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When I was a twelve year-old aspiring professional soccer player, I distinctly remember watching a commercial where a narrator sternly announced “this is your brain.” An image of a soccer ball popped onto the screen. A couple seconds later, the narrator even more fervently added “this is your brain on drugs.” A football appeared.
There was no way in hell I was going to risk losing my soccer ball.
My entire life, I viewed drugs as the devil. Until, September 25th, 2015, when everything changed.
I was driving alone to Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon, listening to an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast. He was interviewing Dr. Dan Engle & Dr. Martin Polanco, specialists who utilize psychedelic drugs to help their patients overcome drug addiction and traumatic experiences, restore health, and achieve peak performance.
My ears perked as the doctors detailed the benefits of “hardcore” drugs (if used under very strict professional supervision, NOT recreationally), the ones scrutinized by our society. My soccer-balled brain was mind blown.
At this point in my career, I don’t think it would be in my best interest to dabble with drugs, but one of the doctors mentioned something at the end of the podcast that kidnapped my attention: float therapy. Float therapy, also known as sensory deprivation tanks, is when you float in a pitch black tank of body temperature water filled with 1000 pounds of epsom salt. Essentially, all of your senses are removed. The doctor claimed that this therapy is the closet thing to taking psychedelic drugs, without actually taking them.
My initial reaction: “that sounds ridiculous.” My second thought: “sign me up.”
After my drive, I barged into my family’s Black Butte cabin and ridiculed my parents for the lie they had been leading my brothers and I to believe our entire lives.
“How dare you tell us to stay in school and not do drugs!”
They both looked at me like I was on drugs. I explained to them that I wasn’t, but kind of wish I was, and then went into details about the podcast. My parents have become immune to my out-of-the-box meanderings. They typically respond with a forced chuckle and a facial expression that begs the question “what did you do to my daughter??” Today’s exchange was no different.
I pried open my laptop and searched on Groupon for float therapy centers in Portland, Oregon. One popped up, I purchased it, and scheduled my appointment for the following week.
The big day arrived. My excitement was like a child who just woke up and discovered twelve quarters and a Chuck-E-Cheese ticket under their pillow from the tooth fairy (which, I agree is borderline concerning in my context). I rolled up to the address and parallel parked next to an unassuming house with ivy-covered rustic walls. I descended a set of stairs and opened the door to a muzzle-full of lavender incense. A dread-haired woman stood at the wooden counter, hands on her hips, disputing with the receptionist that her appointment time was today rather than tomorrow.
I feel like any place drenched in lavender incense automatically infers that you ought to speak in a tone and volume below the average conversational level. This women did not give a damn about incense etiquette.
After she stormed off, I approached the flustered receptionist. She apologized for the commotion (clearly aware of Incense Culture) and guided me to the locker room area. She gave me a quick spiel about floating, then handed me some ear plugs and petroleum jelly to apply to any open cuts to prevent epsom salt from stinging them. She instructed me to undress, rinse off, and meet her across the hall at the float tank when I was ready.
I lathered some of the jelly across my slide-tackling turf burns, hopped in the shower, and wrapped my towel around me like a knight preparing for battle.
It’s GO time.
As I began the walk to my tank, my mind buzzed back to the podcast’s rants of the healing properties of psychedelic drugs.
Will I have an out of body experience where I transform into a bald eagle and soar above the coast of Costa Rica? Will I have a vivid childhood memory that has drastically impacted my life, but I had no idea about it until now? Like that I’m adopted and my parents never told me? Will a leprechaun appear and reveal to me my life-changing purpose in this world? I’ve always thought I could be a good rapper or a chef or a…WTF!!!”
Am I already hallucinating?
I rubbed my eyes to verify the beast in front of me. This was not a delusion. Before me stood a beer-bellied, grizzly bear-status hairy man, wrapped in a towel too small to cover all of his man parts.
I’m all for being one with nature, but I was confused as to what this naked man was doing at my float. I’m sure he’s a great human, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to spoon in dark, salty waters with him.
Instead of choosing the logical approach and asking him why he was at my float, I opted to exchange a half-assed smile. Then, we stood, two feet apart, avoiding eye contact.
A few minutes of awkward nude silence later, the receptionist strolled in, explained that they have multiple tanks, and guided the Grizzly Bear to a tank just beyond mine.
“I’ll knock on the tank three times when your 60 minutes are up. Enjoy your float!” The receptionist bid me farewell.
I recited one last prayer: Dear Lord, please bring me the most epic psychedelic drug-like hallucinations beyond what my mind can possibly fathom. Amen.
I sipped in one last gulp of air, reminiscing on what would soon be my past life. I knew I was going to re-emerge a completely changed person. I should have told my parents I loved them one last time. I hope they still recognize me.
I opened the chamber that resembled a futuristic, white coffin-more suitable for aliens than humans-and stepped into the water.
I shut the door, laid back, and immediately my body floated to the surface. So this is why they call it float therapy.
My breath felt like a giant groaning at the epicenter of the Grand Canyon, reverberating with each inhale.
I spotted a speck of light in the right corner. It appeared as though someone had attempted to cover up a crack with tape. I felt robbed. Did they not know how much this moment meant to me? My blood began boiling to the level of the bickering dread-haired woman at the front counter. But I knew I had to calm myself down. I wasn’t going to let one ray of light ruin my first hallucinogenic experience.
I inhaled three breaths worthy of yoga instructor praise.
Just let it happen. Think of your childhood. Your soul. Let the leprechauns enter at their leisure…
Ten minutes-or what I perceived as ten minutes-passed; nothing. Ten more; nothing. Each time I attempted to enter an alternate universe, my mind couldn’t stop jetting back to the fact that there was a naked man floating next to me in an alien coffin while the rest of the world was stuck in I-5 traffic and eating cold turkey sandwiches with their co-workers.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
My time was up before it even started. I was relieved and ready to be back in the real world.
The most profound thought I had during my 60 minute float was that my breath sounded like a wooly mammoth. To be honest, I don’t know what a wooly mammoth’s breath sounds like, but it just feels right that they would have thunderous, unfortunate-smelling gasps.
I do not consider my first float therapy experience a failure. I learned a lot. Most notably, to do a bit of investigation before arriving to a place so I know it’s co-ed and clothing optional.
After this float not living up to my hype, I anticipated it being my first and last. But, girllllll was I wrong. Little did I know, three years later, I would become a floating addict, depriving myself of my senses for ten 90 minutes sessions in 5 weeks straight. I’d have psychedelic-like adventures (without naked men), and come out feeling like a truly changed person. Life is funny. Float on.
In my next post, I’ll be writing about why I gave float therapy another try (hello, anxiety) and document the drastic impact floating twice a week for 5 weeks straight had on my life. Have you tried out float therapy before? If s0, please let me know how your experience faired.