“My Ayahuasca experience definitely gave me clarity. I was able to see myself as a child, abandoned and afraid but fearless and ready to take on challenge after challenge. I was able to tell myself how proud I am for making it this far.”
Welcome to Tarapoto, Peru
When I first arrived in Tarapoto, Peru I was mesmerized by the people, they are some hustling individuals. I love it! The moto-taxi drivers are eager to get you to your destination so I picked a young man that understood and spoke english and off we went to find the Bed and Breakfast. There I will meet up with the rest of the group of eight veterans, perfect strangers all on a mission to heal. Little did I know I was about add on to my family.
The following morning we are picked up by our Guide, Vlad and our yoga instructor, Claire. It’s a quick twenty minute drive to La Medicina, the retreat where we will be staying in the Peruvian jungle. The levels of anxiety I am experiencing at this time is at an all time high because I have no idea what awaits me the next six days but I am optimistic to say the least. Whooooo hoo, lets get it!
Arrival at La Medicina
When we arrive at La Medicina I am surrounded by these beautiful sounds of the jungle. All I can hear for days is insects, birds, monkeys, owls etc. The sounds are constant and took me a few days to get used to for they are very loud like an alarm that never stops. The grounds are very well maintained and our casita (that’s what I called it) was very clean and cozy.
Once we are settled in our rooms, we head over to meet the healers and receive our first flower bath before lunch. In the Peruvian shamanic tradition, flower baths are used before an Ayahuasca ceremony to rid the body of any unhelpful spirits or energetic blockages that would otherwise impair us from healing and receiving the full benefit from the sacred plant medicines. It is best to air dry after these baths and wait several hours before showering or bathing after this. We each receive one daily prior to starting a ceremony. There was something very tender about the cool water streaming down your face that gave me a sense a peace.
Let talk food!
Now that I have been showered with fresh marigolds and other fragrant flowers its time to eat! The food was prepared three times daily with fresh plant based ingredients. Absolutely delicious and made with love and care. I don’t think I’ve ever ate so well in my life. Why plant-based? It supports your immune system. Plants have essential nutrients that you cannot get from other foods. The vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that your immune system can function at its best. This was an important part of preparing your body for the medicine.
Lets all throw up together…Yes, Vomitivos: On the first morning you wake up you will participate in a vomitivo. This technique is used by the Shipibo to cleanse the body, stomach and intestinal track prior to working with Ayahuasca. The vomitivos are made purely with Herba Luisa (lemongrass) and consist of drinking a ton of lemongrass water until the body naturally regurgitates this back up. (It doesn’t sound pleasant, but I felt great and more clear after this was over.) After this we ate lunch, discussed the ceremony protocols and prepped for Yoga with Claire. After yoga we rested for about two hours and then prepared for our first ceremony.
There’s a nervous collective energy. Almost everyone here is doing ayahuasca for the first time, and Im scared shitless. The Guide announces the first call to drink, me..Im first. One by one, we take our shot glasses, silently reflect on the intention for the evening, and then drink.
The stuff is nasty, like a cup of motor oil diluted with a splash of water. I throw it back like a shot of tequila.
We’re instructed to sit up and lean against the wall after we drink. The tea takes at least 30 minutes to work its way through the body. I sit quietly and wait.
I feel a little dizzy but nothing overwhelming. About 30 minutes pass, and I start to feel … strange. I can see colors, shapes, and shifting shadows on the wall. I look outside and I swear the trees turned into people. So I start talking to the trees. I had a whole conversation with the fucking trees, whoa!
Inside the loud, stuffy ceremony room, people were crying, chanting, gyrating, and, yes, vomiting, around me. When my time finally comes, I think: Just aim for the bucket and keep your ass on your mat. I had to go to the bathroom several times due to the urge to take a ____, I’m sure you can figure that one out.
Meanwhile the healers are singing Icaros: Icaros are the healing songs of the plants and the healers act as vessels for these songs to come through in ceremony. Very often these songs can help to open up a person’s experience in working with Ayahuasca or induce a cleansing type of purging. Each person received an icaro from both healers during each ceremony.
I finish vomiting and start crying and laughing and smiling all at once. Something has been lifted in this “purge,” something dark and deep I was carrying around for decades. Relief washes over me, and I lay down and close my eyes only to see the most beautiful vibrant colors, hexagons, eyes and cosmic scenery. Ayahuasca exposes the gap between who you think you are and who you actually are. In my case, the gap was immense, and the pain of seeing it for the first time was practically unbearable. I wept my entire first ceremony as I grieved all the loses in my life. Most importantly my childhood innocence that was taken from me at age eight.
I woke up the next day with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I was very teary throughout the day as I replayed the moments from the previous nights ceremony. Seeing myself as a child was difficult but necessary to move forward. It no longer serves me to carry this pain. It was time to let it go.
Our day starts with yoga, then breakfast. After breakfast we meet individually with the Guide and the healers to discuss our first experience. During my consult I shared how I was feeling so the healers know how much medicine to give me during ceremony two.
As I approached the healers and Guide with my shot glass I can’t help but think “holy shit, I’m in freakin South America” I still can’t believe I’m in another country facing my demons. This is an overwhelming feeling but has a calming effect at the same time. I thank the lady healer for the medicine and am handed some tobacco from the Guide . I return to my mat and wait quietly as the room is filled with darkness.
Watching all the silhouettes around the room as they purged made me realize something about trauma, we all have it. It’s just stored differently inside each of us. Up until this moment I had thought that the men who raised me into adulthood
Twenty five feet away from me one of the male veterans started experiencing what looked like an exorcism. He was screaming in a language I couldn’t understand and slamming his legs on the ground. I looked outside to the silhouette of the trees who have taken human form once again. The trees start speaking to me again. “Sit up straight, focus, you are brave” they tell me. Do not be afraid, stay alert. I sat and watched as my brother in arms released generations of trauma. We are told not to speak but something kept telling me to say “let it out, be brave, it’s ok” over and over. So much chaos around me and yet I was very calm and peaceful watching and listening to the worry that filled the room. The Guide, Vlad came over to me and gently touched my arm and asked “are you doing ok? I looked up at him and saw his gentle eyes and said “yes, I think so” he responded “you don’t have speak, it’s going to be ok”. There was something in that moment that made me feel safe and my need to comfort my battle buddy in the distance ceased. I wasn’t afraid, I felt confident that everything was indeed going to be alright. Thanks, Vlad.
When I received my medicine, I held onto it just a little while longer before slamming it like a shot of tequila. I wanted to be sure my intentions were clear. There’s something very calming about the very last ceremony, the room felt more calm in general. I sat in silence and stared outside at the trees, I saw my military leadership. This was a big deal to me, the most pain I carry is because of the betrayal I faced in my final years of the Military. There aren’t enough words to explain what it’s like to have to walk away from what’s familiar because you are forced to, while trusting what’s next will offer a relief. It’s lonely to lose your anchors. But the medicine taught me that it’s brave to want more. I asked for healing from this pain because its stolen the joy I once had. Ive held on to this trauma like a toddler with a pacifier. I need to let go, it no longer serves me. So that’s just what I did. Deep breathe in – Deep breathe out. The healing continues.
Thanks for joining me on my healing adventure to Peru.