Updated: Jun 27, 2020
| This is the 325th story of Our Life Logs |
Given that I was born and raised in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the year of our Lord, 1994, and attended private schools up until the age of 18, I lived a relatively sheltered life. In fact, most nights were spent all alone in my room since most of my friends lived miles away. That’s one of the things they don’t tell you about private school. You feel isolated from your town (since you don’t go to public) and from your friends (since you live too far away to hang out on a nightly basis). Weekends were filled with helping my dad around the house and maybe going to the movies or hanging out with friends one day a week. I had barely any time to socialize outside school, let alone date.
And that’s not to paint my childhood as unhappy. It’s just the way it was. Cape Cod is a tourist haven that, while packed to bursting in July, empties to the point of tumbleweeds in November. The stark dichotomy of packed summer days spent with friends versus the empty winter nights spent all alone only heightened my sense of isolation and teenage angst.
When I went off to college, I was determined never to go back to that sad, lonely little boy who had spent hours in his room listening to the Harry Potter books on tape while playing with his Playmobils. At first, I struggled to find and carve out a niche for myself in my new ecosystem. I never wanted to be alone, so I resolved to make people need me…whether that meant becoming their emotional rock, making them laugh, or by doing them favors like selling them booze or weed. And guess what, it worked. Superficially.
So even though I was constantly surrounded by people, these relationships began to feel empty, because they were devoid of any vulnerability. They existed only because I was terrified of missing out on college, the way I’d felt I’d missed out on high school.
But I didn’t realize all this until I when on a…rather informative… “trip.” It turned out that my people-pleasing attitude got me into trouble not only with others, but with my own psyche. Let me explain.
• • •
It was 2015—my sophomore year of college. My roommate Steve came through the door one day pronouncing, “I got shrooms from a buddy back home, you want in?”
“Shrooms. Like mushrooms? Like magic mushrooms?”
“Yeah, you in or out?”
And so, it went. I put mine in a peanut butter sandwich to mask the taste, though the texture was still there. Something like dry, chewy calamari. We sat around for a while in fits of nervous expectation. Kendrick Lamar’s album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City drifted in and out of the lapses in our conversation.
At some point, my friend Dan and I immediately knew something was wrong. We felt like we weren’t supposed to be there. The harsh right angles of the cinder block walls glared at us as if it was our fault they’d never move again. I left to go to Spencer’s room, and that’s where the trip reached its peak. Our friend Nate put some shit on TV that was supposed to be trippy.
“This cool for you guys?”
“Yeah,” we said in unison.
It was easier than trying to explain that the curtains were melting and dripping onto his desk like birthday candles when the jolly good fellow has emphysema.
After that, things became darker, and I’ll never forget it. What was said changed me fundamentally as a person. We all have those two voices in our heads, although everyone has a different name for them. Pastors may call them Angel and Devil. Psychiatrists maybe the ID and Superego. Lay people might think of them as the conscious and unconscious mind. But suddenly, there they were, clear as day in my experience, and I was trapped in the middle of their yammering as I tried to stare at a light show on the TV that wasn’t fit to be a Windows screensaver.
As anyone who’s read Ulysses knows, the way your mind works is much more abstract than a simple back and forth conversation. But for the sake of clarity, the below is roughly the experience I had.
The devil went first, saying, “No one likes you.”
Then, the angel, “That’s not true at all. All these people in the room. They like you.”
“Because you lied to them. They like the person they think you are. But if they knew you…they’d drop you faster than yesterday’s news.”
“Alright let’s calm down. Focus on something else.”
“What? Like the fact that you were a virgin all through high school? Extra virgin even. You didn’t even touch a girl.”
“I’m not a virgin anymore, why does it matter?”
“Cause you lied to her. She wouldn’t have slept with you if she knew what a loser you were. All alone in your room. How many days was it? I lost count.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Then why does it still bother you?”
“Who cares? Quit asking.”
“Is that why you do your buddies favors? Buy them booze? Sell them weed? You’re terrified that when you can’t do anything for them, they’ll have no more use for you. You’ll end up back in a room. Alone. Neglected.”
“It’s not like that at all.”
“Isn’t it? Why else do you put your neck on the line for them? You could have been expelled or suspended. You could lose your scholarship. And for what? So that some pissants playing D3 football will let you into their townhouse? Just remember you were willing to break a guy’s kneecaps if it meant staying in their lane.”
“It wasn’t just me. Nate and Trevor were in on it too.”
“And that makes it better? What would mom think?”
“Leave her out of it.”
“You never think of her anymore, do you? She’s probably at home with no one left to bake for. Dad’s busy all the time and with you and your brother in college…it must break her heart to feel so useless. What are you gonna do with your life anyway? Be a lawyer? Lie to judges and juries like you lie to all your friends? What about your wife? You gonna lie to her too? Like you lie to everyone? Con her into marrying you like you conned that sweet girl into sleeping with you? Cause we both know you can’t ever get vulnerable with anyone. God forbid they know the real you.”
“I’ll figure something out. I’ll join the military. I’ll get a purple heart and come home a hero. Then fund Alzheimer’s research so Gram will be able to remember who I am.”
“Where will you get the money? By demanding it? By breaking someone’s kneecaps?”
“No, by starting a business like my dad.”
“So, let me get this straight. You’re going to join the Navy, get a medal, fund Alzheimer’s research, and start a multi-million-dollar company, by the time that you’re…what age, exactly?”
“Just leave me alone.”
“How can I? When you keep throwing all these awful ideas out there into the ether. If you die, it’s my ass too, you know. I AM you.”
“Leave me ALONE!”
• • •
While this pitched battle raged inside my head for however long it did, I didn’t move a muscle. My friend, Nate, was watching Breaking Bad on his bed a few feet away from us. If anyone had walked in, it would have looked like absolutely nothing was happening. I gently excused myself while the Hundred Years War still raging deep inside my head. Then, I felt something caustic burning through the pit in my stomach. A cold sweat sweeping through my body. I rushed to the bathroom and purged myself of my demons and the half-digested mushrooms that had conspired to kill me from within.
Armed with some new kind of certainty, I gathered up all my friends and led them to where the water met the sand. This is my favorite part of tripping. The hour or so of razor-sharp clarity you get before your brain begins flushing the excesses of dopamine it collected during the trip. Shortly thereafter, it begins allowing serotonin back into the picture. I welcomed the neurotransmitter like an old friend as it slowly tightened its grip on my devil and forced him back into the depths from whence he came. He winked at me and got inside, locking the door—only to come out during REM sleep and special occasions.
Above all, I was grateful. I had met myself. All my deep dark fears and hidden insecurities. The experience showed me a perspective I never knew I had. As much as we’d all like to think we’re in control of ourselves, we’re more like Press Secretaries trying to explain our behavior to ourselves and others. But having a chance to strip away the pretense, to realize that I was still that scared, lonely little kid just desperate for acceptance, well, that set me free a bit. Because it was something I could own. I had given myself permission to hug that little kid and tell him that it wouldn’t always be like this. That whenever those feelings decide to rear their ugly face, I can choose to head them off at the pass, rather than let them conspire to rule my life again.
After the trip, I decided to focus on developing who I was, rather than trying to fit a box or mold that someone else set for me. I took up mindfulness meditation, which I recommend to anyone. I found my way back to my roots, back to the days of spending so much time alone and what I did to occupy myself. I began writing novels and spending more time in nature.
Slowly, I carved out a life for myself that I wanted to live. I cut negative people from my life, and only expended effort on those who were willing to return the favor. And slowly, I saw my life transform into the beautiful adventure that it is today. Tripping allowed me to realize that not only was I unhappy, but also I was looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
Life isn’t that complex, though we love to make it so. All you need is food, water, shelter, meaning, friends, and family.
This is the story of Matthew Harris
Matthew grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a town that was an hour away from his school and his friends. As a result, he spent much of his time alone, searching for meaning and anything to distract him from himself. As Matthew got to college, he began to fill this void with superficial relationships, alcohol, and the occasional recreational drug. Luckily, it was a shroom-induced “vision” that led Matthew to a new kind of confidence, one of vulnerability and self-awareness.
This story first touched our hearts on April 16, 2019.
| Writer: Matthew Harris | Editor: Colleen Walker |