Twice in the last month, I performed MDMA-assisted self-therapy in an attempt to banish some self-loathing I’ve been dealing with since childhood. It was astoundingly powerful. The experience took me from feeling like I was maybe 65% towards liking myself fully to feeling like it’s weird that I ever disliked myself at all.
It’s not like I’m oozing with delight over every moment of my existence, but I can’t even really find the shame that used to bother me so much. I look back on experiences that used to revolt me to the extent I could barely acknowledge them, and now what I feel is, “oh, yeah, that doesn’t matter,” or, “that’s a learning experience, use it to do better, not hate yourself.”
For public benefit, I am documenting my experience in more detail. But first, two points of order.
1: My knowledge of this use of MDMA is thanks to notably positive internet people Nick Cammarata and Tasshin Fogleman. Nick tweets about this sometimes, and Tasshin mentioned it in his excellent loving-kindness manual.
2: MDMA is not zero-risk. If you don’t have experience with it, please read this FAQ, and all the basic stuff on Erowid. Know that, while most side effects of occasional MDMA use are mild, there are very rare instances of psychosis, some that take months to resolve. They’re uncommon enough that we don’t know how uncommon they are—could be one in a million, could be one in 10,000—and we simply don’t know much about this, period. (This paper reports 12 cases in the clinical literature in the 90s in Europe, only one among a first-time user, which seems quite low, given how much ecstasy was done in Europe in the 90s.) Rare side effects aside, chronic use in anyone can fuck you up. This is a tool, not a lifestyle. Oh, and, given that drug purity is less certain these days, you must test your stuff, or make sure that someone else has tested it. Finally, it is probably against the law where you are, and I would never advocate breaking the law, obviously.
3: This is not the only way to take care of self-loathing. You don’t have to do drugs. It’s just one method that was really powerful for me. Outside of this, I’m a big believer in Internal Family Systems and loving-kindness meditation. They were both taking me in this direction already, MDMA just accelerated the process considerably.
Oh, and, here’s a brief preamble about shame.
Self-Loathing Is Sneaky, Self-Assurance Is Amazing
You might not think you have issues with self-hatred, or a lack of self-assurance. On the other hand, some of the following things might be true, and these are indicators that you don’t totally like yourself:
You feel anxious if people you’re talking to are not aware of your qualifications or status, even in cases where there’s no reason that should be important.
Often, you make involuntary grunting noises or flinching gestures as you recall a shameful experience.
You experience thoughts like “this isn’t the sort of thing a person of my station would do,” or “it’s okay for me to suffer, I don’t want to inconvenience other people by raising my needs,” or “it would be impossible for me to change this thing about myself.”
Quiet is difficult for you to enjoy because your mind immediately goes to merciless examinations of your behavior, or paranoid visions of your hypothetically dark future.
As well, perhaps you think self-love or self-assurance is kind of an indulgent thing to develop. I think this is completely wrong, and that it’s a gift everyone around you, as well as yourself. Consider a few benefits:
If you like yourself more, you can be more honest with others, because you know that if they don’t like what you say, you’re okay with being disliked—your self-opinion is strong enough to withstand friction.
It’s easier to listen to and empathize with people when you’re less focused on advancing a certain image of yourself during interactions.
When you’re less focused on the management of your inner reputation, there’s greater absorption in outside experiences, and thus a more easily accessible richness in life in general.
When the idea of fucking something up or looking stupid is less threatening, it’s easier to contemplate trying new things.
Taking care of yourself (eating better, exercising, taking care to maintain important relationships) is easier and more pleasant when it’s done from a place of genuinely wanting to help yourself, rather than fearing that you’re not optimal.
These are benefits I’ve seen unfold gradually over the past decade, as I went from “suicidal mentally ill person” to “anxious but basically holding it together person” to “pretty happy, centered, fulfilled person.” This didn’t all just happen because of MDMA. But the MDMA created a significant upward jag. And the process kind of feels done now. Could I get more self-assurance? Maybe, and maybe that would be fun. But the damage seems gone.
Both times, I took 150mg of MDMA, basically alone, but with my wife nearby, in case I wanted to talk, or I had some sort of medical issue. Both times, the intent was the same—to do intense, loving, and focused introspection throughout the experience. I took the MDMA, put on some ambient music, waited to feel the effects, got under a blanket, and closed my eyes.
(By the way, 150mg is reasonable for me, but if you’re new to MDMA, you do not know your tolerance—start lower, boost if you feel the need, measure precisely, don’t do it unsupervised.)
The introspection was kind of similar to loving-kindness meditation, but interspersed with some extremely basic talk therapy stuff done in my head. Basically, as soon as I felt that classic open-hearted MDMA glow, I tried to cultivate a feeling of love for myself, and, so equipped, went through every reason I could have for hating myself, whether general (I’m funny-looking) or specific (in 11th grade, I was an asshole in such and such a fashion.) I then forgave myself for each one, or tried to reframe the perception. (For example, I’d think, “nobody has your face, the people you love like it, and mainstream gorgeousness isn’t what makes someone worthwhile,” or “yeah, you shouldn’t have behaved like that, but you were a kid, and you were just scared and looking for approval, which is super normal.”) Nothing about the process was super intricate: I just went down the inner list of infamy.
I thought this would be challenging. I imagined vigorous and subtle inner debate, and anticipated that there would be some obstacles just too heavy to move. Instead, it was startlingly easy. The feeling of ironclad emotional safety and total openness that MDMA gives you when speaking to others is even more profound when turned inwards. Whereas I pictured it being like doing a psychological swordfight, it was more like popping bubble wrap.
The first time I kind of fucked up. MDMA makes me very social, and I couldn’t resist the impulse, about halfway through the three-hour high, to grab the computer and get lost in messaging some of my friends. It was still a fairly nice experience, but not as impactful as it could’ve been. The second time I didn’t use my devices for anything other than note-taking purposes—I can’t remember things I think on MDMA very well—and music. This experience was much, much, more powerful. Remaining introspective was challenging, but rewarding. The inner focus created an intense emotional feedback loop, bringing more and more pain into view and tearing it apart, faster and faster. It was so efficient that, partway into the second trip, I actually felt myself being done with the resolving trauma part. I was like, “oh, cool, I’m a worthwhile person, that was easy.”
Having ticked that item off the to-do list, I was free to entertain thoughts like, “what would it look like for me to be more loving,” “in what ways do I need to develop the courage to love people more deeply,” and “isn’t it amazing to be a tiny piece of the universal consciousness, and how can I bring that sense of sacredness with me when my chemical climate is a little more standard.” At the end, I didn’t resent anyone in my life, and felt like I was deeply okay, concerned with nothing except how to give more love to myself and the universe from now on, as well as the pursuance of my normal daily activities.
I’ve had two categories of positive psychedelic experiences: those that seem life-changing but are transient, and those, smaller in number, that create stable change. This is definitely in the latter category. I am just not so interested in getting bummed out about myself anymore.
As well, it’s much easier for me to summon feelings of love for myself and others. The day after the second trip, I was watching TV with my wife, and I started feeling an intense swell of love for her, a whole-body luminescence comparable to the overwhelming waves of infatuation that marked the first days of our relationship. I thought, “oh, this is a nice transient effect, but it probably won’t last.” I was wrong: now, during loving-kindness meditation, when I focus on her, or contemplative moments during normal life, I can summon this glow fairly easily. I’m still thinking about what this is, but I’d guess it’s something in the area of “when your self-image is not of concern it clears the way for greater love for others.”
I am left feeling that MDMA is mis-advertised. Most people know it as a powder that can transmogrify a normal dance party into a religious experience. A smaller number know it as a bonding tool that can lead to unusually deep, secure conversations with others, combined with some pleasing somatic effects. It’s quite good in those applications. But, as a self-repair tool, it appears to have awe-inspiring potential.
I can’t promise similar results. Spiritual experiences and psychological breakthroughs are irritatingly path-dependent. No one thing will work for everyone. But, should you choose to take the risk and duplicate my procedure, if your results are 10% as positive as mine, it will represent a significant mental upgrade. And, if you do have a similar experience, you may find the outcome difficult to believe.