Smoking The Toad — 2.0

This is the story of the second time I smoked the venom of the Bufo-Alvarius toad. To read about my first experience, click here.

The impetus to retake the most powerful hallucinogen on Earth was two of my closest friends who’d observed changes in me after my first trip. They’d independently noticed that I’d seemed less anxious — less of what they referred to as “Little Phil” (the needy child in me sulking for attention or feeling sorry for myself when life doesn’t go my way) showing up socially.

I thought — well, bottom’s up! Here we go again!

We each signed up for a private session, but as things unfurled, we ended up overlapping at the healer’s apartment and got to watch each other’s experiences. This is my subjective take on what happened — with permission given by my two friends to share.

First off, it can be hard to remember what the hell happens on this drug. The first time I did Bufo, it felt like my mind went “asleep” — I couldn’t recall the experience consciously afterwards. I wasn’t sure if it had even worked. But this time, I got to observe from the outside as my two best friends underwent the nuclear bomb of psychedelics. We had a Goldilocks outcome of three very different reactions to the trip.

I arrived mid-session of my first friend, who was tranced out and unaware of myself and the assistant shuffling around in the other room. When he came to reality, he sat up and looked at me like I was someone he’d never seen, blinked twice, and shook his head. He seemed to ponder something on the wall, then lay down and closed his eyes. Later on, he reported the same feeling I’d felt on my first trip — of not even knowing what had happened or if anything had happened…more like it was all a dream. Weeks later, he found himself subtly changed — he had dropped a common habit of pondering “what his life could be” and accepted things more as they were. He also led our friend group to form an accountability club, in which we held ourselves to actionable, measurable goals we wanted to check off each month — with some very specific, personal punishments if we failed to do so. Like for me — I couldn’t post about myself on social media for a week if I failed! Truly: what a motivator. Months later, the group is still going strong and is a concrete thing in my life I cherish!

As my first friend dozed quietly, my second friend prepared himself to Toad. He cried a single tear as he inhaled the vapor — a tear he later told me was spawned from the thought of “not wanting to do it but knowing it was too late.” He lay down, and the first sound he made was a long “OHHHH” which turned into a repeated “WOW, WOW, WOW.” His right leg tensed up and would not relax during the rest of his session no matter what the assistant did to try and lower it to the floor. Afterwards, my friend told us his experience was terrifying — he had been surrounded by a cosmic background scream overwhelming his senses. He couldn’t get that scream out of his head — even weeks later, he was plagued by sleep problems which would not relent. He would keep “flashing back to that all-expanding nothingness” or “hear the void’s scream” and wake up in a start. He took supplements recommended by the healer to try and restore his sleep rhythms — they abated a bit but still popped up now and then. He worried that he may have jostled something deep in his psyche — or made some permanent unwanted changes to his brain. Perhaps his subconscious needed to be jostled like that; I suggested that his resistance (seen in his leg which wouldn’t relax during the experience) could be related to him needing to face whatever was resisting until he let go of it. Who knows, though? No one could definitely say why he had such a negative experience and aftershock. He did add that it wasn’t all bad: “There was a lot of ego loss that happened…but the fear that I permanently fucked up my brain and the fear I feel when I go to sleep makes it hard to look on the experience fondly.” I learned from his trip that not everyone has a good outcome from 5-MeO-DMT, that it can be potentially debilitating with some very unwanted side effects, and that I didn’t have the answer as to why that was so.

It was my turn. I inhaled, just as nervous as my first time, and blasted off into communion with the cosmos. But this time, I was awake. I can remember every second of it. And it was so intense that I feel like my psyche is already putting barriers around what happened to contain it, as if my mortal mind wasn’t supposed to see so much at once.

My mind’s eye streamed into pure white fractal light, merging with something infinitely bigger than my little self — becoming a speck of the universal everything: consciousness and life interwoven at the atomic level. On the mat, in the real world, I gasped for air. I started shouting, thrashing about, and then I purged. I thought I had vomited out my guts — in reality, I had just spat out a little saliva. But, in my head, my shouting and gasping and purging felt like a total surrender to the Big Bang inside my mind. I let go entirely, and it felt like dying — or what I can imagine dying may feel like when the time comes. It didn’t feel bad or good; it just felt very intense.

Sounds terrifying, right?! But as I came back from the maelstrom into myself, grateful to be just a human again lying on a mat again, I sensed a kernel of some universal truth I’d brought back from the base of me. The hard-earned revelation was this:

Everything in the world starts with self-love. I could imagine the timeline of my life back to the first time I was ever bullied in third grade, called a fag before I even knew what that word meant. I could see the protective barriers I had wrapped around my heart in that moment: the defense mechanisms, the insecurities, and later on learning to use comedy to get laughs to get validation — which equaled a form of love. I noticed how all these behaviors stemmed from trying to patch that hole first dug in my heart back in third grade. I felt tender for that kid, and I wanted to tell him he was beautiful and to love himself.

I sensed that all my fears, anxieties, frustrations, neuroses, pet peeves, annoyances, and simple fussiness are in response to something lacking or hurt inside my heart. That these behaviors came from not wholly loving myself. I could see how sometimes when I’m turned off by someone else’s behavior, it’s because it reminds me of something I don’t like inside myself.

The metaphor came to me: my heart was a vase with a hole in its bottom. Refilling it with things like external approval was fruitless — the highs from accolades and accomplishments and being the life of the party only drained from its base time and time again.

I could imagine how if I could do the work to listen and tend to my heart, I could naturally open up to loving others more. Smoking the toad was only the most extreme way of “doing the work” —it seemed to me that spending just five minutes a day working on self-love would change my life. A new vision sprang into mind: I could see my life as a tree branch that was also a living muscle wrapped around my body. Where the branches had been broken, they needed to be cared for tenderly. Not with too much self-love, or I’d strain the muscle by obsessing over problems too much. But not to neglect it either — lest my heart grow stiff over time and rigid in its ways.

It made me want to tell everyone simply to love themselves more. Especially when times get rough, and the airplane is going down, I wanted to be the friendly flight attendant telling you to put on your own life mask first so you can better tend to others.

I wrote this piece originally a week after Smoking the Toad for the second time. I then sat on it for several months. I wanted to see if what I wrote rang true after the experience had receded from my short-term memory. The answer upon re-reading it is: everything feels deeply true and mostly forgotten.

Post-experience, I felt these revelations in my bones, in the shaken-up state of body and mind, and they felt critically important. It felt like it was time to make a change. Now, I look back with a sense of guilt that I haven’t practiced the self-love I declared so important; that I didn’t do work for even five minutes a day; that I’m still stuck on the same ego merry-go-round worrying about little problems and making myself miserable. It feels like my psyche did indeed put up those barriers around what happened to make me forget, suppress, and stay trapped in old ways. I returned to this piece hoping it would reignite the desire I felt post-trip to heal myself and others. I still feel a glimmer of it. I ran a bath and put on the Soundcloud playlist from my most recent experience and I went right back into that all-expanding feeling. So it’s still there. Perhaps it was just too much all at once and the pendulum swung back into self-denial as far as it swung into self-love during the experience. I do know that I don’t want to have to blow up my mind again with another dose of something so extreme to get that pendulum moving again.

And yet, revisiting this writing feels like ‘doing the work.’ I can accept that I retreated from my big plans. It’s OK that it was all too much. I can start over by going back to the simple goal of spending five minutes a day on self-love and reflection. And I can skip the episode where I blame myself for my failure to launch.

But I don’t know if I’ll ever do this drug again. The point to me of undertaking such an extreme experience is to make real, small changes in my day-day life. But in truth, it’s been a pattern in my life that I turn to extreme experiences to jolt myself into radical, short-lived epiphanies. I’m looking forward in 2020 to find the longer but more sure-footed path to changing myself.

Found this image on the internet that closely resembled the visual of the tree branches around my heart. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/633459503817520005/

Performer, storyteller, teacher - living in NYC and traveling worldwide (www.philipmarkle.com). Artistic Director of The Brooklyn Comedy Collective.

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