Dizzy from the medicine, I tried to tune out the vivid sounds of puking and crying echoing all around me. I had experienced seven hours of intense visions and feeling out of control, but still had not purged. I grabbed the bucket from behind my mat and placed it in front of me.
“I’m ready to purge. I’m ready to let go.” I whispered.
Almost as if I had flipped a switch, I began purging into my bucket and felt a release of energy that I had undoubtedly been holding onto for years.
How Ayahuasca Changed My Life
When I first told friends and family that I would be traveling to Ecuador’s Andes Mountains to try Ayahuasca for the first time, I got an array of responses from “I’m so excited for you” to “why would you want to do that?” Nobody in my inner circle had heard of Ayahuasca and wondered why I would want to travel to a foreign country to do drugs, puke, and nearly starve myself.
First, let me start off by explaining that Ayahuasca is not a recreational drug. It’s a plant medicine, which indigenous Amazonian tribes have used for centuries for healing and as a means of communicating with nature.
DMT, the active ingredient in Ayahuasca, is arguably the most powerful hallucinogen known to man. This molecule also occurs naturally in the human body as well as many plants and animals, which is one of the reasons the topic of DMT is so fascinating.
Ayahuasca ceremonies are facilitated by shamans who have a strong relationship with, and act as conduits for, the medicine. Finding a shaman who not only has extensive experience with Ayahuasca, but also makes you feel safe is of the utmost importance when working with this medicine.
Why I Felt Called To Try Ayahuasca
I felt called to sit in an Ayahuasca ceremony for the past three years and only finally felt I was ready in early 2018. I knew I wanted to travel to South America to work with the medicine in a traditional setting, following rituals that have been passed down through shamans for thousands of years.
I initially felt drawn to Ayahuasca because of claims from people who had kicked lifelong addictions seemingly overnight. It is often said that one night with Ayahuasca is like a decade of therapy. At that time in my life, nearly three years ago, I felt consumed by addictions that had plagued me for most of my adult life and had a tough time seeing a way out.
Luckily, over those three years, I began a daily meditation practice and nearly lost all desire to use drugs and alcohol to numb my emotional pain. Becoming self-aware and learning to love and accept whatever I’m feeling has been a huge step towards healing pain that I’ve carried around for most of my life.
They say Ayahuasca begins working on you long before you actually drink the tea and in my case, as well as other people at my retreat, this was absolutely true. I booked my retreat in January 2018 and over the next eight months, I watched as each of my intentions were fulfilled before my retreat date.
A few weeks before my retreat I was blindsided by a repressed memory from childhood that would open the doors for a deep level of healing that I wasn’t even consciously aware I needed.
Without going into too many details, I was faced with the realization that I had been sexually abused for several years as a child, beginning at the age of three. I always had a very hazy memory of this, but I blocked out most of my childhood and convinced myself it didn’t happen.
With everything that transpired over those eight months, it’s now clear to me that Ayahuasca began working with me long before I actually sat in a ceremony.
After weeks of meticulously reading review after review of Ayahuasca retreats in South America, I settled on a place in the Ecuadorian Andes. The raving reviews combined with little to no mosquitos, shamans who speak both English and Spanish, and a price tag that was far lower than many other retreats, I instinctively felt this was the perfect place for my first experience with this plant medicine.
Upon arrival to the retreat center at Gaia Sagrada, I was greeted with warm hugs by the staff and work exchangers. Once all of the guests arrived, we gathered for our first group meeting which began like this: “It may not seem like it now, but everyone in this circle will soon become your family.”
As someone who rarely opens up to strangers, I was skeptical, but soon understood why this group of people all came together at exactly the right time and how I would feel closer to these people than I have to nearly every other person in my life.
My First Ayahuasca Ceremony
My first ceremony began around 6pm and lasted until about 4am, when the last of the purges finally settled down. The first shot of Ayahuasca tea was offered around 7pm, and I didn’t even think twice about whether or not I should take a full dose. Bottoms up!
Out of the many Ayahuasca experiences I read about online, the one thing I repeatedly heard was that the taste is awful. I was actually shocked that I didn’t find it repulsive. I halfway expected myself to gag and not even be able to get it down. I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.
Now comes the fun part.
Before the shaman even made it halfway around the room with everyone’s first shot, I watched as the wooden poles in the center of the Maloka began to melt. I closed my eyes and laid down on my mat for what would soon become the most intense seven hours of my life.
“Breathe. Surrender. Breathe. Surrender.” I repeated this phrase over and over to try to keep myself calm.
“What the fuck was I thinking? I can’t believe I convinced myself to do this. I will never do Ayahuasca again.”
Yep. My ego wanted all of it to go away. I wished it would stop, but there was no going back at this point. I tried hallucinogens in high school, but nothing prepared me for the out-of-control feeling I was having on my first Ayahuasca journey. This. Was. Intense.
I quickly remembered that we were advised to open up the conversation with Mama Aya by introducing ourselves. (Ayahusca is seen as a feminine energy and she comes to people in many forms — as a grandmother, a mother, an aunt.)
“Hi. I’m Christy. I’m so happy to meet you, Mama Aya.”
“So… um… these visions are pretty intense. I’m a little scared. I would be so grateful if you could take it easy with me.”
I was so out of it that I honestly don’t even know if she answered me with words, but the visions did calm down enough for me to focus on the music. I felt a relief wash over me as I allowed the music to move the energy in my body and redirect my attention from fear to awe.
I began to feel the most intense unconditional love I’ve ever felt in my life. I sensed that I was connected to every single person in the room and I could feel what they were going through. Whenever I heard someone purge or cry, I put all of my attention on sending them love. It was clear we were all in this together and I had never felt closer to a group of people.
These were warriors, people who had traveled to a foreign country to do the most powerful hallucinogen known to man — to face their fears and deepest wounds — not because they weren’t scared, but despite their fear.
Over the next several hours, Mama Aya took me on a journey, showing me the deepest parts of myself, my intuition, who I truly am at the core of my being; she showed me the feeling of unconditional love, safety, compassion (for myself and others) and so much more.
Everyone’s journey is different and you are given exactly what you need — not always what you want — but the lessons are always there. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper and you might not initially understand the meaning, but everyone in our group learned valuable lessons and insights they can integrate into their lives.
Over the next week at the retreat, I sat in one more Ayahuasca ceremony, a San Pedro ceremony where everyone in our group shared their deepest pain, and a sweat lodge ceremony where both San Pedro and Ayahuasca were offered in a small blacked-out sweat lodge resembling a womb.
While the ceremonies were extremely profound and healing, the group of people at my retreat is really what made this whole experience so magical. We were told at our retreat that each of us is called to these ceremonies at specific times because we are meant to be with this particular group of people and I don’t doubt this for a second.
It was a collective healing and growing.
My best advice, if this medicine calls to you, is to find a retreat center that focuses on community. I initially thought Ayahuasca was an extremely personal journey (and the actual ceremony usually is a solo journey) but I overlooked the community aspect of healing.
We’re not in this alone. I believe one of the best things we can do for our society is to realize we really are all in this together. No man is an island. This has become extremely clear to me after my time in Ecuador.
The Real Work Begins AFTER Your Ceremony
When you ask this plant medicine for something, it won’t necessarily give you the answers in the way you would expect — as a vision or clarity during your ceremony. Sometimes it will come to you as uncomfortable situations in your life. This became EXTREMELY apparent to me after my return home.
During my first ceremony, my intention was to believe in myself regardless of what the world was telling me. While I was definitely shown how powerful I am during my ceremony — which was magical and beyond anything I had ever expected — I soon came to realize Mama Aya was preparing me for what was to come next in my life.
She told me it was time to step into my power and — as I’m sure many of you have experienced in your own lives — when the universe is trying to get your attention and you’re not listening, it kicks your ass until you pay attention.
Now that I’ve returned home, I’m beginning to understand that the real work has come in the form of circumstances in my life where I’m forced to step into my power. There have been moments I’ve felt as if I have been pushed off of a cliff — to the point where I have run out of opportunities to hide. If it had not been for what I was shown during my ceremony, I’m not sure I would have felt strong enough to overcome the difficulty life is throwing at me.
I’ve known for months that it’s time for me to make a significant change with the direction of my life, but I had gotten so comfortable that I literally needed a fire lit under my ass to gain the momentum necessary for this next stage of growth.
It has become very clear to me that everything is here to help me and I no longer instinctively play the same limiting belief of “life is unfair” over and over in my head whenever life gets tough.
It has become so much easier to find the lessons in adversity; it’s like something in my internal wiring has been permanently changed. Ayahuasca has shown me who I truly am and I now know without a shred of doubt that nothing outside of me compares to the power I have within myself.