The path to therapy can be a diverse and winding road. Join Ronni Umles, MHC-LP, as we learn about her journey into psychedelics, mental health, and healing.
I get a lot of inquiries about why I chose to pursue a career in therapy, and even more if I mention anything about my work related to psychedelics and plant medicine. The question has always felt daunting because it’s weighted in what I can only describe as a lived life. I had to ask myself, how can I do justice to that life in just a short blog article? The abridged version most people can likely tolerate goes something like: I’ve had experiences with the medicine, it’s contributed to my change in perspective, lifestyle, relationships with others and most importantly, myself.
The real story, however, is messy, dark, deep, and often begs the question, how in the hell did I get here? Yet, here I am. That’s the one that truly makes me smile.
As a kid, I always felt curious about things beyond physical reality, despite a rather sheltered upbringing. I was in therapy most of my teens and struggled in school, socially, and at home. Eventually, things evened out. I went to college and pushed it all under a subconscious rug of ignorance because how else could I have known that it would come back to bite me in the ass later in life. It didn’t occur to me that anything from my childhood could still affect me until I went to graduate school. Boy was I wrong.
Gateway to Triggers
Graduate school ended up being the gateway to my triggers. A culmination of every implicit memory and feeling pouring out of me to the point of debilitating anxiety, hypersensitivity and at its height, panic attacks. Fun stuff. For context, I got my Masters in School Counseling and then pivoted to mental health later on. I remember the initial inclination to pursue school counseling in my naïve world of magical thinking was to “save all the kids.” Unbeknownst to me, I was at the beginning of a lengthy journey towards healing myself.
Around the same time, mid-grad program, I became acquainted with the glamour of Brooklyn night life. All the clubs, electronic music, burner parties. My outlet became music, and I eventually began experimenting with psychedelics and other drugs. In the mix were a lot of new friends and acquaintances. It was a scene.
Following the completion of my master’s degree, things worsened rather then got better. I spiraled and I couldn’t understand why or what to do. Somewhere between the anxiety and surmounting depression, I recognized it was time to revisit therapy. Over several months, I made moderate lifestyle changes and created healthier routines to get back on track. I began to scratch the surface of what is now an ongoing exploration of my inner child. All the while, setting a foundation for what came next.
Curiosity Led to Plant Medicines
Almost a year into therapy and some progress, I was en-route to a music festival chatting with some dude on a dating app. I shared with him I was a month away from a trip to Columbia and Peru to which he responded, “are you going to do some Ayahuasca?” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, so naturally, I googled it. That was the first time I had read the term “plant medicine.” Following some research about its cultural uses, for healing and connection to spirit, my nervous curiosity called and within a few days, I booked a retreat.
Let’s just say those initial experiences in ceremony rocked my world and cracked me open in ways I could never fully put into words. I was reborn and given the gift of choice I didn’t realize I had. I finally felt complete emotional, physical, and mental relief from a deep-felt pain that permeated my soul for years. I had no idea the depth of feeling loved and loving in return. I was raw and a sponge of new information. The “who” I was before and after were vastly different. I felt so good and thought I could tackle my issues on my own, but I couldn’t. My biggest misstep was not considering the importance of integration and I was completely unprepared for the full-fledged dive into discovering the gravity of my own self-destruction.
Importance of Integration
Upon my return I began making some hefty changes and sunk deeper into the social scene of Brooklyn night life while trying to maintain a newfound perspective that made very little sense. I found myself nose deep in rabbit holes of psychedelic sub lingo with limited places or people to process with. I felt pulled to be part of the “revolution” while continuing to use psychedelics with a questionable amount of thought or intent.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were many positive experiences within this mixed bag of chaos. However, my wounded inner child was open for business and the growing magnitude of disconnect returned with a vengeance. Following another round of toxic relationships, situations, and panic attacks, I finally tapped into a layer of self-awareness that guided me towards the support I needed to address my behaviors and lifestyle choices.
I-N-T-E-G-R-A-T-I-O-N. A concept first introduced to me at my Ayahuasca ceremonies and not something I gave any real thought to until I recognized its essential role if one is to consume such substances in a healing manner. I utilized my resources, the web of people I met, and researched and found gatherings where others spoke in similar terms: Intention. Journey. Ceremony. Ritual. Medicine. Ground. Spirit. Integrate. I sought therapy with someone who had some spiritual backing and was equipped to help me pursue the next level of my trauma and inner child work. Looking back and especially in relation to my experiences since, I could not imagine processing through some of the deep, dark, and awe-inspiring shit I’ve uncovered through the medicine without the therapy, mentorship, friendships, and community I now feel very safe in.
Through my own integration, I found a means to give back in knowledge and hold space in return. My most recent round of lifestyle changes all contributed to my cultivating a purposeful path in the field of mental health. I feel confident and am often humbled to be able to serve as a bridge for others seeking integration because of the experiences I had both with and without support. Though my journey continues to be messy and there are several unknowns, I can find a smile through every ebb and flow, even when darkness creeps in to say, hello.