From the Archives.
I have been a heroin addict—among other things—since around the age of 21. I’m now 33, having celebrated the most recent birthday shortly after my iboga experience. Heroin has ruled the past decade of my life, whether actively using it or not, save for a brief period I spent in Florida, unhampered by the desire to use it or desperately need NA meetings for life support. Granted much of this period in Florida was spent living in a halfway house, so you could say heroin ruled then as well, just didn’t dominate my thoughts. Working out did. The years before finding “Gods Own Medicine” could be boiled down to the words bourbon blackout.
Fast-forward some 6 years later, I’m living in Northern California, now with a family of four, and using suboxone (part buprenorphine: a fully synthetic opioid mixed with Nalaxone, aka Narcan aka an opiate blocker. this called “opiate replacement therapy”) pills to maintain some semblance of a normal life; playing dad, paying rent, etc. I would do heroin as often as possible while thinking I’m keeping a great secret from my partner, eat benzos when available and as heavily as available, and suck on a Suboxone when I couldn’t go and score H, life without threat of dopesickness was alright.
About 5 months ago, after a holiday trip to the East Coast, where I would leave my family to spend the time shooting some good N. Philly dope, my partner left, taking my year-old daughter and almost 6-year-old step-daughter (whom I had been raising since she was 3) with her. I would fly home alone, she and the kids shortly thereafter, she would begin the packing process immediately after her arrival. Thus, the catalyst to change, though I was still convinced I would need to take the Sub’s for the rest of my life and that the idea of getting clean was a waste of time, money, and energy, perhaps partly to impress her, I decided to go to rehab. All I knew was I wanted to hear more than “work the steps” (the 12 steps), this being the premise behind every free rehab and most paid ones as well, purporting a philosophy I am well aware of, and is free. Once I heard funding from my father would be possible, I began scouring the internet for “holistic” recovery centers. This would make rehab number four or five for me: the first was Singing Trees in California, followed 2 years later by Clearhaven in Canada, followed immediately by Spencer and the halfway house in Florida, followed 5 years later by Kingsboro ATC in Brooklyn, New York, which was immediately followed by the Central Harlem Crisis Center. Rewind.
This had been my second time on suboxone. The first followed my relapse in Florida. I found a Suboxone doctor who had no problem giving me whatever I wanted: I decided on a high dose of subs, a high dose of valium, an occasional Viagra, and for the icing on the cake a high dose of crack. That first time I don’t remember how long I spent on Sub’s (which had just recently become available for maintenance/ long term use), safe to say at least a year. I would move to San Francisco, attempt to taper off only to begin using other opiates immediately, fly to New York and attempt to detox again, again unsuccessfully, eventually finding myself sleeping on the New York City pavement.
The recent episode on Suboxone began while in NY, following my post-Central Harlem Crisis Center relapse. I had been taking the pills for three and a half years when I helped my family pack the U-haul, and unpack at their new home about 3 hours away.
Around the time I was in Clearhaven, my old girlfriend and running partner went to Florida to do ibogaine: the psychoactive root bark of a central African shrub known to break addiction. That wasn’t my first time hearing of it, though when I spoke to her post treatment she didn’t speak much of it, and relapsed shortly thereafter. So I wrote the knowledge off for several more years. Last year my aunt did ibogaine. She recommended it to my folks and I, and when I told my partner of the choice ahead of me she replied, “If it were me, I would do ibogaine.” she being a herbalist who knows well the power of plant medicine. Perhaps to please her, or perhaps because the ibogaine clinic in question said they would have to stabilize me on short acting opiates for 2 weeks prior to treatment because of the difficulties presented by detoxing long term Suboxone use (You’re gonna feed me opiates for 2 weeks! In Mexico! Without having to cop on the street!) I flew south.
Ibogaine is not legal in the US and is no party favour, thus the disturbingly low level of knowledge of it on the streets of any American city among the multitudes trapped in the horrific pattern of addiction (even now as I type MS Word does not recognize such a thing, marking the word as misspelled). It is actually a “Schedule 1 drug” indicating no medical value and high potential for abuse (read: no money in a one time pill) in this country. It interrupts addiction, and too many people are making too much money off the so-called “War on Drugs”. It is also an entheogen which produces waking visions in the user, potentially placing it in the category of “psychedelic” and typically substances which allow one to step “outside the box” are frowned upon… all of this I was to find out.
Arrived in Puerto Vallarta, where I met a Mexican American man and an American woman who shortly after greeting me took the $4800 cash balance I had in my pocket for treatment. I had stopped taking the Suboxone weeks prior, and the ½ gram of shit quality San Francisco black tar I had done before the flight was wearing thin. By the time we reached the house a couple hours later, I was sick. Everything running.
About a week on methadone then a couple days on morphine spent exploring Mexico (at a junkies pace: mainly watching movies on the couch and smoking cigarettes on the porch) treatment day came sooner than I had hoped. The staff was excited. It was definitely unusual for them to have clients hang around on opiates for that long and I think it drained and disturbed everyone. The night before treatment I was given an Oxycontin 80mg and a 10mg Valium and was feeling great. What the fuck am I doing here.
It is the next afternoon. I had taken no opiates that day yet am not feeling too bad, other than an all pervasive all encompassing fear. The psychology behind addiction is strong. The B’witi music is now playing loud as we (2 clients and several staff members) commence in ceremony; candles, a smudging, a slave bead bracelet tied to my arm, a tasting of the ibogaine HCL… I found it all a bit silly and found myself totally unprepared. I had read a giant book on the history of ibogaine’s use in addiction found in the house and yet had absolutely no idea what it was about to do to me. I was repeatedly told no two peoples experience is the same. So what about those it doesn’t work for? What happens then? I was terrified before swallowing that first capsule, but did so as quickly as possible. Indeed, no more opiates were coming my way, and that was motivation enough. Lets get on with the silly show.
Within 15 minutes of consuming the first capsule I felt a very strong current rush through my body down to my rapidly shaking legs. They stop shaking immediately. Shortly thereafter I begin to feel heavy and head to my room and lay down. Much of what happens next cannot possibly be conveyed in exact words, I can only reference periods of time from the notes I later looked at, much remains a mystery to me and much is still unfolding now, over 2 months later.
I can begin to feel the two substances (suboxone and iboga) fighting for dominance in my brain (you’ll have to pardon the flowery verbiage and extensive hyperbole for a bit), though there is little feeling of withdrawal other than the now again kicking legs, as the ibogaine literally floods my opiate receptors. I feel like my head is in a pressure cooker and am beginning to get angry. “Are you sure this works on long term suboxone use?” I ask the facilitator, my legs kicking uncontrollably. He says yes, but I think otherwise. The battle in my head is raging. The walls are beginning to swerve and I haven’t even taken my full dose. I get up and head for my vitamin bottle and take out the two Dilaudids I had stashed there earlier in the week. While digging through the pills Jack the assistant walks in. He repeatedly asks me if I took any drugs. I act ignorant, then high, then oblivious, then when another staff member, the facilitator, comes in I cop to having eaten a Valium, as from my reading I knew this would not pose the problem of having just consumed opiates mid-treatment. I had meant for them to last until after the silly treatment, certain I would be in withdrawal pains. I had kicked opiates many many times, using any and every available substance to aid and assist, often doing so with nothing at all, as in most jails, and knew well there was always pain involved. Always. Always. And a great fucking deal of it.
I am shortly thereafter given 2 or 3 more capsules of ibogaine. I don’t know when my visions started, but I remember hearing sounds like firecrackers going off in my head, shortly thereafter I find myself staring at a tribe in Africa, dancing, singing, and clapping in time to the music playing. I am deep in the jungle surrounded by giant African men and women chanting me onward. At some point the facilitator comes in with another couple capsules, which I take exceedingly reluctantly. The next visions I remember having are of an ancient Europe. I travel throughout Europe and thru time, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution. I am seeing a painfully disturbing human history: the rampant poverty, the slavery, the quest for conquest. The slave trade invades Africa. The ships sail across the Atlantic to an America occupied only by native peoples. I witness mass slaughter of these natives, and the influx of African slaves. I see the pain in the faces, even those of the European settlers, attempting only to escape their own poverty, a most terrible and bloody scene. The visions are bright, full of color, yet so painful. They are beautiful visions of a brutal history. I see the earth as it may have existed before humans, a lushness I’ve never encountered, from the coast of Africa to the coast of America. It is thick lush vegetation. It is wind. It is peace. I am taken through time to the present day. I see a Barack Obama, surrounded by Times Square like flashing screens running CNN-esque pictures. The great control tower. I am aware of how little power he has, up against 3000+ years of conquest and power and money. He sits at a great desk of cherry wood, on this desk is box containing some variety of handgun. There is great confusion in his face. A general or someone in similar garb asks if he’d like to use it, the gun, and end it all now. The final visions I remember having are of a few young Native American girls–clearly several hundred years earlier and pre-European conquest of the new world–watching floating candles from across the Atlantic Ocean as thou they were stars. The candles are lit by young girls and set free to float in folded pastel paper cups in an ancient European village. It is an amazing sight.
Several days post treatment I review the facilitator’s notes. I know I took my first pill at around 3pm, stopped squirming in my bed (kicking my legs) around 3am, and the visions continue on as the daylight begins to fill the room. Clear thru the next day there is still lush vegetation on the shores of the “new world” surrounding the bed i lay in and the occasional floating candle is visible across the ocean. Varied patterns dance to the changing music in equalizer like formation.
I am aware I have been detoxed. I feel none of the typical symptoms of dopesickness, yet am stepped in a depression I’ve never felt. Perhaps due to the disturbing nature of my dreams, of human history itself, or of my own, I can only think who would want to live in such a world as the one we presently inhabit. I want to disintegrate into my mattress. I want to evaporate into the air above. I don’t want to live, and am too weak to move a muscle. I am in bed clear through the next night and the next day.
Throughout the entire experience I am frequently visited in my room by two staff members; the facilitator, and his assistant. They come in often and ask how I am doing. I feel only pain and give short disgruntled answers. I think the facilitator is afraid the ibogaine did not work for me as in one of his later visits he seems upset. “I gave you the right amount” I think he says before moving pictures of my family from on top of the dresser and placing them on the nightstand next to my bed. They are the last thing I want to see. I am brought another capsule. I watch day turn to night and night turn to day, but no direct sunlight enters my room.
I hear the other client call for the assistant sometime after daybreak. He wakes up, hair all over, generally a scruffy looking dude who’s now not slept in days, caters to the other clients needs, then comes in my room after I call out for him. The other client had asked for a banana and that sounded good to me. I had not eaten well in years. An occasional good meal here or there left me at around 110lbs when I arrived in Mexico. I’m absolutely starving. The assistant comes in and sits next to me on the bed, tired and disheveled. From somewhere in me comes a smile. I begin laughing, as does he. We both continue laughing because the other is doing so. Eventually the laughter subsides and I ask for some eggs, which he immediately heads downstairs to cook. I feel my mood begin to elevate. I was just laughing, so it can’t be all that bad. I become aware of the fact I have a clear mind, a crown chakra which feels like a sledgehammer was just taken too it, and no addiction. I feel an alertness and awareness unknown, yet still cannot bring myself to stand, let alone sit up in my bed.
The eggs arrive crispy with toast and more salt on them than any man should consume in his entire lifetime. I take down as much as I can stand and shortly thereafter ask for something else. Different food items are brought to me throughout the day and though the assistant has no business being in the kitchen I continue to consume his works. I have no sense of time or how many days it has been now as I watch another day end and another day begin. I am frequently brought handfuls of vitamins and supplements by the facilitator, so much so that many begin to get tossed on the floor immediately after he leaves the room. My mood is improving through the exhaustion and soreness.
The next day I make it out to the upstairs living room sofa and watch as the sun pours in through several hanging quartz crystals producing delightful prisms. I am brought a pot brownie, which compliments the ibogaine well. An ambient Sigur Ros album is playing now and all I can think is “I feel wonderful I feel wonderful I feel wonderful”. The other client has been up and about for a couple days now but clearly is still uncomfortable. Other staff members come up and down the stairs and the assistant again produces in me an uncontrollable laughter, which lasts a long time. He laughs with me for a while, but as he heads back downstairs I continue. Another staff member comes up and asks me a question but I am unable to answer through the laughter. I am covered in blankets and pillows and feel surrounded by love. I feel a force within me screaming: Life! Life! Life!
The junkie romances with death. It parallels the heroin high, the cocaine rush. I am now feeling the life force and a rush within that beats that of any shot I’ve ever done. The feeling within is simply stated, incredible. I feel as a weight has been lifted directly off my soul, burdened by it for years. The whole is full.
As day follows day I am up and about and eating and showering and shitting and enjoying my new found freedom. I will not sleep for any notable amount of time for over a week, diarrhea and a general freezing body temp continue, the reminders of what has transpired, but don’t bother me all that much. I feel my strength return and eventually head outside for a cigarette, the smell of which had disgusted me previous. I had spent a week recognizing the blatant toxins in the air anytime someone went outside to smoke often yelling for them to close the door. Its shut they say. Even still I smell the death. Yet I am outside and smoking, picking it up gradually. It was never my intention to quit, and I do not feel guilt around it, but am poignantly aware of the poison therein.
I would spend another couple weeks in Mexico, gradually regaining strength, communing with my new iboga tribe (this town, this part of Mexico having several ibogaine detox houses), eating whole meals, and eventually sleeping, but up by 7 every am. A first for me, which has continued over 2 months later.
I fly to San Francisco after a month in Mexico and meet my father at the airport to make the long drive home together. I didn’t come home to a great situation. My family was gone, business killed, bills stacked. That being so I am more comfortable in the world and within myself than I can remember being. As my partners’ father says “it is what it is” and this simple sentiment feels wonderfully reassuring to me.