MDMA lets you get friendly with all of your spiky bits, your terrified bobs, your anxious particles that preoccupy you during “normal” life.
It is not magic, but maybe just a little bit. It is a catalyst, a door, an empowerment, but as with everything else worth a damn, it entirely depends on what you do with it and what you bring to it.
This guide is written explicitly for solo therapeutic/healing work with MDMA. Solo work contains its set of pros and cons, as does working with a therapist or guide, or even working with MDMA at all.
Use MDMA solo because it’s more accessible, and safer. Not safe, mind you, nothing powerful enough to be of any use is exactly safe. MDMA is currently illegal, and will remain so outside of the highly expensive and low-access context of the MDMA therapist’s office or retreat or however it will be delievered in the coming years. Not only will you need to drop $5-8K, most people will probably not live somewhere where this therapy is available locally, and need to travel to a larger center, adding to the costs, not all monetary, of trying to access this therapy.
But you go solo because it is always you, that heals. A therapist can be a large help with this, but they can also just as readily be a hindrance. The same dynamics apply to working solo with MDMA, but the cost of learning is much lower, and the upsides are very, very high.
Cautions and Disclaimers
MDMA is illegal, everywhere, as of this writing. Its chemical cousins called benzofurans (5-MAPB or 6-APB) are not illegal in some places. Consult your local legal situation. Learn how to test your drugs for purity and fentanyl contamination.
MDMA does not typically lead to “bad trips.” But the work you do on MDMA can have disruptive effects. To use a medical analogy, MDMA therapy is like surgery. It may make you healthier in the long run, but there is a time of immediate healing afterwards that may be difficult. It can get subjectively worse before it gets better. Having a good support network is critical.
You might do the actual trip solo, but you cannot do the work in isolation.
Just the Protocol, Please
So let’s pretend that I don’t need to convince you very much. You have access to some MDMA (or an analogue like 5-MAPB or 6-APB). You have some emotional issues or trauma you’re working through. Here’s what you need, and what you should do:
- Solitude for a day. You need a space where you’ll be uninterrupted as you’re going to get a bit weird and that’s good but non-weird people will likely be an intrusion. Ideally you want a space with enough room to move around in, but even just a bed is pretty good. The more noise you are able to make, the better.
- A mirror, the larger the better. You are going to be talking to yourself in this mirror a lot.
- Good music, enough to last the duration of your trip without requiring you to fiddle with it all the time. Lyrics should be minimized or nearly completely shunned. EDM is very good in this context but classical music is also excellent. There is a cottage industry of playlists for tripping to. You could do much worse than starting with the Johns Hopkins playlist from their psilocybin trials. My personal tastes run towards the genre called psybient or psydub. I really enjoy this set.
- A way to record what goes on during the session. My recommendation is to make audio notes to yourself. The Voice Memos app comes built-in to iPhones. I use Just Press Record. A journal would also work, or any type of visual art for those inclined in that direction. You want something that you can revisit later to bring back the feeling-space you encountered during the trip.
- A sleeping mask. The visual field is highly distracting for interior work.
You are going to delve into memories and feelings that give rise to suffering in your daily living. Rage or shame or anxiety or some combination of the three are usually at the root, associated with some traumatic episode or repeated motif, probably from early in life. MDMA lets you feel these feelings and remember these memories without feeling threatened and overwhelmed by them. This allows you to work with them with compassion, forgiveness, and openness, so that whatever is stuck becomes unstuck and can flow again.
Getting started early in the day is recommended. MDMA lasts around 4 hours if you don’t redose (I don’t recommend redosing). 5-MAPB lasts around 6 hours, 6-APB around 8. This is a commitment.
While you are coming up on the drug, for the first hour or two, engage in wholesome activity. I enjoy doing some yoga poses, really waking up my body. Meditation is good. Visual art or singing or playing a musical instrument are good. You are trying to get into your body, to relax into it.
At some point, you will be really entering the territory of openheartedness. This is where the work happens. In everything you do, do it with openness, gentlesness, forgiveness.
You look at yourself in the mirror. You tell yourself every horrible thing that has happened to you and that you have done. To all of this you say, over and over and over again:
- I am so sorry that happened
- It’s not your fault
- It’s not happening now, it’s over. You’re safe now.
You say this to yourself as you look yourself in the mirror with an open heart full of compassion.
Looking at yourself in the mirror is usually a place of shame and judgment of self. Instead, you will practice loving and accepting everything you see. This is your body, this is who you are. This body is good.
And so the practice is to maintain full acceptance of everything you see and everything that you feel. Every judgment that comes up is just a part of you trying to protect you because the world has hurt you so much. Accept that, too. Accept that everything you have done was to try to survive. And you have! Love yourself for surviving.
You can intensify the feedback loop of the accepting gaze by getting naked. This is your body. It is a good one, it is the only body that is your body. There is nothing wrong with it, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fix.
But do not only look in the mirror, also look within. Put on your facemask or close your eyes if you don’t have one. Go into the interiority. You may find yourself reliving moments of trauma. Talk to that earlier version of yourself. Ask yourself what you needed, then, that you did not get. In the interior scene, act out getting what you needed.
Don’t push too hard. You don’t need to force this. Allow it. Enjoy it. Relish it. Your body knows how to heal and you’re giving it good soil to grow in.
Record any big insights in whatever way you’ve decided. I find audio notes to be the least distracting but you do whatever works best for you. I like to record myself talking to myself in the mirror.
Trust your intutition.
And don’t forget that you can move! Movement feels really really good on MDMA. Dance and sway and shout and stomp and do whatever feels good. Watch yourself moving in the mirror. Sing and crow and shout! Look how good this body is, look how beautifully it moves with the music.
At some point you will say to yourself, “I’m not that high any more.” All good things must come to an end!
This is a great chance to begin recording your insights if you have not yet. Talk into a recording device or draw or write.
You might feel like shit. Benzofurans (5-MAPB or 6-APB) appear to be somewhat gentler than MDMA but the high highs experienced on the drug can very much come at the cost of a low low afterwards. It will all balance out in the end but that might take up to a week of feeling low and depressive. On top of all of this is that you’ve melted some stuff that was frozen and these new feelings might feel very uncomfortable or threatening.
I have found that cannabis feels very good while coming down. An alcoholic drink or two may also be useful (if alcohol isn’t a problem for you). Some dramamine (Gravol) may be useful to help you sleep if that is difficult. Eat if you’re hungry.
Try to stay away from your usual habits that fill time and space. Stay away from screens as much as possible.
Integration is the fancy word for “ok I had a great experience on drugs, now what?” You want whatever goodness you experienced to spill over into the rest of your day-to-day living.
The following day, talk to a trusted friend or partner or therapist or psychedelic integration coach about your experience. The sooner the better. Go back over whatever you recorded during your session. I like to go for a walk and listen to my audio notes. Listening to yourself is very difficult for many people, and so this is a great practice of learning to extend the same kind of love and acceptance to yourself. I sound weird and crazy and a little too passionate! That’s ok! I love this about myself.
Look for places you would ordinarily be activated/triggered in day-to-day life. Is there more spaciousness around your usual patterns? Are you able to tolerate more? Are there new feelings? As best you can, allow whatever is being felt to be felt, not repressed.
You may also face difficulties with having opened up so much. Parts of you may be very unhappy that you explored taboo internal territory and felt forbidden feelings. Remember that this is just a part of you, not all of you. Be patient with your parts that are only trying to protect you. They think that if you remember or feel, you might die.
Be gentle and patient with yourself. The path of avoiding difficulty probably hasn’t worked out that well for you.
You will almost certainly need more than just one session. Often it’s the case that the first one gets things moving, and now you need to deal with what gets brought up. A few general guidelines for subsequent sessions:
- No more than once per month, and even then, no more than a few months in a row before taking at least a three month break. You can completely lose the ability for MDMA to be effective otherwise.
- Use whatever you learned about what worked, and didn’t, in your previous session to improve your next one.
- If working solo did not work well for you, look to have a friend or sitter or guide or therapist help you. You do not need a professional, just someone you feel safe with, who can help to keep you on track if you were unable to do that for yourself.
- But this is not forever. You will reach a point of “done.” Not forever done, but good-enough done. You might still take a journey every half year to half-decade, but you’ve lightened the load enough to go on living, which is the whole point.
You will do better with a spiritual path in a tradition that makes sense to you, and a teacher who can work with you. People have been traumatized, and healing from it, since time immemorial. The point is not altered states of consciousness, but using them to heal and learn and grow so that no matter what state of consciousness we’re in, it’s so good to be there.