“I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus in 2014. My body had been telling me for a long time that something was wrong, but it had never felt safe to listen. I didn’t know why and frankly I didn’t even realize I was so disconnected with my body until this happened. I was in total denial that I could have such a serious illness. It felt much safer to continue to care for others and explain how trauma had impacted THEM. It had never felt safe to be still long enough in my body to hear it, but after my mom died in 2019, something shifted for me. Something very strong in me was telling me to explore deep within in order to heal. Heal what? I had no idea. I just knew I hated who I was. I felt like an imposter no matter what I did, I felt like I constantly needed to prove that I was a good person. And I was tired. I had reached rock bottom with my illness and now in the grieving of my mom.
I had read Pollen’s book about Psychedelics changing your mind and I had been curious about psychedelics. Having never done a drug in my life, it scared me to death. Yet something continued to draw me to it. A colleague recommended I read the “Acid Test” and I was enthralled. It felt right to try MDMA, but for what, I was not sure. I knew I had a “difficult” childhood, but I had not felt ready to address what that actually meant for how I operated in the world until after my mom’s death.
When I had my first MDMA session, I hired an underground guide; after taking the medicine, I closed my eyes and listened to the Spotify playlist I had found for MDMA-assisted therapy. I saw clots of red that began to separate as I entered the experience. I remember thinking that I was seeing my blood, the clotting my body was doing in response to my Lupus and that now it could loosen up and begin to heal. It was not scary; it felt incredibly peaceful and welcoming. Before I knew it, I was back inside my childhood home. I floated from memory to memory, watching my childhood with a detached perspective, processing the fear and confusion I felt as a child when I had experienced the physical abuse from my father as my mom screamed and watched from the sidelines, not having any power to stop him. Several poignant memories I had stored as mere fragments were slowly pieced together with a beginning, middle and end. I could hear my dad going upstairs to get the belt with the large metal buckle. I could remember what we had done, but that it had been so small: we left a food mess on the counter, we didn’t unload the dishwasher, we looked at him the wrong way. I could see my sister’s eyes as we stared at each other in fear and disbelief as we were punished together. I saw myself in the hospital where I felt what it was like to experience freedom and safety. I remember feeling confusion as to why I felt so safe and yet was so sick. I talked most of the time throughout the session as I had never been able to express to anyone how I had felt during these times I was punished in such a painful, humiliating way. I recall dancing toward the end of the session, “throwing my 9 year old a party” as I had described it to the guide because I could simply feel my body again and was able to heal that 9 year old who had told herself that she deserved every punishment she got. I felt and really connected to my body in that session in what felt like the first time in my life—I was 39 years old.
Yet connecting with my body ended up feeling terrifying after the MDMA session was over and in the weeks to come. I had a therapist who helped me to integrate this and to feel and welcome whatever was arising instead of turning away from it and leaving my body as I had come to do so well over the past 39 years. Entering my body, however, was a slow and foreign process, and I knew I had just taken the first step and could not yet see the top of the staircase and how far I had to go. Two months later I felt ready to try it again and had an intention to heal whatever needed my attention.
The second time I took MDMA I was alone. I remember thinking “this went so well the first time, I can do this alone.” That was a mistake and I do not recommend it. Although I had some insights into why I could not trust others or feel pleasure during this second session, I recall feeling tremendous pain in my pelvis and head during the second session. I spent at least 2 of the 5 hours rocking back and forth as I clasped my head, feeling and expressing “intense pressure” to please my dad and mom. This experience led me to find a guide who could once again sit with me and hear what I needed to say, as I felt incredibly blocked and the pain I was experiencing in my body terrified me as I had no idea what to do with it. In my head I knew I could trust it, and yet a bigger part of me was scared to acknowledge what it meant. There was a giant wall I could not get around and the entire experience felt dark and scary. Instead of feeling into the terror, I continued to feel impatient as to why I was not given the answers I was coming for during this session. Little did I know at the time, I needed someone there to witness and mirror what I had been through and my body was nowhere near ready to process the violent sexual abuse I had experienced at the hands of my father.
The third time I took MDMA I sat with a guide and asked her to just witness what I needed to say. I didn’t know myself what I needed to say, but I knew I needed someone there. The entire time was spent slowly expressing all of the shame and fear I felt living with my dad and the pain in feeling invalidated and ignored by my mother who was scared for her own life. He terrorized my younger sister and I, sexually and physically abusing us until we had graduated and moved out of the house. Re-experiencing the violence, the gun he would hold by my head and in my body, the knife that would be on my throat, and the bag that would often cover my head while he sexually abused me was all there. My mom’s inability to do anything as she was also scared for her life was felt during this session. I felt anger toward not only him but to her. Anger that I was never allowed to feel or express. I screamed, I wailed, I pleaded for him to stop. My sister and I were trapped. We had no escape, so we threw ourselves into school. We left our bodies. We did what we needed to do to survive a man who threatened our very existence day after day and made us do unspeakable things to him and to each other. For reasons I cannot understand now, I alternated between playing the role of my father and playing “me” in this MDMA session. To say that was unexpected and terrifying would be an understatement, but I share this with you so that you can see that what needs to happen in your session will happen and to trust it. My felt sense is that I was not yet ready to fully feel what it was like to be fully there with the pain, humiliation and fear.
Do I have more healing to do? Absolutely. Is it hard work? Absolutely. You will likely not finish everything you need to finish in one session and so expect there to be more work and healing after the session. But I would not be in my body and have the compassion and energy to continue to do the hard work I do everyday with myself and others had I not been able to access and process this trauma. MDMA has allowed me to reclaim pieces of myself that I had left in childhood. I have reclaimed not only my body, but my spirit. It has allowed me to grieve for what I never had and to ensure that I am not perpetuating the cycle of violence with my own children. Until I used MDMA, I hadn’t realized just how much of myself I was missing. I am more playful, more creative and have so much more energy to just BE with people. MDMA has allowed me to trust that little voice inside and to trust the sensations in my body when they arise. MDMA is truly a gift but I do believe that in order to fully receive and live this gift, you need a trained therapist with you during and especially after the session to help you process and integrate what you have experienced. We need each other, so find someone you can trust that can support you through this very intimate process.”