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Interview With A Former Opium Addict Who Found Salvation Through Ayahuasca

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by Luke Sumpter

on August 12, 2015

The vast tapestry of modern life, woven together with strands of stress, anxiety, depression and abuse, can very often leave individuals wrapped in loneliness and despair. Void of love and community, it’s easy to feel lost. Under such circumstances, the gaps in our spiritual and emotional fabric are often mitigated in the short term with coping mechanisms that offer instant release and gratification in the form of addictive and self-destructive habits which may manifest in the form of chemical substance abuse.

The groundbreaking work of Dr. Gabor Maté explores in detail the close correlation between childhood stress and trauma and addiction later in life.

Dr. Gabor Mate

Dr. Gabor Mate

Dr. Maté defines addiction as: “Any behavior that has negative consequences, that one is compelled to persist in, and relapse into and crave, despite negative consequences.”

Maté also states: “The addictive personality is someone with the sense of deficient emptiness, with the sense of inchoate distress, without the capacity to soothe themselves and regulate themselves without that external source of relief.”

There is no doubt that addictive behavior, fueled by loneliness and despair, is endemic in the Western world. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey on drug use and health, published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], “23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol problems in 2009 (9.3 percent of persons aged 12 or older). Of these, only 2.6 million — 11.2 percent of those who needed treatment — received it at a specialty facility.” NIDA goes on to state that 40 to 60 percent of drug addiction patients relapse after treatment in the United States. These numbers are undeniably worrying.

With such a high rate of relapse, it is evident that Western medicine is failing in the battle against addiction, with short term solutions failing to target the root cause. However, outside the realm of mainstream medicine, alternative schools of thought and action are having massive success in treating addiction. One such method, ayahuasca, is showing an ability to tackle addiction at its core, leaving many completely void of any desire to continue the cycle of self-destruction after treatment. The epoch-old jungle brew, sends those who choose to partake on an internal voyage of their own psyche via the active entheogenic compound dimenthyltryptamine (or DMT). It’s this plant-induced self-reflection and self-healing that has been shown to ease addiction on all fronts, from the physical to the mental to the emotional.

Ayahuasca

Photo: Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is a vine native to the Amazon jungle. Via: Paul Hessell | Flickr | Licensed by Creative Commons.

A paper titled “Ayahuasca-Assisted Therapy for Addiction” sums up a study intended to assess the impact of ayahuasca-assisted group therapy on those living with addiction. Conducted by researchers from the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia in Canada, the study’s authors found “ayahausca-assisted therapy for stress and addiction was correlated with statistically significant improvements in mindfulness, empowerment, hopefulness and quality of life-outlook and quality of life-meaning.” The researchers also noted that the ayahausca-assisted group therapy “may also have contributed to statistically significant reductions in cocaine use.”

Dr. Maté explains why ayahuasca is so effective at tackling addiction: “Ayahuasca shows you very clearly the psychological baggage that you’ve carried all your life… You no longer see it as an inevitable and inextricable part of yourself.” Maté adds: “All of the pain and all the meanings that you’ve created from that pain and all the ways you see yourself and all the interpretations you made of the world because of early experience, can drop away and you can just be in the present.”

Maté’s statements explain how ayahuasca enables the empowerment of individuals through intense self-evaluation of prior events — events that often contribute to an addict’s spiral into the abyss of helpless addiction.

Reset spoke to a former opium addict who had experienced just this, and who had found salvation though ayahuasca. In order to preserve his privacy, he requested that we use the semi-anonymous name M. Espirulina, before sharing intimate details of his battle with opiate addiction and his eventual liberation from the drug through the ceremonial use of ayahuasca.

First Espirulina, a 37-year-old male citizen of Portugal, talks about the series of events that led to his opium use. “It started with deep depression,” says Espirulina. “After breaking up with the mother of my oldest daughter, I got depressed over the fact I wasn’t living with my child anymore. So depressed that I couldn’t even manage to work to earn an income. Taking opium at that time allowed me to both forget some negative feelings and thoughts and start working again with focus and productivity. It also enabled me to sleep well. With opium I was able to ‘fake’ a normal life.”

Espirulina explains what made him specifically use opium as a crutch to face such hard life circumstances. “Oblivion without catalepsy. Alcohol also generates oblivion, making you forget thoughts that hurt you, but also generates a cataleptic state that does not allow work or productivity. So, opium choice appeared as a kind of chemical-auto-control. It is Utopia to think that one can rally control over your body and mind with such an addictive substance. I was taking it daily, smoked or swallowed.”

He goes on to talk about the experiences that motivated him to end his cycle of abuse. “It wasn’t clear to me that I wanted to quit. I knew something had to change in my life and I was looking for a solution, but I was not thinking of opium as the root of my problems. I was not having financial issues stemming from opium addiction, because I was getting opium directly from a collector, so it was very cheap. I wanted to put and end to certain feelings I was possessing, namely jealousy. And yes, I knew opium was only creating a curtain, and I wanted to be free of those feelings without the use of the drug. Also, signals from friends suffering from even stronger addictions were examples of where I could end up if I continued.”

So armed with the knowledge that something had to change, did Espirulina attempt to utilize rehab or any other so-called conventional avenues of treatment? He replies, “Only medical prescription anti-depressants. They were too slow to work and therefore did not succeed as an effective treatment.”

Photo: Author Carlos Castaneda wrote a series of books about his his training in shamanism. Via: Wikipedia | Licensed under   fair use.

Photo: Author Carlos Castaneda wrote a series of books about his training in shamanism. Via: Wikipedia.

Espirulina continues to recount his personal experience by telling us how ayahuasca first came to his attention. “I heard about ayahuasca around a decade before trying it,” says Espirulina. “I was made aware of it by reading about ethnobotanicals, shamanism, psychedelics and entheogens. I was reading Carlos Castaneda as well as the works of Terence and Dennis McKenna. After reading the McKenna brothers from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives, somehow, I got the idea that ayahausca was not a drug — rather a spirit medicine. At the time I was studying genetics, and after many years spent as an atheist I was considering the possible connections between some blocks of DNA and some glands/chakras, such as the pineal gland, with that ‘spirit.’”

Describing the emotional depths to which he sunk before he finally sought healing from ayahuasca, Espirulina says: “After almost three years on opium, I was already with a new girlfriend who was pregnant with my second child. On one occasion she traveled away for three weeks and I started to develop a nonsense jealously crisis. Now I understand that it was due to lack of confidence within myself and I was projecting frustration externally. I felt as though I was falling into the same mistakes I had made with my previous relationship. At the same time I was feeling as though I was receiving another chance from the Universe. So, one day, it said to me: ‘The day has come, you need to take the Amazonian medicine and clean your inner house.’ At the time, I knew a friend who was drinking the brew at ceremonies taking place in Portugal. I approached him and asked him to take me along.”

He then describes the ceremony and how it affected him physically, emotionally and mentally. “It consisted of multiple inner-self struggles,” says Espirulina. “On the physical level I felt the medicine fighting with toxic substances inside my body in order to purge them. And until a huge purge was completed with vomiting, diarrhea and tears, I felt pretty bad physically for around two hours. On the emotional level, it is very difficult to explain. I noticed an incredible expansion of time. In five ‘real’ minutes I was having dozens of different insights, feeling as though those five minutes took place over a period of hours. It’s impossible to remember all of the insights in ‘real’ hours. But most of them were traumas coming from the past, people I hadn’t remembered for a long time, a lot of stuff related to my childhood, family, old friends, etc… I’m not sure I can say there was a ‘mental’ level. Because mental typically involves reasoning, and there were no conditions to effectively reason. Too many feelings arose, too fast. I was arriving at conclusions suddenly — answers were being presented to me in the form of feelings, not words, or anything that typically comes from logical reasoning.”

Ayahuasca

Photo: Preparing the ayahuasca ‘tea’ for use in a ceremony. Via: Paul Hessell | Flickr | Licensed by Creative Commons.

After the ceremony had drawn to a close, Espirulina recounts, “I had never felt better in my entire life. ‘Peace’ had a very different meaning to me. As though I had never experienced authentic ‘inner peace’ before. The ceremony took place inside a house surrounded by nature, and when I moved outside I felt an intense feeling of ‘home.’ Suddenly, I realized I had forgiven myself and other people for a lot of stuff. I was experiencing so many good feelings and remember realizing ‘my life will never be the same’ — it was not. After five years, a lot of patterns changed in my life. In regards to opium, after drinking ayahuasca, I didn’t once feel the temptation to take opium again. When opium came up as a thought in my mind it was accompanied by feelings of repulsion.”

So what else, apart from the disappearance of addiction, fundamentally changed in Espirulina’s life? “My overall perception of the world, the certainty that I am very, very small and that the universe has far more dimensions than the material one,” he says. “That we can reach those dimensions not in body, but in spirit. That a lot of things happen within those dimensions and are reflected in the material world. All of this conscience expansion starts to change the way one sees the world and starts to impact one’s day to day life in every aspect. The changes in my daily life were very personal and individual. Ayahuasca helps each individual change what each individual needs to change.”

After hearing about the huge success Espirulina experienced detaching from the ball-and-chain addiction of opium via the ceremonial usage of ayahuasca, we wanted to know what advice he would give to others in a similar position to his old self — those who want to embark on the path to recovery. He says, “I would start by asking them if they are already aware of the ‘illusion’ of a life based on opiates. If they are, I would tell them that nature offers real and effective solutions. There are sacred plants that have been studied for millennia by Aboriginal cultures that when taken, with certain criteria in mind such as dietary restrictions and ceremonies conducted by experienced healers, have very successful and fast acting cleansing results. They clean physical addictions, but most importantly, they clean the kind of behaviors, trauma and obsessions that commonly lead one to drug addiction. Iboga or ayahuasca are perhaps the most recognized natural medicines with this characteristic. Last, but not least, I would recommend people do not take this medicine alone or without the supervision of an experienced healer, and always within traditional ceremony. It is not ‘something to try’ — nor is it a ‘natural LSD’ — it is perhaps one of the most serious ventures a person can partake in upon this planet and requires great responsibility.”

It is quite clear that ayahuasca offers a highly effective medium for erasing the root cause of addiction within the psyche of the user, which equates to an evaporation of physical dependence. However, it’s not an easy way out of an extraordinarily complex and difficult situation. Users of the medicine are faced with physical purging, accompanied by an intellectual and emotional journey through their inner being, during which they must face themselves and their failings with all barriers and buffers removed. Ultimately, though, one might question which path is more difficult; The one presented to us by the Western medical paradigm, which statistically results in a cycle of trial, error, failure and relapse? Or the archaic yet effective jungle medicines, which help the individual confront and make peace with past traumas and current torments, and find their stronger, addiction-free selves?