Ayahuasca Part IV: Takeaways

What do you say about an experience that challenges your notions of what’s real and what isn’t? Well… This, I guess.

I had done plenty of psychoactive substances prior to my experience with Ayahuasca, and I did a fair amount of academic research on it leading up to the ceremony, but there just isn’t anything that prepares you for the kind of journey I was taken on. Every image that I saw with my eyes closed felt real – as if I wasn’t coming up with the images on my own, but I was being granted new eyes to see things that had always been there. Like in dreams where you’re convinced that you’re actually in that reality, but I never lost the sense that I left my reality – only added on new layers.

I interpreted the universes I saw as universes that exist simultaneously with this one. I knew that the spirits I encountered were very real, and many were there to help me. Not only that, but the other people in the room seemed to be able to tune into the visions I was having, and react to them in ways aimed at assisting me with them.

Prior to “releasing the dragon,” I had vivid images of the Spirit of Ayahuasca in a humanoid form, her hair made of long vines, her skin translucent, her heart and veins clearly visible, green, and glowing with life. Her and the Shadow Dragon stood side-by-side, arms outstretched, clearly holding space for my healing process as a blinding white light came from behind them. 

At the end of the ceremony on night two, Randy said, “I don’t want this to come off as egotistical, but I view myself as somewhat of a healer, and I was trying to help Sean release some spirits.”

“Let me set your mind at ease,” I said when the feathers were passed my way, “You hit the nail on the fucking head with that one.”

I view myself as an empiricist – I hold a very scientific worldview, but as any good scientist would, I leave open the potential that my view can be improved upon or disproven based on new evidence. This particular set of evidence caused me to challenge a lot of notions. It also ripped open a lot of old wounds, reexposing them to the open air, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t ready for it.

I can see how, with the right guidance in the weeks following the ceremony, this would’ve been ultimately very good for me. I did not, however, have any plan whatsoever for the integration of this experience into my life. I should have set myself up with counseling to accompany this event, but I did not. I should have sought help to interpret these images and form constructive ways of dealing with them, but I did not. 

I do not see myself doing a ceremony again for some time – I still have a lot to go over spiritually, mentally, and emotionally after this go round. If/when I do embark on anything even remotely similar to this, I will have a very particular counseling plan set up so I don’t fall back into depression like I did this time. Without that plan, all those wounds just left me thinking, “Ow, this really fucking hurts,” as opposed to, “Here’s what I can do to help these wounds heal.” 

Ultimately, I’m glad I did the ceremony. I’m glad that I stepped outside my comfort zone to explore my reality in such an expansive way – I am, afterall, a dedicated explorer. Also, now that I’ve done this the wrong way, I feel certain that I’ll do it the right way going forward. If you choose to do anything like this, make sure you’re set up with a strong support system afterward, and be open about the fact that things aren’t okay. This particular form of medicine is powerful and can lead to amazing insights, but it’s also unrelentingly honest about where your weak points are, and without the proper guidance, that can really fuck your shit up for a while.

Take an honest inventory of whether this or any other psychedelic is the right choice for where you are in life before you do it, and make sure you’ve got a plan for afterward, otherwise you’re just doing drugs, and potentially causing more harm than good. Happy traveling.

In Case of Emergency: Apply Videogames and Junkfood

I went out on Tuesday night for a friend’s birthday. I had already committed to going, but like with most of my plans, I second-guessed my decision all the way up to when I got there (and until about 20 minutes after). The bar was pretty badass – it was an old school punk bar that had skulls and motorcycle parts and whole motorcycles as decorations. It was the night before Halloween, so I suppose some of it could have been seasonal, but I got the impression that most of it was there year-round.

I danced and spent money like an idiot. Get two drinks in me and all of the sudden I’m flush with cash, and I find it unacceptable that the birthday girl pay for her drinks (or her partner’s drinks or her friends’ drinks). Per usual, I partied as hard as I could until they closed down the bar, and progressively more gruffly asked me to leave.

To no one’s surprise, I was hungover the next day. I had the day off from work, so I expected to spend most of my day indoors, anyway. The evening’s poor choices all flooded back to me over the course of the day. I experienced my usual set of hangover symptoms: nausea, fatigue, distaste for sunlight, increased desire for greasy foods, general deficit of happiness, inability to focus on anything but my flaws – the usual. I was in and out of sleep for most of the day.

When Thursday rolled around, I couldn’t help but notice that I felt exactly the same as the day before. Nothing showed any signs of improvement. In fact, I’d say that things had gotten markedly worse. Then added to that was an anxiety around going to work. Every time I thought about it, I felt my body pull in on itself – each limb connected to my center by invisible strings that grew tauter with each fleeting thought of going to my place of employment.

I called in sick. It screwed over my coworker who was by herself for the whole day, but thinking about that only tightened the strings. I applied what methods of self-medication I could find without leaving my cold, dark apartment (weed, Netflix binging, and Postmates deliveries), but these were just bandaid solutions. None of it fixed the fact that I’m almost 30 with no career path to speak of, no money to do anything outside of paying my bills (and barely enough to do that), and no friends or family for thousands of miles. Then again, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk to anybody even if they had reached out.

I’d take my dog on walks and think about the litany of life decisions that put me where I am. I’d mull over all the times someone said I wasn’t good at something or all of my early life successes that have left me spinning into obscurity as a result or in spite of them. I thought about what a sham I am – how crazy I am for pursuing anything in the arts. “I’m not that funny,” I thought. “My writing really isn’t good enough for anyone to want to read. Certainly not good enough for someone to pay for! I’m so fucking stupid for thinking I was good enough…”

Round and round it went. I had effectively isolated myself via Do Not Disturb Mode on my phone, so I only had my own feedback loop to go off. Well, that and my dog’s input, but I have the sneaking suspicion that a lot of that came from me, as well.

Friday was more of the same. When you’re in and out of sleep and running mental laps on a track, it’s easy to lose track of time. Or rather, it’s difficult to give a shit about its passing. After calling in sick again on Saturday, I was finally able to pull together enough energy to put myself in the shower. That helped. Then I went to trade in a bunch of old videogames for new (used) ones. That helped. Then I used those accomplishments to justify playing videogames and watching more Netflix through to Monday morning.

I could stomach the idea of going to work on Monday. I was of course concerned that all of my coworkers hated me forever at that point, and that I was likely going to be fired for being out. I felt a moment of panic accompanied by hyperventilation in the car on my way, but I still made it in. None of those concerns came to fruition. Life continued on, as it does.

I’d venture that my bouts of anxiety and depression are fairly tame. They happen infrequently and only last for a few days in most cases. At most a month. For some, these bouts go untreated and can last for years. What starts out as self-imposed isolation is perpetuated by the people around them that assume they just need space. I can’t speak for everyone, but space from loved ones – from people who can counter the negative feedback loop – is exactly what I want, and the opposite of what I need.

I spoke to my coworkers about what went on in my head. I talked to my family. I talked to friends who get me. I feel better. Not everyone is so lucky. Sometimes depression wins, and it ushers people we know and love out of this world. We are at war with our own brains, friends. Arm yourselves with love and support.