Saturday, March 21, 2015

What the Medicine has Taken from Me

"Getting rid of a delusion makes us wiser than getting hold of the truth."

- Ludwig Borne

Understandably, we tend to focus on the things that a spiritual path gives us. Peace. Centeredness. Compassion. Transcendence. Acceptance. Love. 

We are less inclined to point out that which it takes away.

One of the hallmarks of humanity is our adaptability. We have settled almost everywhere on the planet: from Greenland to the Sahara; from the Andes to the rainforest; from neolithic villages to polluted cities with 20 million inhabitants. We have lived as hunter-gatherers, as subsistence farmers, as tradesmen, as artists, as factory workers, as computer programmers, as soldiers, as criminals. We have savored life lived in true spiritual community. We have resigned ourselves to guard duty at Auschwitz. Perhaps we have even enjoyed it.

Given enough time and repetition, anything can come to seem normal.

This presents a terrible dilemma to those who have experienced severe trauma. Our natural state as human beings is freedom, love, joy, curiosity, connectedness. Sustained negative experience that we are powerless to stop, such as childhood abuse, incarceration, rape, and war, turns this basic reality on its head.

Another defining feature of humanity is our need to make sense of our surroundings. If our world makes sense, then it is not accidental. If it is not accidental, then we can hope to exert some sort of control over it.

Thus, when we find ourselves trapped in an unbearable situation, the thought eventually takes root: somehow I must have caused this. I deserve this. And if I deserve this, I most certainly do not deserve freedom, love, joy, or connectedness.

Thought begets action.

I know that as a boy experiencing severe, full-spectrum abuse, I explained it by taking responsibility for it. I coped with it by finding ways of leaving my body: fantasy; refined sugar; violent imagery; pornography; rage; music; alcohol; street drugs. That these methods were usually shrouded in secrecy fit perfectly with my belief that I was a shameful creature who had no place in the light.

AA and the 12 Steps did a great job of removing the substances from my life. They were pretty easy, really: they were outside of me. I received a shock after a couple of years sober when I realized that my real addiction was to my own body chemistry: the hits of adrenaline and dopamine I received throughout the day from secret lust, or righteous judgment, or morbid preoccupation, or a fit of rage.

Just how deep the roots of that disease went were beyond my power to comprehend. Just how high a price they exacted from my soul was unknown to me.

They were also beyond the power of the Steps to heal. I worked the 12 Steps on my porn addiction for almost four years. I got a lot of value from it. Admitting my shame in a public forum reduced its power over me; hearing stories similar to my own let me know I was not alone; writing inventories and inviting God into my sexuality began the process of healing that part of my being.

Unfortunately, those things did not actually grant me sobriety from the behavior. Last May I flew down to Peru with about 3 weeks clean from pornography. After my last slip I felt a wild, superstitious terror engulf me: Mother Ayahuasca would see through me as a fraud and a charlatan and punish me horribly for demeaning the feminine principle in such a coarse, vulgar way. Sheer fright kept me clean those last weeks.

In Peru I drank ayahuasca 7 times. It had some really obvious results: all of the emotional catharsis and insight; the profound sense of healing in ways I'd never felt it; a self-love that I had been unable to imagine; a powerful new awareness of my own strength and resilience.

The things that left me took longer to notice. Pornography topped the list. A lifelong habit, or one that spanned back to at least puberty, was simply lifted from me. I still can't fully explain it. The closest I can come to articulating it is to say that its true cost was revealed to me, and I could finally see that that cost far outweighed the fleeting rush I had sought for so many years. My compulsion to use it has been removed.

Others were just as significant:

1. My (lifelong) preoccupation with warfare (books, movies, documentaries, museums, anything available) has left me. Within 2 weeks of my return, I got rid of a stack of books on World War II and the Holocaust. On the advice of my shaman, I picked one of the darkest ones and burned it. Again, I can't explain it. I just lost my taste for it.

2. I completely lost interest in firearms. For some dark, subterranean reason I had begun amassing a collection of them over the last few years. I'm no longer interested in expanding it. Sold one, haven't touched the rest in months, don't know if I will again.

3. I am far less likely to indulge anger and judgment in my daily life. From chance encounters with rude motorists to dealings with my ex-wife, I seldom feel inclined to give into rage. This one isn't completely gone yet, but it's a lot better than it was.

I could expand the list quite a bit, but you get the idea. The coping mechanisms that I cobbled together as a boy to survive my nightmarish circumstances no longer serve me as a grown man. I had known this for years, but before my encounters with the medicine I had had pretty poor luck in ridding myself of them.

Ayahuasca changed all that for me. Drastically. I can almost imagine her as a gardener, pulling out all of the weeds that have choked my blossoms for as long as I can remember. The process is painful and beautiful and magical and almost more than I can bear. The trouble is that these patterns became so ingrained in me that I thought they were me. Having them ripped out of me feels like losing parts of myself. In fact, it is: the lower self that I constructed in order to survive is being completely demolished, making room for a Higher Self that I can only dimly conceive.

I can't wait to meet him.

God bless you, whoever you are.

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