Please enjoy this transcript of our interview with Charley Wininger.
A psychotherapist since 1989, Charley Wininger is also a licensed psychoanalyst and a mental health counselor who specializes in relationships and communication skills. His recent book, Listening To Ecstasy, tracks his personal experience with MDMA as a way to enhance his life and strengthen his marriage. In this podcast, he and Paul chat about the power of MDMA to solidify relationships, rediscover joy, and reconnect to ourselves and each other.
71 and still going strong: how MDMA serves as Charley’s relationship superglue—or the icing on his relationship’s cake.
Entering the forbidden world of “drug users” and finding it enchanting.
MDMA as an empathogen: discovering elation, peace, serenity, and wellbeing.
Cuddle puddles, dancing, and imagining the future.
Yes, you can have sex on MDMA—the climax of the experience.
Why spiritual bypassing doesn’t work.
A regimen for the safe and effective use of MDMA.
Using MDMA to break the cycle of fear and rediscover love.
0:00:00.0 Paul Austin: In today’s podcast we have Charley Wininger, author of Listening to Ecstasy, and New York City-based psychotherapist who calls MDMA the Super Glue to his relationship. Enjoy. Welcome to The Sporestore podcast, I’m your host Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way, for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So let’s go, and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
0:00:54.0 PA: Listeners, do we have such an interesting sponsor for you this week, it is Kraken Kratom, or Kraken Kratom, or Kraken Kratom, or whatever, and however you wanna pronounce it. This sponsor is quite a bit different from some of the other ones that we’ve had on the show before, we never actually had a specific substance which we have a guide about, because all of the substances we talk about on Sporestore are for the most part illegal, which is why we’re providing education to shift that, but Kratom is legal, it’s something you can purchase, and it’s something that I’ve personally used, here and there, I’ve probably done Kratom maybe four or five times, very, very on occasion. Usually in the evening with a couple of friends as more of a social thing, or go to a Kava bar, try Kava and Kratom together.
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0:03:43.0 PA: Hey, listeners. As always, I’m your host, Paul Austin, here with another episode of Sporestore Podcast. And this one is with Charley Wininger, who is a psychotherapist based in New York City. Charley recently published a book called, Listening to Ecstasy, which details, chronicles, the 20 years of his MDMA use, in particular as the Super Glue of his relationship. Now, Charley and I met a couple years ago when I was living in New York, we were introduced through a mutual friend, had a couple of phone calls, this was probably early to mid 2018. Met in person a couple times, and when he published this book I was like, “Hey Charley, this looks great. Let’s get you on the podcast to talk about the transformative power of MDMA.” We have so many researchers and scientists and medical doctors and other folks like that who are on talking about some of the more clinical aspects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, but we have yet to have someone come on who is so experienced with the more, I would say, practical grounded use of MDMA, which is to help with relationships, to help with couples, to help with partnership, to help with that process of opening up and really connecting.
0:04:58.0 PA: In fact, this is how MDMA was originally used when it first came out in the late 70s, early 80s, is Leo Zeff, who was sort of the first, along with Sasha Shulgin, helped to get MDMA out, would give it to psychotherapist for free, Rick Doblin did this as well, and then they would give it to their clients and it would be part of the therapeutic process. Unfortunately MDMA then leaked out into the rave scene, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, leaked out into the rave scene, late 80s, early 90s, and was then banned and prohibited. But what I love about this conversation is we get really real. Charley talks about his personal experiences with MDM, he talks about how he prepares and integrates and how even sets up the experiences that he has with MDMA, and we even get into… Which is one of my favorite taboo topics to talk about as it relates to MDMA, is why you can’t get horny when you’re on MDMA, and what to do if you still wanna make love when on this beautiful substance. So anyway, this is a far-ranging conversation, it’s a really heartfelt one, as you would expect, being about ecstasy and MDMA. And so without any further ado, I bring you Charley Wininger, author of Listening to Ecstasy, the transformative power of MDMA.
0:06:13.9 PA: I’d love if you could just bring our listeners into your origin story with this incredible molecule. When did you start working with this substance? I know you’re a licensed psychotherapist in New York, you obviously do not work with this when it comes to clients but you’ve been working with it personally, like we just talked about before with your wife and relationships, how did that path start for you?
0:06:35.8 Charley Wininger: It was all about my relationship with my second wife, Shelley, when we met in 2000. By that time I had actually given up MDMA for dead. I thought that it was useless. Why? Because every time I used it I woke up the next day with a headache, when I did it one time I was on the verge of a cold and the next day, sure enough, I got sick. And I thought this was just a high where you go up, you come down, and you don’t learn anything. I didn’t know about the guidelines, I didn’t know enough about set and setting, I didn’t know enough about hydration and 5-HTP and all the ways to minimize the risk and maximize the benefit. So, I met Shelley in 2000, she was fresh out of a terrible marriage where she felt quite repressed, she wanted to spread her wings, and when she told me she wanted to try ecstasy, which was what MDMA was called at the time, I was floored, because she had never so much as finished a joint in her life. She knew that I was a psychonaut and when she decided that she really wanted to try it I thought, “Okay, well, I’ll sit for her.”
0:08:00.3 CW: And so I looked up some old contacts, looked up somebody on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. He was actually a very devoted psychonaut, he would only sell me some of his stash of MDMA if he thought that I was gonna use it for good. He was interviewing me like a father interviewing his future son-in-law to find out if his intentions with his daughter were honorable. So I convinced him, and my intentions were honorable but I also wanted Shelley to have fun, I didn’t tell that to the person. So he sold me some pure MDMA. I had learned then about the protocols, because I felt responsible for Shelley’s good time and her whole body chemistry. So I decided, “Alright, alright, well she’s doing it and I’ll try it with her as well, I guess I will.” And so we did it together, and this was like about 2002, and the first time she came on to MDMA, which turned out to be her drug of choice, it was like she was waking up from a long sleep and coming to. And it was gentle, it was a profound effect on her immediately, and she was alive when I met her in such a wonderful way, but then even more so. And in doing it with her I realized, “Oh, MDMA is not something to do alone. At least not for me. It’s something to do with a partner or friends.”
0:09:37.9 CW: And so that was a big part of what I learned about setting with MDMA, at least for me, other people get value out of doing it alone, God bless them, but for me I’m better off doing it with friends and/or Shelley. And so since then we never looked back, we started doing MDMA four, five, six times a year. And by this time now I’ve done it about 70 times. And have never had a bad experience.
0:10:11.2 PA: Wow. Not only have you never had a bad experience, but you’ve had probably some incredible, amazing, beautiful out-of-this-world experiences…
0:10:18.9 CW: Oh yes.
0:10:19.7 PA: And things that have been incredibly transformative. What’s that trajectory been for you? You’ve been working with it now for about 20 years, in this sort of intentional, recreational, responsible way. You’ve been doing it, you said, largely within relationship, whether it’s with your wife or with friends. How have you changed and grown and evolved as a result of working with MDMA?
0:10:44.0 CW: How many hours of this interview do you have?
0:10:47.8 PA: Infinite.
0:10:49.7 PA: Just one, just one Charley.
0:10:52.9 CW: Oh my goodness. Well, that’s what the book is about. It’s really how Shelley and I entered this sort of forbidden world Of psychedelic drug users, and back in the aughts, and found this world to be enchanted. And it opened my life, our life, to friendship and fun and freedom, and the whole curriculum of knowledge. What it’s taught me, mostly on a very personal level, I don’t know if you could relate to this, but I’m somebody who spends an inordinate amount of time in his head. I must generate 10,000 thoughts a day in my mind, and many of them not good for me. You know, self-deprecating thoughts or worries and frets of all sorts, and there’s so much to worry about in this world, so… MDMA taught me, “Yeah, you wanna worry but take a look at your life, how many of your worries have really come to pass? How many of these frets and concerns have turned out to be valid and true? How about how good your life has been? If you look at your life, Charley”, this is what it was saying to me, “Look how incredibly safe you’ve been in your life. Yeah you got mugged a few times when… ”
0:12:28.6 CW: “Back in the 60s in the East Village, but you never… You got frightened at that time and bad things happened to you, like they happen to everyone, but basically you’ve lived a safe and sound existence, and you’ve thrived. So what’s all this worry about? Let me teach you how to not only relax. But how to feel wonderful, and how to remember how wonderful your body can feel, and how to remember how young your body can feel even though you’re over 50 years old or over 60 years old, I can remind you of what it’s like to dance and feel like you’re 30. I can remind you of what it feels like to have this kind of vitality. And then you can keep this after you come down and remember it, because you’re… If you learn how to anchor it in your body, which is a technique, you can draw on it in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.” And on top of that, I found the effects of these roles to be cumulative, over time it really helped me see that, “Yeah, I… Life can be a joyful thing.” MDMA and Shelley both taught me that life can be a joyful thing.
0:13:55.2 PA: The combination.
0:13:56.3 CW: Yeah, Shelley is much like MDMA. So, that’s a whole other story.
0:14:03.5 PA: And I think, to your point, MDMA is love in many ways, right? It is a substance more than any other substance that’s commonly known at this point in time, whether we’re talking Psilocybin or Ayahuasca, even something like LSD, MDMA is just pure heart-opening love. This is why we call it an empathogen, not a classic psychedelic.
0:14:28.5 CW: Right. It’s an empathogen, meaning it helps you feel empathetic with those around you, and that’s a form… Empathy of course is a child of love.
0:14:46.7 PA: And it’s a form of listening as well, which is what I love so much about the title of your book, Listening to Ecstasy, has in some ways a sort of double or triple meaning, right? There is, of course, the listening to the substance itself, the narrative or the story or the way that it opens the heart, and really the Listening to Ecstasy is listening to your heart, is what I’ve found. But there’s also in working with a substance like ecstasy you learn to listen to life, you learn to listen to your partner, you learn to listen to yourself as well, there’s that.
0:15:21.2 CW: Yes. And even beyond that, “Listening to Ecstasy” also means listening to the ecstasy in the world, beyond the psychedelic community, in the world. It helped me connect the dots, we can connect all the crisis dots in the world: COVID, and the last president, and climate change, and racial injustice, and we can say, “Oh my God, the world is a crap-hole and falling to pieces and it’s a painful, horrible place.” Well, all that has some validity, but you can also connect the positive dots, you can also see that “Well in nature, often, right next to the poison grows the antidote.” And what’s the antidote to all the poisons in the world right now? Psychedelics, and the psychedelic renaissance, as well as a whole renaissance in consciousness that’s happening all around us and all around the world. And if you start looking at that you can see that there are positive dots to connect and that there are all kinds of reasons to be optimistic about where we’re all headed. And so MDMA has helped me listen to that, as well.
0:16:54.6 PA: And that’s a really profound perspective, because there’s sort of a sense of what’s happening internally is then reflected externally. And this is even what we know from clinical research around MDMA, that the reason it’s so helpful at healing PTSD, as an example, is because it interrupts and dampens the fear response from the amygdala, which allows someone to feel fully safe. And once they feel that sense of safety and that sense of safety is integrated with psychotherapy afterwards, then all of a sudden they feel like, “I feel safe inside, and now the world feels like a safe place”, and I think that’s what you’re talking about as well, it’s when we work with these substances, in particular with MDMA, we are able to let go of a lot of that fear.
0:17:50.3 CW: Yes, and we don’t want to let go of… Completely of any feeling, if you’re feeling scared that’s… I believe feelings are information, and feeling scared, that might be information about your immediate environment, if you’re, you know, in danger, you might need to take precautions at that moment, you don’t wanna go into the lion’s cage without a chair on a whip. Fear is telling you to take precautions, but often we need to learn how to let go of fear, because we carry so much of it around. Well, speak for myself, I carry so much of it around still, especially in the last year, there was so much to be scared about, my God, you know, I’m like, I’m 71 years old, I’ve been afraid of getting COVID, I’ve been afraid of fascism in the last year, I’ve been afraid of all kinds of things.
0:18:56.3 PA: It’s been an intense year hasn’t it, Charley? Yeah. I bet MDMA is probably been especially helpful this last little bit.
0:19:03.0 CW: It has been especially helpful, because it helps me keep perspective and not get sucked down a rabbit hole of fear. And every time I flipped open a screen in 2020, and read a headline I’d say, “Oh my God, we’re done for… We’re screwed.” And well, yes, there were things that were really dangerous and that still remain really dangerous, but we’re not screwed. You can connect some positive dots and say, “Well, maybe things are turning out, maybe things are turning out for the better. Let’s see.” We don’t have to live, or I don’t have to live, day to day on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, watching CNN, and with my jaw open and saying, “Oh my God, another crisis.” I’ve learned how to go on a media diet actually.
0:20:04.7 PA: Totally. An information diet, just cut that out. At some point it was the same thing, I was like, “I can’t watch or listen to any of this anymore, it’s too dark”, in a way.
0:20:15.5 CW: It’s too dark. And we need to… I really believe this, and so I’m making a bigger statement now to saying “we”, not just “I”, need to focus on the positive, because when you do it gives us the energy, and that when you’re optimistic it gives us the energy to act in ways and relate to other people in ways that tends to make that optimism self-fulfilling.
0:20:43.9 PA: Yeah, I recently read a book called Letting Go: A Pathway To Surrender by Dr. David Hawkins, I don’t know if you know David Hawkins, he also wrote Power Versus Force, which I think is his most well-known book, he’s a medical doctor and wrote a lot about enlightenment and the process of Nirvana and the self and all that, and in Letting Go he talks a lot about… He talks about this scale, and it’s a scale of zero to a 1000 that your level of consciousness is on, and anything that’s 200 and above comes from a place of courage, comes from a place of optimism, comes from a place of, “I can do, we can do”, and anything below 200 is sort of a less-than-conscious emotion, it could be anger, it could be grief, it could be shame, and so a lot of the book is, “Okay, how do you let go of these lower emotions?”, cause by holding on to these lower emotions, by attaching to these lower emotions, you then have a tendency, we have a tendency, to project them into the world around us, but if we can feel those and let go of them we can sort of up-level into 200 and 300, which is courage, love, acceptance, all these sorts of things.
0:22:00.8 PA: And it feels like with MDMA, with a lot of classic psychedelics, they can help us to process those negative emotions, that fear, that shame, that anger, to let go of it, to move through it, so we can spend more time in those higher states of consciousness.
0:22:17.5 CW: Yes. And you are speaking about a very important point here, we don’t want to do what is known as “spiritual bypassing”, where you say, “Okay, I’m gonna not feel my fear anymore, I’m not gonna feel my shame or my anger anymore, I’m gonna rise above it.” That doesn’t work. And we might have met people in our lives who think they’re also holy and enlightened, and that are just as screwed up as anyone else. No, you have to go through it, you have to feel the feelings, process the feelings, and I think the best way to do that actually is with help from another human being, a therapist, a spiritual counselor or whatever, meditation teacher, and learn how to process the feelings and then learn how to let them go.
0:23:23.1 PA: That’s so key, and that’s what he talks about, is we have a tendency to repress or suppress these emotions. Repressing them is conscious, suppression is unconscious. And a huge part of evolution of raising our consciousness is not repressing or suppressing but feeling it, allowing it to come up, and then letting go of the feeling as it moves through us.
0:23:45.5 CW: That’s right, that’s right.
0:23:48.9 PA: So, to transition and evolve our own conversation, one thing that I’d love to dive a little bit into is sort of brass tacks about MDMA. And MDA, I’m noticing in my circles, is becoming much more commonplace in terms of for relationships, for couples, for my own work. I love to do it as well with mushrooms, and have my own private journeys where I dive in and do a lot of journaling, and so I sort of set up my set and setting in such a way to reflect that. But what I’d love to learn a little bit more about is sort of how you set up these ceremonies, how you set up these MDMA sessions, sort of what’s your preparation like, how do you set up the container, the space, what’s the integration like? In other words, for listeners who are tuning into this conversation, many of them are interested in MDMA as a potential tool, what are the do’s and don’ts as people might be going into working with this substance in an intentional way, specifically for relationships and couples and partners and that sort of thing.
0:24:58.5 CW: Okay, so that’s… I have a lot to say about it.
0:25:05.8 PA: Beautiful.
0:25:09.6 CW: MDMA is, at least what I’ve found for me and Shelley and the people that we’ve known, serves as a kind of relationship Super Glue, and it helps bond people on a profound level, and a very intimate level. So, yes, it’s all about set and setting, and that has to begin with preparation. The way I prepare, I don’t know if this would work for anyone else, and I need to emphasize that I’m not a doctor. I’m not giving medical advice here. And the substance is still illegal. I can’t…
0:26:00.6 PA: [chuckle] There’s a few caveats, right?
0:26:01.5 CW: Yeah, this is my disclaimer here. I have to say [unclear speech].
0:26:04.8 PA: Yeah, your disclaimers. Charley’s disclaimers.
0:26:08.7 CW: It’s illegal. What works for me might not work for you. It’s potentially dangerous, etc. And not everyone should do it because the are medical contraindications for people who have heart disease or are pregnant, or have bipolar disorder or epilepsy, and there are some… A few others as well, which I spell out in the last chapter of my book about responsible recreational use. But how I set it… Set up the set and the setting is, I will make up a… I keep all my notes on 3 x 5 cards. So I’ll make up a card for the day, and I make a 3 x 5 card, on the long… On the long side of the card, I’ll have a column which will be devoted to all the ingredients that I’ll set up for the day, MDMA, 5-HTP, sufficient water, chewing gum, anything I might want to taste, anything I might want to smell, any music I want for the day. I’ll just have a list of all these things, and I will set them up beforehand and have them… If I’m doing it at home with Shelley, we’ll have ’em on all on the table there. And so whenever we want something, we’ll… It will be right there. And also on this card, I will… And I… [chuckle] Excuse me. So just to step back a moment, what will go on this card will be informed by what went on prior card on prior roles. So I’m always learning, I’m always…
0:28:13.4 PA: There’s a cumulative sort of motion to it.
0:28:14.8 CW: Yes. It’s a matter of continuous improvement. So I’ll look at prior journeys and what I had on those cards, and I’ll write down all the possible things we could do that day if we wish, like stretching, like yoga, like dancing, like love making, like taking a wonderful shower or speaking together about this, that, the other thing. I’ll have a whole list there in front of me, which I will refer to from time to time during the roll if I wish. This is just back-up in case I’m feeling like, Okay, where am I on this journey today? Let me look at my list here and see if there’s something that I wanna do that I’d forgotten. So it’s like a map on a 3 x 5 card. And of course, I’m only, as part of the set up is, I’m only using pure MDMA only. I test it when I buy it, ’cause I only will get it from somebody who will allow me to do so. I will only buy pure. I have a scale, so I know exactly the amount. And for me right now, at this age, I found less is more, so I have a very… I only do 65 milligrams here, and it works like a…
0:29:53.6 PA: That’s it?
0:29:55.0 CW: It works like a charm. It’s amazing. I thought my days were done because I would do 100, 110, 120, and I’d zip right past the sweet spot within seconds, and I’d get too much neurotoxicity, and my jaw would hurt, and I thought my days were done, until I realized, no, less is more. But it’s because of age. As you get older, you become more sensitive.
0:30:16.6 PA: You’re more sensitive.
0:30:17.1 CW: Yeah, yeah.
0:30:17.5 PA: Okay. See, last time I did it, I did 200 milligrams. I did 120, and then an hour and a half later did another 80 sort of like the MAPS protocol. And that felt a little intense, but to do only 65 is…
0:30:34.6 CW: It’s amazing for me.
0:30:36.1 PA: It’s amazing.
0:30:36.4 CW: Yeah.
0:30:36.8 PA: Yeah.
0:30:37.6 CW: And so I don’t roll hard like I used to. I’m not sweating, I’m not… And my heart isn’t beating out of my chest. That’s not what I’m looking for. That could be good for some people. It’s not what I’m looking for. What I’m looking for is that wonderful feeling of elation that I feel physically and emotionally of just complete and utter peace, serenity and well-being. That’s what I’m looking for. And for me, right now, 65 milligrams, and for Shelley, 100 milligrams does it. And then we’ll boost halfway into the journey. But to…
0:31:25.8 PA: With another 65, or is that…
0:31:27.4 CW: No, She’ll boost with 50 or 60 after her 100. I’ll just boost with little bumps of 10 each.
0:31:37.4 PA: Okay.
0:31:38.2 CW: That’s what keeps me there. And it works like a charm for me. So everyone’s different. You have to experiment with… On yourself. But about this card I have, which I call sort of a menu card for the day, I’ll have it all at the ready, but I’ll put it aside because I’ll let the medicine do the talking, I’ll let the medicine lead and tell me and Shelley what we wanna do during the day. And often, it’s just sit and talk or just have our own little cuddle puddle or envision what we want in our future.
0:32:25.1 CW: What we want the apartment to look like, where we want to eventually live, years from now, what we want our lives to look like. It’s wonderful, because I feel like when we’re high on MDMA, it’s like climbing the mountaintop and looking out at the view of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we might wanna head. It’s such a wonderful place from which to have perspective, and so we use it for that. And music is often a part of our journey. I love to dance and so does Shelley. Or we’ll just sit and listen and listen and listen. And as we’re coming down towards the end of the journey, we segue into the most delicious part, because as we’re coming down, we realize, “Okay, the MDMA is ebbing, what’s the best thing we could do now?” And the best thing we can do at that point is go and make love. And I don’t know about you, Paul, and I’m getting a little intimate here…
0:33:41.8 PA: I love it.
0:33:42.7 CW: But, it’s difficult for me to maintain an erection on MDMA.
0:33:47.8 PA: Get an erection, it is.
0:33:54.0 CW: But as I’m coming down, and then when I first smoke a little Cannabis, a little Sativa, and I call that combination “sextasy”, because then…
0:34:05.2 PA: The “sextasy” I like that, Charley. That’s good.
0:34:08.6 CW: And then with a little help from some Cialis, we have a blast going into the night. And so we keep that journey going in an erotic way for the rest of the night, and we have… It’s really the climax, so to speak, to the entire experience.
0:34:34.1 PA: In many ways.
0:34:34.3 CW: That’s right.
0:34:37.0 PA: Well, thank you for being so open about sharing that. With a few friends lately, I’ve had that same conversation where the closeness that’s generated through MDMA is so beautiful and so nice. And, as you mentioned, it’s difficult to get horny when you’re working with the substance, so that’s the beautiful part about Cannabis, Cialis, or another substance that can help with “getting it up,” and I’ve also found some, for listeners, some success with 2C-B. It’s a different substance, different compound, right? I wanna clarify that 2C-B is very different from MDMA, but 2C-B has a similar length of time. It’s about four hours, and it has a similar sense of opening and empathy and connection and closeness. And, with 2C-B, for whatever reason, you can also… You don’t need Cialis necessarily, or Cannabis to become more erotic and to make love at the end of the night.
0:35:57.2 PA: So I think… The point being, there’s different ways to play with this, with MDMA specifically to get back to ecstasy in the context of our conversation, that, especially if you’re doing it with a partner, a loved one, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a spouse, whoever it is, knowing sort of the trajectory of that and having the right tools available, where if you want to segue into that erotic climax, you have that ability and you’re not wanting to get into it, but frustrated by the fact that, you can’t get hard or she can’t get wet, or whatever it might be, it’s nice to be able to set it all up beforehand, which is what I love about your idea of the card, because the card then sort of keeps you grounded in the scaffolding and the map of, “Okay, this is sort of the next six to eight to 10 hours and how it will unroll.”
0:36:53.6 CW: Right, yes. And the result is that we have, by this time, Shelley’s gonna be 70 next month, I’m gonna be 72 in April. And we can look back on our last 20 years together with such joy. We have grown older in such a wonderful and hedonistic way, and our relationship has taught us that fun and play and joy can in themselves be not only bonding experiences, of course, but transformational experience. This is where we have a blissful relationship, and it’s not like we’re blissed out all the time, and we spend the overwhelming amount of our time sober, but we have such wonderful memories and such wonderful bonding in our bodies from all these experiences that it’s just a joy to wake up in the morning and look at her and hug her and give her a good morning kiss, and it makes my day.
0:38:24.0 PA: That’s so beautiful. The connection, the closeness that’s evolving through that. Now…
0:38:30.1 CW: Yes, and I’d like to call MDMA the chemical of connection, because it really does that. It helps us connect with ourselves, of course, and with the people in our lives, and the world at large. It’s really a wonderful medicine for that.
0:38:52.5 PA: So one topic of conversation that’s been fairly big in psychedelics is integration. And you touched on this a little bit, but I would love if you could bring us deeper into what is your integration process for MDMA. It sounds like you work with this four or five, six times a year, you’ve done this between 60 and 70 times over the last maybe 15 or 20 years. How do you perceive integration? How do you approach integration? Is it something you do intentionally? Is it something that just sort of unfolds? What’s your sort of…
0:39:21.8 CW: For me, it unfolds because of the two things that are woven into my life, which is psychotherapy, I’m in psychotherapy myself, as well as that I am a therapist, so I see my therapist every week. So I will integrate an experience there, and I also integrate it by writing. Writing this book was a wonderful way to integrate my experiences and help concretize them in my being by writing about it and giving it away to the world. And I believe that a wonderful way to integrate such an experience is by serving others. It’s not the only way, of course, but it’s one wonderful way to do that.
0:40:10.7 PA: Because that’s what we feel when we’re working with these substances. We feel that sense of, again, the connection, and how when we serve others, it’s a mirroring. It’s a, What goes around, comes around. It’s a boomerang effect when that happens.
0:40:24.0 CW: It is. But it’s also that these medicines, MDMA and psychedelics, teach us or teach me that it’s not just about me. I’m a small part of a huge Cosmos, and I am part of it. And other people are all part of it, and I have more in common with everyone on this planet than I have differences. And my… What I have in common is more important than my differences. So I’m part of everyone and everything. And so for me to just then want to give what I have to people just comes naturally, and it brings its own joy, of course.
0:41:06.5 PA: Now, let’s talk a little bit about your background as a psychotherapist, because we haven’t touched on that too much, and I think that’s a really important part of this formula, part of your story. You’re not just a businessman or an artist, or a software developer, or an engineer, or name your other dozens and dozens of jobs that are out there, you’re actually a trained psychotherapist, you’re a certified psychotherapist. And what we’re learning from all the research that’s coming out about psychedelics is, it’s much more about the psychotherapy than it is the psychedelic. The psychedelic, the MDMA, that’s the opener, that’s the catalyst, but the long-term benefit comes from the psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy part. So, yeah, I just would love to hear your thoughts on how has your psychotherapist training prepared you for this, how is that relevant to your own sort of story about talking about MDMA and talking about Ecstasy, how does it help you to integrate your insights, all those sorts of things?
0:42:17.9 CW: Well, I’ve been a therapist for the past 30 years, and MDMA has helped me become a better therapist, for one thing, because it’s an empathic, and it’s helped me develop my abilities for empathy. So what I’m giving in that therapy room to an individual or a couple, I’m trying to, in a sober way, you could say, I don’t do medically-assisted therapy, unfortunately, I look forward to the day that I can legally do so, but what I’m trying to replicate in that room is that MDMA experience of safety. And I try to not only be empathetic, but to listen and to be receptive and to give the person an experience that I am completely open to what they’re saying and demonstrating that by letting them know what I’m hearing, letting them know what I’m perceiving and checking out with them, Is that true, is that real, is that really what you’re feeling, is that really… And so I’m showing respect and care, and I’m trying to give them the experience of total safety and well-being so that then their defenses can soften during the time that we are together, and they can talk and feel and learn about their own wisdom that’s really right there inside of them, and also maybe connect with me in a way that they don’t generally dare allow themselves to connect with people, and understand that that’s possible for them once again. So I’m not sure if I’m totally answering your question, but that’s one thing that comes to me right now.
0:44:23.4 PA: Why is safety so important when it comes to either MDMA or just the healing process from a therapeutic perspective?
0:44:31.2 CW: Well, that’s a good question. When we don’t feel safe, our bodies are… It’s simple chemistry on one level. Our bodies are flooded with stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, we get into fight or flight mode, the sympathetic nervous system takes over. And so we’re ready to fight or freeze or flight or flee. And that’s not a good place to do therapy, and it’s not a place where you’re gonna generally grow. You’re in survival mode. So safety helps us, to use Julie Hollins’ term, flip into para, the parasympathetic system, where we get more of the oxytocin in our bodies and the dopamine, and of course, the serotonin, so we can feel safe, and therefore, open. So much of what I encounter in the therapy room is with couples. Half my practice is couples.
0:45:40.0 CW: They come in and they no longer feel emotionally safe with that person. In the past, it would be, 50 years ago or more. There was… A woman might complain of physical abuse. I don’t hear too much of that, at least not in the clientele that comes to me, but I do hear of emotional abuse. And it goes both ways, from men to women, from women to men, from men to men, from women to women in the couples that I see. And so they no longer feel safe with this person, and if they don’t feel safe, then they’re gonna go on the defense, they’re gonna go on the offense, and discussions are gonna spiral into arguments are gonna spiral into fights, and then the fight’s gonna be about the fight, and they’re gonna forget what the discussion was all about, and I have to break into that cycle and have them start to feel a little safe, at least with me in the room, so that they can start reconnecting with each other.
0:46:57.9 PA: Because that’s when the ego defenses drop. That’s when the rigidity drops, right?
0:47:01.9 CW: Yeah.
0:47:02.1 PA: That’s when we’re able to feel like we can be fully seen, when our heart can really open. If we don’t feel safe, it’s hard to allow that connection.
0:47:10.0 CW: Yes, and when… With couples, who, if we don’t feel safe, what we’re trying to do is convince the other person that I’m right and you’re wrong, and I can prove it. This argument that we’re having, I’m right and you’re wrong, and they make that the most important thing, and of course that’s all ego involved. And like I like to tell couples, “You can be right, or you can be happy, but you can’t have both in a happy… In a working relationship. If your priority is to be right, then you’re in for a hard time.”
0:47:56.4 PA: And so from your perspective, then how does MDMA within a couple’s relationship help with those disagreements, or help with snafus that might come along the path in a relationship?
0:48:11.0 CW: Well, like I say, wish I could do the MDMA with couples. I could do six months worth of therapy in a day.
0:48:18.6 PA: Soon, hopefully, right? Soon.
0:48:19.8 CW: Yes, yes.
0:48:20.4 PA: Within the next few years, hopefully.
0:48:22.5 CW: Hopefully. 2023 right now is the year that the MDMA is gonna become a prescription medication, at least that’s the hope and the trajectory. But with couples, because they can be in this state of safety and with an open heart, and actually feel, palpably, in their heart, this wonderful feeling of well-being and love, it can remind them of the kind of emotion that got them together in the first place, of what it’s like to fall in love. And so like I like to say, if you wanna know what MDMA feels like, imagine what it was like the first time you told somebody that you were in love with them, and they told you that they were in love with you as well, what did that feel like? That’s sort of what MDMA feels like for many of us. So it can remind couples of why they got together in the first place, and they can see, “Oh my God, we’ve lost sight of this. We’ve lost sight of the possibility of joy and true love and connection and being about more than just me, being about we, and the betterment of we and of us.” And so they can then come out of that experience rededicating themselves to have their eyes on that prize of knowing what really is possible.
0:50:24.3 CW: It was possible at the beginning of their relationship, it’s possible when they’re on MDMA, it’s possible going forward, if they learn how to integrate the experience. And because often what couples will do would be they get into… When they feel more safe, they get into a more vulnerable place, where they’re open and they’re more willing to share what’s beyond or beneath the anger and the resentment, which is often fear and hurt, which of course are more vulnerable feelings to share. And that’s the beginning of healing, when somebody can tell their partner, “No, I just, when you said that 10 years ago to me, it hurt me and I never got over it, and I never fully told you how much… And I’ve been coming from that place ever since. I’ve never felt fully safe with you ever since that day, and I’m sorry, but this is the truth.” And that’s the beginning of healing, those kind of revelations.
0:51:31.8 PA: Which is why it’s so attractive to consistently work with a substance like MDMA, to consistently enter a container as a couple to be able to talk about these things, to be able to process these difficult emotions, because oftentimes in a normal, conscious… Ordinary conscious state, we have sort of the… “Well, I don’t know if I can say this,” or, “I don’t know if they’re gonna get offended,” or, “I don’t know how they’re gonna react,” whereas when we’re both under MDMA, there’s just a sense of I understand that it’s coming from a place of love, coming from a place of understanding, I understand that it’s coming from a place of what’s best for both of us, and let’s talk about those difficult emotions. Let’s talk about the anger, the fear, the shame, the guilt, the whatever it is.
0:52:12.6 CW: Yes.
0:52:13.9 PA: And that way those are out in the open and they can be processed and talked about and integrated rather than repressed, which then informs anger and other conflicted emotions.
0:52:25.8 CW: That’s right. Yes, exactly, exactly. That’s why in the early days, before it was illegal, the first people that Sasha Shulgin gave this to, beyond his little PiHKAL group, were psychotherapists in Northern California, and they started realizing that, “Oh, I could give this to my couples.” The first name they gave it was Empathy. And so… Because that’s of course what it induces, and it was really… For couples therapy that it’s first therapeutic use was for couples.
0:53:08.9 PA: Do you remember why they also called it Adam?
0:53:12.4 CW: I think it was a take on the initials MDMA, it came from working with those initials, and also maybe because it made some people feel like what it was like to be in the Garden of Eden.
0:53:30.9 PA: Sort of that original innocence.
0:53:34.8 CW: Yes, exactly.
0:53:36.3 PA: A feeling of pure love and safety and connection and…
0:53:39.1 CW: Yes.
0:53:39.4 PA: That feeling. Mmh.
0:53:43.2 CW: Yeah, yeah.
0:53:43.2 PA: Well, Charley, it’s been such an honor to sit down and interview you to learn more about your personal journey with MDMA, how that’s related to Shelley, your wife, and the evolution of your partnership these last 20 years. Your insight and sort of the mini-lines that you tow, make a conversation like this so easy and open and transparent and funny, and so I just wanna thank you for not only taking the time to pop on and talk about your experiences in your book, but I think more importantly, just writing this book, being so public about this, it feels like you’ve inspired another layer, evolution of conversation around MDMA that takes it outside of that purely clinical approach and helps remind people, hey, this is sort of the, the… Another element of MDMA’s potential and how it can in particular help with couples and relationships because yes, we have a mental health crisis and we have a crisis of PTSD, but we also have a relationship crisis.
0:54:55.4 CW: Oh yes.
0:54:56.5 PA: MDMA can really help with, as we just talked about, being that super glue.
0:55:02.1 CW: Yes.
0:55:03.2 PA: For a beautiful bond.
0:55:04.4 CW: And of course now, during the time of a pandemic, if a couple has a problem now it’s writ large in their home because they’ve been quarantined for way too long for their own… Well for their own comfort. And so, yes, I like what you’re saying, we have a relationship crisis, and we’ve had it before COVID, but we certainly have it now, and Valentine’s day’s coming up… And the… Rumor has it, Paul, that cupids arrow was laced with MDMA.
0:55:43.1 PA: Really, tell us more about that.
0:55:44.5 CW: Oh yes, oh yes, I have it on good word.
0:55:50.3 CW: So… What a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with someone. It doesn’t have to be a love connection, it can be just a friend, if you can be physically safe with each other, it can be a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
0:56:11.4 PA: And that’s coming right up. We’ll publish this on February 7th I believe, so it’ll be the week after. So that’s a great way to sort of end it is consider Valentine’s Day is coming up, and if you happen to find a little MDMA in your corner of the world, that might be a good way to experience that and open up to it.
0:56:31.5 CW: Yes indeed, indeed.
0:56:33.5 PA: Well, as sort of a final word, Charley, I’d love if you could let our listeners know where they can find out more about Listening to Ecstasy, where they can find out… Purchase a copy if they’re interested in learning more about your work and how they can work with these substances, next steps, what would those be.
0:56:47.5 CW: Sure, they could go on either the Amazon site or the Simon & Schuster site, punch and Listening to Ecstasy, and you’ll see the book right there, and you can order a copy and if you want me to sign the book, I found a way to sign the book, during these times, in a safe way, you’ll get in touch with me through my website, ListeningToEcstasy.com, and let me know you want me to sign it and tell me what you wanna say and email me your physical address, and I will write out, I have these little book plates that you peel off the back and stick on to the inside cover of your book that I will… I’ll sign for you and stick in the mail, and you’ll be able to have a signed copy.
0:57:41.4 PA: Beautiful… So if you want a signed copy of Listening to Ecstasy by Charley Wininger, then just check out Listening to Ecstasy… Is it CharleyWininger.com then or what’s the actual URL for that?
0:57:55.2 CW: Yes, but you can also just… Because some people will have trouble spelling my name, you can just punch in ListeningToEcstasy.com and you’ll see my contact page there.
0:58:09.2 PA: Perfect, great. Well, again, thank you, thank you so much, Charley, for everything.
0:58:12.7 CW: Thank you Paul, I really appreciate this interview. And thank you for doing this work, man. I really appreciate that.
0:58:17.0 PA: Absolutely.
0:58:17.3 CW: And what work that your doing for all of us.
0:58:22.3 PA: Thank you.
Please enjoy this transcript of our interview with Charley Wininger.