- Aug 31, 2016
- Frostbite Falls, MN
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Ibogaine and methamphetamine addiction
Many law enforcement officials say the only way off methamphetamine is death or prison. The drug is reputed to be more addictive than crack cocaine. Yet this week we talked to a Traverse City native who was severely addicted to methamphetamine for 2 years, but has been clean for 90 days. Before recovery, his addiction cost him 2 marriages, his home, two businesses, most of his family relationships and his health. He credits his success to ibogaine, a psychedelic from the root of a shrub found in West Africa.
NE: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I just turned 40. I turned 40 in the treatment center in Miami, Florida. To be honest, I'm so glad I was there. I grew up in Northern Michigan. I have fond memories of school and I spent a quarter at MSU and flunked out. And then I got an opportunity to move to the West Coast. I was a chef and went to one of the best culinary schools in Europe, and I've run a restaurant and two very successful catering companies. But my drug addiction brought them both down. I was forced out of my catering company because I wasn't performing. It's been one tragedy after another, but I'm in a great place today. And I know I will continue on this path. There is nothing left to lose. I have such a firm grip on what life's about, I can't say I'm fearless, but I know I've seen the worst.
NE: How did you ever get addicted to meth?
A: The crazy story is I went to a treatment facility for alcohol in 2002 and my wife at the time sold my business to my business partner for a dollar because she had power of attorney and packed up her stuff and split. So the day I got out of the treatment center, there was a big moving van in front of my house. I did have a nice house. I was up and coming, I had been up and coming, I've been written up in the newspaper several times for good things.
She couldn't deal with the intensity of my business. Owning your own catering business is very stressful. I'm a go-getter and not afraid to take risks. We took a few hits, with 9-11 and opening a restaurant. There were times I thought I'd never be poor again, and then I was. She wasn't hip to the business climate. She got scared when I was in treatment. My business partner, who didn't have our best interests in mind, convinced her to sell my interest so that there wouldn't be a debt load.
NE: Tell me what happened at the treatment center?
A: In the treatment center you learn all sorts of stuff, you learn all about other drugs, and I found out about crystal meth. When my wife sold my first business and then with her leaving, I was just devastated. I was so attached to my business. I thought it was everything I was. Instead of coming out of the treatment center clean, I immediately started drinking. Then it turned itself into finding drugs, and then the crystal meth became available. I was looking for cocaine, but the dealer guy sold me crystal meth. He told me it's cheaper and lasts longer.
NE: But didn't you know how addictive it was?
A: I didn't know how addictive it was, no. I was kind of depressed, seriously depressed, and didn't care too much about wanting to live. I thought, who cares? This is making me feel better. I didn't want to feel the pain and I didn't know how to get out of the pain, other than to use drugs. I became disinterested in alcohol and cocaine and I was solely going with the crystal meth. I started a second catering company that was competing with my old one. I still had my old reputation. So I had more investors and business partners willing and able to get going. It was very successful, but the crystal meth took over and it became really clear to my business partners that I wasn't performing.
NE: But doesn't meth make you more productive?
A: It does for awhile. I catered for the TV show Extreme Home Makeover. It was 10-day event; 24 hours a day, and I pretty much did it all. We were serving 500 meals a day for 10 days straight. I pretty much went the whole 10 days and slept two hours a day. I was highly productive, highly productive.
NE: Were you grouchy?
A: Only when I was out of the drug. The thing about crystal meth is, I was on it for two years straight with only six days of not using. There are drugs similar to meth, that help people with ADD and ADHD, and I've been diagnosed with ADHD. So finding crystal meth kind of made me feel like I was normal. I had all this creative energy going on in my head so that a lot of times it was hard to focus. In a strange way, it allowed me to bring things together and focus. It makes you feel like you're large and in charge. It's crazy. It increases libido by 500%, but it can get out of control.
NE: Tell me about the six days you didn't use meth.
A: One was where my drug dealer got deported to Mexico, and the other time, I didn't have enough money to get it together. It was a very tough three days. I was still working, and I had to keep it together. It's challenging. Every cell of your body is craving what you don't have - it's a pain you can't even describe. And all I wanted to do was sleep. You can't keep your eyes open no matter what. It was scary when I caught myself falling asleep while I was driving.
NE: Was it expensive?
A: Not as expensive as cocaine, I guess. My habit was $50 to $100 a day. When I started, it was much less, $25 a day. I started to sell cocaine to keep up with the meth. I tried to sell meth, but I couldn't keep it around to sell. I was getting meth for $330 for a quarter ounce, which is a pretty good price. I tried to buy enough for other people, but I just got in the way.
NE: Who were your fellow smokers?
A: I was leading this weird double life. I would hang out with a bunch of hardcore lowlife drug users -- I put myself in that category as well -- and I also had this peer group that I had from my culinary career who had no idea what I was doing. Those worlds never crossed in the 2 years I was using meth. It's a not very glamorous drug. I was somewhat ashamed. Had I been a big-time coke junkie, who knows?
NE: Did your skin break out? Did you lose a lot of weight?
A: My teeth didn't fall out, never got meth mouth or acne and my blood pressure was good. But I went from 220 to 140 pounds when I checked into the treatment center in Miami. I was very near death, completely malnourished skin and bones. I had stopped exercising; I stopped everything except smoking crystal meth. And I had a new baby on the way. I used right up until after she was born, and then things rapidly fell apart after she was born. It was the universe's way of getting me straight.
NE: So how did it all come down?
A: My partners kicked me out of the business right before the baby was born. They were forcing me out, and I made a fatal error and got mad, F--- you, I'm out of here. You guys suck! They were very intelligent -- they used the old business school ploy to force me out by taking a lot of my creative control away, which is my thing, and I became an employee and I said, Forget this! I'm a highly creative individual, and that's why my companies have done so well. I often find that drug addicts are highly creative and highly intelligent. When I wasn't using, my life was great. The moment I started using, it disintegrated in just two years. It just devastates people faster than anything else.
My girlfriend knew something was up. She was pregnant at the time with my daughter and she also has three other children - it's not as out of the trailer park as it sounds. God bless her, she loved me so much, she didn't want the truth to be what it was. Denial was a good word in that situation. My brother intervened, he is savvy. He told her and said we have to get him some help. As soon as she got hip to it, she pretty much said, you gotta go and get help. At first, I was convinced I had it under control, except I fell from grace.
I sensed an intervention coming on and I told them not to, I didn't want to go through another intervention. That first treatment center was a horrible, horrible experience. I didn't get a lot out of it. They beat you down, make you feel unworthy, an addict, and you'll always be that way unless you do it their way. I thought, forget it. I'll kill myself because I don't want to do this. I didn't want to live without the drug. I just didn't want to feel the pain of being human. I had not learned how to cope as a child. Instead I would just escape. I had finally found the perfect escape. Most addicts don't have the coping skills that other people who don't use drugs regularly have. So we are these crippled adolescents in 40-year-old bodies who stick their heads in the sand.
My brother was very concerned for my life, and he's a spiritual guy, a practicing Buddhist and an alternative thinker. Certain kinds of experiences with drugs can take you back to yourself, before you poisoned your body, to a time of innocence. The whole experience can serve as a reset button. I don't think that drugs and alcohol are necessarily bad, although some people are naturally inclined to be addicts. They can be great teachers, but once we start abusing something, no matter what it is, physically and spiritually it abuses us back. You have to treat these plant masters as if they're spiritual entities.
My brother discovered a psychedelic called ibogaine, an anti-addiction drug which comes from the eboga plant in Africa. He did a lot of research, and thought it was something worth trying. I said, F--- you, I'm not interested, and continued using. I finally submitted -- I wanted to raise my daughter, and I felt I still had something to live for.
NE: But isn't ibogaine banned in the United States? Where did you go for treatment?
A: I went through recovery in Miami through the Holistic Addiction Treatment Center and they have a loose relationship with Dr. Mash (a professor of neurology at the University of Miami and a leading proponent of the drug). The drug was administered in Cancun Mexico and I was there for five or six days.
NE: Tell me what your treatment was like.
A: I was prepped for two days in Cancun and then at 10 a.m. on the morning of Friday, I was given the ibogaine. And then I was under the influence for close to 36 hours, which was an extraordinarily long time, but my body absorbed it. It was too long for me. There were times I thought, Oh god, please let me come down?
There aren't a lot of words for some of the stuff that I saw or experienced, other than I was close to God in so many different ways. It was administered under a very clinical setting -- it was given to me in the form of capsules. I was hooked up to an IV and a blood pressure cuff, and a body temperature sort of deal. I thought, I'm in a safe place. I was with a doctor and two nurses who watched me around the clock. They hooked me up to this machine; I was in a really comfortable bed, the room is completely dark, and I had these eye goggle things, headphones, and an mp3 player with six to eight hours of tribal drumming with some underlying tracks of rhythms that your neuro-pathway responds to.
Dr. Mash is one of the world's leading brain scientists. She's hip to how your brain responds to sound and music. I wouldn't say it was hypnosis. In traditional ceremonies there are similar approaches on a more fundamental level. With peyote, an Indian sits at the door of the teepee and plays a rhythmic drum -- it's slow and it's fast, heavy and then it's light. It helps the person with their journey.
I started to feel it after 45 minutes; it's a huge body rush. You feel warm, your fingers and toes are tingly, and then it comes on really fast. You can see what your mind is suddenly creating. I created these incredible visions -- so fast that I couldn't process what the experiences were. After awhile, it slowed down. I tell people, with the slot machines, the three columns are spinning at different rates of speed. Within these columns were experiences I remembered, some I didn't know what they were, strange random things. There were these incredible patterns of geometric patterns that I would become, I would look at them and they would change. If I focused on one, I'd get pulled into it, or become part of it. Some of it was childhood trauma that I would re-experience in a peaceful, gentle way. It allowed me to process some of this stuff that I hadn't processed before.
It allowed me to see me, the 8-year-old child, and have compassion for him and kind of tell him he was okay and he was safe in all those things that were not terminal and he could get on with his life. Some of it was random crazy stuff. Like these childhood toys.
We had this thing called a Big Wheel. I was able to ride this Big Wheel and play. When you get on it and peddle really fast and the wheel spun, it was like being a child. I was never scared. Some get scared. I think it's not letting yourself go with the experience.
There are so many people who have profound experiences where someone came to them and said stop using drugs. But that didn't happen to me. I had an overwhelming experience of peace and harmonic connection with myself, the planet and the universe. There were some dark scary moments of things I couldn't describe. Some people see snakes or spiders. I didn't see any of that, but I felt the presence of darkness. I didn't push it away. I hung with it for a period of time and that passed on. Most of my ibogaine experience was in a beautiful bright light with lots of colors. I could smell colors.
Afterwards, I first tried to sleep and I couldn't sleep. I was not tired at all and I was up for another three to four days. You get a huge hit of serotonin. I went back to Miami. I did have some counseling. They let me process it; not everybody at this treatment center opts for the extra credit of ibogaine; I was one of the few people and we kind of stuck together. Some didn't understand taking drugs to get off drugs. But the people that did were of the same mind, and we processed our stuff tighter with a therapist as well. There were six people who opted for ibogaine and they are still not using.
NE: I know that part of the counseling involved being told not to return to your old group of friends who used meth. Was this difficult for you?
A: No it wasn't because of my dual life element. But a lot of people who were with me at the center were doing really good until they went home. Their friends are still using and they fell right back into it.
NE: How much did your treatment cost?
A: The treatment center alone was $21,000 and the ibogaine experience was $5,500. I didn't have any insurance at the time. I was there for in-patient treatment, which included six days in Cancun. We went to a gym, did aikido, yoga, went to a spa every Saturday. Then we lived in this outpatient house, it was reality based. Some centers lock you up and keep you out of the general population. These are called lock-down facilities. With this treatment center, you had to want recovery because you could easily use drugs. There were people who left halfway through and you don't get your money back.
NE: How do you feel now?
A: Dr. Mash has done studies that show our receptor sites are put to pre-drug abuse status after the ibogaine experience. Some of that can be argued because it's just one study, but I know in my heart of hearts that I'm physically and mentally as good or better than I was in my 20s. My body is coming back faster than I expected it to. I'm 175 pounds. I exercise daily, do yoga. I have a couple of dogs, and I'm always busy with them.
I'm not working right now by choice because I can float a little bit longer. I'm going to go back to school and get a degree in herbal medicine, if not go for a natural pathics degree. I'm going to take my culinary background and wrap it with nutritional science and get into the healing field. It's one way to stay on track, and I can help people. Which I'm good at.
Im also going to do some marketing for ibogaine, work as a liaison between Dr. Mash and the treatment facilities on the West Coast. I have to wait another three months. No one is going to take 90 days of recovery seriously. It'll help me stay clean.
NE: Do you have cravings now?
A: I don't ever want to go back to where I was. I don't want to lose my family, my life, the things I created. Every once in awhile when stress hits, or pressure hits, it crosses my mind, but it goes through my head so fast. To think of crystal meth today - what was I doing? What was I thinking? It definitely wasn't me.
Some people don't have as many resources as others. And you pray for them. You see people in the treatment facility and think, oh gosh, they're not getting it. Or there's so much pain. One 19 year-old kid, a world class surfer, he didn't do ibogaine -- his dad was in prison. He grew up with that whole concept, and he admired his dad, but he did things that put him in a place where he went to prison. He started to get it, but he was one of the kids who didn't make it.
NE: Any last words on your recovery?
A: Ibogaine is so important. It's not too good to be true and I'm a living example of it. I/m so lucky to have found it, and I wouldn't be clean without it.