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  • Writer's pictureSusie Bower

My sobriety and working with ayahuasca

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

I know for many people, reading the title of the blog post might have you scratching your head. How can I call myself sober and also work with ayahuasca?

As many of you know, I have been alcohol-free and on my sober journey for over 10 years now. If you're curious about that, you can read more HERE. In order for me to answer the previous question, it's important for me to define the use and purpose of ayahuasca FOR ME. You may have a different opinion and that is absolutely okay. If you are here reading about this, understand this is just my perspective and why I chose to work with ayahuasca and still consider myself to be sober.

Ayahuasca (pronounced 'eye-ah-WAH-ska') is a South American psychoactive brew used both socially and as ceremonial spiritual medicine among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. Depending on the region or where the shaman is from, it can also be referred to as yagé (Columbia) or Daime tea (Brazil), or ayahuasca (Peru). It is a blend of two plants - the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria Viridis). If you are interested in going even more in-depth about the differences, you can read more HERE.

Many who have worked with plant medicine, will not consider it a drug. They view it as a tool or a therapeutic remedy. Now, others will argue it is a drug because it is psychoactive and for those who have this perspective, I'd like to ask what their view on coffee, cacao, and alcohol is - because they also contain psychoactive properties as well, but many wouldn't even consider coffee, cacao or alcohol a drug or medicine. However, they all contain molecules that affect our brain chemistry through neurotransmitter systems that alter consciousness. I am not trying to persuade you to believe one way or another or even try to get you to change your mind, I just ask for you to keep an open mind about the topic. I'm not going to get into a debate or discussion of drug classifications simply because ayahuasca is deemed an illegal drug in some countries, yet other more harmful drugs are approved for distribution by pharmaceutical companies. For me, I believe drugs are something that creates an illusion of relief or escapism - from pain, from racing thoughts, from being tired to put a band-aid on the problem. Ayahuasca and other plants are to me, sacred, and medicinal and allow the facilitation of healing at a deeper level, not something to use to escape reality, something to become more in the present and see into the subconscious. I don't believe drugs get to the root issues of our problems, I believe plant medicine does. Plants, herbs, and other natural remedies have been used for thousands of years by many different cultures. They only stopped publicly sharing and encouraged around 100 years ago when big pharma was born. Plant medicine and herbal treatments then became labeled as "alternative medicine". Pharma treats symptoms, which in many cases cause even more side effects that require other drugs to offset them - this often leaves people worse off than when they started. Big pharma became more about profits than the health of people and a huge money-making machine.

On a side note, as a military spouse and someone who has worked with people with PTSD from their military service, I want to bring attention to the research being done to support our veterans who have worked with plant medicine after attempts with conventional treatments, therapy, and medicine had been unsuccessful. Heroic Hearts Project has many resources available and is a company I fully support, as well as MAPS. I will also say it is my opinion, that if you have never experienced depression or PTSD, then it could possibly be challenging for you to enter into a conversation with an open mind about plant medicine and if it is right or wrong for someone suffering. Many like myself are looking for an alternative with fewer risks or long-term effects. Plant medicine is well researched and documented, and has been used for thousands of years for healing purposes.

My Journey In Working With Plant Medicine

When I was in Peru in 2018, I had considered working with ayahuasca but to be honest, I wasn't ready. It scared me. Not because I was sober and thought it was a "bad" drug, I was scared because it was an unknown to me. I had already had many years of therapy, as well as done years of my own personal development, shadow work, inner child work, meditation, breathwork, and journaling. Fear of what might come up and not being able to process it held me back, not to mention my deep-rooted fear of throwing up. I love to do a lot of research on a topic before I make a decision about it. I had heard about ayahuasca before I went to Peru and knew it was something available to do while I was there. I just couldn't do it.

Only you know what work you have to do, only you know what you might be suppressing. The scary part to me is there are things inside me I don't understand why I can't remember. I don't know why I am terrified of deep water when I have memories as a kid loving to jump the waves in Galveston with my mom and I used to be on a swim team when I was young. I loved the water, but somewhere around junior high, I stopped going in the water, even pools. The longer I stayed out of the water, the more I fed the story in my head about my fear of the water and the stronger that fear became. It wasn't until the last 4 years that I even started to face this fear. I am now able to get in the water I can see the bottom of (only pools) and I have to be able to stand in and see my feet, it's challenging for me to get deeper than my chest and forget about submerging my head underwater, even if only for a second - it's not going to happen, I'm not there yet. But why? Why am I still scared and what has created this fear? No clue.

During our day-to-day lives, we consciously make decisions, suppress feelings and emotions, and compartmentalize our thoughts. The thing about working with ayahuasca is that it goes beyond the conscious level and deep into your subconscious. It shows you what is already inside you, you might not be ready to see it all, which is why you might be consciously taking control and suppressing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Plant medicine is something you have to be ready to work with. There is the preparation that goes into the weeks before your ceremony, and I would absolutely recommend you work with someone who is knowledgeable and knows what to do to facilitate a proper ceremony. This is an ancient treatment that comes with the wisdom that has been passed down, it's not something you just decide to do on a whim and you certainly shouldn't attempt to buy it online and drink it yourself. It must be prepared properly and honored for its sacred roots.

The more I read about people's experiences and talked to people who have worked with plant medicines, the more it confirmed my desire to take myself to the next level. I had spent so much time in therapy and for a long time, I used to think it was a waste of time and even blamed the many therapists because they couldn't "fix" me. I eventually had to face the reality that I was the common denominator in all of the "failed" therapy sessions. I was not fully opening up or trusting the therapists. However, it was because of these "failed" sessions that led me to do my own work on myself, so in the end, I realized what a blessing it was to not have the therapy meet my expectations. I got to know myself on a deeper level and worked through a ton of stored emotions.

I have battled with depression for 24 years. There have been times when I felt in control like I was winning the battle, and other times I was so deep I struggled to do basic human functions like getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, showering or washing my hair. There has been some promising research on plant medicine being quite successful in treating and/or relieving the symptoms of depression. That alone is enough for me to consider it as an option. My first few years of attempting to treat my depression led to a cocktail of medications, some making my depression worse and adding anxiety to the mix. I decided around 12 or 13 years ago I was done with depression meds, I was tired of being numb inside and began exploring meditation and breathwork - and when combined with my yoga practice, I saw a huge improvement.

Deciding to become sober also had a major impact on my ability to self-heal, get to know myself, understand why I think and behave the way I do, and relieve my depression. Most of my drinking was to cope with hating who I was. I used to say it was because it made me more fun, but that was a lie. Some of my most angry moments and physical fights occurred when I had been drinking. It didn't always make me more fun, it made me unpredictable and dangerous. Unfortunately, even after getting sober, I still had lingering anger and rage deep inside of me, and no matter what I have tried - meditation, breathwork, journaling, therapy - I'm unable to understand why it's there, how I can be less reactive, how to release it and how to heal. This is why plant medicine intrigues me. I don't see plant medicine as a drug, it is another tool to help me work through my deep, hidden thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I struggle to let go of on a conscious level. I have had profound and successful experiences with nootropics and am willing to try plant medicine.

I am the type of person that believes there is a time and place for Western medicine and pharmaceuticals. I've had numerous surgeries and taken medicine in the hospital, but I also didn't ask for any pain meds unless I absolutely needed them. Even after I got out of the hospital I would sparingly or even completely abstain from pain meds - including after my C-sections and most recent back surgery. Call me crazy, but I'd rather feel the pain and know my limits rather than mask the pain and risk injuring myself. It's not just heavy narcotics I prefer to stay away from, I also don't take any over-the-counter medicine either. I fully believe my body can heal from most things and know I have a very strong immune system. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been sick in 41 years.

Spring of 2021 was supposed to be my return to Peru, this time to co-host a woman's retreat and spend an extra week after the retreat decompressing and working with ayahuasca. I was finally ready. Unfortunately, Peru wasn't allowing people from Europe to enter, so I had to reschedule the event for spring 2022. When you are getting called to work with plant medicine, it's for a reason. Almost two months after we canceled the retreat, I noticed I was slipping into a depressive state, I was also getting very irritable and having insane mood swings. In divine timing, a company was introduced to me, INME Holistic Co. (INME Wellness). Jelena was patient with me and answered every single question I had. My mind had been put at ease and I knew this was the company I would be exploring plant medicine with. My heart was ecstatic that I was going to be able to experience this and not even have to leave Italy! I encourage you to check out their website and upcoming retreats. If you decide to attend an event with them, please let them know I sent you and I have a special gift for you after your event.

I am a completely open book, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. This blog post is going to be part of a series of posts documenting my experience with plant medicine. I appreciate you following along on my journey.

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