Tom had hit rock bottom. After many failed attempts to kick his alcohol and cocaine habits using conventional methods, he began to search for alternatives, and stumbled upon an Iboga website. Iboga is a psychedelic root used by African shamans in healing ceremonies. It sends the receiver into a hallucinatory ‘waking dream’ state, and takes them on a journey into their own soul. They are said to face their demons and emerge healed. Tom swears that this shamanic plant not only cured him of his addiction, but completely transformed his life.
I was heavily addicted to alcohol and cocaine. In the beginning it was only ever two or three pints of beer, but the cocaine allows you to drink more, and I became a heavy drinker. I became involved in a social scene where we partied every weekend. I kept on doing it until it became a difficult habit to break.
I had become very unreliable. I could only hold down a job for about six months—I would start taking sick days and do irresponsible things like drinking and driving. At the time it was exciting, living for the weekend, but then it became something that I did even if I didn’t want to. I would go through the ritual leading up to Friday night of thinking, “I’m going to be good this week.” But Friday night would come, and I would pick up a couple of bottles of wine thinking, “I’ll just have that little bit.” Of course, one thing leads to another.
I had gotten to the stage where I was drinking alcohol like it was water. It wasn’t something I was trying to savour. I was just trying to get absolutely smashed, to escape the anxious mindset I had become stuck with.
I started feeling guilty about my children, and I would get severely depressed
about the fact that the money I was spending on alcohol and cocaine could have been better spent on them. One or two hundred pounds a week is quite a lot of money.
I wanted to stop.
I began looking at rehab centers, but cost was always an issue. I was in quite a bit of debt, and my money was going towards my habits. I went to an AA meeting, intent on solving my problem, but it seemed to me too much like a church. That’s my perception; it might not be anybody else’s, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be labeled an addict for the rest of my life. I believed that I could overcome my addiction.
I began searching for alternatives on the Internet, and that’s how I stumbled upon Iboga. It seemed to be getting a lot of attention as a cure for various drug addictions. I had no experience with psychedelics, but I was ready to try anything. I found the details of a clinic online and contacted them. When they told me the cost of the Iboga treatment, I told them I could not afford it, and was advised to try another, cheaper psychedelic treatment, Ayahuasca.
A sitter came to my house to watch over me while I took the capsules. I had watched Ayahuasca documentaries on Youtube, and the experience looked quite frightening. To be honest, it was easier than I expected. First came the purge. I projectile vomited like a volcano erupting, but that in itself didn’t feel like a bad thing. It felt very cleansing to do, like it was relieving me of a lot of tension. People seemed to talk a lot about the visual aspects of their trip, but I was never too concerned with the visuals. For me it was the introspection and the healing that comes with that. I felt the need to really, really stretch my limbs, and even though I’d never really considered the concept before, it kind of felt like Chi, like an energy that was trying to come out and unknot me.
Things that I would normally bury became quite easy to confront with honesty. It helped me to recognise that the people I was associating with were essentially drug buddies and not beneficial for my life. They teach you that in AA, but for somebody to say it doesn’t hit home as much as feeling it does. These realisations happened in an atmosphere of love and kindness. I felt like I was being looked after.
As an addict you lose the feeling of who you are, your zest for life. Ayahuasca gave me my spirit back. It made me realise that I’m an amazing creature, and not the piece of shit that society thought I was. There is a lot of awe with Ayahuasca, towards yourself as a person, and towards everyone else. It’s very much a spiritual experience.
But it wasn’t a magic bullet. I changed my circle of friends, but everyone drinks. I started drinking non-alcoholic beers, so I wouldn’t be an inconvenience to other people. When you don’t drink and people are used to you being a party animal, it makes them a bit uncomfortable. After three months I fell back into the trap.
I hit rock bottom. I was drinking to calm myself down, and then beating myself up, thinking, “I’m never going to be able to quit.” It is very odd that you look for sanctuary in something that is destroying you, but that’s what people who suffer from substance abuse do.
I had to do something, for myself, and for my children. I couldn’t take it any longer. I needed something that was going to end my addiction, and it was Iboga that did that.
I ordered the Iboga online, and again a sitter came to my house to watch over me. At six in the evening I took my capsules, and for the next eighteen hours my body barely moved and I went on an internal journey. One of the first indicators that something was beginning to happen was a loud buzzing in my ears, like a loose electrical wire, coming from all around me. I could shut my eyes and was still able to ‘look’ around the room. I felt like I was in a lucid dream.
Some sort of entity, call it what you like, was suggesting things to me. Perhaps it was my own subconscious mind. It took me on a journey back through my life and made me deal with my unresolved issues, a bit like defragging a computer. Things were coming up relating to my childhood, but I was viewing them with no emotional attachment whatsoever.
The key revelation I had, concerned my relationship with my mother. She was an alcoholic who suffered from mental illness. She was represented as some sort of demon. This symbolism is not to be taken too literally, but a new perspective was being revealed to me. I recognised that much of my disposition was the result of her alcohol issues and depression and that my self-loathing had been based on her problems. It seemed crazy that I had run with her programming for so long. I suddenly became fully aware that I was not that person.
This period of introspection was followed by a period of real peace. My mind was free from thought. I would equate the experience to what Zen Buddhists call ‘Sittori’. My mind felt very clean and very pure. I would say that Iboga brings you back home. There is a lot in the world that is distracting, and it feels as though Iboga wipes your ego clean. Even the following morning, I could shut my eyes, and where normally thoughts would pop up, there was no mental chatter. It’s like you are starting again as a human being, like the slate has been wiped clean.
Since then I have had no desire for alcohol or cocaine whatsoever. I have been abstinent for three years. These plants have done more than cure me. It feels like they have unlocked a treasure chest. I have taken an interest in things I never had any interest in before, eating healthy, doing exercise, and wondering what I can give back to humanity.
After about eighteen months, some anxiety returned. Having accepted that I could no longer use substances to deal with my problems, I began to look for other tools to deal with my fear. I began to teach myself about the Buddhist concept of mindfulness: not living in the past, not living in the future, avoiding mental speculation and disassociating myself from thoughts and feelings that weren’t beneficial. In short, I started treating myself with kindness. Feeling my anxiety begin to subside, I thought, “If this is working for me, then this can work for other people”.
I run a mindfulness group now, four times a week, for people suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and addiction. Doctors, psychologists and rehab centres refer people to us, and we try to give them the tools to understand and alleviate their own suffering. After a few weeks they begin to understand and practice mindfulness, and the change in people is absolutely amazing.
I am very grateful for what these plants have done for me. They have helped me and countless others to overcome heavy addictions, and transform our lives. If I had my way I would be shouting from the rooftops, but unfortunately people fear what they don’t understand, and many people think these are just more drugs to get high on. Even now, there will be some people listening to this story who think I’m just a big weirdo. There is a great need for research and education on this matter.
I believe these plants have been put here to help us. I partake in an Ayahuasca ceremony about once a year. You don’t go looking for it. It sort of calls you when the time is right. It’s definitely not recreational. It’s an intense ordeal, which requires courage. There is always a healthy fear leading up to it, but after every session I feel my knots have been untied.