Nothing special happened during my plant medicine experience. What did I do wrong?
It’s really disconcerting if other people who have taken the medicine have chatted with their ancestors, flown with the angels and caught a little glimpse of God, while you didn’t even get the tee shirt. But unless the dose wasn’t right, or there was something very off about the setting you were in, you have to trust that this time at least, the medicine gave what you needed.
Check with yourself – what actually did happen in the experience, and what might it mean to you? If a person took the medicine asking to rid themselves a problem behavior, but instead what they saw was strange landscapes and some peculiar animals, the medicine may have changed the subject as it were, or perhaps spoken to the person in an image language they did not understand. Maybe it was saying there is something else you need to look at before you address the problem behavior. Maybe it had other priorities for you. It is on you to be patient and take a careful look at the imagery you were given, even if it makes no sense to you.
We live in a culture that long ago forgot its accumulated knowledge of plant medicines, and built up instead a reliance on the efficacy of pills. Pills either work or don’t work, but medicine has a different kind of relationship with us that is more subtle and complicated. So don’t wonder if there is something wrong with you because the experience did not meet expectations. Expectations come from the ego and spirit comes from somewhere else, and spirit never unfolds uniformly or predictably. Give yourself space for understanding and self-acceptance, and review what came to you in your experience carefully, spend some time to meditate on it.
How does Holistic Psychotherapy help me after plant medicine?
In Gabon, after a person has received an iboga plant medicine initiation they spend the next days and even weeks integrating their experience. They do not leave their village and they are not allowed to be touched by another person. They talk with friends and elders about the meaning of their experience, and at the end of this time period the whole village meets, discusses their experience, and decides on an initiation name for the person, a name that captures the essence of their spiritual journey. If the person wants to deepen their relationship with the medicine, they go on to further initiations and commit to practices that can last a lifetime.
Compare that to us, where we may do a plant medicine ceremony over a week end and go back to work on Monday. Or we go to Mexico or Costa Rica for a drug treatment, and return to a country where the treatment itself is regarded as weird and illegal. The Western world has lost its traditions around plant medicines, and if we are going to get back in relationship with them, we need to evolve new ways of integrating the experience.
This is what Holistic Psychotherapy is about. The version that I do actually grew from working with the medicines, and it helps you revisit the experience, reengage with it, and move it forward into new understandings. You also chart out the next steps of your spiritual growth, so that the experience can marinate into your soul, rather than be an amazing session that was essentially a one-off.
It happens sometimes that the plant medicine points to an emotional wound that need healing, or maybe you went into the experience to work on an emotional issue. Holistic Psychotherapy methods continue this work, and the healing techniques take place in the imaginal realm, just as the plant medicine did.
Many of the plant medicines help people deal with drug issues or other addictions and compulsions. I have worked with addictions using the compassion-based model of harm reduction since 1996, and in more recent years I have combined that with Holistic Psychotherapy to help people free themselves of the emotional wounds that lead to addiction. I don’t believe addiction is a disease, I believe it is a natural response to persistent emotional pain. Holistic Psychotherapy heals up those wounds so that the coping mechanism of addiction does not need to operate any more.
My experience was very frightening – What do I make of it?
Sometimes the medicine can bring you into such alien spiritual/emotional territory that staying there feels like an annihilation. This is not ego death as in having your comfortable beliefs and assumptions rattled around a bit, but feels exactly like the threat of literal death, and it is terrifying.
Accounts of plant medicine experiences from indigenous people quite regularly include stories of visions of death, dismemberment, and being devoured by spirits. In the West we tend to frame spirituality as all sweetness and light, and we have lost our traditional knowledge about dealing with the dark – perhaps that is why we are surrounded by so much of it today.
Shamanic experiences can be very frightening endurance battles, and there are ways in which the spirit world is even more stern and unforgiving than the physical one. That doesn’t mean a fearful medicine experience has no value, but sometimes when our ego self is confronted by things totally outside its understanding, it fills with fear and goes into survival mode. I firmly believe that if you want to shut down the experience as much as possible and ride it through, that you should go ahead and do that. If your plant medicine experience starts to feel like a battle for survival, then follow your instincts and survive.
The fear experience raises a powerful spiritual question – how do you re-approach the spirit world without triggering a new state of great terror? The question needs to be turned over, re-examined, and thought through, like a Japanese koan, which is meant to puzzle the rational mind. Which part of me felt the fear, how do I reach towards the light to find my way through this, and on a more practical level, what would happen if I adjusted the dose of the medicine or changed something in the setting? Each of us has to wrestle with the question in our own way. And if the conclusion is that plant medicines are not for me, what practice will I adopt and take to heart instead?
I took ibogaine. What is the glow, or the grace period all about?
Some people take ibogaine for its psycho-spiritual properties, and some take it as a drug detox, especially for opiates or alcohol. After the ibogaine experience is over, alkaloids from the plant medicine can remain in your body for several weeks or months, generating what’s called the “glow,” or “grace period.” As with so many other things in plant medicine, this can vary an extraordinary amount, from weeks of bliss for one person to no noticeable effects for another. Drug cravings may also be muted or gone, and a sense of well-being may be your new natural state. But as time goes by and the alkaloids fade from your system, the old patterns of thought and feeling will start to re-assert themselves.
This is a time where your inner system can be more pliable and open to healing than normal, and it’s possible to make great progress in solidifying your gains. It is also a time where you may mistakenly think the job is done, because you feel so good. Probably a year from now you will not be on such a post high as you are now. What would you like to have in place at that time? What work on yourself will you like to have done? What kind of issues would you like to see progress on? What I suggest is that you use the grace period to get the change that is inside you now more deeply installed. Don’t rest on your oars just yet.
I can’t afford psychotherapy. What can I do for my own aftercare?
Not all of us can afford therapy, but none of us can afford to stay unchanged. Now is the time to review your lifestyle and see what changes you want to consider. What things in your behaviors, your relationships, work, or living arrangements could be better? Is there something that should change in your attitude towards these things?
Equally important, you can take a look at what new things you want to bring in. Are there spiritual practices you want to introduce: meditation, a yoga class, shamanic journeying? Perhaps something different to that, like martial arts, a sport or just taking walks among the trees. What kind of new people do you want in your life? How will you treat your body better with improved diet and exercise? What reading will you do? Are there support groups you can join? Are there meet-ups or online forums you want to get involved in? They could be to do with plant medicines, or spirituality, or with any topic at all that is your passion. For people with limited means, I do brief consultations to help plan out these important next steps.
I took plant medicine for a drug issue, and I relapsed. What do I do now?
The most important thing about a relapse is what you do after it. If you believe it is now over for you and if you relapse you can’t stop, then you are at risk of living out a self-fulfilling prophesy. Give yourself as much forgiveness as you can, strategize around next steps, and you will be in a much stronger position. The power of predictive expectations can never be underestimated.
We all need support, and this is a specially important time to look round for some. Twelve step programs are a wonderful way to find an instant supportive community, and if that works for you, just connect, or reconnect, with a program. But 12-step is not for everyone, and you may want to look for a different drug/alcohol support group, or get involved in a spiritual practice where once again, you have a community with focus and support that is there for you. You may also want to lean on friends who can support you and help you move on.
If you continue to feel very unstable, consider your options. Do you have the resources for another plant medicine treatment? Should you consider a conventional detox, outpatient treatment, or psychotherapy? Did you unrealistically think you could go back into your old environment without devoting more time to treatment and reflection?
If you feel stable enough, sit with yourself and feel your urges and emotions as energy inside you. What kind of expression can that energy have that will not be self-destructive? And after you’ve done that, eat a good meal, get some exercise if you can, and be with supportive friends. Compulsions and addiction are a response to very old emotional wounds and deeply ingrained ways of being. You have to be very patient with yourself on your journey to healing.