I watched as the beautiful bay was transformed; where once my view was of sprawling water covered with ships, a snowy bank on the other side, clouds splashed out over the scenery. Soon there was nothing but a grey mass outside the window. I continued staring, staring, staring. Clouds started to come towards me. One got closer, and closer, until it crashed into my large sliding glass door, looking as if it might come inside and capture me.
This continued for hours – who knows how many – as I lay in bed, propped up by my pillows, barely able to use my legs. My phone was off and away as was my computer. No communication. No music. No TV. No book. No fucking anything. It was just me, the bay, the clouds, and the hallucinations.
Periodically someone would knock and enter my eerily quiet room, sparkles of the psychedelic substance still lighting up before my eyes. And it really did look like sparkles. The hallucinations were relatively mild by this point. When I closed my eyes wild scenes no longer displayed. My eyes open, I could see perfectly fine. I had no issues with depth perception anymore either. No, it was just like splashes, minor tracers, and a sparkle upon every surface.
A staff member would come in to check on me, and make sure there was nothing I needed. I cuddled my water bottle without drinking a sip. They brought me fruit. I had no appetite, but even in this state I couldn’t resist a few strawberries. Then off they’d go for what seemed like hours, before popping in again. Electrolytes. Soup. Veiled disguises to make sure I was fed, but also that I remained alive. Or, more importantly, somewhat sane.
“We’re all mad here.” – The Cheshire Cat
There were four addicts including myself at the Iboga detox centre. One didn’t speak very much. I can only assume he was coming off of heroin, the most common thing that Iboga is used to treat. One guy’s drug of choice had been fentanyl. Finally, there was the girl. While morphine and heroin were what she was there for, she longed for coke as badly as I did. It was coke that had always been her favourite.
She had been battling for many years, and had agreed to have a documentary filmed about her. It all started months back when she tried a mushroom ceremony to help quit her addictions. While it failed, it was this experience that told her about Iboga. Time to try something new.
Because they were filming a documentary about her, I was in portions of the filming. The guys didn’t want to be on film, but you know me – I’m all about sharing my story. I was in absolute awe when he arrived; I mean I knew he might make an appearance because of the documentary and his views on treating addiction with psychedelics, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up. The first morning – ceremony day – arrived and there was a knock upon my door. “Hey Danie! Breakfast is ready! Dr. Gabor Maté will be here in half an hour, so you should get up!”
Attempting not to fan girl the hell out, I raced out of bed and put my nicest comfy clothes on. So essentially, pyjamas that were somewhat not awful. You see, I’d just read Dr. Maté’s number one bestseller In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a book about his time working on Vancouver’s downtown east side – an area notorious for addicts – which expressed his theory that addiction starts with early childhood trauma. I loved his book. I loved how he fought for safe injection sites and studied psychedelics for addiction treatment. I adored how he looked at addicts – how he humanized us again.
And there he was, standing in the hallway of my detox centre. Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Like I said, no one but me and the girl the documentary was being filmed about wanted to be on camera. Though the staff wouldn’t have minded, they weren’t what this was all about. Dr. Maté asked what they’d like him to talk about. Oh, you know – his experience treating addictions, his thoughts on Iboga, etc., he was told.
That is not what he did.
Instead, Dr. Maté dug right in. He didn’t give a talk. He started with me, asking me very personal questions about my past and my childhood, digging right in to where my need for substances began. And I will tell you, it was intense. Part of my fan girl excitement faded, as I spoke frankly with this brilliant mind. Essentially, I had a brief therapy session in a large circle of people, on camera, with a very famous and well respected doctor. Yup, that happened. Maybe one day we’ll see it all in the documentary. But for now, that therapy session remains between me, Dr. Maté, my fellow addicts, and the staff.
This was all the morning of the ceremony. Once Dr. Maté left all excitement had vanished. I was nothing but petrified. I knew about all I could know about Iboga without having actually done it. I knew that it was one of the strongest psychoactive drugs known to man. I knew it came from Western Africa where it was done in ceremony. It had been proven to interrupt addiction receptors, and was primarily excellent for heroin addiction, but could work for other addictions – such as cocaine – as well. And I knew I was going to be high for 24-36 hours, going through hell but facing up to the inner demons that needed to be dealt with.
The others were given a pill or two prior to the ceremony as they were going through physical withdrawal. I had quit coke a week prior as I’d left Mexico, plus cocaine withdrawal is largely psychological rather than the physical added into the mix for heroin. I was the only one who didn’t need any pills early.
And so we sat in a circle, and the leader of the ceremony began to speak. As he spoke, one guy ran outside. I was far too distracted by the sounds of him retching to hear what was being said. I looked over at the girl next to me, who seemed less and less able to sit up. Finally I was given a pill, mattresses were pulled out, and the four of us lay down. For the remainder of the night there would be a rotation of staff members watching us, always one male and one female on duty.
I lay there listening to the pounding African music – tunes disliked by everyone, at least at first. It was not pleasant music. It was not a matter of differing tastes. Loud offensive-to-my-ears drums roared loudly. The music. Was. Awful. But it was also a necessary part of the ceremony.
The others started getting more high. The other guy started throwing up into his bucket. Yes, we all had buckets. I wasn’t high. They gave me another capsule.
The girl next to me started getting terrified. Petrified. She thought she was going to die. She cried in terror as the staff tried to console her. I knew I wouldn’t die, and psychedelics and I have a bit of an agreement. Even in the worst of trips, I always know that if only I wait it out, it will leave me.
But I wasn’t high. There I was, lying in the darkness, listening to African music, hearing others puke, just waiting for the same fate to befall me.
But it didn’t.
Ironically in this two or three hour time span, I lay there in a sort of meditative state. At that time I really was beginning to look at my problems in life, my issues and demons, and start to really evaluate things.
And then the Iboga, after a third capsule, began to kick in. All thoughts of my life and issues vanished. Where are you going? I thought. Come back, I need to deal with you. But it was too late. They were gone. All those things I was supposed to think about, to help me deal with the future by looking at the past, vanished when the Iboga hit. But it was looking at those things – staring myself down – that was supposed to make a terrible hallucinogenic experience good in the long run. What sense would it make to use such a powerful psychedelic that is in no way recreational if you’re not going to take a good long hard look at yourself?
No. Fucking. Sense. At all.
Yet that is what I got.
I was waiting and waiting for the Iboga to hit. The African music was so loud and jarring. But suddenly I found some solace from the awful sounds. I tuned in instead to the music playing in the corner nearest me. It played familiar songs I could sing along to in my head. The radio must be on someone’s phone accidentally, for they wouldn’t have purposely put other music on. I continued singing along in my head, feeling so much better with some proper music to listen to. It was clear as day. I didn’t question the reality of the music. Why would I? Although I’d once experienced a taste hallucination, I’d otherwise only had visuals.
I had a sudden thought: this was all so planned out, how could someone be so negligible and leave the radio playing in the corner? I opened my eyes, and glanced over…
Nothing. There was no one and nothing there. The music carried on. It was not subtle. I did not question it. I could hear the music.
But it was never there. Having never had a sound hallucination, I felt nothing short of schizophrenic. I took a deep breath. Here we go.
For the next who-knows-how-many-hours – judging from the sunlight I estimate about ten hours – insane scenes raced through my mind. When my eyes were open, things confused me too much. When they were closed, I would see short fictions pass through my vision. I would promptly forget what I was thinking about, and move on to the next vision. Vision after vision, like short fucked up plays dancing before me, each one merging into the next with no rhyme or reason. Nothing had a god damn thing to do with my own issues and demons, not even in an abstract way. If you’ve seen Robot Chicken, imagine that on acid with some hellfire thrown in. THAT is what I was seeing. And I couldn’t control a god damn thing. Well, during the whole experience, I managed to control one single thing: mid-trip, somehow I knew what the next scene would be. I was positive what was about to dance before my eyes. My brain was about to show me a horrifying scene filled with dead kittens.
I put my fucking foot down. This was the only hallucination I was able to change or avoid during the entire madness. Something deep within me still had the reins, but had very little ability to control what happened. Still, dead kittens just wasn’t going to happen. Screw you, Iboga, I’m still the leader of this body.
So no dead kittens, that’s always nice. The rest, however, was not.
Getting up to go to the bathroom was an entire task. For one, any movement at all made me feel nauseous. Though I rarely puke, I most certainly purged on Iboga into my handy dandy best friend, the bucket next to me. Seriously, when we were given our buckets we were told they were our best friends for the night. However, one must still pee. And for that, one must slowly stand up, and walk to the door. Then, one must climb two steps, walk a little further, manage to open the door, close the door, sit on the toilet, and remember how to pee. Repeat in reverse to get back to that glorious mattress.
Someone from the staff would always walk you to the bathroom in case you needed a hand. Make sure you don’t fall and all that good stuff. It wasn’t like I was drunk; no, it was more as if my muscles had just clenched up in my legs, and refused to do their normal movement thing. I was constantly afraid I’d fall. Those two steps leading up to the door were a fucking task and a half. Note to anyone starting an Iboga detox: no stairs. Not even two.
I kept telling myself as I lay there that it was okay, I wouldn’t do the second ceremony. After all, this was supposed to feel like hell. But what made it worth it – looking at your problems and such – wasn’t happening for me. I had all the hell without any of the benefit. There was no chance I was doing it again.
I knew around 7 am they’d relocate us from the large room we all lay in to our own bedrooms. I estimated this had to be around the time that the trip began to subside. We’d still be high, but it was surely the time we’d be far less so if they were fine leaving us to our own devices (aka letting us lie in bed cause fuck if we were capable of more than that). So I told myself I just needed to survive until they brought us to our rooms. Then the trip would be weaker. I just needed to get that far.
The sun came up from the giant bay windows overlooking the ocean. I was still hardcore in my trip, though I’d said no more capsules after the third (the girl next to me had seven, to give you an idea – yet I was high as balls. I cannot even imagine her time on Iboga.) As the sun rose higher and higher into the sky, I knew it was almost time to move us, and by proxy, almost time for the main part of this hell high to subside.
“Would you like to go to your room?” I almost exploded with, “YES!!!!” Oh lord, the thought of getting away from that pounding African music was, well, music to my ears. Walking upstairs was fucked up. I just wanted to race to the top of the stairs and be alone in the silence in my room. It took everything I had, clutching to the railing so hard, to get up to my room. Seriously, I don’t know how I accomplished that shit in my state. Again, why do you have to set it up so there are stairs, damn it?!
So I was still pretty god damn high when I got to my room. I guess the hallucinations had somewhat subsided. I could keep my eyes open at that time, though things were just plain weird. When I closed my eyes the fucked up scenes still danced before me, but they were more drawn out, and I didn’t keep forgetting what had just happened like earlier in the night. I could hold on to an idea for more than a fucking millisecond. Still, not one scene had a thing to do with my issues, my past, my demons. It was like watching a TV show to distract yourself from all your troubles. I mean, not the TV show I’d ever pick, but a TV show nonetheless. A choppy, nonsensical, kill me now TV show that Satan himself wrote, directed, and starred in.
I stared out the window for hours upon hours. I have no idea what time it was when they brought me upstairs, only that it was within an hour or so of the sun rising. Perhaps around 7 am. And so I lay there, and lay there, watching the scenery change from ocean and houses to clouds and grey. Eventually I could see nothing but grey. Occasionally I hobbled over to my balcony for a cigarette, but rarely could get through more than a third of one. Although it wasn’t too cold outside, there was snow on the balcony so I couldn’t sit. Though my limbs were beginning to return, to stand for more than 60 seconds? Absurd!
We weren’t supposed to turn our phones on that day. It was sort of like they didn’t say we weren’t allowed, but they asked us please not to for technology and the medicine didn’t work well together. Though I’d already decided to leave early and not do the second ceremony, I still wanted to finish this right, even if it hadn’t gone to plan. Besides, there was no one I really wanted to talk to about it all, and I certainly wasn’t in a state to have a nice chat about anything else.
But eventually my hallucinations got lesser. I still had minor tracers. Surfaces seemed to sparkle. I could walk to the bathroom, and by god, I could have close to an entire cigarette standing. I knew I had to leave the next day. It was supposed to be a day of integration, doing yoga and going for walks. I could have stayed even if I wasn’t doing the second ceremony. But every bit of my being just wanted to be in my closest place to home: Victoria, with one of my best friends. I just had to leave.
I turned my phone on. It was 3:30 pm. I’d been lying there in silence thinking about nothing of remote importance for around eight or nine hours. I messaged my friend, not wanting to speak to anyone on earth but him. I briefly told him the Iboga did not go well, and asked if I could go stay with him the following day. To my relief he said yes.
By this point I’d been up over 24 hours and all I wanted was for sleep to come, but of course it refused my cries. Again, I lay there staring out the window. Night fell. Nothing left to look at. I didn’t want to pop headphones in as I was irrationally afraid the detox staff would get mad at me (which a. they wouldn’t have, and b. I was leaving anyways…) and so I just lay there. I closed my eyes, begging for sleep. An hour later I was still wired. I tried again, as odd but not as vivid or frightening scenes continued to dance in my mind. Still no sleep. After hours upon hours of trying, however, I woke up to a bright morning. I was fortunate, as many people stay up for 36 hours without an ounce of rest.
And then I left.
I arrived in Victoria and told my friend everything. He made sure I was comfortable, and welcomed me in though it was well earlier than he had expected. The plan was to stay in Victoria for a couple weeks to see my best friends. Then, I would go back to Edmonton, stay with my grandfather while I saved up money, and move back to Vic while a bit more financially stable.
But, as always, things don’t go to plan in my life.
I started looking for a job and a place to live. I figured if I had a second job on top of working online so that I had some guaranteed income, I could totally swing living in Vic right away. I didn’t know many people in town, so I did what any bored Millennial who doesn’t know many people would do: I went on Tinder.
I didn’t use it much, though. I mean after my ex even cuddling up to a guy gave me the heeby jeebies. I did not like it. And sex? Out of the god damn question! Still, I knew almost no one, and had in the past made friends through dating sites. So what was the harm – why not judge people purely on looks by swiping right or left out of sheer insane amounts of boredom?
Swipe left. Swipe left. Swipe left. I’d dislike people for an hour before looking at myself and saying, “Holy shit. You’re obsessively swiping yet not saying yes to ANYONE. Put the fucking phone down. Walk away slowly.” My picky ass self did swipe right once or twice, though. And then there was a match.
He was way, way too hot to be on Tinder. His profile stated that he wasn’t catfishing, and that he liked sushi, cats, and tats. I mean, I also like sushi, cats, and tats, but with photos that look like a god damn model, and saying he wasn’t catfishing? I was pretty sure he was catfishing. Which I promptly told him, albeit in a fun way. He gave me his Facebook, which was indeed filled with plenty more photos, friends, and everything a normal Facebook profile would have. He added me and we spoke on there. It was him.
Still, as awesome as our chats were online, as sexy as he looked, and as much as I wanted to meet him, I didn’t expect shit. He was either going to look way different in person, just generally suck in person chatting, or be looking to fuck and never see me again. Besides, remember that whole not wanting to even be touched by a man right now? My best hope here was in making a new friend.
He met me outside his place to have a smoke. I got out of my taxi and there he was. He looked a bit different from his photos, though it was definitely him. But something struck me; somehow, he was even more attractive than his photos. He’d later tell me he thought the same of me. We began chatting. We finished our smokes. We went inside and continued talking.
We talked until the sun was up. We talked about everything – about serious things from our pasts and mental illness. We shared fun upbeat stories, and talked about our opinions on everything from politics to the universe. And sometimes we just sat there listening to music and didn’t speak, not an awkward silence in sight; no, we just didn’t need to talk at times.
Something crazy was beginning. This wasn’t some Tinder date. It was as if we’d known each other forever. I’ve always believed it takes a long time to get to know someone. A connection, however, is either instant or will never exist.
This was way more powerful than any connection I’ve ever felt.
Fortunately, while all these intense emotions were pouring through my heart and soul, they were going on within him as well. This wasn’t one sided. This wasn’t just sex (in fact we didn’t even have sex for a few more days). This certainly wasn’t friendship. Neither of us had wanted anything; we were each mostly on Tinder out of boredom. But there we were, head over heels after the first night.
Night two came along. I didn’t leave, and he didn’t want me to.
By night four I was no longer looking for a place to call home; I found it with him.
Perhaps the timing is nothing of a coincidence at all. I needed healing, and I found it, though not through the Iboga as expected. I found it within a man who would do anything for me. Within a man who has battled much of what I have, and who will help me stand strong as I will for him. I found someone I can talk to more honestly than with anyone I have ever encountered. And though I still have many demons to face up to – as does he – perhaps it was simply time to have a partner in crime to do it with.
For 28 years we each fought on our own. And there is much we each must still learn and grow from. Some can only be done alone. But much of it is made easier with someone by our sides. We remain individuals in charge of our own problems, our own fates. But we’ve found someone who will be there when it’s all said and done.
Many close friends have shown some concern with the rapid growth of our relationship. I’ve tried to explain, but have realized that explaining is neither useful nor necessary. When you meet someone new and are excited yet unsure, you slowly go on dates, building from there. But if you meet someone and you are each utterly positive, why waste a moment more? Still, I expect not to convince anyone… not yet. However, as time passes and we remain as strong as ever, I know that everyone I know will finally see what I do.
Because for the first time in my life, I truly believe. I think back to that first moment our eyes locked on to one another’s outside of his house as I exited that taxi. And I know. Love at first sight is as real the bed I lie on. And while I have loved before, I have never felt this.
Everything happens for a reason; I thought the Iboga would help me on my road to recovery. It turns out the Iboga just positioned me to be in the right place at the right time to find what would truly help me in the long run. I have much to work through, and a great deal only I can help myself with. But now there is someone by my side, holding my hand as I battle it out.
Heartbreak, addiction, detox… it all led me exactly where I was supposed to wind up: in the arms of my soul mate.