’ve experienced that have induced trauma. Most of this is in Stage 1, so skip that section if you are sensitive to descriptions of childhood abuse.

Stage 1. Initial Pain

When I was a child, my parents spanked me a lot. The spankings I experienced were not the common idea of spanking – they were significantly worse, done with a strip of rough leather (the ‘wisdom whacker’) designed for this purpose and to not leave permanent marks, and usually sustained a 8-9/10 on the pain scale for 10-30 seconds.

Spankings began when I was a toddler (as an infant they slapped my arms) and were warranted for any number of things, such as not saying “Yes mom” or “Yes dad” when spoken to, for interrupting an adult, for screaming loud enough to worry the neighbors during a spanking, for delays of even a few seconds when responding to being called to receive a spanking. They happened often; I distinctly remember setting goals for myself to obey so well and so quickly that I wouldn’t get any spankings for one whole day.

My father worked from home, and I was homeschooled for all my educational years (minus a 3-month stint in public highschool, from which I was removed because I had access to computers without parental supervision), and so his power over me was absolute.

He had narcissistic personality disorder and was emotionally abusive. When I was a teenager, he secretly installed recording software on my computer. He would often force me to stand still in front of him for ~15-60 minutes as he berated me and made me admit that I was lazy, rebellious, disobedient. He would pinch the skin under my chin and pull my face close to his as he yelled at me. He told me often that he would break my will by taking everything I loved. At one point when he took everything I loved, I was so distraught I became depressed and stopped showering, combing my hair, or smiling, and he forbid me from being unhappy, that my ‘pouting’ was a display of rebellion towards him, that if I continued he would force me to clean the house morning to night, every day, until he broke me of it. Everything he did was driven by the goal of breaking my will so that I would obey him regardless of how much it hurt me. He succeeded – he eventually destroyed me so thoroughly that I voluntarily cut contact with my best friend and only source of emotional support (who did not break any rules in himself; he was Christian, and all our discussions were pg rated, it was just that our conversations were unsupervised) out of desire to be obedient to him.

He was abusive to the rest of my family, particularly my mother, who was submissive, gentle, kind, terrified of him, and believed divorce was a sin. He used to trap her in rooms when she tried to escape and pushed her, until one day he pushed her in front of us kids and she called the cops. He stopped the physical violence after that, but he was no less rageful or skilled at twisting her words and convincing her that she was wrong.

At the time, I thought most of this was normal. I felt huge amounts of pain, but I thought this amount of pain was normal.

Stage 2. The Symptoms

Once I left home (and refused to see or speak to him), I started noticing effects from my childhood. A partner roleplayed ‘angry’ during sex and I had a violent panic attack. I was uncomfortable being touched or hugged. I absolutely refused to let anybody else touch my computer, ever. I was emotionally shut down, unaware of my feelings. I was deeply, cripplingly insecure. Obedience towards rules and authority was a compulsion for me; I obeyed confident strangers quietly and without question and physically could not force my body to do things like hop a deserted turnstyle even when I was going to miss the train and my friends were upset with me because they wanted to catch the train and why couldn’t I just walk past the stupid imaginary line?

But I did not view myself as having been traumatized. I did not view myself as a victim, and I did not view my father as abusive. Abusive was a weird word. He’d done some things that made me very upset, sure – but that? He didn’t starve me or slap me in the face or anything. I generally felt okay inside, besides being angry. I was a fine, normal human being, I liked hanging out with friends and I was pretty happy overall.

I also didn’t recognize that what he’d done was abnormal. I vaguely thought most people’s fathers were kind of equally as shitty, and if they didn’t appear to be so – well, mine didn’t either, to the outside world. People loved him – my father sometimes would hand me the phone where a fan of his would tell me how lucky I was to have him as a father and how I should trust and obey him more – and so when I saw other people admiring the qualities of fatherness in other fathers, it didn’t disrupt my worldview.

This stage lasted about a year.

Stage 3. Trauma

It started with little things – casually mentioning an aspect of my childhood to a new friend and seeing them recoil in horror, or reading essays about people going through things milder than I had and calling it abuse. I started to pick it up from TV shows, from discussions around consent, from seeing people nonviolently communicate difficult things with each other.

I started to realize that what I had been through was considered “very bad” by society (although of course by no means the worst – many kids have had way worse childhoods; we knew a family who chained her daughter to the bed all day, my parents were lenient by comparison) – that I could tell people honestly about my life and they would be disgusted, because it was abnormal.

Before I had just been in pain, with symptoms like scars – but now I began to feel that I had been deeply violated, that a great injustice had been done, that I was a true victim of an abuser. I took on the narrative that I had been deprived of some fundamental human right by an evil man. I started having semiregular nightmares of my father coming to kill me, or me killing him.

This is what everybody else believed. It was easy to agree with them, because it put me in a position of authority and power – I was an authority on suffering, now, because I had gone through the thing stamped by society as “bad.” I had power because I adopted a frame where I could explicitly label what I had gone through and pull it out when needed in conversations, as a piece of my identity, and a shortcut for gaining sympathy and support from people around me.

The way I say that sounds a bit like I’m dismissing it, but I don’t mean to. I think those things were very useful and I’m glad I had them.

But – I was in pain all the time, much more than Stage 2. I called in sick to work on father’s day because all the celebrations and cards and advertisements were too triggering. I would often go to bed and fantasize about saying everything I’d ever wanted to say to him, with him unable to shut me up. “You should have loved me,” I would scream at my image of him – a false image, because it wasn’t shouting over me to drown me out – “You were my father, you should have loved me,” and I would cry myself to sleep.  I was full of a constant rage towards him so intense it made me sick, insane. I could feel it in my chest, hot and tight, every waking moment of the day.

This stage lasted about five years.

Stage 4. Healing

It was probably around my 20th acid trip. I was alone and I took maybe 200ug or so, and listened to the soundtrack of the Fountain.
I relived my past, played in detail every single memory I had held on to so tightly, in as chronological order as I could. It was agonizing, and I sat there and sobbed.
It was different here, though – on acid, narrative was dissolved. I was not a victim, I was in pain. I just hurt, and hurt and hurt, and it passed through me and sliced me open over and over again and it was so exhausting and it wouldn’t let me go.

I was on a timeline, and eventually my memories rolled one into the other into my leaving home. Here my agony abruptly turned into sheer ecstasy. I remembered how good it felt to be free – to be able to run to the store at 2 am if I wanted, to talk to anybody I wanted, to have the friends I had, to contact all my old friends I’d lost, to watch any movie, listen to any song, make any facial expression, to be upset – visibly upset! I’ve never been able to talk or write about this without crying.

I remember looking around the room and feeling myself fill it – all the possible sets of actions I could take without fear, and I was so grateful I thought I might fall apart. What was there to be afraid of, anymore, now that I wasn’t locked in a box with a monster? This was the deepest joy I’d ever felt, and I thought – if I could give this experience to anybody else, I would do whatever it took. Any amount of suffering would be worth this.

And then I realized that that’s what my father had done to me – he’d given me the ability to experience life with such ongoing lightness, and what he’d done had been worth it. All I’d been through had been worth it. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change my life at all. This pain was mine, now, chosen by me, held by me deliberately, and nothing about it was wrong.

This experience permanently and completely cured my hatred of my father and eliminated my daily suffering and rage (It also, incidentally, destroyed most of my motivation, which I had to rebuild from other sources later on).

This experience did not cure my symptoms – some of my anxieties listed in stage 2 were eventually cured by MDMA use, some of them faded with time, and some I still experience today.


Some popular cultural rejections of victimhood aren’t really rejections, and they redefine victimhood – for example, “I refuse to be a victim – I will not let this stop me, I’ll keep going and make my own business/marry johnny/work out all the time/experience happiness”. This views victimhood as helplessness, which is kind of a socially embarrassing state and it’s pretty safe and easy to say “No, I’m not in that embarrassing state.” I don’t mean victimhood in this sense.

What I mean by victim is the idea of being transgressed against; that some ‘rightness’ in the universe has been violated, like a sin has been committed.

I wouldn’t have been able to find healing under the narrative that I was a victim. Part of the victim narrative is an injustice so fundamental that there’s nothing that can balance the scales. It is an absolute state, and more importantly it’s a state of suffering. Suffering is when you believe something ought not be, and victims ought not be, and the nature of being a victim is suffering.

In this sense, the people around me who reacted with horror to my stories of my childhood were actively increasing my trauma and suffering.


Some tribes have nasty coming of age rituals for children. I have a belief that some cultures had ritualized sexual assault of children, but I’m on a plane and can’t check to see how true that is. Young girls are genitally mutilated. Did all the children of these cultures grow up with deep traumas? In a sense, probably not – if all the adults act like it’s no big deal, then you as a kid don’t think it’s a big deal either, and will probably never think it’s a big deal, and you’ll grow up and mutilate your own daughter the same way you were mutilated, because tradition. These people would probably strongly deny being traumatized, much like I didn’t believe I was traumatized – at least in the narrative sense – in stage 2. They also probably don’t experience the suffering that I did in stage 3, and in that sense have better lives.

Of course there are still symptoms, though – maybe these cultures end up with lower rates of trust and higher rates of PTSD or something.

The cultural narrative of trauma seems to me to be a very slow process of identifying a symptom like compulsively wearing very large brimmed hats, realizing “Hey, this is caused by forcing our children into the desert to build character!” and then saying “Forcing children into the desert is bad, if you’ve been forced into the desert you probably will have these symptoms, which are bad, and you’ve been subject to a bad thing.”

This progression does good things! It helps the society collectively shorthand agree what is wrong and right, and makes standards known. It creates a default ‘support the desert children more than usual’ mode. It makes people who shove children into deserts less likely to do that.

It also gives people who’ve gone through pain space to reevaluate how they interpret their pain, instead of ignoring or suppressing it – society won’t judge them now, or call them weak for reacting to it. This can often give people space to/encourage people to feel pain they wouldn’t have otherwise, because ‘being hurt when you are forced into a desert’ is now the socially expected thing, and to feel otherwise would be abnormal.

To be clear, I think that society-induced feelings are often just as real/valid/whatever as … not-as-obviously-socially-induced feelings. I don’t think there’s a such thing as a “natural reaction” or a “true, organic feeling”.

I know I said that people who told me my childhood was bad increased my suffering, but I don’t think they were wrong to do so. It gave me new feelings of suffering that fit the new society mold, and those feelings were real and valid.

Where I got trapped was in letting the narrative rest in a ‘true’ place inside of me. I didn’t view the new set of laws as a useful thing to set general standards of behavior, I viewed them as touching on some truth, as setting upon my head a victimed crown, long may it reign.


I know I just went from shitting on narrative to supporting it, but I’m about to shit on it again.

I don’t like how the trauma narrative is presented with so little self awareness. I feel a bit weird now, when someone comes to me and tells me about something bad that happened to them, and then I’m supposed to say I’m sorry, or how terrible. I don’t want to do the trauma-narrative rain dance, to perform society’s horror-judgement upon them.

But – doing things! Achieving change! Keeping children out of the desert! if we accept pain, then do we just accept children in the desert?
I think we can do a lot of ‘saving children from deserts’ through action that doesn’t reinforce a trauma narrative. If someone is in pain, getting them mint tea or making public the facts about what hurt the person is not propagating the trauma narrative, it’s an attempt to reduce total harm and can be done gently, without judgement, like you might put safety foam on sharp edges of furniture.
And of course, introducing the trauma narrative would probably be useful in times where there’s sufficient meta-awareness – “What’s it like, to feel like a victim?” or “What X is doing to you is very abnormal in society. People will react with shock to this information.”

Besides the practical things, of course there’s emotional support. What do you say when someone comes to you, hurting, if you can’t call upon the great Badness Designators as platitudes? There’s probably a lot of options, but personally I just want to sit down and hurt with them. In a way, In a way I feel this is another purpose of enduring large amounts of pain – it allows for joining others in their pain, a place that is often the loneliest. I want to endure the greatest agony so that I can reach others in their farthest places. This was a part of the reason why I did so much LSD – it could make me hurt like nothing else could. Pain is sacred to me, because it allows for this facet of love.

The trauma narrative feels like a rejection of the pain, because it’s a belief that the pain is somehow not supposed to be there, like it’s a foreign invader. I feel uncomfortable treating it like an invader (although I still do it sometimes because of social pressure).

There can be a lot of healing in surrendering the narrative and all the power and authority it gives you. I don’t mean that you have to abandon it entirely, it’s useful, after all – but evicting it from a place of identity inside yourself is necessary. If your wound is held open by a sense of wrongness, it will never have space to heal.

PS: Unwelcome comments include anything that frames me as a victim. Please no “I’m so sorry, that’s terrible.”

The Body of Isolation

I recently liked a boy who didn’t like me in the way I wanted to be liked. He liked another girl, and it hurt. I was more raw than usual, sandpapered down by a few recent intimacy losses. The looming pattern of it made me despondent.

I thought I would spend the rest of my life alone, understood by nobody. I would remain on the outskirts, looking in, built out of a substance made for rejection. I was in a state of itchy agitation; like I kept wanting to reach out but having nothing to grab. Life kept proving me right.

Then I did acid, 250ug, somewhat for the purpose of solving this problem. It was in an AirBnb in the woods of upstate New York, and the house was woody smelling and there was a film crew. I spent the first hours crying, staring at the camera, trying to paint; but finally I rolled outside into the rain and found myself alone. I couldn’t see into the windows, and it was a distant-feeling cold.

I felt alone out there, and I let myself feel alone. It barreled through me, where all my fears became true. My isolation became a body; I stepped into it and wore it as mine,  and it was tangible flesh, and its weight was my weight. I bent over in my body of isolation and sobbed. It was a screaming, ongoing pain that I couldn’t think around, couldn’t reason with. It hurt it hurt it hurt.

I saw that I had been trying to reduce the pain by placing expectations on other people and the world, that I wanted someone else to save me from this, to swoop in with the delicious story that the pain was wrong, as if it had been making an incorrect claim or breaking a law. And that’s what I thought, on some level – that there was a perversion of reality, that this pain should not be. And if the pain should not be, then intimacy with others is what should be, and the gap between myself and others became a burden that became both mine and theirs to resolve. Of course I’d never had these thoughts explicitly – but somewhere, deep down, that’s what had been happening.

But here, on the deck in the cliche rain, I couldn’t tell the pain that it was wrong, and I didn’t resist it. The body of isolation I wore was mine, and I wore it with agony and love. I surrendered to it, died to it, and forgot what I had been.

Usually my pain was held in a great reservoir above my head, and it was too much to feel at once, so I would open a very small drain, and the suffering arose in the narrow pressure of that release. But here I tore the reservoir open, and the pain was immense but pressureless, because there was no contrast between want and do not want. I found that I could bear it. I could bear it infinitely.

This pain should be. I welcomed it.

And against this I felt a deep gratitude for the speckled moments where I felt not-alone – in flashes of strangers on the street, the memories of lovers, the odd frustration of my family. The intensity of the isolation channeled an equally intense relief into these moments, and I imagined stars made starlike by the night.

It was as though I’d picked up a flat river-rock, and on one side was printed LOVE and the other PAIN, and that both were pressed into my fist, that they were a singular weight, that it was one thing.

I still wear the body of isolation, and with it is an ongoing pain. I can feel it settled into me, every day, like a cradle – but the body of isolation is also the body of love; a rotating mask, each bolted onto the backstage of the other. It is the isolation which allows me love, and love which allows me isolation. I am suffocated by gratitude.

I found out I wasn’t immortal shortly before I turned 19. I’d been religious, so I assumed death was a just a transfer to heaven. Losing my faith meant I had to face the fact that my identity would end, and it was terrifying for many years.

Then I heard Alan Watts frame it as such: When we imagine dying, we imagine something like being locked in a dark box forever and ever. But once we imagine the experience of being dead, then we’re not really imagining death at all.

Experience is the only thing to be afraid of, and being dead isn’t an experience. If we are afraid of a non-experience, then at some level we are imagining an experience.

I think about this when it comes to the Great Isolation. I don’t mean the Great Isolation in inability to find intimacy, in being ejected from the tribe, or in standing outside alone in the rain. I mean it in the sense of perpetual solitude inside your own mind; that no matter how much you love someone, it will always be your projection of their understanding; that this is a dream, that you alone are the one who generates the experiences you have of being understood. “Isn’t it lonely?” people ask, when I describe my solipsism. The fear of undertaking the Great Isolation is the fear of loneliness.

The body of isolation is the body of love, and this body needs an Other to exist – much as you cannot feel love without an Other, you cannot feel isolation without an Other. And so, if you feel lonely when you imagine the Great Isolation, then you are not truly imagining the Great Isolation, much as if you feel afraid when you imagine death, then you are not truly imagining death.

Loneliness is not terrifying. It’s not some great existential shadow or a condemnation to a psychedelic hell – it’s just the other side of love.


Permanent Mental Effects from LSD

These are permanent changes I’ve noticed after doing a fuckton of LSD. It’s been about 3 years since I ‘quit’ (though I still dose about twice a year), and these are the effects that still seem to linger.

Please don’t worry any of these will happen to you if you take LSD once in a while like a sane human being.

1. Worse memory. Or, rather, less accessible memory. All the things seem to still be in there, it’s just the queries pull out the wrong thing, or take longer than normal

2. Gaps in thought. Pre acid, ‘thinking’ felt like a tightly wound stitch, or stones in a river very close together, and now they often feel very far apart. I still get to the place I’m going, but a lot of the process of getting there feels like a suspended leap between two points, where I look down and I realize my thought is not beneath me, and I wonder where it went, and I see so much of everything else instead, until suddenly the next piece hits me and I’m like ‘oh yeah.’

The thoughts themselves don’t seem to be affected, but sometimes it makes conversation harder.

3. Feeling less like I am the thing that is thinking my thoughts – especially during periods of intense concentration or problem solving.
I ‘catch myself thinking’ from the outside much more often, in more unexpected circumstances, and during more mentally intensive periods.
Like, normally I am sitting in a glass box, and I’m popping out colorful little ‘reasonings’ and ‘conclusions,’ and of course I know they are popping out *from me* – but then sometimes I find myself standing outside the glass box looking in, and I am surprised to find that the ‘reasonings’ and ‘conclusions’ are continuing to pop out of the empty air where I used to sit. I realize that the “reasonings” and “conclusions” are independent of me, that I’m not the one popping them out.

4. Access to an intense altered mental state that usually lasts around 5-10 minutes. Triggering this generally long-term cures any stress, anxiety, or insecurity I’ve been going through recently. The effort it takes to trigger it is really inconsistent though. I often try to avoid triggering it. Sometimes it happens in dreams. I’ve written more extensively about this here.

5. Permanently increased wellbeing in a way it’s hard to put my finger on.

6. Shifts in beliefs about myself, the way I work, the things I’m curious about, epistemics, philosophy, and ethics. These shifts were pretty severe and appear to be permanent. I like these beliefs a lot better.

7. Altered mental reactions to alcohol. Getting drunk now feels like a slightly psychedelic experience to me, which is incredibly weird and makes zero sense. Since acid, while drunk, I am more easily overtaken by awe, more likely to get the outside-the-glass-box feeling, and more in danger of saying cliche hippie phrases.

8. My internal experience and feelings of thought processes are now way more nonverbal, whereas pre-acid I used to be full of ‘words.’ I feel silenced, but not any less quiet.

9. The mental processes I take to explain my own behaviors to myself have shifted drastically – particularly ones surrounding the sense of agency. I rarely use mental movements around ‘sense of agency’ anymore. It’s like a word that’s dropped out of my internal vocabulary.
For example, in point 6 I mention ‘shifts in belief’, and the phrasing implies it ‘happened to me’ – doing LSD rearranged my beliefs. The glass box analogy also supports this – that I am clothed in ideas I did not choose to wear. But I equally could have phrased it as though I did all the choosing – “Doing acid helped me realize x, and I came to conclude z” – and it would still be true.
Whether or not “I did something” or “it was done to me” is no longer a relevant question, internally. I find no important distinction between the two.

10. Existential masochism. The sense of pleasure and pain – in a mental sense – have been seriously churned together. It’s not that pain is any less painful, or that pleasure is any less pleasurable (probably the opposite, really), it’s that they more often coexist, and tend to coexist at greater extremes.

11. Way easier laughter. More things delight me and I’m much quicker to giggle at things, anything. Everything is funny. I’m more easily entertained.

Overall I’m glad I did it and would do it again

The Abyss of Want

disclaimer: this post is very silly and should not be taken seriously if you don’t take it seriously

If you ask the question ‘what do you want,’ and then follow it up with an infinite series of ‘why do you want that’, and ‘well why do you want that?’, it quickly gets murky.

When I took acid, my primary (goal?) activity was learning and fulfilling what I wanted. I realized that I wanted to become more confident. To fulfill this, I had to then realize what I actually wanted was to avoid the pain of rejection. To fulfill this, I had to then realize what I actually wanted was to know myself more. To fulfill this, there was more to know, and more to do, and more to know…
Over time I progressed down each rung of the ladder, shedding bits of myself each step, until I got to what I thought was the bottom. I thought it was the bottom for a long time. It went like this:

“I want nothing. I am nothing. I know nothing. I am no one. I have no attachment, because there is no one to have it. There are no beliefs. There is no difference between what ought to be and what is.”

I had wanted to fulfill my wants. The fulfillment of want meant the abolition of want, for a fulfilled want is no longer a want at all – and such was the floor of the abyss. In full self knowledge, there was nothing else to look for.

I was a mess of contentment. I was nothing, I was dead.

The experience of being dead is a funny thing to think about, because we always substitute something in to serve as a model for ‘death.’ We think about being huddled in a dark room forever, or sleeping, or the loss of everything we loved, or a great cloaked figure with a scythe, or our loved ones who’ve passed – but death isn’t any of these things. As soon as you think about “what death is,” you aren’t thinking about death at all, you’re thinking about an experience that you might have. What “death is” is every experience you are not having, right now, and haven’t before, and will never have again.

Subjective death, by its own definition, is impossible to understand, and that which is definitionally incomprehensible is synonymous with nonexistence.

I’m attempting to explain the reason why the floor of the abyss was not the end. Life is inevitable. The movement away from nothingness is an absolute necessity.

The floor opened up and I fell (because falling was an absolute necessity) to a level that looked familiar. And it was here that I realized that moving away from wanting nothing meant that now I had to want something, because what else is there?

I wanted to feel tension again, answerless and longing. I wanted to unknow what I had learned. I didn’t want to feel the benevolent god of my own watching eye, in all its infinite love, destroying my ability to feel unsatisfied – because being something again meant being unsatisfied.

I was back at the beginning, and it was here I saw that the abyss of want was a circle.

This realization was deeply humbling. A good friend once told me that the very last trap on the path to enlightenment is thinking that you are enlightened, and this has come back to knock me down again and again. The circle brought me right back around to where I had been before, to where everyone else had already been all this time. What I’d ‘truly’ wanted was to feel desire, and everyone else had already been doing it. I felt a little sheepish, that I’d had the audacity to think my chase had been better than anyone else’s. Everyone I’d looked down on, even a little – deeply religious people, shallow people, angry people, ‘overly rational’ people – they were all exactly where I was, desiring things even more than I was. They were the ones who had beaten me to my destination, without even moving.

Enlightenment is a great joke. Enlightenment is nothing at all. I am something now, clinging hard to somethingness, and so I am not enlightened. Neither are you, or any other something in existence; really, you should only try to go get enlightened if you are fond of great jokes.

Experiences on acid

I did acid once a week for ten months; a summary of the journey is here, and analysis of permanent effects 3 years later is here.

This post is some attempts to describe the experience of tripping, and also specific instances while tripping.

I understand most people don’t have the same sort of reaction to LSD that I did, and though I use language like ‘we feel like’, I understand that not everyone actually does feel like.


On acid, thoughts work like a stitch in cloth.

If you look at a stitch from the top down, it looks like a straight, mostly unbroken lineacidthought1

The thread itself isn’t actually going in a straight line, but the visible portion looks tightly knit and functional.

Of course, the thread itself is going something like this:


I’ve never actually experienced the ‘looping’ phenomenon a lot of people experience, despite the above depiction. I mean it in the sense that a traditional ‘thought’ becomes fractured and interspersed with a lot of other processes at the same time. I’m not sure if those other processes are there always and acid just highlights them, or if acid straight-up puts them there.

But the lived experience is a constant forgetfulness and remembering; thoughts still seem to occur and complete themselves without my mind actually holding the beginning or the end of it.

I tripped a few months ago, needed to pee, and I wanted to think “I need to ask someone for help to go to the bathroom.” I experienced the formation of the thought over the period of about twenty minutes; the thought itself didn’t take up any more space than normal, it was just distributed over a longer period of time.

On acid, trying to remember what you were thinking about ranges from difficult to impossible. You cannot fight the course of the thread. Eventually you learn to give up and allow your mind to take you where it wants, because it will come back round eventually. This teaches you that the sensation of “trying to remember” is useless, and you learn to stop pursuing it.

This is my rationalization for why my memory is bad after taking so much acid. I tripped for so much so long that the muscle of memory atrophied. I feel like everything I need to know is still within me, but the command to access it is severely delayed.


Tripsitting 1

I tripsat a man alone in my apartment on what turned out to be much stronger acid than we thought. He was twice my size, heavily muscled, and, as we found out, had a rather delusional reaction to acid. He hallucinated, had poor spacial awareness, and ran around, screaming and flailing his arms, breaking my furniture, and alerting my neighbors. I spent his peaking eight hours (the acid lasted way longer than normal) trying to sit on him, calm him, and being thrown like a ragdoll whenever he got excited. At one point he took my head between his hands, stared into my eyes, and said “I could snap your neck right now.”

He didn’t remember any of it afterwards but was of course super regretful.



Usually we process concepts with a near direct one-to-one correspondence to words. There is a concept, and there is a word that maps onto the concept. Normally the mapping is so tight that we sometimes end up feeling like the words are the concepts themselves. This is probably why rhetoric is so powerful.

On acid, this correspondence is reduced. Concepts occur wordlessly; they are experienced, like a tactile sensation in the brain. This is why thoughts on acid are so difficult to communicate – no matter how clear they are to ourselves, we lack the structure to communicate them, and the structure to recall them later. The the words for the concepts are reduced to seem a bit ’empty’. This makes communication feel much more like a game, or a dance – that you are toying with verbal sounds that aren’t bound to any one thing anymore – you can tie them to anything, and they become much more flexible.

When we normally imagine ‘inability to communicate,’ we imagine that we can speak the thoughts in our heads in some fashion, but that others don’t understand because of language barriers, or they have different contexts for our words, or they haven’t heard the long thought train that led up to it. Normally inability to communicate is something rooted in the poor understanding of the other person – but this is not the case on acid. On acid, the inability to root things in language occurs in your own mind, to yourself.

I feel like the processing I do now is much more similar to words-as-games rather than words-as-direct-mapping. This has its drawbacks: I believe it ties into my difficulty remembering things, as words are great for memory. It damages my ability to communicate with other people and I have trouble having an active handle on my train of thought – I get distracted more often, and I can’t hold as many multiple concrete details in my head at the same time.

On the positive side, I feel like my thinking is immensely more clear.


Acid Testing

I was tripping on about 400ug. My friend Brian asked me to do some math, gradually increasing in difficulty. I could do any math that relied on one unit of memory – for example, 3×3 = 9. I didn’t manually calculate 3×3=9, it was already memorized.

I had difficulty doing math that relied on two units of memory – for example, 54+92. I knew 5+9, and I knew 4+2, but by the time I remembered one of them, I forgot the other.

I was incapable of doing any math that required three units of memory. 13×14 was impossible. I knew how I was supposed to do it, but the thought-loops prevented me from creating a unbroken line of thought. By the time I’d looped all the way back to my original train of thought, I’d forgotten the concrete detail I needed to remember.

Then my friend asked me to imagine a diamond, equal in length on all sides. He said – the top corner is blue, the left is green, the bottom is yellow, the right is purple. If you rotate the diamond one quarter counterclockwise, what color is on the top?

I had the answer faster than any of the other sober people listening. I’m not sure if I’m that good normally, but considering how hyped visual imagination is while tripping, I suspect the acid really helped. I’d be interested in further tests with visual problem solving and acid.


Tripsitting 2

I’ve tripsat around 50ish people, and have noticed a trend where some men, generally quite polite while sober, will make uncharacteristic sexual advances to me while tripping. The advances mostly come in the form of silently caressing, holding, or groping me – pretty casually, as though we’re already sexually intimate. This puts me in an awkward position, because as their tripsitter, I feel responsible for facilitating a good experience, and rejecting someone on acid can be super unpleasant for them. I usually respond by pretending I have something to do somewhere else, or gently pulling away, if I can.

I know there’s a strong cultural taboo against unwanted sexual contact, but in this context I want to emphasize that I feel no judgement and I don’t mind. The contact wasn’t aggressive and I felt in control and free to leave. Plus they were on drugs.

I’m curious as to why this is a trend. I haven’t asked any of them about it yet. I don’t know what it’s all about. If any of you have experienced this I would like to know more.



I’ve found that, in general, tripping people tend to fall into one of two categories – either they construct beliefs, or they don’t. This seems to hold true across trips – people either belief-construct on all trips past a certain dose, or on none of them.

Belief construction is developing new and usually wrong beliefs while tripping – such as “that cat can hear my thoughts” or “I am communicating with an omnipotent being,” – which leave the person’s mind after the trip is over. I’d guess around 60% of people I’ve tripsat experienced this at least a little bit.

Normally when we ‘believe’ things, we have some sort of sensation that the thing we believe matches up with some sort of external reality. This is what we feel when we say things are ‘true,’ when we talk about ‘facts,’ or ‘insanity’. This sensation can permeate so deeply that we stop really registering that we feel it, like how a fish doesn’t feel water.

While tripping, this sensation is reduced or lost. Beliefs are still experienced, but without the feeling of matching up with ‘external reality.’ Once unbound by concerns about ‘truth’, beliefs start to feel like stories, and it becomes much easier for the mind to view beliefs purely for the benefits or comfort the stories provide. This can really highlight ways in which we lie to ourselves, because we lose the escape of ‘but it’s true’ to justify our self-deception. All we have left is “what are my incentives for believing this,” and the answers can be difficult. “You really believe this because you are desperate for love” or “because you like feeling superior” or “because you are afraid of being alone.”

All that’s left is “this is the way I have made it.”


An okcupid date

I don’t remember who proposed it, but I met him for the first time at my doorstep. Within ten minutes we both dropped acid and went to church. I sang all the songs joyfully, and at the post-sermon meet-and-greet I told everyone that I was god.



That was the reported dose, but in hindsight I think the tabs were stronger.

I spread out towels on my bed out of fear I might pee myself. I closed the door, turned off the music, ate the tabs, and laid down, alone and in silence.

The comeup came hard 20 minutes in. By 90 minutes time slowed so much that I could hear each individual rotation of the blades from the fan in the corner. I was writhing with overwhelming ecstasy, in my body and my mind.

By 120 minutes I could no longer see the room in front of me when I opened my eyes. I was no longer Aella; I had no experience of my identity, my beliefs, my expectations – I was an infinite series of conscious experiences, cruel and kind, suffering and prosperous. I was dreaming with my eyes open wide, with the knowledge that these weren’t new dreams, they were old ones, ones I’d had a thousand times before, and my presence here was a remembering, and in remembering was what existence was.

After a few hours I regained function enough to manage to hit play on a laptop I’d set up next to me. Time was so distorted that, while I recognized the music, I felt nothing from it; by the time one note had played, I’d forgotten the last one. It no longer functioned like music to me. This frightened me; I thought maybe I’d lost the ability to enjoy music, and the concern was enough to prompt me to skype call a friend and blabber nonsense to him until I finally regained my sense of self.

Fortunately I managed to get through the whole experience without peeing myself even once.

Facts vs. Truth

Years ago, a very liberal media source interviewed my very fundamentalist Christian father about his very fundamentalist Christian views on homosexuality. The outcome was a well-edited mash of audio-visual tricks that made my father look like a buffoon, saying and responding in uncharacteristic ways that highlighted the stupidity of what he was saying.

I did not feel sympathy. Even if the interviewers were not directly and literally honest, they communicated the “truth” behind his words – that of judgement, of intolerance, of irrationality – which I knew, from living with him, that he actually did feel – calling gay people ‘fags’ and ranting about the ‘gay agenda’ in private. In a way, I thought the interviewers sacrificed literal facts in order to reveal a greater truth. After all – my dad presented ‘literally’ would have showed him selecting his words carefully, making use of persuasive rhetoric, making his position look reasonable – and I believed that his position was obviously not reasonable. So really the interviewers, through their artistic use of interpretation, were actually doing good work with their alternative use of facts.

Several months ago I was stalked and chased down some deserted alleys in Istanbul. When the man charged at me, I screamed, and he stopped and fled, without touching me. When I told the story to my neighbors (who were going to help me translate to the authorities) they insisted that I lie and say the man had grabbed me – because if he hadn’t touched me, no crime had been committed and he couldn’t be prosecuted. And since we knew he was bad, and that he should be prosecuted, we should be dishonest about the literal facts in order to truthfully illuminate his badness.

My point is that we have an idea that sometimes facts aren’t the same as truth. That even if you say things correctly, you might give a false idea, and that sometimes saying things incorrectly is necessary in order to creatively reveal the true nature of reality. We sometimes forgive dishonest portrayals as necessary, particularly if we feel strongly or morally about the outcome.

It’s why we tolerate/love mockery and satire, or impassioned and exaggerated speech. It’s why we’re okay setting aside the ‘rational fact checking’ parts of our brain when ‘badness’ is happening – because deep down, we feel the facts no longer matter. Facts, even if true, can be misleading, can slow us down, can catch us in petty arguments over statistics or history, can distract us from things like protecting gay people or prosecuting would-be rapists. They can be used as weapons against us – if you’ve ever had a debate with an obviously-wrong person who is more technically informed than you, you know this frustration. Facts do not equal truth, at least not deep down in our gut.

And I don’t mean to say that this is bad or good. Was it a bad or good thing that I agreed to lie to the police about my stalker in Istanbul? I don’t care about whether or not this was moral – this is not the question I am trying to answer. Shutting down “caring about facts” has its benefits and drawbacks. All I am trying to say is that we do this. All the time. And to pretend that facts are facts are facts and that we only care about facts is an outright lie. Facts are useful when we can wield them for good, and misleading or distracting when others wield them for bad. We frequently care more about the feeling of truthiness, not the feeling of factuality, because truthiness always feels morally right, and sometimes facts feel morally wrong.

And so when I see outrage and disbelief about how people can support Trump after he repeatedly lies, contradicts himself, or displays a general disinterest in factuality, I feel like those outraged fail to understand this key concept. People supporting Trump are sacrificing facts in order to illuminate their ‘deeper truth’ in the same way I was sacrificing facts when I supported the pro-gay interviewers, when I lied that my stalker had touched me. They genuinely feel that the liberal agenda is ruining the country, and that sacrificing literal accuracy is a minor detour on the path to saving themselves and America. They are doing exactly the same thing that we do, except against us.

It is not a war of fact against fact, but rather truthiness against truthiness, with facts being used as weapons against each side.

If we want to step away from this, we have to be consistent. If I want to condemn Trump supporters for being tolerant of his lies, then I have to stop sympathizing with the pro-gay interviewers and I have to defend my father’s presentation of his views as he gave them. I have to tell the police the truth, even if it means a would-be rapist goes free. If Trump supporters do not get to pick and choose their own truth, then I don’t get to pick mine either.

10 Months of Acid

disclaimer: this is not typical acid use. There are many concretely ‘beneficial’ effects from lower, more infrequent doses

In 2014, I did on average 200-250ug of acid once a week(ish) for ten months, from January to October, or approximately 40 times. Doses typically ranged from 150ug-400ug, with tail ends of 50ug-600ug. Subjective experiences ranged from slightly glowing colors to complete loss of any contact with the physical world around me. I remember listening to a song, and by the time I heard a note in the song, I’d forgotten what the last one had been, and it didn’t sound like music anymore, just occasional ‘sounds’ piercing through once every few eons.

I had the ability to do this. I had savings. I lived in a house of accepting camgirls. Real life wasn’t getting in the way.

The first thing people usually want to know is why? Nobody gets addicted to acid. It’s unheard of. When people trip, they stay generally avoid it for several months. It’s usually beautiful, but intense, difficult, and often terrifying.

For whatever reason, acid was useful to me in a way that I’ve slowly grown to realize is not common in others. Every time I tripped I had the overwhelming sensation that the doors had opened and I was mainlining epiphanies from a direct source of truth. Every time I stopped tripping, it felt like those doors closed, and I forgot most of what I’d learned. But I wanted to remember.

So I kept doing it. Again and again, higher and higher doses. I needed to know. I produced art. I played music. I got very excited and tried to make everybody I knew do acid too.

drawn coming down from 400ug

When we imagine frequent drug use, we imagine it as a form of escapism – that real life is too difficult, that we want to shut down for a time. Acid is exactly the opposite. It heightened what I was aware of in my own mind, let me explore the way my own thoughts formed. It took what I was and shoved my own face in it. I couldn’t look away. There were times of deliberately induced and absolutely excruciating emotional pain, to which nothing in my regular life has ever come close. I did it on purpose. I needed to know.

It is very difficult to talk about the “things you learn” while tripping, because it occurs while in such a deeply altered state that language ceases to apply. It really is more about a way of looking – a very specific type of engaging in experience. “Thinking about the experience” defeats the point, because thinking about it is not the same thing as “having it”. Applying words to the experience is misleading by nature. Defining a thing gives it an outside and an inside, and thus you can never define the thing that is “always outside” – in giving it a term, in identifying it with boundaries, it is no longer what you are trying to say. The Tao that can be named is not the Tao. To name a thing is to give it form.

As time went on, I stopped viewing myself as a being separate from the universe. Sensations became interesting to watch, not motivating. I entered such a permanent state of utter peace and contentment that I stopped wanting anything at all. And by the end of it, I barely got out of bed, barely ate. My sleep schedule became erratic, as I woke and slept as I wished. I had vivid lucid dreams. I had stopped working almost entirely and was living off slowly depleting savings. Why would I work? Why would I do anything? I was…. not happy, not sad, I simply was. I was free of desire. I did not fear death.

And, ten months in, I realized that’s what I was looking at – death. I would compulsively whisper “I am dead” under my breath throughout the day. I was an empty vessel. And I realized, that if I kept doing acid, I probably would die, out of sheer apathy. I imagined becoming homeless, and that did not worry me. I imagined freezing on the street, and I embraced it.

I wasn’t terribly worried – but I had to make a decision. Did I want to continue down this path, knowing the end was oblivion? Or did I want to close the doors and return to the world of the living?

This choice and my decision occupies a very curious spot in my memory because I don’t really understand it, and it feels like the small center of something, like this was the thing I’d been circling around all this time. I chose life, as you can see, and I have the sense that my choice was inevitable, or that it wasn’t ever a choice at all – or as though it was a fundamental attribute of the deadlike state that I reject the state. Once I saw what the end was, the next step was to close my eyes. Or, really, the sight of the end and the rejection of it was done in one motion, like it is in the nature of seeing the end to shut your eyes. Something something quantum immortality.

The journey back was almost as strange and beautiful as the journey in. As my motivations slowly began returning, I found all I wanted was to forget. Whereas before I was trying to immerse myself in the knowing, now I was constantly attempting to shut eyes that were permanently pried open. No matter where I turned, the Knowing had been seared into my brain. It was like that feeling you get when you watch a movie and are suddenly aware that, just out of the frame, there are camera crews standing around the actors, and you stop buying into the story because all you see is the movie set.

I just wanted to pretend this was all real. I wanted to feel invested in myself. I wanted to feel upset, insecure, proud, happy, anxiety, anything. I wanted to stop knowing.

Before I chose life, I didn’t mind the deep nothingness I had sunk into – but after the choice was made, it became… not uncomfortable, but strange. I felt like I had abandoned an old lover, like this constant twinge of pain, like a splinter in my throat I couldn’t dislodge. I thought constantly about tripping again and being reunited. I did acid in my dreams.

Over time, almost without me realizing it, the eye slowly eased shut, like going to sleep. I started to find myself caught up in moments of investment. I started to feel insecure again, annoyed. And it was shitty and amazing.

It took about another ten months for me to return to roughly where I’d been when I started.

I’m mostly normal now, with only a few remnants. Sometimes certain types of conversations will trigger it, where I’m sitting there and suddenly the eye of the universe has turned on me and I am melting away. It is very intense. I don’t mind, though. That’s a fundamental part of the feeling, really – that I don’t mind when it’s happening.

I feel like I’ve pulled the wool over my own eyes. I’ve bought into this world. It is profoundly comforting in a way so subconscious it’s difficult to identify. It’s as though at all times, behind my ears, there is a powerful belief whispering it’s okay. I chose this. I am full, I am held. I am not afraid anymore, and when I am, it’s because fear is interesting, because I have the privilege of feeling it. I am so grateful to get to hurt.

My underlying motivation now is to convey this awareness to others (or feel as though I have). It seems like the most important thing, the only important thing. And so here I am.*

* The effects of taking this much have only continued to sink in and settle over time. I no longer feel some of these things. I have lost a large chunk of my desire to communicate, and I have increasingly intense episodes.