Ayahuasca Helped Heal My Autoimmune Disorder And PTSD


by Lea Shepard

on August 13, 2018

I had very little confidence that plant medicine would actually help me. I had tried all the other treatment options introduced to me. They all failed. It was my last resort. Something I surely did not want to do. I strongly disliked travel, was very wary of being in a group of strangers getting dosed on hallucinogens, and distrusted anyone who would run a facility in the jungle where people pay for such an experience. Nevertheless, I went. I wanted to be free from the repetitive thoughts that intruded on me every waking moment.

I was raised in very strict religious sect that was classified as a cult by national cult listing organizations. My cult made the top ten list for cults in America at one point. We had a magazine and everything. You may have heard of it. The World Wide Church of God and the magazine was called “The Plain Truth.” As a typical cult member, I did not know I was in a cult until I was out of it (at age 16). I thought I was in a very strict church that had all the right answers. I was taught that I would one day have my own universe. Sounded pretty appealing for a child.

The not so fun parts included a yearly pilgrimage to a foreign city which was a “holiday” representing our eventual fleeing from our homes when the apocalypse arrives to the “place of safety.”  We celebrated only holidays depicted in the old testament of the Bible;  No Christmas, Easter, or Halloween. I was certain all the kids in my classes where going to burn in the lake of fire for eternity for believing in Santa or Jesus.

I was not a popular child at school due to those beliefs and the fact that I was sent out of the room for every holiday related event. I was often left home alone after school with siblings to fend for our selves while my parents worked hard to make money. Most of which, I presume, went to the cult. That is the nature of a cult, they drain you financially. Our lifestyle reflected the slim finances, except for that yearly apocalypse preparation trip. For that, we got treated to gifts and restaurant food. I was not allowed to celebrate my birthday, but I got gifts for that trip. It was a big deal for me as a child and it started my anxiety around travel. The emotions around it were very complicated and very fearful. I truly believed we would one day go to the place of safety in/on a giant eagle and live with the chosen people through the end times while all the people I met in the world died.

There were other factors in play as well, such as my tendency towards concussions due to multiple falls as a child. Plus there was abuse in the church. Men where given complete control over those younger and women. That lead to many problems. I got lucky though, as the cult collapsed at around the time I turned 16. The main leader died and his son took over. He was more tolerant and recommended that members of the church be kind and welcoming to those who celebrate other holidays different from ours. That, among other things drove many of the members to leave for a more strict offshoot church. Many of the other members went to regular churches. Therefore, the main church does still exist in name but it is a very different organization these days, I am sure.

I lived a relatively normal life from 16-30. I graduated from a liberal arts college and went to work after school with plants and people. Sometime around age 30 that all changed. I had a work related injury that lead me to take steroids for pain. That, I believe, set in motion an autoimmune disorder that was truly awful. I was unable to function for quite some time. My hands where swollen and too painful to do much of anything. Other soft tissues in my body where also effected. I was having more and more symptoms related to Complex PTSD at this time as well. In fact, they where driving me mad. I was having an interruptive thought every 30 seconds at least. Always something very negative repeating in my mind. These thoughts are hard to explain. I did not “think” them. They just appeared over and over again. It was very distressing. If you are curious look into Complex PTSD symptoms. I identified with most of the symptoms listed.

Via: aya-awakenings.com

Eventually I reached a point where I had only a few options. I had exhausted all the treatments for both disorders with little success. I was out of options, extremely depressed, physically a wreck and almost completely out of hope when I decided to pursue ayahuasca. My medical doctor and therapist had both recommended it to me so I did lots of research on the subject and decided it was something that had potential to help me.

With the help of very good friend who was very worried about me, I ended up booking a 21 day retreat outside Iquitos Peru starting in January. To prepare for the trip I started seeing a chiropractor who helped my back immensely. Even now, I feel like I have a new back as a result from the work she did on me. I also started a yoga practice to see if that would assist with the back pain.  Due to the improvement I saw, I was then hooked on yoga. Like some say, the medicine started working on me before I even left home.

I arrived in Peru a slightly improved version of my shattered self. Extremely terrified, apprehensive, and not at all convinced that I would return home with much more improvement. But, I was determined to try anything that might help me find relief from the constant mental anguish I was dealing with. I truly felt I had no choice but to try it, even if I firmly did not want to. Into the jungle I went. Accompanied by a giant suitcase filled with way too much stuff, I took a three hour bus ride followed by a couple hour boat ride to the healing center near Iquitos.

I met Ernesto during the bus ride to the center. He was dressed in neatly ironed black dress pants and a stark white shirt tucked in like a proper business man. It was not what I was imagining a shaman to look like at all. During the bus ride he was explaining to the driver the work he does with the medicine. In general, the people of Peru are very skeptical of the use of the plants.

My roommate was a nice Russian lady who had never been to the Americas before. She was also there for 21 days. I was apprehensive of being in such close quarters with another person for so long. I knew nothing about her, but I could tell we had lead very different lives up till then. I was determined to conduct myself in a respectful and neighborly way. I had obviously brought an obscene amount of items. Her bag was dwarfed by my huge pile.

The jungle was extremely alive. When I stepped out of my mosquito net around my bed in the morning, I was greeted by stinging ants on my feet. The same ants always found my towel during a shower in one of the very rustic cold river water showers. When seated at my mat in the maloka it was common to be bombed by giant cockroaches. The heat was insanely intense. Everything was hot. The floor of the ceremonial chamber felt like it might combust at any time. I had been on a diet, but I was far from hungry due to the oppressive heat. There where at least two people who came to the retreat center and left after just one day because it was too hot for them to feel safe. Even the locals were complaining that it was extremely hot. I was given a woven straw fan to use and it saved me during many ceremonies when I did not know if I would survive. I still have it.

Giant Waxy Monkey Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor) Via: John Clare

The first day we where given Nunu, a powdered burned tobacco mixture that is blown in to the nostrils via a tube from another person. This was said to “open us up.”  The next morning we where given the chance to experience Kambo, afrog venom that is placed on a fresh burn. I took both and will likely not try Nunu again, but Kambo was something I grew to really appreciate. I had it applied twice and would do it again as I believe it is very helpful for joint inflammation and possibly helpful for allergies.
Breakfast at the center was followed by group talk which consisted of everyone sharing their experiences of the ceremony the night before.

We all resume our places on thin twin sized mattresses that where covered in plastic to keep them sanitary. Luckily the center had a great cleaning staff who worked hard to eliminate the signs from the events the night before. I am sure it needed it badly. The facilitators gave us some guidelines to abbreviate our experience for the shamans. They don’t need to know everything about your experience. In fact, hearing about every detail from that many people after every ceremony is draining for them. Therefore, I strove to keep my briefings short and to the point.

The facilitators mentioned four main points the shamans needed to know about. They where:  1) What visions did you have? 2) Did you purge? 3) Did you have any intense feelings? 4) How are you feeling today? After communicating, sometimes very long answers to these questions, the patient translator would come back to the participant with a goal or thought that the shamans had on their experience. This was a very lengthy process. But fascinating.

After my first ceremony, my answers for the shaman where as follows 1) I saw a flower made of dots and a caiman with lots of teeth, which I liked. 2) Yes, I purged pretty quickly into the ceremony. 3) No intense feelings (apparently I didn’t want to talk about that with others yet) 4) Today I am feeling sad with a slight headache and sore hands. The translator spent some time relaying my message and came back with the following, “the shamans say they are going to clean the caiman and the sorrow. The hand pain is due to the dark energy in you which is cold mixing with the warm energy of Aya, causing pain. It will go away. The headache is due to the sadness being cleared.”

My ayahuasca sessions started out fairly mild. The flower pattern I had seen did not last very long, neither did the caiman. It was like a flash of bright colored neon lights in a dark room. After the first ceremony, I was asked if I would like to participate in a dieta with the plant Mapacho to “help give me strength.” Mapacho is a jungle grown tobacco variety known to the plant healers as the master plant. It is the plant that, “taught people how to use the other plants,” as Ernesto explained. It is a very special honor to diet with that plant.

A dieta with a plant entails partaking in a very limited diet, abstaining from many pleasurable activities, and a desire to look within. Finding a bond with the plant that can from then on help guide the person on dieata. The evening I was given the tobacco liquid to drink, I wanted to vomit it up right away, but could not. It stayed with me until the ayahuasca ceremony that had been planned for that evening. As I took my first sip, I accidentally spit it back in the face of the shaman who handed it to me. She found this funny. I did not.

I was determined to keep a dose down so I went back for a second cup immediately. I made it back to my mat and promptly vomited it out on my feet. A third dose was needed to get the ball rolling that night. I kept it down well and sat on my mat, upright proud of myself. It was then that I heard the most beautiful voice I had heard. It sounded like an angel. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it now. The voice belonged to one of the owners/ facilitators, a Russian lady.  I didn’t realize that she sang during ceremonies on occasion.  So, the beauty of her song had an even more profound effect coming as a surprise. I felt extreme gratitude for the beauty that, even now, I can tap into. It was a true turning point for me.

The remainder of the ceremony was very cleansing for me, but not entirely light and beautiful. Nevertheless, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the darkness as I was witnessing it. I hope she releases her version of “Kali burn it all away” sometime in the near future! I know many would treasure it.

During one of my early ceremony’s, I remember asking ayahuasca for proof. After I drank the brew, I saw a vision of an elephant over the mat of one of the other participants. This particular vision was very striking and seemed to be actually in the room. It was standing over the mat for the entire ceremony and didn’t move. The next day during our talks in group, the person who’s mat the elephant was standing over, described his experience. He said he had spent the entire night on elephant back in India. I was still skeptical to any kind of proof, but it was a compelling occurrence. Looking back I believe this was Ayahuasca’s way of attempting to convince me to trust the medicine, in a gentle way.

The center I had chosen had invited a reporter from the Wall Street journal to observe a couple of the other participants during a ceremony. They where war veterans suffering from PTSD. The article was published about a year later.  His take on the situation was skeptical at best. It was a fair article for someone who was convinced to drink via ultimatum (or stay outside the maloka). This was the proposal offered by myself and a couple other participants that didn’t like the idea of having a stone sober reporter in our midst while drinking a powerful concoction ourselves.

The night he spent with us was the most insane night I spent in the jungle. There was another participant among us who had chosen to drink quite a bit and by his own words thought the facilitators where Jaguars trying to kill him. So, he went ballistic and ripped up the entire bathroom with very loud crashes. I can still hear his screams as he ran circles around the maloka. It was very intimidating to say the least, as I hallucinated on my mat.

They eventually got him into the shower and hosed him down, which tends to improve the situation. I was a wreck the next morning because I was certain it was my fault he had drank so much. The previous day, we had been talking and I suggested he should drink as much as he liked. I was ready to pack up and go because I thought the shamans where just there to take our money and didn’t really care about us.

I was essentially having a nervous breakdown. Perhaps this was due to the medicine still in effect. Or, perhaps due to the strain of a dieta. The shamans made a snack for me out of ginger paste and honey, which they prayed over before offering it to me.They doused my hair in lemongrass water and sang some songs for me. The facilitators heard all my concerns and convinced me to stay. I felt much better somehow. The reporter left and I was committed to staying for the next two weeks. The man attacked by jaguars the night before had a sore hand from bashing the sink off the wall but he was remarkably happy! He was glad that had happened to him. It was all very strange for me.

The next night, I took a small dose and did not purge at all. I think about how much I dislike this place as I sit there in the heat with tons of bug bites all over me. I don’t want to stay a moment longer, but I do. I drink nasty liquids and eat dieta food, sweat and moan. Trying to “heal.” I am not at all convinced it is going to be effective. I ask and ask and I get no answers, I think. I was given the advice by one of the facilitators that when I have these kinds of thoughts that I am supposed to, “talk to the feelings nicely and ask them to go to the light.” This is the best advice I had received. I try to do this. I don’t think anything is working.

The ceremony takes place and is very peaceful. At one point I have a vision of many many eyes, like a screen or web of eyes all over my field of vision. It quickly goes away just as soon as it came. I later write, “this process is nothing short of torture for me.” The heat and insects seemed so intense to me that night that I was convinced this was very similar to hell if not the place itself. The next day in group share I tell of the web of eyes, the feelings of frustration, and feeling very tired with hand and shoulder pain. The shaman said he would “clean the eyes.” He also gave me a fresh, crushed ginger massage mixture for my hands and shoulder. It was very hot feeling on the skin for hours after, but it did help the pain quite a lot.

Prior to ceremony that evening, a facilitator offered a special circle for women. It was about the womb. I chose to attend. It was a beautiful gathering with her leading a focused recitation of the following words, “The womb is not a place to store fear and pain. The womb is a place to create and give birth to life.” These words we all spoke in turn while focusing on that area of our own body. This set the tone for the ceremony nicely. Something about the repetition and group focus on one “positive” idea made a difference in my domineer. As I drank, I saw a visual of the earth as one gigantic womb. I purged at the first song then laid back for the ride. I immediately saw geometric shapes. Soon after, I was experiencing the Nevada desert in my mind. It was more beautiful than real life. I was very thankful for getting to experience that.

Someone had a loud purge which drew me out of the trance. My neighbor then had the most annoying purge and I could smell it. It was so bad that I had to leave the room. I was a bit tortured with heat and back pain for quite some time. I was eventually able to settle back down and saw some of my friends faces appear in front of me. It were as if they where coming for a visit. I felt very loved and extreme amounts of love for others. Eventually the ceremony was over. I could not get up and some wonderful person brought me an apple. Ladies gathered around me and so did Aya the cat. We had a conversation as I struggled to regain my ability to walk. Eventually I was able to walk and made my way to the bathroom. I slept well that night. The next day I told about the geometric shapes, seeing friends faces, going to the desert and feelings of gratitude and love, but also annoyance. I described feeling more at peace than I have in months. Also complained of a sore shoulder and hands. The shaman told me I was walking towards the light and was doing a good job. He said he was going to clean the anger and annoyance.

The next ceremony was very hard for me, maybe the hardest. I wrote in my journal the following day that I didn’t even want to think about the prior night. The heat was so intense that it drove me down into the most intense dark thoughts I have ever experienced. I was thinking about why what is was happening to me. Why do I deserve to suffer this way? What have I done in my life to deserve this hell?

I tried so hard to connect to the light. I saw my friend’s face in a vision and broke down in tears for gratitude. I thought about my dog who had died. I had a vision of his face and his image was distorted in an eery way. The memory was extremely painful. I had a feeling on my skin and a visual of having snakes crawling on my legs. It didn’t really bother me. It was just how things where at the time. I had snakes crawling on myself and I hated myself for so many reasons. I thought that I should not be here now, in this place. I begged “please help me enjoy this.” I begged the dark thoughts to go to the light. Gradually, I began to feel a bit cooler.

I hated myself for not asking for help. I felt so isolated and alone. I never want to have that experience again. The next day I told the shamans at group share about the snakes and the feelings of sorrow. I describe feeling like giving up. I ask “How is having all these negative thoughts amplified supposed to help me heal?” The shamans say “feel the beauty of the sorrow, stick with the process. Trick her the same way she tries to trick you.” These pieces of advice did nothing for me at the time but looking back on it now, I find them very wise.

Because of my general state of despair and because some other people had expressed interest, a facilitator offered to put together a San Pedro ceremony a few days after the last aya ceremony. I believe this was mostly for my benefit because she thought I could use its heart opening medicine at this juncture. It’s actually advised by some, that people suffering from depression take San Pedro prior to ayahuasca. I might agree with that after having the experience I had. Therefore, I decided not to drink Aya at the following ceremony as to be physically strong enough for the San Pedro the following morning. This turned out to be a very good decision. I got to witeness the next ceremony sober, and fortify myself for San Pedro.

The next day we visited the neighboring village of Libertad. I had brought some watercolor paints and paper to donate to the school. I brought them along with some toys and candy for the kids. The village had a little market set up for us filled with hand made items they had for sale. When I presented my gift to the village, I was directed to give them to the oldest woman who then decided who should receive the gift. A man with a huge bright smile was the lucky recipient. Seeing his face when he was holding the paints touched my heart. It was a beautiful moment of human connection. I wish I could one day see some of his paintings.

As I prepared for the San Pedro Ceremony I thought about what I was grateful for. They included the existence of the facilitator,  gratitude for the maloka itself (what a beautiful building we are able to sit inside of) and for the kindness of strangers. That truly is one of the best things about life. I then gave some thought to my intentions as I prepared to drink. I intended to accomplish several things that seemed at the time impossible. To heal my heart, to experience and know joy and to find proof/faith in the spiritual world. My writing about my San Pedro experience after the fact was very optimistic. I wrote, “The beautiful day: A fantastic evening of sleep and happy dreams was followed by the most beautiful day.”

San Pedro cactus drink

I drank a thick liquid of San Pedro cactus around noon with several other people in the middle of the jungle in the Amazon rainforest. The beauty of the medicine was evident very quickly as I was able to see the nature around me in a way I haven’t before in this location. I elaborate about termite mounds, butterflies, rainstorms and wind chimes, which blew in a perfect way. As the San Pedro started to kick in, a rainstorm came across the hot landscape. It was most welcome. I took advice of a fellow participant and decided to walk in the rain. It was a lovely moment I will not forget. I wrote, “the leaves where blown in impossible ways. Up and levitated. Flipping and sideways.”

We where playing with Riki, the baby Pygmy marmoset, when the fruit salad arrived. It was delicious after a morning of no breakfast. I ate it with joy. Riki had some too as he climbed on the head of any human he could. Soon, it was time to go on a little San Pedro adventure the facilitator had planned. We all went down river in the boat together to visit a place with giant lily pads. We arrived and parked the boat at the rivers edge. There was a small painted sign that indicted this was the place to see lily pads.

I will remember the sound of the birds at this lily pad pond. One in particular sounded like a drop of water falling into a bucket. It was very unusual. Others where indescribable. We all took photos and chatted about the glorious water lilies. As we made our departure from the water lily pads, we noticed a boat floating down the river, unmanned. We collectively decided to help out the owners (a couple of ladies who were selling their art by the river). We took our boat downstream and rescued the wayward vessel. The owners where very thankful for the kindness. I imagine getting the boat back would have been impossible, or at least quite difficult. Life on the amazon river certainly has its challenges.

We headed back to the center accompanied by pink river dolphins. Soon after arriving back, it was time for diner. We all ate with gusto. We enjoyed some socialization and shared our experiences on San Pedro. I said something like,  “a beautiful night of rest was followed by a beautiful day. The rain, the lilies, the people, where all so perfect. I enjoyed smiling and being happy.” People told me it was good to see me smile. Apparently not something the group was much accustomed to see appear on my face.

I made my way to bed, listening to music as I drifted off to sleep. When I woke, I had a sense of peace and resignation about Aya. I was thinking, “I can just ask her to heal me or to just give me what I need and I can do my best to move through her challenges with grace.” It was a simple but new thought for me. I reminded myself that everything is temporary and all things flow and flux. These simple thoughts where very comforting. My mind had been stuck in a negative loop for so long. This thought pattern was very new and welcomed.

Another week went by so there was an influx of new faces and some people went on to do good in the world. I recall being unwilling to give any advice to the new comers. I felt that I didn’t have any useful information to share with them. Several of them did seem nervous. By this time, I was feeling much more comfortable with the process and could feel more at ease welcoming new people to sit beside me during ceremony.

The weather was cooler due to a beautiful rain that day. Soon after we drank our doses, the candles where blown out. We sat in the quiet darkness, listening to the sounds of the jungle. Out of nowhere, one of the new guys engaged in some unusual chatter. I found it amusing. “If you stretch a little bit you can swim like a dolphin!” He said loudly. “His middle name is Steven. It’s a great name!” Then the ever memorable, “left, Left, Left!! I’m going right!”

I remember telling one of the facilitators after the ceremony that the disruption didn’t bother me at all. Fortunately, my logical mind was able to win out. The talkative fellow was also very active with a lot of trips up, down and out of the maloka. It was a bit nerve racking as he actually jumped over one of the participants who was laying on their mat. Later I learned that someone had their face stepped on. That would not be a fun experience while on aya. The facilitators were on it, as usual. They where there by his side, helping him to work through his confusion.

My intention for this particular ceremony was to eliminate my PTSD.  I later wrote, “I got the message that it’s never going away. That it is a gift to help me to help other people.” I was strangely at peace with this concept. I had been on a strict dieta for almost two weeks which was lifted for me just before the San Pedro ceremony (San Pedro can not be taken when dieting with a plant). That was heavy on my mind.

I was asking Aya, “what is the purpose of this? Why do we need to abstain from sex, salt, oil, sugar, and spice when bonding with a plant?” The answer I got was that the brain must be retrained to receive the majority of the dopamine from other people. Connecting with their minds. Instead of from outside factors. And that in essence, a diet is a way to connect with the “mind” of a plant. This abstaining allows for a deeper and more lucid connection between minds existing on very different planes. I also got the message that the ultimate goal of connection with “minds” (plants and people) is to learn how to be of service to others.  Through this, we heal ourselves. Because one can not heal someone else without also healing one’s self.

Later in the ceremony I got the message that I need to be a facilitator for Aya ceremonies in Asheville. Aya very much would like to reach out of the jungle to wherever she can help. The idea of being a facilitator in an Aya ceremony filled me with apprehension. I felt that I would not be up to that task, not “good” enough. But the message was relentless. Telling me, “nope, sorry. That is what’s going to happen, so get prepared.” Two years later and I still have not given this serious thought. Maybe I would consider it one day, far into the future, if I gain decades of experience with the medicine. I think many people who drink Aya get a message from the plant that they need to help her spread. It seems to be a common theme she has. I got the impression that there is a very strong will behind this plant that is determined to spread to every corner of the globe.

The ceremony closed and the candles were lit. I was laying on my mat afterwards just staring at the ceiling dreamily and I saw a Jaguar appear at the top of the maloka. It was walking up there on some wood beams, in a circle. Every time I looked up, there it was, walking in a circle. The next day we discussed our experiences and the shamans told me that aya is testing me by saying that the PTSD is going to stay. They made a resolution to “clean the PTSD and center me more.”  Also, the leopard I saw at the top of the maloka really impressed them. They said I was very connected to the medicine if I was able to see that.  It was a protection spell that Ernesto had placed on the maloka as he was getting ready to go to bed. I found that fascinating. He seemed genuinely surprised and impressed that I could see it.

The next evening brought another ayahuasca ceremony, number ten for me. I drank the smallest dose again with the thought in mind, “I will be centered.” My other goal was to eliminate the PTSS. However, I remained unattached to that outcome. I felt, “if it can go, good. If not, fine. Whatever.” After drinking the Aya, I immediately felt very tired. So, I made myself comfortable and really enjoyed being in a more rested position. Usually I forced myself to sit up for as long as possible.

I was very deep in relaxation when I was arose from the musci my neighbor was playing on his headphones, very loudly. Everyone around could hear it. I complained to one of the facilitators who asked him to turn it off. Then, he turned it back on a little while later and I complained again. He complained a lot about turning it off, but finally did. In the peace that followed, I revisited all my aya experiences and all the advice I had gotten from the staff over the past month. I suddenly had an overwhelming sense that I never have to do this again! “I am done!!” I wrote in my journal. The only way I can describe it is that I graduated.

I had a vision of turning into a bird and soaring very high in the sky with the other birds. It was a beautiful vision. I got a feeling deep inside me that I never have to worry about my future. All I have to do is do what brings me joy. That’s it. If I don’t want to do something, just don’t. “If you no longer get joy from something, just stop doing it,” I wrote. Then, I had to use the toilet and as I was walking back in, the ceremony was over. I was so happy! The following day during discussion, the shaman said he would sing for me the Icaro of love and put the Arcana on me. As I described my experience, everyone clapped and cheered! We all thanked God that I had come through onto the other side of all that darkness. There was papalpable sense of celebration among the participants. It was very touching to know that they where interested in my outcome.

My intention for ceremony eleven was to feel and know “love.” I spent the first few moments after drinking thinking about positive attributes of everyone in the room. I wrote several reasons why this was quite challenging in my journal. But, I was able to actually find good qualities about everyone in the room with me. And, I felt genuine love for all of them despite their annoying actions.

As the ceremony began, I remained focused on my “fuck that” meditation. I kept repeating in my head “these douche bags can’t get under my skin. No one can fuck with a purity like this.” Then, I was swallowed by a giant snake in a very intense vision. The snake came at me trying to look scary but I remained calm. After I was inside the snake, I saw a river of lights surrounded by glittering flowers. I kept seeing tons of flowers dancing for quite some time. They eventually turned into fruits. This seemed to last a very long time. Eventually, I needed to use the toilet so I went outside and noticed the stars where incredible. I had never seen stars like that. The rest of the night I was content listening to the icaros. Ernesto sang  the song of love to me which was very sweet and blissful. This was not like many of the other icaros, which could be very jarring. After the ceremony was over, I felt wide eyed, like a baby, very content. The following day the shamans said the serpent was mother Aya and that she was taking me into her stomach just as I had taken her into mine. Very interesting.

There was only one more opportunity for an ayahuasca ceremony left during my stay. I decided that I did not want to drink, but would rather get as much rest as possible for my journey home. I slept in my room until it was time for my icaro. I had dreams of going to a party at a water park. I can still remember this two years later. I woke up just in time for my icaro. I had the Arcana placed on me. I was done. I was extremely ready to go home and simultaneously extremely thankful for everyone who had put up with me and helped me along the way. Needless to say, I was in high spirits for my trip home which made for a smooth homecoming.

Two years later, almost exactly, I sit here finishing this. I am happy to report that the repetitive, intrusive thoughts I was experiencing, never came back! They have actually gone. The symptoms of the autoimmune disorder have never returned also! My ring size has decreased at least two sizes due to the swelling in my hands decreasing. I have not had to take any prescription medications to manage pain or anything else since my trip. I never went back to the doctors I was seeing because I was (and still am) feeling so well!

I was receiving disability benefits, but made the call to tell them I am better now and no longer need the help. This was confusing for the staff at disability because apparently that is very rare, but it made me very happy to do it! I have gained strength in every part of my body over the last two years. My self confidence has improved and so has my shape because I don’t take medications that lead to weight gain anymore. I practice yoga almost daily. It’s become something I crave and have deep feelings of love for. I credit yoga for a lot of the symptoms staying away but my trip to Peru was certainly the catalyst for the healing I experienced.

I believe the feeling of genuine concern that Ernesto had for me is a huge reason I had a positive healing experience. The love I felt by the facilitators and the genuine concern coming from the person doing the healing made a huge difference in my life. It’s the love that heals. I think I could have been healed in this way without ever drinking the brew. There are many ways to enlightenment and healing. Traveling to the jungle to drink Ayahuasca is one way that the modern human can find the sort of healing that ancient peoples had access to. The kind of healing reliant on honest feelings of compassion and love. The kind of healing that is rare if not impossible to find in the modern hospital or psychiatric unit. I believe one could find the same answers in other ways such as mediation and service to others. However, that is not a path that is laid out as neatly as the one that goes to Peru.

I learned truth doesn’t need you to believe in it to exist. I didn’t believe Aya would help me. I hoped she would but I did not believe it. I was told numerous times during my stay to “trust the medicine.” I was unable to do that and I was still healed. She helped me. They helped me. I helped myself when I didn’t think it was possible. Belief is not necessary for something to be truly beneficial to you.

I also learned the humor is absolutely paramount to enjoying life. Looking for the jokes that life lays out in front of me on a daily basis is now a past time that I relish. Without a sense of humor, life is possibly pointless.

If you are thinking about pursuing plant medicine as a healing modality, consider your reasons for doing so. If you are truly sick and in need of healing that no one  in your area has been able to provide, then consider it. From my understanding, healing with Ayahuasca does not require one to drink it. It is possible to achieve healing without even taking the brew one’s self, but having the shaman drink in your presence. He can then ask the plant what will heal you because often it’s not always the Aya that heals.

It sometimes points the healer in the right direction of a plant that will heal. For me, that plant was Mapacho, something I was repulsed by and actively avoided during much of my stay in Peru. I was given the assignment to smoke the herb at least weekly after my dieta. I am to blow the smoke on all of my limbs, head, stomach and back creating a protective layer. I am still not very fond of the taste of the herb but I do my homework as assigned. This is perplexing to many people in America who associate any form of tobacco with cancer and death. For me it is a medicine and an old friend. I ask him questions and actually feel the presence of an old man when I communicate with him.

Writing this was very difficult. I am making this story public in order to help someone who is considering their options for overcoming trauma. Possibly someone who was also diagnosed with Complex PTSD. I would like it if someone who is suffering, reads this story, and gains a little bit of hope. I did not have much of that when I left for Peru two years ago. Pass it along to anyone who may benefit from reading my experience.

I would like to thank everyone I came in contact with over the course of this transition. Plants, animals, and humans alike! Each and every one of you contributed something to the process. Thank you.