Two years ago, I was living the perfect life. I had a prestigious job as a strategy consultant and lived in New York, my favorite city. I had a vibrant social life and a loving family. I traveled lavishly and was surrounded by beauty.
I was also living a double life.
My second life was ugly.
I was frantically binging and purging hundreds of dollars of food every week. I was numbing myself with alcohol, drugs, and shopping. Once a month, I found myself bed-ridden with severe depression.
Despite being years into my bulimia recovery, things only kept getting worse. I started to lose faith. Every time I boarded a plane for my fancy business class trip, I was reminded how little I cared if the plane crashed.
Luckily, I’m a pretty stubborn person.
I was determined to get to the bottom of my misery.
This stubbornness led me to Ayahuasca, a discovery that would change the trajectory of my life.
The real work began.
Over 18 months and 20 ceremonies with both the DMT-containing brew Ayahuasca and the mescaline-containing cactus San Pedro, I deconstructed who I’d become. I healed repressed trauma. I integrated parts within me I didn’t know existed. I learned self-love. I healed my inner child. I discovered that joy, gratitude, and connection are our default states.
Mental illness is not random. There’s always a reason, and that reason is not faulty brain chemistry or pure genetics but a delicate combination of character traits and things that happened to you.
Everyone was telling me I’d have to deal with it forever, but I persisted.
I offer my story as anecdotal evidence that you can cure addiction.
It will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it will also be the most rewarding. Psychedelic medicine is a powerful way to do so, one that offers hope to all those who continue to suffer in silence.
Despite actively trying to recover, I was stuck in an eating disorder for years.
I became bulimic at the age of 19. After dieting and exercising excessively for two years, my body rightfully rebelled and began generating overwhelming cravings to binge. I responded with more control and took my boyfriend’s advice to just stick my finger down my throat whenever I ate too much.
Within a year, bulimia had become my primary coping mechanism. One that I desperately needed now that my boyfriend had cheated on me. My heart broke into pieces for the first time in my life.
It would take me years to understand that the problem was not only the restriction but rather two-fold: the fact that I believed it was necessary to restrict when I was a skinny, healthy teenager, combined with the fact that being bulimic quickly became natural and self-sustaining for me.
My first attempt to recover started six years ago.
At age 23, I finally reached out for professional help.
Over the next five years, I’d cycle through multiple therapists, psychiatrists, and eating disorder coaches. I picked up yoga and meditation, went on retreats, started painting. I went to holistic nutrition school. I read every single book I could find on the topic. I created PowerPoint decks and strategically analyzed my addiction. I made posters summarizing all the tools I’d learned in therapy and coaching. I started speaking to people about it.
Yet, six years later, almost 30 years old and a decade into my eating disorder, I was still bulimic.
My recovery had been sabotaged by another condition that was slowly ruining my life: Pre-menstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD).
A hormonal mood disorder made recovery virtually impossible
PMDD is a mood disorder that’s like PMS on steroids. For two weeks each month, I’d face extreme cravings, severe depression, and suicidality. Binge eating is a symptom of PMDD, even for those without a history of disordered eating. 15% of PMDD patients attempt suicide.
Great set-up for a recovering bulimic.
Gynecologist after gynecologist presented me with only two options: antidepressants or the contraceptive pill.
I was interested in neither because I intuitively knew that they wouldn’t help me cure the root causes of my misery. At best, they would help me manage my symptoms, at worst, they would make things worse.
I vowed that if I still struggled by the time I turned 30, I’d give myself permission to call it quits. Before, though, I would try every alternative therapy out there.
That’s when I found out about psychedelics.
Plant medicine was the only thing that ever had a lasting impact on my mental health.
After reading Michael Pollans’ How To Change Your Mind, I went on a spree. For an entire year before my first journey, I devoured every single resource on psychedelics that I could get my hands on.
My first trip with LSD was more fun than healing given the casual, social setting, but it gave me a glimpse into the potential of these medicines.
Then, one day after watching The Reality of Truth, I woke up knowing it was time to drink Ayahuasca. Four weeks later I found myself at Rythmia, a pricy plant medicine resort in Costa Rica that promises “miracles”.
My first Ayahuasca experience took me an entire year to integrate
I got my miracle. Within one night, I healed the void that perpetuated my existence, the belief that I wasn’t good enough. I learned that early childhood trauma had ingrained it deep into my psyche. Ayahuasca showed me how to fill the void by gifting me the experience that love is the fabric of the universe.
After trying to teach me that I was worthy for years, I finally felt it.
I returned home a changed woman, but only a few weeks later realized that I was still a bulimic woman.
I was disappointed. Yet another “magic pill” that hadn’t worked.
Many other areas of my life were transforming, though. I quit all stimulants including alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine. My sleep transformed. My baseline mood improved and the suicidal thoughts were gone. My relationships bloomed. As a result of eliminating the invisible undercurrent of not-enoughness, I began to feel connected to everything and everyone around me.
Integration also meant leaving New York, the city I loved dearly, for a quieter environment. It meant recognizing that the life I had built was built by and for someone who was seeking validation, which I no longer did.
Yet, albeit less often, I was still binging and purging. Which was even more painful now that I knew I didn’t deserve it.
I was still bulimic but determined to find the root cause.
I took time off work, went on a silent meditation retreat, worked with yet another eating disorder coach, and spent time in Mexico to recharge.
There was a period of abstinence after which I thought I might be recovered. I returned home after Christmas and baked banana bread to celebrate my newfound freedom. Within a day, the banana bread was gone and I had relapsed.
At this point, I realized that any conscious effort to overcome this uncontrollable beast was temporary.
I also had no interest in a functioning eating disorder. Cycling back and forth between the illusion of freedom and the reality of my cage was exhausting.
If I was still bulimic, there were still reasons. To heal permanently, I needed to go back into my subconscious and find them.
A year had passed since my first ceremonies, and it became clear that Ayahuasca was the only thing that ever had a lasting impact on my health.
I decided to return. I told myself I’d drink Ayahuasca as often as necessary to overcome my eating disorder for good.
More ayahuasca ceremonies helped me heal sexual trauma and connected me with my inner child.
Over the course of the following year, I participated in four retreats.
In the first one, I healed sexual abuse that I’d completely repressed, as a result of which my PMDD miraculously disappeared. I’ve since found research (here and here) that connects PMDD with PTSD and sexual trauma, something none of my doctors mentioned, probably because they didn’t know.
During the next retreat, I connected with my inner child for the first time ever after living through a terrifying six-hour death loop during a ceremony.
I had a ton of momentum. I saw things shifting.
I got glimpses of what it felt like to have access to your emotions and process them like a normal person.
I lowered my workload and doubled down on my integration practices. I worked with a psychedelic integration coach, experimented with somatic therapy, got into intuitive dance and authentic relating. I chanted, wrote, and journaled religiously. I started speaking my truth.
As I signed up for another retreat, I also checked myself into a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program at an eating disorder clinic. I’d always resisted this type of treatment because of its inefficacy (most patients relapse) but I had nothing to lose. At best, it would provide accountability and structure for my integration, at worst, it wouldn’t help much. 30 was approaching and I was running out of time, and out of options.
A final sprint of 8 ceremonies gave me all I needed to say goodbye to my addiction forever.
I don’t remember my childhood. Nothing before the age of 12.
So when I began connecting with my inner child in the ceremony, I knew this was a big deal. I knew she held all the answers.
When I returned to the medicine for what I thought would be “one last retreat”, I set the intention to let go of my eating disorder for good.
I wanted closure.
Ayahuasca welcomed me back with pure bliss.
My first journey upon return was simply beautiful. Ayahuasca, or more accurately, the universe, cradled me with love for hours.
“This bliss without the purge?”, I asked Ayahuasca.
“You’ve purged enough”, she answered.
The rest of the night I found myself in a direct dialogue with what I’d come to understand was the plant spirit. Anything I would ask, Ayahuasca had an answer to. At one point, she shared the suffering of our planet when she briefly transformed me into the burning Amazon.
I then moved through waves of grief.
The next day, I once again experienced physical pain in my stomach, a recurring theme in my psychedelic journeys.
The source of my pain this time was grief.
Grief for how I’d abused myself over the years, grief for not remembering my childhood, grief for wasting my 20s to my addiction.
On Huachuma (the native name for the cactus medicine San Pedro), I laid outside, face down on the grass. It felt as if I was enveloping the entire planet.
“Where do I put all the grief, it’s too much, I can’t handle it”, I silently thought.
“You can give it to me”, the earth below me seemed to respond.
And so I did. I let it pour out of me into the earth, and my pain dissipated.
More inner child work finally uncovered a core issue
The cactus medicine that contains mescaline is a beautiful heart-opener often dubbed “nature’s MDMA”. It works by showing you what’s between you and an open heart.
On the following day, it did so by making me feel invisible. A mental state I’d often found myself in as a kid. I was no longer 29, I was maybe 7 or 8.
I didn’t want to be there. I crawled under my blanket and stared into the abyss. I wanted to disappear.
My guide came over and helped me process the emotions that were coming up, a crucial part of working with Huachuma. We talked about my childhood, and I suddenly found myself able to voice how I felt all these years ago.
“It seems that, as a kid, you were made to believe that it is not safe to feel”, he concluded.
He was right.
As soon as he spoke those words, I immediately knew I had uncovered a crucial piece of the puzzle.
A relapse made me return to the medicine again shortly after.
I left the retreat and had a hardcore relapse the next day. The sadness, anger, and grief were too much to handle.
Turns out, for someone who believes it’s not safe to feel, an addiction is an excellent alternative. If that person then is highly sensitive, the addictive behavior is frequently and urgently needed.
Luckily, the same week I entered eating disorder treatment, which in large turned out to be about developing cognitive flexibility (which I already had) and emotional resilience (which I didn’t have).
I was diagnosed with complex (aka developmental) PTSD in my first week. Within two weeks, I made progress at an astonishing pace because all the plant medicine work had cracked me wide open. I leverage the therapists to dive deep into the beliefs my childhood had left me with. I told them they’d come to me at a meditation retreat. I feared that if I’d been honest, they would have judged or viewed my plant medicine journeys as substance abuse.
On a whim, I decided to participate in another round of ceremonies in just two weeks’ time. This isn’t something I’d ever recommend, but I was in the middle of a process that I could either finish with months (or years) of therapy or within one weekend with Ayahuasca and San Pedro.
The final ceremonies gave me everything I needed to be free.
The first night back, Ayahuasca spent hours simply making me feel safe.
As I saw my two guides within my field of vision, I felt nothing but deep safety. No fancy visions of ecstasy. I just laid there while every fiber of my body and every part of my consciousness learned that it was now safe to feel. Ayahuasca was reprogramming me. Just as she had taught my subconscious that I was enough, she now taught it that it was safe to feel.
The next day, Huachuma helped me process the feelings that were lingering in my subconscious since childhood. For decades, my mind had deemed them to be too painful, but now, I was ready. Now, it was safe to feel them.
I spent the entire day feeling disconnected from the group, just as I felt disconnected from my family as a kid. After disconnection, I moved through neglect. Neglect that stemmed from not being seen for who I was as a child.
These two days were dark and challenging. But I knew was on the right path.
Healing doesn’t happen when we feel blissful, it happens when we feel awful. We process the feelings that we think will kill us, and discover they don’t.
The final ceremony was an outpouring of love, a celebration.
I returned home, once again, a changed woman.
But no longer a bulimic woman.
I knew it in my heart.
It’s been months without behaviors or urges, and I know I’m done. I know because I feel the same way about binging and purging as I felt about drinking after my first retreat: compassionate, but absolutely redundant and puzzled about how it could possibly feel good.
I’m finally free, and it feels like my life has just begun.
Lessons I learned on my bulimia before and after
My 10-year battle with bulimia and my recovery journey with plant medicine taught me many lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Lessons that I will continue to shout from the rooftops in the hopes that they help transform how we view mental health, addiction, and psychedelic drugs.
- All addictions are diseases of disconnection. I disconnected from my emotional world and became bulimic, but I might as well have become a drug addict, alcoholic, or workaholic. What I needed was a way to cope with life despite my lack of emotional resilience. Circumstances in my teenage environment and culture just happened to lead me to bulimia.
- If you’re unable to overcome your addiction, there are likely reasons beyond your conscious awareness. Throughout my recovery, I thought if I just read the right book, found the right therapist, or went on the right nutrition plan, I would recover. Yet, what had to happen was not a change in external information, but a change in awareness arising from the inside.
- The root cause of addiction is often complex PTSD (C-PTSD). One of my therapists at the eating disorder clinic said she’s never met an eating disorder patient who didn’t also have complex PTSD. We lack emotional resilience when something prevented us from developing it as a kid. I believe she’s right, and I also believe this is true for all addictions. I say often only because I’m not qualified or experienced enough to say always.
- To cure addiction, you need to simultaneously heal root causes and address surface-level symptoms. The reason my recovery was prolonged was that I always only did one or the other. I dove into root causes with alternative therapies but still restricted through veganism. Or, I’d allow all foods and eat normally while prioritizing self-care but wouldn’t do the emotional healing work. Freedom is permanent only when you do both.
- You have to heal it to feel it. It’s not possible to simply learn the coping skills while leaving repressed emotions and beliefs unaddressed. This is why so many relapse and return to eating disorder treatment (or rehab, for that matter) over and over. Psychedelic medicine, specifically Ayahuasca, is the most efficient and effective way to bring things to the surface and heal them. But there are also other, potentially more gentler ways.
- Addiction is not a life sentence and there’s no such thing as an “addictive personality”. There are sensitive people, however. Some are highly sensitive at birth, others become empaths as the result of their trauma. The same sensitivity that makes you deeply creative and empathetic is what makes you more prone to addiction. If coping skills were not learned as a child, the emotional overwhelm makes momentary escape addictions offer highly attractive. You make addictions redundant by developing coping skills and replacing limiting beliefs that drive them.
Earlier this year, I found myself in my living room, twirling around to one of my favorite dance songs.
“Please come home, please come home”, I sang along to the lyrics.
I wrapped my arms around my body.
Tears started rolling down my face as I realized that I was calling home my little inner girl.
Months later, she’s come home, and she’s here to stay. She also brought an unexpected abundance of joy, wonder, and creativity. She and I are a team now. We’re integrated. We’re one.
No more double life. Just one rich, joyful, and sometimes painfully nerve-racking life.
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