what used to seek
what used to pierce
what used to sear
but please don’t look away
what used to seek
what used to pierce
what used to sear
but please don’t look away
Three hundred years ago he moved from Bern and changed his name from Aebi to Avey to sound a bit more neutral, a bit more American. I’ve been thinking more about what it means to be American. Who, how, why. I have some reference points. It was easy to move to Germany. Music I know is everywhere I go. My Colombian father-in-law told me to hide my passport because it might get stolen. I underestimate that blue cover. The public schools and libraries. Hiding a heritage of human sorrow and potential. Somehow still allergic to this land. Poison oak forms a resistance on the trails we blaze. Oozing with red bumps, making me question the way. I’m the non-native species. Make it more American. But how? From the jazz to the mundane. Paint the spectrum black or white. The distance between what you know and want to know lies in what you create. Between places you’ve been and places you can’t imagine. How could it be so hard to write under your parents’ roof when they gave you every neuron? Drive north on the 1. A loud bed and breakfast might be awkward. Let’s take a quarter and go explore. Another pioneer couple walking on a boneyard of tree branches. Looks like beach cheese. Sitting halfway up a Monterey cypress. Staring at the setting sun with the moon to our back. This place makes me sleepless. I heard a man inside the wall with a pickaxe. Crumbling down the structure from the inside out. But then the mother of slumber blacked out my vision with her placement of fill-in-the-box. I’m home. Horace Greeley might have told you to “Go west, young man,” but I’m called by the wild poppies and cortaderia. Those here before us. Junipero Serra paved the way, killing with faith. Priests on a mission overlook young women. Left out of the literature. I’m pulled in by the Pacific, the way redwoods hold on to their neighbors’ roots. Prioritizing nourishment. A church turned grocery store. Looking at another “All Are Welcome Here” sign made Sam ask what that says about other places. A bold statement against a dark reality. But damn this place is hard to reach.
The transition from fully committed to quitting was slow to start. My hours of operation started to sync with my circadian rhythm. The 9–5 became 8–3. Mornings were so efficient that by midday, I’d be fried. Done with screens, done with meetings. So I’d leave the office early.
On a microdose of acid, I’d feel completely in tune with my energy capacity, unable to ignore the afternoon dip. There was no more gray area of hanging around the office or poking around on Twitter, letting the time slip as the outside world turned. No more “should I stay or should I go” debacles in my head. I couldn’t sit (er, stand) at my desk any longer for the optics of working a few extra — unproductive — hours. I realized the work would never be done, so it was up to me when to go. And as soon as I felt accomplished for the day, I’d slip out the door. Down the stairs. Into the sunlight.
I didn’t initially start microdosing at work for the professional edge like many people in tech. I started to manage shifting moods that made it hard to leave my apartment. To feel better just being. And it worked. I felt happier and more comfortable within myself. I took it on workdays because I wanted to stay consistent in my regimen (one day on, three days off). Heightened imagination, concentration, and energy at work were really just nifty side effects. But eventually, this new way of feeling, thinking, existing made it much harder to spend time in the office.
After microdosing for six months, I didn’t progress at work; I quit.
It’s easier to establish a voice after leaving home. Surrounded by expression so foreign from my own makes me feel more alone. And there’s comfort in the solitude. Background voices merge into a mush of sounds. Hidden in a cafe, away on a train. Language becomes noise. Until I hear my own. That familiar accent pierces past and I distract. Mind deciphers meaning. “We sold two so far.” “She was so wasted she couldn’t stand.” “Should I be writing this all down?” The words of others crowd my mind and expel any I want to read or write. Familiarity pauses attention. Everything stops. I fall under a spell of the known, craving the strange again. Lips moving in silence. Everywhere I go, one language turns up the volume and pulls me back. Drowns out stream of thought. The others become a sea of sound I can sense, but not grasp. A loss of comprehension can liberate. Submerged in the unknown, searching for significance. An inner voice becomes more clear. More distinct. I can think.
Where the sidewalks stop. Sending a letter in the mail can cost you 120,000 COP/41 USD, but a joint 2,000 COP/.70 USD. Every new apartment comes with servants’ quarters attached to the laundry room. Buses and trucks push black clouds into your pores. Would you like meat with your meat or more meat? Men, this. Women, that. Everyone is looking. ¿BIEN O QUE? Run before you get hit. Breast and butt enhancement. Worship God and a virgin. “Oh my, how this place has changed.” Hasta abajo. High interest rates at banks. GOOOOOOOOL. Thunder. Fruit you’ve never tried. Grocery lines that are never express. Rat tails. Arepas con quesito. Please take a number. Maximum capacity. “No, no, really, hire a driver.” Mr. Tea at the country club. Pico y placa. Unfinished buildings, unfinished business. Días violentos en la comuna 13. Mazda, Mazda, Mazda, Renault. Venezuelan migrants trying to get their families out. Saturday sin, Sunday mass. “Yo no creo en las brujas pero que las hay las hay.” Numerology readings and pink quartz somehow under your pillow. European backpackers flocking to resort hostels to sit on the beach and drink beer. Selfies so they know. Chicharrón everything. “Restaurants don’t let me park my taxi outside when I’m a customer, so I don’t really eat out.” Don’t question, have faith. Buenas. Nonconsensual reggaeton. Got cut in line for the cable line. +DMT, -TV written all over the city. People say hi. Hooks under the table. Don’t give papaya. White lace on a five-year-old girl. Her brother almost went priest. Juice with added sugar or milk? Postobón brings the family together. Weekend lunches into TV marathons. Magic realism can’t extinguish the trash fires, but the butterflies are real. Long tees asking if you wanna buy some coke. More likely perico (not the bird). Trauma. Un tinto, porfa. Bricks. Near misses on motorcycles. Feedback loops break with a punch in the face. Two condors poisoned in Tayrona. “It’s God’s Will.” Cream paint job with tinted windows. Still a patrón. Don’t say his name. Salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, vallenato, champeta. Brave bicyclists wearing facemasks. Nada cambia. Single/American/male tourists who often refer to themselves as digital nomads and openly cackle over the conversion rate. Parents hustling candy at traffic lights. Sniffing gasoline will suppress the hunger. Medellín es una chimba. A child begs for money while an older man watches from a distance. The leaves will breathe it all in and spit it all out until the valley suffocates.
Just one inhale sent me falling backward into my pillow. A phantom in my mirror sat up from my body, then walked away. My eyelids shut, and I shot into space. Flying through vibrant tunnels of geometric patterns and down paths not unlike Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road, I eventually landed on “the other side.” Everything was white and black, simultaneously. I seemed to be standing on firm ground in the clouds, with the agency to navigate. I was in the void. There was no distinction between high and low or here and there. Though I’m not religious, Ganesha — Hindu god of beginnings and “remover of obstacles” — appeared. The elephant figure pulsated in the center of my vision as several arms swayed up and down. I was awestruck, eager to explore. I turned and faced a large audience, a sea of young Asian boys. (Don’t ask why. I know it’s specific.) They were all giving me a thumbs-up, cheering me on. Smiling eyes roared in unison: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Erica. You’re doing the right thing.”
At this point, my roommate opened the door, and the visions evaporated. I told her, “I’m on DMT. Please shut the door.” The room returned to silence. The walls seemed to be morphing and dripping with sheen paint. Then, just as suddenly as I’d blasted off, I made a gentle landing back to sober consciousness. I checked the clock. Only 20 minutes had passed. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” But now, several years later, the psychological benefits of that experience continue to crystalize.
That was it. Just one bong rip of DMT — also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a molecule found nearly everywhere in nature and a powerful hallucinogenic — sent me out of this world. I had no idea it would also send me the precise message I needed to hear as a 20-year-old trying to figure out my life.
Like many young people, I went through a period of feeling uncertain about everything. What to do, how to be. I was depressed, skipping class, avoiding responsibilities. (Smoking pot all day didn’t quite ease the existential anxiety.) To escape this inherent developmental discomfort, I used all sorts of substances: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, sketchy pressed pills, various pharmaceuticals. But psychedelics were always different. Rather than a diversion from reality, they provided a meaningful and direct confrontation with my inner self and this outer space we find ourselves tucked into.
On larger doses of LSD, I’ve seen divine feminine figures in kaleidoscopic vision. All women in one woman, or me. Yoni, apparently. On psilocybin (four grams, a doozy), I once forgot everything about the world, including myself. Even my name. Rediscovering everything as I returned from the fog renewed my appreciation and awe of existence. When you forget that music exists and hear a song for what feels like the first time, even T-Pain on WiLD 94.9 can bring tears to your eyes. On ketamine, the most mundane information transforms into divine comedy. And on MDMA, I’ve connected more deeply with people I love. Once I even saw green energy sparks coming out of my hands after rubbing them together. I was able to see the unseeable.
Each of these seemingly sacred experiences has brought me closer to what feels like my most “authentic self.” And while the psychedelic experience has historically been written from a male perspective, with an emphasis on ego loss as the big shebang, that recurrent theme has been a bit less profound for me and other women I’ve spoken to about psychedelic visions. Maybe ego loss is less focal to the female psychedelic experience because we’re primary caregivers biologically. Maybe it’s neurochemically and socially easier for us to “lose ourselves” in flow states of caregiving, such that becoming aware of a lack of boundaries between ourselves and the world may be a bit less mind-blowing. Instead, reaching an inner state of pure self-compassion, giving my ego a damn hug for once, and being reintroduced to myself sans judgment has been paramount. Some space to say: It’s okay. You’re okay.
Reflecting on all the substances I’ve taken, DMT stands above and beyond the rest. DMT delivered the words of encouragement I desperately needed as a young woman to “find my way.” Not a degree. Not a boyfriend. Not a grade on a paper. Not a like on Instagram. I needed to know within the deepest part of myself that I was okay; I was enough. A very basic human need that comes more naturally to some than others.
That brief message brought me back home within myself. And over time, it made it easier to ignore self-doubt and distractions from my truest goals, dreams, and desires. The things that make me talk too fast. The things that make me write. The things that make me feel full: love and learning. The things in this world that need some editing and rewriting.
People familiar with DMT will often ask, “Did you break through?” And I did. After cosmic travel — whether in a spacecraft or within your own mind — your perspective is bound to shift. Anxiety lifts. Everyday trials and tribulations seem more petty than before. Spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant, because, according to the laws of universe, it’s going to be okay. Really, you’re doing just fine. For anyone who grew up programmed to think otherwise — that they’re not good enough, that they should conform like this or dress like that, that they deserve less — a psychedelic experience can help send those negative thoughts out of orbit. DMT politely called bullshit on all that disorienting psychosocial conditioning that surrounded me as a young woman, and then said: Keep going.
Saying goodbye to Berlin. All the history, the hofs, the cafes, the dark hallways. Messages in bathroom stalls. Strangers and smirks and lit uBahn station tiles. The haircuts, the black. Dogs waiting outside Lidl off-leash. Seven spätis on my block. The canal. Sourdough brötchen for breakfast, with extra butter. The zimt rolls. Working at Clue. Kotti. The first time I tried to pronounce Straße. The complaints and the appreciations. Grey skies in winter. Fucking February. Sonnenallee. Hermannstraße. Karl-Marx-Straße. An apartment all to myself. Quiet mornings. Summer sidewalk seating. The smell of cigarettes. Nah? Sunset at 4pm; sunset at 11pm. Candle-lit bars. Clubs with no phone policies. Femme attire including white sneakers on the dancefloor. Faces full of speed and ketamine. Event poster on event poster on event poster on event poster. The first warm day of spring. 3€ slices at Pazzi. Buying groceries at the Schillermarkt. Cherry blossoms and momentous parks. Eyes on thighs and catcalls. That one pitbull on Dresdenerstraße. She’s not there anymore though. Grunewald? Bad pot at Hasenheide. Learning the proper sauna regimen. Nudity. Being scolded by an aufgussmeister. Seeking bougieness in Mitte. Falafel und halloumi teller, bitte. Azzam. (But Maroush is better.) Reminding grown men not to litter. Open air festivals. Feeling empty then full. Looping thoughts. Australians, Australians everywhere. Natural wine. Getting into Berghain. Not getting into Berghain. The wedding caravans of honking Mercedes. The wedding dress shops of Neukölln. The chocolate cake at L’eustache. Ambulance sirens. Keith. Blaming and praising Angela Merkel. Sitting topless at Tempelhof Airport. Funkhaus. Being called Frau. Spilling gluhwein at Christmas markets. Unapologetic PDA. Still saying hella. Babies in backpacks and bike baskets. Abandoned TVs and mattresses. Cryptic heartbroken messages. Gold plates under your shoe. The Ausländerbehörde. A mountain made of rubble. Trees you wish could talk. Rides on the front of his bike. Music everywhere. The people. All seeking and leaving and finding and hiding and yearning and making and changing. See you soon/never/always.
Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where it all comes from and where it is leading? You well know you are in a period of transition and want nothing more than to be transformed.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet
Reason is unquestionably a fine thing, but reason is no more than reason, and gives fulfillment only to man’s reasoning capacity, while desires are a manifestation of the whole of life — I mean the whole of human life, both with its reason and with all its itches and scratches. And though our life in these manifestations will often turn out a pretty sorry mess, it is still life and not a mere extraction of square roots. After all, I quite naturally want to live in order to fulfill my whole capacity for living, and not in order to fulfill my reasoning capacity alone, which is no more than some one-twentieth of my capacity for living. What does reason know? It knows only what it has managed to learn, while human nature acts as a complete entity, with all that is in it, consciously or unconsciously; and though it may be wrong, it’s nevertheless alive.”
– Fyodor Dostoevsky
Notes from Underground