Ayahuasca Won't Change Your Life, But it Helps

Ayahuasca Won't Change Your Life, But it Helps
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Drinking ayahuasca worked for me. Since my first plant medicine ceremony almost three years ago, I have not touched a drop of alcohol. I have not smoked cannabis or tobacco.

For me, this was unthinkable as I’ve struggled with addiction to all those substances for decades. Freedom from addiction was a huge win and a surprise.

I had simply surrendered to consuming substances for the rest of my life. It never even occurred to me that I could quit forever.

What is fascinating to me is that my ayahuasca ceremonies had nothing to do with addiction. And I didn’t even realize I had beat my addictions until almost a year after encountering the medicine.

How Does Plant Medicine Work?

It just dawned on me one day I wasn’t craving to be high all the time. I’d just focused on other things and forgotten about my habit.

Sometimes plant medicine does this — in a very short period, everything changes and new behaviour is effortless.

I’ve seen it in myself and many others. It is the story that has inspired so many to try plant medicine. But this doesn’t happen for everyone.


Over the past few years of writing about psychedelics, I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on how plant medicine sometimes changes people — and sometimes doesn’t.

I’ve found no scientific paper that satisfyingly explains this. And I don’t claim to understand indigenous frameworks well enough to explain how these medicines  work.

But what I do have, is my own story.

Beating Addictions with Plant Medicine

After I first took ayahuasca, my life fell apart. My old patterns didn’t make sense. Within a month, I had sold everything and quit my job. I left behind fourteen-hour work days to travel Latin America and become a freelance writer.

There wasn’t some specific moment where ayahuasca proclaimed I would no longer enjoy alcohol or sell everything I owned. Instead, the interconnected web of my life, the patterns and people and how they fit were made obvious. And I had the opportunity to reinvent myself.

Maybe I would have figured all that out without ayahuasca. I’ve changed my life many times without plant medicine. And I failed to address many things ayahuasca showed me too. But, my story is that ayahuasca helped — a lot.

What It’s Like to Drink Ayahuasca

When I was 30, I took a “vacation” to the Sacred Valley of Peru. I couldn’t afford a retreat, so I stayed in a shitty hotel and drank ayahuasca every couple of days at a center nearby.

My ceremonies ranged from an overwhelmingly beautiful connection with source to meeting the giant serpent who claimed to have created the world. I met aliens and entities I don’t have words for. I saw different versions of myself from the past and future. I puked my guts out. I saw the paths I have walked in life, the ones now closed and the ones still open.

The visions were just that — visions. I cannot tell you they were “real.” How real the places we go on ayahuasca are is better left to shamans or philosophers.

messagesmeaning

How I Changed My Life After Drinking Ayahuasca

How can I say the messages were real? Because they resonated.

By “resonate,” I mean I felt that they meant something. That the emotions the visions made me feel put my life in perspective. Even when I saw wild future predictions that could never come true, the visions made me feel feelings with an intensity I couldn’t avoid.

The emotional content of ayahuasca is where I found meaning. Sure, seeing aliens and other dimensions is pretty neat, but it was the moments where I felt love, sadness or anger that made ayahuasca’s messages stick.

Experiencing regret, hope, desire, or inspiration on ayahuasca felt massively amplified. Ayahuasca didn’t just help me make meaning — it shoved it in my face until, in some cases, I literally threw up.

How to Change Your Life with Psychedelics

Now, I’m far from the first person to write a blog post about how ayahuasca changed my life. It’s not even the first post I’ve written about it.

But I have a confession — that ayahuasca changed my life is a lie.

Don’t get me wrong. Ayahuasca deserves massive credit. I’m forever grateful it exists, and I’m still in awe that I’ve had the privilege of drinking it.

The kind of gratitude I feel for ayahuasca is hard to put into words, so I’ll just say that I’ve spent hours in ceremony, weeping in gratitude at the mystery, beauty, and power of the whole experience.

But ayahuasca didn’t change my life — I did.

Psychedelics Should Make You Feel Empowered, Not Dependant.

It feels good to write that. I’ve struggled with confidence my whole life, and it wasn’t ayahuasca that magically fixed that. Taking plant medicine showed me what I had done wrong and what I could do better. It showed me what my gifts are and what my purpose can be — but only if I make space for something new in my life.

Ayahuasca healed aspects of me in a wonderful way and presented opportunities for a life I could live. But I had to be the one to live it.

Experiencing healing with ayahuasca can make changes easier, sometimes effortless. But no plant, drug, therapist, coach, friend, parent, whatever can live your life for you.

How to Integrate Ayahausca

If you are interested in psychedelics, you have probably heard this before — psychedelics don’t work without integration.

Honestly, my belief is sometimes they do. It can be like magic, and that kind of power deserves respect. But if you go into a ceremony expecting a specific outcome, feeling entitled to a better life because you made the journey to drink ayahuasca — prepare to be disappointed.

What is Psychedelic Integration?

So what is integration? The word means to “make whole.” I find that helpful but vague.

What integration means for me when working with psychedelics is to make something real.

To take insight and apply it to my life. The only way I have been able to make emotions, visions, ideas, and new understandings significant is by putting in effort. It was taking action on a new understanding that actually brought meaningful change into my life.

Integration can mean having a difficult conversation with people who matter. It can be focusing awareness on a pattern you keep repeating. Integration can be doing less or doing more. It can be fun and light or the darkest time of your life. It can be a subtle shift in perspective or uprooting your whole life. There are as many ways to integrate as there are people. It can be hard work or surrender.

There is No Psychedelic Integration Formula

Integration is going to be unique to you. One person might start making more time to have fun, and another might have to hire a trauma therapist.

But whatever integration is for you, just be sure that it exists. I know I said magic is possible. But keeping expectations low is the safest way to approach any psychedelic. The real goal is figuring out how to believe in our own ability to change and heal.

Instead of placing all the hope on one ceremony, retreat, therapist or facilitator, focus on having resources like energy, time, motivation, community, and even money to invest in creating the change you want.

If integration is trying to laugh more, take it seriously.

Psychedelic Integration in the Modern World

I mentioned in the introduction that I changed my whole life after drinking ayahuasca. But the key phrase is that “I” did it. Not ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca heals people, which I believe to be true in my bones — but what we do with any opportunity in life is up to us.

Showing up to a ceremony is a big effort, but it’s just the beginning.

Be ready to do work without ayahuasca showing you how important it is — show up to a ceremony with skills. Learn mindfulness, breathwork, journaling, find a community, and create powerful intentions.

Maybe you collect crystals or make lists on your phone, but find something. Whatever speaks to you, just get strategies that keep working when the medicine is just a memory.

If you are going to work with psychedelics, particularly ayahuasca, be ready to deal with trauma and uncomfortable truths. It’s part of the deal.

Myself and many others have been surprised and deeply shaken by what comes up in an ayahuasca ceremony. I don’t say this so that you will fear ayahuasca or psychedelics. My wish is that people simply treat them with respect, something so powerful deserves.

And I believe many, many human beings can handle the power of ayahuasca. Those curious and willing deserve an opportunity to heal, change, and do the work for all people.

But healing and change are achieved by having the resources to process whatever comes up. And this is your responsibility. Not the shaman or therapist. Good ones help us heal, but they can only guide people so far.

Integrating Ayahausca — Why You Got This

There is no guarantee that plant medicine will change anyone's life because there isn’t a guarantee everyone will successfully integrate it.

So stack the odds in your favour. Do your research and work with people you trust. Train your body and mind, hire professional help, cultivate  intentions, and prepare. See if you can find a way to be ready for anything, believe in yourself, and have a sense of adventure.

I think of psychedelics as exploration. Explorers find beauty, darkness, and meaning. Sometimes they find what they are seeking. Other times, they are surprised.

To work with psychedelics, I find this adventurous mindset helpful — there are no maps of where we are going, so what does it take to feel prepared?

And although we can never be perfectly prepared, what will it take to begin the journey?