Through the Looking Glass: What MDMA has taught me about Fear, Love, and Body Image
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“Ahhhhhhh….” The rushing sensation of freedom envelops my system. A broad sigh is liberated from my body as it always does at this instant – when the chemically-induced state begins to unfold. Audible breaths fill and empty the confines of my otherwise limited lungs – limited not because of their capacity, but because of the power of my mind on my body. They perform without coercion, merely connected to the complex operations within. I am finally safe, and my unroused nervous system is a reflection of that truth.
I step into the backyard with my dog and take a seat on one of the patio chairs. Dusk has fallen and the blaring sounds of the concrete jungle are fast asleep. It is unusually quiet, in fact, and I realize that it is because thoughts aren’t racing at lightning speed across my chatterbox mind. No neurotic voices warning me of this, that, and the other. The hypervigilance I’ve grown so accustomed to as normalcy appears to be temporarily halted. Is this what some people experience in their everyday life? Could this one day become my normal?
I feel my high coming on stronger so I head to the bedroom, deciding to free myself of the constricting jeans I'm wearing. In the midst of undressing, my reflection in the full-length mirror draws me in and I behold the naked picture. The love-hate relationship I’ve developed with my body since I was a little girl runs deep, teetering between the two emotions depending on a variety of factors. If I’m honest with myself, my weight gain over the last couple of years has pushed the pendulum onto the side of hate. Here I am though, under the influence of a powerful empathogen, and all I see is beauty.
An hourglass shape still lingering in the thickness grabs my attention and I slide my hands down its silhouette. I recall high school before the Kardashian clan had popularized body types like mine, and the resentment I carried for inheriting my mothers’ figure. It has taken some unlearning but, thankfully, those days are behind me.
The reflection showcases plumpened yet muscular thighs and I see the Vrouvides name in their shape. “I can’t escape them, can I?” I smile to myself with a growing feeling of acceptance of that truth. My gaze rises to my midsection, where a little belly has replaced the once-upon-a-time toned midriff that I have attributed as my should-be default state. “A great burden to impose on oneself...” I discern. Unexpected feelings of love and compassion emanate from somewhere inside of me and I want to cry as I grasp just how hard I usually am on myself.
I focus on my breasts that have been an ongoing journey to fully love, ruminating on the days when I wished they could mirror those of the perfectly perched implants I saw in pornography. Under the magic of the MDMA, I am in complete admiration. I scruff up the mess of curls on my head – if only 25-year-old Mel could see me today, embracing my natural hair instead of straightening them into oblivion every single morning, she might very well pass out.
As I run a hand through my frizzy mane, a few silver stragglers emerge from my temple line. My seemingly faster appearing white hairs don’t really bother me in my normal state, and I am at peace with the fine lines that are subtly burrowing deeper with the passing time – although a voice from within whispers to be grateful for this feeling of peace, for the next transitions of aging may be a more challenging road to acceptance.
My God, have I ever changed and I am so grateful for it. Shed so many old identities that, although once served their purpose, I needed to release in order to grow. My belief system that was once so rigid, has metamorphosed into a collection of ever-evolving personal truths. I have also begun the tedious journey of unpacking the value internalized regarding the nonsensical standards inflicted on my gender.
And you know what’s interesting? When I was at my so-called physical peak, I was my most inauthentic version, moving through life with a giant chip on my shoulder, frozen in cycle upon cycle of self-sabotage. All too comfortable playing the role of victim to my circumstances and not yet mentally strong enough to acknowledge certain painful truths. Twenty-something Mel also hadn’t cultivated the unwavering commitment to end the multi-generational trauma that had been passed down to her. Instead, she allowed shame to imprison her, weighing down like a rusted anchor on the floor of a desolate sea. Of course, that dark energy only attracted chaos of all forms into her life.
So, all of this progress and healing work against the odds – why then the self-loathing for an extra 25 pounds? Why is it so difficult to embrace, even love this space? And why does my physical appearance trump these invaluable personal accomplishments? As I’m looking in the mirror a realization hits me: it is the belief that I might stay stuck here forever. What if I never heal from my traumas? What if my coping mechanisms continue to stunt my evolution and I never reach my highest potential?
One by one, as I list the reasons I am so used to reciting in my non-altered state, I conclude that they all share something in common: they are rooted in fear. But while the medicine has dampened my neuroses, I realize that it is imagined. There is nothing to be frightened of because, without fear clouding my perspective, I know the truth – and I also know this phase is only scary when I attach meaning to it.
My eyes close and I hear the words, “You are already whole Melly.” My body buzzes in agreement and the inner critic that is always so quick to harshly retort remains speechless. Freedom.
“Ahhhhhhh…” Another big sigh releases itself. I throw my PJs on, take one last glance in the mirror and smile, before following the sounds of music to the other room.
Body Dysmorphia Initiation 1
10 years ago if you would have told me that I’d witness my body in sheer love and reverence and that MDMA would help me achieve this, I probably would have laughed in disbelief. I, too, believed the stigma associated with the psychoactive as solely being juice for raves and electronic music festivals. But when I discovered that it dampens the amygdala, a section in the brain responsible for our fear and emotional responses, my experiences quickly developed a deeper meaning and I began paying greater attention to myself in those states. I have since learned that there is so much more to the stimulant than simply being a party drug.
For as long as I can remember, the relationship I have had with my body has been riddled with unhealthy beliefs and expectations. Even when I was 25-years-old, and in the best damn shape of my life, I struggled to love myself. When I would look into the mirror, all of my “flaws” leapt out – my 5’2” frame, thick thighs and short legs, cellulite, stretch marks, under-eye circles, and the list went on.
In reality, I was beautiful. My hourglass shape was one of my assets, not the contrary. My ass was pretty fantastic, stretch-marked or not. My so-called undereye “bags” were just fine, however, the white undereye concealer I refused to leave the house without slathering on certainly was not. Sometimes I see old pictures of myself and am astonished that I was so blind to the truth – but my sense of self was brittle, my worth unbelievably low, and I was brainwashed by what I had grown up learning to expect for myself as a woman, that nothing I did could appease the unrelenting scrutinizer in my mind.
Under the influence of MDMA, all of those limiting beliefs and toxic principles suddenly fly out the front door. Each time the medicine hits evokes the same feeling – like a cumbersome load has been weighing on my shoulders and it’s finally gone. Everything I have been told to think or feel is effortlessly dismissed. I move in absolute confidence, and how much I weigh or how I look is of little concern because I have mastered my energy and that alone makes me more attractive than anything else. Wisdom comes through, untouched by self-doubt and the answers are clear; the truth less scary to face. All of my very essence, the beauty of only who I can be, radiates without hesitation or awkwardness. I am free to be the highest vibration possible because my body, my foundation, is a safe place to land.
Fast-forward to the present: 38-years-old, closer to the truth of who I am, finally in alignment with my genuine purpose, yet I still bear unhealed wounds from harmful cultural norms and, particularly, since I gained weight. Full disclosure, the shame that comes with being overweight often feels heavier than the pounds themself. I feel it viciously come to life in the form of intrusive inner-dialogue when I run into someone who knew me pre-weight-gain or at the mere idea of being photographed. We all have our vices but food is an interesting one because you are essentially wearing your addiction for all to see.
In hindsight, even when I was in the greatest physical shape of my life I have had, intertwined with cannabis use, an unhealthy relationship with food. It was inevitable that it would catch up to me at some point, but in my younger days, I simply didn’t realize. It hadn’t occurred to me that there were underlying issues in need of addressing, that I was hopelessly striving to fill a void. Anytime I would see the numbers on the scale begin to climb, I would immediately restrict myself, rather than attempt to comprehend why they were climbing in the first place.
Looking back, I definitely didn’t possess the awareness, but it also felt like I didn’t have permission to stay there long enough to investigate. Even now, I feel that inner program etched in my brain – that when you gain weight you need to be rid of it as hurriedly as possible – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So, my addiction, because let's call a spade a spade, solidified into what it is today.
Body Dysmorphia Initiation 2
I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, a time when there was considerably less representation and inclusion. This undoubtedly contributed to my ideology but looking around today, I still feel like many things haven’t changed. The women in my life, no matter their age, regardless of how fucking beautiful they are inside and out, all carry the dreaded shame that tends to accompany weight gain and other deeply held insecurities. I watch their value diminish because of it, and though it drives me absolutely insane, it is certainly of no surprise.
From a very young age, it has been drilled into our heads that we are to chase after some perfectly unrealistic version of ourselves. We are to avoid aging and weight gain at all costs – unless you’ve had a baby of course, but closely following that milestone are the pressures of bounce-back culture. We are expected to be hairless, our vulvas pink and untouched; eyebrows microbladed and eyelashes dramatically long with buttery, poreless skin from head to toe. Oh, and don’t forget to top all that off with thick thighs and ass, a teeny-tiny waist and the round, perky breasts of an 18-year-old.
Hollywood culture is a great example of the bigger picture. Sarah Jessica Parker who is embracing the natural aging process and has faced cruel public criticism for appearing “too old”; Nicole Kidman is judged for how much she injects in an industry that gives actresses practically no other choice; the amount of before and after photographs of Adele's weight loss I have come across on social media is horrifying. There is an obsession with women's appearances that is deeply concerning and, let’s be real, all signs point to us being damned if we do and damned if we don’t. As much as it appears that the world has changed, I can’t help but question whether we are actually healing, or placing a big ol’ performative bandaid atop the gaping wound.
I don’t think we are facing the truth, which is that women don’t feel safe to simply be. Scarred, overweight, underweight, aging, hairy, stretch-marked, cellulite ridden – I believe we are exiling these parts of ourselves that we have deemed unlovable. Botox, fad diets, surgeries, and Instagram filters – I am all for doing whatever makes people feel empowered, but when we look inward with radical honesty, do we find that these actions are truly rooted in love, or fear?
Fear-mongering from a society that teaches us to be so petrified to face the full spectrum of this human experience – of the feminine experience, one that is layered with imperfections, ups and downs, painful acceptances and transitions, and the inevitable truth: that our youthfulness is going to fade away. Well, in a world obsessed with physical appearances, it is no wonder that women are afraid to embrace and explore such inescapable transformations.
There’s No Place Like Home
I still have work to do in terms of releasing some of the haunting narratives that have followed me over the years, but I have sworn that this time around my weight loss will be the workings of love and not vanity – a redefining of my relationship with food because my body is a temple, not a garbage can. And I think that MDMA, when used with intention and safety, could be a powerful medicine for women on similar journeys – women looking to rewrite the relationship to their bodies, liberated from the shackles of fear and negative body image.
There are many elements of myself, both physical and psychological, that I have exiled, and my life's work will be bringing every single one of them home again. Because when does it end? When is it OK to fully surrender and say, “I accept all of you.” These components cannot stay outcast, they must be loved. So, this is my vow to myself – to acknowledge all that I have shunned; the tireless, nit-picking judge; stretch marks I have shuddered at; the girl who uses food to cope – I see you there and I finally understand. I’m sorry for kicking you out and pretending like you didn’t exist – I love you or I’m learning how at the very least.
Because if there was only one lesson I could share from my MDMA use it’s that, it is all about love. Everything. Just love. And the degree to which you can love yourself - the good, the bad and the ugly parts, will ultimately determine what you walk around vibrating to the rest of the world and, whether you like it or not, will create your reality.
That moment in front of the mirror, exploring my body and the traits I had banished, that night they came home to me. No, those insecurities and fears have not magically vanished. In fact, it amazes me how quickly following the use of these medicines do the constructs of our mind return – one of the very reasons why integration work is so critical for outlasting change – nevertheless, a light has been shone into the darkness, and it cannot be undone. In the meantime, MDMA is showing me what safety in my body feels like and as someone who had never experienced that before, I am profoundly grateful.
Freedom…that concept used to mean something vastly different to me – unlimited free time, vacations galore, all of the material possessions one could desire. Who would have thought it would have evolved into simply desiring a regulated nervous system? My one, true wish. That’s where it lies, my friends, the foundation to manifesting the life of your dreams – coming home to the body.
I’ll let y’all know when I get there.
About the author: Melissa is a freelance writer, translator, and social media manager, passionate about topics ranging from feminism, psychedelic medicine, and mental health.
Inspiring awakening in women through storytelling, educating on the responsible use of psychoactive substances, and raising trauma awareness are among some of the missions that fuel her. When she isn’t writing, she loves listening to music, spending time in nature with her dog, engaging in meaningful discussions, or reading a good book.
Connect with her via Facebook and Instagram.