Sanya Kantarovsky, The House of the Spider, 2021
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The most important realization I got from psychedelics was the understanding that everything was okay. I felt a deep rightness in the world that was separate from yet connected to me. It made all my problems less important. Suddenly it seemed insane to hinge my happiness or self-worth on if I was accomplished enough, hot enough, whether or not a boy loved me back. I saw myself the way you see a plant: you notice that it’s growing on its own, reaching towards the sun. You water it, but you understand that you don’t need to worry about it too much. You’re never like is the plant a Good Plant or Bad Plant? You’re just like, is it healthy? I want it to be healthy.
It was a deeply useful insight, but it didn’t change me overnight. I still had these entrenched patterns of behavior that I’d been recreating since I was a little kid. I’ll give you some examples: I’ve always been scared of abandonment and rejection, I never felt safe, and I wanted very deeply to be loved. These were traits that were present in me as a 4-year-old. They’ve always been part of how I’ve approached school, work, and relationships. They thrummed around me like white noise when I was trying to sit in silence. I was intellectually aware of them on some level, but they were so painful and primordial that I struggled to really touch them. For example, I would notice that I often felt fidgety or anxious when I was alone. That was because I always relied on other people to reflect “okayness” back to me—I looked to the external world for reassurance. I didn’t really know whether I was okay or not when I had no input from others. But I didn’t know how to change that—I didn’t know how to stop feeling the way I was feeling. My discomfort was a living being crushing me under its weight.
Now I realize that I needed distance. I needed the ability to look at myself without judgment, to watch myself the way I would watch someone else. Distance is the only way we can have real perspective. And that’s what psychedelics and mindfulness gave me: the ability to maintain distance. For the past two years I’ve been watching myself the way you might watch a movie. I notice which things upset me, and the coping mechanisms I turn to when I’m upset. I notice that when I’m stressed it feels like a ball of tension is expanding in my chest. I notice that for my whole life I’ve been driven by anxiety, driven by competitiveness, driven by the need to feel chosen. I notice the unrealistic expectations I have for love: the way I use it as a pacifier, the way I believe that it can solve any problem. But it could never solve my most important problem.
What I need, now and forever, is to be the person who loves and cares for myself most reliably. I’ve always known that my parents love me, my friends love me. But I also knew that I was the only one who understood myself fully—I was the only person who knew my own dreams, secrets, failings, all the dark spots and all the cracks of light. I should’ve been the one who took care of myself. Who watched all the moments when I was brave, scared, cruel and kind, gave feedback gently, believed in myself unconditionally. For so long I wasn’t able to do that. I couldn’t self-soothe.
But now I can, or at least I’m starting to. I can see the hunger yawn and tell myself it’s okay. I can stay with moments of distress knowing that they will pass. I can lie awake in bed alone at night and feel nothing but a warm buzz of contentment. I’ve realized that I don’t have to consciously try to get better, I don’t need to be perfect. I can just be in the moment, this particular moment of not knowing, swimming in my not-knowing, swimming in my imperfection, and it feels… good?
It’s crazy to realize how deep these knots are. I was all tied up inside before I could pronounce “insecure attachment,” lol. That’s how it is for most of us, I think. We are created by our parents and culture, shaped by forces beyond our control before we’re fully conscious. And then we spend the rest of our lives trying to get free. It’s deep work trying to undo the knots—the deepest work. But it’s also pretty much the only work that matters.
It’s why I write this Substack: I wanted to interrogate myself, in the hope that I could accept myself. I wanted to love myself for being just who I was. Because I thought that if I could do that I could see other people more clearly, I could see the world clearly. I could have a field of vision that wasn’t blurred and distorted by my need for validation. I could love the light for being the light. I could examine every moment of my life the way you examine the body of someone you love. Knowing that it is perfect without qualifications, that the beauty can never be marred. Because the love is there and it spills out of everything.
P.S. I’ve been experimenting with an advice column. Feel free to ask me questions here :)