Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"But You Can't Give Them Drugs..." - Part Two

Media Mania

To continue the theme from the last post, talking about the ways in which the mainstream western culture escapes from reality....  The last point I was making had to do with alcohol portrayals in the media.  Before I continue on this track, though, I want to talk about our National Obsession with television and screen time.  We watch a LOT of TV and movies in this country.  On any given evening, walking down a residential street, in almost every home all you will see is the eerie blue glow of the 'boob tube.'  According to a recent survey, adults watch an average of 5 hours of television a day (this includes online streaming).  Adults watch TV for about 20% of their waking hours, only surpassed by percentage of time working.(1

All of this starts in childhood.  Take a look at some of the alarming statistics on children and the media, complements of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. (2)
  • "Screen time can be habit-forming: the more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning them off as they become older children.
  • "Data vary on the amount of time preschool children spend with screen media, but even the most conservative findings show that children between the ages of two and five average 2.2 hours per day.  Other studies show that preschoolers spend as much as 4.1 and 4.6 hours per day using screen media.
  • "Including when they’re multitasking, 8- to 18-year-olds consume an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day—an increase of 2.5 hours in just 10 years. For older children and adolescents, excessive screen time is linked to increased psychological difficulties that include hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, difficulties with peers and poor school performance."
So there is a link between 'excessive' screen time and hyperactivity!  Not sure how they would define excessive... but despite that, and even more alarmingly, TV viewing in early life has been linked to less reading and poorer concentration; and heavy video game users were more likely to have problems concentrating in school, and were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (3).   But, instead of facing this issue head on, most ignore the cause and treat the symptom - and prescribe drugs to remedy this situation.
To put this into very simplistic terms: we allow our children to watch TV, starting when they are babies (some parents encourage it, or claim that they just 'need a break' and so use TV as a baby-sitter.).  We continue letting them have more and more screen time, with TV's and computers, at meal times and in their bedrooms, and soon enough, i-phones and i-pads and constant texting and more.  This level of exposure to electronic media has not happened before, ever.  No one knows the long-term effects of constant and prolonged screen time exposure on brain development.   Somewhere along the road,  we notice that these media-rich kids can't pay attention in school, or that they are having trouble sitting still, or that their grades are slipping.  The rise of kids getting diagnosed with ADHD has directly paralleled the rise in childhood exposure to screen time.  But what do we do about it?  We give them drugs to make their bodies and minds behave.   Did I miss anything?(4)

So why do we watch so much TV?  One study, from the University of Maryland, set out to find an answer, to see if there is a correlation between happiness and television viewing.  There is.  According to an article on Phys.Org, unhappy people tend to watch more TV than happy people.   Researcher John P. Robinson sums it up by saying, "TV... may provide escape - especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself.  The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise." (5) Steven Martin, Robinson's co-researcher, says that the TV habit can be likened to an addiction, where, "...tuning in can be a way of tuning out." (6)  So TV is just like a drug!

Media, Alcohol and Society
I want to turn to the point I was starting to make in the last post, about the relationship between western media and alcohol use.   According to researcher Joel Grube, "...an analysis of prime-time television from the 1998-1999 season... indicate(d) that 71 percent of all programming depicted alcohol use and 77 percent contained some reference to alcohol." In addition, when looking at the most popular movies in 1996-97, alcohol use was shown in 93% of them and "...was presented in an overwhelmingly positive light,"  including having positive outcomes such as camaraderie and relief of stress. (7)   

Unfortunately, there have been far too few studies looking at the relationship between alcohol portrayals in the media and underage drinking.  But it is clear from the information available that alcohol use is normal, expected behavior in our society.   The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has this to say:

     "The media’s glamorous portrayal of alcohol encourages many teens to believe 
     that drinking will make them “cool,” popular, attractive, and happy. Research shows that
     teens who expect such positive effects are more likely to drink at early ages. (8)

In short, we may tell our kids not to drink, but the everyday world of media to which they are exposed tells them a different story.  We are teaching them through our social stereotypes that normal adults drink alcohol, and that it is cool.  Every day,  through the media - which is a BIG influence on them in terms of hours a day spent watching - they see that drinking is normal and fun and sexy.  This is hypocrisy.   

So What?
So how does all of this relate to the conversation about the use of entheogens in an indigenous wisdom tradition in this country, and our children?  

Mainly, my contention is that the system that regulates 'substances' is blind and deaf, and more than likely has some kind of hidden agenda.  Alcohol is probably the most widely used mind-altering substances known to humans.  And it is by FAR the most dangerous, in terms of the numbers of deaths, violent acts, accidents, and serious health problems it causes each year.  YET IT IS COMPLETELY LEGAL, and expected, normal behavior for adults.  

Television watching and excessive screen time for children may cause hyperactivity, poor school performance, difficulty concentrating, obesity and health problems, an increase in violent and bullying behavior, and a higher likelihood of teenage drinking which can lead to increased risk of death, serious injury, impaired judgment, and brain development problems (9).  YET IT IS COMPLETELY LEGAL, and expected, normal behavior. 

Meanwhile, the plant medicine of my elders, a substance that has been ingested for thousands of years (which, by the way, is the expected, normal behavior in the societies from which it originates) with many reported benefits to its users, is, for the most part, illegal to ingest here in the United States.  It is a Schedule One controlled substance (remember,  ..."drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse; (the) most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence." (10)  To me it sounds like alcohol should be in this category!    No medical use - check (well, maybe as a disinfectant if you run out of iodine!); high potential for abuse - check; potentially severe psychological or physical dependence - not sure, as I am not sure of the DEA's definition of 'severe.'  Regardless, one blogger summed it up very well:

      "Drugs that help people work, fight wars, buy stuff, ignore the pointlessness of their 

      consumerist lives, or numb the pain of oppression are all fine.  Alcohol fits this category, 
      along with caffeine, and antidepressants.  (And cocaine, which let's face it is tolerated 
      for the business class).

      "Drugs that make people generous, cause them to abhor violence, or expose the lies 

      behind power and ideology are the dangerous ones.  This is why psychedelics and 
      marijuana are illegal." (11)

I want to change this.  I want to expose these misconceptions and break down the myths and taboos.  I want to illuminate the shadows, disperse fear and take back the sovereign choice to alter my consciousness however I choose, to use plant medicines as part of traditional ceremonies in sacred connection with the Spirit of God as I understand that.  I do not accept the government's authority to regulate what I put into my body, or the bodies of my children and (someday) grandchildren, any more than I would accept someone telling me how to think or what to believe.  No one has the right.  That is what freedom is all about!

(1) "The Average American Watches This Much TV Every Day: How do You Compare?" The Motley Fool, http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/03/15/the-average-american-watches-this-much-tv-every-da.aspx.  See also Daily News article,http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/average-american-watches-5-hours-tv-day-article-1.1711954
(2) http://www.screenfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/screentimefs.pdf 
(3) "Screen Time Matters," p. 15; power-point presentation from Partners in Action, http://depts.washington.edu/waaction/tools/featured_resources/screentime_schoolage.html
(4) Sorry, not very like me to be so sarcastic.  For a list of recommendations of what TO do, please see "Screen Time Matters," p. 6; power-point presentation from Partners in Action, http://depts.washington.edu/waaction/tools/featured_resources/screentime_schoolage.html. 
Note: This reference also provides documentation of the correlation between television viewing, exposure to violence, and increased bullying, aggressive, and anti-social behavior, which is somewhat out of the scope of the conversation here but which is also a very important topic. The very serious health issue of childhood obesity has also been directly linked to screen time.  See http://www.truceteachers.org/index.htm and http://depts.washington.edu/waaction/tools/featured_resources/screentime_schoolage.html for some good resource material.
(5) "'Unhappy People Watch TV, Happy People Read/Socialize,'Says Study.'"  Nov 4, 2008. http://phys.org/news/2008-11-unhappy-people-tv-happy-readsocialize.html
(6) ibid.
(7) Grube, Joel W. "Alcohol in the Media: Drinking Portrayals, Alcohol Advertising, and Alcohol Consumption Among Youth."  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK37586/
(8)  "Make A Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol."  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MakeADiff_HTML/makediff.htm.  In addition, this article says, "However, you can help to combat these dangerous myths by watching TV shows and movies with your child and discussing how alcohol is portrayed in them. For example, television advertisements for beer often show young people having an uproariously good time, as though drinking always puts people in a terrific mood. Watching such a commercial with your child can be an opportunity to discuss the many ways that alcohol can affect people—in some cases bringing on feelings of sadness or anger rather than carefree high spirits." 
(9) "Underage Drinking."  http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/underage-drinking
(10) http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml
(11) "Would Alcohol Be a Controlled Substance if it Were Invented Today?"  Quora, http://www.quora.com/Would-alcohol-be-a-controlled-substance-if-it-were-invented-today

Thursday, June 25, 2015

My story - my culture

So now I want to connect the dots between my history, my healing, my experience of the medicine, and my reasons for writing this book. 

I have been drinking this plant medicine, first ayahuasca with the Peruvian shaman and then yagé with my current teacher, for ten years.  As lovely songwriter Kirtana puts it, 

                           "How can I express, the changes taking place

                            The only words I guess, would be amazing grace..." (1)

My experience with the medicine is nothing short of a miracle, in my opinion.   I have changed SO deeply in these past ten years.  Granted, I am still the person I was in some ways. The difference is that I can SEE and accept my strengths without being egotistical about them or having to try to prove to anyone that they exist and that I am worth something; and I can SEE and accept my faults, without feeling guilty about them (to be honest, still working on this aspect of things - but making progress!).  I have been shown - and have let go of - a significant amount of darkness, and yet I trust and have have faith in the light.  I have very strong opinions but don't feel the need to prove anything to anyone.  I have ideas about how I wish the world was but know better than to take myself or anyone else too seriously, and I have a much better sense of humor than ever before.   I have no idea where it (the future of the world, life, etc)  is all going but spend a much higher proportion of my time content with being in the present moment.  I am more relaxed.  I have let go of my addictions, one by one, until now caffeine is the last one I have left.  My priorities are to be in alignment with the will of the Spirit, to always work on being a better person, to be kind and compassionate, to be of service, to tell the truth, to appreciate beauty, and to be grateful.

Of course none of this proves that the medicine saved my life, although I feel that it did - or that at least it gave me a second chance at life.  People who knew me ten years ago may have thought I was a happy person, because as far as I know, my 'stuff' was not carried around on the surface.   This way of being was trained into me.  I come from a family that for the most part is much more comfortable not talking about or processing their feelings or dealing with their pain (older sis, you are the one exception to that statement - and, in case I forgot to mention, NO JUDGMENT about that!  We all do it the best way we can!).  I come from a culture that for the most part takes a pill to cure every ill; and this cultures' main pursuit, besides making and spending money, involves escaping from reality, or 'normal' consciousness, through alcohol and recreational drug use, through watching TV and the products of the entertainment industry, and through the consumption of sugary and processed foods.  

In my previous blog about drug use in America, I did not mention these last three things - alcohol/ recreational drugs, television, and sugar - as I was focusing on prescription drug use in our children.   I think it is now time to explore this territory.  

Alcohol use and abuse 

Many of us are familiar with the alarming statistics surrounding alcohol use and abuse in this country.  Most teens in Driver's Ed classes have to read endless statistics on this topic, such as that nearly 88,000 people die every year due to alcohol-related causes, "...making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States."(2)   I don't feel I need to relate a longer laundry list of statistics here.  We know people in this country drink - a lot.  We know it causes accidents and death.  We know it causes health problems and violence and broken families and heartbreak.  For more information on this subject and for great fact sheets, go to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, sited in the references.
But why do SO many people drink alcohol if it causes so many problems?  There are many reasons:  to lower stress, to ease physical or emotional pain, to fit in or be a part of the crowd, because of peer pressure, as a social lubricant or for more social confidence, to reduce social inhibitions so as to have more fun, for a sense of relief, and to get away from or escape from reality. (3)    Is it any wonder people want to escape today's world?  We have wars, endlessly; social problems from unemployment, poverty, hunger and homelessness to human trafficking and mass shootings; environmental devastation and ever-increasing numbers of epic natural disasters; the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer... the list of major problems in this world is staggering.  The insanity is beyond comprehension.   With all this going on, it's no wonder that some reports claim that as many as 18.6% of the population suffer from some sort of mental illness (4).  Depression is the most common of these, with almost 7 % of the population suffering from it. (5)  One out of every five children has "a seriously debilitating mental disorder," according to the National Institute of Mental Health.(6)  This is a serious national health crisis! 

And people are so stressed in their lives today!  According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 77% of all people surveyed were regularly experiencing physical symptoms of stress; the causes of this stress, in order of frequency, were job pressure and money, followed by health,  relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.(7)  Something is not right, folks, and denial ain't just a river in Egypt...

Obviously, I am neither for nor against the use of alcohol in a person's life.  I myself had to quit drinking alcohol due to an addictive personality and my tendency to escalate when using any addictive substance.  It is difficult because I can no longer 'fit in' in social situations where everyone is drinking: for example, I do not enjoy going to parties where drinking is a main activity, or going to concerts at wineries.  I can't partake in the ceremonial honey whiskey shot before my choir performs at our bi-annual performances.   But this is the choice I am making, brought on by my working with the medicine, and my other spiritual work.  I no longer choose to escape and avoid -  anything.  I definitely still want to at times.  It would be so much easier!  But one of the lessons I have learned from the medicine is that 'the only way out is through."  We humans think we can drink or medicate away our pain and suffering, but what many of us are not understanding is that this does not make it go away.  This reminds me of the environmentally-minded statement made about throwing garbage 'away" - which is that, in reality, there IS no away.  It all has to go somewhere!  Often whatever it is we do not want to deal with gets stuffed down, or medicated away from our conscious mind; meanwhile it is just settling deeper and deeper inside, under the surface, getting stored in our physical bodies.  Sometimes this can resurface years later as serious disease.   

One time I had a healer work on my chronic hip misalignment and back pain.   In his opinion,  there were serious energetic issues going on with me, in that area of my body, the kind of issues which he said could eventually lead to major illness and even an early death.  He recommended, as part of my therapy, that I sit in the sun and journal about my childhood and try to remember everything I could about that time of my life.   I did so - and that is a tale for another day.  However the experience with this healer was like foreshadowing, the literary device which hints at what is to come later in the story.  I don't know what this man saw in me, but I now definitely believe it is important to clear our bodies of stored trauma.  Of course,  I will never be able to prove that this man was correct - thank goodness - because in order to do so I would have had to do nothing about my state of affairs and then come down with a serious illness!  Thankfully, that has not happened.  I was led to the medicine path, and much of my 'stuff' has been addressed.   

I have now been writing this entry on and off all day, am now noticing the time, and realizing I am not going to be able to finish all that I wanted to write about today.  So, the most interesting thing I discovered today is the link between alcohol consumption in children and teens and exposure to positive images of alcohol use in the media.  We are basically showing our children through mainstream images that drinking is expected behavior among adults.  I am going to get more into the facts about this when I return, but according to the summary written by Joel Grube, "Alcohol portrayals are relatively common on television, in film, and in music and music videos. These portrayals are largely positive or neutral, often associating drinking with positive consequences or desirable attributes. Negative consequences of drinking are rarely portrayed."(8)

More later!

(1) Blessed Life by Kirtana, from her album This Embrace.  See http://www.kirtana.com/content/blessed-life
(2) "Alcohol Facts and Statistics." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Misuse.  http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
(3) "Why People Drink."  School of Public Health/Alcohol Awareness at West Virginia University.  http://publichealth.hsc.wvu.edu/alcohol/effects-on-society/why-people-drink/
(4) "Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults."  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml
(5) "Major Depression Among Adults."  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml 
(6) "Any Disorder Among Children."  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-disorder-among-children.shtml 
(7)"Stress Statistics."  The Statistic Brain Research Institute.  http://www.statisticbrain.com/stress-statistics/ 
(8) Grube, Joel W. "Alcohol in the Media: Drinking Portrayals, Alcohol Advertising, and Alcohol Consumption Among Youth."  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK37586/

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My story - part two

This is, apparently, the harder part of the story to write...

I want to go into the details of the incredible healing I had from drinking ayahuasca that first time in 2005.  It is what motivated me to step into this work in the world.  It is the reason I am sitting here writing this blog!   And, at the same time, I have a certain amount of fear coming up, questions concerning how much I should reveal, and a LOT of concern for the possibility of my relatives reading this blog and finding out things about me that I would rather keep private.   So, I will just post a little warning here, for them:

To my relatives:
Please, if you are one of my relatives and you have found your way to this blog, strongly consider NOT reading this particular entry.  You may find here components of my story that push your buttons to the core; while that is not my intention, I feel the need to be honest about my experience as it informs everything else that has come to pass.   Reading this blog may cause you distress; you may also doubt the self-reporting of my experience to the point of extreme anger and rejection.  I am not willing to argue about my experience, either, so please don't contact me in the hopes of convincing me otherwise.  If you do decide to keep reading, consider yourself warned.

(On that note, I will also not be mentioning names of any of the participants or teachers in this blog, to protect their privacy.) 

June, 2005.  I signed up to attend one night of ceremony with the shaman from Peru with whom my musician friend (whom I had known for many years and whom I trusted implicitly) was traveling, and as I mentioned in my last blog, I prepared for over three months with a raw-foods diet and many, many prayers.  My then-husband also decided to attend.  The circle was small and intimate, with only 22 people, including the staff.  Each of us had a small, comfortable seat on the floor supplemented by sheepskins, pillows, and whatever else we brought.  We were instructed to sit up straight and to use our breath to get through any difficult energy we might be experiencing.  After an introduction by the shaman, we each got to drink a very small amount of the sweet tasting ayahuasca which was nearly the consistency of molasses.  There was an option to drink a second time if we didn't feel anything after an hour, which was the case with me.  During the experience, the shaman played many different musical instruments and sang sacred songs, and the translator, my friend, also sang and played his music.  At one time the shaman played something like a juice harp, and I felt the sound go deep into my belly and pull out a very small 'purge' (translation: I vomited into the bucket given to each of the participants at the start of the ceremony).   Mostly I felt calm, supported and safe, and I enjoyed the music, but it didn't seem like anything really noteworthy happened.  The official ceremony ended about 1 am, and most of the participants went to sleep on site by about 2 am.

The next morning, I awoke with a very powerful imperative: I knew I had to come back and attend a second ceremony that evening.  Of course my mind stepped right in with all the reasons why that wouldn't be possible - the ceremony was full, they had a wait list, etc etc.  None of it made any difference to this intense knowing I had.  I spoke to my friend, who spoke to the shaman, who spoke to the organizer - I think one or more of them may have come to talk with me about it - and eventually, it was arranged that I could attend the ceremony that evening and sit in front of the door to the outside, which opened in to the room and which no one used during the ceremony.  My husband agreed to come be a helper for the evening.

It would be impossible to relate all that transpired at this second ceremony.  When the medicine first started working on me I was taken into the depths of the purest grief I have ever felt.  I felt the presence of Mother Mary standing behind me, and just an absolute GRIEF that felt as if my heart would burst apart.  I cried for awhile, devastated.  Then I 'saw' in my mind's eye a scenario involving incest between a young girl and her older brother, shown to me metaphorically, maybe, as happening between my own two children, right at that moment; and I experienced the purest RAGE I have ever felt, whose archetype is and who I saw as the Hindu Goddess Kali.  Then "I" dropped away completely, and "I" became an emotional process of breath and movement and sound and purging, graphic images and sensory and body sensations pouring through the space wherever "I" normally resided.  The shaman prayed over me many times with tobacco and floral waters during the next few hours.  The things I purged that night were unspeakably horrendous and I experienced many hideous images and somatic (body) memories, especially having to do with one main trauma.   I may have been in that state for up to three hours when finally one of the helpers called my name... "Harmony..." and I came back to the awareness of myself.  She suggested I try silence and I was able to do that, finally.  (Side note: It was at this ceremony that the helpers decided to create another space for people involved in 'processes' with the medicine in the future.  I am sure I was very disruptive to the other participants there that night!) 

In the morning, after a little time, I felt and saw that many of my previous attempts to heal and clear this trauma had failed due to the incredible and powerful repression that had been in place.  All conscious memory of this traumatic experience had been blocked from my awareness as a way of self-preservation.   Each of the healing moments previously described in this blog, and many more that I have not related, were like pressure release valves, letting out small, mostly manageable amounts of the trauma, as my psyche became ready to deal with it.  The experience with ayahuasca removed the blocks, and even more.  After this experience, I felt as though a part of my soul had come back to me.  From that day forward I felt like some huge part of me that had been missing had been returned.   I suddenly had more vitality, more energy, more life force.  I decided to include a little bit about soul loss and soul retrieval here, because believe me, talking about 'soul-retrieval' is normally enough to get what I call my 'whoo-wometer' in the red zone (meaning, the topic is way to whoo whoo or New Agey for my taste).
What is soul loss?
"Soul loss is first and foremost an adaptive mechanism that usually serves by allowing us to cope, and in some situations survive a terrible experience, in which the dissociated soul parts depart, carrying the pain, the shock, the extreme emotion, or the memory of the trauma which may be simply unbearable to the sufferer at the time it occurs.  Soul loss may occur in response to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; a molestation experience during childhood or being ruthlessly teased and bullied; a bitter divorce, a shocking betrayal, a sexual assault, a serious surgery, or a terrible car accident, to name just a few. The post-traumatic stress syndrome experienced by military veterans is a classic example of soul loss." (1)

What is soul retrieval?
"Anyone who's had a trauma, from a shamanic point of view, may have had some loss of their soul. By soul we mean the spiritual essence essential throughout one's life as we describe life in our culture, which is from conception or birth to the time of death. The techniques for healing soul loss are soul-retrieval techniques, and one of the classic shamanic methods is to go searching for that lost portion of the soul and restore it. 
"Until about 8 years ago, most people in the Western world felt that soul retrieval was a superstitious practice that had no validity, but things have turned. I must say that a major reason is the work of my colleague, Sandra Ingerman, the author of Soul Retrieval and Coming Home. During her shamanic practice in Santa Fe, NM, years ago, women who had had significant childhood abuse would mention in the course of the sessions that they had removed themselves psychically from the situation at the time of abuse. Sandra immediately recognized, as a practicing shaman, that the person's soul to some degree had left the body (if it had left completely, the person would have been dead), and therefore the logical thing was to retrieve the lost portion of the soul and bring it back. So she then started doing soul retrieval for these people who had had significant childhood traumas, and the results were astounding. Today, this work is an important part of shamanic healing practice in the West."(2)

So, I experienced a part of my soul that literally came back to me that second night of drinking ayahuasca.  Along with it came the knowledge, which I had intimations of but which I could still not quite accept, that I was the survivor of major childhood trauma: I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  The particular incident I revisited during this first weekend with ayahuasca was a gang attack by a group of local boys down at the creek where we would go and catch bullfrogs.  I was abused, tortured and actually left for dead, sometime around the age of 4 years old.  The closest neighbor, husband of my piano teacher, found me (one of the boys must have let him know to come looking for me) and rescued me.  He also became my secret keeper - but that is a story for another time.

After this experience, I felt more whole than I had ever felt.  EVER.  I felt like there was some justification for my having felt fucked up literally for my whole life; for having felt lost, isolated, somehow wrong, unloved and unlovable, and ugly; for my self-hatred, my addictions, my depression, my health problems; it ALL made more sense.  And yet a huge part of me wanted to deny this new truth, especially as it continued unraveling into even darker and more convoluted places. "But...!" my mind stammered, "I had a normal childhood!  I had parents who loved me!  I was born white upper-middle class, for goodness sake!  This could NOT have happened.  Maybe I am just processing this pain for someone else.  Maybe it happened in a past life (uh oh, there goes that whoo-wometer!)..."

Not knowing what to do next, I did some research (I know, I AM an academic geek, after all) on the constellation of symptoms in adult survivors of sexual abuse.  Here is a summary:

"The symptom profile of adults who were abused as children includes post-traumatic and dissociative disorders combined with depression, anxiety syndromes, and addictions. These symptoms include (1) recurrent depression; (2) anxiety, panic, and phobias; (3) anger and rage; (4) low self-esteem, and feeling damaged and/or worthless; (5) shame; (6) somatic pain syndromes (7) self-destructive thoughts and/or behavior; (8) substance abuse; (9) eating disorders: bulimia, anorexia, and compulsive overeating; (10) relationship and intimacy difficulties; (11) sexual dysfunction, including addictions and avoidance; (12) time loss, memory gaps, and a sense of unreality; (13) flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and images of trauma; (14) hypervigilance; (15) sleep disturbances: nightmares, insomnia, and sleepwalking; and (16) alternative states of consciousness or personalities." (3)

Here are my own symptoms, collected over the years: spastic colon, depression, despair, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, OCD behaviors, including dermatillomania, or compulsive skin-picking, many addictions (cigarettes, alcohol, diet pills, speed, crystal meth, sex, just to name a few), escapism using drugs, body dysmorphia/eating disorder, extreme lack of self-esteem, self-hatred and feelings of worthlessness, extreme sexualization of childhood play, sexual promiscuity, abusive boyfriends, lack of sexual boundaries, and revictimization (meaning I became a victim of sexual abuse again, later in life). 

(I also have a very hard time with memory, and have very few memories of being a child; and in childhood I often sleep-walked and ended up at the foot of my parents' bed, or in the other bunk bed in my room.  Just adding these because while I did not see them as indicators of anything before, they do apply in the context of the first list.) 

I looked up this research (and MUCH more - Ms. Turkus' article was #13 on my reference list) because there is STILL a part of me that did not want to believe that anything bad could have ever happened to me.  My mom claimed as much - she said I used to run to her for a band-aid with even the smallest little boo boo , and she was sure I would have told her if something had happened to me. But I know I didn't tell her about my problems in the bathroom. I think, looking at the two lists, even a skeptic like my mom would have a hard time dismissing the correlations.  

It is not my intention to prove anything to anyone here, anyway.  I know because of the prevalent attitudes towards psychoactive substances there are people who theoretically would (and probably will) categorically dismiss this accounting as drug-induced blathering.  I would love it if this blog could open the doors of perception to just one person in that category!  Unfortunately the skeptics are missing out on one of the most profound opportunities for healing in this day and age, with a sacred plant teacher that is definitely the medicine I needed and that has helped thousands (probably at this point hundreds of thousands) of people in their lives.  I know what the medicine allowed me to let go of, and what it brought back to me. I know that after that night I experienced a greater sense of my own life force.  I felt stronger and more positive. I felt more present, with my children, husband, relations, in my job, and in my community.  I felt more compassionate.  Having relived some of my own suffering, I definitely felt energetically 'lighter,' a feeling that has never faded.   And I think just knowing that my suffering somehow made sense - this was the biggest relief of all.

This initial experience with ayahuasca prompted me to proclaim to God: "Great Spirit, if there is ever any way I could express my gratitude for what you have given me - if there is any way I could be of service to help others receive help from this plant teacher - please sign me up!  I am willing to dedicate my life in service to this path of healing, according to Your will."   Almost exactly one year later, my musician friend asked me if my husband and I would be willing to host medicine ceremonies with a new teacher from Colombia at our healing center.   I helped organize these ceremonies in the fall of 2006, and have been helping this same teacher ever since,  until this spring, when I resigned to begin this book project. So you see, God took me up on my offer! 

I have been privileged to watch hundreds of people every year come to ceremony and ask the medicine - which comes from God - for help, and watch them receive that help, even more than they could have imagined.  Personally I have found more clearing, more releasing of the past, more lessons in humility, more presence, and more "harmony" than I would ever have believed possible.  Of course, to be clear, this medicine is not a cure-all.  I mean, I still get depressed.  I still go through shitty times.  I still doubt myself and feel lost.  I think drinking medicine needs to be accompanied by other methods of self-development in order to be the most beneficial (some would disagree).  One thing I can say with absolute certainty: beginning with this experience in 2005, I actually perceived the birth of my ability to experience joy, and watched it starting to grow.  It was - and still is - a true miracle.

(1) "Soul Loss," by Jill Kuykendall, on the Shared Wisdom website, http://www.sharedwisdom.com/page/soul-loss

(2)"Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone," page 2 An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan  © Shamanism, Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 10, No.1, retrieved at http://www.shamanism.org/articles/article01page2.html

(3) "The Spectrum of Dissociative Disorders: An Overview of Diagnosis and Treatment,"
by Joan A. Turkus, M.D. Retrieved at http://www.fortea.us/english/psiquiatria/spectrum.htm