Over seven years ago I co-founded the Northeastern University undergraduate chapter of SSDP. As a student in Boston during the 2008 election season, I was thrilled because also on the ballot that year was a vote on whether Massachusetts should decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
Like many young people, I experimented with drugs in high school. While most of my friends were able to moderate their drug use, even with interest in experimenting with different types of drugs, it didn’t take long for me to prefer being high all the time. I had more interest in which drugs I would try next than on which college I should attend or what career I wanted to pursue. Neither my friends nor my family appreciated the passion I brought to criticisms about drug prohibition, or the potential use for psychedelics in therapy, but when I learned about SSDP, I knew I had to get involved.
The future looked bright for both myself as an aspiring SSDP Rockstar, and our chapter as we strove to put Northeastern SSDP on the national map. We hosted and co-sponsored the 2009 Boston Ibogaine Forum, a 3-day conference on the powerful psychoactive drug found in the root of an African plant. Researchers, activists, and advocates from around the world gathered at Northeastern to share and disseminate information about ibogaine’s use as an addiction-interrupter, particularly in the treatment of opiate detox.
Despite an impressive number of accomplishments in Northeastern SSDP’s rookie year, I was wrestling with inner demons that I chose not to share with anyone. I was looked up to, and though acting like a leader for the chapter, my enthusiasm and hard work outside of the classroom was a very different picture than my academics. I struggled greatly during my first year and failed two courses, getting put on academic probation after the first semester.
SSDP gave me a role right away as a young person looking to push for change. I didn’t think it was right that things I got in trouble for were treated much differently for people of different races and backgrounds. I was tired of people not taking me seriously when I somehow managed to connect every issue to problems relating to the war on drugs, or that psychedelics were definitely going to return to accepted medical use in my lifetime.
But even with SSDP I wasn’t able to escape addiction. Barely back on my feet by sophomore year, the energy being swallowed by a foray into progressively worsening opiate use had little to spare for studies, and eventually brought my passion for SSDP (and everything else for that matter) down the vacuum. I alienated myself from the chapter and the national office, and after effectively leaving the other members to fend for themselves by the time I was supposed to graduate, I had also failed to meet all the requirements for my degree. I moved back in with my parents and saw my addiction worsen even more.
A heroin-dependent college drop-out was a far cry from what I envisioned a few years earlier. Soon I’d be in rehab, half-heartedly considering abstinence from drugs but really just wanting to give my lawyer a good defense against the felony arrest he was trying to get transferred to drug court. Barely acknowledging the reality of my addiction, recovery was therefore impossible to commit to. It took a loving and unconditional plea from my mother about whether I was doing ok after she thought I hadn’t left my room in two days (I had, but only to meet my dealer in the middle of the night, come home and get high, then sleep all day). I told her a second shot at rehab was pointless, I’d been unable to follow the suggestions before but I felt that an ibogaine treatment might work.
My treatment experience with ibogaine was life-changing, and if readers are interested they can find my account of that here, and here. I returned to Northeastern a year after my ibogaine treatment, in 2012, to earn my degree. Just weeks before graduation I spoke about my journey at Northeastern SSDP’s annual Perspectives in Psychedelic Medicine speaker panel. It was an honor to share the proverbial stage with Rick Doblin, a friend and mentor most known for his tireless dedication as founder and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Earlier this year I was honored to receive a Daniel Jabbour Memorial Scholarship award to attend the SSDP2016 conference where I spoke during the drug war stories session and moderated a panel. This fall I will be starting a graduate program in psychology at The New School for Social Research, where I hope to earn a PhD and conduct doctoral research on addiction and therapeutic uses for psychedelics, aspiring toward a career as a Clinical Psychologist. Among the things I am most proud of about all that I’ve gained through recovering from addiction, it is an honor to be part of SSDP’s Alumni Association where I can continue giving back to an organization giving opportunities for young people to help end the drug war!