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***See below for a complete topic breakdown.***
Can MDMA help us grieve?
That’s a big question with a lot of gravity. It invites a direct encounter with what it is to die and what it is to live in the aftermath of another’s death. It invites us to wonder what it is about how we grieve now that it needs help at all, which again brings us back to what it is to die and survive those who die before us. (Something we explored in episode 59 with Stephen Jenkinson, What Dying Means.)
It of course, too, leads us to wonder about what MDMA is all about. Some Of us know it as a party drug, others as therapy for PTSD, others as medicine for a failing marriage, and some of us know it as all three. But what might its potential be beyond these uses? What of it in contexts like a funeral or a wake? Or out in a park on a sunny day with friends and the intention to come into circle around loss and sorrow; to grieve and hold each other in grieving?
Well, those later potentials have been touched and are shared in this interview on Adventures Through The Mind with Charley and Shelly Wininger, as we explore their story of the loss of their adult son.
Charles Wininger, LP, LMHC, is a licensed psychoanalyst and mental health counselor specializing in relationships and communication skills. Recognized as “The Love Doctor” by the New York Times and Newsday, he’s been treating couples and individuals in his Manhattan and Brooklyn offices for 30 years. He sits on the board of advisors of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care Program at the Center for Optimal Living in New York. He lives with his wife, Shelly in Brooklyn.
Shelley is a mother and was a critical care nurse for 40 years, now retired. After leaving her first husband, she soon met Charley and began her new life as his “partner in crime”. She is the muse for, and sine qua non of, Listening To Ecstacy, Charley’s book on the transformative power of MDMA–which I interviewed him about back in February of 2021.
Both Shelley and Charley join us for this interview to tell a story, one that provides the context to wonder about the potential of group MDMA experiences for grief and the recently bereaved, as well as questions about death and dying, feeling safe to be vulnerable, and the profound healing of togetherness in times of great loss.
Also, there are three important points to hold while listening.
- The first is that, like my interview with Andrea Bird back in July of 2020–psilocybin at sunset (learning to die)–this interview is mostly storytelling, with my role as interviewing to help deepen and clarify the implications of that story.
- Next, this interview is also like my interview with Andrea Bird in the sense that it is best listened to at normal speed in order to give the authenticity of the story the space it needs to breath.
- And finally, this, at least to me, is an incredibly beautiful story, but far from an easy or comfortable one. We are talking about the death of Shelly’s son, which was still very recent at the time of recording this back in July 2021. And, although he (Scott) was an adult, no matter how old your child is, if they die before you, they die as your child. And so that is what we are touching in this episode, and thus I invite you to make sure you have the space to truly hear it, to be in a space–internally and externally–where it is safe to be touched by it.
If would like to contact Charley or Shelly after this interview, their contact details can be found at jameswjesso.com or at ListeningToEcstacy.com
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- The relevant background of Charley & Shelley’s relationship and community
- The story of the death of Shelley’s son
- Their yearly group roll
- The MDMA grief circle
- Shelley sharing during the MDMA grief circle
- “I never want to go to a conventional wake again”
- The muting of emotions during modern funerals
- Feeling safe to feel the full pain of grief
- MDMA and learning to feel safe to be vulnerable
- Integrating MDMA into community grief processes
- Grieving the loss of safety and connection
- The MDMA middle way
- The MDMA experience is a holy space of profound togetherness and Love
- How MDMA impacted Shelley’s grieving process
- Learning to be wrecked on schedule
- Openly crying gives others permission to touch the tears in themselves
- Feeling safe to feel with MDMA
- Charley checks in with me
- The integration of a group MDMA grief circle
- Generational differences in stigma against MDMA