You may remember the fabulous Martha from her interview will Will Hall on Madness Radio a couple of weeks ago. Now Martha #EmergesProud to share her story for our KindaProud series.
Life is complex, messy and so full of paradox – how wise Martha is. Having emerged out of a hugely traumatic ordeal catalysed by taking Ayahuasca, Martha has managed to integrate the trauma so much so that she’s found gratitude within the pain of it all.
Martha says; this life is so utterly sacred; so incomprehensibly full of pain, magic and mystery; that when you realise this all at once, it’s okay – maybe even understandable – to go ‘mad’ for a while.
We couldn’t agree more Martha…
My journey of emerging proud through trauma, begins from recognising what happened to me as a trauma– not as something that I must have deserved, because nobody around me was questioning it.
I was in Colombia where I had been living and working and had gone on a retreat to do Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic plant medicine native to Latin America. I had a strong reaction to the medicine, that I now feel is connected to the strong and ultimately misguided intention I went in with, which was one of wanting to dissolve my ego completely.
I got what I asked for in that I did temporarily experience many expanded, ego-less, joyous and profound states; but I inevitably became caught, overwhelmed and confused by them and so journeyed unwittingly into the ‘mad’ realms where it felt as if my internal world had been turned inside out and life was just my imagination.
My state became one of high excitement and disruptive playfulness, as Universal Oneness was seen to be a reality. Whilst I felt that nothing really mattered anymore, I saw at the same time how every movement and action had profound meaning. It felt like life was simply a work of art and we were all artists; dancing together as an expression of beauty, paradox and truth amidst the routines of daily life.
This was my internal process…on the outside, I expect it looked like I had just really lost the plot. I didn’t try to hurt anybody, but when a group of men began to restrain me, you can bet I fought back. There were too many of them though, and eventually I found myself on the ground lying on my front with my hands tied to my feet behind my back, as other retreatants ate their dinner and chatted at a nearby table.
I found myself in this position several times – hands bound to feet, face pressed uncomfortably into the ground – often for just having too much energy and not being able to sleep. I remember lying there quietly and feeling pain in my body from the time spent in this distorted position. At one point, the shaman’s sister put a blanket over my whole body, to cover me from view. When this happened, I disassociated and saw myself from above. I remember thinking that perhaps I had died. I couldn’t think of any other reason why I would have been covered and so the belief I was dead continued for the rest of the retreat.
I felt how strange this was, that here I was tied up on the ground, contorted and alone, while others around me didn’t seem to care or even notice. But my state of consciousness was so expanded that I had no self-pity or sense of injustice, just a bemused acceptance.
When the shaman insisted I remove my bikini top for a tabaco cleansing, I asked if I could keep it on. I didn’t want to be topless. My arms were held outstretched by two assistants and other retreatants were pottering about around me. He said no, and I took it off obediently. I felt the lack of consent and dignity in this, but accepted his word, like everyone else.
After the retreat, when I found myself locked in a shed outside his house, where a few remaining retreatants were staying, and realised the bowl on the floor was for me to go to the toilet in, I felt a private sense of humiliation – but with no other option, simply accepted it.
It didn’t seem to occur to the shaman or the facilitators during the retreat that I was sensitive to the ayahuasca and so perhaps shouldn’t be drinking as much as other people. Perhaps they trusted that the medicine would do its work, but without any form of communication or therapeutic connection – I feel this was an irresponsible way of doing things.
It wasn’t until I had a further breakdown in the UK, induced again by psychedelics, that I was able to access psychological therapy for my trauma. It took months for me to understand that I should not have been treated the way I was in Colombia. The psychologist had to work hard to make me believe that just because I was in an altered state, being tied up for hours at a time and locked in a shed with no toilet was unacceptable. She told me the fact I was in a vulnerable state did not mean that I deserved this, it in fact made it worse.
What I understand now is that the reason it took such intense psychological therapy for me to accept my experiences as trauma was because at the time, all around me there were other people, none of whom ever questioned the power dynamics of what was happening. This made me feel invisible and worthless – like a disgraced child and left me with feelings of being deeply unsafe in groups.
Yet, despite everything I am grateful for my journey with ayahuasca. When I think back to the person I was before all of this happened and compare her with who I am now, I am unequivocally kinder, less judgemental of others and more flexible in my thinking. It’s also true that so much of what I experienced and discovered in those initial highs has been confirmed by five years of much steadier inquiry in the form of zen meditation: That this life is so utterly sacred; so incomprehensibly full of pain, magic and mystery; that when you realise this all at once, it’s okay – maybe even understandable – to go ‘mad’ for a while.
The reason I’m telling my story now is because I never thought I could. Its only through platforms such as Emerging Proud that stories such as mine – that tread the less clear path between light and dark – can be fully held and heard. I hope that the conversation around Ayahuasca can expand to encompass the paradox, pain and learning that my narrative offers. I have no blame for the shamans, facilitators or other retreatants. While I was hurt, traumatised and humiliated by what happened, I don’t feel it was intentional. Through my altered state I may have hurt, humiliated or traumatised some of them in some way, without knowing or meaning to.
What I need most right now, as I share my painful, messy, complex human story is forgiveness and compassion – for myself and everyone around me. I think the whole world could use a little more of this too, as more and more of us are called to step forward, bravely owning our actions, bearing our hearts and speaking our truth.
Martha now works within the NHS as a mental health worker, and is doing a masters degree in transpersonal psychology, spirituality and consciousness studies. She’s also the co-director of an interdisciplinary think tank for psychosis research in Bristol. Martha has a keen interest in and love for Zen Buddhism and depth astrology.
Martha now sees her experiences as a Hero(ine)’s journey….providing integration, learning, making sense of her life, validation and most importantly, connection.
If you’d like to discuss these issues in relation to how they can be better addressed and supported within the Mental Health system, sign up for our event in London in Jan: