“I lay there, body contorted and convulsing in pulsing waves of agony, clutching my stomach and wiping the sweat from my face for what seemed like a lifetime. In my life, I thought I had gotten to know pain well. Oh how I was fooled… for here was pain of the most visceral kind.”
Life has an unusual way of unfolding. Simple, meandering roads can suddenly become jagged crevasses, which can lead to thundering, overpowering waterfalls. Nothing is ever what it seems. Some lives remain as trapped as the fable of the frog in the well. Some as tumultuous as the stormy seas. Some as calm as a puddle on a moonlit night.
I began my path down into the deep worlds of despair just over two years ago. My younger self was a brash, cocksure, and aggressive young man who seldom backed down from a challenge. This had its ups, for I had a confidence and toughness about me that helped me weather a lot of hits. I was fairly smug in my ability to get through life’s challenges. I had a reputation for being a tough tattooed hothead with charm. But as with anything, what goes up, must inevitably fall into the chasm and smash to pieces.
And smash it did. My life began to unravel in the scariest of ways. Everything that I held dear to me seemed to fall away like grains of sand in an outstretched hand battered by the wind. My love life was ruined. My partner who I loved very dearly, left me. My family life was chaotic. My business suffered. My body that I had spent years sculpting and building succumbed to injuries. I started to lose all that hard earned muscle, and put on fat. There was not one single thing left that gave me any sense of hope. As these stories tend to go, I did what all self-respecting madmen do when times get tough. I got drinking. Alcohol has been a large part of my adult life, admittedly, but this time around, things spiralled way out of control. I’d go to work late, smelling of stale whiskey, blinking stupidly in the equatorial sunlight, booze oozing out of my sweaty pores. I went out on weekends with the sole purpose of getting inebriated and forgetting everything. I hated myself. I indulged in sex as frequently as possible. The promise of a few hours of clammy alcohol fuelled sex was an even better high than just the devil juice alone. My self respect plummeted, as did the respect that others had left in me. I was lost.
Then, the ostracisation began. The snide comments that my once-bulletproof ego used to deflect were inching their way deeper through the armour and getting closer and closer to the arteries. I found myself uninvited or not invited at all to events that I would have been previously welcome to. Rumours swirled around me, often much worse than the actual truth of the situation. People take a perverse joy in seeing others more miserable than them; and what better way to do it than to completely destroy a person’s reputation? I found myself defending what little was left of my reputation on a daily basis, which eventually led to paranoia. My best friends, the ones who would actually listen to me, the ones I could trust absolutely, were far away in other countries. I couldn’t trust anyone here… it was a small town of gossip-mongers who loved nothing more than watching others suffer whilst adding fuel to an already out of control fire.
The realisation truly hit me when I was groomsman for one of my good friend’s weddings. I found myself trapped in a strange world; incapable of voicing myself. At parties I would usually be right at the forefront, having fun as much and as hard as possible. But this time, I had lost my charm completely. Instead of having fun like the rest of them, I found myself trapped in the periphery of any conversation. I felt like I really wanted to join in, but it was almost as if a physical force prevented me from doing so. I had things that I wanted to say that I felt would add to the conversation. Except no words came out. My charm had completely deserted me, and I noticed that people started treating me differently almost immediately. I was shunned. Try and try as I might, over the course of that whole wedding which spanned a number of days, I was lost and changed for the worse.
That was it. That was enough. Isolation was the only means of escape by then. By this stage I had gotten to the point where I was totally ignoring my own business and not returning any calls. My poor staff soldiered on despite being leaderless, but not without frustration and resentment. My long suffering mother was the only family member I was left in contact with, and even then, I shut her out, preferring the company of the bottle instead.
I would spend my days passed out with a bottle in hand, and my nights spent in bed on my computer watching documentaries of a rather macabre nature. Every waking minute, my mind would be filled with all my failures, all my despair. All my hopes, dashed against the rocks. Every single mistake I had ever made seemed to be intensified. There seemed to be no way to think my way out of the mess I had landed myself in. I pondered long and hard about how I was to get myself out of there, and the only thing that came to mind was Ayahuasca. I first heard of Ayahuasca in 2008, and had been researching it quietly on my own. I can remember my first assumptions of it were rather naive and ill formed. But then again, that perception was also a result of the information available on it at the time. My understanding of it back then was that it was simply a hallucinogenic drug that allowed you to communicate with the spirits of nature. As the years went on and my understanding grew, it intrigued me more and more. I guess you could say that it was, in a sense, calling to me.
Religion had failed me long ago. As I remember it, I was a very young atheist. I have certain extended family members to thank for turning me against god. Their beliefs, I felt, were completely out of line with their actions, and I wanted nothing at all to do with that. I did have a brief “blip” in my atheism around the age of fifteen when, after an attempt on my life, I weakened, and allowed myself to be baptised. This didn’t last long though, as I noticed that God was conveniently never around when I needed him most. My teenage years were chaotic. I got myself involved in some rather heavy shit, and it was around then that I was introduced to drugs. I’m glad to say that I had the intelligence to not get addicted and fry my brains like some of my peers did. No, alcohol was my vice. It knew me well, and I found myself quite often in its loving embrace.
When I was in my early 20’s I became a rather militant atheist. “There is nothing after death!” I proclaimed, in the belief that that alone should drive a man to live an even better life in the here-and-now. Except I wasn’t. In recent years, I have been questioning the ideas behind religion and spirituality much more. Religion still failed me. None of the mainstream theistic doctrines have ever appealed to me one bit. Anything that espouses intolerance, hatred, and misogyny, seem to me to be complete failures as far as moral codes go. But I was still questioning…
It wasn’t for quite some time until I made the decision to actually commit to Ayahuasca. In the meantime I did go off on a solo excursion to Koh Phangan to somehow fix myself, but in retrospect, it was doomed to fail before I even stepped on the plane. My resolve was weak. My mind was a blur. My intention was not set. All I was doing was winding myself deeper and deeper into a maze of confusion and despair. I spent a few weeks on the northern side of the island, far away from the party scene, and I spent most of my time writing or playing with the local dog pack that adopted me as one of their own. While that freedom was nice, I found myself dreading the return back to reality. As the saying goes, you can’t run from your problems forever. A change of scenery doesn’t let you escape the mindscape in which you exist in.
I also made a trip back to New Zealand some months after that, and New Zealand is and has always been a place I consider my “spirit home”, a place where my spirit is free and happy. I had two of my best friends there, whom I always love spending time with, but even then, I felt this cavernous despair still growing inside me. Nothing I was doing was working. I found myself spending more and more time online researching Ayahuasca; absorbing every bit of material possible, whether it be articles, videos or podcasts.
When I returned home, I had gotten to the point of absolute misery and self loathing. I decided it was finally time to do something about my wretched state. My online efforts intensified as far as my research was concerned. I had found a great place to go to; considered by the Peruvian authorities as the benchmark treatment centre in the country. Blue Morpho sounded like the kind of place that I needed to go to.
“Enough is enough” I said to myself. “It’s either this or die.” While that may sound drastic, it was true. At this point I was merely existing. Not living. I’ve always been a bit of an extremist in nature… one of those “all or nothing” types that seem to only live in realms of the extreme. I felt it would be better to die than to live a life without meaning. Me, someone who had been so idealistic and passionate in his younger days, was actually saying he’d rather die than to endure another day of this misery. For someone that had always had so much fire in him before, I now felt like a wet blanket.
So I made the big decision of committing to the journey. I booked my tickets and booked the retreat. The feeling that overcame me when everything was confirmed was nothing short of amazing. I spoke to some people after the experience, and they said that the medicine starts moving things inside you from the minute you commit to it. This, I believe. In the time leading up to the trip, I felt a renewed sense of purpose. Things were finally looking less bleak. I was waking up earlier and I was showing up to work to lead my staff. Things felt better.
And then, one week before I was to leave… dread and panic kicked in. I started getting really nervous. Anyone that knows anything about this plant medicine knows that it is not some recreational escapist drug trip. If you think you’re going to go run around with the fairies and have a merry old time, you’re sadly deluded. Ayahuasca is, in no uncertain terms, an extremely confronting experience that taps into the deepest part of your soul and dredges up things you might not have wanted it to. It reveals things about yourself that will shake you to the core. I was afraid.
The day finally came. With my bags packed and my gut churning I boarded the plane to fly half way across the world on what would undoubtedly be the most life changing experience of all my thirty one years of existence.
What awaited me 20,000 kilometres away… is a story for another day.