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Chapter 13 of “The Moth & the Lighthouse: a Memoir”

As a critical transformation occurs, the author begs the reader to not give up on him.

By J. Otis HaasPublished 8 months ago 11 min read
Chapter 13 of “The Moth & the Lighthouse: a Memoir”
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

I know this memoir has been a sad story so far, and you probably don’t like the protagonist very much, but I beg you to press on, Dear Reader. The monstrous cretin inhabiting these pages is about to undergo a transformation. Based on what you know so far, it’s hard to believe that anything could penetrate the shell of miserable, desperate, entitled arrogance he is encased in, I know. However, he is about to have some experiences that evidence if not a higher power, at least a sense of greater purpose, and emerge from the chrysalis a butterf…well, at least a moth, but you may find the changes as astounding as he did.

He would offer an apology at this point, not just you, Dear Reader, but to anyone who has featured as a character in the story thus far, as well as many others who didn’t. There are no excuses, just meager explanations for some of the lesser evils wrought. He is truly sorry for inflicting his misery on others. And so begins the impossible quest for atonement.

After the first ketamine infusion I slept for thirty hours. Upon waking, it was like long-overdue software updates had been installed in my brain. Since adolescence, I had borne my depression like weights shackled to my mind. The negativity I carried with me announced my presence like Marley’s chains rattling in the darkness. I was a black hole, subject to a crushing gravity that squeezed all hope and motivation from my blank and void-like soul. All of that had changed overnight.

The difference was immediate, and even more pronounced after an additional five sessions over the next eleven days. Something profound had happened to me as I sat in a dentist’s chair in a strip mall across from an Aldi supermarket with a needle in my arm and visions of cosmic truths exploding in my head. Before the ketamine I was an empty, lifeless thing, guided by only destructive, self-serving impulses. Afterwards, I felt inverted, as if my life were a photonegative that had finally been exposed to light, and a new existence had been printed for me on glossy, high-resolution paper. The slate-gray world I lived in had been replaced by a landscape of vibrant, saturated colors.

Too hopeless at the time to care much about what I was getting into, I had agreed to ketamine treatments without doing any research whatsoever on the subject. I did not believe it would work, as nothing had before. Pills I had been told would help me either had no effect or were pure poison, dragging me even deeper into my own personal hell. Consequently, I had lost whatever shreds of faith I’d had in mental healthcare. “Did you have any idea how addictive and painful the medication you gave me is?” I once asked a psychiatrist, adding, “If you didn’t, you are ignorant. If you did, you are evil. Regardless, you are unfit to practice medicine.”

I agreed to try ketamine because my mother asked me to, and I could see the fear on her face when she did. It had been there whenever we spoke since I’d tried to freeze myself to death in the woods one bitterly cold night a year earlier . There was zero faith in me that some psychedelic rave drug would help, but nothing else had, so why not try? Little did I know that the white light of the ketamine would exorcize my demons, flashing through the bleak, black innerspace like angels’ flaming swords, alight with divine fire.

Imagine living in a decrepit haunted house most of your life. You glance around with each step across the wet, mushy carpet, hoping that the presence you detect nearby is merely a spider, and not some ghost from the past, showing up to torment you, or worse, one of the demonic entities you are trapped inside with who entices and tempts you with destructive impulses. You go on a vacation you can scarcely remember and return to not a refurbished house, but a gleaming spire where it stood, outfitted with technological amenities you could not heretofore conceive of.

I am nothing if not a product of the 80’s, that chrome and black leather neon decade when cocaine-fueled Mad Men blasted young minds with unregulated cartoon advertising as the culture ended its tempestuous love-affair with screens and finally tied the knot. The Greatest American Hero was a sci-fi/comedy show about a regular guy named Ralph Hinkley, who acquires an alien suit that grants him superpowers. The joke is that he has lost the instruction manual, and must learn how to use it literally on the fly. A more apt metaphor for the effect of the ketamine I cannot find.

After the treatments I was Ralph Hinkley, empowered, but ignorant; I was Harrison Bergeron, standing there unfettered for the first time in his life; I was Peter Parker, waking up to a new existence after being bitten by a radioactive spider; I was changed; I was free. To say there were growing pains is a gross understatement. Things had been compressed and flat for as long as I could remember, but now, suddenly, I found myself in a three-dimensional world.

People who knew me mistook my newfound enthusiasm for mania, though I do not blame them, as the new me was unfamiliar even to myself. The addition of so many new neural pathways in such a short time was overwhelming. I was adrift, but moving at the speed of light, guided by nothing but certainty that things had changed for the better. Having never felt that way before, I was unaware until then that Hope can be a sustaining force.

So there I was, my crippled spaceship had finally recovered. All systems were back on line with full power available. I was still spinning out of control, through the cosmos, but I was awake and at the helm. That first year was hard, but it got easier as I began jettisoning many of my encumbrances. I can see now that it often requires more strength to let go of things than it does to hold on to them, but the process of releasing them leaves one feeling lighter each time and so it gets easier.

Concepts I had long held as absolute truths were revealed to be paper tigers I had crafted out of my own misperceptions. Every sense I had of myself was wrong, based on lies I had been told long ago. The emotional torments I was subjected to by a wicked older relative during my formative years had coalesced into a cyclopedia of falsehoods that I accepted as gospel, but that is how trauma works.

The ketamine took the fabric of understanding that comprised my entire worldview and seemed to destroy it. Over that first year, I realized this to not be the case; it had merely unwoven the tapestry, and as things slowed down I realized all the threads were still there. The realization that I could weave them back together however I wanted was an epiphany.

To be clear, the abuses I suffered as a child were mild compared to what many get, but when certain experiences land at certain places on the axes of timing and severity, it doesn’t take much to do real damage. That the hurt happened is all that matters. Some infinities are bigger than others. Regardless, I was wreathed in desperate fear for as long as I can remember, and I now put that down to being truly, terribly scared by someone entrusted with my care at all the wrong times. That is all gone now.

The fact that the silly stories I publish on Vocal are sometimes well received astounds me, as they are but one shuttle attached to this loom I am using to try and put all the pieces back together. I have always sought validation in terrible, destructive ways, and so to see my creativity validated that way brings me joy beyond imagination.

Bear with me, as what I am about to say will sound self-evident to most of you, but I was stunted, and it took me a long time to achieve basic realizations regarding many fundamental truths. There came an understanding that when doing for others it’s critical to not let expectations cloud motives, as that can develop into a zero-sum game that inevitably generates a loser. This can be avoided by approaching situations with purity of intention and acceptance of the Noble Truth that “all suffering comes from desire.” Failure to do so may set in place a self-fulfilling prophecy of disappointment and hurt feelings. It’s about wanting what you have, not getting what you want, as they say.

Commensurate with this is that doing things for oneself can be a self-perpetuating source of inner validation. This generates the type of self-worth that is absent in the depressed mind. Constant feelings of inadequacy have been replaced with the sense that not only do I have all the elements required to succeed, but I am allowed to define the parameters of that “success.”. In many ways this is like having access to a command-line interface in the mind.

I was lost that first year, and reclaiming control of my inner workings has been an unending process of trial and error. The good news is that, for the first time in my life, I learn from my mistakes. The axiom often misattributed to Einstein stating that “The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results” was certainly true for me. New neural pathways initiated by the ketamine allowed me to change my perspective enough to try new ways of doing things. To say I am happy with the results is an understatement.

I find myself balancing on a tightrope above two chasms. On one side of me is the righteous arrogance of certainty and on the other is doubt-filled, fear-driven hopelessness. This is the spectrum of human mindsets, but there is a thin line between them, a highwire of wisdom stretching into a future of better choices. It is a precarious place to stand and one must be ever vigilant to keep their footing, but I can see far enough ahead now to discern that the wire widens into a beam, then a path, and eventually a road.

I also see that this way only widens if we work together. Collectively, certain acknowledgments and reckonings must be made. We are sick, not just as individuals, but as a culture. Constantly, throughout history, we have had opportunities to affect paradigm shifts and change the course of our inevitable descents; warnings of what sort of man-made hells we might experience are writ large in the books of the last century, yet we have ignored them all.

The strings of our emotions are being tugged at constantly by malevolent, for-profit entities who are driven by greed, and act with no consideration given to the consequences for our well-being. Ideological wedges are being driven between people, resulting in the formation of tribal mindsets, which foster primitive notions about conflict resolution. Many exposed to these technological mind-control techniques fall from the path of wisdom into the chasm of certainty, as the idea “I’m right” takes on a religious fervor, creating zealots and martyrs. Many others fall the other way, into depressed isolation and escalation of their perverse addictions, pursuing the increasingly elusive dopamine dragons that allow them to feel anything at all.

We must get smart right now and start focusing on the real enemies. The economic systems we live under are a cruel joke. We are all playing in a massive poker tournament where, when you lose all your chips, you’re eliminated. The top three chip leaders in my country have more than the 160,000,000 players at the bottom combined. This is another one of those zero-sum games that generates losers by design, and we are all forced to play every day. It is unfair and unsustainable.

The power structures that oppress us are insidious, and designed into them is the feature that much of the work people do in the belief that they are dismantling them in fact strengthens them. Discerning real opportunities to affect change requires abstract, outside-the-box thinking. As dosing the world’s water supplies with psychedelics is an unrealistic solution to this problem, I believe it is incumbent upon anyone who sees failings in the systems that are hurting us all to speak up in whatever way they can.

We must collectively say “enough is enough,” and recognize that we are being played by the powers that be, guided by the illusion of choice as we unwittingly aid in our own subjugation. Many of the ideological differences that each side sees as a righteous crusade were engineered to distract us from the fact that we are being robbed, not just monetarily, but we have had our attention stolen. We have been tricked into believing there is value in the endless scroll of argumentative discourse, when it is actually designed to distract us from the evil machinations of those who would bleed us of everything we have, and everything we are, as they laugh all the way to the bank.

My keystone epiphanies happened as a result of the mind-expanding effects of a powerful substance, but it is clear to me now that this is not the only way. Emotion, Reason, and Faith sit arranged like overlapping circles that form a Venn diagram. At the center is where wisdom resides, and while keeping the consciousness there is hard at first, it gets easier the longer that state is maintained.

It can be tempting to abandon Reason in favor of Emotion, or to close off one’s feelings in pursuit of logic, or to disavow Faith, as it is rife with unknowable uncertainties. However, to effect a worldview that can stand firmly against the trials and tribulations of life requires fully incorporating these three fundamental aspects of the human condition into one’s perceptions. How we get there is irrelevant, all that matters is that we find a path to reach that place. Anyone familiar with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy will know of the concept of “Wise Mind,” which is the state-of-mind most capable of making good decisions. This is merely the roadmap I used to find it.

The most difficult part of this process for many is the dissolution of their ego, a critical letting go of long-held perceptions of oneself. This reveals misconceptions about the roles we thrust ourselves into, stripping off the masks we wear for others and ourselves. Even harder, in my experience, is the necessary self-inventory that inevitably follows, where one must take accountability for their current state of affairs. Only then can the pieces be put back together in beneficial ways.

I know that, thus far, this book has been a chore to read, and that the main character, who is me, has been an unlikable lout whom you don’t like very much. However, I assure you that he will not appear again in these pages. What follows is a journey of attempted redemption and a desperate bid to make up for lost time. Real changes will occur in the next few chapters and soon it is unlikely that you will recognize the protagonist of this story. He has traveled through the Underworld, and finally emerged into the light.

Now, recognizing the limited power I have as an individual, I try each day to optimize the options I have to make the world a better place. In my fantasies, people find something of value in the things I say, silly though they may be. I try to see these stories I write, about disaffected robots and put-upon people, as lighthouses in the darkness that hopefully serve, if not as guidance, at least as an indication to the reader that they are not alone. Will I fail? Will I succeed? The only way to find out is to read on, Dear Reader. I hope you come along for the trip.


About the Creator

J. Otis Haas

Space Case

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