Can you recall the single most terrifying moment of your life?
If you’re like me there are plenty of those heart-stopping instants. The day your car skidded off the road, the first time you stepped in front of a crowd to deliver a speech. To utter the words, “I Love You,” to someone for first time, to know you must say, “it’s over.”
If I was to pinpoint the single most terrifying moment though, I’d say it was the night I watched my body start to disappear.
Well, you’re right – drugs were involved. Like many of my generation I experimented with mind-altering substances at far too young an age.
On this particular evening , I was sixteen, excited because my parents were gone for the evening and I’d planned a co-ed slumber party in our basement rec room. Someone had scored some tiny purple pills billed as ‘microdot, (supposedly a form of mescaline) down in the Bronx, and my basement was the perfect place to take our psychedelic journey.
The party got off to a roaring start, we’d smoked a couple of joints, swallowed the microscopic ‘dots’ and were perched on sofas and easy chairs in a loose circle while Lynrd Skynrd’s Freedbird (one of my favorite tunes at the time) blasted through the speakers.
Swaying to the music I glanced down at my hands. Wait! They were shrinking. Panicked I leapt up.
I can’t begin to describe the horror and fear I felt in that moment. I bounded up the stairs and into the bathroom, tears streaming down my face. I had to look in the mirror to see if I was there. I was, but I was fading fast. Soon I’d be nothing.
I was dissolving.
A couple of close friends cradled me as I sobbed and wailed.
Okay, trite I know. The quintessential bad trip. “I’m me-e-elting….”
And so what?
I mean besides warning me off psychedelics for a good long while, what’s the point of this experience?
Decades passed and I didn’t get it.
Yet, the experience sometimes haunted me, I’d wake up with a mini-anxiety attack, wondering if I was disappearing. And if I disappeared … then what? There’s no me.
I ‘knew’ this wasn’t the case really. Although I’d eschewed the Catholic teachings of my childhood, my explorations of other spiritual traditions continued to convince me ‘I’ was much more than my body.
Occasionally, very occasionally, I even felt briefly connected to the divine, to the great One, the Goddess herself.
Mostly though I felt very stuck in this body I disliked, yet was completely terrified of losing.
A lesson had been offered to me that evening. About ego and form and opening to the great mystery. And I couldn’t or wouldn’t accept it. At 16, already I’d started on my trajectory of rejecting the discomfort of the great unknown.
That ‘disappearing’ terror came and went through my 20s and 30s, but mostly I stayed too busy to have time to even feel it.
Busy, busy, busy.
Go. go .go.
Because if I stopped I might slow down enough to notice myself disappearing. And I couldn’t get that 16-year-old terrified teenager out of my brain. To her mind there’s nothing worse than that nothingness.
Lately, though, (it took long enough!) I’ve come to a new understanding of what the disappearing might have been about. Perhaps my daily meditation habit is building my tolerance for the sensation of dissolution.
Maybe, just maybe, if I hadn’t been subconsciously stressed about hosting a party in my parents’ home, worried about what the other kids thought of me, and consumed by the myriad teenage angsty thoughts that haunt all 16-year-olds, maybe that experience could have constituted a ‘good trip.’
Maybe I was dissolving into the that great Oneness, rather than a black void of nothingness, maybe I could have experienced it as the arms of the Beloved. The big Love. Not the ‘my heart’s racing and I can’t get enough of you’ love, and not even the unconditional love that a mother experiences. But the Great Love. The Love we all long for.
We long for it and yet we chase it away.
Because, yes, it is terrifying to open the heart that much. And terrifying to lose this ego in service of the One.
I’ve been complimented as being ‘solid’ many times. A solid person. Dependable. There.
And solid is good.
Except when it’s not.
Lately, well, I’m not so solid. In fact I think I’m dissolving. Everything I once thought immutable is now up for reassessment.
And what’s the opposite of solid? Maybe it’s flow. Maybe it’s surrender. Maybe it’s that allowing self to dissolve into One.
That’s menopause. This is the gift that midlife brings us….if we pay attention and open to it.
We dissolve, and then we are reassembled.
Fresh. New. Radiant.
I think many people can identify, even someone like me who’s never taken drugs. I was reading Brene’ Brown yesterday, and there’s a bit in there about people waking up in their 40s and starting to question everything they think they are and think they know. I feel it sometimes during meditation…I feel it with the questioning of who I thought I was–a teacher. Who am I if I’m not these things?
@Ellen Berg Ah, yes. That Brene Brown is a wise woman. To me, that is so much what this midlife passage is about… questioning everything that we once knew to be true, relinquishing control, surrendering. Meditation helps, it surely does. I remember when I knew I had to sell my store in my early 40s. After nearly 20 years my entire identity was wrapped around that business. I had no idea who I was without it. That’s why I resisted the whispers for a few years before I finally let go. And now at 51, it’s all up again with the old identity crumbling, making room for something new and as yet unknown. It’s crazy stuff, but I’m thinking those of us that take the chance to step us will find new vistas and new rewards…
I love the idea of dissolving instead of falling apart, which is what it’s felt like much of the past year. And then reassembled? Whoa, something to anticipate as a new year begins. Love it!
When I was a very young kid, I used to have these “weird” experiences just before drifting off to sleep of expanding beyond my body. First I would grow to the size of my room, then the whole house, then too big to measure. It was a scary feeling, but fun at the same time. And some nights I would grow smaller and smaller and smaller until I was microscopic. Also fun/scary. At first, I thought I was losing my mind. But with practice, sometimes I could even control it.
Today, I think this was just me playing with my aura/energy field. Kids seem to be much more able to play with the nonphysical than adults do…perhaps your experience was a similar energetic dissolving/expansion? And because it was unfamiliar, it scared the bajeezus out of you?
Both the literal dissolving of energy and the metaphorical dissolution of ego can be a scary thing — at first. I, too am at menopause now (okay, pre-menopause) and can definitely feel an energetic shift around the idea of “me.” Not necessarily my aura, per se. But definitely my ego. And this time I’m not scared at all. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
@tsilvestre Wow, you remind me of a similar experience I used to have as a kid and into early adulthood. Same type of thing, just drifting off to sleep, sometimes even for a nap, and suddenly I felt pulled – yanked even – out of my body I’d be floating across the floor, but fast, fast. And poof, I’d be back. Weirdly I didn’t get too scared or freaked out. It was a little scary but it was also oddly exhilarating. I didn’t feel like I got to control it or have it happen when I wanted though. So maybe a part of me was ‘playing’ with the energy field , but it was not a conscious part. I miss those little journeys though. Maybe now that I’m accessing these deep parts of myself I can invite them back – and be a bit more conscious about what is happening. Andy – yay! So glad the energetic shift is feeling positive and empowering for you. Happy, happy, joy, joy. Yum!
Isn’t it amazing how something from years ago can resurface today and suddenly the lesson it brings makes perfect sense. I love when that happens! I also love when a friend and fellow writer seems to be on the same wavelength as me. I just published a post about surrender — describing the same experience you’re talking about. Dissolving into the One to be reassembled — how much do I love those words?!
@Carol Hess Love your post Carol! And indeed we’re on the same wavelength on this giving in and letting go into the One. But that’s not so surprising is it? Given the planetary energies we are both feeling, I’m not surprised at all that we’re both simultaneously battling with and giving in to….surrender
I love this, Sarah! I agree with you that now, with the perspective of age, disappearing can be a good thing. Interestingly, I’ve had dreams where I was dying, but instead of feeling frightened, I feel calm and peaceful and ready for the next thing. Your post reminds me that perhaps my dreams aren’t about physical dying, but dying – disappearing – to what needs to come next for me.
Thanks for a extremely well-written, evocative post, Sarah!
@BobbiEmel Wow Bobbi, thank YOU for the warm words. I always get all blushy when good writers compliment my writing! I think part of the reason I freaked out so much with the disappearing was because it reminded me of dying…and at that time I had no faith or belief to grasp on to and make that okay. How beautiful that in your dreams you’re feeling peaceful and ready. It shows that you already have that divine connection.
And I think you’re right – dying doesn’t have to be about physically leaving the body. The “death” card in the tarot comes to mind. These symbols can be about rebirth, regeneration, moving to the next thing indeed. The snake shedding its skin!
Drugs can be… interesting.
I had to take steroids in highschool, but quickly stopped because they were giving me uncontrollable anxiety attacks. It got better after a few weeks, but every now and again the anxiety still gets triggered. What I learned from my experience? Emotions are easily influenced by our environment and biology, and not necessarily true reflections of our experiences.
As for menopause. Um… good luck?
@HappierHuman Love your comments Amit! So fun to get the perspective of a young man. Yeah, steroids = bad news! Glad you got off them sooner rather than later. I definitely think that all drugs – legal and illegal – affect our emotions and even spiritual connections. And interesting point you make that our emotions may not always be reflections of our experience or what’s up inside. Always good to take a look at the outer factors that may be messing with them. And for us menopausal women – hormones are a big part of that one!
If I disappeared, then what, there’s no me.
I was too busy to notice that my identity came from what I represented externally, family position, job title, groups I participated in, where I lived, age group etc.
Last week I mentioned at my Zen Meditation Group that now that now that I have been practicing meditation regularly for a couple of years I no longer label myself as I did before, I then asked ‘but who am I if I am no longer any/all of these things?’ The answer I got was, ‘That is a very zen question, your meditation is changing your perspective.’
@Priska I am so with you! Although I am not practicing any particular genre of meditation I think the practice itself is causing me to be more zen-like in my questioning? It’s a unnerving feeling when those old identities begin to fall away, and very much a part of ‘booming’ into midlife – no? Discovering our new identities!
Wow, Sarah, this is powerful. There are certain things that can be felt but are exceedingly difficult to put into words…and the writing that does that just jumps out and grabs you. This is one of those pieces.
I love your insight into how your perception of your trip as being “bad” might have been completely different if your underlying thoughts and beliefs would have been different. I think that’s a huge point as we feel and process our “trips” even now….
@LynnHess Good insight there Lynn. We are still ‘tripping’ even though it’s just in our own heads and without any particular substance to take us on these journeys. One example I’m constantly finding is the stories I spin in my head about what people are doing/thinking/etc. And then we have a conversation and I think ‘wow I certainly went way out into the stratosphere on that one!’ And it was all made up! Thanks for your lovely words about my writing!!
The “Just Say No” campaign must have worked on me (or my parents did a really good job keeping me off alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes). I can’t imagine what the bad trip experience was like Sarah, but I can imagine what it’s like to have something you you thought was immutable become, well, not so immutable. When my personal renaissance began, I had these feelings all the time. But they were exhilerating and constantly reminded me that I was undergoing major changes…changes I wanted.
I actually wish I had the feeling of things becoming shaky more often. Whatever brief sense of fright I get subsides into excitement really fast.
@joeyjoejoe Yes, I believe you’re a different generation Joel. For us, there wasn’t any ‘just say no.’ It was more like, ‘sex, drugs & rock&roll’ LOL! I think you’ve had some of this experience since you’ve been brave enough to ‘practice’ dying. I find that to be pretty impressive!
Isaac Newton’s Third Law Of Thermal dynamics states that energy is neither created nor destroyed but simply changes form and moves around. Since everything is energy, there is no true “dissolvement” of anything. Instead, there is transformation. The energy that was your past life is now changing form.
Opening yourself to what you call the
“One” will allow you to constantly and
surely change the form of your past life/
energy as well as to extract fresh, new,
radiant energy from the abyss. I’m sure
menopause can trigger this process (and it truly is a process; a never ending one
once it truly begins) but only you can
propel it forward. The words trust,
courage, patience and determination
come into play big time here. “Neva give
P.S. The Neroli oil is simply devine dahling 🙂 Awesome.
@HIDon Love this take on ‘dissolvement’! It hits on exactly what I was getting at – and if change is scary, transformation is terrifying…yet so exciting as well. I’ve been pulling that Transformation Angel Card quite frequently of late, and no wonder! Also “Trust” and “Patience” :-)So glad you’re enjoying the Neroli!
The perspective of years is a wonderful thing. Our youthful belief that we are indestructable makes us experiment with many things including bad relationships, bad hair, funky fashion and of course mind altering substances. I was a hippie chick who tried almost all drugs. I really enjoyed them – but quickly outgrew them. Others continued down the path of substance use which quickly turned to abuse and many of them are dead or addicted. The lesson for me is to move beyond things, people, circumstances etc that I have outgrown. Evolution of life.
Lahaina, Maui in the seventies was berift with hippies. I loved them. They were so peace oriented. I, fortunately, did not witness “after kill” as I knew them casually. I cringe to think of any of them dead. They were so beautiful. The hippies of today do not conpare.
@JaneRobinson Ah, yes. I’m sure glad I was a little too serious to go way out into the stratosphere on the hippie thing. So sad to see the ones who kind of lost touch with reality. I think many more have moved on to do amazing work though – and perhaps that mind expansion at an impressionable age opened up some doorways in their belief systems. It all gets back to moderation I guess.
“We dissolve and then we are reassembled.” That is a powerful statement. After a divorce, I am still going through the reassembling in these last few years, with layer after layer of old beliefs just vanishing and not necessarily because I intended for them to. I do think it’s flow and surrender. And yes, you are right, after reassembly there is freshness and radiance.
@Patti Tokar These powerful life change do require peeling away those layers, and then letting go. We may not intend to release it all, but if we do I truly believe that something beautiful will appear to replace it. It’s a push/pull sometimes, isn’t it. I hope your surrender and reassembly has brought you some moments of revelation Patti! My heart is with you.
haven’t got to midlife yet but you describe a joyful process!
i have only experimented a minor amount with drugs. but i remember feeling small too. i like your interpretation of going back to big love even though it felt scary at the time.