excerpt of Trip
By Tao Lin - Apr 30, 2018
On October 3, 2015, a Saturday, my internet friend Tracy emailed me in the afternoon saying she’d completed her third extraction of DMT—from chacruna leaves purchased in an herbal market in Iquitos—and would be in New York City from Tuesday to Sunday for the ninth annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference. Would I like to try some of her DMT?
By then I’d smoked DMT three times. The first time was in December 2012, three months after learning of Terence McKenna. A chemistry student (and fan of my writing) had mailed me five self-synthesized doses for $25 in mid-October, and the waxy, orange substance had remained unused in my drawer with my drug stash. I’d avoided it due to feeling that, at this time in my life, while failing more than ever to wean myself off drugs and at times borderline suicidal, my DMT experience would likely be horrifying.
The day the DMT arrived, I’d written “i have dmt on me but want to wait until i feel better via tapering off xanax before using it” in an email to Gwen, my then girlfriend. Ten days later, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused multiday electrical blackouts in areas of the bottom third of Manhattan, including my apartment building, where Gwen and I and some friends, aware the world was supposed to end soon, had gathered. The coming apocalypse—predicted, it seemed, by the Mayan calendar and, in a way I was only vaguely aware of then, McKenna—plus the hurricane encouraged us to indulge in a nearly weeklong drug binge. (Later, I learned that McKenna argued that humans were, at most, centuries from the end of time but stressed it was not possible to know the end date. He chose a date—December 21, 2012—only so he and others could graph and better contemplate his Timewave theory, it seemed to me. But various people and media had irresistibly latched on to the date, sensationally promoting it as when McKenna believed the world would end.) On November 18, still alive after the eschatologically, meteorologically backed binge, Gwen and I returned, in emails, to the topic of DMT. We wanted to try it but, like the previous month except more, didn’t think our timing was wise. I wanted first to “recover more,” I said in an email. We decided, as our activity for the night, for one of us to snort heroin and the other to ingest Suboxone—a decision based on what drugs we had—and draw or do something else productive, and so my “recovery” continued. By late December I was “recovering” more than ever.
But I felt bored and uncomfortable one night and was alone and wanted to alter my sensation of existence and had no other drugs. Being inexperienced with smoking (I’d smoked around twenty times ever), I suspected I wouldn’t inhale enough DMT to leave the world, and I didn’t. Sitting on my bed, I felt disconnected, unpredictably spaced, buzzing sensations that seemed both physiological and psychological. I wasn’t sure if the effect was all due to the DMT or also because, in a vigilant state of motionless self-awareness, I was detecting or exacerbating a preexisting condition—some form of amphetamine-related brain damage, internal micro-twitching, or tinnitus-like inner-ear problem. I felt electrified around eight times, at first dreading it, then somewhat desiring it because it obviated, if crudely, my mundane despair and seemed to hint at more of itself. I left my bed once or twice to put more DMT in my glass pipe, which Gwen and I had used three months earlier to smoke a vial of crack that a friend had mailed me. I continued to ineptly and, fearing the full experience, probably self-sabotagingly, with my bad smoking skills, smoke little amounts of DMT, squandering two or three doses.
Seven months later, in July 2013, I tried DMT again. I was less hopeless and using considerably less drugs than in December, but still years or many months, I felt, from a mental and physical state recommendable—by myself and, I imagined, most people—for smoking DMT. Seated on my bed with legs dangling off, I kind of impulsively smoked one dose of DMT (“~105mg,” according to the chemistry student), inhaling more than in December because, due to increasing cannabis usage, I’d gotten better at smoking. I included a non-psychoactive, half-dried herb with the DMT and I think I inhaled more than once. I tried to remember how much time was supposed to pass—how many seconds or, an especially aloof part of me thought, minutes—until the effects began. I felt I knew this information. Distractedly, I considered how my half-conscious approach to DMT might be accidentally wise or even ideal, since I felt relatively calm. “It goes to my blood, which goes to my brain, so shouldn’t it have worked already?” I thought. “Or at least by now?” I wondered what I should be thinking about.
Then something happened that scrambled time and erased my memory, interrupting my continuous experience, since birth, of life, even though I remained conscious. I was suddenly so distant from my prior situation inside a body that I could only sense my life—and the world it was embedded in—as a vague myth, shockingly. The blipped passage of my life—a dot of thirty years in a landscape of billions—seemed like a microscopic span of capillary inside the furred ear of an animal on a planet I was rocketing away from in a vessel that had entered a wormhole and departed the universe.
I arrived, with amazement, in a silvery-gray, bulgingly dimensional, complicatedly pulsating, profoundly unfamiliar-feeling, nonphysical place that seemed ancient, public, and, because I couldn’t change perspective, strangely screen-like. It seemed like a dungeon room from The Legend of Zelda (1986) experienced from inside the game; things seemed able to enter from left or right, but nothing did. I felt 50,000 years away from where I was before—not in the past or future but in one of the other directions away from the planet of time. At one point I realized with panic that I needed to experience 50,000 years to return to my prior existence, which I couldn’t remember; I don’t remember how that resolved. Then I was in a sky-like whiteness, densely and glaringly bright. There was something there, and as I tried to comprehend it, it flew away. To chase it, I applied mental pressure behind my eyes. I was trying to use language on it, which I sensed would kill it, which I felt wouldn’t happen because of how swift and elusive it seemed in its own environment, outside language.
Parachuting, then, through the night sky of the one planet, out of trillions, that I’d left and forgotten—falling slowly through blank space—around six minutes after smoking, my trip now ending, I sensed I could currently do, and so feel, anything imaginable, as in a lucid dream, which I’d never experienced. I wondered how to take advantage of this opportunity. I didn’t want to merely feel “good,” didn’t want to indulge in sensations from the familiar spectrums of physical pleasure, abstract euphoria, or mindless, pointless joy. What satisfied me unconflictedly? I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t want to imagine myself in any situations. I tried to communicate telepathically with a friend, and it seemed to almost work. Finally, as if giving up due to time constraints, I considered sex—deriving sexual pleasure by fantasizing about a situation with an imaginary woman or focusing imagelessly on the sensation of orgasm. I was next aware of myself with my pants half off. I went to my computer and began typing.
A flock of things I’d told myself to remember flew mutely out of view in the sky outside the stuffy cabin of my mind as I focused on one aspect of the experience, trying to type coherently about it:
i should have expected this unexpectedness but by its quality it’s definitively not able to be expected
the experience of dmt is unexpected . . . but it’s not that . . . it eludes even that definition because naming it would give one the illusion of it having a connection to the word, which would mean allowing oneself to expect it
it’s outside language, except by being outside language it can’t be described, or to describe it would be to kill it
it’s an entity that resists description in language
meaning it’s an entity that is the opposite of the bias created by language
I typed some lines trying to express the inadequacy of what I’d typed—the six lines here that seemed frustratingly and faintly comically irrelevant to what I sensed I most wanted, but still hadn’t begun, to remember. Urgently thinking I shouldn’t dwell on one topic—especially one in which, having begun analyzing my note-taking, I was already twice removed from the experience—I tried to desultorily address an array of what I was continuously forgetting, like a dream but quicker, dreams being memorable in part because they have familiar things and people. I typed “am i actually the question that someone else is asking to someone else?” in reference to sensing, at one point, that my life was an interrogative communication going from source to recipient. I typed that on DMT it felt possible to leave Earth irreversibly—something I’d told myself was crucial to remember. I typed that maybe I was spreading DNA dimensionally. I couldn’t, at my motivation and energy levels, which were low, remember anything else. Over days, I remembered more, but my new memories seemed like language and imagery thrown back at my original, truer memories of the language-proof, higher-dimensional object of what had happened, further obscuring and distorting it.
If death by comet was unexpected, and departing Earth nonphysically like I did on psilocybin was, after decades in the same metaphysical place, beyond unexpected, my experience of smoked DMT was beyond beyond unexpected. It was around two ontological corners. It was closing closed eyes twice, or waking, incredibly, thrice. It was a mental sneeze that kept intensifying, ludicrously, instead of ending in a second. These are ideas I can contemplate to slightly remember how it felt. DMT became extra frightening and notable to me after this trip. It seemed possible I did experience 50,000 years, hour by hour, before returning with amnesia of my exile, to my life in the universe, where only five minutes had elapsed.
The next day I uncharacteristically and half-consciously walked forty to fifty blocks without a destination, framing where I lived in two rectangles, and for three or four more days I remained more active, less neurotic, and saner, I felt, than normal. I abstained from pills with unusual ease, spent less time mindlessly refreshing websites, and dwelled less on irrationally conceived problems. I theorized this was because I was deficient in DMT. Three years later, I would find support for this theory while researching glyphosate—Earth’s most used pesticide—which made plants, fungi, and microorganisms unable to make three amino acids, including tryptophan, which plants and animals used to make DMT and other compounds.
Eight days after the second time, I smoked DMT a third time. Alone in my room, using the rest of my orange DMT, I smoked less, it seemed, than on July 24, when I had my “50,000 years” experience. Early in the trip, I became distracted by my eyes. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to open or close them; trying both, I couldn’t discern a difference. After realizing I was wasting time on the visual aspect of my experience, I rushed to focus elsewhere and then at some point experienced “alien sex,” as I later, back in the universe, termed it.
On my computer, I typed “all non-experience activity seems pointless, seems worthless, like typing, like recording any info outside oneself” and four more lines before fully realizing I was, again, failing in my note-taking. I refocused and began typing about sex—a topic I’d stressed to myself to remember. I’d sensed the presence of a faceless, bodiless, genderless abstraction, and the experience had felt intensely sexual. This time I did not, like the previous time, feel duly disappointed in myself for thinking about sex while in the imagination; the interaction this time did not seem pleasure-based. I was only terming it “sex” because it had been as intense and relational as sex. Like how I hadn’t died during my psilocybin trips when I’ve felt dead, this wasn’t sex. I didn’t know what else to type. I’d forgotten most of the trip. I typed that I wanted to smoke more DMT—“as much as it takes, to be in the space it puts me into to completely go there”—but I had none left and didn’t try to get more.
Unable, after four or five days, to recall what it felt like, I rarely thought about DMT. I increasingly associated it with my “50,000 years” sensation, which made it seem scary and risky. What if I smoked it and had to wait 50,000 years again to return to my life? Hadn’t I warned myself that I could go elsewhere permanently? I wanted to recover more before trying DMT again. It was August 2013, the month of my psilocybin trip in the previous chapter.
Twenty-six months later, when Tracy emailed me, I was assuredly recovering from drugs. In the past year, I’d used benzos only around ten times and hadn’t used any amphetamines or opiates. Eating healthier, sleeping better, and exercising more, I was less depressed and anxious and more stable and in control of my thoughts and behavior than maybe ever before. I had no excuses not to smoke DMT. I thanked Tracy and said yes to her DMT, which I’d learned a lot about since last smoking it.
Tao Lin is the author of Trip (2018) and other books. For more information on Trip go here.