Over twenty years ago, I discovered the rooms. After a particularly raucous night out on the town, I woke up under a bush in the main street, my skirt wrapped around my neck, and my underwear and shoes missing. Sitting up and trying to work out exactly where I was, I figured I had probably hit bottom. For too long, I had been floating through my life, never even touching the surface. That morning, I decided I never wanted to wake up like that again. I was done, and I knew it all the way to the bottom of my heart. I went home and showered. A friend called to see if I’d made it home alright. I told her what happened. She was a friend of Bill. Instead of stopping at my apartment for coffee, she took me to my first meeting. Stumbling through that door, I
was broken and in tears.
“I can’t do this by myself,” I sobbed.
“You don’t have to,” someone said.
“I’m so ashamed,” I cried.
“You never have to use again,” someone said.
I will be grateful to that person for the rest of my life. Turns out, she was right. Ready, willing and able, I immersed myself in the program. I read the Big Book cover to cover, and sought out more literature. I went to thirty meetings in thirty days. I got a kick-ass sponsor. I worked the steps. I welcomed newcomers, empathizing when they cried. I listened to the oldtimers,
really listened. And I also stayed clean.
While I pulled the pieces of myself back together, I continued with my life, was promoted at the office, bought a house, adopted three adorable rescue dogs, took up a new hobby, traveled abroad, met a new man, and I stayed clean.
Yet, I still felt something integral was missing. It was a nagging feeling that followed me everywhere. From the outside, my life looked perfect. I was clean. I had everything going for me. I was in a great relationship. Daily, following the advice from my sponsor, I took an honest look at myself and my behavior. The program laid the foundation for my wonderful life, and I’m
grateful. I also felt there was something more out there, something more I could do to help myself. Despite my best efforts, my head still wasn’t right.
A life filled with horrific child-abuse, rape and domestic violence left me suffering depression, anxiety and PTSD. When I was using, the pain went away. Now that I was clean, triggers were
everywhere. Therapy didn’t help. Medication didn’t help. I did tai chi, chi gong, yoga, juggling, jogging, prayer, meditation, volunteering, tree-planting, and everything else you can possibly think of that is supposed to put your mind right. None of it stuck. I realized I needed something more.
Surfing the internet, I came across a story about ayahuasca. A man with big issues, a wounded heart that wouldn’t heal, addictions through the roof, and a brand new life afterwards, filled with inner peace and self love. That sounded interesting. My sponsor was sceptical. I read more. I pored over several accounts of people who swore by it. The more I read, the more fascinating the concept of treating addiction with ayahuasca became.
“What have I got to lose?” I asked.
“Only everything,” said my unbelieving mother.
“Isn’t that the same as relapsing?” mused my sister.
“If you want something you’ve never had, do something you’ve never done,” chanted someone at my Friday night meeting.
I had to consider my own well-being. My addiction had covered up the past, but sobriety had so far not helped me heal it. I was only just getting by. That summer, I traveled to Ecuador with a friend. We found ourselves on a remote ranch, located deep in the rainforest outide the central city of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas.
According the modern form of twelve-step programs, ayahuasca counted as a relapse. However, Bill W took LSD to help him recover from his addiction to alcohol, and found it helpful. Relapse frightened me, but the thought of living the rest of my life with the relentless demons inside my head terrified me even more.
Ayahuasca is well known in Latin America as an ancient and powerful plant medicine. It comes with millennia-old shamanic traditions which brought it into being and keep it alive today. It’s an integral element of the primordial rainforest in which it grows. To suggest taking ayahuasca in a traditional ceremony is equal to recreational drug use is ridiculous.
We met “Jorge” who was a sixth generation Shaman in the Tsáchila tribe. His hair was bright red, shaped into a disc on top of his head, and painted with achiote. His face bore tattoes, horizontal lines across his face, from ear to ear.
“You will have to prepare yourself,” he instructed.
Weeks before the ceremony began, we started a special vegan diet, this meant no salt, no sugar, no spicy food, no dairy, no oils, no caffeine, no chocolate, no nuts, no meat, and definitely no
alcohol, or recreational or prescription drugs.
We meditated mornings and evenings to prepare our spiritual selves, and did yoga to prepare our minds and bodies. The plan was to drink the prepared ayahuasca brew seven times in twelve days under the watchful eye of the Shaman.
At first, it was a terrifying prospect. I almost backed out. Something deep inside my soul told me not to be afraid, that this was exactly what I needed to do.
To explain what took place during those twelve days would take volumes. It’s almost inexplicable. It was so unbelievably huge.
“You will begin to feel mareado (seasick),” warned Shaman Jorge as we tentatively put the carved wooden cups to our lips for the first time.
The repulsive taste of ayahuasca is so bad, it’s doubtful anyone would ever become addicted to it. As soon as it hit my stomach, I began retching. Projectile vomiting wasn’t in the vacation brochure.
The journey into ayahuasca was actually quite disorienting. The entire time, I felt like I’d been poisoned, nauseous and light-headed, and yet this bizarre and vile tasting green concoction actually leaves your liver spotlessly clean.
Emotionally, I went to hell on a speeding rollercoaster without a seatbelt. Every demon I have ever imprisoned in the back of my mind materialized, spewing venom into my face. I cried buckets, rivers, an ocean. I barely slept for two weeks. It was the most cathartic experience I’ve ever had. Decades of therapy did not achieve anything like the ayahuasca purge of my mind, soul and body. I emerged feeling like a new person. My inner rage has completely gone, evaporated into thin air. The demons in my head have moved out, replaced by inner peace. The automatic negative response I usually have for myself has been vaporised. The painful emptiness of my heart has been stilled. It feels light, unburdened by the past. I got high to escape my demons. Ayahuasca helped me confront and exorcise them.
Shaman Jorge advised us that the ceremony was only the beginning part of our healing. The real work got underway back at home when I began to integrate the amazing experience into the rest of my life. The effect has been profound. I have no regrets, and zero cravings. I would do it again in a heartbeat.