It has been a while since I last wrote here and a some readers might wonder what I’m up to nowadays. I have three main projects going on in my life right now:
Gardenscaping. I am learning how to create gardens and given my background I am especially interested in the therapeutic aspects, of creating magical spaces, places for meditation, relaxation, interaction and such.
Heal & grow. I am collecting all my tools, insights and thoughts for personal and spiritual development into one book. The first draft is in Swedish but when I am done I will have it translated into English. I am still looking for test readers for the Swedish version. Check out: En shamans verktygslåda
Family. There is a new baby boy in my life and I very happy.
This is a question that I sometimes get from people who do not understand why others want to get involved with “drugs”. The question itself is revealing, because it is obvious that the person has alcohol as a reference, which limits their understanding of other substances. It is rarely clear in everyday conversation that “drugs” can have other uses than intoxication.
Intoxication is only one of several states that alcohol and drugs are used to achieve. To broaden the subject, I would rather use the phrase mind altered states. Why do people want to achieve altered states of mind? By changing the words I hope that it will be clearer that substances may have more to them than only intoxication.
But let’s still begin with the state of intoxication. Alcohol is the typical example of an intoxicating drug, because it has few other purposes. In small or moderate use it can work well as a social lubricant or as relaxation. At high consumption it is an excellent escape drug, which explains its high potential for abuse. There are a large number of drugs with similar characteristics, or that are at least used in similar ways – as intoxication, social lubricant or as an escape. Opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, some prescription drugs and cannabis, to name a few.
But what other altered states of mind are people who take different substances looking for? Speaking of cannabis, there has long been talk about the plants medicinal properties. Some medicinal properties can certainly be isolated so that you can get the medical effect without the altered state of mind, but in other cases the altered state is strongly linked to the medical effect. Cannabis is used to relieve chronic pain and difficulty coping with stress, to name just a couple of uses.
Another group of substances that is much more mind altering is psychedelics, also called hallucinogens or entheogens. With these I have experienced everything from extreme confusion to total clarity, but I have never felt intoxication to be a valid word for my experiences. From a Western medical perspective, these substances can be used as therapeutic tools. They might give me the opportunity to become aware of and release that which is restricting me, help me heal past trauma, give me insight into who I am, give me a sense of purpose and my place in the world. The question of why I choose to intoxicate myself becomes very strange, because I am working therapeutically with the substance in order to heal and grow. The abuse potential of these substances are remarkably low, since they typically raise your awareness in a manner which makes you want to quit any substance abuse.
Another place where virtually all cultures seek altered states of consciousness is in the spiritual. Some achieve it through prolonged meditation, others in intense dance, through drumming, singing, beating themselves, with yoga, in prayer, in ceremonies, sweat lodges, through sex, separated from the world, or in close, intimate contact with it. One of mankind’s oldest ways to connect with the higher divine is by plants, which is a tradition that we know is more than twice as old as the Bible, and probably many times older yet. There are a few scenarios where it might be relevant to talk about intoxication, but in most spiritual contexts the word intoxication is extremely inappropriate, as the goal is rather to open up to other realities, for example so one can be able to speak with nature, spirits, ancestors, angels and the highest divine.
I understand that I have not given an answer to the original question. I have rather tried to explain that there are several other reasons to take drugs than just to get intoxicated. If we seriously want to answer the question of why people want to get intoxicated, we first need to take a step back and make these distinctions. Otherwise there is the risk that we confuse abuse with use, medical use or spiritual exploration. It is not helpful if we actually want to understand why people get intoxicated.
In conclusion I should probably have a go at answering the actual question. I think of the word intoxication as being connected to the word escape, which in turn connects to the word abuse. Intoxication is a very narrow and limited way to use a substance; a way that suggests that the person is out of balance. People are trying to escape themselves for many reasons, but what these people seem to have in common is that they often lack the tools and/or the driving force to handle the situation differently. People who live their lives in a haze do so because they don’t understand how it could be done differently. To unlock the mechanism that makes people want to escape through intoxication, we first need to identify what the person is trying to escape from and then confront and come to terms with it. When the reason we want to escape is healed, we no longer have the urge to do so.
Main photo: Self portrait – Me and my right hand man by MattysFlicks on Flickr