Can a Single Pill Change Your Life?
After Hour Four, my mind is picked clean. It's hollow and badly bruised, like a pumpkin with its innards roughly scooped out. I'm aware of a panic just beyond my recognition. I can't stop saying, "My mind is blank." I point at a table. "That table has more going on in its head than I do."
Eli shrugs. "Okay, so be the table," he says. "People do years of meditation trying to get where you are now."
"But I don't want to be where I am now." I fumble around looking for—what? Frustration? Fear? Resignation? I can't feel my feelings.
"Your mind has run a marathon," Eli tells me. "It's exhausted. You've done good work here today, Jessica. You're going to be okay."
And he's right. In the weeks that follow, I read voraciously, I see more of my friends, I crave exercise. Junk food holds no appeal; nor does Facebook or other online time-wasters. I don't duck away from mirrors. When a colleague seems irritable, I wonder if she's having a bad day, rather than racking my brain for what I've done to upset her. Friends keep saying, "You're just different." Riding my bicycle through the park, I find myself engaged in a dopey interior monologue: "Hey, legs! You're doing a great job, legs! Go, go!" MDMA has turned me into a dork, and I like it.
In retrospect, I figure that hours one through three of my session showed me what was possible—a mindful existence defined by love, gentleness, curiosity, nerdy enthusiasm—and the diabolical Hour Four showed me the splattered-Expressionist-canvas version of what I do in miniature every day: flog myself for mistakes years after the fact, obsess over a poorly chosen word here or a social fumble there. It was awful to look at, but perhaps only then could I grab hold of it and throw it away. Though I tried MDMA out of professional interest, weeks afterward I feel like the beneficiary of a wildly successful scientific experiment.
Which isn't to say that there's anything scientifically valid about my MDMA experience. It's purely anecdotal, like most of what we know about this drug. Michael Mithoefer's study is the only one of its kind; his second trial of MDMA-aided therapy for PTSD is now under way in Charleston, focusing on veterans of the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funded both Mithoefer trials, is also trying to get studies of MDMA-aided psychotherapy off the ground in Israel, Jordan, Canada, and Australia. Even if these studies are enrolled and completed, though, that brings the tally to perhaps 100 subjects—a statistical blip.
But here's another anecdote. A few weeks after my MDMA session, I accidentally e-mail a blank file to the entire editorial staff of O. Instead of what would normally happen—heart pounding out of my chest, flushing, sweating, apologizing compulsively, days of ruminating about how stupid and careless I am—my fight-or-flight mainframe simply does not respond. Nothing. It couldn't care less. As dozens of e-mails drop into my in-box ("Why are you sending this to me?" "What do you want me to do with this?" "???"), I politely respond to each one. Then I gaze out my office window at the blazing autumn colors of Central Park and absorb the, yes, ecstatic news that I've acquired a brand-new nervous system.
I don't fully understand how it happened. I don't know if this smooth-running equipment is only on temporary loan to me, or how durable it is, or if I could have obtained a similar upgrade with a placebo. By the time you read this, it may have broken down. But with every day that passes, this mode of being feels less and less like a drug-induced delusion or some kind of euphoric hangover. It doesn't feel like an escape from myself. It just feels like me.