This piece was written by Ciara Sherlock for the Psychedelic Supper : Acceptance & Pride gathering in May 2016.
As founder of The Psychedelic Society of Ireland, and being surrounded by a community who have experience and interest in psychedelics, I feel that the topic of Acceptance and Pride is one we can all relate to on a deep personal level. Maybe the importance of this topic goes unnoticed usually, but I feel like it is something we, as the psychedelic subculture, come across, and maybe struggle with, very often in our lives.
When we think of ‘Pride’ as a celebration, we automatically think of the LGBT community, but really, Pride is something every subculture deserves to celebrate. Over the weekend, the LGBT community took to the streets to celebrate themselves without fear of judgement or hate from the general public. Just 25 years ago, homosexuality was an illegal act in Ireland and same sex marriage was not allowed until May last year. But what I think is amazing and beautiful is that the LGBT community have been parading down the streets of Dublin since 1983, taking pride and celebrating their true selves, regardless of the law. It is gatherings and openness like those that change public perception and eventually change the law.
I have a vision of this happening within our community one day, with us all celebrating Psychedelic Pride Day. But, we have a little way to go still. Like the LGBT community was not too long ago, we are a subculture that is controversial and misunderstood because of the law.
There are widespread phobias against psychedelics and people who use them. These phobias are similar to racism, homophobia, antisemitism and fear of poor people. These phobias are largely due to the gross self-perpetuating misrepresentations in the media and in public discourse. But, let this gathering be proof, times are changing, people are becoming more aware of the truth surrounding psychedelics. It is our duty as a subculture to fight the phobias in others, and in ourselves, and encourage a more informed, welcoming and accepting society.
It’s time to encourage a psychedelic coming out. Once the law changes, and that is bound to happen, we should be able to parade the streets, taking pride in our open, conscious minds, our free spirits and our bursting creativity and love. Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges to be faced. People are closed minded, they are conditioned to think psychedelics are for hippies and people who break the law. I will give a brief description on my experiences of gaining an interest in psychedelics, and the challenges I faced with that. Then I will go on to talk about how I gained and used psychedelic pride as a tool for growth.
After taking a psychedelic for the first time – having my first beautiful and life changing experiences – I felt internally happy and fulfilled, but what I had done was a stigmatized, illegal and incriminating act under current Irish law. I wanted to share it with my closest friends and even my parents, but I soon realised that what i had discovered was not seen as appropriate or reasonable to a lot of people. This special experience was generally unacceptable and i was met with the harsh realities when I realised I had to keep quiet about my new found source of ineffable pleasure. I felt isolated from others around me, I couldn’t relate to inexperienced people, i was a self inflicted outcast to my own community and culture. I was also faced with general ignorance from people around me – when I tried to talk to them about my interests and the events I take part in, I receive an “oh, that’s nice” and nothing more.
When my interest grew in drug policy change and drug welfare, the challenges continued to grow. Heated debates and questioning about my impact on others and how I might never find a job because of my passion, became regular occurrences. I learned to act in silence and didn’t inform most of the people close to me about the events I was organising or taking part in. Sometimes I refer to my work as the Psychedelic Society of Ireland as ‘The secret life of Ciara Sherlock’… I was, and partially still am, trapped in the Psychedelic Closet. Of course, people know about my interests and although I have appeared on national TV and have done lots of media interviews, some of my oldest friends and immediate family have no idea of the extent of my interests or actions. This doesn’t mean I am not proud, I suppose it’s just easier this way, but keeping my mouth shut around closest friends and family about something I love to do can be disheartening.
Questions I began to ask myself and sometimes still even creep up on me today include:
Why am I trying? Everyone seems content to keep quiet about this, should I? Will me being open have any effect or influence? Am I damaging my reputation? What can I truly change?
I turned to the history of the gay rights movement which helped ease my mind. People like Harvey Milk in San Francisco who played a huge role in the ‘coming out’ movement, and influential people closer to home like David Norris, Tonie Walsh and Lydia Foy, who were gay Irish public figures, helped motivate me to be open and do what I feel is right. These people were out, open and unapologetic about their true selves. They struggled and came across countless amounts of hate and inequality, but due to perseverance, became publically accepted and respected figures of society. They helped to change out-of-date and unfair laws. These people serve as the role models we need as a subculture community.
Although I had worked a lot on my own self acceptance, when I was challenged by society and culture, it was hard not to question that at times. But honestly, what made it easier was simply stepping out of my comfort zone and going for it! Taking the reigns myself and saying ‘You know what? I believe in this, it deserves my involvement, time and effort. It makes me happy. I can be open about this” I surrounded myself with understanding and accepting people that could relate to me and my experiences. I made it my business to speak to people who were uneducated on the topic and give new perspectives. It’s been an incredible journey so far.
So… What makes me proud?
On a personal level, I am proud of my growth due to psychedelic experiences. I feel I have become more self aware, self accepting, caring and empathetic. I have more respect for my body and the environment. I have confidence in how much I can learn if I put my mind to it. And I have learned that it is only ourselves that hold us back.
What makes me proud of the larger scale psychedelic community is the work and research put into the topic in recent years. When I was at The Interdisciplinary Conference of Psychedelic Research at the beginning of May, I could not have felt more proud to be in attendance. I had an overwhelming sense of pride when it dawned on me that psychedelic research is one of the most important topics being researched for modern society as a whole. These people are not coming together because they want to take psychedelics recreationally, they want to help people who suffer most, people with severe mental illness or people who are traumatised, they want to help people live a better, more fulfilled life. Mental health issues affect society on a global scale. We live in a society of people who are depressed, lost, desperate and uninspired. Helping unfold the mysteries to society’s biggest health problems and biggest internal fears, this is something to be proud of supporting, despite the stigma attached.
Additionally, people who want to change drug policy don’t want to just be able to smoke a joint on the street or drop a pill in a nightclub, they want to help people who have been unjustly criminalised for self medicating or possessing small amounts of practically harmless drugs.
So although there are many challenges and fears attached to psychedelic stigma, there is also so much to be proud of. Whether it is how we can develop personally with the use of psychedelics, or how we can change the outstanding global mental health issue, or how we can change the law and public perspectives by acting as a proud community, I feel that it is time for the age of psychedelic pride. And I truly believe we all have something to be proud of.
“Pride is the virtue of respecting oneself. It is a human need to think highly of oneself. Without it, one would have no reason to trust one’s ability to live. One would have no reason to accept that one’s life is worthy of living” – Aristotle, c. 350 B.C.