I went to drug rehab when I was 15 years old for addiction. People who know me today wouldn’t know that I had ever been an addict, and some actually don’t believe that I was. But those who knew me at that time agreed I fit the bill. My outside life and inner world reflected my inability to deal with life on life’s terms. I had been expelled from schools, was failing at another, was in trouble with the law, sleeping in group homes, and the only direction I was steering towards was the acquisition of drugs. My inner world was unbearable while sober, and I sought escape in anything I could find. This compulsion controlled me, and I lived day-by-day, trying to soothe my pain.
When people ask me what I was addicted to, I tell them I was addicted to escape. I tell them I wasn’t addicted to any drugs in particular, because I would happily switch out one for the other, as long as I could be numb, or carefree. I primarily used Alcohol and Cannabis, but long before I found those substances, I was using other behaviours to numb out or soothe my sense of unbelonging in the world.
I was expelled or suspended from every school I ever attended for fighting students, teachers, or for “acting out”. At home, I was continually enrolled in an ever-evolving behaviour contract with my parents; their attempt to control my behaviour. From grade 4 onwards, I was medicated for Attention Deficit Disorder and prescribed Ritalin, and later Dexedrine. Coincidentally (or not), the same year I decided to stop taking my medication, I started using Alcohol and Cannabis. I switched out one medication for the other.
I medicated with drugs, but regardless of what I used, I never escaped the pain.
I didn’t need medication, I needed medicine.
I ended up in rehab at age 15. I was lost, lonely, full of shame, and with more pain than ever. There I learned that going towards my pain would be the path to freedom. I engaged the healing process, faced my shadows, and felt the sorrow of what my life had come to. I surrendered to a power greater than myself (my counsellor, and the unknown force of the universe), and let go of doing it “my way”.
In treatment, I learned that my addiction was my primary problem, affecting all other areas of my life. I was taught that addiction was genetic and that it can not be altered, because we can’t change the past. I learned I was an addict for life, and I’d never be able to safely engage a substance again. There was some truth and usefulness to those teachings. Addiction surely has some foundation in genetics, and it is strongly affected by the environment in which one grows up. One or multiple traumatic events can create the precursor to addictive patterns later on. It creates the source of pain worth escaping. I was taught that I’d be dealing with my addicted mind for my whole life, because I can’t heal the trauma, or heal my genetics.
What no one told me was that whatever trauma I experienced in my childhood resulted in a loss of connection to myself, and that this connection could be healed. In the big picture, addiction is a secondary problem. The addiction is a symptom.
My drug treatment involved lifestyle and environment changes, behaviour modification, learning of healthy habits, nutrition and exercise, and group and individual therapy. It also included a self-directed spiritual component, which guided me towards reconnecting with myself and the greater cosmos. This approach worked well to get me on my feet, and it is the modern-day best-practice for addiction treatment. I got clean, and remained abstinent without relapse. But 5 years out of treatment, I still felt that core wound - that disconnection from the world - lingering in the background.
I still felt unsafe inside my own mind. I didn’t trust myself, and I certainly didn’t trust myself to consume a mind-altering substance without spinning out of control. In fact, when I really looked at my life at 5 years clean, I was using sex, video games, smoking, coffee, and exercise to alter my consciousness, and it wasn’t all that healthy. When I was 21, I had a romantic partner break up with me over my video game habit because it had consumed my life. At 19, I quit going to AA meetings and had an emotional breakdown because I prioritized my workout-high over my inner work and had lost balance. I started coming down with bronchitis every winter due to my smoking habit coupled with asthma. Sex kept me in relationships far longer than what was healthy, and my excessive coffee habit was creating digestive problems and ulcers. None of these things are inherently bad, but I was struggling to find balance with them. I was still using to escape.
Over the years, my will to be healthy grew stronger, and I built a new relationship with the consciousness-altering part of my mind. I learned to cultivate a healthy balance in my life, and most visible signs of my addicted mind disappeared. Gradually, I engaged more healing modalities to reconnect with myself: transpersonal therapy, yoga, sweat lodges, float therapy, etc. Once I began engaging myself in service work, assisting and counselling those who suffered from addiction, my healing was amplified. This work was tremendously healing.
I continually gravitated towards healing, seeking a deeper reconnection with myself.
After 15 years in recovery, I came to what felt like a crossroads. Through my life experience and learning from others, the black and white of good drugs and bad drugs, healthy habits and unhealthy habits, became all grey. I realized that all drugs and experiences impact me in different ways, depending on the intention, and depending on the need to escape. I could use exercise to escape, or I could use it for health.
Eventually, after accumulating some 20-30 healthy regular habits, I found myself knocking on the psychedelic door - or perhaps it was knocking on mine. The plant medicine world was one that I hadn’t considered because these were “drugs” by my culture’s standards. But as my understanding changed, I learned that a drug is a medication if it is used to escape pain.
If it is used with intention, skill, and in the right context, it is medicine.
After years of deliberation and careful research, I ingested Psilocybin in a carefully curated natural environment with a trusted guide. He lead me through an experience that changed my worldview, and helped me realize that consciousness-altering substances are safe for me to consume if I engage them for healing and connection.
I can use behaviors for escape, and I can use them for healing.
I can use substances for escape, and I can use them for healing.
The tremendous heart-opening and connection I experienced in that session changed my view of the plant medicine world from that of party drugs (think mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA) to gateways of connection and healing. It became obvious to me why 94% of participants in a Johns Hopkins Psilocybin study rated their experience as one of the top 5 most impactful experiences of their lives.
Once I realized that I had the ability to modulate my peak experiences and regulate my use of them, I set out to include other plant medicines in my healing process
Ayahuasca drew me in. I did my research and found out about DMT (Ayahuasca’s active ingredient) - also called The Spirit Molecule. I learned that Dr. Gabor Mate had been working with addicts and Ayahuasca, with tremendous results. When I started asking around, I found out that many of the people I admired had engaged this medicine. So one cold night in the mountains of Alberta, I sent a prayer, offered some tobacco, and let go of the result.
The next day, I received an invitation to a ceremony. I accepted, followed the protocols, and went to ceremony with a group of friends. What I experienced in that ceremony cannot be accurately described. I felt a healing and a reconnection with myself and the cosmos that I hadn’t imagined was possible. I felt a kind of scrubbing and washing occurring inside of me. The healing was at the source-code level of my consciousness. I felt a homecoming in my heart that I had always been searching for. This wasn’t like the soothing comfort I felt when I first found drugs. This was a true sense of fulfillment, ultimate love, and acceptance of my body and my mind. I felt connected to the universe, and those around me. Afterwards, I felt a deep understanding of why this medicine treats addiction, and why so many doctors are working with psychedelic medicines today. The depth of healing can be so massive that it unlocks and heals wounds that would have taken years or decades to heal.
The healing I experienced was not temporary. It wasn’t a singular experience where I felt healed, but then returned to my old state of feeling unsafe in my mind, or disconnected in the world. I felt a permanent integration, a long lasting peace and fulfillment in my heart that is still with me today. In some ways, Ayahuasca was the last step in my recovery from addiction. It came as the culmination of all the work done over 15 years. I would not trade that journey for anything.
I don’t see Ayahuasca as a magic pill. On its own, without intention, it would not have had the impact it did on me. It requires a context, a space holder, and an intention to direct its potential towards healing. Just as MDMA on its own does not heal trauma, it can be used in the right context of therapy for healing. All medicines have their place when used properly. They are tools that if used in the right way, in the right context, and with a clear intention, can be a powerful adjunct to the healing journey.
Being healed doesn’t mean I don’t still feel some of that pain, disconnection, and loneliness I once felt. I still feel the broad spectrum of human emotions, and I have moments of disconnection from myself, others, and my source. Although I’ve had ego-shattering moments, I still have an ego. I still have the scars from the pain I endured in my childhood, but they are scars I wear with love, acceptance, and without identifying myself within them. They are a part of me, but they do not rule me.
Since finding Ayahuasca, my life changed drastically. A friend I met at that first ceremony is now my best friend. We built a successful business together and formed a friendship closer than I’ve ever experienced. Our foundation is spiritual, and we love each other unconditionally. Through that same ceremony, I was also led to my romantic partner, who has been the absolute best gift in my life. She has transformed me as a man, and called forth my true power in the world.
The journey isn’t over. The exploration continues, always seeking deeper integration, intention, and consciousness in my life. Recently, I have discovered the power of breathwork, shadow work, and cold therapy.
I’ll probably always be a psychonaut - but I’m no longer afraid. I’m grounded in my heart, connected with spirit, and supported by friends and family who trust me. I am truly grateful for the gift Ayahuasca gave me.
I wrote another article on the topic of healing addiction.
The Idea That Addictions Can't Be Healed Is A Myth