Tales of an Iboganaut: My Mythopoetic Life Journey.
This is my autobiographical book about heroin addiction and my recovery from it using the sacred, shamanic, psychedelic plant medicine, ibogaine. The introduction below offers a brief synopsis of the story, describes the book’s format and my approach to its writing, and presents my perspective so that you’ll know my beliefs, assumptions and intent. If you accept these and want to read the book, you’ll find links to the books (sections) of my story to the right, under my picture.
Why another story about addiction? I had to write it for the therapeutic value the act held for me: after a decade and a half in recovery, the story simply burst out of me. But this story also serves a wider purpose: addicts harm others by their actions, including those they love—or loved when they still could, since losing one’s finer sentiments is collateral damage of the disease—and this segment of the population, much larger than the number of addicts, is left wondering how and why their child, parent, friend, lover, or spouse could hurt them so. As a result, addicts are often judged as “bad” people. If those who have been hurt by addicts could see how the addict views the world and how they see themselves, the people who are hurt and confused by the addict’s behavior might better understand that behavior as the addict’s desperate response to their often invisible, always irrational, suffering. This story is an attempt to reveal the perceptions and actions of an addict–in this case, me–from the inside, looking out.
This is also my way of reaching out to addicts who are at a loss to explain why they feel and act the way they do, and why they can’t stop. As a result of their uncontrollable behavior–which hurts them as well as others–they judge themselves more harshly than the sternest magistrate or the most unforgiving prosecutor ever could. I hope to help them understand and forgive themselves, which is the first step to being able to love themselves. Perhaps my story, my way of talking about addiction, will resonate with those addicts who have not been able to relate to other such stories.
Finally and especially, I offer my extraordinary experience with a sacred medicine that helped me escape my bondage when everything else had failed and I had given up hope. Those in the terminal stages of addiction, and especially those who have been on methadone for many years, may find a ray of hope in this.
A Story about Heroin Addiction and Its Treatment with Ibogaine
I am a Baby Boomer and a military brat: my Dad was a career Air Force officer. My parents were unhappy people who became alcoholics with other addictions, too: Mom used pills for depression and anxiety, while Dad became a gambler; and both smoked like fiends. Their lives were unfulfilled and they were maladjusted; so they unconsciously passed their angst and defeat on to me. They tried to make me into a vehicle for the realization of their own, frustrated desires; so as a result, I became more of a trophy for them than a child.
I suffered serious damage immediately in earliest childhood. Over time I became increasingly alienated, depressed, and anxious until, by age 21, I was diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression, severe anxiety, and migraine headaches. No one recommended therapy in those days, so I just received many prescriptions for my many symptoms. Among those medicines was a narcotic pain pill for my agonizing, incapacitating migraines. I used my pain pills as prescribed for a year; until one day, I discovered that the narcotic pain medication worked much better for my depression and anxiety than the drugs I had been given for those conditions. Furthermore, the quality of my life, which had gradually and unnoticed become rather dismal, suddenly improved dramatically when I took the narcotics. I began to self-medicate with my pain pills every day and, of course, eventually got physiologically addicted. But there is more to addiction than just this surface presenting condition and I intend to reveal some of its additional dimensions through my story (and through my subsequent scholarly work).
Thus I began the downward journey into Hell that characterized the next 22 years of my life. I was a hippie before becoming an addict, so I was used to a drug-taking lifestyle; thus I was able to romance the first five years of my addiction and make it almost fun. But when it started getting too hard to continue, I tried to stop—and then found that I could not! Over the next 17 years I tried to escape from my enslavement by entering 14 different treatment programs; but I relapsed every time. Thus I continued down and down until, by early 1997, I was very nearly dead of morphine toxicity. This is like lead or arsenic poisoning: gradually, toxins accumulate in your body faster than it can expel them until your vital energy falls below functional levels and death follows.
In the final stage of my addiction, a transcendental experience heralded a series of miracles (synchronicities, if you prefer) that helped me to escape from the prison of addiction. Just before my 48th birthday I entered the 15th and last program—actually, it was a human clinical trial conducted by Dr. Deborah Mash in which I was a subject—and there, through the agency of the sacred psychedelic, entheogenic medicine ibogaine, I was given a window of opportunity and the will, hope, and means to use it. Use that opportunity I did, which is why I am here talking to you today.
I want to express Dr. Mash’s concern that ibogaine not be seen as a magic bullet, an attitude that is unfortunately often promoted in the United States: “just take this pill and you’ll be fine.” No: it is important to note that it is not a magic wand that can permanently free you. Ibogaine is a highly effective addiction interrupter and its initial, revitalizing boost lasts for several weeks or even months. This gives an addict enough time to begin reconstructing their lifestyle and way of looking at the world. But they must do their inner work so that, when ibogaine’s special assistance finally fades away, they have developed a new way of living that generates a meaningful life with opportunity to express the potentials with which we are born. Ibogaine performed an unparalleled healing that got me off to a great start, and then I worked hard on myself for years. But it is my feeling that I could not have achieved total freedom without the help of Spirit. Grace had afforded me a chance; then it was my responsibility to take that chance and use it in order to honor the gift I had received and to honor myself—truly a novel idea for an addict.
I am convinced that I was preserved by Source (higher power; the divine by whatever name you call it) to act in service to the hundreds of thousands of opiate addicts who suffer the torments of the damned every day. The way I approach this duty is through the project of clarifying the nature and scope of the addictive process that underlies all addictive behavior—whether or not expressed as substance abuse—and by doing my best to push forward the cause of making ibogaine legally available for inpatient treatment in our country–as it now is in a growing number of other countries, including Mexico and Canada, to treat the hellish affliction of opiate addiction. I don’t claim it is the only good addiction treatment; but it is an excellent one and, for terminal opiate addicts—especially those who have used methadone for a long time—perhaps the only way to escape this degrading enslavement that eventually leads to death.
Now let me introduce the mythic container of my story. Because addiction is a progressive affliction, I found The Divine Comedy—the allegorical, epic poem of Dante Alighieri, a 14th century Italian poet and philosopher, about his progress through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise —to be a useful map to describe my own descent into darkness, down and down through the hell of heroin addiction; and my liberation back into the light as I struggled to climb the mountain of Purgatory, which I equate with recovery. After being “lost in the woods” (as Dante was at the beginning of his poem) for most of my young life, I spent many years in the Limbo (anteroom to Hell) of severe depression before I began my true descent into the hellish darkness of my addiction. I spiraled steadily down through Dante’s circles of hell over the course of two decades; until I finally reached the frozen Ninth Circle of total hopelessness and black despair in 1996. Dante’s construction of hell has the last three circles lying within the City of Dis, in whose streets I spent a lot of time copping junk while trying to avoid the demons (police or other desperate addicts who might take my money or dope). I do not pretend to have experienced Paradise, the last part of Dante’s story, which takes place in the heavenly realm; but I feel that I have reached The Earthly Paradise, an Eden-like plateau at the peak of the mountain of Purgatory. This wonderful state is represented externally in the form of my intentional academic and spiritually-supportive school community; and internally by my discovery of integral philosophy and yoga, which gives form, light, and substance to my life and to my view of the universe. These perspectives are my unique, personal expression of relief from the addictive state; and not the only way to escape from addiction.
I present my story in five books: Birth; Death; Rebirth; Reclaiming My Life; and Transformation. Each book is on its own page; the links to them are to the right, under my picture. Book 1: Birth relates incidents in my early life that created the context for my addiction. Book 2: Death recounts the stages of my addiction, illustrating them with episodes from my experience. These vignettes from the netherworld are memoirs that describe, first-hand, the frantic life of desperation and fear that swirls within an addict. Those episodes were deeply burned into my psyche and when they erupted from my memory, their clarity and presence was so overwhelming that I virtually relived the entire experience, feelings included. It was very challenging for me to return to the House of Pain in order to tell my story. Because I want to clarify the features of addiction for non-addicts this section is the longest and features most of my experiential memoirs. Book 3: Rebirth is the story of my life-saving ibogaine experience. Although this episode is a short time in my life, it is so vitally important that it constitutes a separate book. Book 4: Reclaiming My Life describes my early and middle stages of recovery, including my early process of healing; my return to school; and several miraculous events that contributed to my rescue and preservation. Finally, Book 5: Transformation relates the most recent part of my story, in which I was guided to the California Institute for Integral Studies, an extraordinary graduate school where I am now a doctoral student; I consider that I began my advanced recovery here. It is an intentional academic community that offers depth, transpersonal, and integral psychologies as well as philosophy and religion and other disciplines. It supports my continued healing and growth and is the launch pad for my life mission: to advance not only the cause of addiction treatment and of educate our society about the potential usefulness of psychedelic medicines; but also to champion a revolution in paradigm, a process described by Thomas Kuhn.
My story is told in two streams of consciousness: both autobiography and memoir, with a separate voice for each. My academic voice is prominent in the outer, autobiographical container, though it is relaxed enough to permit colloquial expressions uttered by the person I was at the time I describe in my story. Within that container are memoirs illustrating episodes in which I give you a taste of what it was really like to be there. When I wrote these memoirs, I drop into street voice because I re-lived them: I was back there again. I edited them so they would be comprehensible to those who have not been addicts or otherwise experienced in street culture, so naturally my scholarly voice may have crept in to color the passage. But don’t think I made them up because of this: I was there; everything in this story really happened to me. It is all first-hand experience, enriched and confirmed by innumerable conversations I had with other addicts, both during my active use and in recovery.
And now, whereas Dante had Virgil for a guide through Hell and Purgatory, you have me to guide you along my hellish passage through addiction and then through my hopeful struggle up the Holy Mountain of Purgatory, which represents my recovery.
Each Book page is a continuous scroll of text. But I’ve found that if you stop reading at some point and just close the blog site where you stop, when you open it again it will still be at the same point in the text. Thus you can read it in bite-sized chunks convenient for you.
Adrian Auler PhD