Turning Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into Post Traumatic Growth
I have been following MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and Rick Doblin’s work for many years and believe that Rick’s efforts to legalize MDMA are extremely noble. I hope that MDMA is legalized and a scientifically proven protocol is established to help people transform Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into Post Traumatic Growth using MDMA. I have recommended patients to the MAPS trials and they have returned raving about being cured of their PTSD. I do not need any more proof that MDMA can be used as an effective treatment against PTSD.
However, I do not agree with the clinical explanations regarding HOW it works.
In 1996 while I was studying parapsychology at Duke, I would often say that, “Studying psi phenomena with science is like trying to measure milk with a ruler.” Similarly, I am unpersuaded that explaining corrective emotional experiences through words like “dopamine,” “serotonin” “neuroplasticity” and/or “vagal nerves” is the best way to help people understand how MDMA functions, how it will help them overcome PTSD, and how to cement that corrective emotional experience for lasting change. In short, how to shift Post Traumatic Stress into Post Traumatic Growth.
Here is the way I would explain how an MDMA treatment functions:
Firstly, MDMA gently overtakes your body as if you were standing with your back to the ocean and a tremendous wave lovingly immersed and embraced you in slow motion and gently guided you backwards into the sea. What it does, in my opinion, is serenely strip the layers of defense mechanisms that you built up over your core self for however long you have been alive. MDMA peels back your defenses, like peeling the layers of an onion, to reveal your natural state, before all of the defenses that your mind developed to compensate for the traumas you endured in an effort to try to protect you from potential future traumas.
Here is a simple and useful analogy: your mind has 3 files in it: past, present, and future. Unfortunately your mind keeps filing stuff from the past (mostly traumas) into the future file. Thus, PTSD.
Now just go with me here on two subtle points that I attribute to Lacan:
1. Speaking and the words your mind focuses on, in some capacity, are also part of your “defense mechanisms.” The things that are truly important in life — for example, love, your spiritual beliefs, your true emotions — are ineffable.
2. People subconsciously retroactively create idealizations about being in utero, where all of their needs were sated and they desired nothing. This is a fantasy yet I believe it is useful when understanding how MDMA is effective for treating PTSD.
When I did MDMA, if a camera had taken a photo of me from the sky, it would have shown me naturally curled up in a fetal position, as if I were back in utero. I was present and unconcerned about the past or future; I desired not much and if I had to put it into words I would say that underneath all of my defense mechanisms, what was left was a great ball of love. As I recently wrote, I fell completely in love with my breath, which means that my mind released its rumination mechanism and allowed my core self to simply “be.”
Not be covered by layers and layers of fears.
To exist beyond words.
To exist on the other side of language.
Beyond defense mechanisms.
I was truly a human “be-ing,” not a human doing.
So for me, MDMA is not a “cure” for PTSD. Rather, it should be viewed as an anchoring experience that allows us to temporarily and somewhat artificially release the defense mechanisms that our minds create and connect with our core self, which is love. That is how I would explain how MDMA treatment works.
As we grow up, particularly in a highly competitive and demanding society, we develop more and more defense mechanisms and compensations.
In addition, severe physical, mental and emotional traumas including betrayals and abandoments occur and our minds naturally project those past traumas into potential futures, imaginations, nightmares, etc. If you were walking down a road in Iraq with a buddy years ago and an IED blew him to pieces, it would only be natural for your mind to fear that horror occurring again and thus preemptively wake you up screaming at night. Knowing that your core self is love and having tools such as meditation to connect on a daily basis with that core self are obviously preferable to the typical symptoms of PTSD.
MDMA is not all hugs and rainbows. According to the laws of physics, what goes up must come down. So some time following that supreme surge of dopamine and serotonin there is a phenomenon known as “Suicide Tuesday”, a massive depletion of dopamine and serotonin that manifests as depression. Before anyone starts any type of MDMA treatment, they need to know what to accurately expect. Secondly, unbeknownst to most denizens of Los Angeles, San Francisco and other college towns, MDMA remains illegal so try to avoid any interactions with the police while you are curled up in a the fetal position lacking nothing. They might not understand.
I hope that Rick Doblin’s noble efforts are successful and I also hope that a new languaging is enacted that provides a more accessible understanding to Post Traumatic Stress and how to transmute it into Post Traumatic Growth by having an anchoring corrective emotional experience that unveils your defense mechanisms and reveals your core self, which is love.
If, for some reason, you are unaware of my personal interest in PTSD and PTG, just imagine the scars that the passenger in the below car has on his face and body: