Trigger warning for sexual assault, incest, and gratitude. Also, a technical note for those using computers: you get to see this video! To move it from the left side of the screen to the top (or vice versa), adjust the size of your internet window.
When I told Omar, the owner of Chakra Alegria de Amor/the Rainforest Healing Center (RHC), about the repressed memories I'd been accessing - specifically about my grandfather Paul molesting me throughout my childhood - he asked if I'd talked to my parents about it. "No," I admitted nervously, or proudly, or... well... I don't even remember. Because I was fucking terrified. I mean, I had barely even talked to them about this retreat! Though I could only assume my parents would be in denial about the family's incestual past, I did know one thing for sure: they have always been totally against drugs - including psychedelics.
Apparently, many prospective guests at RHC email the administrators, asking something along the lines of, “What if my family is against using ‘drugs’ or psychedelics? How do I talk about this with them?” No matter who you are or why you are interested in attending a healing center with plant medicines, you may (or may not) want to make/share that decision with family. The way you talk and/or don't talk to them may, also, speak a great deal about what you need.
I, for instance, told my parents by hiding the word Ayahuasca in a long string of words. "I-am-going-to-a-healing-center-in-the-Peruvian-Amazon-so-I-can-get-to-the-foundation-of-PTSD-and-will-be-taking-a-super-gentle-medicinal-plant-called-Ajo-Saccha-or-'Wild-Garlic'-in-isolation-because-I-want-to-cure-candida-and-then-I'll-get-to-join-the-rest-of-the-group-for-*whisper and/or whimper*-Ayahuasca-ceremonies."
Can you tell what I was needing?
In You Can Heal Your Life, the self-help author Louise Hay claims, "The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and a thought can be changed." For example, at some point in my childhood, I thought (decided), "I do not belong," and then all future thoughts and feelings supported that reality. In recent years, a landlord tried to hurt me in my home, and I had to move out. A man tried to hurt me on a train, and I had to get off. Hell, I even thought a facilitator of a trauma release class was trying to hurt me and effectively got kicked out for being - as the facilitator put it - “too traumatized”! The point is that I felt rejected, over and over. This reality remained until I chose something new.
The same concept applies to the things other people (like members of our family) think. Hays specifies, "No matter what the problem is, our experiences are just outer effects of inner thoughts." So, since I thought the world did not accept me... since I felt consistently rejected... I was basically guaranteeing that this whole, "Hey Mom, I'm going off-grid to take some psychedelics" talk would look like a full-blown conflict, with swearing, stress, the silent treatment, or any other form of separation.
For the sake of lovingly reflecting on my efforts, I must share that I did make significant life changes in the time between signing up for my retreat (October 2017) and attending it (January 2018). I started asking for help with abusive relationships, I stopped feeding myself media and putting myself in environments that would lead to fearful, panicked behaviors, and I even allowed myself the freedom to return to my hometown and begin cultivating a beautiful relationship with my grandparents (the ones who have never hurt me) AKA my future roommates!
Plus, building upon my skills from a grad school that utilizes a multi-disciplinary, conversational model, I also purchased a book for women survivors of childhood sexual assault called The Courage To Heal and hosted close to 30 informal seminar conversations with friends and community members. Though anxiety symptoms like blurry vision kept me from actually reading the book, I was still able to practice leading my own healing while witnessing the effects of concepts like shame, blame, and stigma.
Healthfully responding to stigma is a continual practice, as I still notice myself feeling nervous, shy, or even violated when I say the word "Ayahuasca" and someone else feels afraid of its (mis)interpretations. In those moments, I get to breathe and lean on Mama Aya in miniature and impromptu - but still ceremonial - ways. For the most part, I just choose to hug myself and feel grateful for the steps I've made to feel in the first place. It took a lot of lizard-brained reactions to reach this point of full-blown human mode.
Anyway... back to what I was needing when I talked to my family about Ayahuasca (for the record, this is much easier for me to understand and enact post-retreat, after learning to feel safe, strong, calm, etc.). I wanted to hide less, to research more, or to simply take responsibility for my own spiritual path. But I *needed* to BREATHE.
Pre-retreat, I really, truly could have sat at my parents’ dining table and proceeded to breathe deeply for as long as I needed - whether that lasted for five minutes or two days. Sure, it would have been wildly uncomfortable for us all, but that was, after all, the whole point of signing up for a retreat where I’d be encouraged to purge self-destructive patterns and break deeply held habits of dis-ease. To resolve my inter- and intrapersonal conflicts, I’d need to practice continually returning to breath.
These days, talking to my family FINALLY means listening to them. I used to talk at people - especially my parents - about things they did not support. This strategy served as yet another way for me to passive aggressively prove that I am not supported. Now, post-retreat, I have spoken with my parents about all five ceremony experiences and - more importantly - about my reason for needing to heal in the first place. I can hear my mother saying sorry, and all parts of my soul are singing and believing that we are already forgiven.
Fortunately, I still have infinite opportunities to practice breathing through personally or professionally challenging conversations. Since healing, I can see clearly (!!!!!!!!!!!), so I will happily read Ayahuasca Manifesto and host seminars about the topic, using the seven-step structure outlined in William Fawcett Hill's Learning Through Discussion. In my experience, those who are against Ayahuasca simply don't know what it is, and Hill's first step in dialectal teaching and learning involves defining key terms and concepts.
Especially after attending an RHC retreat, I definitely have the tools for leading loving conversations with myself and others. Eddy, the group's facilitator, role modeled how to turn triggering moments into opportunities for deeper healing. He also showed us the Wim Hof Method and other ways to strengthen or tone the body’s response to stress. Most notably, Eddy let individuals design their own healing techniques. It felt especially liberating for me to call out fear when I felt it, to question whether that fear was even mine, and then to celebrate the special sense of surprise that followed. Daily, dozens of times, I release a fear ("It's not mine!") and begin to see myself as a strong, gentle, and playful Saint of Suffering.
I trust that you, dear reader, will find your own heart-centered ways for releasing fears and embracing conversational moments with breath and acceptance. In the meantime, here are some creative prompts and projects you can try:
-Write a letter to Mama Aya. Let her know that you need her help, that you want your family's support, or that this whole process is utter bullshit. You may begin to feel the effects of the medicine in your art, your memories, your dreams, or even in other people's dreams (my jungle siblings, Melissa and Tony, both have great family-oriented stories about this!!!).
-Role play with your friends. Practice talking to your family by watching someone else pretend to be you. Laugh at how well they do (or don't) portray your truths. Or... watch yourself pretend to be you, and laugh at the predictability of certain coping strategies.
-Have a chat with every single inanimate object that may be affected by your Ayahuasca diet. This includes your mirror, your sex toys, your Facebook profile, your freezer, your microwave, your salt shaker, your paycheck and/or vacation days, your mailbox, your synthetic shampoos and soaps, and more. Practice stating why you are interested in Ayahuasca and how it will help you long-term. Be sure to let those objects talk and/or fight back. As you listen or notice the ways you can't listen, you are practicing for conversations in more emotionally involved/complicated relationships.
-Expand your definition of family so it can include me, and then reach out! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, text or call or WhatsApp me any time at 1-864-648-9824, or just metaphysically *ping* me.
-Read through RHC's welcome packet/retreat workbook (which you'll receive after signing up), and spend extra time reflecting on the section "Omar's 8 Tips for Jungle Enlightenment." It includes advice like, "Get comfortable with being uncomfortable," which directly applies to any pre-purge challenges and family (mis)communications.
-Get yourself some gold stars (or whatever shape makes you happy) and begin to mark each healing moment. Even if your family doesn't want to hear those details involving buckets of vomit, they might want to know why your entire body is covered in shiny stickers.
-Imagine yourself doing something pleasant with someone else. Notice how it feels to be connected or to do things that lead to connection. Then, THANK YOUR BODY FOR THAT FEELING! Someday, you may notice it has snuck its way into an awkward family dinner.