I was twenty-one years old on a perfect late 2002 summer eve in Westland, MI, meeting up with some new friends.
My initial idea was that we’d get blitzed on liquor, as was my social norm back then. However, my friends had another idea:
One of them said: “Let’s do some ‘Tussin.”
Me: “What the hell does that mean?”
Friend: “Robitussin. Cough medicine.”
Liquor sounded like a much better idea, still. Reliable, tried, true. Adult.
But I figured hey, it’s just one night out of my whole life. Let’s ‘Tuss it up.
So, I chugged my eight ounces of what I’d later come to refer to as Satan’s rectal blood, and other endearing names.
It actually wasn’t so gross the first time, for some reason. Not ideal, but serviceable.
What ensued was the best night I’d ever had up to that point. Or top three or so, anyway.
It is difficult to explain what made it so great. My “robo-trip” didn’t hit me for hours, and I was certain the whole thing was a waste of time and money, and probably dignity.
There were four of us, sitting in the grass of my friend’s front lawn, talking about life.
I felt nauseated, so I asked my friend if I’d still trip if I threw up. He said he didn’t know.
Only one way to find out…
I loaded the grass next to me with my previous meal, while experiencing an otherworldly sensation that can only be described as a thousand burning needles puncturing my scalp all over.
It was hot and electric, and it changed my whole being. My trip had started. My words were fast and formed in sporadic clusters.
“Ifanyone everasksyou, if theyare gonna stilltrip ifthey throwup, youcantellthemyes!”
Everything about reality was new and weird. Euphoric and intriguing.
We all conversed into the night like we’d known each other forever. Everything that everyone said was vital, important.
Bodily movement was difficult, and I found it hilarious. I couldn’t walk but an inch or so per step at a time.
“Babysteps!” I cried out gleefully.
I could tell you a hundred random details about that night, but none would bring the point home.
Let’s just say, from then on out, liquor had lost its luster.
I hung out with that particular group once a month or so throughout fall and winter of 2002/2003.
And we were all about the ‘Tussin. Specifically the active ingredient, a cough suppressant and dissociative called dextromethorphan (or DXM).
Each time we robo-tripped, the experiences got weirder and weirder, more and more profound.
The spectrum of profundity varied from visual distortions (webcam vision, reality seeming animated) to social connection (we felt psychically connected, and inherently intimate) to totally weird and inexplicable states of consciousness that shattered my perception of existence.
Describing those states is an arduous challenge, because the memories of them often faded away after tripping.
All I knew is that I was experiencing something deliciously profound, and I wanted to understand it more deeply and clearly.
Coming down from a trip in winter of 2003, I told my friend: “I think the drug is trying to tell me something. I feel like I’m on a mission. There is a sense of progression from trip to trip. I’m moving towards something.”
My friend concurred with all that.
Figuring out what DXM was trying to tell me gradually became the most important thing in my life. A deep, turbulent obsession.
That’s when I started doing DXM by myself. I was consumed by a need to remember the fading revelations. My mission felt crucial, important, as if the very fate of the world could even hang in the balance.
I never could have foreseen the extent to which my DXM use would cause havoc in my family and social life, though.
As I developed a tolerance to the drug, the dosage increased. I used frequently, so my tolerance escalated quickly.
The more I used, the heavier the toll on my body and mind.
Sometimes, my friends and I would get pure dextromethorphan. Back in the early 2000’s, all you had to do to buy some was go to an online pharmaceutical merchant and click a box saying that you’re a pharmacist.
Pure dextromethorphan trips were out-of-this-world back then. Quite literally. I found myself leaping between realities, exploring distant parts of the world, and the depths of outer space.
It was terrifying, and I loved every moment of it.
Once my consciousness became a digital options menu, as in a videogame.
Another time I flashed back into the body of Jesus Christ as he was being beaten before his crucifixion. I could feel my teeth getting knocked out of my gums and floating around in blood within my mouth. I was much relieved to flash back into my own body, laying on the floor in my apartment. Teeth intact.
There are a lot of different possible ways for a DXM trip to impact a person. There are nostalgia trips, future trips, laughing trips, nightmare trips, abstract trips, out-of-body experiences of many varieties, psychic experiences, and deeply profound spiritual revelations.
The revelations were my favorite, but they were the rarest…
I couldn’t ever control what kind of trip I would have, so my tendency was to acquire as much DXM as I could, and take it for several consecutive days. Each day, the trip would become progressively more intense, and if I got lucky, I’d find the most peculiar place in my mind where it was like I was face-to-face with God.
I remember feeling a cool breeze on my face in that place, and for a split second or two, I reveled in a godly sense of pure and absolute wonder.
But before the wonder could register, I was ripped out of that place…
After using copious amounts of DXM for a week or sometimes more, my body was a total wreck. While I recovered, I couldn’t walk without leaning on walls. I drooled on myself. I couldn’t communicate properly, and I felt like my atoms were being smothered and drained of life.
So, you can imagine what the non-DXM users in my life thought of all that.
And even my friends who used DXM turned away from my radicalism eventually.
Leaving me all alone… to do more DXM, of course.
Sometimes after overdoing it, I’d swear, “never again.” That’s how miserable the recovery process was. But I couldn’t stop, even when I wanted to.
I also extracted a sense of nobility from feeling like I was on a dangerous and important (and highly misunderstood) mission.
In 2006, when I was nearly twenty-five years old, I finally had what I might have referred to then as the ultimate trip.
I experienced a simultaneous Oneness with past, present, future, and all living things. It was completely overwhelming, but perfect and beautiful in every way.
I was one everything that’s ever happened and everything that ever will.
The Alpha and Omega.
It’s true: Cough medicine is the most compelling reason I am not an atheist.
After a dirty LSD trip gone haywire in March of 2006, I got into some trouble with the law. I stopped doing DXM while on probation, but picked back up where I started in 2007.
Actually, back then, I had totally stopped looking at DXM as a positive thing. My inability to stop was a great point of contention with myself. I wanted to be “clean.” Most of my trips were diluted and worthless at that juncture.
…until mid-2008 when I realized I was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
That was a wild ride. I got there by taking DXM every day for weeks, but actually going out and about in society instead of sitting on my ass at home. I wouldn’t sleep for weeks at a time. I was in constant contact with angels, who I sent to do my bidding, and I experienced miraculous synchronicities on the regular.
I actually tried to get my mom and dad to believe I was the second coming of Jesus. I was going to lead the world to the rapture, baby. Woo!
I didn’t have a label back then for the mindset I was in, but now days I know it as “mania”.
In my mania, I made some incredibly disconcerting choices. When you think you’re God of All and that nothing can touch you, restraint kind of goes flying out the window.
I was freaking out and/or pissing off everyone around me, and my social life utterly imploded. In late-2008, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital and got into some more trouble with the law.
Legal problems have a way of stopping mania dead in its tracks for me. I lost sense of my “Jesus kick.”
In 2009, I kicked my DXM addiction and focused on reinventing myself. Went to school. Learned how to be social again. Learned how to live without drugs.
During my five years sober from DXM, I lived a lot. I was a stepdad for a while. I became a 4.0 student, and was leaning towards a career in treatment of addictions. I held a job (a rarity for me) at the college, helping students with their writing. I was also a yoga instructor.
I was surrounded by people who loved me, and who I loved very deeply.
But I was restless…
I became discontent…
In September of 2014, I used DXM again. However, the experience (documented here) was short-lived and I was able to move on from it rather quickly.
Actually, somehow my short relapse seemed to benefit me. I found myself in an ultra-mindful state of mind for several months afterwards, and I think that’s attributable at least partially to DXM.
However, that mindset didn’t last into 2015. I started to slip. There were a lot of stressors in my life at the time, and I began to feel directionless and restless to the extreme.
I thought if I started using DXM regularly again, my life would be over.
Maybe that didn’t end up being so far from the truth, but not in the way that I thought.
I documented my inevitable relapse in a series of videos called Realtime Relapse.
I felt an immense sense of relief that I was allowing myself to do DXM again. It felt in a way, like coming home.
On the first night of my DXM reversion, I had an intriguing experience in which a young girl appeared to me in my mind. She looked like Alice in Wonderland.
She told me: “You’re about to go through a season of your life that’s more depressing and horrible than anything you have faced so far, but in the end it will be worth it. You will lose everything that’s important to you, but keep going. Hold the vision. You’re doing important work. You are not lost.”
Part of me wondered if the little girl was an elaborate concoction created by my addiction, to fool me into continue using.
If that was the case, it worked. DXM was back in my life, full-time.
And the little girl was right about the depressing and horrible things to come…
My friends, my job, my reputation, my academic career- none of it survived the aftermath.
In June of 2015, when I was thirty-four years old, I experienced yet another shift into God-mania.
It was different this time though, and before I say how, I want to point out an underlying mechanism of the shift.
During a lot of my DXM trips up to that point, there was a sense that I was building something in my mind. I’ll call it a tower, for lack of a better word.
One phase of the trip was the building of the tower. But then another phase of the trip came, and the tower fell apart.
Each time I tripped, I’d get more of the tower completed than the last time. Or I’d be able to hold the tower together for longer before it came apart.
On the night of my shift into God-mania, I completed the tower in its entirety, and it didn’t fall apart. Instead of the phase of destruction, it was like my entire being “gained a level.”
I perceived the light in the room brightening. Majestic music played in my head. I felt invigorated and more awake than I’ve ever been.
The reason it was different than it was in 2008 was because all the knowledge and experience I’d integrated into my being since then changed the nature of the mania.
I no longer saw myself as the literal reincarnation of Christ, but rather saw humanity as a whole as the sleeping Christ.
I began to see the biblical “rapture” as the awakening of Christ in humankind, and a collective shift to a higher dimension of awareness.
All the friends and colleagues I’d made in Academia were decidedly unready for my God-mania mode.
Nor was my family.
I found myself homeless for most of the summer and part of the fall. Using lots and lots of DXM. Having adventures like you wouldn’t believe.
It was the most thrilling chapter of my life, but eventually what I perceived as rejection from my family and friends accumulated to a fever pitch. My behavior became more and more erratic and unstable, and I got into trouble with the law yet again.
I spent all of 2016 on probation, most of the time sober from DXM. But I couldn’t wait to return to my quest. I knew that I would use DXM again the moment I could do so without legal repercussions.
My fixation was with reducing the stigma about DXM and many recreational substances in general, and highlighting their utility as genuine conductors of human transformation.
I’d developed a temperance with my DXM use, in that for a time I was only using once a month. I’d become convinced that using during a full moon produced a more useful, positive trip than using at other points in the lunar cycle.
But during these times, I’ve been living with family that doesn’t agree with my odyssey.
Our fights have been ugly, to say the least.
Throughout the past few years, the little vision girl’s prophecy about my life becoming devastated came true. But I was on a spiritual mission, and I was determined to keep going…
I also spent some time earlier in the year in a mental institution, in which I was heavily medicated and the manic features of my DXM use had subsided. My determination died, and with it, my sense of purpose. This led to a dire depression, and suicide seemed inevitable.
I have mostly completely avoided DXM use since March of 2018.
Until recently. I thought that maybe I could genuinely improve myself by using it.
My trip was very bad. One of the worst I’ve ever had. My body hated every minute of it. My mind wasn’t fond either. My soul, crushed.
So much for self-improvement.
Then, I was able to clearly and concisely say to myself:
“DXM is chaos.”
Yes, it has features that could help people, but it also has destructive tendencies.
It probably could be used in some way as an alternative treatment for depression, but in my experience it is also it is much more unpredictable and unreliable than is ideal.
It has been difficult to let go of the belief that I am on a mission in the service of humankind. This quest has been a precious part of me for a very long time, a part of me that I fiercely defended with all my might over the past few years. I was willing to let my life get burned away, largely because of a vision of a little girl in my mind telling me that it was all OK.
But life is chaotic enough already, without me taking actions to make it moreso.
I used to honestly believe that DXM could be tamed and channeled for personal transformation and a better world, and that’s why I was so stubborn about it.
Because I thought I was doing the right thing.
But when I look back on all the friendships, aspirations, opportunities, and potential that were destroyed as a direct result of me thinking I was doing what was right, I cannot justify my actions anymore.
I’ve had to admit that many of my past actions which I thought were being guided by a higher force, were actually selfish, cruel, and hurtful to others. Some people haven’t forgiven me for the things I’ve done, and I used to harbor resentment for that, but now I am seeing more from their eyes instead of just my own.
I’ve found myself in an era of my life in which I am nearly forty, I have no social life, I haven’t worked in over three years, and I’m feeling broken and confused. I don’t know what to do, but I know it is my actions that have led me here.
I need new actions to take me to new places…
DXM is a powerful and amazing chemical, and I hope that if there is a way to use it for the greater good, that someone figures it all out.
But that someone isn’t going to be me.
I’m doing my best to let it go…
Also published on Medium.