Hurt people hurt people. When I first heard this statement it took about 15 seconds to process the message and meaning. Once I comprehended it I came to realize at a very deep level how true this is for essentially every person on the planet, including me. So what? What does that mean? For me it meant that from my first memories, from around age 4 through my young adulthood, I was exposed to severe abuse psychologically, physically and sexually by my parents and their friends. I was removed from the custody of one of my parents by the court system at age 14. Restraining orders were involved. The court also ordered I attend one year of mandatory weekly counseling sessions (I gratefully credit this for why I did not end up on drugs or dead). My custodial parent begrudgingly took me to my therapy sessions. It was through this early intervention of my damaged psyche that I learned that self inquiry was not only important, but essential.
How does this type of abuse manifest in someone’s life? I think it is different for each person, sort of like our own personal slice of hell created in our minds. For me, I always felt like I was in prison with all these demons and ghosts as sort of prison guards. I was the only person alive in this prison, which of course made it all the more terrifying that these specters and evil creatures could drop by at any time to remind me of the helplessness and hopelessness that can only be delivered upon you by the two human beings who are supposed to love, care and protect you the most. Innocence stolen. All I could interpret was that I was not worthy of being loved. I was bad so evil things were perpetrated upon me. Therapy, over the years, was the only thing that kept me hanging on by a very thin thread. Later into my adulthood a therapist told me my diagnosis: I had anxiety disorder and PTSD with bouts of severe depression. I was put on ever-increasing doses of Zoloft, until I finally reached a therapeutic enough dosage that I was able to function at a reasonably “normal” level.
My career choice should not be too surprising, as lots of folks with childhood trauma move into care taking roles. It ended up being the only place I felt strong, in control, worth more than the garbage I was led to believe I was all those years before. The problem came when someone in a place of authority pushed against my values. My responses ranged from emotional instability, yelling and crying to full withdrawal from life. Reactions are not based in the present, but rather a sort of teleport back to the nightmare visions and feelings associated with the trauma. Not quite the professional image I was going for.
As for my personal life, I could not get out of the habit of picking the same person with a different name and face. My partners were angry, abusive, addicts, and just as hurt as I was for their own reasons. I am not innocent in my past relationships. The things I did and said to people I “loved” where awful. Again, hurt people hurt people. I won’t make excuses for my actions or decisions. What I will say is they were a cry for help and attention, and most of all for the love that was never experienced or realized. Not that I understood what love even was at that point. I often thought of myself as an animal backed into a corner trying to fight for my survival.
In 2009 I made a life changing decision. I was living with an alcoholic boyfriend of four years working in a New York operating room on the cardiac team. I was working ridiculous hours on call and my life was pure shit. I had thought about suicide to the point of asking to stay at a friend’s house because she had a garage. I never shared that plan with her of course. The plan was simple, I could close the garage door, start the engine and be free from the pain, like acid that was continuously pumping through my veins. There was no other way I saw to escape. With all hope nearing its end, I called my therapist at the time and left what I am sure was an insane sounding message. He called me back within minutes and I just started screaming at him asking why I was like this. How could he let me get like this? How could he not have told me how incredibly broken I was? It was quite literally a turning point in my life. Dr. Grey helped me get though the acute episode but I am fairly certain he was close to having me declared a danger to myself and committing me.
Once my head cleared some, I could see I needed to make some changes in my life. Due to a strange but fortuitous series of events I ended up with an opportunity. I packed my car with my dog, clothes and shoes and drove myself across the country to San Diego for a last minute travel contract. I walked away from everything. Actually, I fucking ran. I am never a big proponent for running away from your problems, but I knew I needed space and a new start. I saw it is a chance to wipe the slate clean. I knew exactly one person where I was going and that worked for me.
I won’t pretend that I lived happily ever after in San Diego. In fact I had brought all of my baggage and behaviors with me, but the act of physically separating myself from the abuse of my parents and people I had chosen to surround myself with allowed me to start to re-imagine myself and my life. It was the first time I started to feel like I was living vs. surviving. That created enough space for me to go further down a path of self inquiry. I was connected to a great therapist who specifically dealt with PTSD. I got promoted at work to a nurse supervisor, then to nurse manager. I was still picking crappy guys, but they were not as crappy, lol. I eventually decided to quit dating all together for 18 months. I wanted to know who I was without trying to be someone for somebody else. I didn’t know what I liked to do or where I liked to eat without someone telling me. I didn’t have any hobbies that belonged to me. I had no clue who I was. I cherish the time I took for myself and recommend it to anyone struggling and feeling lost in a cycle of bad relationships. When I did start dating again, after kissing a couple more frogs, I found my husband Mike. I can honestly tell you this is not a perfect man, but he is 100% perfect for me. We took our time getting to know each other. Friends first. He showed me through his eyes how worthy I was of the love he gives me. It healed me enough to go further, reach for more.
I obtained my Master’s of Science in Nursing in June of 2018. Looking for my next opportunity for growth I decided to start doing research into a plant medicine called ayahuasca I had heard about several years before. There were all sorts of anecdotal stories out there about how it could significantly reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD. You would think I would be like, SIGN ME UP! The problem that comes with it is that is a psychedelic, and was not legal in the US at the time. So in order to do it, I would have to get on a plane, fly to somewhere in the Amazon and drink this hallucinogenic tea with a bunch of strangers. Talk about a triggering a panic attack. The thing was, I had worked so hard and made so much of my life so good, but fear was still hanging over me like a dense fog. Mike and I couldn’t go to the county fair without me scanning the exits, looking for the biggest male threats in the crowds and imaging the worst case scenario every time we went out. It wasn’t logical but it was real. If there was even the small possibility this plant medicine could alleviate some of this pain and fear I figured it was worth the risk.
I had finally gotten to the point where I approached the subject of plant medicine with Mike, who’s initial reaction was “absolutely not!” LOL! He had no interest in going with me, which made it so much harder for me to think about going. Eventually, after doing much research about facilities and programs, together we found one that was very immersive and structured and made us both feel safe. I ended up going to a place called Rythmia Life Advancement Center in Costa Rica in October of 2018. What we liked about the place was 1) there is a medical director (American doctor with incredible credentials) and a medical staff 24/7; 2) you have to have a physical when you arrive; 3) there is a program built around the plant medicine ceremonies to support the process; and 4) too much to actually list so I included a link above. I have no professional connection with Rythmia and receive no compensation for including the link, whether you click on it or not. I just feel so strongly about what they do and how positively their process has impacted my life, I wanted to share with anyone who is curious.
Passport in hand, I boarded the plane to Costa Rica on a Saturday morning. I cried from lift off to landing from fear of facing my demons, fear of it not working, fear of it working and me not knowing who I am without all my baggage. You get the idea. The gentleman sitting next to me must have thought someone died, or I was dying. If he only knew. It didn’t help that part of drinking ayahuasca is that you have to be off certain medications prior to taking the plant medicine, so I was off of Zoloft for 30 days prior to my trip. I worked with my primary care physician and a therapist to help me through this period because I figured it would be unpleasant to say the least. Also, as a nurse, I was really concerned about the idea of going to the rain forest and drink an unknown substance that is said to cause hallucinations and strong purgative effects. I wanted any and all of my doctors to know what I was planning in case something crazy happened to me after I got back. Like I said, full of fear.
When we landed, I made it through customs and picked up my luggage with no issues and a lovely man with a Rythmia sign was waiting for me and some other passengers from the flight. He drove us to the gated property about 90 minutes from the Liberia airport. I checked in, dropped off my luggage and went to dinner. Most of the people I met while I was there, about 70 guests total, were first timers and as terrified as I was. I thought there would be some strange characters but mostly the group were professional people, including some doctors, some engineers and accountants. There was a big mix of cultures and folks from different countries. Predominantly women, I would say about 75%. We spent the next two days getting to know each other and going to all sorts of classes to start introducing us to plant medicine and the Rythmia way. There was a lot of work and support provided to get us all ready for the first ceremony on Monday night.
Guests are invited to attend a total of four plant medicine (ayahuasca) ceremonies, Monday through Thursday night. They strongly recommend, no matter how hard it gets, that you attend all four ceremonies and specific workshops during the day to help you process everything you are experiencing. Thank god they have so many people there to help us process what we were experiencing or I would have been on the first plane out of there Tuesday morning. I do not want too go to deeply into what happened for me during ceremony that first night because it would not make sense to anyone but me. Every person that works with plant medicine will have journeys that are specific to what they are trying to heal and no two journeys are ever the same. What I will tell you is I saw a vision of the physical manifestation of my 40 years of deeply embedded self loathing. I saw that I was literally suffocating in self hatred, drowning in it. The medicine showed me that my whole life I had seen myself through this hate-filled lens and it colored every action I did and every word I said.
Once I saw this I was set free from it during ceremony and I have never felt it come back. I saw my father in the first ceremony and was able to not only forgive him but be completely free of any emotional tie to him from that moment forward. I was released from jail, no parole, nothing. Since that night I have tried to pull up the memories of some of the horrors and terror I experienced at his hands with no success. I know what happened to me – I will never forget – but I was no longer tied to it, it was no longer of consequence to me or how I lived my life. My forgiveness of my father had very little to do with him and everything to do with me being free. It was what I went down to Costa Rica for. It was what I had been hoping, praying for. I have not taken anxiety medication since the trip and I have not had a single symptom or recurrence of my PTSD, depression or anxiety since. It was the hardest experience of my life and shook me to my core. It was so profoundly life changing for me that I was overwhelmed and did not know if I could handle another ceremony. I went to the plant integration class that day, all the while planning on calling the airline at lunch to book an earlier flight home. What I found out at class was that most of the group was feeling the exact same way I was. We were confused, exhausted, sad, angry. It was a full house of emotion, but somehow being surrounded by all those folks working on healing themselves and knowing that we were all in it together made it tolerable for me to go to the second ceremony that night.
I went in to the second night’s ceremony shaking like a leaf. The voice in my head had the volume up to 11 trying to get me to not do this crazy thing. I went anyway. I drank again. I closed my eyes and went along on a journey that ended up healing my shattered heart. I literally have a memory of watching my broken heart healing and being placed whole and strong back into my chest. My whole world was full of love and gratitude. It is, to this day, the most profoundly life-changing thing I have ever experienced. I wept with gratitude. I was so glad I had the courage to walk back through the door. I had gotten so much more than I could have possibly dreamed of.
My third night in ceremony was epic and indescribable in its beauty. I won’t even try to paint a picture. All I can say is that it is my deep wish that every person on this planet will get the chance to experience this incredible healing in some way for themselves. My fourth night in ceremony was quiet and peaceful. It was as if the medicine knew I had done so much work that what I really needed was to rest – so I did.
I continued to go to the classes and watched as all 70 of my “tribe” healed with me. We created a lasting bond in that week that has carried over long after we said our goodbyes. It was the most special thing I have ever been a part of. I got on the plane and went home. I wasn’t crying this time. In fact when I got home, Mike saw such a change in me, that he decided to see what this place was all about for himself. He booked his trip and went four months after I got back. He is still my husband, but happier and free from his own pain. I keep up a daily practice of meditation or listening to music, whatever I feel in the mood for that connects back to a place of self love. It is so easy to push yourself aside, but I am committed to myself now.
My vision and mission is that every nurse and caretaker live a life where taking care of themselves is recognized as absolutely the most important thing we can do. I learned how important this is when I took the time and put in the work to heal myself. That is why I wanted to share my story. If someone who came from a background like mine can find their way through to a place of deep self-love, then others can too. This is not to say that the only way to reach the level of healing I encountered is through plant medicine. People can get there through creative processes like art and music or prayer and meditation. The thing is, the only way to get there is to make a decision to put yourself first. Love yourself enough to allow yourself the time and space to heal. This is my wish for you and everyone.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or even to share your own story of healing. I would love to listen.