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Listening to Ecstasy

The Transformative Power of MDMA

Published by Park Street Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

A personal narrative and guide to the safe, responsible use of MDMA for personal healing and social transformation

• Details the author’s 50 years of responsible experimentation with mind-altering substances and how Ecstasy has helped him become a better therapist

• Explains how he and his wife found Ecstasy to be the key to renewing and enriching their lives and marriage as they entered their senior years

• Describes what the experience actually feels like and provides protocols for the safe, responsible, recreational, and celebrational use of MDMA for individuals and groups

In a world that keeps us separate from each other, MDMA is the chemical of connection. Aptly known in popular culture as “Ecstasy,” MDMA helps us rediscover our own true loving nature, often obscured by the traumas of life. On its way to becoming a prescription medication due to groundbreaking research on its use to treat PTSD, Ecstasy can offer benefits for all adult life stages, from 20-somethings to seniors.

In this memoir and guide to safe use, Charles Wininger, a licensed psychoanalyst and mental health counselor, details the countless ways that Ecstasy has helped him become a better therapist and husband. He recounts his coming of age in the 1960s counterculture, his 50 years of responsible experimentation with mind-altering substances, and his immersion in the new psychedelic renaissance. He explains how he and his wife found Ecstasy to be the key to renewing and enriching their lives as they entered their senior years. It also strengthened the bonds of their marriage.

Countering the fearful propaganda that surrounds this drug, Wininger describes what the experience actually feels like and explores the value of Ecstasy and similar substances for helping psychologically healthy individuals live a more “optimal” life. He provides protocols for the responsible, recreational, and celebrational use of MDMA, including how to perfect the experience, maximize the benefits and minimize the risks, and how it may not be for everyone. He reveals how MDMA has revitalized his marriage, both erotically and emotionally, and describes how pleasure, fun, and joy can be profound bonding and transformative experiences.

Revealing MDMA’s versatility when it comes to bringing lasting renewal, pleasure, and inspiration to one’s life, Wininger shows that recognizing the transformative power of happiness-inducing experiences can be the first step on the path to healing.


From the Prologue

When I find myself on fire in my life to the point where I start approaching burnout, I’ve learned to follow an old adage: Stop, drop, and roll.

I carve out time, usually a week or two in advance, to stop my life’s merry-go-round for a day, drop some MDMA, and the “roll” (meaning, the MDMA experience) replenishes my being.

I call this responsible recreational drug use. The very notion may sound counter-intuitive to the reader’s acculturated ears, as it once did to mine. But for the community I’ve discovered and that my wife Shelley and I have helped nurture over the past fifteen years here in New York, the responsible middle way (between abstention and abuse) is the way to a fuller life. We’ve found that having a mature and fact-based approach to using MDMA to be of enormous benefit to ourselves. (See chapter 8: “Guidelines for the Responsible Recreational Use of MDMA.”)

Potentially one of the world’s most beneficial psychoactive chemicals, and one that almost always bestows a secret smile upon its users, MDMA is a much maligned and misunderstood compound often slandered by a media always hot for another scare-the-pants-off-the-parents story.

But in fact, MDMA is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. An angel depicted with horns. It’s an exotic chemical with a devoted esoteric following, and its benefits are a well-kept open secret. Indeed, the closer one gets to MDMA, the better it looks. In its pure form, and when used responsibly, it remains practically impossible to O.D. on.

What makes MDMA an uncanny compound is its versatility: It has been shown in clinical trials to bring profound and lasting relief to those suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stess Disorder) such as victims of sexual violence and traumatized soldiers back from Iraq. Or it can help a couple trying to reclaim the lost heart of their relationship. And this same substance at the same dosage can be used at an all-night rave to dance ecstatically with a thousand others in unified, wild abandon. Is there another substance on the planet that can claim such a range of applications?

From Chapter 6. Senior High

Youth Serum

If you happen to be of the older persuasion, do you remember the moment you crossed over? I know I do. I must have been in my early 50s and was about to get on a Manhattan cross town bus. I dug into my pocket, took out my change (this was before Metrocards), and started depositing quarters into the machine. After dropping the first three in, the driver immediately stretched out his hand to cover the opening.

“No one’s going to question you!” he said.


Then I noticed the listed fares: Standard ride: $1.50. Seniors: $.75.
Wait! I thought. I want to be questioned! I want to be proofed on this end!

It’s taken me a while to adjust. Indeed, I’m still getting used to it. But then again, I’ve had a medicinal advantage.

Because when I roll, the world seems made new again. (Of course, that would be me that’s made new.) In this and other ways, MDMA has helped me adjust to and deal with aging and mortality. And it’s given me, up here in my early seventies, a new lease on youth. For a few hours, this world-weary mind and aging body are reinvigorated. As long as I use it wisely, I can return to the fresh vitality of my 30- or even 20-year-old self for a few hours, a brief vacation in Youthlandia. I’m free and reborn with an innocent, fresh-off-the-boat feeling. And with my wife Shelley by my side, we experience a unique attunement together, two kids, hand in hand, skipping around our chemical playground.

Over the years, she and I and others in our community have turned responsible use of this recreational drug into a science as well as an art form, transforming what could otherwise be a dangerous indulgence into a tool that continuously brings joy and vitality to our senior years.

This is my fountain of youth. It doesn’t last, of course; I do come down, and have to pay an energy debt (mostly I just sleep it off and then rest the next day). But there’s nothing like once again experiencing in my bones the vitality I used to take for granted. I feel rejuvenated in a way that can echo for days. And over the course of years and dozens of rolls, this has had a cumulative effect. Further, remembering how good I can feel in every way helps infuse me with the kind of optimism that can otherwise tend to wane with age.

As Anais Nin said, we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. This medicine freshens my outlook and my inlook.

While I may therefore lament, as many of us do, that I didn’t know then all I know now, at least with MDMA I can still know now some of the youthful vitality I knew back then.

To put it another way, the first time around, youth chose me. The second time, I make the choice. For Shelley and me, MDMA used properly has become our youth serum.

The Japanese have a word for this, kanreki, which means second spring.

Besides blessing me with a daylong vacation from aging, the medicine also helps me reconnect with my love for mankind. And these days, I don’t take this for granted.

I view MDMA as an egalitarian opportunity for joy and rejuvenation, one whose availability is not limited to the spiritual, the wealthy… or the young. No matter one’s class, age, gender, race, or sexuality, a person can take charge of their own chemistry, and potentially their whole worldview as well. And after having spent a lifetime following mainstream advice about how to add years to my life, I’ve decided to spend my remaining time following my own advice about how to add life to my years.

About The Author

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 in Brooklyn.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (November 10, 2020)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644111161

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Raves and Reviews

"Wininger's book can throw open cosmic windows in even the most mundane reader"

– Tom Robbins, author of nine novels including Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

“A deeply personal story from a therapist who is done hiding in the chemical closet. Wininger says, ‘I’ve lived through it all, and now it all lives through me.’ In modeling responsible recreational MDMA use, he not only heals the shame that binds him, he helps to heal us all.”

– Julie Holland, M.D., editor of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide and author of Good Chemistry

“Reading Wininger’s book, Listening to Ecstasy, is like a lovely conversation with a joyful, liberated person. . . . He and his wife are having enough fun in their seventies to rid aging of its anxieties.”

– Peter Coyote, actor, author, and Zen priest

“Listening to Ecstasy shows how Charley and his wife Shelley have used MDMA as an inspiring teacher and friend to enhance their marriage, build a loving community of fellow travelers, and continually nurture a connection to the joys of life. A true and touching story, Listening to Ecstasy demonstrates how MDMA can be a unique life-enhancing opportunity for healthy people across their entire adult lifespan. It’s filled with great tips for the responsible recreational and celebrational use of MDMA and how it can be used to enrich one’s spiritual journey during these tumultuous times.”

– Rick Doblin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of MAPS

Listening to Ecstasy tells the story of Charley Wininger’s relationship with MDMA, a chemical of connection, and how it helped him evolve as a therapist, husband, and human. In this love poem to MDMA, Charley personalizes a substance that many only know through research reports of MDMA’s tremendous healing potential. As a trusted elder in the psychedelic community, he shares his wisdom about how to maximize the lifeenhancing potential of MDMA while minimizing risk. In coming out of the closet as a ‘responsible recreational drug user,’ he ‘roll’ models the courage to live authentically. He challenges prohibition and the demonization of drugs, arguing for personal liberation. He argues for our right to decide on the chemistry and cognitive liberty within, rather than be at the mercy of the forces of social control. Wininger also shows us how, at any age, we can live ecstatically, sexually, and joyfully, balancing and celebrating life and having extraordinary and serious fun along the way. Finally, Charley invites us to join him and his welcoming psychedelic community in connection and love. This delightful book left me feeling inspired to create a more fulfilling life and feeling hopeful for humanity.” Andrew Tatarsky, Ph.D., founder and

– Andrew Tatarsky, Ph.D., author of Harm Reduction Psychotherapy

“Whether you’re just curious about the benefits of MDMA or an experienced ‘traveler,’ you’ll be thoroughly engaged by Charley Wininger’s life-affirming, love-affirming memoir of how MDMA opened his heart and mind, inspired his second marriage, and regularly rejuvenates his spirit. Filled with tenderness toward the human condition and useful information on the skillful use of this amazing molecule, the book is about more than just the benefits of MDMA. Listening to Ecstasy is about how to ward off the forces of fear and pessimism so you can fully embrace the precious experience of life.”

– Rich Orloff, playwright and performer of It’s a Beautiful Wound

“Bravo, Charley, for advocating a substance that offers life-enhancing results to those of adult age, including us seniors. Thank you and your beloved for your candor on the journey toward healing through MDMA, empowering you as a healer in service to others.”

– Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, artists and cofounders of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM)

“Wise. Flirtatious. Adventurous. Wininger’s memoir, Listening to Ecstasy, eschews psychedelic clichés and does the writer’s work of wringing lessons from life. The transforming love of his wife Shelley and their chemical exploration show the rewards of authenticity. It is a fun, wondrous read.”

– Nicholas Powers, Ph.D., author of The Ground Below Zero

“Listening to Ecstasy is not only an ode of appreciation to MDMA but a love letter to life itself. Disarmingly authentic and heartfelt, Charley has given us a guided tour of his own spiritual journey with MDMA, paired with practical knowledge and a blueprint for living life to its fullest.”

– Dee Dee Goldpaugh, LCSW, psychedelic integration therapist

“A heartfelt storyteller and adventurous guide, Charley Wininger reveals to both the experienced user and the neophyte how responsible use of MDMA can open up one’s life. Read this book if you’re curious about what can happen after listening to Ecstasy.”

– Ingmar Gorman, Ph.D., cofounder of Fluence and MDMA therapist and researcher

“Wininger describes what the experience actually feels like and explores the value of Ecstasy and similar substances for helping psychologically healthy individuals live a more “optimal” life. He provides protocols for the responsible, recreational, and celebrational use of MDMA, including how to perfect the experience, maximize the benefits and minimize the risks, and how it may not be for everyone.”

– Gaia Media

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