Citation: thereforeiam. "An Alien to Myself: An Experience with Mushrooms (exp104895)". Erowid.org. Oct 29, 2020. erowid.org/exp/104895
What I am about to relate was the strangest, most frightening experience of my life.
BACKGROUND (skip if you like)
I am 19 years old as I write this. I come from a very religious background of conservative Protestant Christianity, and was a zealous believer until around 10th grade, at which point I began a long, difficult journey away from faith. I spent the next years of my life searching for truth in various philosophies, religions, and spiritual traditions (including one year spent depressed out of my mind because I was convinced I had no free will) but have never experienced closure about the truth of any one viewpoint. My journey is far from over. I still have immense respect for sincere and open-minded religion, but I don’t think faith is for everyone. I feel it is best for people of spiritual inclination who initiate the journey themselves. Currently, I consider myself somewhere between agnostic, pantheist, and solipsist (i.e. I have no clue).
In my freshman year of college, my friend D was kind enough to introduce me to marijuana, which totally changed my world. My first few times smoking, I simply enjoyed experiencing an altered state but didn’t get much out of it spiritually. I indulged in occasional “stoned philosophy” for fun, but didn’t realize the extent marijuana’s spiritual value until later.
The turning point in my experience with cannabis came after a brief panic attack. I was having trouble breathing, my heart was going crazy, and I had to lay on my back and force myself to calm down. I had smoked way too much, and it was my first time with a sativa strain. As I relaxed, I felt an immense sense of warmth and benevolence, as if I was in tune with the vibrations of the universe (that was how I described it at the time). I should also note that I “trip” a little bit on pot. I experience some nice bodily dissociation, have a signature sensation of my head turning into a ball and turning 360 degrees (like an owl), and get very pleasant and expansive closed eye visuals as well as some colorful open-eye patterns if I’m looking at a plain surface in relative darkness. Yes, it’s awesome. I consider myself very lucky.
After that point, I began to do extensive research into entheogenic substances. For the next half year I was utterly fascinated by the topic, and absorbed as much information about it as I possibly could with the hope that I would someday get the opportunity to experience some of the amazing experiences and insights that psychonauts talk about.
THE ACTUAL TRIP
In short, I began smoking more frequently (sometimes too frequently, I’ll admit) and by fall semester of sophomore year had begun the search for a contact from whom I could procure psilocybin mushrooms, which for some arbitrary reason I had decided would be the perfect substance to introduce me to the world of the psychedelic experience. I was lucky enough to befriend a total stranger (N) who turned out to be a psychedelic enthusiast himself and whose dealer sold mushrooms and LSD. We hit it off right away and made plans to trip the next day. He encouraged me to trip on acid for the first time, but I opted for mushrooms because of anxiety about the length of an acid trip and some fallacious thinking about organic being better. I invited some other friends whom I had met recently (all experienced with psychedelics) to join us: Z, L, and N. My twin brother would also be partaking, as the beginning of his curiosity about psychedelics coincided with my own (though I knew a bit more about them). This would the first trip for both of us. He had never met my friends (which should have been warning sign #1), but this didn’t strike me as a potential problem. It’s also important to note that he was in recovery from a mild body-focused impulse disorder, and despite being a wonderful person has a generally negative affect.
N and Z purchased acid while my brother, L, and I bought 2.5 grams of psilocybin mushrooms each. I fasted for almost 24 hours before proceeding to eat the mushrooms in N’s dorm room at 5:30 PM (they don’t taste as terrible as people say). Upon ingestion, I felt totally at peace with myself and with the trip I was about to take. As far as I could tell, I didn’t bring any anxiety in to the voyage. L then drove us over to Z’s more spacious apartment, assuring us that we needn’t worry because the mushrooms would not take effect for another 20 minutes and the drive was 10 minutes at most. So we began to make the short ride to Z’s place (it was snowing so he didn’t feel like walking…I wouldn’t have minded). As a side note, I began to feel horny during the drive there (sometimes I get the same way when I’m high) and wasn’t sure how to deal with that. Anyway, getting in the car with L was a bad choice. We all started feeling the mushrooms by the halfway mark of the drive, and at one point, L accidentally drove up on a curb which shook up N a lot (he was already mid-trip). We got to Z’s safely, but I’ve learned my lesson.
Don’t get into a car with someone who just took psychedelics. Don’t let them reassure you. Period. It’s a stupid thing to do and you don’t know how fast they might start to take effect.
I got out of the car and the trip hit me full force. Judging by my experience with the marijuana high, I’ve found that the timing of different stages in an altered state aren’t so much due to the neurological “coming on” of the substance as they are to your psychological state and shifts in setting and physical action. When I’m high, the second it crosses my mind to monitor how high I am, I start coming down. The second I get up to get munchies from the vending machine, I break the trance like state and can’t reclaim it even when I return to my original setting. But I digress…back to the mushroom.
My legs felt weak and my head was floating as I made my way to Z’s apartment. It wasn’t unpleasant, but lacked the wholesome feeling of a spacey sativa “head high” (my only basis for comparison). We got inside and my friends began to unpack instruments and jam. They were all excellent musicians and the music sounded amazing, but still failed to keep my attention. It struck me that we were all like cartoonish cavemen amusing ourselves by playing with objects (instruments in this case). I wandered around the apartment, played with the sink, went into Zach’s room, looked at myself in the mirror, and experienced the overall strangeness of the trip. I recall only a few true hallucinations: my hand turned green and aged before my eyes, the ceiling began to ripple, a hanger on the wall began to move by itself, the picture of my girlfriend on my phone took on a scaly, reptilian quality, and I saw some unimpressive patterns projected onto plain surfaces. Nothing particularly groundbreaking. I experienced very few closed-eye visuals, which I considered strange since I get these all the time when I’m high. Visual hallucinations were maybe 25% of the trip; the other 75% was where the substance took my mind, and that’s what gives the experience its power.
Visual hallucinations were maybe 25% of the trip; the other 75% was where the substance took my mind, and that’s what gives the experience its power.
I began to talk with my friend Z about what I was experiencing. The more I interacted with my environment, it struck me how alien everything was. Concepts that I previously took for granted seemed foreign to me, as if I was confronting them for the first time. I had to remind myself of who I was, where I came from, why I was going to school. I was able to recall whatever I put my mind to, but memories didn’t come readily. Even the most familiar thoughts had become strange to my altered consciousness. I had lost the human framework through which I had always interpreted the world. I had to keep asking Z if all this would make sense later, and he assured me that it would. Despite all of this weirdness, I was ok. I was a bit uncomfortable with the place my mind had taken me (somewhere halfway between scary and amazing) but I was enjoying it at the same time. I giggled as I thought of how odd this new world was, and even the feel of a pillow or a piece of fabric seemed enough cause for laughter. I had imagined mushrooms being a very cerebral trip, but it all seemed profoundly somatic, as if my mind had ceased to be the seat of abstract thought and retreated into my body in a very primal, animalistic way.
I returned to the living room where the rest of the group was playing instruments, and listened to the music for a few minutes before deciding to go outside. I had been hoping for the ecstatic sense of love and unity with the universe so often talked about in trip reports, but found that the things I was seeing were nothing but plain old weird. There was nothing poetic or beautiful about it. Just pure, unadulterated alien-ness. I decided that a change of environment might do me good, so I assured the guys that I wouldn’t do anything stupid and left the apartment. My brother insisted on coming with me, so we went outside together. I wish he hadn’t. I wanted to be alone, and social interaction forces me to stay suspended between two worlds. You can’t really immerse yourself in your environment or in your own mind. It’s a sort of psychedelic limbo and not an ideal place to be.
This was when it struck me: “what was I expecting?” I had been hoping for some sense of heightened spirituality, perfect beauty, connectedness with nature, and the presence of God. Instead, I had entered a world that, though thoroughly real, was utterly alien to me. I can’t say much about it other than that, because my surroundings were qualitatively no different than it was before I had taken the mushrooms, nor did they strike me as different. The true difference was in the impression it made on my mind: I was face to face with weirdness disguised as consensus reality.
I decided that my journey outside had done little to change the mood of my trip. From where I stood I could see a buzzing highway, particularly ugly university architecture, and the general hustle of modern life. This wasn’t the haven of natural beauty I was looking for when I headed out. The only difference was that it was cold (it was still autumn but there was already a dusting of snow). My brother felt the same way, so we headed back in.
This was where it took a turn for the worse.
We climbed the stairs to the apartment, where there’s a bare, chilly, dimly-lit hall between the stairwell and the entrance to the living room (a bit creepy even if you’re sober). I was ready to go inside but my brother didn’t want to. He wanted to stay in that hallway, and asked me to stay and talk with him. At first he seemed ok but the more we talked, it surfaced that he was beginning to have a very bad trip. On top of disturbing closed eye visuals and the impression that my friends’ faces were expressionless masks, he had been undergoing the same dissociation that I had. While I was more or less comfortable with this defamiliarized world and was confident that everything would make sense when the trip ended, he was suffering almost complete amnesia. I had to remind him of the names of our parents, our home address, that he was a college student, and of the fact that he had taken mushrooms only an hour and a half ago.
He was overtaken by an intense despair, and slouched in the corner of the hallway. He told me that he felt like dying, and asked me if the window in the hallway was high enough to end his life if he jumped from it (it wasn’t). At this point, my trip began to take a bad turn as well. The alien qualities of the experience that before I had been able to deal with suddenly became seeds of doubt about my own sanity. While I was generally able to reason myself out of the depression that the same thoughts inspired in my brother (I kept repeating to him that we had both taken a drug and that this world, though uncomfortable, was just reality seen through a different lens), these thoughts still caused great anxiety. Part of me was scared that I had taken something akin to the “red pill” of the Matrix movies, and that there was no turning back. Would the world be forever strange to me? Were the familiar things that once brought me comfort and a sense of safety forever beyond my reach? I felt no longer human. Human ideas and values had lost their meaning to me. I thought about my future, and the idea that when I graduate I will find a job and work for money, maybe get married, perform the same routine every day…and it all made no sense. Not in a logical way, but in an emotional way. It seemed absurd. I tried to connect with my past by remembering the words of the Bible, but it was only with great struggle that I recalled the basic teaching that “Christ died for our sins”. Even then, I couldn’t connect this idea that once directed my life with any personal meaning.
I kept trying to convince my brother to come inside and join my friends. They were good people, I said, and they wouldn’t hurt him. But he refused, saying that he didn’t know them and felt scared to be with them. I went back inside a handful of times over the next few hours, and almost immediately felt the anxiety lifted in the presence of others. But I could only stay for one or two minutes at a time, because I was worried about my brother’s safety and sanity. In all, I probably spent 75% of the trip in that creepy hallway as I attempted to talk him through his existential crisis (he chose the worst possible spot to linger during a bad trip, but in the moment he coulnd’t see this). He eventually reached the point where he began to come down and was able to go back inside. He reported feeling much better when he did.
We put on Selling England by the Pound by Genesis and sat back to enjoy. By this point, my trip had ended. I remembered reading that mushrooms trips last anywhere from 4-6 hours, but my experience had lasted barely 3 hours. I guessed that this was because the bad portion of the trip took away any positive momentum it once had, it settled prematurely around sober. After an hour or so of talking with my brother and Z (who reported his acid trip “syncing” with ours and ending at the same time, despite LSD’s longer duration), we all decided to smoke. I found the ensuing high to be incredibly therapeutic in alleviating the unease I had suffered during the trip, but even as I write this I get a bit disturbed thinking about how, for a few hours, I had all but ceased to be human and become an alien to myself.
In retrospect, I realized that what had been happening to me was the first stages of “ego-death” sometimes reported by trippers. While “ego-death” is often described as a positive experience of loss of boundaries and immersion with the universe, I believe that it occurs in two varieties. The first is “ego explosion”, in which one’s sense of self expands to envelop the surrounding world. The second is “ego implosion”, in which one shrinks down into oneself, and consequently cannot see beyond one’s own boundaries but also suffers dissociation from within. I believe that this second type was what I began to experience during my trip, because the claustrophobic environment of the creepy hallway and pulling someone else through a bad trip didn’t allow me to truly “let go” and surrender to the journey. Otherwise I believe that I would have had a wonderful experience.
For the next few days I felt a tension, as it something was left unresolved. My trip had been a tease. I only had about 45 minutes to really soak it in before it went sour, and even now I feel as if the mushroom is calling me back to return to those realms. Next time I take mushrooms, I want to undertake the trip alone, in nature, on a warm day (or night), and perhaps with a higher dose. I can also hear Terence McKenna whispering in my ear to go for a 5 gram, solitary, complete darkness, ego-shattering experience, but I can’t speak for the wisdom of this advice at this point. But I do know that next time I need to totally let go, to be blown away and shattered and reassembled all in one shot. Whether figuratively or not, I do believe that different plants have distinct personalities. Cannabis, for example, is kind and benevolent but with a subtle spiritual depth that can be tapped by those who want to experience it. The mushroom, judging by my own experience and the testimony of others, is neither kind nor sinister. It is neutral and indifferent, inhabiting a totally alien plane and challenging the psychonaut to enter its dimension with no guarantee of safety.
I hope to journey again with the mushroom in the next few months. Until then, I will anxiously wait as I hear whispers beckoning me back to that strange world. I know I’ve only scratched the surface.
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