By Jennifer Bruce
The year of 1962 marked Howard Lotsof’s discovery of the remarkable anti-addictive properties of ibogaine, an entheogenic compound found in the root of the iboga plant that has been used ceremonially by the Bwiti people of Gabon for centuries. The knowledge that certain entheogenic therapies can have profound effects when it comes to pulling a person through detoxification and out of addiction dates back much further than the fateful day Lotsof found himself in the jungles of Gabon. In fact, you probably are familiar with one alcoholic who, in December of 1934, finally broke his lifelong addiction to alcohol by successfully completing his final attempt at sobriety with an entheogenic treatment, which was his catalyst into life long recovery. This man also underwent numerous experimental entheogenic treatments after finding his own sobriety in his quest to help himself and his fellow addicts who still suffered. This man formed the world’s largest and longest standing recovery program that’s in existence today. His name is Bill Wilson and he was the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Bill Wilson was a survivor of childhood trauma, a veteran of WW1, was the first market analyst on Wall Street (a strategy that he originally developed), became very wealthy and eventually lost it all to become a skid row depression-era alcoholic. Bill Wilson eventually sought help at one of the only treatment centers in existence back then. Under the care of Charles Towns and Dr. Silkworth, Bill Wilson underwent a series of powerful entheogenic belladonna treatments at Towns Hospital in New York City.
Charles Towns claimed to have learned the belladonna regiment, which consisted of tinctures, extracts and pills made from the toxic nightshade belladonna, xanthoxylum (prickly ash) and hyoscyamus (henbane) from a ‘country doctor.’ Assuming this country doctor was practicing traditional herbal medicine, it is hard to say how long this treatment had actually existed and been in use prior to Towns’ introduction of it to urban New York in 1901.
Towns Hospital was a detox center and it attracted the wealthiest alcoholics and addicts who happily paid the high price for the treatment that “successfully removes the poison from the system and obliterates the cravings for drugs and alcohol,” much in the way Lotsof discovered that ibogaine does. Charles Towns was not a doctor and therefore lacked credibility within the medical community and, as a result, so did his treatment. This changed when Dr. Alexander Lambert entered the picture a few years after Towns Hospital had opened its doors. Dr. Lambert was best known as Theodore Roosevelt’s personal physician. He was also a Professor of Medicine at Cornell Medical School, as well as an expert on alcoholism. Dr. Lambert had years of experience taking care of thousands of alcoholics at Bellevue Hospital’s famous ‘Drunk Ward,’ which is where he eventually used the belladonna treatment on his patients. He came to know the hopeless nature of addiction through his direct experience. He, nor anyone else of the time, had little to offer addicted patients in the way of treatment. The only options for alcoholics and addicts back then was heavy narcotic sedation, insanity, institutionalization or death. The United States’ alcoholism and addiction rates were at an all time high. Men were literally laying in street gutters too drunk and high to feed their starving families. It was a national crisis, much like we are experiencing today. Dr. Lambert had approached Charles Towns to learn the belladonna treatment method because the effectiveness was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The results were so amazing and happened so quickly, they were hard to believe. After learning the treatment method, Dr. Lambert announced to the world in 1909 that he had found the cure for alcoholism and addiction, and that it only took five days. This announcement was reported in the New York Times.
There were a few problems with this ‘miracle treatment.’ The most noticeable was, despite the perfect release from addiction this treatment provided for the most hopeless of cases, the relapse rate was very high. In addition to the high relapse rate, the treatment was heavily psychedelic and was also highly toxic, with a potential for fatality, similar to the controversies today with ibogaine. Because of these aspects of the treatment and its seemingly high failure rate, Dr. Lambert worked diligently to distance himself from belladonna after several decades of clinical use. He felt discouraged and stated that more was needed… but we can see that what he had was a misunderstanding of addiction because he was searching for a quick ‘cure,’ as he’d announced to the world earlier in his career. You can heal addiction over time, but not cure it and certainly nothing of this magnitude happens in five days…
This is where Bill Wilson’s legacy and Alcoholics Anonymous really began. You see, Bill Wilson had been through the belladonna treatment numerous times, always followed by relapse. During his final time through Towns Hospital, something different had happened. A man by the name of Ebby Thatcher, a former drinking buddy of Bill’s and a now sober alcoholic, paid Bill a visit just prior to his final admittance to Towns Hospital. Ebby explained to Bill how he had found religion through a Christian organization called the Oxford Group. He introduced Bill to the group and the six step method they had created to bring alcoholics out of addiction by means of inducing a religious conversion. The Twelve Steps of AA that we know today eventually grew out of these original six steps of the Oxford group.
Bill Wilson’s legendary ‘spiritual awakening’ that initiated his life long, thirty six years of sobriety, as well as becoming the core principle of AA, happened in Towns Hospital. This awakening took place while he was in a highly altered, psychedelic state, induced by belladonna. Bill had been unable to achieve this vital awakening during his previous treatments there. Bill also didn’t have his vital spiritual awakening simply by being immersed in the Oxford method. It seems that the spiritual preparation provided by Ebby combined with the entheogenic therapy was what granted Bill his final release from the grips of addiction. In other words, for Bill to experience the drastic shift in consciousness required to wake up from the spell of addiction, he needed to be introduced (to spiritual principles) while induced (with entheogenic medicine).
Although this was Bill Wilson’s first ‘spiritual experience,” it was not the first time he had heard of them. Bill Wilson had been told of the capabilities of a spiritual experience solving some people’s addiction problem earlier along in his search for sobriety. Bill had visited Dr. Carl Jung, the father of Analytical Psychology, to see if he could help him. Dr. Jung had told Bill quite frankly of his hopeless state, and that there was nothing further medical or psychiatric treatment could offer him. When Bill asked Dr. Jung if there was any other hope, he told Bill that there was, although extremely rare, in the form of a spiritual or religious conversion. Of course, Dr. Jung had no protocol to invoke such a profound experience, and so Bill went on his way, searching for answers…finally discovering it under the care of Towns and the guidance of Thatcher.
Despite Bill’s 36 years of sobriety, his recovery was not without its challenges and need for improvement. Because of this, he spent the rest of his life searching for more answers for himself and the suffering people that he was trying to help. Bill was acutely aware through his personal struggles and witnessing those of others, that more answers were needed and so he spent the rest of his life looking.
Sometime after his final experience with belladonna, Bill came into a historical dilemma. He was traveling for business and staying at a hotel in Ohio. He walked by the hotel bar and heard ‘laughter and conviviality’…he wanted to drink because of the sounds of happiness and connection drifting out of the bar, not the smell of alcohol or the need to get drunk… He had been given the contact of another sober alcoholic who lived nearby. This man was Dr. Bob Smith. Bill called and met Dr. Bob instead of drinking. This was the first AA meeting ever held.
Alcoholics and addicts often share the common experience of feeling alone and separated in very painful and specific ways. Many addicts and alcoholics report feeling a profound sense of separation, disconnection, anxiety, depression and loneliness beginning in childhood…this continues and worsens through age, addiction and into recovery for the majority of afflicted people. Addicts don’t want to be high and drunk, they actually want to feel less pain, more joy and connectedness, which substances help to achieve for a while, and this is how the spiral into addiction begins. Upon Bill’s avoidance of yet another relapse by calling a recovering alcoholic instead of going into the bar, a new piece of the recovery puzzle was permanently put into place. Community is another key component of lasting recovery for millions of people recovering from addiction.
Bill continued to struggle with crippling depression the majority of his life, like so many do. He was a pioneer and a seeker, and he continued to search for answers inside and out of the fellowship that he had created, often facing harsh criticisms from members of his own organization, which was plagued with internal conflict. One such instance was Bill Wilson’s experiments with LSD two decades after he created AA.
Bill Wilson’s first acid trip was at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles on August 29, 1956. Initially, Bill thought that LSD would help non-addicts understand the suffering caused by alcohol induced hallucinations experienced by alcoholics and it might frighten drinkers into sobering up. After his LSD experience, Bill believed it was the insight that the LSD provided, not fear, that could help alcoholics recover. Although Bill clearly recognized that LSD did not possess the power to take someone who is spiritually, emotionally as well as physically sick and turn them into healthy people overnight, he did believe that it gave addicts great motivation to work towards the meaningful goals of sobriety that become obvious and desirable during and after an LSD trip. Bill reported to have experienced positive effects that stayed with him long after his treatments were over. He reported great improvement with his depression, feelings of connectedness and overall outlook on life and his place in the world as a result of LSD therapy. Bill Wilson felt so strongly about LSD’s potential to help alcoholics overcome their suffering that he resigned from his own governing body at Alcoholics Anonymous in order to escape controversy and pursue his experimental studies. The prolific author Audolx Huxley called Bill Wilson the greatest social architect of the twentieth century. Bill wrote in great detail about taking LSD with him. Wilson also took LSD in clinical trials with American psychologist Betty Eisner and Los Angeles psychiatrist Sidney Cohen during the 1950’s. It is known that Father Ed Dowling, a Catholic priest, was in close relation with Bill Wilson and a spiritual adviser to AA. It is less known that Father Ed Dowling was a member of the experimental group he had formed to investigate the spiritual potential of LSD.
Alcoholics Anonymous was, at one point, considering using LSD for those members who needed a spiritual experience but could not have one. Many people are unable to have this experience unaided, and therefore unable to recover. Although we can see through Bill’s story that his awakening at Towns Hospital was just the beginning piece of his lifelong journey in recovery and discovery, it was the essential piece. An addict must first wake up from the darkness of addiction in order to do the work it takes to get well and stay well. Ultimately, the newness and lack of research that surrounded LSD created too much fear and controversy and was not included in AA’s program as decided by the governing members of AA at the time, despite Bill’s recommendations. Until the recently growing interest in ibogaine in response to the opiate crisis, this is where psychedelic research was left off as far as it applies to the recovery of addiction in mainstream America.
Prior to all recorded contributions that entheogens have made in people’s pursuit of overcoming addiction in the United States to date, the clinical trials of the 1950’s and the counterculture movement of the 1960’s, the first American psychedelic movement actually began in 1847. An anonymous article, authored by William James, the first educator to offer a psychology course in the US and known as the ‘Father of American Psychology,’ was published in the Atlantic Monthly during this year which reviewed a pamphlet entitled ‘The Anesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy,’ which argued that the secrets of religion and philosophy were to be discovered under the intoxicating effects of nitrous oxide. William James became curious after reading this pamphlet and reported gaining incredible insights while experimenting with nitrous on himself. James describes experiencing the ‘strongest emotion’ he had ever felt under the influence of nitrous oxide, and that it remained with him the rest of his life. James went on to become a prolific author and a widely respected philosopher on the topics of entheogenic experiences, spirituality, and is most widely known for his greatest work ‘The Variety of Religious Experiences,’ which recounts his experience with ‘consciousness under nitrous oxide’ within its pages.
In the back of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a chapter called ‘Spiritual Appendix.’ The purpose of this section of the book is to define what AA means specifically in relation to ‘Spiritual Experience’ and the use of the term ‘God,’ which can be highly misunderstood, even by long standing members of the program. The 12 Step program is designed to enable addicts to have a spiritual experience that replaces addiction with a connection to God, or one’s Higher Power. AA, according to its basic text, defines the term ‘Spiritual Experience’ as a ‘personality change sufficient to overcome addiction.’ It goes on to say that ‘our members have tapped an inner source of unsuspected strength, which our more religious members call ‘God.’
So there you have it…the program of recovery, laid out by AA, is defined as tapping into our ‘inner source of strength,’ so that a ‘personality change sufficient to overcome addiction’ can take place. In this Appendix, William James’ ‘The Variety of Religious Experience’ is referred to when reassuring its desperate readers that they need not have a ‘white light’ spiritual experience like Bill did in order to recover, as most alcoholics have a spiritual experience of the ‘educational variety’ which happens over time. The problem with this reference being located in AA’s book is that James was referring to non-addicts having an ‘educational’ spiritual experience, not addicts, who’s lives depend on having such experiences. We may be able to see in the astronomical failure rates of all treatment programs today that many addicts may, in fact, not be able to overcome their addiction through an ‘educational variety’ spiritual experience and instead may require a more powerful experience such as Bill Wilson had at Towns Hospital, like the ones William James had with nitrous oxide, or the one that Howard Lotsof had in Gabon under the influence of ibogaine. It is possible that at some point the educational variety may work for an addicted person, and I have seen it take place, but when you take into account that, sooner or later addiction is fatal, many addicts may not have the time needed to have an awakening that requires long periods of time paired with a clear mind that is able to digest and focus on studying literature. I am certain that many mothers who have lost children to addiction would agree with this perspective.
The way the program is designed, people are to read the instructions that Bill Wilson wrote as a result of his personal experience, which was heavily influenced by his psychedelic journeying, and recreate the spiritual awakening that he had, but without the psychedelic medicines. Bill Wilson was given William James’ book of instructions on how to have an awakening, ‘The Variety of Religious Experiences,’ which included references to the importance James placed on his intimate relationship with nitrous oxide as it related to his ability to obtain his profound insights to the soul. Bill was unable to lift a spiritual awakening off of the pages of James’ book by reading it alone. He found it crucial to utilize entheogenic medicine in addition to reading James’ work.
All recovery programs alive today share a goal that is one in the same at their foundation…to create a personality change, whether through spiritual, psychological, behavioral, penal or chemical means, sufficient to overcome the addiction problem within the individual, as originally laid out in AA’s ‘Spiritual Appendix.’ The reason for the failure rates we see in all programs are the same across the board as well, despite the particular modality variances from one treatment program or system to another. Things are not evolving because the secularity within the recovery landscape makes it difficult to see the universality of the programs’ goals, where things are working and where their inherent incompleteness is. The question we should all be asking is what is missing from all treatments, and what parts of different treatment methods are working. We should be searching for the variables like people’s lives depend on it rather than judging as casually as one judges another’s attire. To be arguing which treatment program is better than the other is missing the point completely because none of them are working very well for most people, and what’s happening to most people is what we should be concerned with. The industry success rate stands at about 8% today. Would you bring a parent with cancer to a clinic that boasted an 8% success rate? The reason that people who want to recover often can’t do so permanently is that there are missing pieces of the recovery process, or puzzle, if you will, namely entheogenic therapies.
With the treatment of any illness an antidote that matches the strength of the ailment must be used to bring a person back to a state of health. When one has a cold, chicken soup and rest works wonders. When a person has
bronchitis, antibiotics are administered. When a person has pneumonia, they are hospitalized. The antidote to addiction has the duty of facilitating a spiritual experience so profound that the person’s personality is altered by 180° and their body ceases to depend on lethal substances daily. Some people are able to have this on their own, unaided, and this truly is a miracle to witness. For the vast majority of addicts, this level of experience is simply inaccessible without the aid of entheogens. This is why the immediate success rates following ibogaine are so high. It is important to understand that many people in recovery who have put down their substance of choice remain in the frequency of addition with many other things such as caffeine, nicotine, sex, gambling, shopping, work, media, pornography, etc. Most people who have had an unaided ‘awakening’ are released from their most blaring addictions, but are not granted the complete release that we see following entheogenic detoxes, and therefore continue to suffer and lay prey to relapse. You can clearly see this at any Twelve Step gathering by looking at the cookie and coffee buffett, the cloud of smoke one must navigate through to enter the building, by listening to the shares given by members and by seeing how much many people struggle by noticing common terms, like ‘the revolving door.’ The motto in Twelve Steps is ‘one day at a time,’ which for many, is all that they can handle.
Bill Wilson authored the Big Book of AA, but wasn’t at liberty to write the book the way he wanted to, which was to explain exactly how he had recovered, even though it was his own experience that had been the blueprint of the program for which the fellowship had grown up around. Because AA had adopted the practice of ‘group conscience’ by the time he had authored the book in 1939, four years after his awakening at Towns Hospital, all of his writings were reviewed, edited and censored by the other members of AA before it went to final print. One of AA’s main goals, as stated at the beginning of its book, was to write the book in such a fashion as to ‘not be controversial in any way…’
The truth is that Bill Wilson wasn’t able to have a spiritual or religious conversion of the ‘educational variety’ that was powerful enough to release him from addiction. Bill’s process of integrating his spiritual experience into his daily life was of the educational variety, but not his initial awakening. Ebby Thatcher had given him the religious program, but Bill was unable to apply or digest it until he combined the information with an entheogenic experience. Bill was also unable to experience this required psychic shift under the influence of entheogens alone, prior to being introduced to the religious program created by the Oxford group. The expert on spiritual experiences and great philosopher, William James, referenced in the ‘Spiritual Experience’ of AA’s textbook, was himself the originator of the first psychedelic movement in the United States. William James openly speaks of his ‘awakenings’ under the influence of nitrous oxide and how greatly these experiences contributed to his deep understanding of spirituality and religion. He had become known as the ‘Nitrous Oxide Philosopher’ in addition to his international recognition of being one of the greatest scholars of his time.
You may be thinking, “Yes, but Ebby Thatcher was able to recover on the Oxford Group’s religious program alone….”
Yes, for a little while….although Ebby (AA’s first unofficial sponsor) introduced Bill to the Oxford group (the community), Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who was the religious leader of the Oxford Group (the teachings) and gave
Bill Wilson the book “The Variety of Religious Experiences,” Ebby didn’t stay sober and was heavily drinking the majority of his life. Ebby died at age 66 in an AA based inpatient treatment center that was paid for by Bill Wilson. So, it appears that Ebby wasn’t able to have the awakening required to recover by spiritual teachings alone, either. Conversely, it appears as though the entheogenic patients at Towns Hospital that didn’t have the formula above: a spiritual mentor, teaching, and supportive community would generally succumb to relapse as well. The absence of the right kind of structure and support caused Dr. Lambert and many others to prematurely dismiss the belladonna treatment as ineffective in the long term, rather than recognizing they had an essential component of a larger treatment protocol. This is one of the main reasons people dismiss ibogaine today.
When we look at the two original members of AA, Ebby and Bill, only Bill, who incorporated periodic entheogenic treatments with a spiritual program, was able to maintain lasting recovery. The third member of AA, Dr. Bob remained sober from alcohol the rest of his life, but he battled with deep depression and anxiety and took barbiturates throughout his sobriety to control his unstable moods. By today’s 100% abstinence policy within the fellowship of Twelve Step community, Dr. Bob would be considered by many to not be in recovery because he had ‘switched addictions’ (similar to ‘marijuana maintenance’ you here so often within the rooms of AA)…other would stand by the ‘we aren’t doctors, we don’t prescribe’ line of thinking, which can be very dangerous when we take into account where most people are obtaining their opiates from these days.
When we look at the real history of Twelve Step programs, and therefore all programs of recovery that we have today, it is plain to see that there are five main factors that built the structure of Bill Wilson’s sober life and legacy: a
mentor, a teaching, a community, service to others, and entheogenic therapy. As a result of the common thread of psychedelic and spiritual journeying, great minds were amazingly able to come together to weave the beginnings of the fabric of recovery that we know today.
There is a clear need for a profound alteration in consciousness if someone is to overcome the depths of addiction. These experiences are extremely personal and life saving, and to deny a person the opportunity to experience this in any way that is possible for them to do so is to deny them the right of spiritual, emotional and physical freedom at the most basic level.
When people find a recovery method that works for them, they have a tendency to adopt the belief that it is the way for everyone, and anyone who fails at their personal success story is because the other person didn’t try hard enough. This has created an extremely dogmatic environment within the recovery culture, especially within the Twelve Step Fellowship. While there is a general blueprint for recovery, it is not absolute and it is able to be experienced in many different forms. There is a hint of this fact on each of AA’s chips that are given out at meetings to mark significant milestones for people’s specific amounts of time in recovery. Each medallion reads “To Thine Own Self Be True,” which, according to the definitions given in the ‘Spiritual Appendix’ of AA, would suggest that recovery means staying true to your true, inner self, not the dogmatic principles of other people’s belief systems. The general structure that is needed and universally true in order to recover from real addiction is a spiritual awakening, the detoxification of the body, support of a teacher or guide and a supportive community to re-integrate into.
To help the formerly addicted person integrate their spiritual experience into a new way of life that not only heals the trauma prior to the person’s addiction, but that supports a lifestyle that nourishes the person out of suffering so that they do not return to covering their pain with addictions.
The opposite of addiction is connection. The greatest cause of failed attempts at sobriety is that people aren’t able to access an awakened state long enough to make any changes, because changing your life takes time. Waking up is the prerequisite to living a recovered life. The greatest reason for people relapsing after using the spiritual aid of entheogenic treatments is lack of the above formula. The people who are in programs utilizing these frameworks are generally not granted knowledge of the entheogenic assistants because years of dogma and a partially written history has separated the mainstream recovery community from the knowledge of the entheogenic component that was the reason AA was created. People who do use entheogens to get sober are often subtlety or outrightly unwelcome in other recovery circles where community support is supposed to be available to all people who have experienced addiction, and this is not limited to AA. This is because there has been a vast net cast over what is considered a ‘mind altering substance’ and therefore a ‘relapse.’ People in addiction are in need of a mind altering experience of the right kind in order to begin their recovery process, and that is the foundation of AA and all other recovery programs. So many people can’t do this on their own, despite their best efforts, including the man who founded AA! This is why we see the death rates from this disease claim more lives than any other epidemic in this history of the U.S., even more than AIDS or cancer. And this is nothing new. The addiction problem was even worse when Bill Wilson got sober.
Ibogaine is the most effective detox for addiction and trauma that exists on the face of the planet that we know of today. It works to cleanse the mind, body and soul like nothing else available anywhere. It knows exactly what to sweep out of the memory, the body, and the soul and what it needs to restore. It has the intelligence to reset the imbalanced neurotransmitters in the brain and restore a sense of happiness and belonging that most addicts have never experienced before, not even as children. Ibogaine restores the essential functioning of the vagus nerve, which is responsible for connecting the intelligence of the gut with the intelligence of the brain. Ibogaine heals sick bodies and broken hearts. And the effects last months, and for some things, much longer. The window of clarity, peace and well being that usually follows an ibogaine treatment gives the addicted person a window of opportunity to do the work it takes to stay sober and healthy. Ibogaine heals life long depression, anxiety, fear, obsessiveness, PTSD and trauma that most people in recovery just learn to live with by ‘being grateful they are clean and sober’ or relapse because they cannot learn to live with crippling symptoms that so often stay with addicts their entire life, even in recovery. Most addicts are never able to get clean at all.
Addiction attacks on the body, mind and spirit. Ibogaine heals the body, mind and spirit. What other medicine does this? What other dis-ease attacks people in this way? How could this medicine not be meant to help people with addiction with such condition specific properties? It is powerful enough as an antidote to defeat addiction, just like penicillin kills infection. The intelligence of ibogaine exceeds the knowledge that humans possess on the topic of addiction or our ability to treat it. Are we to wait until science catches up to understand what addiction is and how ibogaine does what it does so we can then prescribe it? How many people will die in the meanwhile?
To argue that entheogenic medicines should not be used in the treatment of addiction because they are mind altering is absurd when you think of the fact that addiction has altered one’s mind so much that the only hope for recovery is to alter the person’s mind into a higher state of awareness. The argument that ibogaine is potentially fatal really begins to fade in the shadow of the number of deaths caused by addiction itself. In the rare case of fatality caused by ibogaine, the vast majority are because it is illegal in the U.S. Out of desperation and lack of education people are being forced to brave a highly unregulated landscape where addicts are more likely to fall prey to improperly trained treatment providers who are taking advantage of the grey area for financial gains.
To think that we live in a culture that sells alcohol over the counter, which destroys millions of lives and has the medicinal function only of sterilizing surfaces of infection, a culture that not only allows the legal sales of opiates, the leading cause of addiction and death in our country today, but encourages people to use these deadly drugs by being one of the only countries in the world that permits direct-to-consumer-marketing of these narcotics from the companies that manufacture them, while simultaneously classifying the medicines that allow people to free themselves of addiction with no potential for dependency as a Schedule 1 illicit drugs with ‘no medical value’ is beyond reason. The fact that we are giving our children Ritalin, which is one molecule off from meth to treat ‘hyperactivity’ while soda machines fill the lunchroom cafeterias seems a bit short sighted. The fact that the doctors who are given authority to dispense our narcotics have only seven hours of addiction training during their entire stint at medical school is frightening and has created a serious problem. This is real evidence of the power of Big Pharma and the great influence held by their lobbyists in our nation’s Capital and in the curriculum that is being taught in the classrooms of medical schools across the country today.
What is even more disheartening is that the mainstream recovery culture has embraced this view of which drugs are OK and which aren’t by following the guidelines of the US government, the laws made that are controlled by the people making the money of the approved drugs, rather than by what they are doing to our bodies, minds and souls… to our people. The legal ones are the ones that are killing us. It is time that we wake up and take a look at what is really happening. History is repeating itself right now because we are too busy judging, shaming, punishing, fearing and allowing ourselves to be victimized by Capitalism. We are allowing Big Pharma and the laws they fund to guide what is acceptable and not acceptable in our recoveries, despite the evidence. We need to be protecting our recovery community from this, not ushering it in. We are allowing Big Pharma and the politics they puppeteer, as well as outdated, uneducated viewpoints based on fear and ignorance to determine our fate as a nation of people who struggle with addiction. This leaves very little room for ingenuity, growth or improvement.
I suffered from anxiety, depression, chronic pain and fatigue years into my dedicated recovery from severe alcoholism. Strict adherence to AA’s program saved my life and helped me in many ways, but, despite my tireless efforts, including yoga, diet, retreats, self help books, counseling, doctors, body work, energy medicine, ashrams, spiritual gatherings, service to others, you name it, it did not give me back my health or quality of life outside of the mediocre realm, except in fleeting and unpredictable increments. I finally found the courage to go against the warnings I had been given by other people in recovery (who had no experience with entheogens, but all of whom had strong opinions) and the US laws to experience my ibogaine treatment six years into my sobriety. It was the best thing that I had ever done for myself besides quitting drinking through my work in the Twelve Steps. It healed my depression, anxiety, PTSD, chronic pain and fatigue. For the first time in my life I felt what it was like to comfortably belong on this planet. It allowed me release from my lesser but just as deadly and misery-producing addictions of sugar, caffeine, nicotine, work, and food. It healed my broken heart when nothing and nobody else could, not even the strong relationship I have with my Higher Power (that did save me from the bottle). Ibogaine not only healed my entire being, it informed me of how to maintain my health and happiness through healing the systems in my body in a way that I could recognize. I was able to have a live class with God while induced with ibogaine. It has been because of these lessons that I have been able to support my body in a way that has kept me feeling well. The biochemistry and life history that I have makes me more susceptible to all the symptoms I mentioned above, which has and can again lead to addiction for me. Even if I hadn’t relapsed, living with all of those symptoms is not really living. Ibogaine taught me how much of a part our bodies contribute to our mental well being and the real importance of good and specific nutrition. It taught me how to relax and not take life so seriously. It taught me how to laugh again. It taught me how to accept and love myself, and therefore others.
I was easily able to buy alcohol, my drug of choice, at the age of 14 at the corner store. I had to spend my savings and go to Mexico to get one, life saving dose of ibogaine.
I hope we will soon be able to see the history of addiction recovery for what it really is and how it really happened. My hope is that, from an open minded place of compassion and curiosity, we will finally recognize and be able to acknowledge the significant role entheogenic medicines had played for so many of the thought leaders of early addiction recovery, and how it was not possible to achieve the recovery models we go by today without the power of entheogenic medicine.
We keep looking for ‘the solution to addiction’ as if the answer independently exists in one of the fragmented puzzle pieces that remain from the history of Bill Wilson’s true story that became ever more diluted as it was re-told and rewritten in an attempt to relay the recovery protocol in a more palatable form to the wider audience. Fundamentalist Christianity and psychedelics do make for a strange and unfamiliar brew, after all. Is it possible that the use of entheogens was omitted from Alcoholics Anonymous’ final program of action because the founding members of AA were too fearful to look that deeply into the shadows of their own psyche and soul? AA’s textbook was written only 4 years after Bill became sober. They didn’t have the data only time provides as to how well their program would work over the long term, and how well it would work for people from different ethnic, religious, financial and cultural backgrounds. The original members were primarily white, professional, Christian men. AA has stood the test of time, and has remarkable effectiveness considering that it is missing a key ingredient of its original format. AA literature states that “we must be willing to go to any length to get sober…”. Perhaps an entheogenic experience was too much for the majority of AA’s early membership and the society of its time.
Is it possible that the fact AA has seen a steady decline in success rates with each generation removed from its cofounder is because, in actuality, the fellowship and its teachings have been incrementally displaced from the wisdom and insights Bill had gained from his direct experience with psychedelics? Maybe it is possible that only some people in recovery need to experience an entheogenic state of consciousness, and they can then teach the rest of the community the vital insights and wisdoms gleaned from the psychedelic experience, similar to the way William James and Bill Wilson were able to effectively transfer their psychedelic insights to the masses of their time.
Maybe the most hardcore addicts, the one’s where all else fails, are the ones that are supposed to be teaching these messages, as the lifestyle medicine for recovery is to live a life of service, harmlessness and virtuosity. According to the first Law of Thermodynamics, there is no way to create or destroy energy within a contained system, only to transform it. Addicts who recover are remarkable people. They are highly intelligent, sensitive and creative people who have gained incredible wisdom, courage and compassion through their life experience. The world could use more people like this right now.
Is it possible that the individual and group consciousness that strives for recovery from addiction is in need of incremental awakening and rejuvenation to keep the individual and collective soul from succumbing to the chronic tendency to fall asleep under the spell of addiction, depression and apathy? Could it be possible if this wisdom offered by psychedelic therapies were kept refreshed within the recovery community that those who do not wish to or are unable to have an entheogenic experience could benefit from being around those that have had one? This is one possibility of why the success rates in the original AA fellowship were so much higher than they are today.
We do not know so much more about addiction than we did when Bill Wilson forged the path to recovery.
We have put people on the moon, invented the television and the internet since the year that AA’s book was written. All that is needed is a thorough reexamination of what really happened and a serious reconsideration of our viewpoints as it relates to the use of entheogenic medicines as a treatment modality for addiction, as well as mental and spiritual health issues. What we already have available to us is really wonderful, it’s just incomplete. Within the story of Bill Wilson and the evolution of his program, there are many variables and room for creativity and personalization. Each person’s recovery needs to be as individual as their fingerprint. The one, universal component that everyone needs to recover is to first wake up. How each person accomplishes this should be their freedom to choose, as long as it does no harm to others. To deny access and support for those who need to utilize ibogaine or other entheogenic medicines as a piece of their recovery process is to deny them their spiritual freedom and their life.
“I believe that unarmed Truth and unconditional Love will have the final word in Reality….this is why Right temporarily defeated is stronger than any Evil….
…when our days have become dreary with low hovering clouds and our nights become darker than 1,000 midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance…that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
– Herbert Spencer, as quoted in Alcoholics Anonymous, Spiritual Appendix, pg. 568, Fourth Edition