Saturday, June 17, 2017

On the Antidepressant Qualities of Ayahuasca

This last weekend I had the chance to drink ayahuasca, and so I did. It marked the 70th time that I have done so. The gratitude I feel for this opportunity can't be expressed with human language - the opportunity to truly learn myself and the Universe, simply by drinking this divine, foul-tasting brew. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

I tend to focus a lot in this blog on the spiritual and emotional aspects of my recovery from PTSD. These are paramount for me. But another, subtler transformation is also being wrought by ayahuasca - the healing of my brain chemistry. This is something that feels like it's been happening in the background the entire time. Neural paths have been re-rerouted. Diseased matter has been regenerated. Chemical levels have been normalized. New connections have been formed.

A primary effect of this is that my depression is being lifted from me. It's so profound a change that it is very difficult to tabulate or comprehend. It's not that I have new furniture, or a new house to put it in, or a new piece of land on which to place it all. It's more basic than that. The air I breathe is different. The ground I walk on is not the same. The stars that adorn my sky have been totally reconfigured. My relationship to the world is new.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a really gorgeous poem describing a "world of lament" that featured "ein Klage-Himmel mit entstellten Sternen" - "a lament-heaven with disfigured stars".

This poem has always spoken to me, particularly this stanza:

        "....a whole world of lament arose, in which
        all nature reappeared: forest and valley,
        road and village, field and stream and animal;
        and ... around this lament-world, even as
        around the other earth, a sun revolved
        and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-
        heaven, with its own, disfigured stars...."

I, too, have had my own separate world, distinct from the worlds inhabited by my fellows. A world created almost entirely by trauma, neglect, and emotional poverty. It was made by others, but ultimately embraced by me. I didn't know what else to do.

In terms of brain chemistry and mood, my world looked like constant, more-or-less severe clinical depression. But those are just words. They cannot convey the reality of what it is like to live in that state. The hopelessness of it. The despair. The heartbreak. The exhaustion. The longing for release, by any means at all.

When I went to meetings I used to often hear people say "How you feel isn't important, it's what you do that counts." And my response was "Yeah, well, maybe for you. You try feeling this way for a week and then get back to me."

I was, louvado seja Deus nas alturas, never really inclined to suicide. But I understood it when others did that. Even though it frightened me and angered me and I would sometimes lash out in my heart at them, I knew why they did it. Now I just send them all prayers. I've felt too many of their spirits come through me and other members of our community during mediumship ceremonies. Suicide's definitely no solution. They're in a rough spot.

I got on antidepressants in my late 20s, and I stayed largely on them for 12 years. They managed my symptoms pretty well, and without too many side effects. Eventually I just got tired of being dependent on them, and so I quit.

My experiment went surprisingly well for a couple of years. I was working out like crazy, and that seemed to compensate for my lowered serotonin levels. I felt pretty good.

But then things started piling up - divorce, unemployment, other family problems. A return of major depression and severe PTSD. I quit sleeping, and I started cracking up. But there's no need describe my journey to ayahuasca, I've already done that.

What I want to talk about now is what happened after she found me. And that is, at least in terms of my mood, nothing at all. I drank 20, 30 times and got essentially no relief whatsoever from depression. I started to feel horribly bitter and betrayed - "healing" had been dangled in front of me like a carrot in front of a busted-up old mule, and then apparently yanked away before I could grab it. I wanted to kick somebody. I especially wanted to kick the author of that famous National Geographic article, the one who described how 1 ayahuasca workshop had permanently rid her of depression. What the hell was wrong with me? I felt broken beyond repair.

Again, I've already described how cannabis has given me profound relief from depression. But about a year ago, it started to become plain to me that this is more than simply a question of helping manage my symptoms and giving me short-term relief from suffering. Something else has happened, as well. It has taken a very long time, far longer than was promised, and certainly far longer than I ever wanted. But it has finally happened.

Somehow, working in conjunction, ayahuasca and marijuana together have actually re-wired my organism. Now, even when I fast from both medicines I can tell that my base mental and emotional state is far more balanced and healthy than it was before I started this work. I am less inclined to pessimism. I can actually feel joy (a rare experience indeed in my former life). I laugh a whole lot more.

I can sleep at night.

That one's huge. As I have discovered to my great cost, sleeplessness and depressed mood can very easily form a negative feedback loop that ends in psychological catastrophe. The lower your serotonin, the worse you sleep.....the worse you sleep, the lower your mood..... add that up for a few weeks and see where you end up. Scary.

A sweet and beautiful friend of mine, a man who has completed a traditional Shipibo apprenticeship in Peru, describes in a matter-or-fact way how people tend to find plant medicine in times of great disruption and crisis in their lives, and how plants serve to balance our organism during these times. Certainly that has been my experience.

Today I no longer feel the need to kick all of the ayahuasca poster children. I have become one of them. What a wonderful thing that is. I wish it for you, too.

God bless you, whoever you are.

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