Anatomy of a relapse part 5: bad trip

Tip of the Iceberg — Image by © Ralph A. Clevenger/CORBIS

On September 6, 2014, I made a choice that could have cost me my life. In this six part series, we’re journeying back to analyze how I slipped into a DXM relapse and what I did to self-stabilize and avert catastrophe.

This is part five of six of a series.

For context, please first read: part one (Losing Grip), part two (Onset), part three (Health Care Barriers) and part four (Understanding Addiction).

Anatomy Of A Relapse Part Five: Bad Trip

This is, by far, the weirdest entry of the Anatomy of a Relapse series.

Weird, because drugs are weird and do weird things to brains, which are also weird. Life is pretty weird.

With that out of the way… hold onto your hats, here we go.

September 9, 2014

I’d taken forty Robitussin gel caps, downed eight ounces of cough syrup.

Mind and body, given over to dextromethorphan.

What I’d just taken would combine with the DXM lingering in my system from a couple days prior.

The cumulative mental consequences would be outrageous, the trip enormous.

Counted on it.

What I did not foresee was that by the end of the night, I would know beyond a shadow of all doubt that my years of excessive self-destruction were finished.

Completely done. Consummatum est.

I’ll tell you how I think this happened.

In order to paint the whole picture, though, three pieces of background information may be useful. Three puzzle pieces.

Their connectedness may not be immediately apparent, but hang in there. We’ve come this far and we’re almost out of the woods.

Puzzle Piece #1: A life-changing book

Last December, I read Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant.

The basic premise challenges the reader to vow to say “I love myself” both internally and aloud as many times as possible throughout daily life.

Eventually, the book claims, the words stick.

I tried it, and it worked. I loved myself.

Reading the book and applying its principles helped me navigate a deeply unsettling period.

Yet after a while, I gave up the practice.

Started to seem silly to me, unnecessary, irrelevant.

Got swept away and distracted by drama and chaos.

Numbed myself with alcohol and mega-portions of junk food.

For much of 2014 I rather hated myself. The loneliness and weariness felt unbearable.

Meditation, the subconscious, and brain waves

In his book, Mr. Ravikant promotes meditation to embed and reinforce self-love.

During meditation, our brain waves tend to reduce in frequency.

This causes the subconscious mind to be more receptive to conscious suggestion. In less receptive modes, subconsciousness is difficult to influence.

Subconscious beliefs drive our behaviors, whether we’re aware of the beliefs or not.

That’s part of the reason we do super-weird, incomprehensible things sometimes.

In normal waking state, brains usually produce beta waves, or 12 to 27 cycles per second (hertz, abbreviated hz).

Some types of meditation can downshift brain waves to theta frequencies, or 3 to 8 hz.

While generating theta frequencies, the subconscious usually lets down its guard. Becomes less rigid, more open to change.

This is precisely why professional hypnosis works so well for behavior modification (such as quitting smoking).

(There are many, many common misconceptions about hypnosis, but diffusing those is a matter for another day)

Essentially, the downward brain wave shift is fundamental to self-love meditation’s effectiveness.

One more time:

a) Inducing relaxation makes deep mind more permeable, receptive.

b) From that state of receptivity, affirmations of self-love and care can influence self-perception on a subconscious level.

c) Compassionate self-perception on a subconscious level correlates with equally compassionate conscious thoughts and behaviors towards self.

Puzzle Piece #2: DXM and brain waves

Dextromethorphan is a dissociative chemical.

At high doses, it produces dissociation in its users.

Dissociation from the external world, mostly. At the steepest doses I’ve ever taken, I dissociated from my very identity.

(It felt like being nameless blob of energy floating through outer space; no body, no history, no memories, no humanity)

There is not much scientifically credible research available on DXM’s physiological effects in the context of recreational use. is the most comprehensive and credible source of DXM information I know of. Even so, much of it is based on anecdotes and conjecture.

However, after over seven years of committed use of the chemical, and a basic academic knowledge of brain wave frequencies, it can be said with reasonable certainty that DXM downshifts its users’ brain waves.

From beta to theta, making the subconscious permeable, like with meditation and hypnosis.

A common theme of my DXM experiences has been frantic images, seemingly random, romping through my perception.

It’s similar to inexplicably strange thoughts and zany images often experienced on the verge of sleep, except more vivid and unrestrained.

These mental patterns, whether on the edge of sleep or on a dissociative like DXM, may be related to theta frequencies.

Main point to take away from this puzzle piece:

During a deep DXM trip, the subconscious probably becomes receptive to suggestion.

Puzzle Piece #3: My search for meaning

Mentioned before, a primary reason I was so consumed by DXM for years was because I felt like I was doing important work. Was on a mission.

In the deepest regions of my mind, there was a profound sense of being on the verge of the meaning of life.

Felt like a holy crusade. My search for God. Quest for truth.

Rarely, and always after two or more consecutive days of DXM use, I’d stumble into a mind-blowing corridor of myself.

There, a sequence of symbols would flash before my mind’s eye.

Back then, perceived it as a message from a higher power.

In awe of this “divine message,” deciphering the symbols became a priority of supreme importance.

Thought if I could figure out what it meant, I could change the world. Be important. Relevant.

Problematically, I could only remember the symbols when I was there, in that internal sub-basement.

And I only knew how to get there on DXM.

In waking life, there were only vague, incoherent recollections.

It was simply impossible for me to access the specific memories from a fully conscious, beta state.

This led to a relentless obsession. To see the symbols as frequently as possible, to embed the images in my consciousness, to comprehend their meaning.

To take the meaning back to my reality.

Leave my mark. Make my legacy.

(Even if it sounds insane, does this give context to why I used so much DXM?)

Combining the pieces

So, these are the three puzzle pieces:

1. Reading Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It and rigorously practicing its principles for a short time.

2. DXM probably causes brain waves to shift to slower frequencies, opening a door to the subconscious.

3. Main reason I got so wrapped up in cough medicine to begin with was to decipher a seemingly important sequence of images I saw in some of my deepest trips.

Don’t know of many three-piece puzzles, but our puzzle could snap together something like this:

Nerdiness slumbers but never dies


Right off the bat, my second relapse trip was not carefree and euphoric, like the first.

During the chemical’s onset, I worked on my forthcoming novel (Reversion: A Cautionary Tale to Myself— look for it on Amazon in 2015) while engrossed by music.

Then laid down, watched chaotic videos play out in my closed eyelids.

But it wasn’t my narcissistic wonderland anymore, not like the first time.

More like a narcissistic nightmare.

Writhed around on my back, at times violently.

Clawed at my face to subdue a merciless itchiness.

Wouldn’t know until later, but my fingernails broke skin on my upper cheek, near my temple.

Nimiety (too much)

Even in that stupor of pandemonium, I remembered:

I have twenty more gel caps.

Locating them was no simple matter, though. The surrounding physical world didn’t make sense to my sizzling brain. I practically tore apart my room in frantic pursuit of that final bottle.

I groaned, recalling countless past instances of being strung out and looking for things.

Looking for keys, desperately, in places they couldn’t possibly be (like the refrigerator). My wallet.

My marbles.

One of the side effects of prolonged DXM use? Incessant looking for things.

Eventually, found the pills. In my pants pocket, of course.

As I prepared to devour them, a voice arose from deep in my mind.

“Please don’t do this,” the voice pleaded.

It was a tired, trembling whimper.

I paused a moment. Considered the voice’s request.

Then, rolled my eyes and chuckled mockingly. A mischievous grin danced across my lips.

Defiantly, filled my mouth with ten pills. Swallowed.

One or two got stuck in my throat, an abrupt cough resulted.

The irony always amused me, coughing while eating cough medicine.

I washed the stragglers down.

Ten more to go, down the hatch.

Then, I retired to the floor. Flat on my back. Like the old days.

Vaguely recall thinking, you know, it would be okay with me if I don’t come out of this. If I die. I’m ready. I’m so ready.

Sometime later, felt my mind shift. Downward brain wave shift, I presume. Theta waves.

Like taking an elevator, descending to a lower level.

At an intersection of consciousness and subconsciousness.

In daily life, consciousness is the tip of an iceberg.

We can’t usually see what’s going on beneath the tip, in the subconscious.

Yet at that intersection, I could see right into it.

And it was ugly. Awful. Chaotic dimension of suffering, agony. Hellfire and shadows. Gnashing of teeth.

Face-to-face with my indescribably potent brokenness.

Redeemed by compassion

In the depths of my own pain, my heart mourned for itself and all its brokenness.

It cried and throbbed, as it would for a hurting friend.

I saw myself for the wrecked person I was, and fully realized how earnestly my soul pleaded for mercy, compassion.

I needed love. More than anything.

Then, I remembered.

Kamal Ravikant’s wonderful little book.

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On it.

Right then, my life did depend on it.

(Buy the book. It’s affordable, powerful, and a super-quick read)

Thus, I called out with all I had left into the open door of my subconscious:

I love myself! I love myself! I love myself…

Not sure how many times. As many as I could.

I spiraled and spun around in my mind’s darkness for hours to come, deeper and deeper to who knows where.

Until eventually, those symbols came to me. The old, awe-inspiring images I used to chase.

The ones that compelled me to abuse myself with dextromethorphan for years and years.

The sequence flashed before me. I observed curiously.

But something was different this time.

That something was me.

I saw the inner pictures for what they actually were all along: smoke and mirrors in my brain.

Clarity came over me, and I realized: the symbols were never important to begin with.

I imposed priority to them, because I wanted to be important.

But when I was younger, I had no idea how to be important, no notion of what that even meant.

My self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy were non-existent. My competence not yet established.

Yet I strove for relevance anyway, thirsted for it, sacrificed myself to obtain it.

That’s why I latched to DXM in my early 20s and held on for so long. Because the chemical escorted me to seemingly sacred, secret places within. Where I demanded to find the significance I was ill-equipped to produce on my own.

I used to entertain delusions that drugs were my portal to significance. Felt powerful. Felt chosen.

But I had yet to learn to choose myself.

Coming of dawn

In the darkest morning hours of Wednesday, September 10, I realized my need for DXM was a sham. Always had been.

From the beginning, I’d fallen into a self-laid trap. Oblivious to my own delusions every step of the way.

Delusions disguised as sense of purpose. As destiny.

In the light of that Wednesday dawn, I knew there was nothing left for me to find in my sick, wasteful embrace with DXM.

The relapse was over. Without a trace of doubt.

And for some reason or another, I felt head-over-heels in love with myself.

(Thank you for being you, Kamal Ravikant)

Excitedly, I opened my eyes. Rose to my feet.

Was an uncoordinated mess, had difficulty forming words. But I called my mom.

(She has been through more hardship than anyone else I know of as a result of my years of DXM. Miraculously, she never gave up on me. I needed her to be the first to know my inner storm had ended)

Asked Mother to come over. To have a ceremony of sorts, and burn the packaging of all the DXM I’d put in me.

That lady, being the trooper she is, hurried right over.

Together, beneath a refreshingly light rain, we scorched the DXM bottles and boxes in the back yard.

Looked on as it all crumbled to indistinct ash in the grass.

And where there is ash, there may just rise a phoenix.

Also published on Medium.