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Ayahuasca scared me right from the beginning.
It took me a few years to sit in ceremony from the first time I heard about it. And I didn’t just “hear about it.” I was studying with a university group of psychology students (I’m an anthropologist) about the effects of ayahuasca—traditional and modern. The scientific attributes to it were researched by us while in a six-credit summer excursion. Because I am highly sensitive, I could already feel the impact of the plant, its force of nature, and what it meant for my healing. But I knew I was not ready then.
When I did finally sit with the medicine, it was in Canada with a man from Peru who was deeply versed in the lineage of plant maestros. I was grateful for the ceremony and it felt safe. It felt connected. The next time I sat with the plant medicine, it was a much different, terrifying experience.
Maybe it was because I chose to go in with the intention of healing my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that exposing all of the sensations of what that meant would mean that I felt completely unsafe, unloved, and unprotected throughout the entire eight hours of ceremony. I also could not extract myself from others’ experiences which is a great parallel to what PTSD helps to do—you become enmeshed and hyper-vigilant, always connecting with others in order to “know” that you will be safe.
I am still grateful for that night because it was that night that I had to commit to my singing—where my heart lies and expresses without the armor that PTSD is. Four years later, I have released my first album!
I must add, though, that retraumatization is something we must be cautious of if we are considering the medicine. I knew three other people in that same ceremony who struggled for many years after. Perhaps, it was the instruction of the person running it, or the intense strong brew and how it was mixed. I cannot speculate fully, but there is such an importance on having strong integration practices before and after.
When we are in the Western world, we have more trauma that is psychological than our ancestors ever did. Period. We are not equipped to also deal with the integration needs of a plant medicine approach in our current integrative approach of health.
In the coming years, I am sure that there will be stronger supportive measures made available for many people before and after using the plant medicine because health experts are understanding the fundamental importance of plants facilitating the rewiring of trauma. For myself, I did not want to take four years of struggling in a psychological stall, in a small personage of my brain, where the events occurred that started my PTSD (at age three and five years old).
It is beautiful to have an opportunity to work with a tincture that opens the floodways of repressed experiences that haven’t been processed yet, and to have a chance to process them in a quick amount of time. But, 5,000 years ago when this plant medicine started in the Amazonian culture and with the indigenous people there, the spirit of the plant was not set to work with the heavy psychological intergenerational trauma of this current day and age. Therefore, opening a can of worms for some people can mean long-term impacts.
I do not say this lightly because I care about others having experiences that can be more addressed, and integrated with health coaches or other professionals. I found EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to be extremely helpful after my experience because the bilateral stimulation of the brain allows for the unprocessed emotions, sensations, and memory recall to then store into the long-term memory banks and no longer live with them in present time.
I am grateful that I opened up the repressed trauma enough to expose what I needed to rebirth myself. But I think that I could have processed it a lot sooner had there been an integrative and proper approach for follow-up.
We seriously need to question pop fly practitioners of any sort who fly in and fly out of people’s livelihoods just to offer something without follow-up resources for them. As an inner child trauma support person, I am mindful that I would never a) create a reliance on me for people to be okay and b) open up a can of worms and then leave people stranded.
In different parts of the world, there is different availability of resources. People running any kind of trauma workshop or ceremony need to realize this as they are meaning well but perhaps causing more damage than healing. Ayahuasca has gotten quite trendy, but please keep in mind that the cultural context that we live in while we are adjusting to the plant medicine’s effects on our neurology are much different than the cultural context and way of life in the Amazon. It is like polar opposites that create a large amount of cognitive dissonance for Westerners drinking the plant medicine.
Perhaps the future can have integrative coaches for plant medicine and regulated in such a way that does not take away from the sacred and cultural expression of the ceremony that it originates.
It has been four years from that night with ayahuasca, where I said yes to singing and to the release of my album.
All said and done, I am ready to move forward from the journey ayahuasca put me on. For myself, I was in a freeze response for a long time from what opened up and I had to slowly unthaw within my capacity to deal with what was in my stored memory banks.
I am mindful of others to just know exactly what they are saying yes to when they sit with it and ensure that you have proper care and support for before and after. I am someone who knows your regulated set point before and can help you to return there again afterward. This is crucial.
As for me, I will keep sharing my songs in a way that may inspire others, as the album name is called to do the same: “Feel it to Heal it” shares my story of revealing that ayahuasca opened for me.
Thanks. You matter!