How ISD saved my marriage
This girl is in the act of committing a murder in a psychedelic dream. She is actress Pam Hyatt, under LSD treatment, photographed by her husband. This is her story of the emotional torment that led to this terrifying moment, and of what came after
PAM HYATT FOSTER
ON THE NIGHT of our ninth anniversary, August 31, I felt, for the first time in years, a well woman, secure in marriage and confident that Johnny and I could make a good life for ourselves and our son. My euphoria was not produced by a wine-and-roses celebration. What made me aware of my personal well-being was, ironically, a failure in my professional life.
I’m an entertainer, and on August 31 I was performing a one-woman revue at a Toronto nightspot called Theatre in The Dell. Johnny had persuaded me to tackle a whole show of my own and he had produced it himself, on days off from his own job as a free-lance film cameraman. For many reasons, but mainly because this was my return to the stage after what Johnny called my “grey-nun period,” it was important to us to have a success. That night, before I left for The Dell, Johnny broke the news that we were about to fold. After bad reviews on my opening, two / continued overleaf
Ê saw other-worldly beauty, then ! was torn apart
HOW LSD SAVED MY MARRIAGE
weeks earlier, the show had steadily lost money and now Johnny had to post closing notices to the musicians and stage manager. It was a solid blow not only to my ego but to our bank account — we'd invested heavily in new songs and sketch material. But I said, “So we'll survive. It was a necessary experience. We’ve learned a lot.” When I said that — and meant it — I realized that I wasn’t sick any more.
Two years ago I would have been destroyed by the folding of that show. I'd have blamed Johnny, my director, the musicians, the lousy critics, the crummy audiences — everyone but myself— for my flop. I’d have screamed and wept. I’d have fomented a knock-down fight with Johnny, which would have sickened him and terrified our son Carson. I'd have clouted Carson, if he cried. I might have raked my son's back with my fingernails — I'd done that before. As Johnny said on the night we observed nine years of marriage, “It's a miracle we survived.”
In fact, our marriage was saved by psychiatric treatment, the psychedelic drug, LSD, and an agony of effort by both of us. It took two years and would have taken far longer. I'm convinced, if our psychiatrist had not prescribed LSD. Without the insights that LSD opened to us, my husband and I might still be harassing ourselves, each other and our child: more likely, we would be divorced.
We were lucky to have treatment well underway before LSD became unavailable to psychiatry in Canada. It’s still legal but because of controversy over the LSD cult, which has grown up, mainly in the U.S., over the last five years, the Swiss manufacturer, Sandoz, stopped distributing the drug. About a year ago almost all Canadian hospitals that used LSD sent back their remaining stocks. It’s still obtainable — lysergic acid diethylamide, which is LSD. is cheap and easy to
make — but it’s obtainable only on the street. Those who want a “trip” with LSD must now take it unsupervised and in uncontrolled conditions, not, as I did, in hospital under the guidance of my psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse. What all this adds up to, it seems to me, is a terrible misuse of a powerful psychiatric tool.
My experience of LSD enriched my life. According to my Toronto psychiatrist (who, for ethical reasons, declines to be identified), I am “one of a significant number of people who have been helped by LSD to get insight into themselves and their problems or to break through psychological barriers that would otherwise have been difficult to hurdle.” He says, “The best candidates for LSD are the best candidates for psychotherapy — people who are willing to go into a long period of effort.” He sums up, “LSD, by itself, isn’t magical. Nor is it without danger.”
I know the limitations and the risks, along with the power of LSD. I have no desire to take it again. From now on, whatever progress I make is up to me. I’ve learned that I have to accept people and things as they are, here and now. This acceptance represents a tremendous change, a joyous change, in me. Two sessions of LSD, seven months apart, hastened this change. But had the drug been administered in isolation from other treatment, had I taken it purely for the trip, the way so many young people do today, the effect on me would probably have been disastrous. As for my marriage, LSD alone might have hastened its disintegration.
I was married at 21 to Johnny who was nine years older and divorced. Like a lot of girls, I was unready for marriage. I had gone directly from my parents’ home in Long Island, New York, to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where I was still a student, dependent on my parents’ support, when I met Johnny. He was working for the National Film Board at the time, doing a documentary on RADA. At a party celebrating the end of production, less than two weeks after we met, he proposed. Then he returned to Canada. I joined him four months later
and we were married, scarcely knowing each other.
A clash of temperaments was inevitable. I was a mindless, exhibitionist kid, with total confidence in my half-formed, relatively untried talents. I’d go into a casting office and introduce myself, “I’m Pam Hyatt. I’m a terrific actress, singer, dancer — I can do anything.” Johnny, on the other hand, was a self-made and self-reliant man, who kept
himself tightly controlled and cherished his intellectual independence. He couldn’t abide people who unthinkingly accepted ideas and attitudes; especially he resisted Bible-thumpers. I suppose that he mistook my kookiness and audacity for the manifestations of a free spirit.
Our backgrounds were wildly dissimilar. Johnny grew up without a father; his died when he was eight, leaving his mother, a practical nurse, as the family’s only support. While the children were young, the whole family lived with grandparents, on the farm near Ottawa. Johnny’s most contented childhood memory was of delivering milk in the early morning with his grandfather. Otherwise, he recollected growing up as a struggle, against poverty and rigid orthodoxy. By comparison, my early life and adolescence were remarkably sheltered. My father ran a small New York travel agency and was very much the head of our family. My mother, a lovely, calm, intelligent woman, sometimes affronted my brother and me by what seemed to us her subservience to Father. He came first; she made that plain. When Father at first opposed my going into showbusiness — he felt that woman’s place was in the home — she stood behind him. Why couldn’t I be satisfied, as he was, to use my talents to entertain friends? As for my early marriage, both parents objected. They felt I was recklessly rushing into it — and, of course, they were right.
Within six months, Johnny and 1 were in trouble. He had his career, I had mine, and we came together only to squabble. The birth of our son, Carson, in 1961, merely gave us something more to row about. I was as inconsistent with Carson as I was with Johnny. I’d lavish him with
in a cold grey hell
love one minute, then lash out at him the next. I kept house just as erratically. I’d have furious bouts of painting and redecorating, but I couldn’t be bothered to keep our apartment clean. At any criticism. I’d weep. I was a little girl; I wanted my head patted constantly, by my husband, my son or the people with whom I worked in the theatre, and if they weren’t kind to me I wept or, with my family, I raged. But I never fought over what I was really angry about. Johnny had begun to drink heavily and I’d brood over that, then blow up about his not having watered the plants on the balcony.
I was at home only in the theatre. There I was among people who understood and cared about me. I’d stay late after rehearsals to prattle about my domestic problems to acquaintances, actors and musicians, who, in turn, poured out theirs to me. I had no interest in Johnny’s film work, which took him all over the world. It was his knowledge, his perception and his concern for people, whose suffering he had seen on a grand scale, that first attracted me to him. But that had long since subsided. To have shared Johnny’s experiences would have required me to exercise my mind and I was too busy, being a performer, to bother.
Then I got religion and Johnny couldn’t cope with that. He'd married a lapsed Episcopalian; suddenly he was confronted with a zealot. “I’ve seen religion wreck marriages,” he kept saying. It was after a terrible fight over my new-found religious convictions, which ended with our knocking each other about in the presence of our frightened son. that Johnny said, “You need psychiatric help.”
I know now that my period of evangelistic fervor was an important part of my change process; it not only made me responsive to psychiatric help, but heightened my experience of LSD. But at the time, everything deepened the conflict between Johnny and me. He suspected the honesty of my search for God, mainly because of the dramatic way it began. I had been deeply moved by an Easter mass, which I attended in 1964, when Johnny and I were holidaying on the Virgin
Islands. A chance meeting with a Presbyterian evangelist, on the trip home by plane, led to my reading the gospels and attending church. Through my evangelist acquaintance, I met the Reverend Ron Armstrong of St. Elizabeth’s Anglican Church in Toronto and joined his congregation. When I had my first LSD experience, Johnny was away. But I knew that Ron Armstrong and most of his congregation were praying for me.
I went into hospital on August 24, 1964, a month after I began psychiatric treatment. I had been reading about LSD and I asked for it immediately. "Why do you need it?” my psychiatrist asked. LAaid, “Because I’m doing all kinds of ugly things to the people I love most. I happen to think there’s a nice woman inside me but I can’t seem to find her. If LSD will help, I want it.” He insisted, however, on three preliminary talk sessions.
Unburdening myself to him, I began to get intimations of why I felt unlovely and unloved. I had never been secure in my femininity, even as a daughter. My father used to tease me about my long, high nose, which was like his. He liked womanly women, and I was flat-chested. I talked a lot about my father, mother and Johnny. But
for the first time I wasn't content merely to unburden myself; I wanted to change my behavior. It was because my psychiatrist was convinced of this that he consented to LSD.
I was admitted to hospital at 8.30 a.m. and taken to a tiled room, bare except for a bed and a chest of drawers. When I was settled in bed, my psychiatrist arrived and a psychiatric nurse gave me an injection of LSD.
About 15 minutes later I felt a tingling sensation in my extremities and all I could sec were pinpoints of light, at first white, then in rich colors. The walls took on many colors. Then pictures of an other-worldly beauty — of spires, birds’ plumage, feathery trees — came faster than film can be rolled.
At this point the psychiatrist asked, “What’s happening?” I said, “Forget it. Go away. I’m having a nice time.”
1 hen he said. “What’s it like to have the Hyatt nose, Pam?” Wham! Ugly pictures started to appear. There was blood, lots of it. The psychiatrist interrupted again. “What’s it like to have small breasts?” Then I began a horrible race of fox and hounds; at first I was the fox, next a hound that was
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continued from pave 11
Suddenly, the roses, the walls, the bed . .. were breathing
limping, and finally the whole pack moved into a jungle, where I knew I was going to be destroyed.
! went through four hours of hell. The worst was when, with my arms wide, 1 felt my parents pulling me apart. 1 was left in two pieces, half man, half woman.
But suddenly I thought of Carson,
who was made of all our blood. 1 began to grow together and I felt a whole woman. A tremendous orgasmic feeling of flowing love came over me. I loved John. I remembered that he was away and I wanted him to come home safely to me. I was given a mirror. I looked in it and saw a pretty woman.
For almost an hour I prattled hap-
pily. “My name is Pamela Foster. How do you do? I’m Mrs. Foster.” I was feeling a strong sense of the dignity of my role as woman, wife and mother and I emerged, understanding that Johnny had a right to his dignity, too.
I looked at the roses I had brought with me and they were breathing. The
walls began to breathe, the bed. the whole room. Suddenly all the energy in the room seemed to gather into a force, a bronze - colored stream, at the foot of my bed. Then it flowed to the head, where it hung, a cold grey void. I was looking into this void when the energy streamed back and the sign of the Cross, outlined in jewels, appeared at the foot of my bed and floated over me. As it vanished the Star of David took shape and swooped over my head, then all the religious symbols I’ve ever seen went by, and then I knew that all religions are true and lead to God. I felt that 1 was one with God.
My LSD experience lasted from 9.30 a.m. until about 10 that night. I was kept in bed the whole time so that I couldn’t harm myself. Under LSD, your safety mechanisms switch off — you could burn or bash yourself, without any feeling of hurt.
I had to be sedated to sleep. When I drifted off, I loved everyone.
I came home the next night. My minister, Ron Armstrong, his wife and a student minister visited me, heard about my experience and gave thanks.
“It’s tearing us apart”
That weekend Í flew to New York to meet Johnny, who was arriving from the south, where he’d been working on a CBC documentary, Summer In Mississippi. He was exhausted, drained physically and emotionally.
But I had to tell him how I felt. “I love you so much,” I kept murmuring until finally he said. “I’m not up to it.” He wanted to talk about the horror he’d seen in Mississippi but I stopped him with my bless-you-my-son-smile. The next day he got stoned.
When he returned that night he asked for a divorce. “This whole Christianity thing is impossible,” he said. “It’s tearing us apart. And LSD — it’s just shown you an aspect of yourself that you wanted to see.”
I refused to fight. I was Mrs. Strength. “It’s all going to be all right,” I said. Whereupon he stormed out to another hotel.
The next morning we were reconciled. “We need time,” I said. “So much has happened to us. I know now that one LSD won’t solve all our problems.”
We returned to Toronto and I went into my “grey-nun period.” as Johnny came to call it. I quit psychiatric treatment — I was sure that I didn’t need it any more. I had no interest in work. I read the Bible and went regularly to church. Around home I wore blue jeans and a shirt; when I was going out, I put on a grey suit. I kept the house tidy and prepared elaborate meals. I was consistent in my behavior
HOW LSD SAVED MY MARRIAGE continued
Enraged, I raked my long nails down my little son’s back
to Carson. The only trouble was that Johnny didn’t seem to be entranced.
On New Year’s Eve, 1964, he announced, “You seem happy and I’m glad. But you’ve become a nun. You used to have color; you had a career of your own. Now you’re a drab thing.”
I said gently, “Beauty is from within.” To which he replied. ‘7 can’t see it and it’s no consolation to me, in bed or anywhere else.”
And so, suddenly, I switched again. 1 wore makeup and bright clothes and felt put-upon. After all. I’d made an effort to be a warm and intelligent woman; now it was time for other people to get cracking, to meet me at least halfway. I tried to persuade Johnny to start treatment with my psychiatrist but this angered him. I began taking out my own anger on Carson. Early one morning he was sitting on my lap and accidentally pinched me. Enraged, 1 hauled up his shirt and raked my long nails down his back. He gasped. 1 stood him up and saw that his back was bleeding. 1 was scared stiff.
He said, “I’m going to tell my Daddy.”
I said, “I think we'd both better go and tell Daddy.”
Johnny was horrified. He made me call my psychiatrist, who gave me an appointment for that afternoon. The psychiatrist prescribed anti-depressant pills and another appointment. But by now Johnny realized I wasn’t the only one who needed help. That night he asked. “Do you think your doctor would see me?”
As it turned out, Johnny was even more depressed than I and his problems were far more diffused than
mine. His psychiatric treatment started in mid-January. At the same time. 1 asked for another session of LSD. The doctor agreed and Johnny requested. and got, permission to film my experience. That was a mistake.
I was hung up on anger and 1 still felt all my old guilt at being angry. The LSD was intended to release those
feelings. It did rid me of a great deal of venom and forced me to see, moreover. where this venom was directed. In the depth of my LSD experience I killed my father; I plunged a knife into him. It had a great cathartic effect. I’d always feared that to express anger to my father would cause him to stop loving me. Now 1 understood
why. when 1 quarreled with Johnny,
1 would never admit to what 1 was angry about; 1 had to conceal the depth of my own feeling. My psychiatrist helped me to talk out my anger at my father. But I couldn’t release my anger at Johnny because he was there. It took almost a year for me to purge myself of that.
That night I refused to be sedated and was high, hallucinating, until 5 a.m. I awoke, full of energy. 1 wanted
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HOW LSD SAVED MY MARRIAGE
to resume my career. Í needed to test my talent and I decided that I would test it where the competition was toughest, in New York.
On March 7, 1965, the day after I got out of hospital, I left for New York. I was still hallucinating. The murder of a minister, a civil-rights marcher, in Selma, Alabama, occurred that week and channeled my hallucinations. 1 would look at people on the street and see them as ugly and grasping and uncaring. For days 1 felt oppressed by people and by the city itself. One night I telephoned a local minister, an acquaintance, and we prayed over the phone. Another night, I spent hours kneeling in St. Patrick’s Cathedral before the statue of St. Anthony, staring into those kind, plaster eyes. I read the autobiography of a yogi and that made sense. 1 started lessons in singing and jazz ballet. I did a few auditions hut nothing came of them. But I did have my first fight with my father. It was over my taking LSD, which he feared. We bawled at each other and he swept out of my hotel room.
John had had his first experience of LSD in March and got nowhere. His second, a month later, was terrible. As he described it later, he died 18 times. He emerged from LSD more deeply depressed than ever. Our psychiatrist, fearing that Johnny was one of those whom LSD can tip into a severely psychotic break, prescribed shock treatments. But Johnny’s mother, who had come from Ottawa to care for Carson during the illness of our housekeeper, was appalled by the idea of her son’s taking a treatment that she associated with mental illness. John stayed in his black depression.
I came home weekends, saw what was happening but refused to be distracted from my own work, honing and polishing my talents as an entertainer. In May I played a club date in Bermuda. From there I went to Acadia University in Nova Scotia to perform in Guys And Dolls. I was there in July when Johnny had himself admitted to hospital for shock treatment. His depression had deepened to the point where he could no longer function at his job. I came home immediately.
After two weeks in hospital, Johnny emerged, apparently well and happy. But at once he became immersed in work. There was no time for Carson and me. When I accused him of
For the first time in my search, I was serene. I understood
abandoning us, he said. “That's the way I am. 1 can’t be a husband and father. I never had a father of my own to show me how.”
We spent our eighth anniversary discussing divorce. The next day we decided on a separation. Johnny stayed in Toronto. I went to my parents’ home in Long Island, taking Carson with me, and for two months I kept house for us all. It was during this time that I read the Hindu philosophy of Meyer Baba and related it to my own feeling of oneness with God, under LSD. I felt the same great love that I had experienced under the drug but now it was not overwhelming; for the first time in my search, I was serene. And I understood that Johnny was just beginning his search.
Living with my parents again, I found that I could appreciate their relationship and how my mother’s love of and loyalty to my father was not subservience; it was part of her wisdom to know that my father needed to come first. I felt ready to be a wife to Johnny. I wanted to care for him and to work with him to make our life rich. I came home.
In January 1966 we began to tackle problems together. I developed a genuine interest in his work; he encouraged me in mine. 1 found that I could be firm yet loving with Carson because I was no longer plagued with guilt about being only a part-time mother. Instead, I concentrated on trying to make our time together a rewarding time for all of us. 1 stopped being bothered by the blatant imperfections in our housekeeping; we simply aren’t the kind to keep geraniums blooming on our kitchen window or spots off the living-room rug. It sounds trivial but it was a tremendous relief to me. It was part of my progress from guilt and anger into acceptance of myself and the people I love for what we are.
For most of last winter and spring, Johnny and I were still dependent on our psychiatrist. We needed regularly to talk out problems with him and report any progress. We still needed his
approval last summer, when we began working together on my one-woman show, which was Johnny's idea. The last time we called it was to give him the message that, although the show was folding, we felt it had been worthwhile.
I've stopped psychiatric treatment; Johnny continues. I read the Bible,
mainly the gospels, and still find serenity in the philosophy of Meyer Baba. Johnny isn’t affronted. I'm past my evangelical period. We agree on our responsibility to give our son a religious education. Carson will go to Sunday school at our neighborhood United Church; we both believe that its new curriculum will encourage him
to approach religion inquiringly. We don’t want our son to be afraid of his mind, the way Johnny and I once were at raid of ours. We want him to understand its power and to use it.
We hope that our son wäll grow up accepting us for what we are. Some day. I'll tell him the story of how Johnny and I arrived at acceptance of ourselves, each other and of him. Perhaps that will save him from a trip as painful as ours. Our son, if we can prevent it. will never need LSD. ★