Lesson One: Trust
Sitting in this space of healing has been a lesson of trust – but it does not come easily, especially after years of believing there was just no other way to be but broken. As I began to shed true light on this darkness inside of me, I started to really witness the destructive thoughts and anxious feelings for what they are (stemming from deep trauma which informed my self-perceptions and that of the world around me) I have started to understand that I CAN do this, but this shit is NOT as simple as just realizing it; now I am called to actually do the work. . . To do the work I have to walk through the darkness, not repress it, and exist in this state for as long as it takes. Difficult does not even begin to describe it, but that is the best I have right now.
This year, thus far, has taken me through experiences I once deemed radical or nonsense; had you told me just this time a year ago that I would venture (be called) to this path, I would have laughed it off or outright said it was stupid, a fool’s errand, because Christina can never… She would never – because “who I am” is unchangeable, and even these “radical approaches to healing” would not be enough to bring me to a higher state of being.
Skeptical, nervous, I said yes to the journey despite my disbelief, (I got so desperate I just said screw it – I will do this anyway) and that was my first lesson in trust.
I had to accept, along this new path, that I can change, I can grow, and I can be someone I do not recognize – most importantly, these are good things, not to be feared or held with disdain, but because the narrative has always been so loudly ringing in my ears that this “way of being” is how I will always be destined to remain stuck, it was terrifying to take this step. Terrifying, because what if even THIS “does not work?” That leap of faith was, and continues to be, the hardest part – the rest comes as it will, and you just have to trust it. I did so because I so deeply want to be unstuck, but I know I cannot get there on my own.
Stuck where, exactly? In the story that I am broken, irredeemably so, and nothing can manage the impossible task of mending what happened inside of me to cause this fracture in my soul. I believed it, and thus lived it – my misery often hidden to others except those closest to me, but ask my partner and even he will tell you I do my best to hide that shit from him as well (thank GOD he can see right through me – a talent he possesses which gives him the insight to realize when my behavior is ruled by these long-hardened patterns I’ve brought into our relationship).
… I have been stuck in this cycle of anxiety (hyper-arousal state wherein I am on-edge, moody, easily startled, and quick to react negatively to even positive stimuli) and depression (wanting to sleep all the time, avoidance of interactions and crowds, and feeling hopeless). This is NO WAY TO LIVE, but guess what? Darkness is a cunning asshole and it finds ways to keep its hold – no matter what I tried, no matter how much I prayed, or was counseled, or tried to talk it to death, nothing helped enough to convince me that I could actually heal past this trauma and everything it has taught me since.
Sometimes I think you must come to the end of yourself to be brave enough to move outside conventions and look for things you’ve never experienced (in some cases, even heard about) to reach a new state of being. That is precisely what led me here. I was so tired of living this way. More for the people around me than purely selfish motivation… This year held so many tremendously beautiful moments, like adopting our foster child and giving him a forever home – I knew, I’ve always known since I became a mother nearly 11 years ago, that my “trauma” will inevitably influence my children, and this added pressure and anxiety, on top of what was already difficult, but I am grateful because they’re another motivating external factor, and loving them well is important to me – but here is the kicker: How can I love them well if I do not even love myself?
If I am constantly judging my state of being (damn it, I woke up anxious again today – why CAN’T I JUST MOVE PAST THIS? … or, shit, I snapped at my daughter instead of being patient – what the hell is wrong with me? Small examples of that self-criticism and blame that only further served the darkness) then how can I ever truly give them what they deserve? How can I ever live the life I know is available, for myself, and for them, if all I am doing is moving between anxiety and depression – that place inside of me born from trauma which believes I am meant for nothing more? This negative self-belief, these thoughts in my mind, these patterns – they serve no good purpose but to keep me down, but at one point they did serve me as a protection mechanism – I needed this state of being to feel safe, to feel protected. But what this kind of pain, this darkness does, is keeps you in this place where you believe when it cleverly reminds you that you’re a piece of shit. For example, during anxiety, I believe that my husband will eventually leave me for someone better, my children will grow up and hate me because I was a terrible mother, and my life will become a manifestation of all of this pain and darkness, because I deserve nothing better than that. When I am depressed, I give no shits about anything and would rather wallow in the mire, “meh”.
Is anyone still with me on this? I hope so, because this is where it gets interesting.
As I write this, I consider that my audience might not like what is coming – but one thing about trusting the journey – lesson One – is that my anxiety is what tells me to shut up. It tells me that I will be judged, much like I judge myself. It tells me I am alone, that nobody will understand but even moreso that I will be chastised for this, perhaps much the same way I might have thought you were batshit crazy had you told me this before I was ready to hear it. . .
“You have to come to the end of what you think is your self…”
That resonated from deep inside me the first time I ingested the medicine. Round one, no undoing it now – the journey is coming, and you must just let it come. 125mg, one pill, and about 4 to 6 hours following with headphones on, a blindfold, and an accompanying MAPS Protocol playlist to guide the journey beside a facilitator I trust more than anyone on this planet.
Emerging research into PTSD by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has shown very promising results and are now in their phase 3 trials for FDA approval. Only because this protocol is not legal in the US at this juncture do I even hesitate to share this experience – but the knowledge we obtained prior to this (including testing for purity and dosage of the medicine itself, being in a safe and controlled setting with a knowledgeable facilitator, and gaining as much insight and understanding of what is expected, experienced, and resulting from these trials) gave me a feeling of trust that this was not only the right next step for me, but it held much promise into the undoing of many of my personal struggles stemming from trauma.
Coming to this place was a deeply personal decision, and I caution that this path is NOT for everyone – for many people, traditional counseling and various other therapy approaches may be all that is needed to heal and move past pain and grow into someone better integrated and trusting – I acknowledge that this does seem quite radical (I just like that word today for some reason!) and would encourage you to continue reading this with an open heart and open mind. If you cannot, kindly stop reading and turn your attention elsewhere; my journey is not your journey, and as I’ve seen in my own skepticism of this at first, I do understand your hesitation to accept it, but I would only kindly ask you reserve your judgment and keep it to yourself (as well as, if this raises questions for you – I placed a link above and will attach more references at the end of this, but know that everyone arrives here for their own reasons, and it helps none of us – including you, to be mean about my path just because you do not yet, or may never, understand it).
… I got to a point, many times over the past – oh, 18 months to two years (but really everything leading up to this point, all the years of my life, have aided in deciding to trust this) – wherein I just knew something else must be out there. I have tried therapy, psychotherapy, TENs unit therapy, tapping, positive self-talk, self-help workshops, Christian counseling through my church, as well as, really, residing to the fact that I would remain trudging through the darkness with no way out because nothing stuck, well – nothing but the darkness. I would have periods of afterglow, perhaps when the counselor really understood what was happening and I gained specific insights, or when talking with a friend (for the thousandth time about the same old shit I hold inside) I would feel cared-for, heard, and it would make me feel a little less alone, for a while. It has been an exhaustive journey of trying to find a true way forward, not always taking ten steps back even though I felt like I was trying everything. I would have periods of self-medication, waxing and waning between ever-looming anxiety and depression, and the negative self-doubt that I could ever get “healed” was always present.
I’ve known for a long time that I have trauma, that was obvious, but PTSD? I am not one to diminish another’s experiences (like, for instance, a combat veteran, which is one of the main drivers of this MAPS research is to help their PTSD) by claiming their specific trauma label for myself, because surely my pain goes nowhere near something like that of war . . . But even THAT kind of self-talk, downplaying my own shit because obviously someone else has it worse, was part of the darkness being an ass! Because my trauma looks different than something worse does not mean it did not disturb me, or rather, rewire my brain, in the same manner to cause PTSD.
It was acknowledging that I do, indeed, “have that” which was the very first step in making this decision. I started to see that all of these destructive tendencies I carry – the avoidance, the rage, the fight or flight because someone startled me or touched my shoulder when I was not ready – all of this poured into the understanding, and the acceptance, that I needed help beyond anything else I had tried before. Desperation drove it, if I am honest – because when life around you looks amazing (everything seemed perfect from the outside; we’ve had this “amazing” year …) but inside, you’re struggling just to make it through another day, well, it can drive you to make some “radical decisions”.
Having said all of that, I will go into what I’ve gained so far after 3 sessions – the last one being just this past Saturday, August 31st.
I. am. loved. Exactly where I am, who I am – and I am CAPABLE of change if that is what I want.
Even as I work through this. As I struggle. As I move between acceptance and fear, integration and doubt. As I learn what it means to awaken to another way of being – that this state of anxiety and depression is OK, it is not inherently bad, it is just what I knew, what served me – but it does not have to serve me anymore. And even as it (anxiety) emerges right now when I consider being this vulnerable and honest with you, whomever you are, I feel that knot in my chest – but I am learning to SIT WITH IT. Not react to it.
I am learning that there exists a disconnect between my head and my heart and in that space, I find the struggle. My mind controls, or so it thinks (ha!) and my heart feels – but they’ve spent so long apart from each other when I disassociated to protect myself because of trauma. Therefore, everything after, all these years, I’ve lived battling between how I feel and what I think, unable to recognize the divide is the dark space I call home.
My mind is very skilled at reminding me, “this feeling is bad”, and my heart is inept at pushing back stronger, intensifying my emotional state until I am either too aroused (anxious) or just flat-out numb (depressed, because sometimes too much feeling is, well, “too much” and it just seems to shut down). All the while, judging it from a state of separate thought – constant judgment of exactly why I am a crap human with nothing but shit to offer. I had reduced my sense of self into fragmented parts, no cohesion save for brief periods here or there throughout my life.
The details of each therapy session are saved for something much more in-depth, because there is so much there that is sacred that I still need time to sit with and integrate – but one thing I will say is, THERE IS HOPE.
I am not talking about Biblical Hope in what comes after this life (as a Christian there is probably controversy that I would trust a “substance” to find true healing, but hello, how many people who believe in a biblical God are on anti-depressants?! Why should this be treated differently (again, for another piece of writing to really get into that side of this)). I am talking about hope while we are still alive. Hope for each day that comes. Hope that there is HELP that you may not have considered or even felt inclined to seek out.
I am here to testify that there is still yet a lot of work to be done, inside my mind and inside my heart – (but there is HOPE, and this protocol is something that will probably, I believe, change countless lives).
There yet waits a joining of the two, and from that I can birth a more connected, whole person and finally break this cycle of anxiety and depression. Yet even as I know my work is not complete (it will never be complete, I believe, until death, but I know we all differ on that subject so just take it as you will) I am so hopeful. So … Purposefully driven to seek out whatever can bridge that wide gap between my feeling and my thinking, my head and my heart. The thing that was taken from me when I trusted the deepest, when that trust was broken and I became someone else, it can be reconciled, it can be healed, and I do not need to live this way if I just trust it and keep doing the work as it comes.
This medicine, as I said, is not for everyone. Again, I caution you to understand that. Yet what I can say for sure is that it is an incredible tool to take a deep, very hard and beautiful look at yourself. At the pain, the darkness itself – to see that it is NOT you, that these thoughts are NOT you – this trauma can be healed, but it requires a certain bravery that I think we’ve lost today. We’ve lost it because of social media, for one thing, because we are afraid of what others would think if they knew the lengths some of us are willing to go to heal. We put on a mask (a “filter”) for the world – and we’ve learned to wear it everywhere we go, and so I think when I am brave and I talk [write] about this, I can easily be written off, chastised, judged. Because inherently, even admitting that I’ve taken this path is showing a vulnerability that most hide away, fear, or gloss over with false portrayals that we have our shit together. I am here to proudly admit that my shit is a mess, and God knows this, and HE is not surprised at the journey I am on (my goodness I cannot wait to write that book so I can share what I have experienced in a deeper context, but as I said, I am keeping it sacred now and I think that is so important).
Radical change requires radical methods, but it is only radical because it is emerging science. It is emerging research. But the experiences I have had with it have made me a believer.
Now, for me, comes what they call integration. Taking what I was shown, what I experienced, and allowing myself to fully accept it, keep it, and use it healthily to influence change. It is not easy work; even just this morning I woke up feeling rather – I don’t know, off? I guess. But I went to my husband (he could tell immediately) and I let him hold me. I felt his arms around me and fell into that safe place to land, and I remembered what I was told during my sessions. What was shown to me was not from this realm, but came from a place of total love and acceptance – of everything I’ve seen, done, and been through – it was to hold on to the truth that healing is real, and available, even to me. I was reminded to trust this process, that it is coming, and I AM doing the work.
It is not a magic pill. You will not come out of this cured, healed, all better. But you will come out of it with a new understanding of what you’re dealing with, and just why/how it is influencing your behavior, your state of mind, your heart, and even your soul. It will be a place of surrender, and you can take that truth and form a new way of being. A better state of being. One that knows this is not a futile venture – the path towards healing – but a beautiful and hard journey that never ends. Sometimes it means stepping so far outside your comfort zone the world might not be ready to understand it, but once you’re there (once you’re here) you feel more ready to keep going. And let me just say, even as I go through this and still have to face my current self, I am more hopeful than I have EVER been that I can be, I am, better going forward than I am staying where I was.
There is hope.
Sometimes you just have to be really fucking brave. Or totally over your shit. I was both. And I am grateful for that, because now I see a way forward, and that is so, so good.
Joe Rogan: https://youtu.be/UvaRGcTtUmg
A trailer for how it helps: https://youtu.be/M2UgmXEgoLA
MAPS on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mapsmdma
TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPMp7xEvcXk
University of Switzerland Study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUPMh0rVg7c&t=1101s