How Ayahuasca Helped Me Move On

Dan Humphrey
6 min readJul 29, 2020
Src: IG @nolanomura

When you read about people’s ayahuasca experiences, they typically follow this structure:

  • History and Power of Ayahuasca
  • Personal Context
  • Preparing for the Ceremony
  • The Ceremony
  • Healing, Integration, and Reflection

I’ll skip the history and preparation as there’s plenty of internet for that. I’ll briefly touch on my personal context, but I’ve already written about it in detail in my other story, “How I Got Engaged to a Girl from Craigslist and Then Ruined It”. What I will preface, though, is that my experience was not the crazy hallucinogenic type that you read in those Vice headlines. This was more of an eye-opening breath of fresh air that helped clear away a dark cloud that hung over me.

Personal Context
By that time, it had been two years since my engagement ended leaving a deep void that I tried to fill with proverbial empty calories. In hindsight, what I thought was me going down a healthy path of healing over those two years was actually me attempting to force close a wound resulting in a keloid scar to bear. Probably the kind of scar that’s hidden from my own view because of how blind I was to my own human condition.

Src: Peruvian Association of Shaman

The Ceremony — 1st Night
This was a weekend retreat that entailed two nights of ceremony with a small group of 10 strangers. The night begins with smudging (burning sage) to cleanse the energy in the space. We’re all settled in the room together like an adult sleepover. The moon-lit, starry night sky illuminates the darkened room. The air is silent. The room is tense. Everyone’s anxiously awaiting their first step in this journey and keeping our puke buckets close. This nervous anticipation, as our shaman prepares the brew, is like that pensive ascent to the top of a rollercoaster; what an addicting feeling.

Our shaman calls us up, one by one, to accept the brew. I knock it back and restrain my gag reflex. Tastes like earthy sludge with a hint of raisin. We’re given a long, quiet moment to let the plant permeate.

I begin to hear the wails of some of my comrades, while others enter their own realms as our shaman chants away with his icaros healing songs. But for me, I spent the next four hours lying there waiting for something magical to happen with the occasional intense purge into my bucket. Even after the next couple cups, nothing. I became dismissive of the experience.

The next morning, under the comforting warmth of the pre-summer sun, we spread ourselves out in a circle on the lawn. This was a beautiful turning point in the weekend. As each person shared the most intimate and vulnerable details about what they felt from the night before, what they saw, what past traumas led to this moment, these strangers were then all of a sudden no longer strangers. As a group, we offered our guidance and support to each other as we put our most vulnerable selves on display. We would go on to become lifelong friends (I hope!).

The Ceremony — 2nd Night
I was skeptical, but I was determined to keep an open-mind for the second night. Following the rituals of the first night, we felt more at ease. However, little did I know that what I was about to experience was like taking a sledgehammer to an emotional brick wall.

Our shaman calls us up individually and sings each of us a song while we sit in front of him, soaking in the mind-bending energy, holding back our desire to purge, as the singing intensifies the plant’s effects. It was my turn. There was a pause, as if he was carefully reading my energy. He then says because of my dark aura, he’s going to sing me two songs. His tempo gradually quickens. I let my mind wander inward. His first song ends.

The second song begins. It was difficult to accept the experience at first, but slowly, his chanting chipped away at my defenses. I realized that our shaman is also on ayahuasca while concentrating on performing the century-old rituals and putting all his efforts into healing our broken selves. I began appreciating the physical and mental ordeal that he puts himself through just to help us, Jesus…By this point, with the tempo of the chanting, the tobacco-filled air, and the intensity of the plant, I’m ready to purge all over him, but I hold back.

I focus my gaze on our shaman. The song feels faster. A century of tradition culminating right in front of me. His shadowy silhouette accentuated by the backdrop of a dark blue night sky. Out of the blue, thunder and lightning crackles behind him, followed by a brief rain shower, as if he, himself, had summoned the power of the gods, and then…silence.

I hear the tiny crackles of his tobacco burning as he takes a long drag. The air has a deafening silence. Our shaman leans in. His demeanor changes as if returning back to his human state. In a hushed voice that only I can hear, he says to me, “I didn’t get you at first. You had a very hard shell, emotionless, just a lot of dark energy around you. But during the sharing circle today, now I understand. You have a good heart. I can see that all you want to do is to help people…”

“I didn’t hear the rest because in that very instant, I broke down crying.”

It was the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me.

It was the acknowledgement I had been seeking my whole life.

Healing, Integration, and Reflection
What does this all have to do with my failed relationship? For the longest time, I carried a heavy guilt about the sadness I had caused. I blamed myself for turning someone with such brightness and joy into a dark, melancholic empty soul. I’ve only ever wanted to make people happy. So in the following day, I sat outside, ate my harvest bowl from Sweet Green, and just reflected on everything. What I realized was that I accept accountability, however, I did truly love with all my heart and with the best intentions. With that, I gave myself permission to finally forgive myself. I was able to move on.

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