Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Dopamine Drip & A Mushroom Miracle

Grab a Twinkie. You're about to learn more about your friendly virtual Toddzilla than you're entitled to. Whatevs. I think my example may be of some use.

As I’ve greatly disconnected, I’ve become more tuned in to reality. People, places, and things that can be physically touched. But, as my focus returned and I mindfully moved away from the Dopamine Drip of social media’s constant barrage of likes, comments, and ceaseless manufactured “outrage”, I came to feel naked!

With the commitment to ending the reflexive pursuit of the virtual mob’s approval came an uncertainty as to what to do when not seeking validation! To quote that shitty 90’s band, how bizarre!

Not really. Strap in.

The Bastard Becomes a Junkie

Once a sock was stuffed up the ego’s snout, my diagnosis proved almost shamefully simple. For the last 31-years, life equated to a man-child’s quest for Sperm Donor’s acceptance and validation. Cause: I will never receive any basic human decency from him. Effect: everyone and everything else…you…became a shitty substitute.

  • Baseball as a teenager. 
  • I discovered how being “outrageous” and incorrigible made me standout in Germany at 15. 
  • Simultaneously, I found that alcohol soothed the anxiety driven by an innate sense rejected inferiority…with the self-destructive side-effect of distorting everything else. 
  • Sex then became a means to the illusion of acceptance; the “good enough” substitute. 

Then thru my 20’s and 30’s jobs were about how people saw/judged me rather than what I actually wanted to do. As I sit here typing, I again began wondering if I’d projected the need for validation onto an obvious symptom of my Dopamine addiction disease: my career in radio. I was good at it and the (very) low level celebrity status acted as the paid treatment for, and vehicle to, all of the above.  All to subconsciously scream at Sperm Donor, “Hey! Prick fuck! Remember me?” Of course not. On purpose. And, as I’d learn later, he’d much rather everyone would just let him forget. I digress.

In retrospect, I subconsciously knew much of this in 2004. I just couldn’t articulate it even (especially) to myself. The initial vision of the backpack wasn’t about “adventure traveling” or witty cutting commentary. It wasn’t about sharing a philosophy. And it most certainly wasn’t about anyone watching me. Quite the opposite. It was about stripping down to get to the core of who I am; a primitive notion of meditation; balancing the psychological Signal to Noise Ratio:

“The essentials. Get in a pack and simplify, simplify, simplify!” For me. And me alone.

God knows there were no thoughts of writing, producing videos, or even hopping in cars! I hadn’t held a camera in probably five years! It began as a self-contained concept of rejecting my clearly misdefined/misplaced drive toward careerism and getting centered. For better or worse. When I finally did timidly muster the courage to jump in? I unwittingly found a replacement Dopamine Drip almost immediately: the old blog.

Obviously, that wasn’t intended. I wasn’t seeking to retap the validation vein. But, when I discovered that my experiences were interesting to certain people and began developing a tiny following, the Bastard’s Addiction slowly took over. Over time, as with radio and the bar, I sought The Drip in order to feel solid in who I am and to justify my life. If I wasn’t getting that? Or if it wasn’t “enough”? It became an indictment on my worth as a human being.  Depression. Put that in your back pocket.

But, of course it could never be “enough”. Just as with radio, alcohol, and sex, more only meant my “need” grew in proportion. As I continued writing, praise for being observant, insightful, talented, and articulate took over as validation that I matter and hold a level of basic significance; something Sperm Donor couldn’t be pestered to provide.  Again, a substitute for something I never got because of my unfortunate DNA Lottery luck.

My public writing began in 2008. Facebook blew up in 2008. By 2009, after it helped connect me with the “long lost” family that would become the summer’s centerpiece, Facebook increased my Drip’s dosage exponentially. Forgotten ghosts became “friends”, likes, comments. Travel posts & pictures. Commenting. Brawling.  I had a readymade “audience” providing the added dopamine hit of instant gratification.

Many of you know all too well what I’m talking about, huh? That’s ok. No need to raise your hands. You know who the fuck you are.

As far back as 2009, I sensed how the travels transitioned partially into performance art played out on a virtual stage. I even had a concept of how the blog then Facebook became post-radio “performance” outlets. What I missed: how addicted to both the dopamine rush and the instant gratification I’d become and had been for years. I also remained intentionally oblivious to the damage being done not only to my reality-based sense of self but also to others and, selfishly, my relationships.

Over time, especially after heeding the advice of well-intentioned but woefully misguided dopamine fiend and friend in 2012, the traveling, observations, insight, and introspection took a backseat to “presenting”, “marketing”, and “branding” the “adventures”.

As I said in previous posts, “branding” myself and my life proved to be dopamine mainlining. Predictably, I relived the depression of my radio days. The Splinter returned, once again acutely infecting my mind. Yet, like my friend, or anyone at the height of addiction, I couldn’t see, let alone accept, the cause for what it was.

Mork the Mirror 

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I (awkwardly) crashed a small part of Chicago’s standup comedy scene after moving to the city in late 2013. Much of my enhanced show biz “education” came in the form of eavesdropping on conversations after shows and having blunt chats with the select few comics whom I trusted and believed were speaking genuinely. Combining with my radio experience, over the course of a few months it became clear: The Dopamine Drip plays a major, if not the main, role in the need to perform. The need for the instant gratification of public approval. And, it’s never “enough”. That often makes the jonesing self-destructive. Sometimes deadly.

Things began changing ever so slowly during the aforementioned conversations with/between comedians about the performer’s need for “more”, particularly after Robin Williams’ suicide and while producing my ensuing “Demon” podcast. I felt a discomforting familiarity with what I’d heard both about Williams and from the local comics and began realizing the extent to which I was still tethered to the Drip.

The Mother Root and a Glimpse of Hope

In January 2015, I took a three month backpacking trip from Mexico to Colombia. DMT was on my radar the entire trip. I never found it, but toward the end of the expedition my travel companions and I found an affordable substitute: a cheap ayahuasca ceremony near Salento.

Not what I expected. At all. No visuals, unless you count multiple trips to the toilet to “purge” as psychedelic enlightenment. After my tenth explosive “purging” with no communication from Pachamama or other higher beings from far off dimensions, I was pissed off assuming I’d been ripped off.

But, they say ayahuasca gives you what you need. Not what you want. In my case, the effects were delayed and subtle. Most significantly, I found a temporary internal well filling my abstract hole. For the next couple of days, I felt remarkably calm; self-assured to the point of borderline arrogance. Not the showing off facade of arrogance that bros tend to project! It was authentic and had to do with my abilities to perceive people and the world; to observe both and draw insight. In short, trusting my perspective and its “voice”.

My friends appeared to feed off of me or felt something similar because we spent the entire weekend watching the parade of cookie-cutter backpackers prancing around the fancy hostel while we kept our Real Traveler Cred and camped. Each specimen looking and behaving  exactly like the specimen before. They weren’t real. They were projecting how they thought they “should” be. We viciously shredded these pre-fabricants. We mercilessly mocked how nearly all were obsessed with expressing their individuality…just like the clone before. To ourselves, of course!

We laughed like I hadn’t since my time with Mr. “I’ll Do Anything For A Million Dollars” in 2012! Then, in the midst of our genuine dismissive apathy and judgmental arrogance, a funny thing happened. People noticeably began gravitating toward us!  They wanted to bask in whatever “positive” vibes they sensed coming from our table ; one purposely set apart from the herd next to my tent! Considering the source of the “vibes”, I found this to be the height of irony and deliciously hilarious.

The faint ayahuasca effects lasted just a couple of days but the well had been tapped. I knew it existed. We tried aya again the following week with similar results yet along different lines. It had less to do with “me” than the nature of “our” place of insignificance in a brutal Reptilian Universe. All triggered by a fucking stray kitten. Go figure.

The Miracle of Mushrooms

Finally in April 2016, I engaged in some questionable depression related online “research” and decided to actively seek out and try psilocybin. Pharmaceutical name: ‘shrooms.

Where the effects of ayahuasca were a subtle trickle, psilocybin resembled a gushing torrent. I took two moderate initial doses within a week and became a 3-hour blubbering mess each time. In a good way! While I may have tapped that well in Colombia, in my Chicago apartment I flung open the flood gates. The hole I hopelessly tried filling with dopamine  felt flooded by what seemed like a flowing, inexhaustible, organic internal source. So much so, I experienced an almost unbearable torrent of positivity that I doubt I’ll ever find the words to properly articulate.

I saw my photography and the old writing as something much more than “product” to be submitted for the filthy self-deluded mob’s approval. The mob wouldn’t get it. And there was a firm underlying message that the message, the signal, was being sacrificed at the altar of mass-appeal. And, what I perceived as ayahuasca’s arrogance returned:

“Fuck producing “content”! Fuck the filthy drooling convulsive mob. It’s the message, dummy! The message you’ve been drowning out in favor of mass-appeal aesthetics and “entertainment”! The message is genuine and it’s important! Get over yourself and get it the fuck out there. That’s why you’re here, asshole!” 

Or something like that. The universe can be a real dick. Ever see those images of that comet hitting Jupiter? I feel lucky.

By the end, I realized that what I’d interpreted as arrogance was something different: an unfamiliar organic self-generated confidence. Authentic internally-manufactured belief. When someone lacks a foundation of belief in themselves, for whatever reasons right or wrong, a sudden belief feels like arrogance because it’s a foreign sensation; one they’ve conditioned themselves to believe they shouldn’t feel. Once again, as with the ayahuasca, I came out the other end feeling solid in my observations; The Voice. And more importantly in who I am. With one big difference. Unlike the ayahuasca, this didn’t have a shelf life. While the intensity diminished with the buzz, I was able to hold onto what I’d found. I could bring it “home”.

I’ve never replicated the intensity of those first two doses. When I expected it the third time, I got the sense that whatever depression related “repairs” I required were complete and over the next several months, my little trips turned into something insight and observationally based.

And it wasn’t all rainbows, kale, and Kumbaya either! I half expected to “feel at one with this amaaaaaaazing universe” or some granola stained and yoga posed hippy-dippy shit like that. Quite the opposite. The blunt human observations continued; even intensified. I began writing them down while “in it” and found myself frequently returning to these notes and able to reconnect the thought pattern. George Carlin comes to mind as I try to describe the general theme: “You Are All Diseased”. That the species is driving itself off both a spiritual and existential cliff.  That we’ve confused “work” for “life” and “stuff” for “purpose”. That’s just the tip. The shaft is coming.

Yes. I did that on purpose. Sue me.

Psilocybin is neither habit forming nor a “gateway” drug unless you’re a Darwin Award candidate who’s looking for an excuse to boil their brain in LSD. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fucking lying fuck. Since last summer, I had mostly just been micro-dosing (10%) as needed but  have essentially stopped all together since weaning myself away from The Matrix. The micro-doses were great for enhancing focus. Turns out, so is kicking Facebook, TV, and the Outrage Industrial Complex in the nutsack. I asked. Your doctor said the Toddzilla Method is right for you.

Yep. Mushrooms. Good stuff. So good, I gave the last of my supply to a vet I met at the Legion in New York during this latest hitch around Lake Champlain. He was wounded and lost his lower leg in Afghanistan. During our short conversations he struck me as someone who would get as much, if not more, out of them than I would at that point.

**Comparative Disclosure Tangent: I also tried MDMA in December. Similar with the added effect of "dancing" around my empty apartment wearing nothing but my underwear and big ass headphones. See, I don't fucking dance. At all. Ever. So, yeah. That was weird. Also: the next day's hangover was hell. It's the fungus life for me...

Extracting the Needle

Of course, nothing’s black and white. Even after the psilocybin-based therapy and “product” realizations, I spent all of the summer of 2016 selling pictures and building the Upper World Photo “brand”. This time, tho, when the familiar pangs of Mammon Depression and self-loathing returned I nipped it in the bud beginning with some much needed assistance from an unexpected source: writer Andrew Sullivan. He planted a seed last September that slowly, but persistently, is sprouting into a sequoia. Seeing Social Media and the Internet for what the are: a disease. The Matrix.

From that point, and beginning in earnest with last fall’s hitch, I’ve not needed to consciously to set a corrective set of coordinates. My initially slow but steadily increasing withdrawal from the Dopamine Drip has been executed on autopilot with no conscious and intentional behavioral modification or interference from me. My mind organically recoiled and rejected both social media, television, “the news” and my old friend, Bubble Politics, naturally. It was as though my psychological immune system kicked in producing protective antibodies (unbearable disgust) once I realized what was happening.

I’m now to the point where I’ve unplugged enough that whenever I log onto Facebook, I have about a 20-minutes before I start snarling in condescending contempt. Television? Ha! I flat out can’t watch it.

**FORESHADOWING TANGENT: Keep an eye out for the upcoming “Plantation” post then look for the part about watching The Today Show at a truck stop the week of July 4th! Fuck that man-whore Matt Lauer. Yep. Good times that morning! 

Neil Postman’s books, Technopoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death, had big effects on me as I stepped onto this path last decade. Then I went the opposite direction for about seven years but have since rediscovered and enthusiastically re-embraced his basic ideas, as well as those of people like Sullivan and Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: technology has an ethic. It affects us both as individuals and collectively as a culture in ways that we’re unaware of. I’ve seen it and felt it first hand. Some of the interpersonal damage, both tangibly and in the abstract, cannot be undone.

I firmly believe that the internet, and especially its Social Media Disease, is changing us for the worse. While sites like Google and Wikipedia offer the thoughtless a false sensation of topical “expertise” and an overestimation of personal “education” ("do your “research"!") and competence, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have brought the deadly dopamine epidemic to Main Street.

Scroll thru your Facebook feeds and “friends” list. The similarities to the comedian’s stage persona/brand is stark once you notice it.  How many folks are “brands” such as “The Happy Hippy With The Perfect Family”? Or, “The Outspoken Constitutionalist Patriot!” Or, “The Animal Lover!” How about the “One Who Just Can’t Catch a Break In Life” and MUST post about it 10-times a day?

Worse yet, how many have taken these life-brands and created virtual avatars; online characters that have little resemblance to who they are out in The Desert of The Real?

Social. Media. Disease.

Beyond even that, I’ve come to loathe the impersonal and presence-robbing properties of constant “connectivity” inherent in things like smartphones and text messaging. One of the regrets I have in not finishing the final post from last fall’s trip was my last ride thru Iowa. It was with a trucker who spent a good deal of our time together railing against smartphones and how it’s just rude to disengage from then ignore the person you’re sharing a physical space with to have an electronic exchange with someone else. It’s no different than turning away mid-sentence to talk to someone sitting at another table! And I’m dumbfounded by how many people simply cannot navigate because they’ve become dependent on their phone’s GPS!

Get the fuck off my lawn! Goddammit!

A return to the old ideas of presence and technological dependence is indeed in order.

Hey! Look! It’s not 2,000 words!!

It’s almost 3,000. Goddammit.

Treat yourself to a cookie and porn if you made it thru this beast in one sitting. You get a Toddzilla Badge.