I wish I had known that all of the medicine journeys in the world, even those that expanded my consciousness, weren’t going to solve the deepest wounds that happened in my childhood. The wounds that caused me to live out of scarcity and survival rather than agency and thriving. Instead, taking responsibility for my childhood trauma in psychedelic spaces was the medicine I needed to finally live a life that was true to me. The ways it caused me to live out of my survival self and harmed me and other people in repeating cycles.
And for that, the medicine was another human who had faced the depths of his own heartbreak and pain in relationships—and psychedelics. I’m not just talking about temporary relief from suffering and mystical visions. Instead, I am talking about the self-love and resilience that come from facing reality—with all its sorrow. I believe it’s through the depths of my grief that I birthed into who I was always meant to be. And in this, to begin to truly feel love—not just for myself, but for others. For that feeling to no longer be temporary but an ongoing experience of life.
Not knowing this at the beginning of my journey with psychedelics affected my ecstatic psychedelic journeys. Even these came with serious consequences, like panic attacks, dissociation, derealization, and shame.
Derealization, Panic Attacks, and Dissociation
“This can’t be reality, this can’t be reality, this can’t be reality.”
I’d taken mushrooms an hour ago. Now the world began to close in on me as I felt washed in panic and anxiety. I’d been here before. Since I began doing medicines in the psychedelic therapy community, I was well-acquainted with terror. These intense states of distress were overly normalized in the psychedelic community I was first a part of. Furthermore, this often included encouragement to find a resolution by taking more and more medicine. However, I actually didn’t need more medicine; I needed someone to ask me why I felt so afraid.
My life began to crumble after these disorienting psychedelic journeys, and I experienced profound derealization, panic attacks, and dissociation. However, for clarity, this was only an amplification and heightened state of what I had wrestled with my entire life.
The terror did lead me toward finding a solution to my duress. I slowly found ease in ecological work with the Animus Valley Institute, and in a relationship with a psychedelic-assisted therapist outside the psychedelic community I was involved in. However, I would not wish this level of terror on anyone. I believe it is unnecessary and only a result of a lack of awareness of childhood trauma in psychedelic communities.
Derealization Linked to Childhood Trauma
As I started working with a psychedelic-assisted therapist who specializes in developmental trauma, I truly began to heal. I began to disentangle myself from the knots formed in my early childhood. I grew up in Evangelical Christianity. It is common in this subculture—and the world—to use child-rearing practices that consistently shame, humiliate, and punish little children.
In my opinion, child abuse isn’t spoken of enough. Neither is its deeply imprinted—often unconscious—effects on us humans’ capacity to connect to our truth, creativity, love, and vitality. Many people bypass their childhood wounds through consciousness-altering practices. Some of these include breathwork, entheogens and empathogens, yoga, bodywork, mythopoetic work, and other trance-like states. This can develop either serious grandiose egos in people or leave them checked out of life or in shambles of fear and terror.
Childhood relational traumas, or “early failures of love,” as my mentor Bruce Sanguin writes, prevent us from living our lives out of our authenticity. Any form of psychedelic-assisted therapy that does not take seriously the impacts of Western civilizations’ poisonous pedagogical childrearing practices does a serious disservice to those undergoing psychedelic-assisted therapy. Alice Miller writes about this extensively. Simply put, most of us have childhood trauma. It’s not something we can bypass, and it impacts our relationship with ourselves, others, and the medicines we are taking.
All the states of dissociation, terror, and derealization ultimately had their roots in past memories of abuse. Until I could verbalize and make sense of the childhood abuse I underwent, psychedelics only re-traumatized and hurt me more. This was specifically with a therapist who understood how childhood trauma in psychedelic journeys comes through. Therefore, it is essential that people who are guiding others in psychedelic spaces be conscious of childhood trauma. And for them to have faced and felt their own.
Authenticity and Childhood Trauma
One by one, I unraveled the lies I believed about myself, that I created in my childhood to survive. Each memory and truth of the ways I had been deeply harmed throughout my life came into my consciousness to be looked at directly. As this happened, my symptoms of panic, dissociation, and derealization began to subside.
My life began to take root. My private practice became more authentic to who I am. It was no longer some sort of therapy role I was meant to perform. I found the friends I deeply resonated with. My songwriting began to bloom, and my romantic relationship began to have safety and intimacy.
It was difficult to see all the moments of my childhood for what they truly were. This truth? Lack of attunement, presence, authenticity, warmth, and truth-telling from my parents. For all the care my parents tried to offer—due to their own unprocessed suffering as children—I was hurt by them. It was all the memories of this hurt that kept me in an obsessive loop on psilocybin, holding my body in terror, saying, “This can’t be reality.” The reality of my life was full of heartbreak. I did not have the bandwidth to face it all alone. I needed to have a therapist support me while I looked and spoke about it all.
M. Scott Peck writes, “Mental health is an ongoing dedication to reality at all costs.” My therapist understood the impacts of childhood trauma. Once the reality of my life was made visible in a relationship, the terrifying experiences were resolved. I also needed to share my story on the page in the written word. This was with the help of Kristopher Drummond and Remembering Earth’s writing courses, and Stephen Harrod Buhner’s felt-sense writing techniques.
I began to feel a strong sense of self emerge. It was neither egotistical in believing I could save the world (a common thing that happens in spiritual/therapeutic spaces) nor that I was worthless or unloveable. I was finally beginning to feel like me.
No one can fix our childhood trauma if we were not loved when we were little. There is no way to go back to our childhood through guided imagery or psychedelic journeys to change what happened. Instead, we can utilize altered states of consciousness to take full responsibility to name exactly what harm happened to us. To also name any harm we have inflicted on others. And to promise not to perpetuate this same kind of interpersonal violence onto ourselves or others. Self-love, compassion, and a playful knowing that we’re not perfect and will make mistakes along the way are also essential.
No therapist, guide, or psychedelic journey in itself is going to fix the grief of how you have been heartbroken. Yet, slowly, through feeling and tending to the ruptures of your heart like a gardener tends a garden, you will begin to feel your authentic self and song. The song you only are here to sing through the beauty of your one true life. Or, as Mary Oliver writes, “ your one wild and precious life.”
The Fires of Transformation
I find we humans are wildly resilient. When the fertile soil of our souls tastes the rain of our tears and sorrow, we heal. It is through avoiding the roaring rage and sorrow within us around the ways we have been heartbroken by other people that leave us in dissociative, panic-ridden fogs of experience.
And, there is nothing wrong with you or me, for the ways, at times, the heartbreak is too much. Sometimes it’s easier to float away into the clouds. That’s okay too. Yet, we do need you here. Each one of you. So when you feel ready, know there are places and spaces where souls have walked through the fires of love. Where they are ready to be with you as you attune to all the ways you were not loved. There, you will find your beautiful and breathtaking soul.