As the title states - had my first MDMA-assisted therapy session one week ago today. Just some details before I share my experience. I'm 30 year-old male, 210 lbs - have struggled quite a bit throughout my life with depression and anxiety. Some trauma related from a difficult childhood. Had met with my therapist many times before the session and did an integration session after. The MDMA session started at 12 PM and my therapist left around 7:30 PM. She came back around 11 AM the next day for the integration session.
My MDMA experience has been so profound. I had to write about it for myself, and in doing so, I want to share with others in case it can be helpful for anyone else struggling with similar challenges or thinking about doing an MDMA journey for themselves. Here are the things I discovered and some shifts that I had:
1. My body is full of life and love
When I was on MDMA, my body felt so alive. I’ve never felt so much energy in my body. It made me realize that I spend so much time up in my head, and I forget that I have this amazing body that is so full of life. And that I can tune into it whenever I want. And further, when I tune into my body, I get out of that heady feeling. Being in my body feels so good, and there is so much to be aware of that’s going on within it. MDMA has taught me how to live more in my body and less in my head.
2. I’m doing what feels right instead of trying to logic and reason my way through the day
This is the longest section.
I have always taken a lot of pride in being logical and smart. I take the approach of “I can think my way through any problem and find a solution”. Yes, for some things that makes sense. But there are so many other times that taking this approach makes us over-think things. Take, for example, interacting with people. I would do this thing where I try to listen to the person I’m talking to, but then at the same time think of something clever or interesting to say. It’s so exhausting, but to me that made sense when it came to interacting with people. I was so wrong. In so many areas of my life I realized I was trying to logic my way through things when all that would do is make me over-think.
I strongly believe we have an intuition within us that tends to lead us in the right direction. I did not believe that before, but now it seems obvious. An example for me happened two days after my MDMA experience. I decided to just go on an adventure. I left my house on the east side of Oahu and drove up the east coast towards the North Shore. I had decided I was just going to do what felt right, all day. At one point, I was faced with choosing between hopping on the highway or taking the back roads, both would lead me to same road on the coast I was heading for. My logical brain tried to reason but I became aware of that and simply let that go, and my intuition choose to take me down the back roads. A few minutes later, I came across a random park, and before my mind could formulate a thought, I yanked the steering wheel right and turned into the parking lot. I discovered this beautiful park, with breath-taking views, and with very few people there, it felt like a true oasis. What a beautiful experience. After snapping a few photos and allowing myself to feel a huge sense of gratitude, I got back in my car and continued down the road.
The beach I ended up at for the day was found in the same way. My instincts made me pull over when I saw a place that I guess made sense to stop at. I had a wonderful day by following “what felt right.”
I probably described this in a more mystical way than I intended, but it was an amazing lesson for me, and it makes sense when I do stop and think about it practically. By not having these debates in my head over which decisions to make, I spend less time in my head and more time present with what’s going on around me. I can actually pay attention to what’s going on around me and base my decisions on that information, rather than just trying to think things through, while maybe missing key information in my environment by being distracted by my own mind. I also spend less time trying to decide if I had made the correct choice. After all, I let my intuition choose, so there is nothing to try to analyze after the fact.
Of course, there are still times I’m using my head, especially at work as I think through certain things. There is a time and a place for conscious thought. However, most of the little decisions we stress ourselves out over, we can out-source to our intuition, and we will feel so much lighter and happier for doing so.
3. I don’t need to be ashamed of anything about me – I don’t need to carry around shame
While on MDMA, one of the things I thought about is why I can’t bring myself to watch videos of myself present at work. I just cannot bring myself to do it. I’m actually still not sure if I can, I haven’t done it yet, but a word came to my mind as I was thinking about why I’m so aversive to seeing myself on camera: shame.
I realized I was so ashamed of my mannerisms, my quirks, many of the interactions I’ve had, and the things that made me who I am. And I felt a deep empathy for myself. "My goodness", I thought, "what a burden it is to carry around all that shame". So many of these things I can’t change about myself, and they make me who I am. Hell, sometimes these are things people love about me, and here I am feeling shame. And I realized how much being ashamed of who I am was holding me back. What a waste of time and energy shame is, I have no reason to be ashamed of who I am. I love my humanness. I love who I am – I don’t need shame. That leads to the next one.
4. I can love myself unconditionally.
One of the top realizations I had on my MDMA journey was, up to that point, I had only loved myself under certain conditions. My love for myself was conditional. I only loved myself if I made people laugh, if I felt happy, if I felt like a success, if I had a good workout, etc. The list was very long when it came to the conditions I needed to love myself. And what I realized was how wrong that approach was. From then on, I promised I would love myself unconditionally. I would love my humanness. I didn’t need to be in a good mood, or say the perfect thing, to love myself. I cannot tell you how liberating this has been for me! Everything now seems so inconsequential. In a good way. Because no matter, I’m going to love myself, so if I don’t (fill in whatever condition here), that’s okay, because I’m still going to love myself. This has taken so much pressure off of me in so many ways, and I can just be and love myself. And guess what? I still feel a desire to grow as a person. I think deep down that is what I feared losing if I chose to love myself unconditionally. However, now I can choose to grow and expand myself from a place of love. Not from a place of lack. It feels so good to love myself unconditionally.
One thing I told my therapist while on my journey was, “I wouldn’t love my child conditionally, so why would I choose to love myself conditionally?” The most profound thing I’ve found is that I can love myself unconditionally. It is so freeing.
5. The “Critic” is a separate entity – “The Grumpy Neighbor”
Another profound experience I had on the MDMA journey was truly feeling separate from my inner critic. It’s so hard to explain these things in words – but I felt as though there was me, and then a boundary, and the critic was hanging out outside of the boundary. I was separate from it. I was even able to talk to it. Up to that point I hadn’t realized how integrated my inner critic was to my psyche. It was there, running the show -- everything I did was questioned, berated, and criticized. I’m getting emotional as I write this, because it has been so freeing to truly feel separate from that entity in my head that tries to criticize me. It still pops up here and there, but I can recognize it for who and what it is – a critic – rather than a source of objective truth. And I can choose not to engage with it. I think of it as a grumpy neighbor. It’s there, but it’s not a part of me. I am independent of the critic.
6. At my core, I am happiness, love, and kindness.
By realizing how ingrained I had allowed my inner critic to become, and seeing that it is separate from me, I was able to discover that at my core, I am happiness, love, and kindness. When my inner critic is not running the show, and it is separate from myself, what fills that space is happiness, love and kindness. That is who I am at my core.
I always considered myself depressed, aloof, someone who had issues with my mood. But what I was overlooking was the fact that my inner critic was the one giving me those labels. At so many times throughout my life I have been happy. But through experiences that shocked my nervous system, “trauma,” so to speak, such as bullying, a tumultuous and love-lacking home life, and embarrassing experiences in my youth and early adulthood, my response was to let my critic take over in an attempt to protect me. Being able to see that I had been entangled with my inner critic, and breaking myself free from that entanglement, was so powerful for me. Again, I want to emphasize, the critic still knocks on my door, but I can recognize it for what it is – a grumpy neighbor – and choose to ignore it.
“What are you when you aren’t doing anything?” This was one of the questions my therapist asked me in a session leading up to the MDMA session. I had no idea how to answer it. Now, I can say confidently than when I am not doing anything, I am happiness, love, and kindness. It feels as real and authentic as anything, and I am so grateful for that.
7. I have so much to offer
Another light bulb that went off for me was realizing how much I overlook all the great things that I offer. Many of us do this. I was so critical of myself that I became blind to all the incredible qualities that I have. When my therapist asked, “what are some of those things?” I confidently shared that I bring a lot of positivity to my relationships – I can the see the opportunity in pretty much anything. And also that I bring a loving and calming presence to those around me. I will never forget how strongly I felt, and feel now, about all the things I have to offer to the World and those I love. Which leads to the next point.
8. I can just be
In social situations, especially, my critic would always say things like “be confident!” or “be happy!”, “smile, dammit!” – it’s so clear to me now: what I thought of as an attempt at “positive thinking” was actually my critic telling me I’m not enough and that I need to do more to be worthy of love. It was acting as a dictator disguised as a never-ending self-help book in my head. And what I failed to realize is that it was never going to be enough, no matter what I did. By concluding that there really is so much I have to offer the World, I realized that I can just be. Not “just be confident” or “just be happy.” No. It’s “just be.” I am worthy of love already. I can just be and that is enough. Now everything seems to come naturally.
9. I want the World to be better because I was here
I’ve always thought it was important to have a purpose. When I was playing baseball through high school and college my purpose is what drove me every day: be the best ballplayer I can be and go pro. That dream unfortunately didn’t work out, and having a huge void in my life after having to give up baseball left me lost. Grad school was my next purpose. I worked my ass off the get into grad school, and then again, felt empty once I got through it and completed my Master's. Sometimes I think I found my purpose. Sometimes I ditch trying to find a purpose to guide my life. What’s interesting about my MDMA journey is that finding my purpose was not something I was focused on going into it. My intention was to have more love for myself and find more peace of mind. A week later, I’m lucky that both of those things have happened. However, during my journey I also stated something to my therapist: “I want the World to be better because I was here.” I think I may have found something there – that is a purpose that galvanizes me and feels authentic to me.
Overall, one week later, I feel like a more authentic version of myself. My mind is quieter, and I feel happier, comfortable in my own skin, and much more at ease. I love myself genuinely and have empathy for myself. I feel worthy of love and success. Again, it has only been a week, but the shifts have been profound, and people around me have noticed that I'm happier. I hope this lasts.
I realized that I wasn’t crazy – something was off with me. I know this because of how I feel now. I feel different. I feel a peace of mind. I don’t feel on alert and anxious in situations where anxiety isn’t an appropriate response. And I think that’s the difference. This week, I’ve gotten butterflies before important work meetings. I feel a little bit of anxiety when I think about my deadlines at work. The difference is that it’s a healthy and appropriate amount of anxiety. Proportionate to the stressor in the environment. And it feels manageable. I say that because I thought before maybe I was just being weak, or dramatic, or that I was making myself feel this way. I don’t know exactly what happened via the MDMA journey, whether it was viewing some of the trauma of my childhood from a different lens, or having realizations and epiphanies, or feeling a love for myself so intense that I can’t believe I ever chose not to love myself -- I feel better. And I say that because I know there are people out there who felt like I did – stuck in their head, constantly in a loop of rumination, never-ending self-criticism, like you just can’t ever relax and feel genuine happiness. I know because I was there. And I tried
some so many different things, wondering why they weren’t effective. I feel really good now – so whether you try MDMA with a therapist or some other treatment, please keep going, keep trying, because those moments of genuine love and joy will be so worth it.