Someone had to tell me what to do with it: under your tongue, leave it there for a while, don’t swallow. We used a laptop to film ourselves. In the video, the three of us put the paper squares on our tongues, sticking them out for the camera, then giggle nervously.
I had never taken a psychedelic before and had no idea what to expect. Part of me hoped that nothing would happen. But within the hour, the walls began to breathe, the couch transformed into a rickety ship tossed by a turbulent sea, and my organs writhed. I prepared myself for death.
This didn’t require much effort; I had been preparing myself for death for years. I had spent the previous semester living alone in London and made little effort to reconnect with friends upon my return to college in the States. My days were murky and endless, with most hours endured either in class or in bed. Whenever I passed a window I would see myself crashing through it. Knives called my name at night.
It was to silence these voices that I had started spending my nights with a classmate.
When summer came, he invited me to join his family at their cabin in the Adirondacks. Leaving New York City for a tiny mountain town made me acutely aware of my color. Locals stole glances at the skinny black girl tagging along with a white family.
On the Fourth of July, my boyfriend’s family left the cabin to watch fireworks at the lake. We stayed behind and had sex. I faked an orgasm as the fireworks exploded. After he fell asleep, I curled myself into a ball and sobbed. I told myself I was crying tears of joy. By the time I dropped my first tab, three years after I started seeing him, I had stopped having sex with him entirely.
He had acquired the acid, through some ritual involving several of his friends and the dark web, but when the time came, he distributed the tabs to me and my two friends at our college campus and excused himself.
When I started getting seasick, my friends reassured me that there was nothing to be afraid of, because we would be together every step of the way. One of them broke out her paint and brushes to distract me. We slathered a canvas with every color she had until it turned a swirling, luminescent black, then painted each other’s faces. We ventured out onto campus, sat in the grass and marveled at the ants, splashed in the mud by the lake.
When my friend’s roommate and her girlfriend opened the door, they found the three of us splayed out on the couch in our underwear, two of us giggling at a puppet show the other was performing with half of a burrito. Delighted, they dressed us, then herded us out into the night and across campus to the girlfriend’s room.
In an instant, the world disappeared. All that was real was her voice.
She lit incense, put on a Beatles record, and handed us a copy of Be Here Now. The lushly illustrated book seemed to contain all the secrets of the universe. I flipped through it eagerly, watching the pictures dance, until its beautiful owner produced a guitar and began to sing.
In an instant, the world disappeared. All that was real was her voice.
We sang together, feeling our voices vibrate through our bodies and fill the air. A storm began and we went out to meet it. We wandered separately, communing with the massive trees and the tiny bugs brought forth by the rain.
Each time I encountered one of my companions, I fell in love with her on the spot. I proposed marriage to one friend, promising her a life of simple bliss on a farm with a dozen dogs. When I found myself alone under a streetlight with my friend’s roommate, a girl I barely knew and vaguely disliked, I told her, “Now that we’re alone, I realize I’ve been waiting all my life to be alone with you.”
Once I had proposed to everyone in attendance, my love spread to the trees and the wet earth. I didn’t just love them: I was them. We were all connected, all parts of a single being. Later, when people asked how the acid made me feel, I—a lifelong atheist—would tell them that I believed in God for three hours. For the first time in my life, I felt certain that the universe and everyone in it had nothing but my best interests at heart.
As the storm died down, we went back inside and dried off. We smoked some weed to counter the first pangs of the comedown, then walked back across campus. We made a dogpile on the couch and attempted to sleep as the sun rose. My boyfriend reappeared and tried to join us, but I pushed him away.
Days later, I resolved to end the relationship. When he asked why, I told him the truth: “I’m gay.”
We cried together, but we were mourning for different reasons. For him it was the end of a romance, but I felt I was losing my closest friend.
The trip accelerated a journey toward self-acceptance that could have taken years.
I’ve tried many different drugs, including LSD on other occasions, but these experiences have had nowhere near as lasting an impact as my first trip. I’ve returned to a high level of skepticism regarding the universe’s intentions toward me, if it has any, but I still haven’t lost the certainty that no matter what happens, I’m going to be okay. I no longer crave death.
I can’t say that I never would have realized I was gay if I hadn’t dropped that tab, but the trip accelerated a journey toward self-acceptance that could have taken years.
I dated a girl in high school, but the relationship ended so traumatically—there was a suicide attempt, several breakups, and finally a forced separation imposed by our parents—that I rushed back into the closet as if it were a safe house. I never wanted to hurt or be hurt in that way again, so I took shelter in a relationship that carried little risk: since I could never really love my boyfriend, I couldn’t endanger him or myself the way I felt I’d endangered my high school girlfriend.
All the while, I lied to myself and everyone else, pretending to be a straight-leaning bisexual whose past dalliances with women chiefly served to make her more attractive to men, a mythical figure culled from male fantasy.
The acid stripped me of this costume and dispelled my terror of my own sexuality, leaving me enraptured by the charms of a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice.
The effects of the drug wore off, but the epiphany was indelible. I’d never felt anything like that for my boyfriend, or any man, and knew I never would. And in the warm glow of the acid, that feeling seemed so pure that it could never hurt anyone, so visceral that I would be a fool to deny it or run from it. After that moment, I was incapable of ever again lying to myself about who I was.
Social stigma and legal barriers restricting access to these drugs indiscriminately undermine their ability to heal.
Mine is just one story. But our growing knowledge of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics—to help people recover from PTSD, overcome alcoholism, even quit smoking—hold out the prospect of many others benefiting in different ways. The undervalued work of researchers like Monnica T. Williams also illustrates the capacity of psychedelics to help people of color confront and process racial trauma.
Research has brought us closer to a world where this potential is realized—depressed people finding joy, abused people enabled to confront their trauma, queer people empowered to envision radical futures—but we’re not yet living in it.
While psychedelics can be harmful for some, the social stigma and legal barriers restricting access to these drugs indiscriminately undermine their ability to heal—particularly for people of color, who face legal peril for experimenting with substances often deemed harmless in paler hands.
Until those barriers are reduced, stories like mine will remain rarer than they should be, while those of people who succumbed to a depression they could not escape will remain unnecessarily common.